Films

Ramblings about Films – whether it’s new, reviews or something else.

REVIEW: Peninsula (2020)

Four years after a zombie virus has spread across the country, South Korea has been quarantined from the rest of the world. A small team led by former soldier Jung-seok (Gang Dong-won) come back to the peninsula in order to retrieve a truck containing $20 million in cash.

Peninsula is a sequel to Train to Busan, but as it has new characters and is set after the events of the first film it can stand on its own. It’s a similar scenario to 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later really.

I think the best way to go into Peninsula is to not think too much of its predecessor. Train to Busan was like lightning in a bottle in terms of a zombie movie with a lot of heart. Peninsula tries to capture the same emotions with familial relationships, but it doesn’t reach the same heights of Train to Busan.

Gang Dong-won gives a great performance as the tortured but capable Jung-seok. He’s guilt-ridden over what happened to his family as they were fleeing South Korea four years earlier so to go back there and meet other survivors gives him a lot to think about. On the peninsula he meets Min-jung (Lee Jung-hyun) and her young daughters Joon (Lee Re) and Yu-jin (Lee Ye-won), and their grandfather Elder Kim (Kwon Hae-hyo). This little family is very likable and easy to root for but due to there being more characters outside this family unit and the heist/survival plot, they don’t get as much development to make you truly care about them.

As well as the zombie hoards Jung-seok and his comrades also have to deal with the soldiers of a unit who were abandoned by their government in South Korea. These men are mostly sadistic and greedy, looking out for themselves and subjecting any one they find to their cruel games.

The car chases as people try to either get away with the money, avoid the zombies or both are fun though a large part of them are done with easily noticeable special effects. Likewise, while scenes with a handful of zombies are actors in makeup (the zombies still move in an unsettling way and the makeup is very good), often when there’s a lot of them it’s CGI.

One could describe Peninsula as a zombie heist film with hints of Fast and Furious thanks to all the innovative car chases. The way people use lights, sounds and flares to attract or distract the zombies is really interesting and fun. All in all, while it doesn’t really hold a candle to its predecessor, Peninsula is a decent zombie film. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Wolverine (2013)

When Logan (Hugh Jackman) travels to Japan to meet Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), an old friend whose life he saved in World War Two, he becomes entangled in his family’s politics and a conspiracy involving the yakuza – all the while seeming to lose his power to heal.

The Wolverine chronologically takes place after all the previous X-Men film, including X-Men: The Last Stand. That means we have a Logan that’s alone, hurting and has had to deal with the death of so many people he knew and cared about. Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) haunts his dreams as he shuts himself off from the rest of the world.

The Wolverine is perhaps one of the more serious and character-driven X-Men films so far. There’s always been discussions of mutants and the hatred and fear they face (they can be used as a stand in for any minority group) but this film really digs deep in Logan’s psyche and what it means to him to be immortal. He’s always seen it as a curse and while Logan may be ambivalent towards his death, it’s still not something he’d want to pass on to anyone else, even Yashida.

When Logan appears to start becoming mortal, healing a lot slower than normal and some wounds not healing at all without medical help, it shows another side to this character. Logan has always been almost reckless with his life due to his accelerated healing, so for him to now feel pain and even getting tired it’s a whole new experience for him. Jackman really gets the character and how he shows both Logan’s surprise at this new situation and his stoicism in dealing with it is great. There are bad people to stop and an heiress to save, Logan doesn’t have time wallow and as he says, at his hear he’s always been a soldier.

Having The Wolverine set in Japan naturally brings in a lot of Japanese culture and references to samurais and ninjas. Logan is referred to as a Ronin, a samurai with no master, multiple times. Harada (Will Yun Lee) leads the Black Clan who are sworn to protect the Yashida family for hundreds of years and his fighting style is an interesting juxtaposition to Logan’s. A lot of the men Logan fights in this film are highly trained and skilful compared to Logan who uses his brute force and rage, meaning the fights are different to what we’ve seen in previous X-Men films. Logan going up against people with swords and bows and arrows instead of just guns makes a much more interesting and entertaining fight.

The final act does let the film down a little bit. Compared to the more grounded action sequences and character moments before it, it does come across quite cartoonish as Logan must fight what’s basically a giant robot samurai. It’s not necessarily terrible but it doesn’t really fit the film it’s in. The sequence before it of Logan verses dozens of ninjas was a lot more visually interesting and impressive.

The Wolverine is an excellent character study of Logan, morality and duty. For a 12A film the fights are suitably brutal and bloody and it’s clear to see the foundations being laid here for Logan – in terms of character, themes and action. 4/5.

