As we head towards May, here's a brief run-down of the Top 5 films Twistedwing watched in April. Enjoy.
1/ AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON
Joining Iron Man (still snarky), Thor (socially inept), The Hulk (troubled) and Captain America (like a boss) this time out are three new characters, Quicksilver (super-fast), Scarlet Witch (J-horror scary) and The Vision (refreshingly sincere). The new big bad, Ultron, is brought to life by James Spader's wickedly creepy voice-over. Ultron's pent-up rage is the perfect catalyst for some zingy banter. With familiar faces joining the gang and Hawkeye and Black Widow getting a larger share of the spoils too, Age of Ultron should have been a cataclysmic mess. But that's where Joss comes in...
Age of Ultron is a little darker than Assemble and the comedy is played down in favour of brooding menace. That's not to say it isn't funny (a running gag about Thor's hammer is typically Whedon-esque) and the dialogue remains instantly quotable, but Joss is faced with the unenviable task of tying up loose ends and introducing the next set of films in the franchise. It's a wonder there is any time for action. However, the set-pieces are thrilling and the special effects are seamless - The Hulk vs. Iron Man being an obvious stand-out.
Admittedly, it is more or less the same gift in shiny new wrapping, and at some point that might not be enough for the jaded cinema-goer, but for now Age of Ultron is another big win for the Marvel universe. With a creepy big bad, captivating characters, high stakes emotion and a haunting vibe coursing through its veins, Age of Ultron is everything you could hope for. Bring on Phase Three...
2/ FAST & FURIOUS 7
Paul Walker's tragic death before the end of filming adds weight and poignancy to the drama, but besides that it's business as usual for the ever-expanding cast and crew. Jason Statham plays the big bad this time around with Kurt Russell bringing on-screen cool to a series of films that barely needed it. Tony Jaa gets a share of the spoils too, as does Hollyoaks and GoT babe, Nathalie Emmanuel, who fits the role (and her bikini) very well indeed. Even Djimon Hounsou makes an appearance alongside series regulars Rodriguez, Diesel, Brewster, Gibson, Ludacris and Johnson.
There is a plot and it's perfectly agreeable, but the F&F movies have been playing to their strengths since part five and it's pointless trying to criticise them now. James Wan takes the reigns for the first time and he's the perfect replacement for Lin - the action is fast, the music is loud, the girls are hot and the action sequences are a giddy pleasure. Want to see a car fly? Fast 7 might resemble a superhero movie at times but you'll be having too much fun to care. Statham is great as a machine that won't be stopped, The Rock steals every scene he appears in, Jaa and Russell are good value for money and Vin Diesel gives his most heartfelt performance to date - it's genuinely touching at times.
The world needs more lightweight, action-packed escapism like this, and as such, Fast 7 is a thrilling tribute to the dreamy excess of action cinema. Credit to the cast and crew, they've really nailed it this time out, and the touching finale will bring a tear to the most manly of eyes. Somewhere out there Paul Walker must be smiling.
3/ HAN GONG-JU
Chun Woo-hee won Best Actress at the Blue Dragon Film Awards for her sublime portrayal, an irresistible performance you won't take your eyes off for a second. She plays a glum high school girl forced to transfer to a new school in an unfamiliar city. With her family nowhere to be found, Gong-ju is placed in the care of a teacher's mother while matters are sorted out. Gong-ju wants to move on, keeping herself to herself and refusing to stand out. When her new classmates discover she can sing, they do their best to recruit her into the choir. Just as Gong-ju starts to live a little, her past catches up with her and the truth behind her transfer comes to light.
Han Gong-ju has a lot of fans, not least Martin Scorsese, who praised the film for its imagery, sound design, editing and performance. He's not wrong. Lee Sujin has crafted a remarkable piece of work, both unsettling and inspiring, aided by a universally excellent cast and crew. Lee Young-ran is steely but sensitive as Han Gong-ju's carer, and Jung In-sun radiates warmth as Eun-hee, a new friend who refuses to give up on her mysterious new classmate. Both relationships are essential to the narrative, not least because all of the characters (besides Eun-hee) have their own demons to hide.
