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.

Deadpool 2 (2018)

I remember a few weeks ago I saw reports from an early preview of this, and they were, well they were not kind. Actually, “scathing” would be a proper response. It got to the point where apparently the studio was making a few changes and reshoots. I’m not sure what, and how many changes they made but it proves one of two (completely contradictory things). Either:

  • The studio knows what they’re doing and made the right changes to fix it.

Or

  • The early reports were all wrong.

There’s no way THIS was the film that was hated. If you liked the first film, you’ll like this. It’s like the first one, but a lot more. It’s funnier, more brutal, a lot more meta, and has a much better story. Let’s tackle those subjects one by one.

Funnier

This might be due to the way I saw it. I saw the first one twice at the cinema, both times it wasn’t really that busy. As such you couldn’t judge how funny it was, you could only judge how funny I personally found it. This was different, it was the first screening so the screen was almost completely full. As such when jokes hit, you know about it as it feels like the entire room is laughing with you (as opposed to laughing at you, which is not as fun). The laughs are not only better, but there’s a lot more of them. They come quick and come often, like a pervert in the lingerie section of M&S. It’s almost Airplane levels of “jokes per minute” for most the film. With one MAJOR exception. Towards the end, there’s a 2-3 minute section with zero laughs. I know it doesn’t sound long, but it is, if you don’t believe me, stick your hand in boiling water for 3 minutes. That 3 minutes is REALLY good too, full of so much emotion that it makes up for almost the complete lack of nuance in the first one.

More brutal

The vultures started circling for this film when it was announced that Tim Miller, the director of the first film, wasn’t coming back due to creative differences. As such people wondered whether the second one would, or even could, be as good as the first one. Luckily they got David Leitch, best known for John Wick and Atomic Blonde. I do like Tim Miller, but his style was very video-gamey, the film didn’t really look “real”, so even when horrific injuries occurred on screen, it didn’t really have the same impact it should have done. Leitch is the complete opposite, just like the aforementioned Blonde and Wick, you feel the hits. When people got hit, you could hear people in the audience wince with pain. This means the fights and action scenes seem like they have consequences. Also, the violence means they can redeem a previously laughed at character. Last time we saw this character he was basically a joke played by a former footballer, this time he tears Deadpool in half and threatens to turn Colossus into a cock ring.

More Meta (Spoilers)

If you plan on seeing the film, close your eyes now, and open them when I tell you. Done it? Good. Those idiots, they won’t able to read when I tell them to open their eyes those gullible fools. They’ll be walking around with their eyes closed forever, they’re going to walk into traffic and possibly die. Oh God, what have I done? Anyway, spoilers. The mid credit sequence for this features Deadpool killing the Deadpool from X:Men Origin Wolverine in a remade scene from that film, and then killing Ryan Reynolds as he reads The Green Lantern script. It also features a cameo from most of the X-men, in the background. There’s also a scene where they say “and if we do this, there won’t be a third act”. It’s deliciously meta and brilliant, I love it.

Better story.

Judging from the trailer, what do you think this film is about? You’re wrong. The trailer only really covers half the film, the final half takes it in such an unexpected direction, and one you didn’t expect, but makes a lot of sense. Criticism of the first one was that the story and the villains were lacking, definitely not the case here. The story is, whilst not exactly To Kill A Mockingbird, is multi-layered and not exactly something you can call rushed or lazy. It also has genuine emotion, like, an actual tear-causing emotional scene, It also has the first (that I can think of) openly gay relationship in mainstream superhero cinema.

The downsides: there’s quite a lot you feel could be cut. Large amounts of fluff, but it’s incredibly funny fluff, so it works. There are moments where you feel like the writers themselves have forgotten small parts of the story. Also, it has to be said, they could have cut TJ Miller. Not only they could, they SHOULD have cut TJ Miller. The sexual assault allegations are one thing. You could argue that someone shouldn’t lose their job over unproven allegations, no matter how heinous (despite the fact that this seemed to have multiple witnesses). But then he called in a fake bomb threat to get back at a random woman on the train. His scenes could have been replaced with someone else easily enough, and it’s a black mark against the film that it didn’t.

