Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Parasite (Movie Review)


Anyone who's been following my annual Year in Review series of posts long enough might remember that I had named Snowpiercer my favorite movie for 2014. There was just so much to love about that movie, from its mind-bending tale of the last surviving remnants of the human race being confined to an unstoppable train encircling the globe, to the way the inhabitants of the titular train were segregated according to class. It was a visually-striking action movie that proved that South Korean director Bong Joon-ho was nothing short of a visionary. And that vision is once again on full display in Parasite, a dark comedy he'd also co-written.

The film explores classism, a recurring theme in several of his works. But this time around, he does so through the lenses of two families living on opposite sides of the great economic divide in South Korea: the first are the Kims, a family of four living in a basement apartment in a rundown neighborhood, and the second are the Parks, another family of four living in a lavish mansion. The lives of both families intersect when the Kims' son, Ki-woo, gets a job as an English tutor for the Parks' daughter, Da-hye, after he is recommended by his good friend and former tutor, Min-hyuk.

Discovering that the Parks were also in search of an art tutor for their son, Da-song, Ki-woo manages to convince (read: con) the extremely gullible Mrs. Park into hiring his sister, Ki-jeong. And using similar underhanded tactics, the Kim children also secure jobs for both their parents with the wealthy family, to the detriment of the people formerly holding those jobs (like the titular Parasite). While the Parks are on a camping trip with their son, the Kims use the opportunity to take up full residence in their house. But things change one rainy night when they receive an unexpected guest who reveals a very dark secret about the Parks' luxury home.

Parasite is currently my favorite film for 2019. I know it might be too early to call it, with movies like Ad Astra, Joker and The Rise of Skywalker still on the horizon. But it is hard to imagine any of the aforementioned films managing to outshine this one. At the very least it is the current movie to beat. The movie grips you from the very beginning, with its quirky sense of humor, before taking you on a full-blown journey into the dark recesses of the director's mind. And all the while, it treats you to some truly breathtaking cinematography that effectively captures the plights of the two families at its core.

I don't think I can recommend watching Parasite highly enough. It is every bit as mind-bending as Snowpiercer, despite being anchored in a contemporary setting while exploring identical themes. It is definitely a shoe-in for Best Foreign Language Film at next year's Academy Awards, and depending on how well it performs at the US box office when it releases next month, might even score Best Picture and Best Director nods. It truly deserves the highest honors it can get, and should stand as a masterclass of film-making for many years to come.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

It Chapter Two (Movie Review)


It is very rare to see a horror film play like a Hollywood blockbuster, but that was precisely what happened with It Chapter One in 2017. The Stephen King adaptation was fueled by the love of fans of the source material, a strong sense of nostalgia for Tim Curry's portrayal of the eponymous clown in the 1990 miniseries, great reviews and good word-of-mouth, all of which would come together to propel it to become the highest grossing horror film of all time, with more than $700 million made worldwide. But that was just half of the story of what is effectively another two-part adaptation.

Set 27 years after the events of the first movie, It Chapter Two finds the seven members of the Losers' Club all grown up and living out their adult lives. Bill (James McAvoy) is a successful writer that struggles to write good endings to his stories. Ritchie (Bill Hader) is a successful standup comedian. Eddie (James Ransone) is a risk assessor with an overprotective wife. Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect and has since shed all of his boyhood fat. Stanley (Andy Bean) is an accountant. Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer caught in an abusive relationship with her husband.

Of the seven members, only Mike (Isiah Mustafa) had stayed behind in their hometown of Derry, Maine, after their initial defeat of Pennywise the clown (Bill Skarsgård), where he serves as the town librarian. But when the eponymous shape-shifting entity returns to terrorize the children of the town in another one of its 27-year feeding cycles, he is forced to reach out to the others, whose memories of their first encounter with Pennywise has been dulled by time and their distance away from the town, asking them to honor the blood oath they'd made as children, by returning to kill It once and for all.

It Chapter Two succeeds as an adequate followup to Chapter One, but doesn't aspire to do much else. It is helped along by some truly stellar performances by its adult cast, with Bill Hader being the obvious standout. But something about their on-screen chemistry doesn't quite gel as well as that of the child actors from the first film. Thankfully, there were quite a few flashback sequences where we got to see the kids again, which helped flesh out the narrative from the first film.

