Life


Viewed – 15 August 2017  online rental

Science-fiction has become one of my favourite genres, with such gems as The Martian and Interstellar impressing me.  There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in such movies, albeit stepping away from the flights of fantasy we’ve seen and instead focusing on a more semi-realistic tone.  The same can be said for this latest space-set thriller starring amongst others, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.

Life

A team of astronauts orbiting the earth reprieve a probe that has been on it’s way back from Mars, and discover a life form within it’s gathered soil samples.  Nurturing said life form in an incubator, the astronauts try to figure out how it responds and whether it’s harmless or deadly.  I’m guessing you probably know the answer to that one, huh?

I got a serious Alien vibe from this but stripped down to actual realistic space travel and science rather than H R Giger inspired horror aesthetics.   The creature, nicknamed Calvin is initially cute but eventually shudder creepy-crawly, and as the scientists attempt to contain it, this set into action some seriously well done thrills.  It’s not a subject that breathes new life into a tired genre but it’s done well, has some genuinely heart-in-mouth moments and is topped off by decent effects work (but for the occasional obvious CGI monster) and great set design that transported me right there … and I didn’t want to be there.  Gyllenhaal, considering his usual brilliance is a little side-lined and the star of this turns out to be Rebecca Ferguson who is very good.  Ryan Reynolds seems like he’s just playing Ryan Reynolds, but the rest of the cast do a decent job.  It’s also a movie, despite it’s familiarity that still managed to keep me gripped and wondering how it might end, and in this day and age that has to be commended.

Verdict:  4 /5

Patriots Day


Viewed – 12 August 2017  Online rental

I don’t think it can be argued, that we live in scary times.  That also can’t be argued for world history either, but in our modern society, it’s still difficult to accept that such atrocities like 9/11 are even possible.  Aren’t we supposed to be more sophisticated than that?  Apparently not and one such terror incident, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is another example of senseless violence in the name of extremist viewpoints and hate.  This latest from acclaimed director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) once again stars his go-to actor Mark Wahlberg as a demoted Police officer on security detail at said marathon when a series of bombs are detonated.

Patriots Day

Wahlberg is probably one of the most likable and watchable A-list stars around and I for one enjoy his performances even if he’s not really going to give say, Tom Hanks cause for concern.  He’s the ideal everyman and well cast in this ensemble piece that gives us several characters to latch onto as events unfold (with appearances from Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and Michelle Monaghan).  Berg’s direction is slick and gritty, offering up a mix of traditional and hand-held camera work for added intensity, a pounding score and an unflinching eye for detail and tense moments.  The scene in the car involving a Chinese guy and a terrorist is particularly unbearable.  The movie itself is eye-opening to what went on and how things played out was fascinating, occasionally shocking and well… humbling.

I’ll never understand the evil that people can inflict on society in the name of their beliefs and it’s something that seemingly has no end or answer.  This was a suitably harrowing watch at times, even if it fails to have anything new to say (leaving the terrorists motives under-explored) … but in our current times, I’d still recommend this.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Handmaiden


Viewed – 06 August 2017  Blu-ray

Let me say straight away that I regard Korean director Park Chan-wook as one of the best around and his much acclaimed vengeance trilogy (which includes the famed ‘Oldboy’) speaks for itself.  Add to this his previous American debut ‘Stoker’ being an underrated gem and well to say I was looking forward to what came next, was an understatement.  Once I discovered it would be a period piece though, for a director more known for contemporary (and bloody) revenge thrillers … I did feel a little trepidation.

The Handmaiden

A seasoned crook (Ha Jung-woo) with his eye on a wealthy heiress (Kim Min-hee), sends a trusted young pick pocket (Kim Tae-ri) to pose as her handmaiden.  Once gaining the Heiress’s trust the crook himself poses as an eligible count in hope of marrying the heiress and gaining access to her fortune.  Once plan is set in motion however the pick-pocket/handmaiden finds herself drawn to the lonely heiress who has lived all her life in a secluded mansion, overseen by a controlling and perverted uncle.

This beautifully shot film is full of character and period atmosphere, complete with stunning costumes and spot-on performances.  It’s an intriguing premise that twists and turns, spread over three distinct parts, where we get to see the differing points of view of the various characters and gradually learn about each of their underlying plans and cunning manipulations.  Who will come out on top?  Think to some extent Dangerous Liaisons and you’ll have a good idea what this about.  It’s got a quirky sense of humour (especially during some explicit but not particularly erotic sex-scenes) and some of the Korean / Japanese traditions are fascinating.  For a film by Park Chan-wook however it lacks the showmanship he’s displayed in the past, going for a more sedate, realistic vibe that’s still eye-catching thanks to gorgeous cinematography and lavish locations / set design.  At over 2 and half hours, it’s a bit drawn out, but packs in a lot of personality.  Not as immediately essential as his best work … but still one to check out if your a fan or enjoy quality Korean cinema.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Girl on the Train


Viewed – 05 August 2017  DVD

This is the latest movie adaptation of a best selling novel that seems to be a bit of a trend lately, what with similar suburban-set books like Gone Girl previously getting the movie treatment.  With such things we get the usual, tired reports of ‘its not as good as the book’ yadda yadda.  I am not a big reader so approached this from generally favourable word of mouth and the fact it has Emily Blunt in it.

Girl on the Train

Blunt plays Rachel, an alcoholic who never got over the failure of her marriage and spends most of her life obsessing over her ex-husband’s new relationship and trying to deal with a growing jealousy.  Blunt is one of those dependable actresses, and is incredibly convincing here and after she suffers a black-out following an attack in a tunnel, starts to piece together a mystery involving her ex-husband’s missing nanny.  Offering up plenty of red herrings and clues as to what actually happened … with an alcoholic as the lead anything that is recalled is of course open to question.  So this made for a rather different take on the who-dunnit than I anticipated..  Add to this decent turns from The Hobbit’s Luke Evans and Justin Theroux and I found myself thoroughly entertainment.   Helps that I really felt for Rachel’s plight.

It goes out of it’s way to cleverly fool the viewer and mislead, which was initially confusing, but came together effectively even if I felt rather stupid for not guessing the outcome.  An easy  recommendation.

Verdict:  4 /5

Get Out


Viewed – 01 August 2017  Online-rental

I kept hearing very good things about this relatively under-the-radar horror-thriller so thought I’d check it out.  A black guy goes to spend the weekend with his white girlfriend’s family but not long after arriving he starts to feel there is something rather strange about these people.  Is it simply paranoia or is there really something sinister afoot?

Get Out

Think of this like a more seriously creepy version of Meet The Parents.  I quickly began to get absorbed by the concept and the racial tension take was refreshing.  British actor Daniel Kaluuya (Psychoville) proves an effective lead and support from Catherine Keener and Allison Williams were also decent.  It’s what makes this work so well; a strong cast and a foreboding, well handled sense of dread and eeriness.  The eventual revelation of what is really going on is also pretty damn disturbing.  Comic relief from motor-mouthed newcomer LilRel Howery felt a little out of place but still kind of worked and although not a horror in the traditional sense, this holds up a compelling reflection of modern racism and social classes that is surprisingly scary and probably still relevant.

It descends into typical horror survival territory towards the end despite maintaining a freaky atmosphere (with echoes of The Wicker Man).  However, along with good use of foreshadowing, solid performances and leaving this viewer with plenty to think about post-credits …  this remains one to see.

Verdict:  4 /5