H is for Holland March

The Nice Guys is one of my favourite action/comedies – it is just so good! That is mostly down to the trio of main characters, Holland March, his daughter Holly, and his unlikely co-worker Jackson Healy. My favourite of the three is Holland.

Holland March is a disaster and I love that about him. He drinks too much, is self-destructive, self-loathing, and isn’t always a great dad though it’s clear he loves his daughter a lot. He’s also incredibly clumsy and, for all intents and purposes, a classic screw up.

All that doesn’t sound like a pretty likeable or great protagonist but there’s something endearing about Holland and how useless he is. Maybe it’s because he and everyone around him expects him to fail that when he doesn’t it’s such a surprise – to him and everyone else! Holland’s a private detective and it’s not always clear whether he’s a good one. But sometimes his ability to think outside the box (whether due to his intelligence or the copious amount of alcohol in his system) means he sees things other people don’t.

Holland March is easily agitated and is not one to keep calm in a crisis but somehow he still manages to make things turn out OK for himself. How he doesn’t die over the course of the film is truly a miracle. Also, just how he/Ryan Gosling screams in this film always makes me laugh.

E is for Elizabeth Sloane

Miss Sloane is one of my favourite films of recent years and that’s mainly down to the titular character, Elizabeth Sloane, and Jessica Chastain’s performance as her.

Elizabeth Sloane is a cutthroat lobbyist and isn’t a particularly nice person a lot of the time. She will use and manipulate people in order to get the results she wants. She’s not afraid to bend or break the law either. There are moments where it seems like she is making genuine connections with people but you’re never really sure of her motives or how genuine she actually is.

Elizabeth Sloane is one of my favourite types of character. She is incredibly smart and forward-thinking. She’s the kind of person who treats her job and her goals as a game of chess, always looking three moves ahead and setting out plans to counter her oppositions possible actions in anticipation of whatever they might to next. She can predict peoples reactions so well that a lot of the time she’s in complete control, or if she’s not she soon will be. She has plans and backup plans and hardly ever lets anyone in on her schemes because the less people know, the more likely she can herd them in the direction she wants.

On a more superficial note, I absolutely adore the costuming in this film and every single one of Elizabeth’s outfits is incredible. They are the perfect example of office chic and the way she is dressed just exudes power and competence.

D is for Poe Dameron

I know there’s a lot of debates about Star Wars on the internet but for me, it wasn’t something I grew up watching. I didn’t watch the original trilogy, and then the prequel trilogy, until I was at university and in my early 20s so The Force Awakens was the first Star Wars film I saw in the cinema and it is the one and only Star Wars film I fell wholeheartedly in love with.

A big part of that was the new trio of heroes and the first one of the three that I fell for was Poe Dameron. It helps that I really like Oscar Isaac as an actor and he’s not bad to look at, but Poe is such a cool character. He just oozes charm and charisma but he’s also pretty smart and competent, and he’s an amazing pilot.

Something I’ve realised over the course of writing these A-Z posts (I’m trying to get ahead with the scheduling) is that something that makes me like a character more is if they have interesting or likeable dynamics with other characters – even ones I don’t like. Characters, like people, should be well-rounded and while their personality could be something I’m drawn to, I feel I get to know a character better by seeing how they treat others or how they interact with other characters – especially if they only show certain parts of themselves to certain people.

With Poe I really love the dynamic he has with various characters in the Star Wars film and the comics. I’ve read a couple of volumes of the Poe Dameron comic and I love the art and think they’re a good place to get some of Poe’s backstory and context for his actions that probably should’ve been in the films. In the comics his relationship with his squadron is explored, and you see the dilemmas he has at being a leader but also someone who’s a bit reckless. In both the comics and the films, I really like his dynamic with Leia. It’s a great commanding officer/subordinate dynamic while also having hints of her also being an almost mother figure for him and the respect they have for one another, even when he does something stupid is clear to see. My absolute favourite dynamic is between Poe and Finn. It’s probably an obvious one but it’s great. In the few scenes they have together in The Force Awakens you see how Poe can be calm and caring (how he asks Finn if he’s OK with Poe calling him that name is one of my favourite small moments in that film) and also supportive and pragmatic.

I think Poe Dameron is just great. He’s charming and brave and loyal, even if he is a bit impulsive and reckless. He’s flawed but he tries and he learns and he’s a great friend and someone that you’d easily follow into battle.

REVIEW: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) bring together a team of mutants to stop Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) from starting a nuclear war.

