Tuesday, 19 January 2021

News of the World (Movie Review)

As I continue to play catch up with the films released over the weekend, the next one on my review list is News of the World, a western co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. The Academy Award-nominated director once again teams up with Tom Hanks for the movie, following their previous collaboration in the brilliant Captain Phillips. And this time around, they swap the pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean for the rolling hills and valleys of the American frontier.

In News of the World, Tom Hank stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kid, a former confederate soldier who now travels from town to town reading the news for a living. Basically he does so for the benefit of those not learned enough to read the newspapers for themselves, or those whose lives have proven too busy to afford them the time during a typical work day. So in a way, you can think of him as the Wild West equivalent of a modern day newscaster.

During one of his trips, he comes across a young girl whose horse and carriage had been attacked. The girl is immediately reluctant to accept his help. This isn't helped by the fact that she didn't appear to speak a single word of English. He soon discovers that the girl was being transported to her last surviving relatives prior to the attack. But all attempts to leave the girl in the hands of relevant authorities prove futile, and now he is left with no choice other than to embark on a perilous journey across Texas in an attempt to reunite the young girl with her family.

Chances are that anyone planning to see the News of the World is doing so solely because of its bankable lead, so it should come as no surprise that Tom Hanks once again proves to be more than capable in the role. So the real breakout then was his co-star Helena Zengel, who plays Johanna Leonberger. She perfectly captures the spirit of a young feral child caught between two worlds, and the fact that she managed to convey such a broad spectrum of emotions with barely any spoken dialogue is worthy of praise. 

Also worthy of praise was the cinematography on display, which effectively captured both the beauty and horrors of the American frontier. This was no doubt helped by the film's director, Paul Greengrass, who has proven to have an eye for such details. There were plenty sweeping shots of beautiful landscapes, as well as tight closeups of the character's faces, whenever the action called for that. And the transitions between the two was always smooth and seamless.

With all that said, my one area of criticism was the movie's pacing. The movie takes a somewhat leisurely approach with the unraveling of its plot, and for large stretches of time, all we really get to go with are the aforementioned sweeping shots and landscapes. I understand that this is meant to help build a sense of atmosphere, which is especially useful in such a character-driven narrative. But I'm also concerned that this could be considered off-putting for some viewers.

News of the World is a western that might prove a little too familiar to fans of the genre. The comparisons with True Grit are inevitable, with both movies centering upon a road trip of sorts, wherein an older, seasoned gunslinger accompanies a young girl across the Old West on a singular mission. Except unlike that other movie, the characters in this one aren't driven by a thirst for revenge, but rather an opportunity to move on and heal from past traumas.

Monday, 18 January 2021

One Night in Miami (Movie Review)

Regina King makes her feature film directorial debut in One Night in Miami, a film that seemed to be garnering nothing but praise ever since it made its debut at the Venice Film Festival last September. Based on a stage play written by Kemp Powers, the movie was noted for being the first one in the festival's history to be helmed by an African-American woman, where it eventually got named the runner up for its People's Choice Award. 

All that is to say that the movie had been on my radar for quite some time now. I even flirted with the idea of waiting to see it before compiling my list of Top 10 Movies of 2020, but decided I might as well consider it for my 2021 list instead. And despite getting a limited release in theaters last Christmas, I didn't get an opportunity to see the movie until it got released on Amazon Prime Video this past weekend.

Set on the historic night of Muhammad Ali's heavyweight title victory against Sonny Liston, the film explores a celebratory meeting between him and three other African-American legends of the time: Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X. But rather than spend the night drinking and cavorting with women, he soon discovers that Malcolm had other more important plans.

It was to be a night of reflection, with each man expected to look back on their accomplishments up until that point. And by so doing, gain some insight about their place in the present day struggle of African Americans. But tensions soon begin to rise amongst the men when Malcolm accuses Sam of not using his influence and power to help that struggle, even as he grows increasingly paranoid that there were people out to get him.

One Night in Miami is a beautiful slice of alternative history that is brought to life by some powerhouse performances. All four actors got to shine in their respective roles, but it was perhaps Leslie Odom Jnr. that could be regarded the standout. His portrayal of Sam Cooke was every bit as electrifying as his role in Hamilton, and he had his full acting and singing chops on display.

I'll be remiss if I fail to also mention Regina King's direction. The woman has been in quite a few critically acclaimed movies over the years, and was most recently seen in the brilliant Watchmen TV show on HBO. But here she proves that her talent extends behind the camera as well. And the fact that her movie was so grounded in history lends it a sense of authenticity seldom seen in such films.

One Night in Miami is a must-watch for history buffs. The movie definitely had all the trappings of a stage play adaptation, with its dialogue heavy screenplay and sparse location changes. But it never truly felt confined by those origins. The movie is a definite shoo-in for one of the Best Picture nominations at the Oscar's later this year, and it stands as one of the best films of the year thus far. 

