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Memories of Murder (2003) | A Gripping Thriller from Start to Finish

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Bong Joon-Ho’s second feature length film was given a stunning 4K re-release in select cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema last week and it is a real treat to watch- particularly in a cinema. A smart, and surprisingly funny, thriller that really delivers and holds up for the entirety of its 131 minute runtime

Since Parasite became the first foreign film ever to win Best Picture at the Oscars back in February, director Bong has been the man of the moment and audiences around the world have been discovering his fantastic filmography and watching his great films such as The Host (2006), Mother (2009) and Snowpiercer (2013) to name some of my personal favourites. Previously Memories of Murder was practically impossible to find in the U.K. at a reasonable price so Curzon’s re-release was a real wallet-saver and I was so pleased to be able to see it.

Memories of Murder is loosely based on the true story revolving around a set of the first serial murders in Korea. The film follows three detectives trying to crack the case of who has been raping and murdering the local women of a small town in Korea and stars Song Kang-Ho (Parasite) as the lead detective.

It’s been about a week since I saw the film but it has been on my mind ever since. It really is a lot to take in and yet it stands out as an incredible piece of filmmaking right away. We instantly take a liking to Song Kang-Ho’s Detective Park Doo-Man and he brings a certain level of charm to the film. Much like Parasite, the film is actually very funny and witty in the first hour before the next 70 minutes completely rip you apart and change your entire perspective of the film. For a film revolving around a killer who rapes and murders his victims, I laughed far more than I had any right to. And it wasn’t just me laughing, there were multiple times when the entire cinema was laughing because Bong manages to do an incredible thing in blending genres. Whilst Memories of Murder is a dark thriller at heart, there is surprisingly a lot in here to laugh at and to bring a smile to your face at times.

But over time, as the film builds towards its crescendo, the laughs start to fade away as the detectives keep picking away at the case with little luck and the laughs turn into terror. The tension continues to build all the way through the end and the final 30 minutes of this film is truly edge of your seat material that will leave you entranced. It’s truly remarkable that director Bong has crafted a film that tonally, is in many places at once and yet you still feel the terror of the murders for the whole duration of the film, even when you’re laughing and even when you’re on the train home half an hour later. I walked out of the cinema in awe at the film and lost for words, and now, over a week later, I have managed to find some words to describe it but I am still in just as much awe.

A fantastic film, delivered with great skill by director Bong Joon-Ho, that fills the audience with fear throughout and ends with an incredibly chilling final shot that will leave you speechless, proving that Bong was one of the greatest directors in the world, long before Parasite weaved its way into our lives.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Action

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard | Review

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The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is everything you’d want from a big summer blockbuster action-comedy. There’s plenty of gunfights and car chases and Samuel L. Jackson’s dropping f-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. Whilst the plot is a bit ridiculous, and it moves at such a fast pace that you’ve probably got whiplash by the end of it The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is a really entertaining and fun film. It’s the sort of thing you can watch and switch your brain off for a few hours and just enjoy.

When The Hitman’s Bodyguard was first released in 2017, I don’t think there was anyone desperately calling out saying they needed a sequel but in all honestly, the follow-up is better than the first film. Everything‘s bigger this time around- including the title which is now a real mouthful! The stakes have heightened, the action scenes are bigger, and the cast has increased too with Antonio Banderas and Morgan Freeman joining Salma Hayek, Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds this time around.

Ryan Reynolds’ Michael Bryce has been stripped of his bodyguarding licence and has been roped into helping hitman Darius Kincaid (Sam Jackson) by his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) and all of a sudden, they’re the only ones that can stop the whole of Europe from being destroyed. If you’re going to see this film, the chances are that you’re not going to see it for the plot and that’s completely understandable. Antonio Banderas plays a man called Aristotle Papadopoulos and if you can’t guess from the name alone, he’s the utterly ridiculous, over-the-top evil mastermind. But much like everything else in this film which is incredibly OTT, we don’t necessarily care much about his plan and the stakes don’t really feel very real, but it all still unfolds in a really entertaining way.

The film is quite generic, with Ryan Reynolds playing his usual wise-cracking self and Samuel L. Jackson probably swearing more times than there are minutes in the film but the reason why it all works and you can forgive its misgivings is because it’s funny and it’s entertaining. Granted there were no stand-out jokes or lines that will still have you laughing in the car on the way home, and overall the film is generic and somewhat forgettable, but being sat there in the cinema in the moment, you can’t help but have an absolute blast of a time.