I hadn’t seen X-Men: First Class in years and I’d forgotten how good it was! The casting is spot on almost across the board. McAvoy and Fassbender have such great chemistry and while thanks to Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s performances in the original trilogy you could sense the years or friendship and respect, seeing how Charles and Erik met and the foundations of their relationship was just great to see. McAvoy and Fassbender both do a great job of showing the younger versions of these iconic characters while still making their own mark on them. Fassbender especially is great at showing the almost warring sides of Erik as he has a single determination for revenge but also likes and understands Charles’s point of view.

The differing ideologies of Erik and Charles don’t only come into play but also Charles and Raven aka Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). Having them being adoptive siblings adds this whole new dynamic to characters we already thought we knew. Raven trying to figure out who she is leads to a lot of the sort of moral conversations about trying to fit in verses being true to yourself that wasn’t always discussed so much in the original trilogy.

The whole 60s vibe on First Class is a lot of fun. The use of Gnarls Barkley’s “Run” during the montage sequence of Erik and Charles recruiting mutants fits perfectly and the score composed by Henry Jackman is one of my favourites in the X-Men franchise and helps make First Class feel like its own thing outside of the rest of the X-Men films we’d seen so far.

Having X-Men: First Class be set during the Cold War adds another level of politics to the usual dynamic of humans vs mutants. There are humans being used by mutants, mutants trying to protect humans – it’s all put together so that the final conflict is truly satisfying.

While Charles, Erik, Mystique and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) are all characters we’ve seen older versions of before, the rest of the mutants – both good and bad – are all new to the films. Naturally not all of them get the same amount of screen time and development but thanks to good casting and chemistry between them means they, and their powers, are all fun to watch.

X-Men: First Class is the near perfect blend of action, humour and fun. The cast is great, as is the special effects and the yellow X-Men uniforms are just the best. X-Men: First Class was the perfect way to reboot/reimagine the franchise and these characters after X-Men: The Last Stand. The subsequent films with these younger versions of the characters might not all have been as impressive as First Class, but it certainly gave the franchise a whole new lease of life. 5/5.

REVIEW: The 8th (2020)

The 8th tells the story of Irish women and their fight to overturn one of the most restrictive laws on abortion in the world. After a 35-year struggle the pro-choice side have to radically shift tactics to try and bring this historically conservative electorate over the line.

Living in the UK and having Irish friends via social media I remember hearing about the campaign to repeal the 8th amendment. Though I had no real idea of the real-world implications of such an amendment, that put the rights of the unborn the same as any living human’s rights – meaning the unborn had more rights than the pregnant woman, often even if her health was at risk. Seeing this documentary really highlights how passionate people were on both sides of the argument, and the different ways they’d go to try and get their message out there.

Ailbhe Smyth, a feminist and campaigner, is one of the main people the documentary follows. She’s one of the prominent figures in the Yes campaign and through her and the team’s various members, from door-to-door campaigners to the core organisers and communications specialists, you see what their plans were and how they implemented them. The other main person on the Yes campaign the film follows is self-described glitter-activist Andrea Horan. She is the owner of a nail bar and shows what it’s like when a “normal, not political person” gets into politics and behind a cause. She can mobilise young women in a way that other may not be able to and she shows that you can be interested in makeup and nails while still being passionate about women’s rights.

As a documentary The 8th is a mixture of talking heads and in the room-type footage. What’s interesting is the talking heads all are from before and during the campaign, so these people don’t know which way the vote will go and are basing all their thoughts on what was currently happening in the campaign. With hindsight this makes some of their observations quite amusing.

Maria Steen, a journalist who is supporting the No Vote, does make a good point. She believes that culture and society should change so that women don’t feel they have to have abortions if they want a career, that the working environment and social services should be more inclusive so that women can be supported when having children and that their careers aren’t negatively affected by having children. In an ideal world this would be the case, and she and everyone else who believes that should continue to fight for that, but until society is fairer, women need to be able to have access to safe and legal abortions so that they can make the choice about their bodies and their future safely.

Not only does The 8th cover the run up to the voting day, but it also includes past events in Irish history that are to do with women’s reproductive rights and how various cases have gained support from the people before. One example is of a fourteen-year-old girl who was raped by a schoolfriends father. She and her family were banned from flying to the UK for an abortion, something that all pregnant women who were seeking an abortion – no matter the reason – would have to do in order to have one safely. There was outcry because how on earth is the foetus have more rights than the living, breathing child that was raped?!

The 8th is a rousing and passionate documentary. While it does it’s best to show both sides of the debate, it’s clear that it is a film that’s behind the pro-choice message. The way the campaigners adapted their message to appeal to those undecided voters, to be compassionate and not scaremongering, and how they stuck with their methods even when it looked like things were turning against them is impressive. 5/5.