Friday, 15 January 2021

Outside the Wire (Movie Review)

As the new year slowly kicks into gear, Netflix continues to strengthen its commitment to provide quality at-home entertainment during these unprecedented times we still find ourselves in. And that commitment was made public after the company had announced that it would be releasing more than 70 movies over the course of this year. Outside the Wire is just one of those 70 films, a science fiction war movie starring Anthony Mackie.

Set in the near future in the middle of a Soviet civil war, the movie follows Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a US drone pilot that is sent into the field after he'd initiated an unauthorized drone strike that resulted in the deaths of two fellow soldiers. Expected to find a renewed value for life after his exposure to on-the-ground warfare, Thomas is assigned to a commanding officer named Leo (Anthony Mackie), a man he quickly finds out is not a man at all.

Leo is an android designed by the US Army to help with the ongoing efforts to win back the war-torn region of Ukraine. Unlike the other robots being used in the war, he is distinctly human in appearance, and has an uncanny ability to feel human emotions. It is that ability that drives his mission, and together with Thomas, they must go behind enemy lines as they attempt to track down a local warlord before he gets his hands on enough nuclear missiles to start World War III.

The best thing about Outside the Wire was easily Anthony Mackie, who is no stranger to Netflix productions of this kind, having starred in the lead role of the second season of the now-cancelled sci-fi show, Altered Carbon. Here he brings most of the charisma and charm he'd displayed in that show, as well as the physicality required for such an action heavy role. But he also never failed to display the level of emotion needed to keep the action grounded in reality.

And that's another area where the movie excels, in its action scenes. There was no shortage of hand-to-hand combat and gunfights to be had, some of which involved robots and future tech, all of which looked convincing enough. So action junkies will definitely want to check out the movie for that reason alone, even though I fear that more casual audiences might become a bit desensitized towards all the fancy explosions after a while.

And speaking of becoming desensitized, the one area where I felt the movie could've used some improvement was its story, or more precisely its resolution. We've had countless movies about future wars at this point, and I was really hoping that this one would at least bring something new to the table. But what we got instead was a barely serviceable story with a final act that was a bit too twisty for my tastes.

Regardless of this, I still think Outside the Wire can serve as a mild diversion for anyone looking for something to check out on Netflix. It might be nowhere as brilliant as the likes of Edge of Tomorrow, but should still offer enough entertainment value for anyone that happens to enjoy such movies.

Monday, 4 January 2021

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2021

Happy New Year, everyone. And a new year means new movies to look forward to, or in this case a bunch of carryovers from last year. 2020 left us with a good amount of unreleased movies, but with the current shift by big studios like Disney and Warner Bros. to online streaming (not to mention talks of a coronavirus vaccine being closer than we think), there's more likelihood that a good chunk of those movies would finally get to see the light of day.

All that is to say that my list of Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2021 looks a lot like my list for 2020. But I'm fairly optimistic (read: hopeful) that these films would not only get released in one form or another this year, but that they'll live up to expectations as well. Because there's nothing worse than having to wait an extra year for something that turns out to be less than stellar. So in the spirit of that optimism, here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2021.

10. F9

While I don't consider myself the biggest fan of the long-running Fast and the Furious series, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at the very least curious to see what ridiculous new heights they intend to take the series for its ninth outing. There's even talk of taking the action to space, which sounds par for the course given the current trajectory of the franchise as a whole. But with Tokyo Drift favorites like Han said to be making a return, and the addition of another wrestling icon into the mix, the film promises to be tailor-made for fans and the morbidly curious alike.

9. Morbius

So I originally had the Venom sequel, Venom II: Let There Be Carnage, taking this particular slot on my list from last year. But in the absence of any trailers or new information about that movie (aside from a change in release dates), my interest has drifted towards the other forthcoming Sony Pictures superhero movie, Morbius. And with Jared Leto taking on the role of the brilliant scientist turned vampire, and Michael Keaton believed to be reprising his role as Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming, I'm eager to see how the movie ties into the larger Sony Spider-Man universe.

8. Raya and the Last Dragon

Pixar will continue to churn out some quality family entertainment this year when Raya and the Last Dragon hits both theaters and Disney+. This is following the truncated release of Onward at the start of the pandemic, as well as the more recent debut of Soul this Christmas. Initially slated for a November 25th release last year, the movie would be joining its growing library of content on Disney+ on March 5th, through a premier access model similar to the one used for the release of Mulan a few months ago.

7. Ghostbusters: Afterlife

As much as I tried to enjoy the 2016 all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, it was glaringly obvious that the movie paled in comparison to the high benchmark already set by the original two films. Thankfully, Ghostbusters: Afterlife looks like the massive course correction that the franchise needs right now. And by course correction I am referring to the mere fact that the movie's trailer doesn't even seem to acknowledge the existence of that other movie.

6. Coming 2 America

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall would be reprising their roles from the 1988 comedy film, Coming to America, in its aptly titled sequel, Coming 2 America. Originally scheduled for an August 7th release, the film was eventually picked up by Amazon amidst the pandemic and it is currently set to debut on Amazon Prime Video on the 5th of March. The original film was such an endearing hit with Eddie Murphy fans and fans of comedies in general, so much like Bill and Ted: Face the Music managed to do last year, this one is also hoping to recapture some of that old magic.