There is no denying the fact that It Chapter Two is the weaker half of director Andy Muschietti's two-part adaptation. It lacks much of the heart that made the first movie so special and tries to compensate for that with an over reliance on jump scares and spectacle. The fact that it stretches to almost three hours in length doesn't exactly help as well. Perhaps these are problems inherited from its source material. But since I never did manage to finish reading the novel, I can't really speak about how faithfully its overall narrative has been adapted here.

There are rumors of a supercut of both movies being considered for release with a narrative structure that more closely mirrors that of the book, with the action jumping back and forth between the kid and adult versions of the Losers' Club. I imagine this would run into well over 5 hours in length, but it is something I'd be interested in checking out. That said, I still believe that It Chapter Two, in its present form, is definitely worth the watch, especially if you're a fan of Stephen King and his works

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Good Boys (Movie Review)


It might come as a bit of a surprise, but till today, Superbad remains one of my favorite movies of all time. There was just something timeless about the unabashedly comical antics of its two leads. Most of that comedy gold can be attributed to the writing duo of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg of course, the two of whom would go on to work on the equally raunchy Pineapple Express, This is the End, and Sausage Party. So from the moment I'd heard that they were producers on Good Boys, I was sold.

The film centers on the misadventures of three sixth graders who have been friends since kindergarten, Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon). Max has been harboring a crush on a classmate named Brixlee (Millie Davis), so when he is invited to his first ever "kissing party" by popular kid, Soren (Izaac Wang), he sees it as an opportunity to finally make his move. But first, he needs to learn, with some help from his friends, precisely how to kiss a girl.

His friends have got problems of their own though, with Lucas just learning that his parents are about to get a divorce, and Thor struggling to get the acceptance of the cool kids in their grade. But they put all that aside to come to Max's aid, and they of course turn to the first place anyone their age would go to for answers about the opposite sex: porn. Except this proves too much for the young boys, and they instead resort to spying on the teenage girl that lives next door with Max's dad's prized drone.

Things do not go according to plan of course, and the drone is captured by the girl, Hannah (Molly Gordon), and her good friend, Lily (Midori Francis). And when the girls refuse to return the captured drone, the boys are forced to steal one of their bags as leverage. Unbeknownst to them, the bag contains some ecstasy, and they soon find themselves being pursued by the two girls, skipping school to meet with a presumed pedophile, and more, all in a bid to set things right before the kissing party.

Good Boys is easily the funniest movie I have seen all year. Its crude humor might tether on the very edge of being overbearing, but what saves it from going that route is its powerful themes centered around friendship; the movie depicts how even long-time friendships might change and evolve over time, and how that is not only inevitable but also a welcome part of this journey we call life. The fact that it manages to do that in its relatively short runtime is also worthy of praise.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of the film would depend on how much tolerance you have for watching a group of potty-mouthed middle-schoolers thrust into increasingly inappropriate situations. But the fun comes from watching how these boys choose to navigate those situations, with their boyish naivety and overall good intentions still managing to shine through at the end of the day.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood (Movie Review)


Quentin Tarantino is easily one of the greatest directors of contemporary times, with a distinct voice and vision that has produced instant classics like Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained, and one of my all-time faves, Inglourious Basterds. That vision was in turn shaped by a love of movies from his childhood, the Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns that inspired his last few efforts being a prime example. Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood serves as his love letter to that era of filmmaking.

The movie tells the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an aging actor who, along with his close friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), struggles to come to terms with his fading acting career. His luck seems to change when the famous director, Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha), moves into the house next to his, along with his wife and rising movie star, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Rick longs to one day meet the power couple, with hopes of landing a role in one of their movies.

Meanwhile, a large group of hippies have also taken up residence at Spahn Ranch, the location where Rick and Cliff used to shoot a TV western called Bounty Law. The group is led by Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), a man that has a grudge with the former residents of the Polanski's new home. Anyone familiar with the true-life events around which this movie are based would know that name of course, and the heinous acts for which he rose to fame, so the real thrill of the movie comes from watching events unfold as the group crosses paths with the two leads.

