Friday, 27 December 2019

2019 in Review: Looking Back

My week-long 2019 in Review series of posts comes to an end today, but for the benefit of those just joining in, here is a quick recap. The series was started on Monday with a rundown of my favorite video games released during the year. This was followed by a rundown of my favorite TV shows on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I highlighted my favorite songs. And yesterday, I revealed my favorite movies. Today, we'll be looking back at some of the news and events that made the most impact this past year.


The United Kingdom's desire to leave the European Union really came to a head this past year. The British Exit, or Brexit as it is more popularly referred to, was a major talking point for the UK media all year long, as the UK government failed to come to an agreement over the terms of the exit, leading to multiple delays. All that would eventually result in the resignation of Theresa May as the Conservative Party leader, following several votes of no-confidence, and the appointment of Boris Johnson as the new prime minister. The country is currently set to leave the EU in early 2020 and I am here wondering, could Nigeria be allowed to take its place?


The UK wasn't the only one threatening to make an exit this past year, as it was announced in a joint statement by Disney and Sony that Spider-Man would also be leaving the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This was shortly following the release of Spider-Man: Far From Home, and his appearance in the hugely popular MCU movie, Avengers: Endgame. The news was due to both companies failing to come to an agreement over the sharing of profits for the character's continued appearance in future movies. Thankfully, Spider-Man fans all over the world had made their displeasure known, prompting the two companies to come up with a new agreement that would ensure that the webslinger was going to remain in the MCU.


Not all fans were as civil as Spider-Man's this past year though. Toxic fan bases are nothing new, but there were some extremely vocal ones in 2019 who were out there making their current hatred for their favorite franchises known. I am talking about everything from Game of Thrones fans petitioning for Season 8 to be remade with "competent" writers, to Pokémon fans complaining about the lack of a National Pokédex in the latest Pokémon games, and of course, the Star Wars fans who believe Rian Johnson had ruined the franchise with his movie, The Last Jedi, and were fully prepared to blindly hate (or love?) The Rise of Skywalker as a result. Take a chill pill, guys. I understand the passion, but we must never forget that these are franchises that we should all be grateful to have in our lives in the first place.


Bringing things back home now, in terms of personal achievements and milestones within the year, there aren't really that many to talk about. I started the year with the goal of seeing at least 25 movies at the cinema, and I ended up seeing over 30, most of which I also wrote a review for. Not bad I guess, considering I had only managed to see half as many the year before. My appreciation of filmmaking is something I've never attempted to hide, and films themselves are something I view as more than mere entertainment. It is an art form, and if the only way I currently have to show support for that art form is by going to watch these movies and giving my critical evaluation of them afterwards, then continue to do so I will.

Another thing I managed to do in 2019 was produce my very first podcast. This is something I've had an interest in for many years now, but never felt I had the content or tools required to pursue. But I had thrown all caution to the wind, and channeled my love for Game of Thrones, which led to my weekly GoT spoiler discussions. A special shout out is in order for my co-host and fellow GoT enthusiast, Princewill from The Drunk Pen, who was always a real champ throughout the whole process. The production might have been barebones and the results not particularly stellar, but none of that can take away the sheer amount of fun we had putting the whole thing together.

Lastly, my fondest memories from 2019 are probably the ones I made during a trip to Dubai back in June. There were so many activities cramped into those 5 short days, and so many sights to see. But what I'll remember most fondly are the new friendships that were forged, friends who I still talk and interact with regularly till today. You know who you are, and I guess this is my way of saying thank you for being there, even when we'd thought we'd ghost each other the moment we got back home.


Happy New Year in advance everyone, and here's hoping that 2020 brings with it more of the things we love in the world, and none of the things we don't.

Thursday, 26 December 2019

2019 in Review: Favorite Movies

Us



Jordan Peele had made one hell of a directorial debut with his 2017 horror satire, Get Out, so of course expectations were high for his followup movie, Us. Marketed as a home invasion thriller with a twist, the movie not only lived up to those expectations, it very well surpassed, thereby cementing his position as one of the very best horror filmmakers in the world today.