5. Black Widow

Having gone more than a solid year without any new MCU movies, all eyes are currently on Black Widow to offer the much-needed superhero fix fans so crave. The year-long delay might end up working in the movie's favor, since it also offered fans an equally-needed respite after both the climactic Avengers: Endgame and the Phase 3 closer, Spider-Man: Far from Home. And with other MCU films like Shang-Chi, The Eternals and the next Spider-Man movie all slated for release this year, this one should hopefully help kickstart what is already shaping up to be a packed Phase 4.

4. No Time to Die

Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond (hopefully) comes out this year in the form of the 25th film in the franchise, No Time to Die. It is hard to believe he has been playing the character for more than 14 years now, twice as long as Pierce Brosnan's tenure as the character. Those initial protests we all had when he was originally cast seem decidedly foolish now, but I still can't help but wonder who would be taking up the mantle next, and what direction the series as a whole might be heading into, two question that would hopefully get answered by the end of No Time to Die.

3. The Suicide Squad

DC fans got their first look at the forthcoming Suicide Squad sequel/reboot, The Suicide Squad, during last year's DC FanDome event. And if that sneak peek was anything to go by, the film looks like it would be taking the franchise into a wild, new direction. The film is being helmed by James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, so we can expect some of the humor from that other film to be reflected in this one. It also brings back fan favorite characters like Harley Quinn from the first movie, while also introducing a fresh rooster of DC baddies that include King Shark, Peacemaker and Bloodsport.

2. Dune

The first part of Denis Velleneuve's adaptation of the novel, Dune, was delayed from its original December 18th date, all the way to October 1st this year (bumping the forthcoming Robert Pattison Batman movie in the process). And while it was a bit disappointing that it didn't manage to stick to that release date, we did get our first look at the movie through a trailer that was released in October last year. The film looks like it would have the director's flair for breathtaking visuals, as well as the source material's epic scale, on full display. And with a simultaneous release currently being planned on HBO Max, this is one I'd definitely opt to see on the big screen.

1. A Quiet Place Part II

A part of me is still kind of pained that I didn't get to see A Quiet Place Part II last year. This is especially true considering how close we had gotten to the film's release date before the pandemic hit with full force. The rest is history at this point, but I'd be lying if I said any of my excitement for the movie had waned since then. Which is why it holds the distinction of being my most anticipated movie for two years in a row. Hopefully things works out better for the film's release this time around, and we finally get to see it in theaters or on video-on-demand.

Overall, 2021 looks like it could be a solid year for movies, looking at the current slate of films expected to release within the year. But the truth remains that we are still very much in the middle of a global pandemic, so some release dates are subject to change while some movies might even get pushed further into 2022. In the absence of such changes though, what movie(s) are you looking forward to the most in 2021?

Monday, 28 December 2020

Soul (Movie Review)

The latest Pixar animated film, Soul, finally debuted on Disney+ and select international theaters this Christmas, after being delayed from its original theatrical release date back in June. But unlike the similarly delayed Mulan that attracted a $30 premier access fee when it landed on Disney+, this one is free to watch by all Disney+ subscribers, at no extra charge, as the streaming platform went head to head with HBO Max, where Wonder Woman 1984 had also made its streaming debut.

The movie features the voice talent of Jamie Foxx, who voices an aspiring jazz musician named Joe Gardner. Having spent most of his life chasing after his dream of playing in a jazz band, he is now relegated to teaching a middle school music class. But after he is involved in a fatal accident on the very day he'd finally gotten his big break, Joe proves reluctant to move on to the afterlife, and decides instead to team up with an unborn soul called 22 (Tina Fey), in a bid to find his way back home.

The first thing that struck me about Soul was its beautiful animation. Pixar have always been known for the quality of their productions, but they somehow manage to keep raising the bar with each subsequent release. And Soul is at their current pinnacle, with scenes that often look photorealistic at first glance, and a fluid animation style that proves why they are the best in the business. 

This extends to even the afterlife sequences, which adopted a chibby art style that stood in stark contrast to how its real-world sequences were animated. This was reminiscent of the dreamlike worlds from Inside Out, but the whole thing still blends together nicely to create a surprisingly coherent whole.

In terms of the story itself, the writing is just as topnotch as ever, showcasing all the emotional depth that the studio is known for.  The subject matter might be heavier than most of their prior work, but they infuse it with enough lighthearted humor that it should be perfectly accessible by younger audiences. That said, it doesn't quite reach the emotional heights of an Up or a Toy Story 3.

Not that every single one of their movies need to, but it is still something worth noting. And between this and their previous release of the year, Onward, I'd give that other movie a slight edge, mainly because it resonated with me more on a personal level, so your mileage may vary.

Soul joins the ranks of movies we've had in 2020 which we can only wonder how they would have performed if given a traditional box office release. Pixar had scored immense success in the past with original productions like Inside Out and Up, so the precedent was there for Soul to be another hit. But the mere fact that we are getting a film of this level debut on a streaming platform makes it the perfect holiday gift for Disney+ subscribers and fans of Pixar animated films alike.

