Something Wild


Viewed – 16 June 2018  Blu-ray

The Criterion Collection

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  When I saw that this had been given the prestigious Criterion treatment, I immediately was transported back to when I saw this one night on TV many years ago and remember really liking it.  Sitting down now with much more jaded eyes, it transpires it’s not quite the classic I thought it was, even though there’s still fun to be had.  Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber) plays Charles, a straight laced office worker who one day has a chance encounter with free-spirited Lulu (Melanie Griffith) who takes Charles on a road trip straight out of his comfort zone that awakens a side to him he never knew he had.  Everything is going great until they bump into Lulu’s jail bird husband (Ray Liotta) who seems hell-bent on winning Lulu back.

something wild

Its a good concept and one I quickly felt engaged by, but once the ‘wild’ element of Lulu’s nature falls away and reveals who she really is, the movie stops dead, with a very awkward ‘lets go visit my mom’ scene and a drawn out high school reunion sequence.  Thankfully once Liotta turns up the movie is cranked up several levels and transforms into more of a thriller.  Liotta is brilliant, channelling that dangerous-charm he later honed to perfection in Goodfellas.  Also Daniel’s proves much more than simply an every man for the audience to latch onto.  Griffiths is also highly watchable and further proves why she was the go-to actress of the 80’s and has presence and personality to spare.  The movie never really hits it’s stride though, suffering from a bit of an identity crisis and is neither funny enough to be a comedy, exciting enough to be a thriller or charming enough to be a love story.  Like a lot of the other also-ran movies of the 80’s this one’s a bit of an oddity, but certainly retains a quirky appeal.

criterionThis UK Criterion release is rather underwhelming.  The image quality, whilst showing off some vibrancy to it’s colour palette is marred by a lot of smudgy shots.  There’s generally a soft look and lack of detail to the whole presentation.  The 2 channel DTS HD soundtrack doesn’t exactly wow either, but dialogue is sharp even if music cues seem to lack punch.  Extras consist of a detailed booklet that includes an essay by film critic David Thompson.  On the Blu-ray itself there’s an archive interview with director Jonathan Demme and the screenwriter, and we also get a trailer.  Not exactly the exhaustive treatment one might expect from Criterion.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5.

(the Blu-ray)  2.5 /5

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Deadpool 2


Viewed – 23 May 2018  Cinema

I think most of us knew that the sequel to the unexpected hit that was Deadpool, would be bigger and better,   A movie that was basically a one trick pony first time around, that of Ryan Reynolds’ wise-cracking, self-aware ‘merc with the mouth’ didn’t have a great deal more going for it as far as plot or an interesting villain.  So coming into this I was hoping for more.  Step up to the task Josh Brolin, fresh off his movie-stealing turn in the latest Avengers, he plays Terminator-like bad-guy ‘Cable’, sent from the future to kill some acting-out mutant kid who wants to blow up an orphanage and those that govern over him.  Deadpool see’s some injustice in the kids plight and offers to help, along with his band of reluctant friends he awkwardly names ‘X-Force’.

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Reynolds is on brilliant form and his wealth of one liners, observations and fourth-wall breaking piss-takes are often hilarious.  Thankfully this time around he’s not the only pull this movie has, because Brolin is again brilliant and there’s also a few other colourful characters to keep things interesting (personal fave:  Domino).  Yet the child actor at the centre of the plot is somewhat lacking, has poor line-delivery and stands out compared to his more seasoned and entertaining co-stars.  Yet we do get a wealth of at times very violent, bloody action that is utterly unrestrained but skilfully executed, showing director David Leitch is an assured replacement for the original’s Tim Miller. 

Some rather cheap-looking CGI doesn’t look all that much better than the first movie (especially Colossus) and not all the gags hit home runs.  However, this matters little when what’s presented is just so infectious.  I haven’t had as much at the cinema in a long time as I had watching this funny, exciting and crazy ride … which may play to the juvenile kid in all of us, but sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed.  Just go see it already.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Age of Shadows


Viewed – 05 May 2018  Blu-ray

I’m certainly a fan of Korean cinema.  Over the years I’ve discovered some real gems and found myself liking certain directors and actors the more I see their movies.  This critically acclaimed thriller follows Police captain Lee Jung‑Chool (Kang Ho-song) who infiltrates a group of resistance fighters who are reportedly planning a series of bombings on Japanese establishments during the Japanese occupation of Korea in the 1920s.  As a Korean born man, Lee Jung finds himself questioning his allegiance when a charismatic resistance fighter befriends him and lets him in on their plans.

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This tale of loyalty, double crosses and war time espionage is shot with no end of style and class.  The set design and photography here is simply breath-taking and further cements director Kim Jee-woon (I Saw the Devil) as one of the best the country has to offer.  Although at times overly-complicated, this was gripping stuff with some brilliantly executed set-pieces including a tense sequence aboard a train and an exhilarating finally set to the music of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.  Add to this two strong turns from Kang-Ho Song (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, The Host) and Gong Yoo (Train to Busan) and even though occasional shoot-outs got a tad repetitive … it was the battle of wits at the centre of the story that came across the strongest.

Not one of those Korean movies I’d leap to recommend over so many others, but if you’re a fan of well-made world cinema, this is definitely worth your time.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

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

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.

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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