In true Quentin Tarantino style, the movie takes its sweet time before truly kicking into gear. But even as you wait for all the narrative beats to fall into place, you'll be hard pressed to look away, not when every single scene is so masterfully shot and put together like this. The director builds up so much tension and conflict within its almost three hour runtime, before letting all hell break loose in its gory climax.

It's a formula that Quentin Tarantino fans are already familiar with by now, so it should come as no surprise that it is expertly executed here. He is clearly a director at the top of his game, and we as fans are merely here along for the ride. But oh boy, was this one ever a wild one, with so many great character moments, excellent performances across the board and so much attention to detail, all of which come together to show his undeniable mastery and love for the craft.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (Movie Review)


As far as movie titles go, I don't believe they can get more silly than Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, the first official spin-off in the ever-popular series about fast cars and the people who like racing them. And silly is a word that can be used to describe this movie (and the entire series as a whole), as it embraces the comedic firepower of its two leads, while also fully veering into the realm of science fiction with its outlandish plot and action sequences.

That plot involves a rogue MI6 agent called Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who is tasked by a terrorist organization (Eteon) to retrieve a weaponized virus (Snowflake). But Lore is no mere rogue agent, having had his body augmented by cybernetic implants that allow him to perform superhuman feats like punching through walls and generally being badass. To prevent him from getting the virus, a female MI6 agent (Vanessa Kirby) injects the virus into her own body. But she is framed for the theft of the virus and the murder of her entire team, forcing her to go on the run.

This prompts the authorities to bring in their greatest assets for just such a situation, the titular heroes Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). And almost immediately, both men find themselves at loggerheads with one another, even as they are forced to put aside their differences in a race against time to find the virus and its carrier before the bad guys do. Or worse, before it goes airborne and threatens to wipe out the entire human race.

I'll admit, I'm not the biggest fan of the Fast & Furious films, even though I absolutely adored the first one as a kid for the mere fact that it starred my two favorite action movie stars at the time, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez. Both actors are missing from this installment but the on-screen chemistry of its two leads make up for that, with their constant bantering and one-upmanship. Some of the jokes are hit or miss, but the dynamic between the two is always a joy to behold.

As for the action sequences and stunts themselves (because let's face it, that is the only reason why most people would be considering seeing this movie), they more than live up to the franchise's name, with their complete lack of respect for the basic laws of physics. Especially egregious in this one was a particular scene towards the end involving a helicopter and a number of cars and trucks hooked up to it. Not only was the action logic-defying, but the scene manages to shift from night time, to day time, to full-blown thunderstorm, all within the span of a few minutes!

There's a certain B-movie appeal to movies like Hobbs & Shaw, with their leave-your-brain-at-the-door sensibilities and the reckless abandon with which they present their events. So if you happen to subscribe to such, then sure, you'll get your money's worth from watching this one. But if you never liked the Fast & Furious franchise or you're hoping this one might be the one to win you over, then prepare to be somewhat disappointed because this is as cheesy as they come.

Friday, 19 July 2019

The Lion King (Movie Review)


The Lion King was without a doubt the best animated film produced during the Disney renaissance and it remains one of the greatest animated films of all time till this day. This was not only due to its powerful story with themes of redemption and accepting ones destiny, but the realization of that story through some beautiful, hand-drawn animation, memorable dialogue (brought to life by amazing voice acting), and some truly awesome music. Simply put, it was always going to be tricky, remaking such a beloved classic.

But Disney had already proven that they could pull this off with their 2016 remake of The Jungle Book, a movie that not only updated its classic tale for a modern audience, but even managed to improve upon it in several ways. So when it was announced that that movie's director (Jon Favreau) would be tackling a classic as timeless as The Lion King next, we accepted the news with high hopes and a measured dash of skepticism. Unfortunately, his latest effort lacks much of what made his other remake so great, even though (or perhaps because) it follows its source material so faithfully.