The fim’s pretty relentless in its pacing as it picks you up right at the start and doesn’t let go until the very end. It moves so quickly from one action scene to another as we journey around Italy waiting to see in which city the next destructive shootout will take place in. It’s quite shocking that the film’s only 100 minutes long because by the end, it certainly feels like a lot more has happened because of how quickly the film moves.

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard won’t win any Oscars- unless they introduce a new one for most swearing- and it doesn’t break new ground for action comedies but it’s great fun. It’s full of laughs, swearing, explosions and just about everything you’d want from a summer blockbuster. It’s better than the first film and I really hope we see these characters again soon because it’s a really solid formular for a great time.

★★★★☆

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is in cinemas now.

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Music

In the Heights | A Sun-Drenched, Charming Tale Of Dreams, Community And Home

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In the Heights is directed by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu and is an adaptation of the Broadway musical written by Quaira Alegria Hudes – with music, lyrics and concept created by Lin Manuel Miranda – you know, the guy behind that tiny Broadway show called Hamilton.

Our story takes places in the Manhattan borough of Washington Heights – a predominantly Latinx neighbourhood. Our protagonist is convenience store owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who dreams of fulfilling his deceased father’s Suenito or “little dream” of opening his own beach side bar in his place of birth; The Dominican Republic. We watch as Usnavi wrestles with the choice of chasing his fathers dream or staying in the community which raised and embraced him with open arms.

I came out of In the Heights beaming with joy. It’s one of those perfect summery, all-singing, all-dancing, big screen movies that get your hips swaying, your toes tapping and your teeth grinning. Most importantly it’s a film, that justifies seeing it on the biggest screen possible – don’t deprive yourself of the treat of seeing it at a cinema. It’s a film that is so easy on the eyes – not just because of its ridiculously gorgeous cast, but thanks to the dazzlingly inventive set pieces, breathtaking choreography, vibrant art direction and Jon M. Chu’s dynamic camerawork. It’s alive with such kinetic energy and utterly infectious music.

The comparisons to West Side Story seemed inevitable – which incidentally is getting a Steven Spielberg reimagining later this year. But that comparison is a very generalised one, In the Heights feels refreshingly different to all other movie-musicals. There’s an intoxicating mix of old and new. Every number is laced with a deliciously Latin flavour. There are classic emotionally charged ballads that will make your heart swoon but there’s also elements of salsa, hip-hop, merengue and Lin Manuel Miranda’s now-recognisable, spoken-word, recitative rap sensibilities. Side note for all Hamilton fans keep your ears open for a familiar musical easter egg. There’s a real emphasis on “the little details” on display in this film which makes it feel like an authentic celebration of all things Latinx. One can’t help but smile at the thought of all the positive ramifications a film like this will have on the underrepresented Hispanic communities around the world.

The cast are all superb. Anthony Ramos lights up the screen with his boyish good looks and cheeky smile as Usnavi. He’s backed up by the fiery Mellissa Barrera who plays aspiring fashion designer and love interest Vanessa. Corey Hawkins plays Usnavi’s pal Benny who yearns for old flame Nina (Leslie Grace), who is going through her own identity crisis. She’s back from Stamford College but has felt ostracised and isolated as a minority among her predominantly White classmates. Benny and Nina share one of the standout set pieces a they perform a duet of the When the Sun Goes Down whilst dancing along the side of a Manhattan building.

But the MVP is without-a-doubt Olga Merediz who reprises the same role she played on Broadway as the Washington Heights matriarch Abuela Claudia. She is the heart of the community and of the film itself. Merediz delivers a dignified performance that’s sure to have Oscar-pundits on their radar for a best supporting actress nomination. She reduced me to tears during her rendition of Paciencia y Fe – it’s soul-touchingly obvious why they brought her back for the movie.

When looking for criticisms there is so much love radiating from this film that it’s easy to let the knit-picky stuff slide. Such as there is a lot of very noticeable product placement – In the Heights is brought to you by Coca Cola, Beats and Moët Champagne.

There’s also some clunky shots during one of the standout songs 96,000. The sequence involves a stunning on-location swimming pool set piece, however there was clearly some green screen footage of Anthony Ramos inserted after shooting. It’s a rather sore-thumb addition in otherwise flawless number.