Friday, 25 December 2020

2020 in Review: Looking Back

We've come to the end of my week-long 2020 in Review series of posts. But before I proceed with today's look back at the year as a whole, here is a quick recap of everything that went down during the week. On Monday, I went over my Top 10 video games released in 2020. This was followed by a rundown of my Top 10 TV shows on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I highlighted my favorite songs. And yesterday, I revealed my Top 10 movies. Today, we'll be capping off the series with a look back at events that shaped the year into what it was.

To say that 2020 was a tough year for everyone would be like the understatement of the century. 2020 was brutal to say the least, from the impending threat of World War III at the start of the year, to a global pandemic that still continues to grip the world as we speak. We all know the details at this point, so going over each and every one in great detail should not be necessary. What I'll be doing instead is recapping those events that affected me on a personal level.

So pretty much the whole world went into lockdown around Mid-to-late March, in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus. All of a sudden, it was no longer okay to congregate in large gatherings, or shake hands with friends and loved ones, as social distancing slowly became a concept we'd come to accept. Many were forced to work from the safety of their homes, and many still no longer even had jobs.

We watched as event after event was cancelled, from the Olympic Games to conventions like E3 and San Diego Comic-Con. Conspiracy theories became the order of the day, as everything from 5G internet to opposing political views were being blamed for the current situation. There were toilet paper shortages, but through all the inherent madness of those early months, we persevered and slowly settled into the so-called "new normal."

Then there was the Black Lives Matter movement, which reached a fever pitch after both Breonna Taylor and George Floyd had lost their lives to police brutality. Thousands took to the streets in protests, ignoring curfews and their own safety just so that they could ensure the issue received the audience it demanded. But things quickly spiraled out of control, and protests turned into riots, as looters took advantage of the situation.

And just like déjà vu, we watched as the same pattern of self destruction took place here in Nigeria, after peaceful protests advocating for the complete abolition of the notoriously brutal police unit known as SARS were hijacked by hoodlums. This would culminate in the Lekki Massacre on the 20th of October, when peaceful protesters were fired at by military soldiers, which in turn gave birth to even more unrest and looting.

Amidst all that chaos and bloodshed, we'd also suffered a number of celebrity deaths. But to focus on those in a year where literal millions had lost their lives to the pandemic would be a bit callous. Except I'd also be remiss if I didn't at least take a moment to acknowledge the passing of Chadwick Boseman, who died of colon cancer on August 28, after keeping his battle with the illness a secret for what had been his last four years.

The actor had touched so many lives in the brief time he'd played the character of T'Challa in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which was very much evident by the outpouring of grief that took hold of the internet that weekend and in the days and weeks after. But the fact that he had given us not one but two solid acting performances this year, in both Da 5 Bloods and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, only goes further to solidify what was already a strong legacy.

2020 was also the year that gamers welcomed a new generation of game consoles, with both the Sony PlayStation 5 and Microsoft Xbox Series S/X launching two days apart in November. This was following several months of drip fed information and anticipation, and the demand for these consoles had proven so great that they've remained pretty much impossible to buy today at regular retail prices, with scalpers and price gougers having a field day with the situation.

I personally don't plan on getting either console until they become widely available to buy at their  respective MSRPs. I've never been much of an early adopter in any case; I didn't get a PS4 until almost 4 years into its life-cycle. The one exception to that would be the Nintendo Switch, which I've owned since around its launch in 2017. And the console continued to prove to be a resounding success for Nintendo this year, with games like Animal Crossing: New Horizon selling close to 30 million copies and helping move even more units of the hybrid console in the process.

Reeling things back home now, I'd mentioned during my Year in Review wrap up post last year that I'd seen over 30 movies at the cinema in 2019. Well, this year, that number took a considerable nosedive, as I was only able to see 8, with theaters closed for the better part of the year here in Nigeria, due to the pandemic. On the flip side, I did manage to see and review even more movies than I had last year, with the final number being somewhere in the ballpark of 90 movie reviews.

What had spurred me to see and review that many movies this year was the fact that I had decided to approach doing so like it was my 9 to 5. The fact that I no longer work a regular 9 to 5 no doubt helps of course. So this has really opened me up to the possibility of upping my output and trying new things, and one of the ways I did just that was by starting my very own YouTube channel.

Yep. That's right. You can consider this my official announcement post, even though I've been embedding the videos I upload over there in my posts since July. And if for whatever reason you are reading this and you still aren't subscribed to the channel, then I've got to ask: what are you waiting for? Christmas? Well, as fate would have it, today is Christmas, so you know what to do.

It's hard to imagine that it's been 10 years since I started my annual Year in Review series on this blog. And what a wild ride it has been too, with so many ups and downs, milestones reached, and many more to come. Merry Christmas everyone, and here's to another 10 years of celebrating the things we enjoy geeking about the most.

Thursday, 24 December 2020

2020 in Review: Top 10 Movies

It seems a bit unfair and one-sided to say that no other industry had been hit by the pandemic as hard as the movie industry was this past year, but it sure feels that way right now. Looking back at my list of Top 10 most anticipated movies for 2020, only 4 of those movies managed to get released in theaters, two of which had adopted the hybrid/simultaneously release model that seems might become "the new normal" heading into 2021. That's less than half, with the remaining getting pushed to next year.