Shazam



Fresh off the success of last year's billion-dollar-grossing Aquaman, the DCEU's Shazam is one of their only movies with an actual heart and soul. It works as a family comedy as much as it does a superhero origin story, which just goes to show what can be achieved when their primary concern isn't an overarching narrative and the worldbuilding required for that.

Avengers: Endgame



Event movies don't get much bigger than Avengers: Endgame, the followup to the MCU's immensely popular Avengers: Infinity War. Having the previous movie end the way it had pretty much guaranteed the new one would do one thing: get as many butts in theaters seats come opening weekend. And what an opening it was too, grossing over $1.2 billion worldwide in its first 5 days, before going on to become the highest grossing movie of all time.

Spider-Man: Far From Home



Leave it to the geniuses at Marvel Studios to followup one of the year's biggest releases with a smaller-scale offering, and still make it feel just as essential. But that was precisely what they did with Spider-Man: Far From Home, a movie that offered fans of the MCU their first glimpses at a post-Endgame universe.

Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood



Quentin Tarantino remains one of the most talented filmmakers in Hollywood today. And for his ninth feature film, he'd decided to make a film that is as much about an era of filmmaking as it is about the events surrounding the Manson family murders. Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood is a love letter to the Golden Age of cinema, a movie that never ceases to be stunning to look at while paying respect to all that has come before.

Parasite



Speaking of talented filmmakers, Bong Joon-ho might have already proven his flair for the craft with films like Snowpiercer and Okja. But with the release of Parasite, a comparatively down-to-Earth tale that is as much a black comedy as it is social commentary, he has shown his mastery of its finer details as well. The movie is so brilliant in its intensity, so beautiful in its execution, that you'd be hard pressed to find a finer example of what quality filmmaking entails in 2019. Okay. I'll stop gushing now.

Joker



The Clown Prince of Crime finally received an origin story worthy of his large-than-life personality this year in the form of Todd Philip's standalone DC movie, Joker. Joaquin Phoenix has given a career-defining performance that captured the tortured mind of the Batman villian like never before. The fact that the film is also beautifully shot only further elevates its status as one of the very best comic book-based movies ever made.

The Irishman



Martin Scorcese might have caught a bit of heat this year for remarks that made light of the effort that goes into the standard superhero movie, but none of that can detract from the fact that his latest film, The Irishman, is as brilliant as a gangster movie can get. The film is anchored by great performances from heavy hitters, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, and the de-aging technology used to give credence to them as their younger selves simply needs to be seen.

Knives Out



Rian Johnson's Knives Out is about as far away from "a galaxy far, far away" as the director could possibly get, but yet the movie feels just as brilliant as his work in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It is a classic whodunnit with modern sensibilities that features Daniel Craig as one of the most eccentric sleuths to grace the big screen in this day and age. But credit must also be given to the ensemble cast as a whole, and a script that moves at a steady pace while still allowing viewers to piece together all the clues.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker



The Skywalker Sage comes to a somewhat satisfying end in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth film in the highly-beloved franchise. I couldn't possibly have this list of favorite movies without including what was clearly my most anticipated one heading into the year. I've seen it twice already at the cinemas, and had my mind blown by what I saw on both occasions, despite the film's many problems. So that should tell you all you need to know about its inclusion on this list.

And the winner is...

Parasite



I know I said I was done gushing about Parasite, but you'll have to indulge me for another minute here. This movie is bloody brilliant. Scratch that, the movie is about as bloody brilliant as bloody brilliant could get. No other movie had left me floored this past year the way I was after I first saw Parasite and the credits started rolling. It is a movie that says a lot in so little words, relying for the most part on its imagery to get its message across. And what breathtaking imagery it has too.

There is one particular shot that I keep going back to, of the youngest Kim daughter, perched on top of the toilet seat as she uses her bodyweight to hold back the flood waters threatening to gush out of its bowels. Everything from the way the scene was lit, to the framing of the shot, to the practical effects used, just echoes brilliance.

