Bullet Train (2022)

Quick Synopsis: Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is an unlucky assassin who’s been tasked to retrieve a briefcase from a train. A train full of other nefarious people including Tangerine and Lemon (Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Brian Tyree Henry), The Wolf (Bad Bunny), The Hornet (Zazie Beetz), The Prince (Joey King), and The Father (Andrew Koji) also all want the briefcase in this fun neon insanity directed by David Leitch (Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2).

My expectations for this: dumb fun. I’d watch it, be slightly amused, but come out thinking I could have watched this on Netflix.

In reality, I’ve seen this film twice already now. It’s among my favourites of the year. It just works. Action films depend on the two C’s: Characters and Choreography. Characters; You can have faceless mooks be injured and killed, but if it’s a one-on-one fight scene and you don’t care about one of the characters, the stakes will seem lower. A random person being punched in the face? Meh, who cares? Clive, who we know is working this low-level job to pay for his daughter’s hospital bills, and we witness him being injured? We care, we worry about Clive and the implications of him being injured. This film nails that aspect, there are moments where characters get a long introductory montage full of motivation and background, and then only last 5 minutes before dying. Some may find this frustrating but I loved it. Not only because it added character motivation to random fights, but also meant that there was a real “anyone can die” feel to the whole thing. You watch this knowing that any character could suddenly be killed, and not dramatically or meaningfully, characters can be killed by accident in the blink of an eye.

Now, choreography. I dislike a lot of modern action films for one simple reason: you can’t actually see what’s going on. The camera moves so quickly that your brain is forever playing catchup to your eyes. The fight scenes in this are brilliant. They’re brightly lit, and choreographed SO WELL. Unless it’s purposeful misdirection, you know where everybody is at all times and can clearly see everything that’s happening. It kind of helps that everybody looks so different so even when it is just two people grappling and rolling, you can tell who is winning, there’s none of those issues you had with Morbius where it just looked like a blob of flesh whirling around. This has some of my favourite fight scenes I’ve seen in a long time.

It looks great, the bright colours and unique setting help create a visual feast for the eyes. It’s like a weird mix of Edgar Wright, Guy Ritchie, and Chad Stahelski. The Guy Ritchie comparisons also extend to the story and the dialogue. There are lots of F-words, lots of character introductions via flashback, and lots of deadly misunderstandings and miscommunications. If the characters were terrible, that would hurt the film. But as it is, it works. The characters are all different enough that when you get another introduction, it doesn’t hurt the film. I would watch a spin-off film based around almost any one of these characters. The script is also VERY funny, there was sustained laughter throughout the cinema when I saw it. Different types of comedy too, there’s absurdity, wordplay, physical humour etc. It runs the gauntlet of different comedic styles flawlessly, whilst also putting in many references to Thomas The Tank Engine, more than most films.

Now onto the downsides: the CGI is slightly ropey at times. Usually not distractingly so but there a few moments which just don’t look “right”. There’s a moment near the end where Brad Pitts performance feels a little off. It’s hard to explain it, but it doesn’t feel like he’s interacting with a person, feels like he’s just on his own in a room reading lines. It’s strange as 99% of the time he can be depended on for a very good performance, and in most of this he’s perfect. There’s just that one scene which is a little off. One of the characters deaths doesn’t feel very satisfying. This persons comeuppance is constantly teased throughout, and when it does happen it feels like it happens too quickly.

Overall, I highly recommend this. As I said, I’ve seen it twice already, and will definitely be getting it on DVD, I’m already considering buying the soundtrack.

Minions: The Rise Of Gru

Quick synopsis: It’s 1976, 11 year old Gru wants to join a supervillain league but is rejected due to his young age, he does not take it well.

I was ready to slate this, I was ready to come down on this harder than the next UK Prime Minister comes down on an unemployed person not applying for jobs in their sleep. I was going to use every insult that exists, and a few that I made up to express my anger at this film.

