Red Sparrow


Viewed – 07 March 2018  Cinema

When Prima Ballerina Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) injures herself during a performance, she turns to her shady uncle on realising the ballet academy are no longer going to fund her accommodation or the care of her ill mother.  So she reluctantly gets enrolled in ‘sparrow’ school where young students are trained to use their minds and bodies as weapons.

Red Sparrow

Once released from the school she gets her first mission and along the way catches the attention of undercover CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who see’s potential in her and attempts to get her to cross over to the Americans.  Lawrence, initially an unusual casting for a Russian character seems to easily deliver a convincing accent and demeanour, whilst using her ‘impossible’ situation to her advantage.  She’s sexy and dangerous and Lawrence nails it in a provocative and daring turn.  Edgerton increasingly an actor I enjoy watching is again very good and perfect support, and add to this a decent turn from Jeremy Irons (another long time favourite) and this makes for an above average thriller.  I liked how the focus was more on psychological manipulation than action, and we may not get car chases or fist fights, but what we do get is much more affecting.  Lawrence may shed more than a bit of clothing but it’s never gratuitous, instead presenting the character’s (and actress’s) obvious good looks and sexuality as a suit of armour throughout.

Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games) fashions the movie with a careful balance of gritty realism and eye-catching style,  It also doesn’t shy away from the more violent aspects of the subject with gruelling torture and interrogation scenes that pack a punch.   Although it gets rather muddled in the middle of the movie with a side story involving Lawrence’s room-mate, this remained gripping and daring viewing leading to a particularly satisfying conclusion.  An easy recommendation.

Verdict:  4 /5

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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 skills to work.

The-Villainess

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

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.

wind-river

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

Atomic Blonde


Viewed – 30 January 2018  Online rental

Charlize Theron is certainly now one of those bankable stars and somewhat a chameleon who can deliver the goods in a wide variety of roles.  Following her action-star making turn in Mad Max Fury Road previously, carrying her own action vehicle seemed an obvious progression (as long as we forget Aeon Flux).  So we get an 80’s set espionage thriller that see’s Theron as Lorraine, a highly trained spy who’s given the task of tracking down a stolen micro-film containing the real identities of tons of secret agents.  Along the way she teams up with James McAvoy’s under-cover agent, with the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin wall as set dressing.

atomic-blonde

This felt like it was trying too hard to be cool, minus the director’s actual ability to marry cool looks and cool action with cool music (leave that to either Tarantino or Nicolas Winding Refn).  However, with Theron’s obvious presence, an interesting setting with all that cold-war intrigue and political unrest … what we get is an energetic and at times gutsy thriller, somewhat in search of it’s own identity.  You see, we’ve seen this plot many times, the story is basically Mission Impossible #1 and well, Theron’s Lorraine isn’t that far removed from Angelina Jolie’s ‘Salt’.  McAvoy also didn’t add much, looking like Tyler Durdon and grimacing and doing his quickly grating McAvoy-thing throughout.  The story wasn’t that easy to follow either, told mostly in flashback with a wealth of double crosses, twists and misdirection.  After a while it gave me a bit of a headache.

Which is a shame as beneath it’s flaws and familiarity, there’s potential for a great movie here.  We do get one incredible, superbly-choreographed sequence involving Theron, an army of bad guys and a stairwell, but when the story confuses and characters hide so may secrets and agendas, I just had difficulty caring.  It’s worth a look for Theron and some decent action, but otherwise there’s better thrillers out there.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Commuter


Viewed – 24 January 2018  Cinema

I can’t say I was all that hyped by this.  Despite seeing the trailer at one stage, I had pretty much passed it off as just another typical Liam Neeson thriller.  Now at one stage that phrase would have been exciting.  After all Taken remains one of the best thrillers of the last decade or so.  He followed this up with similar high-concept thrillers like Unknown, the two Taken sequels and Non-Stop.  So as you can imagine, it soon began to get a little clichéd.  Just as well then that this movie was a pleasant surprise.

The Commuter

Neeson plays an Insurance Salesman who takes the train to and from work every day and has done for the last ten years.  Nothing all that interesting ever happens. However one day after hearing some bad news, he’s heading back home when a mysterious woman (Vera Farmiga) approaches him and offers a task – find a particular person and place a tracking device on them.  If he does so before his stop comes, he’ll receive a bundle of cash.  Easy huh?

Think Hitchcock’s ‘Strangers on a Train’ meets ‘Speed’ with plenty of fist fights.  I was swept up in the ‘who is it’ mystery of it all, what the people the woman works for might want with said person and just how Neeson is going to get out of an increasingly desperate situation.  Add a claustrophobic setting and welcome support from Sam Neil and Patrick Wilson and I found myself suitably thrilled.  Neeson can make even the silliest plot work with his grizzled Irish charm and screen presence, and although it gets rather crazy and typical Hollywood-over-the-top in the final act – I came away both surprised and thoroughly entertained.

One not to pass up just because you might think you’ve seen it all before.

Verdict:  3.5 /5