There are even some movie pundits that believe the Oscars should be postponed next year, in light of the situation. But to say that we haven't gotten enough quality movies to fill out such a ceremony would be somewhat shortsighted. Not after we've had video-on-demand and streaming platforms come to the rescue of those movies in need of new homes in the absence of theaters. So out of all those movies we did managed to get this year, here are my Top 10 favorite ones.


The movie that was supposed to save theaters ended up barely making a dent at the US box office. None of that was reflective of the quality of TENET though, which had Christopher Nolan's penchant for high-concept science fiction fair. The director once again proved why he remained a visionary, weaving yet another complex tale that required multiple viewings to fully piece together. Unfortunately, it was released at a time that most viewers were already skeptical of going to see it once, not to speak of multiple times. Here's hoping it fares better now that it is out on Blu-Ray.

9. Onward

Released just when the pandemic was starting to take a hold of the larger world, Onward was one of the first films to feel its impact. I was lucky enough to catch an advance screening for the movie before our local cinemas were closed down, and it was a good thing that the theater I saw it in was largely empty, because I was a crying mess of a man that day. The writers at Pixar know how to elicit strong emotional responses from viewers, and I found Onward to be particularly heartfelt and relatable. 

8. Wonder Woman 1984

After going through several delays, Wonder Woman 1984 was finally released in international territories last week. And it was a relatively soft international debut too, according to its lower-than-expected box office results in China. But much like with TENET, this is not a reflection on the movie itself, as the DCEU sequel was packed with enough superhero action and high stakes to satisfy fans. And while it wasn't quite as strong an outing as the previous film, it is definitely worth watching on HBO Max when it gets a simultaneous release with US theaters on Christmas Day.

7. Mank

So I finally got around to seeing Citizen Kane this past year, after hearing nothing but good things about the classic 1941 film for most of my movie-watching years. And boy did it live up to expectations. None of that was in preparation for Mank though, a film I didn't even know was in the works until I caught a trailer for it. So you can imagine my delight when I did. And while the biopic is not quite "the best film since Citizen Kane," it is still one of the better ones we'd gotten this year.

6. His House

While 2020 could be considered its own horror film, there were plenty actual ones released throughout the year. From the stellar The Invisible Man, to the usually January and October duds we seem to get every year. His House was easily my favorite one of all the ones I saw, a film by first-time feature film director, Remi Weekes. His movie masterfully mixes traditional horror film elements with the refugee experience in the UK, and was according by a pair of great performances by Sope Dirisu and Wunmi Mosaku.

5. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Speaking of great performances, the late Chadwick Boseman had given one of the very best of his career in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, a film about the real-life blues singer, Gertrude Rainey. Viola Davis stars in the title role, and together the pair had given two of the most Oscar-worthy performances we have gotten this year. Nominations for the ceremony won't be announced until sometime before the ceremony in April, but barring any unforeseen circumstances, we can expect nods for both actors in either of the acting categories.

4. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Another film you can expect to see at next year's Oscars is The Trial of the Chicago 7. The latest film by Aaron Sorkin tells the true-life story of the men that were persecuted for their alleged involvement in inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It marks the acclaimed screenwriter's second outing as a director, and features a strong acting ensemble that includes Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and others. Despite spending many years in development hell, the film is today heralded by most for the timeliness of its message. 

3. The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie returned to his crime comedy roots this year with the release of The Gentlemen, a movie he'd developed in the spirit of earlier works like Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. In the film, Matthew McConaughey stars as Mickey Pearsons, an American drug dealer trying to get out of the British drug trade after building an empire for himself. The film was one of the funniest I'd seen all year, and it has all the action, fast dialogue and quirky characters that fans have come to expect from such works by the director.

2. Black is King

Beyoncé is no stranger to making visual albums, having released the self-titled Beyoncé and Lemonade in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Black is King is easily her strongest one yet. The film serves as a companion to the music she'd curated for the 2019 remake of The Lion King, and it retells the same story of redemption from that other film, but in a contemporary African setting. It showcases both her flair for stunning visuals and her growing competence as a director, and helped to breathe new life into what was already an awesome collection of songs.

1. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee is one of the few directors today that can be regarded as a true visionary. The acclaimed director had received some considerable Oscar love for his previous film, BlacKkKlansman, so expectations were indeed high for his next project. And that project was of course Da 5 Bloods, a film about a group of Vietnam veterans returning to the country to retrieve some buried treasure.

Released during the height of protests against police brutality in the US, the film proved to be indicative of current world situations. But more than that fact was the captivating performance of Delroy Lindo as a troubled vet dealing with a bad case of PTSD. His acting more than elevated the material. Then there's the director's decision not to de-age the actors in flashbacks, which were shot in 4:3 ratio.

The craftsmanship on display, the strength of the performances, and the timeliness of its message all come together to make Da 5 Bloods my favorite movie for 2020.