REVIEW: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

A prequel to the original X-Men trilogy, X-Men Origins: Wolverine shows the early years of James Logan (Hugh Jackman) who would one day become the Wolverine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine tries to cram a lot in and very little of it works. A big part of this film is the relationship between Logan and his brother, Victor Creed (Live Schreiber). How they are each other’s only family until Victor’s violent streak gets too much for Logan and they go on different paths. Schreiber, and his creepy/gross nails, does look like he’s having a good time playing a villain that’s one step away from moustache-twirling. But the film never really delves into the hows and whys of the character instead having it pretty black and white – Logan = good while Victor = bad.

There are a lot of new mutants as a part of the team, led by Stryker (Danny Huston), and I couldn’t tell you any of their names – except Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds). X-Men Origins: Wolverine is possibly the most derided X-Men film and a big part of that is because of its treatment of that character and what it turned Deadpool into. God bless Ryan Reynolds for sticking with it and getting a Deadpool movie made seven years after this one made the character unrecognisable. The other members of the team aren’t given much more than the barebones of a personality and most are quicky killed off.

Gambit (Taylor Kitsch) makes his one and only appearance in the entire X-Men franchise
(so far) and he really is a bright spark in this otherwise dull film. He’s probably got less than 10 minutes of screen time, and he doesn’t appear until an hour into the film, but Kitsch still manages to bring more charm and charisma in that time than Hugh Jackman does in the whole film.

Speaking of Jackman, considering how layered his performance as Logan in previous films was and how it looked like he was giving a good performance even if the script wasn’t great (looking at you X-Men: The Last Stand) here he looks like he’s checked out of it and doesn’t really care anymore. That may be down to the poor script or the fact he’s supposed to be playing a slightly different Logan than the one we’ve seen before, one who remembers the 100+ years of his life so is more weary due to the things he’s seen or done. Either way, it’s not a great performance.

There’s a lot of X-Men Origins: Wolverine that feels contrived because it’s a prequel. There are things like where Logan gained the moniker Wolverine and even where he got his cool, brown leather jacket – were we really desperate to know that? – and often it seems unnatural as the film screeches to a holt so you pick up this obvious reference. Then there’s a problem that prequels often fall into – you have a good idea of how the story is going to end. If you’ve seen the original trilogy (which you probably have) then you know Logan is “experimented on” and he must lose his memory by the end of the film. If the stuff leading up to that was more compelling maybe Logan’s amnesia would then be bittersweet as a viewer as then what he’d lost would be more affecting but it’s not.

The CGI in X-Men Origins: Wolverine is so bad. I’m one to forgive some shoddy CGI if it’s just in one scene or the rest of the film in terms of plot and characters is good and entertaining, but as X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t meet those requirements it’s worth mentioning. The most noticeable thing is Wolverine’s claws. Obviously, they aren’t real but they look so fake and far worse than they did in X-Men which was released nine years earlier. They look stuck on Logan’s hands rather than a part of the characters body.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is pretty much one fight/action scene after another, and it gets boring pretty quickly as none of the characters Logan goes up against (besides Gambit) have much of a personality or a compelling story arc – and the actual plot of the film isn’t that entertaining either. 1/5.

REVIEW: Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

My review of the 2017 theatrical version of Justice League.

Determined to ensure Superman’s (Henry Cavill) ultimate sacrifice was not in vain, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) aligns forces with Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) with plans to recruit a team of metahumans to protect the world from an approaching threat of catastrophic proportions led by Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds).

The trials and tribulations of this film, or this version of this film, are pretty well known and now thanks to HBO Max Zack Snyder has been able to release the version of Justice League that was his ideal vision to release back in 2017 – all four hours of it.

It’s difficult to watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League and not compare it to the film that was released in cinemas in 2017. There are scenes that are exactly the same or similar but extended but then there’s also a whole lot of new footage and backstory on different characters. Much like the 2017 version, I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League is mostly fine, it’s still messy but it is a bit more coherent and thematically consistent. It’s just that if you’re not keen on how Snyder represents these characters, making them more like God-like warriors than superheroes, then you’ll probably not be too over keen on this film.

Cyborg (Ray Fisher) gets the most out of this new version. As a character he gets so much more to do, more character development and he does kind of become the heart and driving force of this team of heroes. Fisher’s performance isn’t always great, but his character goes from being an almost non-entity to the glue that holds this team together – and his relationship with his father Silas Stone (Joe Morton) is a big subplot of the film.

Steppenwolf is given more of a backstory too so becomes a bit more than a generic villain who wants to destroy the world. The CGI with all the spikes in his suit makes him appear more menacing and with the extra blood and violence he does seem like a sizable threat.

