The Villainess


Viewed – 18 February 2018  online-rental

I was first exposed to the wonders of Korean cinema quite like many were I presume with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy.  From that starting point firstly, that director became a firm favourite, and I also was treated to some real gems; including last year’s personal top ten entry Train to Busan.  So we come to this somewhat under-hyped action thriller.  Sook-hee has been trained from a young girl to become a deadly, highly skilled assassin.  However upon the death of her mentor, she vows revenge which ultimately lands her in the custody of a government organisation that would like to put her kills to work.

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This starts brilliantly with a no-holds-barred visceral action sequence filmed mostly in first person that well, has to be seen to be believed.  This immediately hooked me, and once again it seems I was in for a top level Korean movie that I’d be recommending to anyone willing to listen.  There’s clear echoes of French classic La Femme Nikita here, as well as Lady Vengeance.  Also the direction, with rapid-fire editing and impossible camera work certainly makes this an experience.  It’s sad to report then, that this is all held together with a rather generic and muddled plot with a myriad of flashbacks that only help to confuse matters.  Performances are largely decent, especially from Kim Ok-bin as Sook-hee and there’s some fun characters and interesting twists.  It also doesn’t take any prisoners and is at times very bloody and violent.  I also found myself caring for the central protagonist’s plight and affected by the shitty things that happen to her … but with a villain who’s motives seem simply ‘because I’m evil’ this ended up not being the full package.

See it for it’s action and impeccable style.  Not so much for it’s plot.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

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The Greatest Showman


Viewed – 14 February 2018  Cinema

I can’t say I was particularly enthused at the prospect of seeing this, despite rave opinions from people I know who had been.  I have a bit of an uneasy relationship with musicals, and they have to be particularly good to win me over.  This based on true events depiction, has Hugh Jackman as P.T. Barnum, a man who rose from nothing to become one of the pioneers of show business as we know it.

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I can’t say I was particularly familiar with the story but as soon as this started, I was transfixed.  Jackman, who of course I mostly associate with Wolverine, is a revelation as Barnum and commands the screen with total, Hollywood magnetism and presence.  His rags-to-riches story whilst somewhat clichéd is classic stuff and made me think of Charles Dickens books along with Rogers & Hammerstein musicals of yesteryear.  You know – back when Hollywood did it right.  Add at times breath-taking choreography and several stunning set pieces, with grand set design, colourful costumes and eye-catching cinematography and this was a real treat for the senses.  The songs, if at times a little ‘samey’ are foot-tapping and enjoyable, aided by larger-than-life performances from also Zac Efron and Michelle Williams and a plethora of colourful characters … and well, sometimes it’s overwhelming but never boring.

The movie seems to stumble a little in a plot device with a famed Opera Singer and although essential to the story, takes things in a direction that isn’t quite as much fun … but then comes back again to deliver a great feel good ending that left me wanting to stand up and applaud.  This movie’s been a bit snubbed by the Oscars and that’s a shame as really, a night out at the movies doesn’t get much better than this.  Essential.

Verdict:  5 /5

Wind River


Viewed – 13 February 2018  online-rental

I’m easily attracted to a movie when it stars someone I’m especially appealed by.  So with this starring two actors I am increasingly impressed with, namely Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner and Avengers: Age of Ultron’s Elizabeth Olson … this was a no-brainer.

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Renner plays a hunter and expert-tracker living on a wintery Indian reservation where some years previous a teenage girl died under mysterious circumstances.  As he was married to the mother of said girl at the time, he feels personally involved when a similar death occurs when a young girl’s body is found.   With the possibility of the death being a homicide the local Sheriff call in the FBI in the form of a rookie female agent played by Olsen and soon she’s teamed up with Renner to figure out just what happened.

This realistic and gritty drama has strong turns across the board and a solid mystery that kept me gripped.  The backdrop of Native American racial issues and paranoia whilst not that unique was engrossing also.   Add to this some striking cinematography and hard-hitting revelations and action in the final act and I came away rather impressed.  If you’re after a thought-provoking, non-Hollywood-glossed evening’s entertainment this will surely satisfy and if anything further cemented the growing reputations of it’s leads.  Recommended.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Blob


Viewed – 06 February 2018  Blu-ray

You have to love the 80s.  It was a golden era for horror, and a time when horror could be fun as well as horrifying. Today a lot of horror movies go straight for the jugular and can be way too nasty   They’re almost a test of endurance.  That can’t be said for this rather under-appreciated 1988 remake of a 50’s b-movie of the same name.