While the events that took place are harrowing enough, it's the aftermath that drives a knife through the heart of contemporary cinema. The reaction of those closest to Gong-Ju and the lack of compassion she garners is what cuts deepest, in a world where sympathy is hard to find and truth can be an ugly word. Chun Woo-hee is mesmerising in the lead role, handling the complexities of distance and warmth with aplomb. The final moments are equal parts tragic, uplifting and inspiring. A rare feat in this day and age.
4/ WHY DON'T YOU PLAY IN HELL?
I don't know about you but I fall in love quite a lot watching Japanese cinema. I'm happy to report it has happened again. Fumi Nikaidô (Lesson of the Evil) is the object of my affection, starring alongside Jun Kunimura (Audition) in Sion Sono's most mainstream movie to date, “an action film about the love of 35mm.”
'Why Don't You Play In Hell?' is both a celebration of filmmaking and a pulsating tribute to action cinema. Yakuza boss Muto (Kunimura) is putting his daily yakuza business to one side in order to make a movie starring his daughter, Mitsuko (Nikaidou). To cut a long story short, Muto's wife is being released from prison under the illusion that her daughter is a movie star. Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa) and his friends (known to each other as the Fuck Bombers) have dreamt of making action movies since they were kids and, all grown up, that dream is about to come true in spectacularly violent fashion.
Sono's latest is less convoluted than previous efforts and more accessible than most, but it's just as loud, manic, sensational and twisted as the likes of Love Exposure, Suicide Club and Cold Fish. Over the top is perhaps the best way to describe a Sion Sono experience, with the outrageous director rarely opting to tone it down. Larger than life characters are the order of the day here, with wacky comedy and excessive bloodshed adding to the mix of machismo, melancholy and movie magic. The characters are engaging, their reckless plights are a delight and the final act is an extended orgy of cartoon violence which draws parallels with Kill Bill.
Everybody is having a blast in 'Why Don't You Play In Hell?', not least the viewer; a hyper-stylised action movie with over the top performances and a striking lead turn. Fumi Nikaidô may have won my heart but Sion Sono continues to earn my full attention. Fans will love this ultra-trashy mash-up of action, comedy and gangster drama, and newcomers might just realise what all the fuss is about.
Part two adds 26 names to the list, each of them bringing chaos and anarchy to the table. The directors this time around include Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado (Big Bad Wolves), Marvin Kren (Blood Glacier), Jen Soska & Sylvia Soska (American Mary), Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo (Inside) and Vincenzo Natali (Splice). There are entries in both movies that lack the killer punch, but most of the segments in part two have enough creativity to keep you engaged. Part two gives us I is for Invincible, R is for Roulette and G is for Granddad. There's plenty to admire in these segments but they don't quite hit the sweet spot.
Some entries are just plain forgettable, particularly in the first half of the movie, but they are few and far between this time around. However, as with the first entry in the series, ABCs of Death 2 is much stronger in the latter stages, despite getting off to a belting start with E.L. Katz' (Deep Thrills) A is for Amateur. It's a grisly, hilarious opening that sets the tone perfectly. B is for Badger is quirky and comedic and Robert Morgan's animated entry for D is a definite stand-out. Creepy, bizarre and unforgettable, it's certainly one of the more interesting shorts of the series.
There is a lot to like about part two, including J is for Jesus (striking visuals), E is for Equilibrium (funny and well shot), M is for Masticate (stylish competition winner), N is for Nexus (beautifully bizarre) and O is for Ochlocracy - Hajime Ohata's insatiable twist on the zombie sub-genre. My favourites though, seeing as you asked, are K is for Knell, S is for Split, V is for Vacation, W is for Wish, X is for Xylophone, Y is for Youth and Z is for Zygote. Which, along with X is probably the most disturbing of the bunch.
ABCs of Death 2 starts slowly but comes alive in the second half, providing jaded horror fans with jealous wives, killer prostitutes, boys with toys, musical masterpieces, zombies with feelings and killer ooze. It's nutty, insane and not all of it works, but please don't stop making these movies. A life without the ABCs of Death has no meaning at all.