The four-hour runtime of Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a bit intimidating, and you do feel it at times. Slow-motion shots are a big part of Snyder’s directing style and there’s a lot in here. In fact, the use of them is excessive as shots that look cool in a trailer (Jason Momoa’s Aquaman standing in the waves) last for minutes as you have to see them in slow-mo and from every angle, and then there’s sequences like a football game that’s also in slow-mo which seems pointless. These shots may look cool, but having so much slow-motion shots used, all the time no matter the context of the scene, makes them lose their impact when they’re used in a big action sequences.

I think that’s a good way to sum up Zack Snyder’s Justice League. A lot of the time it looks cool but those visual, stylistic choices don’t necessarily make a good film. With it’s four-hour runtime there’s a lot of exposition and action and some it works while some of it doesn’t. More padding around the plot makes it a more consistent film than the one released in 2017, but I see little reason for it to be four hours. There’s probably a really good two-and-a-half to three-hour Justice League movie in here.

If you had problems with the 2017 film, you may like this version more. If you liked the 2017 version, there may be some stuff to like here but there’s not as much slapstick comedy for instance. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is long, often dour but frequently visually interesting. There are a few nice character moments (how the dynamic between Wonder Woman and Aquaman is briefly explored is one of my favourite moments) but then other characters are pushed aside (Amy Adams’ Lois Lane). It’s the balance between character and action and pacing that’s lacking and often makes Zack Snyder’s Justice League a bit of a slog but the film does just enough to keep you watching – if only out of morbid curiosity. 2/5.

If you want to hear my spoiler-filled thoughts on this film, I featured on JumpCast’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League episode that was released today.

REVIEW: X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)

When the government develops a “cure” for mutations that will turn mutants human permanently, Magneto (Ian McKellen) rages war and the X-Men must choose what side they’re on. Meanwhile Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) returns and is more powerful than ever, calling herself the Phoenix and turns on her friends, aligning herself with Magneto.

X-Men: The Last Stand is one of the X-Men films that I’m pretty sure I hadn’t seen it in its entirety since the cinema, 15 years ago. I remember being a bit disappointed by it but not necessarily why and a lot of my thoughts and opinions on it before this rewatch were probably thanks to the general internet consensus over the years.

The Last Stand definitely isn’t as good as the first two X-Men films, but I don’t think it’s as terrible as I’d been led to believe. The main problem with it is that it tries to cram two storylines together in a film that’s less than two hours long.

The “cure” plot is good though because of the other stuff there isn’t as much time to give the emotional and ethical dilemma some characters face, namely Rogue (Anna Paquin), space to fully develop. Sure, mutants were born with these powers but for some if they change how they look or make them unable to be close to anyone, they can be a curse. But does that mean they should change who they are? The conversation between Storm (Halle Berry) and Rogue touches on these things but there’s so much more that could’ve been explored. Storm thinks every mutant is perfect the way they are, and that’s perhaps easy for someone like her who can control the weather but is otherwise completely normal. For Rogue who can’t touch someone without harming them, it’s very different.

The Jean Grey/Phoenix Saga story line is what feels shoehorned in. If The Last Stand had just focussed on the cure storyline, or even the Phoenix Saga one, it would’ve had the potential to be a much better film. Jean returns suddenly evil and far more powerful than any other mutant. She has a completely different personality and it’s hard to care about what she’s going through. Every time the plot moves forward with the cure stuff it then has to pause to go back to Jean, and often Logan (Hugh Jackman’s) love for her, and it grinds the film to a halt.

The opening sequence in the Danger Room is great as you see the X-Men in a battle situation, most of which you haven’t seen use their powers to their full capabilities before so that’s cool. Likewise, the final battle is exciting as there’s so many different powers on display and each of the X-Men do get their moment to shine there.

Rewatching The Last Stand I remembered what disappointed me most. After all the promo of Angel (Ben Foster) being in one of the X-Men suits I thought he’d become a proper part of the team, so I was disappointed when he was pretty much a cameo. Generally, that’s another problem The Last Stand has, it introduces a lot of new characters, as well as already having quite a full roster, that a lot are given minimal screen time and little to know character development – I couldn’t name half the new characters that joined Magneto. Scott Summers (James Marsden) really is given the short end of the stick in this film. He’s given nothing to do, is used to bring Jean back to the story, and barely anyone misses him when he’s not there.

X-Men: The Last Stand is a bit of a mess. There’s some good stuff to be found but with an over abundance of characters and conflicting plots that each deserve a whole film it’s a bit of a let down as an end to a trilogy. Still, the final battle is pretty great (even if it goes from day to night in a second) so it does leave you on a high and maybe in a more forgiving mood. 3/5.