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When a meteor crashes near a small town, biker rebel Kevin Dillon (The Rescue) finds himself thrown into a battle for survival alongside high school cheerleader Shawnee Smith (Saw).  Even as authority figures and adults dismiss the disappearances along with sightings of a weird goo … of course it’s up to the kids to find a way to stop what’s happening.  Yeah, there’s nothing all that clever here, but it retains that b-movie tongue-in-cheek tone that perfectly suits such a silly concept, with cast all doing a great job of going along for the ride.  Director Chuck Russell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) piles on some effective gore with still great practical effects and a couple of genuine shocks (the kid in the sewer).  Also I’d forgotten how likable Shawnee Smith is, and well Kevin Dillon’s always been a great bad-boy (where’s he gone?).

It reminded me at times of John Carpenter’s seminal The Thing remake but fares poorly in comparison due to clichéd characters and only passable acting, and that silly tone stops it from being scary even for a second.  Yet as it stands this is still a great deal of fun and is certainly worth your time.

The Blu-ray is rather a pleasant surprise … image quality may seem a bit soft but colours are vibrant and overall the picture is clean, and free of any print damage.  The sound gets the lossless 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio treatment, but seems to lack a bit of ‘punch’ overall.  Extras feature a trailer and a director interview, but that’s it.  Considering the movie at time of writing still lacks a UK Blu-ray release this Region B Australian release is a godsend.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3.5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3 /5

Lost In Translation


Viewed – 03 February 2018  Blu-ray

I’d hazard a guess that Scarlett Johansson transformed from acclaimed actress into genuine Hollywood star in this much loved 2003 comedy-drama.  She continues to be one of my go-to actresses, but I always look back on this with fondness and well, I’m not sure if she’s ever been as good since … at least not in what I’ve watched.

Lost In Translation

She plays Charlotte, a woman visiting Japan with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) who more often than not finds herself abandoned in the hotel where she’s staying, frequenting the bar and occasionally meeting up with friends … but ultimately ‘alone’.  At the same time, a former Hollywood actor now doing whisky commercials, Bob (Bill Murray) finds himself similarly lonely in a foreign country, feeling out of place amongst the locales whilst trying to figure out his place in life.  So the two catch each other’s eyes and gradually form a friendship, that gently turns into a strong bond.

I really like this movie.  It treats it’s characters intelligently, doesn’t ‘go there’ but you kind of end up thinking (wishing?) it would, and every step of the way director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) makes you really believe in the friendship whilst also making the backdrop of Japan a character in it’s own right.  It’s funny in a gentle, heart-warming way, Murray is fantastically under-stated, and Johansson is just simply gorgeous.  The movie develops what should be a forbidden love story but still makes you fall in love with it (at least it did me).  I especially liked how freeing their friendship became, trapped and unhappy when apart, free-spirited when together … and it’s infectious.  At times the sheer wackiness of Japan is a tad clichéd and well, I’m not entirely sure why Scarlett is shown walking around in her underwear so much (even if I’m not complaining), and for such an otherwise easy going general-viewing movie, that bit in the strip club is just out of place.   Nit-picks because along with very genuine performances and such a charming, whimsical ‘vibe’ topped off with that heart-breaking yet strangely feel-good ending … this remains in a class of it’s own.

The limited edition steelbook I picked up has the movie in decent shape.  It’s not the most eye-popping of visual presentations due to it’s very natural photography … yet Coppola’s classy direction still made this viewer feel ‘there’ and I very much enjoyed being in the company of two of my favourite actors.  Sound, presented in 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio whilst gentle, with carefully chosen, mood-enhancing music cues (and a great Karaoke scene) has clear dialogue and overall suits the relaxed feel of this movie.  Extras consist of deleted scenes, behind the scenes footage, an interview with Murray and Sofia Coppola and a music video.  The lack of a commentary is disappointing but otherwise this isn’t too shabby.

Verdict:

(the movie) 5 /5

(the Blu-ray)  3.5 /5