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

2020 in Review: Top 10 Songs

One of the many downsides of spending the better part of 2020 in the middle of a pandemic is missing out on music festivals and concerts. The good news though was that there was no shortage of new music being released all through the year. Some artists in fact spent their time in lockdown composing new music, and many still held virtual performances for their fans. All that is to say that coming up with my Top 10 songs of 2020 wasn't any easier this year than previous years. So on that note, here are my favorite songs for 2020.

10. Master KG - Jerusalema

The South African DJ that gave us Skeleton Move two years ago was back again with his follow up hit, Jerusalema. And the song proved even more popular than that other one, after it went viral and spawned the dance routine that came to be known as the Jerusalema Challenge. It's simple melody and catchy beat did lend the song to just such a challenge, and it would go on to receive multiple remixes, one of which includes our very own Burna Boy.

9. Juice WRLD & Marshmello - Come & Go

Juice Wrld lives on through the legacy of his music, and that was very much evident this year following the release of his first posthumous album, Legends Never Die. The album was packed with multiple collaborations, but the one that seemed to resonate with me the most was Come & Go. The song featured production work from electronic musician, Marshmello, and it served as a best of both worlds as it marries the late emo rapper's signature style with the other's skill for crafting earworm melodies.


Poppy continued her descent into heavier music territory with the release of her third studio album, I Disagree. And no other track on the cut perfectly captured the rawness of the American singer's appeal like the song, Bloodmoney. The song would go on to earn her a nomination at the forthcoming 63rd Grammy Awards, in the Best Metal Performance category, making her the first ever female artist to earn one.

7. Halsey - Graveyard

It almost feels like a lifetime since Halsey released her third studio album, Manic. All the way back in January to be precise. This was before lockdowns became a thing, so I guess that is understandable. But in all the time since the album's release, one of its songs has remained a staple on my playlist. That song is of course Graveyard, a song that was produced by Jon Bellion and speaks of the almost blissful pull of lovers intertwined in what is effectively a destructive relationship.

6. Justin Bieber & benny blanco - Lonely

The Biebs sings about his experiences with superstardom at an early age in Lonely, his latest collaboration with producer-turned-artist, Benny Blanco. I confess that the song had sounded like a throwaway ballad the first time I heard it. But upon subsequent listens, you really start to feel some of the emotion the singer expresses. Also, Jacob Trembley plays a younger, Baby-era Justin Bieber in the music video, and you've got to love anything with Jacob Trembley in it.

5. Bring Me the Horizon - Teardrops

Following the release of their self-proclaimed pop album, amo, and its more experimental follow-up, Music to listen to, Bring Me the Horizon had long-time fans wondering what direction their music would be taking next. And it was with open arms that we'd welcomed Post Human: Survival Horror, the first part of their Post Human series. The album found the British rockers at their heaviest in years, with the single, Teardrops, serving as an effective middle ground for old and newer fans alike.

4. Lady Gaga - Rain on Me (ft. Ariana Grande)

Lady Gaga was yet another artist that returned to her musical roots this past year, with the release of her sixth album, Chromatica. Easily her best album in years (and quite possibly my favorite one for 2020), the record is reminiscent of the danceable beats of her The Fame era of music. On "Rain on Me," she joins forces with fellow pop singer, Ariana Grande, and they'll both be contending for the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance award at the Grammys next year.

3. Taylor Swift - Cardigan

Taylor Swift has been very prolific this past year, releasing not one, but two albums, the aptly titled folklore and evermore. Both albums were released with very little fanfare, but still managed to smash all manner of records on their way to becoming the best-selling albums of the year. The first album contains the song Cardigan, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 100, before going on to earn her a nomination for both Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at next year's Grammy Awards.

2. The Weeknd - In Your Eyes

One of the most glaring omissions in the nominations for next year's Grammy Awards is The Weeknd, who had put out what is quite possibly his strongest album this past year. In it, he continued to showcase his love for the music of the 80s, and nowhere was that love more evident than on the track, In Your Eyes, a song that features one of the best saxophone solos I've heard in a long while. That love also extended to his music videos for the album, which together served as an actual short film made in the style of an 80s-era slasher movie.

1. Disclosure - Douha (Mali Mali)

Disclosure once again teams up with Malian singer, Fatoumata Diawara, for the larger-than-life dance track, Douha (Mali Mali). The song is coming fresh off the heels of their previous collaboration on Ultimatum, which had earned the pair a nomination for Best Dance Recording at last year's Grammys. And this time around, the singer sings of her love for her home country, Mali, over one of the catchiest Disclosure productions we've been blessed with in a good while.

There's something undeniably refreshing about the song's fusion of deep house and traditional African music, with Fatoumata's vocals perfectly complimenting the slick production. It also doesn't hurt that the video for the song is beautifully shot with some truly stunning drone photography. It is all those elements that come together to make Douha (Mali Mali) my ultimate feel-good song and music video of 2020.