But where In the Heights truly struggles is with character conflict and resolution – or the lack thereof. Most of the conflict is internal, many of the characters are wrestling with the decision of staying or leaving. Asking themselves where do I belong? But the rest of the time it’s all sunshine, love and joy. Even the blackout is a cause for celebration instead of panic. There isn’t much more than surface-level struggles. Without conflict there’s no real drama. There are brief moments where the story hints are some bigger issues like the gentrification of the neighbourhood but never actualy dives in the deep end. And the only mention of racial tension comes from Nina’s experiences at university – but that’s all it is; mentioned. We never actually witness it happen to her.

And while the film ends on an uplifting note I couldn’t help but feel too many of the characters arcs were left unresolved. Upon leaving the theatre I found myself asking a lot of questions; What did Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) do after selling the business? Did Vanessa’s fashion dreams take off? How does Nina cope back at Stamford? And what’s Benny doing with himself now? The answers all remain ambiguous so there is a lack closure.

In the Heights is a sun-drenched and charming tale of dreams, community and home. Despite a slightly long runtime and a lack of character conflict/resolution, it more than makes up for those issues with its phenomenal cast, luscious musical set pieces and fabulous choreography. After a year deprived of social dancing, this is the perfect pick-me-up summery film that’ll make you thirsty to get back on a dance floor.

★★★★

In the Heights is released in U.K. cinemas June 18th and is available in other regions on HBO Max.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nilAZ7XwPII&t=28s

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Action

Infinite | A Michael Bay Imitation Film

Infinite Desperately Wants to Impress With its Style, But Has No Substance.

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Paramount wanted to get ahead in the streaming game with Paramount+ but made the novice mistake of selling most of their titles, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, to other streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix instead of…I don’t know…growing their own. With barely any content left and keeping their big tentpole releases such as A Quiet Place: Part II and Top Gun: Maverick in cinemas, Paramount is finally saying “Ahhhhhh! I get it!” after every other major streaming service, especially Disney+ and HBO Max, used the pandemic as a pretext to grow their subscriber base. However, having sold most of its upcoming films to other streaming services, the studio only seems to have duds in the hopes of growing its subscriber base. Enter Antoine Fuqua’s latest film, Infinite, which strangely never feels like something the director of such visceral action pictures like Training Day, Bait, Tears of the Sun, Shooter, Brooklyn’s Finest, and The Equalizer, but Fuqua desperately wanting to emulate Michael Bay’s signature style.

There’s only one problem, however: even if you want to do Bayhem, and you intend to replicate it as accurately as you can, there’s a sole filmmaker that can do it right—and that’s Bay himself. But it doesn’t matter for Fuqua; he starts his overtly aestheticized action amazingly quickly, with an upbeat car chase staged to the rhythms of Campfire’s Legends Never Die, with Heinrich Treadway (Dylan O’Brien) being pursued by Bathurst (Rupert Friend), who looks for a thingamajig aptly named “The Egg” (because it’s shaped like an egg, of course!), which has the power of destroying…the entire world (how original!). Treadway dies without giving away The Egg’s location. Suddenly, a man named Evan McCauley (Mark Wahlberg) wakes up from his Treadway nightmare. We progressively learn that McCauley has schizophrenia who constantly remembers things from past lives he seemed to have never experienced before. He is what the “Believers” call “Infinites,” whose souls constantly get reincarnated inside a different body. He is quickly apprehended by Bathurst (now played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) after using a hand-crafted sword in a drug deal gone bad. His “life” changes drastically once Evan learns that he possesses Treadway’s soul and must reawaken his memory to quickly find The Egg before Bathurst does and destroys the entire world.

Infinite,' starring Mark Wahlberg & Chiwetel Ejiofor, debuts on Paramount+

Let’s be honest: movies that center on thingamajigs (or MacGuffins as academics would call them) are amazingly tiresome and can only go so far before it veers off in predictable territory. Thankfully, Fuqua’s emulation of Bayhem makes many of its central action setpieces move at a somewhat entertaining pace. The car chase at the beginning involving Dylan O’Brien’s Treadway is filled with Bay’s rapid editing and an over-reliance on a moving camera that always, and I mean, always acts like a paintbrush to produce a copious, almost gratuitous amount of flashy style. And by flashy style, I mean excessive use of slow-motion, flares, and explosions or low-angles during 1-on-1 fight sequences. The explosions in this film are particularly reminiscent of Bay’s pictures, though not as big in scale, but produce the same cathartic effect. One scene in which Evan and Nora (Sophie Cookson) try to run away from Bathurst’s robotic henchmen inside a buggy has a precise explosion that, in its staging of using slow-motion at a pinpoint moment, feels as if it’s been directed by Bay. I mean, heck, if the end credits said “Directed by Michael Bay” instead of Antoine Fuqua, I’d believe it.