But then it ruined my plans by having the audacity, the sheer gall, to actually be okay. How very dare you! I mean, it’s not going to end up on my “best of 2021” list, mainly because it’s 2022, but also because the best it ever gets is “okay”. I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, I think it’s because it’s basically old Buster Keaton skits, but in animation so there’s no sense of danger or risk. There’s also always the sneaking suspicion that it’s a merchandise-driven series rather than a creative one. It’s strange as its when this film links to the others in the franchise that it’s at its weakest. The timeline doesn’t line up AT ALL with the first Minions film, and when it makes references to the other films it falls flat, and like every prequel ever made has moments where the audience reacts with “what a useful skill/gadget, that would have been useful in [scene in a film made earlier but chronologically takes place later]”.

This does fix the biggest mistake of the previous prequel, it focuses on a character who can talk. The minions are fine in small doses, if they were in a series of shorts it would be fine. But following them over the course of an entire feature-length film is tiresome, so following less obnoxious characters is a smart move. What would be even smarter is utilizing the supporting cast more effectively: the main villains are played by Lucy Lawless, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Tajiri P Henson, and Danny Trejo. With the exception of Henson, it’s possible to watch this film and be unaware of that. They’re not used enough and it feels like kind of a waste casting them. Also, it’s strange having them in a movie set in 1976, change the plot (make Gru a young villain instead of a child), and set it in the 80s and that casting would make sense.

Now onto the good; the narrative is strong and it never feels like things are happening “just because”. It is very funny at times, and the music is fun. It’s also absolutely perfect for kids, they’ll love it. The colours, the sound, the jokes, this will be one of those films parents will hate because of how often their kids will want to watch it.

So in summary, if you have kids, take them to the cinema to see it. If not, wait until netflix then check it out when you have nothing else to do.

The Bad Guys (2022)

Quick Synopsis: A criminal gang made up of anthropomorphic animals pretend to reform themselves into good guys to avoid prison.

It’s difficult to be an animated movie. Since Toy Story changed the game back in 1995, everybody else has followed suit and started producing films more in line with that visual style. So they usually look great, but it does have the downside of meaning it will get compared to Pixar, and being compared to one of the most consistent studios is not going to end well. Sometimes studios don’t help themselves, like when Dreamworks released Antz so close to the release of A Bugs Life. This has a similar problem, a not-dog animal who frequently breaks the law tries to move to the side of good, and the big bad actually turns out to be a somewhat “cute” animal.” It’s going to be difficult for this to leave the shadow of Zootropolis.

Oh, I guess that “big bad reveal” is technically a spoiler, but it’s one that will be incredibly obvious to anybody who has ever seen a film before. That’s the biggest issue I have with this, it just doesn’t seem very original. It wears its cinematic influences too brazenly, so no matter how much you like it, it’s not likely to be your favourite film, as you’re constantly comparing it to something else.

Also, the opening is a bit strange. Essentially just two characters sitting in a cafe preparing for a heist while discussing an upcoming birthday. It establishes the characters, shows that the general public are afraid of them, and is weirdly Pulp Fiction-esque for a kid’s film. It’s also completely unnecessary. Everything it does is repeated in the next scene, the aftermath of the bank robbery. The bank robbery scene would be a much better opener, it’s fast-paced, funny, and showcases the best visual trick this film has: when it blends CGI animation with cel-shaded effects. This would get you straight into the film and perfectly set the tone for the rest of it. The opening it currently has is far too slow, boring, and I’m not going to lie, it did make me worry that the film was going to be awful.

That’s a shame as the film is actually quite fun. The characters are well-defined in terms of motivations (although there is one doublecross that happens far too quickly), the voice-acting is pretty good (with the exception of the newsreader), and the jokes are genuinely funny.

The Pulp Fiction comparison earlier was apt, as this is essentially a Tarantino film for kids (although one of the female characters has 8 feet, and if Tarantino could make a film like that he’d never leave the edit suite). It makes the most of the concept beautifully. Sometimes in films like this, there are not many references to them being animals and it can feel like a strange creative choice. This depends on it, there are certain plot points, certain jokes etc, which only work if the characters are animals, and only if they’re these specific ones. The jokes are character and plot-specific. It’s overall a quite impressive watch.