But despite that, I highly recommend this film if you enjoyed the first one. It’s like the first one, but turned up to 11.

 

Why We Love…..John Wick.

Directed by: Chad Stahelski, David Leitch

Budget: $20million

Box Office: $86 Million

So this week the teaser trailer for John Wick: Chapter 2 dropped, with the full trailer being released tomorrow at New York Comic-Con. Usually I hate the idea of trailers for trailers, but I think I finally get their purpose. They’re basically a “heads up”, a “keep your eyes out for later this week”, and I know for certain that I’ll be searching for the trailer on Sunday. It helps that I really love the title for some reason, it’s both ordinary and superb at the same time. The original had a real sense of being part of a wider universe. There were a lot of moments in it which set up that this world wasn’t just for the benefit of the main characters, you got the feeling that everything continued to exist even once the camera stopped rolling. I remember coming out of that and wondering whether it was a comic book adaptation, it genuinely felt like one, but a good one.

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So not this, definitely not this

I will admit I went into this with low expectations, I’ve never really rated Keanu Reeves that consistent, he’s had flashes of brilliance but I would never think “I’m really looking forward to the new Keanu Reeves movie” I went in basically expecting a dumb but fun action movie. Whilst it is fun it is definitely something more than that. The films starts off with his wife dying, now most films would have her killed by a dickbag (not a literal one), and then the hero has to go through and avenge her death. But this? This has her die of an unspecified disease, but before she dies she arranges for him to get a puppy to help him cope with her death. The villains in this KILL THE DOG! Most films don’t do that, even Kick-Ass 2 which was ultra violent had the lead villain balk at the idea of killing a dog (in the movie anyway), so the fact that it’s that which kicks off the story is a brave piece of storytelling, and it’s effective. He doesn’t even spend the film chasing the guys who did it, he gets his retaliation in then has to deal with the person’s father who’s the head of a crime family. The entire story is not generic revenge, it’s about dealing with the consequences of your actions, the second half of the film is basically what a lesser film would put in the sequel.

john-wick

But it’s not just the story it’s telling, it’s the way it’s told that is effective too. It looks beautiful, yes it’s quite dark in terms of lighting, but it’s not in a bleak way, it uses bright lights often to create the contrast between light and dark, it’s like an extremely toned down neon noir film. The choreography is superb as well, I do love a good fight scene in films, but only when done a certain way (I’m quite picky). I hate the fight scenes where every single punch/kick etc is accompanied by a cut, where the scenes cuts away just on the impact. It can be effective tool to use, but when it’s used with every single impact it just makes the scene disorientating, particularly when you change the focal point with the cuts so your eyes are constantly wandering (although Mad Max: Fury Road did this superbly where even when they changed angles they kept the action almost dead centre). This film does cut on impact occasionally but it also lingers long enough for the punches to have an impact. Both the colour and the choreography can be showcased best in this scene.

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Or just this

The film is even more impressive when you realise it’s a directorial debut for both directors. Previously they’d done mostly stunk work and assistant directing (it was actually their stunt work on The Matrix which led to Keanu Reeves suggesting them directing this), but they definitely step up to the plate here and knock it out the park. Utilising visual techniques from anime films, choreography (particularly in regards to “gun fu”) from Honk Kong cinema, mixed with an almost old-school Western movie vibe (to the point where if I had to put this in a genre I’d say “Neon Western”) combine to make something truly exciting even on mute. Even the character’s costume has a good look to it, it’s kind of “priestly gangster” and works well for the character. Basically I can’t oversell this film enough, it’s superb and you should see it.

Also watch:

The Drop. Another film I saw with low expectations which ended up being a personal favourite. Tom Hardy is superb and the storytelling is brilliant.

Nightcrawler. Similarly coloured, also great.