INFINITE (2021) Movie Trailer: Mark Wahlberg's Past Lives are Unlocked by a  Secret Society in Antoine Fuqua's Scifi Film | FilmBook

By doing this, Fuqua prevents the film from being a total dud than it is, since the script is filled with so many ineptitudes on:

  1. The world of the Infinites. The difference between the “believers” and “nihilists” is barely explained in two throwaway lines that almost feel unimportant. I can only explain the nihilists, who want all life to cease existing so they can stop reincarnating themselves, which adds a weird ineptitude on:
  2. Bathurst’s motivations. He wants to stop reincarnating himself and has developed a bullet that prevents believers from doing so. Ok, so if you’ve developed a bullet that grants your sole motivation…why not shoot yourself with it instead of bringing the entire world down with you? I’m sorry, but we never know the why behind Bathurst’s plan to destroy the world, aside from the overly used “humans are stupid, so I guess I need to bring them down with me” line, after torturing Toby Jones’ character by shoving…*checks notes*…honey down his mouth…interesting.

These two main problems falter its extremely stylized action for a sci-fi picture that’s as smart as Mark Wahlberg’s previous tenure in that genre…with Michael Bay in Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Last Knight. Hell, here’s another thing: if you would’ve told me that this is set in the world of Transformers that Wahlberg reprised his role as Cade Yeager through a new alter-ego, who now has the memories of somebody else (through unbeknownst reasons), then guess what? I would’ve believed it too. Wahlberg’s performance is no different than his exploration of the Transformers universe: half-charm, half-cluelessness, which equates to accepting every preposterous explanation on “Infinites” as “fact” and tagging along with people he’s never seen before and pretend everything’ll be fine, even if he is now tasked to save the entire world, in the same sense he had to do it (twice!) with the Autobots.

Infinite review: Mark Wahlberg relives past action movies in this soulless  flick - CNET

His character progression starts by being the only character that asks questions to the Infinites, who will then explain the film’s facile and underdeveloped plot in hackneyed detail, until he becomes the hero we deserve, but didn’t know we needed, as he uses a sword à la Morpheus from The Matrix Reloaded to bring down an entire plane and fight with Bathurst in the air, without any parachute, in the craziest, most bewildering action scene I’ve seen that defies all sense of logic and paints their characters as God-like mythic figures since The Fast and the Furious franchise said “no more logic” when Dom Toretto destroyed a parking lot with his feet.

Speaking of Bathurst, Chiwetel Ejiofor, a usual powerhouse, is completely miscast here and delivers his worst performance to date with an indescribable accent that makes everything about his antagonistic presence feel terribly cartoonish and over-the-top. He’ll refine his antagonist chops, most likely in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. I truly hope he’ll return to a more natural state of acting as he did as Mordo in Scott Derrickson’s 2016 film (or even when he compellingly portrayed Scar in the 2019 remake of The Lion King), instead of doing whatever the hell he’s doing here. I can barely explain, or comprehend, if you will, what Ejiofor even attempted to do in Infinite to render his antagonist menacing…but it clearly didn’t work and made every scene he’s in feel unintentionally hilarious. Look at the scene in which he tortures Toby Jones with honey and how he tries to make his awfully written lines serious and menacing and yet does the exact opposite. It’s quite a feat to see, but it needs to be forgotten sooner rather than later.

Infinite (2021) - IMDb

This is probably why Paramount dropped Infinite on a streaming service no one is subscribed to, so it can be easily forgotten and buried inside an ever-growing algorithm that “curates” films on content rather than quality. While Infinite contains a hefty number of fun action sequences that imitate Michael Bay’s unmatched style, it, unfortunately, does not overshadow its terribly facile and underdeveloped plot and caricatural lead performances from Mark Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor. If you’re a fan of Antoine Fuqua, you won’t watch this and go through his previous films instead, which would be for the better. Let’s hope his remake of The Guilty, set to release later this year on Netflix, will be better than Infinite (spoiler: it likely will).

Infinite is now available to stream on Paramount+.

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