The 2019 version of The Lion King sticks to its forebear so closely that it is almost pointless for me to recap its plot for this review. I mean, this is a movie we all saw back in its day as kids (or kids at heart). And even if you haven't revisited the original since then like I did before seeing the movie, chances are you would still be able to recite much of its dialogue or sing along to its memorable songs. So I'll focus instead on what I did happen to like about this version, and what I think went wrong with the remake.

First off, this new Lion King looks absolutely stunning and it should rightfully stand as a benchmark and indicator of just how far computer-generated imagery (CGI) has come over the years, much like The Jungle Book remake before it. The movie looked almost photo-realistic and was filled with so many breathtaking details that it often felt like I was watching a live-action recording of animals in the wild. But in their pursuit of realism, the animators have lost much of what made the original film so magical: the expressiveness of its animated cast of characters.

A prime example of this would be the character of Scar, who is ably voiced in this version of the movie by Chiwetel Ejiofor. In the original, Jeremy Irons' voice-over was perfectly matched by the animation, with exaggerated gestures like the arching of his eyebrow or the curling of his lips in a sneer helping to bring the performance to life. Here, the integration of the voice-overs felt like it came in after the fact, like the voices were simply overlaid over the too-real-for-its-own-good animation.

I really don't understand why it had to come across that way though, especially after The Jungle Book remake had already proven you could populate a movie with photo-realistic animals and still have them convey the full gamut of human emotions. Perhaps it was because that movie was anchored by an actual live-action performance (namely Neel Sethi as Mowgli), or maybe the animators simply had more time to put in details like subtle ear twitches or furrowed brows, which really goes a long way to make the performances that much more expressive. Or maybe lions are simply not as expressive as wolves, tigers and bears. Who knows at this point.

In terms of the actual vocal performances, the new cast does an admirable job while putting their own spin on the beloved characters. This includes Donald Glover as Simba, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Scar, and to a lesser extent, Beyonce as Nala. James Earl Jones also returns as Mufasa, even though one has to wonder why they simply did not pull his recordings from the previous version, since he was effectively reading the same lines. The obvious standouts here are Billy Eichner as Timon and Seth Rogen as Pumba, whose comedy dynamic help elevate the movie during its latter half. Their rendition of Hakuna Matata in particular is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

The 2019 version of The Lion King should serve as an example for why newer does not necessarily equate to better. But the fact that it can't hold a candle to the 1994 version does not take away from the mammoth achievement the filmmakers have made in bringing the movie to life. It is impossible to improve on what is already effectively perfect in any case. But as a modern refresh, the movie falls way short of its full potential. That said, it is still effectively the same story we all fell in love with back in the day. And sometimes, a faithful retelling is the best we can hope for.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Yesterday (Movie Review)


It should come as no surprise that I think The Beatles are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I mean, no other band has left the world with such a huge collection of great songs, ranging from the instantly catchy (I Feel Fine, I Want to Hold Your Hand) to masterpieces layered with meaning (Hey Jude, The Long and Winding Road). So when I'd heard that Danny Boyle (Slumdog Millionaire, Love Actually) would be making a film that would serve as a tribute of sorts to those songs, I was instantly sold.

The premise of the movie is simple and interesting enough: following an accident that takes place amidst a global blackout, a struggling musician named Jack (Himesh Patel) wakes up to find that he is the only man left in the world with any memory of The Beatles and their music. He eventually decides to capitalize on this strange development by passing off some of their music as compositions of his own.

The film proceeds to chart his meteoric rise to superstardom, a rise that forces him to leave his current manager/love interest, Ellie (Lily James), in favor of Debra Hammer (Kate McKinnon), a cold, calculating woman who manages the likes of Ed Sheeran and sees her clients as nothing more than products to be packaged and sold to the masses. He is joined by childhood friend and roadie, Rocky (Joel Fry). But as Jack would soon find out, there are some things in life more important than money and fame.

Yesterday is a fun romantic comedy with enough reverence for the music of The Beatles to satisfy most of their fans. But anyone expecting anything deeper than that might come out of it feeling sorely disappointed. My main gripe with the movie is the fact that it doesn't even try to explain the reason behind its (almost) sci-fi premise. But I was too busy tapping my feet and singing along to the music on display to care too much about that, which I guess was the point of the whole endeavor.