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

2020 in Review: Top 10 TV Shows

Most of us had spent the better part of 2020 social distancing in our homes, so I guess it was a good thing then that there wasn't any shortage of quality shows to watch on the various streaming services like Netflix. And as the dust slowly settled on long-running shows like Game of Thrones, the void it left behind is already being filled by a number of new and ongoing shows. Here are the ones I consider my Top 10 for 2020.

10. Money Heist Season 4

I was admittedly a bit late in boarding the Money Heist hype train. But after a lockdown-inspired binge session of the first four seasons, I can finally see what all the noise was about. Like any great show, it has enough characters for fans to care about, and the execution of the increasingly-audacious plans of "The Professor" is something that needs to be seen to be believed. The whole thing does start to wear a bit thin after a while though. Still, that final season can't come soon enough.

9. Animaniacs

Any kid that grew up in the 90s should easily remember the Steven Spielberg-produced cartoon show, Animaniacs. The show was known for its slapstick humor and numerous pop culture references. This past year, it joined the long list of classic shows that recently received a revival, which aired on Hulu. The new 13-episode season proves just how timeless and relevant the show is; even though most of the gags have been updated to appeal to modern sensibilities, there's plenty for old and new fans alike to love.

8. High Score

Netflix had blessed subscribers with a number of high-quality documentaries this past year. But the retro gamer in me holds one of them above the rest. And that show is of course High Score, the 6-part documentary that chronicles several pivotal developments that paved the way for the current gaming landscape. I've been a gamer since the 8-bit era, so a lot of what was covered really spoke to me, more so than the similar CBS All-Access documentary, Console Wars.

7. Rick and Morty Season 4

The second half of the Adult Swim cartoon show, Rick & Morty, aired earlier in the year. And it proved to be the stronger of the two halves, leaving fans with instant classics like The Vat of Acid episode. And while, taken as a whole, the fourth season might not quite match the first one in overall quality, it still has all the self-deprecating humor and social commentary that fans enjoy.

6. Fargo Season 4

After taking a three-year hiatus since Season 3 aired back in 2017, the FX anthology series, Fargo, was back for its fourth season this year. This time around, the show was set in 1950, with Chris Rock serving as one of the main headliners. And while each season is usually considered standalone, it was revealed during a post-credits scene that this one actually had a very strong connection to the second season of the show.

5. Lovecraft Country

After only just gifting us with the stellar limited series Watchmen last year (which by the way was my favorite show that year), HBO made another claim for the King of TV Shows title this year with Lovecraft Country. The show serves as both an adaptation and continuation of the 2016 book of the same name, which itself borrowed heavily from the works of famed horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. The show boasts enough blood and guts to please gorehounds, while still managing to tell a thought-provoking tale for those viewers looking for something more cerebral.

4. The Queen's Gambit

And speaking of cerebral, things don't get more so than in a show about chess. The Queen's Gambit made its debut on Netflix this year, and the limited series starred Anya Taylor-Joy, who it seems is having a solid 2020 overall, between this and her appearances in both Emma and The New Mutants. She plays an orphaned girl who would become a chess prodigy, and she convincingly brings the character to life in what is sure to remain a career highlight for the young actress.

3. The Umbrella Academy Season 2

The Five Hargreeves siblings returned to Netflix for another season of The Umbrella Academy this summer. And once again, they had to deal with the threat of yet another extinction level event. I didn't actually get into the Umbrella Academy until a good friend of mine had questioned its omission from my list of favorite TV shows last year. I could easily see why, because it definitely has a quirkiness to it that is unlike any other ongoing show, which only adds to its overall appeal.

2. The Boys Season 2

One show I did thoroughly enjoy last year was The Boys, and if it wasn't for the fact that HBO had also put out Watchmen, I would have easily awarded it my favorite TV show for the year. The second season was even more bunkers, with exploding heads galore and more double dealings and conspiracies than you can shake a stick at. But I'm sure you must be wondering why it is sitting here at number 2 then, a fact that only speaks to the strength of the show at number 1.

1. The Mandalorian Season 2

The Skywalker Saga might have ended with what many considered a heap of a mess in The Rise of Skywalker last year, but Jon Favreau and crew have proven that Star Wars is still very much alive and well with the stellar second season of The Mandalorian. If the first season was renowned for introducing the ever adorable Baby Yoda to the world, then it was in this one that we witnessed just where the show fits in with the greater Star Wars timeline.

Crossovers were made with existing shows like Clone Wars and Rebels as we saw fan favorite characters from those shows make an appearance. The long-rumored return of a certain other Mandalorian was another highlight of the season. But the biggest achievement of all came in its final episode, where long-time fans were finally given what they'd been clamoring for since The Return of Jedi. All in all, the show is further proof that it is a good time to be a Star Wars fan.

Monday, 21 December 2020

2020 in Review: Top 10 Video Games

With 2020 finally coming to an end, it is time for us to take a much-needed step back as we examine some of the things that have kept our minds off the many troubles of "these uncertain times." Throughout this week, I'll be counting down my Top 10 movies, video games, TV shows and songs. But unlike previous years, I'll be ranking my picks from 10 to 1, in keeping with all the Top 10s I've been posting over on YouTube.