Okay. I'm done gushing for real now. Parasite is not only my favorite movie for 2019. It is also one of the decade's very best.

Wednesday, 25 December 2019

2019 in Review: Favorite Songs

Lil Nas X - Old Town Road



Country and rap collide in Old Town Road by Lil Nas X, a song that would become the biggest genre mashup of 2019. The debut single would not only receive a remix featuring country singer, Billy Rae Cyrus, but also eventually go on to top the Billboard Hot 100 charts for 19 consecutive weeks, as well as scoring Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Best Music Video and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Juice WRLD - Robbery



Another mashup of genres that was a mainstay on my playlists this year was Juice WRLD's Robbery. The song is built around a haunting piano melody as the late rapper croons about yet another relationship gone awry. It is just one of several gems on his sophomore album, Death Race for Love, and now a part of his legacy following his tragic death after a drug overdose earlier this month.

Billie Eilish - bury a friend



American pop sensation Billie Eilish finally released her highly-anticipated debut album this year, which included instant classics like Bad Guy and All the Good Girls go to Hell. But of all the great songs featured on the album, my favorite one remains Bury a Friend, a track that gives the phrase "monster under the bed" a new meaning as it takes listeners into the darkest recesses of the 18-year-old's twisted mind.

Joeboy - Baby



Few songs were as ubiquitous on Nigerian radio stations and airwaves this past year as Baby by Joeboy. Okay, actually I can name a few, but not many of them could boast of the same kind of instant appeal. The song is so catchy, and the production so smooth, that you just can't help but dance and sing along to its lyrics about getting smitten with someone who seems larger than life itself.

Taylor Swift - You Need to Calm Down



Country singer turned pop star Taylor Swift was back this year with another pop banger, You Need to Calm Down. The earworm served as the second single from her seventh studio album, Lover, and in it she shows her support for the LGBTQ+ community while poking fun at its many detractors and opponents. The song would go on to earn her 9 nominations at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards, where it won the overall award for Video of the Year.

Slipknot - Solway Firth



I have been listening to Slipknot for quite sometime now, but 2019 would be the year that I finally considered myself a full-blown maggot, the official term for their fandom. And Solway Firth would be the song that prompted me to take that designation (as well as being the song to introduce me to the bloody and brilliant Amazon series, The Boys). Simply put, I don't believe I had headbanged as hard as I did the first time I heard this raging beast of a song.

blink-182 - Darkside



blink-182 released what was hands down their most emotionally "dark" record till date this past year, so I guess it is only appropriate that they have a song on it titled Darkside. Not to be confused with the side of the Force where Sith lords get their power or the DC comic book villain, the deliriously catchy song is actually about an unrequited love for a Goth chick and a disturbing willingness to follow her to the ends of the Earth.

Post Malone - Circles



I have a confession to make: I have never been a fan of Post Malone. This is despite the fact that he was featured in my list of favorite songs last year in the Tiesto & Dzeko collaboration, Jackie Chan, and he was half responsible for the best cut from the Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse OST, Sunflower. Well, all that changed this year the moment I heard Circles, a song so beautifully rendered and heartbreaking that it sticks with you for countless hours after you hear it.

Bring Me the Horizon - Ludens



Bring Me the Horizon might have pissed off a large portion of their fan base with the release of their pop-focused sixth studio album, Amo, but they've managed to bring a lot of them back into the fold with the unexpected release of Ludens. Featured on the soundtrack to the Hideo Kojima video game, Death Stranding, the electronica-infused song features what is arguably one of the best metal breakdowns witnessed all year, as odd as that sounds.

Goody Grace - Scumbag (feat. blink-182)



I have a YouTube recommendation to thank for discovering the immensely talented Goody Grace this year. The young Canadian singer is yet to release a debut album, but already has a varied collection of songs up on the platform that showcases his broad range of styles. Scumbag currently serves as his potential breakout single, a collaboration with aging rockers blink-182 that harkens back to the good old days of radio-friendly pop rock.

And the winner is...