It’s not going to change the world, but if you’re looking after young kids and want to keep them entertained, you could do a lot worse than choosing this.

Catch The Fair One (2021)

Quick synopsis: In this thriller by Josef Kubota Wladyka, a boxer (Kali Reis) embarks on the fight of her life when she goes undercover in a sex trafficking operation to seek revenge for the disappearance of her sister

You often get a sense that a film “belongs” to someone. Usually, that’s the director. Kubota Wladyka did a great job here. He has a background in television, but the television he’s worked on has included such critically acclaimed series as The Terror and Narcos, so, despite the fact this is his feature debut, it’s not exactly unexpected that he managed to do such a good job of framing the urban decay and human apathy in this world. He also wrote the script, and some of the dialogue in this is painful, in a good way. He has a talent for exploring humanity, knowing what people go through during painful moments. He knows the kind of things people say in stressful situations, and more importantly, what they don’t say. There’s a scene where Reis’s character gets kidnapped and it’s one of the best kidnapping scenes I’ve seen. There are no audio cues to warn you what will happen. There’s zero visual indication of what’s about to happen, which makes sense as that doesn’t really happen in real life. It’s unexpected, as it should be.

Despite that, it’s not his film. I know that from what I’ve said so far, it should be, but the whole thing really belongs to Kali Reis. Considering this is her first role, she does a PHENOMENAL job, possibly one of the best acting debuts I’ve ever seen. She’s also responsible for the story. You can tell it’s one that’s deeply personal to her. She’s an active supporter of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement. That comes through in the story being told, the whole thing is basically “This shit needs to fucking stop!”. It’s personal, it’s passionate, and it’s fucking angry (as it should be).

You are slightly misled by the synopsis and the trailer, this is not a boxing movie, in fact, that aspect barely comes up (but is a good thing to keep in mind during the fight scenes). This is not a high-octane thriller like Taken. This is the cinematic equivalent of tooth extraction in slow motion. You know what you’re going through is painful, and it’s slow, but you do it in the hope that at the end the pain will be gone and it will all be worth it. There’s a scene where the main character waterboards someone (after threatening to cut off his wife’s ear). In a standard action movie, this would be the moment where the person being tortured gives up information which then leads to the hero saving the day. In this? The guy dies without giving up any information, because torture doesn’t fucking work no matter what movies which are coincidentally funded by the US military tell you.

It’s not a nice film, but it would be weird if a film about this subject was nice. It’s realistic, and that’s why it’s so painful. When a character says that “nobody is looking because nobody cares”, it hits deep because you know it’s true, there’s a reason Missing White Women Syndrome is a thing. When a sex trafficker describes a 29-year-old as “too old”, it disgusts you because you know that’s how people like him (and his customers) think.

That I feel is its biggest weakness, it’s unrelentingly bleak and uneasy to get through. But it could have been fixed if they changed the ending. I don’t mean to give it a happy ending full of unicorns and happiness as tonally that would be a complete mess. I’m talking about the ending credits. When a TV show handles certain subjects they often have someone at the end say “and if you’ve been affected by any of the issues raised in this programme tonight, resources to help are available at…….”. Something like that at the end could have improved it. Not a voiceover, as that would be weird. But if it went to the credits, and instead of just standard credits it started with a fact-sheet about the issues raised in the film, and lists of websites and resources which help, it would add a little something. At the moment you’re left with a “fuck, that’s terrible. There’s nothing we can do” feeling when the film ends, whereas if they provided resource links to websites and organisations at the end, then it could inspire people to help out. It could have been important and changed lives, instead of just INCREDIBLY impactful.

The other downside? Her being a boxer doesn’t play as big a part in it as it could. Also, there’s a really intense scene of her and her mother having an argument about guilt and recovery. It’s a brilliantly written scene, but it’s not really followed up on. I wouldn’t cut it though, mainly because of how good it is, but also the scene leading into it of her mother leading a missing persons group has some of the best moments, moments which say a lot about masculinity and responsibility. Such a brilliant scene and it deserves to be followed up in someway.

So in summary, I would highly recommend seeing this. You won’t enjoy it, but you will be changed by it.