I'll be starting the week-long Year in Review with a rundown of my Top 10 video games. But first, I must once again begin with the disclaimer that I'd skipped out on some notable games this past year. Most of them were PS4 exclusives, and there is no doubt that hardcore gamers will notice their absence on this list. That said, this leaves more room for some smaller indie games and hidden gems you'd typically not catch on these types of lists. So without further ado, here are my Top 10 video games of 2020.

10. Paper Mario: The Origami King

2020 was a comparatively quieter year for Nintendo, and one of the few first party titles to come out for the Nintendo Switch was Paper Mario: The Origami King. The game boasted the same witty writing and colorful paper-styled visuals the series is known for, and introduced a new ring-based battle system. And while it was not the return to the series' RPG roots that long-time fans had hoped for, it still managed to pack its own kind of thrills.

9. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

The battle royale genre received a surprising new entry this year in the form of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. The game featured up to 60 players competiting against each other in several game show-styled events, until only one is left standing, doing battle across several rounds filled with many obstacles and colorful perils. The game had exploded onto the scene in August, and while it might have fallen in popularity since then, it remains a major gaming highlight for many this past year.

8. Genshin Impact

Of all the games on this list, Genshin Impact was probably the one I'd never imagined would turn out as good as it did. But here we are. The game first got on my radar last year, after it made the news for its similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and the spirited reaction that caused in one particular Nintendo fan at a Japanese gaming convention. But what surprised me the most after finally getting to play the game this year, was its overall quality and the amount of content it offered for free, and how it has no doubt raised the bar for free-to-play games.

7. Streets of Rage 4

My 90s beat-em-up itch was very much scratched this past year, thanks to Streets of Rage 4, the long-awaited entry in the once-popular game series. And by long awaited, I mean that it has literally been some 26 odd years since fans last got to throw punches and kicks at random thugs milling about the crime-ridden streets. The latest entry replaces the 16-bit graphics of those earlier games with some beautifully handrawn sprites and backgrounds, and has original series composers, Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashima, returning to help compose and curate some truly incredible tunes for the game.

6. Resident Evil 3

My favorite video game released last year was none other than the Resident Evil 2 remake by Capcom. So you could imagine my excitement when we'd first learnt that we would also be getting a remake of the original game's sequel, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and just one year later. The new game somehow manages to improve on the previous game's already lifelike visuals, as well as ratchet things up several notches with even more action setpieces. The game was accused of being comparatively shorter though, a shortcoming it attempts to assuage by coming bundled with an online multiplayer mode called Resident Evil: Resistance.

5. Doom Eternal

The 2016 version of Doom was already every bit the perfect first-person-shooter game, but the developers at id Software were obviously not satisfied. And following a short delay from its original 2019 release date, its sequel, Doom Eternal, was unleashed onto the world (along with a certain other game further down this list). The introduced even more hordes of enemies to do battle against, as well as new platforming abilities and a fleshed out story mode. But the one facet of the game that resonated with me the most during my long play sessions was its rocking soundtrack.

4. Hades

I've never been particularly keen on roguelike games, even though I did feature both Dead Cells and Cadence of Hyrule in my list of favorite games last year. But all that changed with my discovery of Hades this past year, the latest game from acclaimed indie developers, Supergiant Games. The game marries a beautiful art style with a fun gameplay loop that involves hacking and slashing your way through its procedurally-generated underworld. Like most roguelikes, players would die often and things reset at the start of each run. But the fact you unlock new abilities and upgrades ensures that you also get that sense of progression regardless.

3. Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

While Sony and Microsoft were busy preparing to launch their respective next-gen consoles this fall, Nintendo was quietly prepping its big holiday title. And if we were going by the sheer magnitude of its eventual reveal alone, then Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity would most likely be topping this list. Billed as a prequel to the events that transpired in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the hack and slash adventure game would take that other game's story in a bold, new direction. And despite being marred by performances issues, it still stands tall as one of the better games to grace the Nintendo Switch this year.

2. Cyberpunk 2077 (PC Version)

It is almost impossible to discuss Cyberpunk 2077 without first acknowledging the current state of its console ports. The game has had the rockiest of launches to say the least. And while those versions of the game continue to get patched into a more playable state, we can't overlook the gem of a video game hidden underneath all those bugs and glitches. And that gem currently shines the brightest on PC, with all the next-generation bells and whistles gamers could possibly hope for. Its massive open-world is filled with delights and side attractions at almost every turn, while its main campaign offers the high-quality storytelling fans have come to expect from CD Projekt Red.

1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Was there ever even a doubt that Animal Crossing: New Horizons wouldn't be topping my list of Top 10 games of 2020? I mean, you only need to take a scroll through my Twitter page to see how much it dominated my free time this past year. No other game had managed to fill a void the way the latest in the series of life simulation games from Nintendo did when lockdowns began in mid-to-late March.

And through all the craziness and uncertainty of 2020, this game continued to provide a respite from all of it for millions of players all over the world. Some 26 million players to be precise, at least going by the last reported NPD numbers. Those numbers speak for themselves, which is why I feel that no other game was as significant this past year to the gaming landscape as a whole.