Slipknot - Solway Firth



It had been 5 solid years since Slipknot had dropped an album. So you should understand when I say We Are Not Your Kind was easily one of the most anticipated musical releases of the year. And what a killer record it was too, an album that stands as not only one of my favorites (or more accurately THE favorite) for the year, but also marks one of their best (if not THE best) in their 20-year career. Solway Firth is a song that showcases the amount of growth the band has undergone in all that time, an album closer that perfectly exemplifies the spirit of experimentation featured on the album, all the while still managing to retain the same hard-hitting edge fans have come to expect.

PS: Merry Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

2019 in Review: Favorite TV Shows

Into The Badlands: Season 3



The second half of what would become the final season of Into the Badlands, AMC's post-apocalyptic martial arts series, aired earlier in the year. This was shortly after it was announced that the show would not be getting renewed for a fourth season. The season and show as a whole might have ended on a bit of a whimper compared to earlier outings, but all through its three-season run, it never ceased to dazzle with its tightly-choreographed fight scenes and incredible cinematography.

Game of Thrones: Season 8



The ending of Game of Thrones might have left long-time fans with a bitter after taste, but there is no denying the fact that the final season of the show was the most ambitious in its eight-season run. At the very least, it should be remembered for delivering unrivaled levels of spectacle in the two Miguel Sapochnik-directed episodes, The Longest Night and The Bells, and in the process raising the bar for what was once thought possible in a fantasy TV show.

Chernobyl



I very rarely go back to rewatch a show in its entirety right after completing it, but that was precisely what I had done with Chernobyl, a 5-part miniseries based on the true story of a nuclear reactor meltdown near the city of Pripyat in Ukraine. The historical drama features an ensemble cast that includes Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson, and is renowned for its unparalleled storytelling that depicts the scandal and horror that surrounded the disaster in breathtaking detail.

Stranger Things: Season 3



The small town of Hawkins, Indiana was once again a victim of "strange" happenings this year in the third (and what is arguably the best) season of the Netflix original show, Stranger Things. This time around, Mike, Eleven, Dustin and the rest of the gang have to contend with not only the return of the otherworldly Mind Flyer, but a group of Russians running experiments and trying to reopen a portal to the Upside Down.

The Boys



Superhero TV shows are a dime a dozen these days, but take it from me, The Boys is unlike any other superhero show out there. Heck, it can hardly even be called a superhero show at all, since it focuses more on the lives of the people affected by so-called superheroics than the heroes themselves. And therein lies the beauty of this Amazon Original, a violent take on the superhero genre that subverts genre expectations at every turn.

Wu Assassins



Into the Badlands might have ended earlier in the year, but martial arts junkies can still get their fix in the form of Wu Assassins, a supernatural, martial arts extravaganza that stars The Raid's very own Iko Uwais. I'd almost lost my mind the day I'd found out such a show even existed, and I'd proceeded to binge the entire thing over the span of a weekend. Granted, the show is more of a guilty pleasure than anything else, with its decidedly cheap-looking special effects and a script that is barely serviceable at best.

Watchmen



Not to be confused with the Zack Synder movie of the same name (which I also loved by the way), this iteration of the Watchmen actually serves as a direct sequel to the graphic novel upon which that movie had been based. Set 30 years after the events of the comic book, the story follows a Detective Angela Abar (aka Sister Night) as she tries to unravel the mystery behind a cult group know as The Seventh Calvary after they openly declare war on the masked police officers of the Tulsa Police Department.

The Mandalorian



Two words: Baby Yoda. But aside from the inclusion of what is arguably the cutest 50-year-old baby put to film, The Mandalorian has a lot going for it, with high production values and some truly memorable characters and encounters. Set between the fall of the Empire and rise of the First Order, the Disney+ show was made in the style of an old western. Each episode follows the adventures of the titular Mandalorian, a bounty hunter that just can't seem to catch a break as he journeys across the galaxy with his green, googly-eyed ward in tow.

Rick & Morty: Season 4



The first half of the highly-anticipated fourth season of Rick & Morty just wrapped, but already it has left us with some of the funniest episodes in the show's entire run so far. I don't believe I'd laughed as hard all year as I did while watching the fantasy-themed episode with the horny dragons, or the most recent one with a planet of snakes that just discovered time travel. And with the remaining 5 episodes set to air sometime next year, this season is already shaping up to be the best one yet.

The Witcher



Based on the dark fantasy book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, The Witcher is a Netflix original show that stars Henry Cavil as Geralt of Rivia (the titular witcher), a monster hunter with supernatural abilities. I have only seen the first of its 8-episode first season, but I can already attest to the quality of its action and overall production. The show would surely appeal to anyone with an affinity for fantasy settings, and fans of the popular video game series, which were also based on the books.

And the winner is...

Watchmen



There was no shortage of superhero-based TV shows in 2019, but no other one managed to deliver the thrills and mystery we've come to expect from the genre like HBO's Watchmen. The decision to make the show a sequel to the comic book, rather than a straight-up adaptation, also lends it a sense of continuity not typically found in shows of this kind. It does a great job of filling in its backstory within the context of the show itself, for the benefit of those who haven't read the comics. But perhaps it is most remarkable for the way it explores themes and subject matters as delicate as racism and police brutality, all without coming across as preachy or heavy-handed. It is a show like none other, one that, in my opinion, stands as the current pinnacle of great storytelling.

Monday, 23 December 2019

2019 in Review: Favorite Games

It is time for another one of my Year in Review series of posts, a feature I run on this blog at the end of every calendar year. This started all the way back in 2011, and is something I'll most probably continue doing well into the foreseeable future. So between today and Friday, I'll be highlighting my favorite games, TV shows, music, movies and moments from 2019. So sit back, relax and join me as we start by highlighting some of the games that made waves and kept me occupied this past year.

Before I begin, you might notice some glaring omissions from my list of games. Games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Death Stranding and most notably, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. This is because my PS4 hard drive had crashed earlier in the year, and I haven't been bothered to get a replacement ever since. Blame it on the stunning library of games on the Nintendo Switch I guess. I hope to get around to playing these games someday, but for now, here are the games I'd spent the better part of the year playing.

Resident Evil 2 Remake



Capcom kicked off what was to be an incredible year for gaming all the way back in January with the release of Resident Evil 2, a remake of its classic survival horror game originally released in 1998. The third-person action-adventure game puts players in the shoes of Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy, a police officer who must navigate the horrors of a zombie outbreak on his very first day on the job. The game adopts the same over-the-shoulder camera that was popularized in Resident Evil 4, while boasting some truly drop-dead visuals that bring its eerie locales to life like never before.

Apex Legends



EA and Respawn Entertainment pulled a Beyoncé so to speak when they shadow dropped their free-to-play Battle Royale game, Apex Legends. It became one of the fastest growing online games of all time, amassing more than 25 million players by the end of its first week alone. The game had some interesting traversal options like ziplining, which helped differentiate it from the likes of Fortnite. But it was perhaps most notable for the implementation of a ping system, which allowed teammates to communicate frequently used messages and information by simply pointing to an in-game object or area and selecting the appropriate ping.

Devil May Cry 5



Capcom continued its winning streak with Devil Mary Cry 5, the latest entry in its hack and slash series. This time around, players get to choose between series veterans Dante and Nero, as well as newcomer, V, each one boasting a unique fighting style and approach to combat. Much like RE2 Remake, the game uses the RE engine, which really helped make the over-the-top action in its cutscenes and gameplay pop like never before. And it all ran at a buttery smooth 60 frames per second, making it one of the definitive hack and slash fighting experiences out there.

Super Mario Maker 2



The Wii U might not have marked Nintendo's finest hour in the console wars, but it did produce some truly exceptional games during its lifetime. One of those games was Super Mario Maker, a video game that allowed players to create their very own Super Mario levels and share them with others. Super Mario Maker 2 carries over that same crowdsourced mentality, but also comes bundled in with some of the most creative Super Mario levels in a newly-added story mode, making it a must-own for all Nintendo Switch owners looking to get their 2D platforming fix.

Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda



What do you get when you cross The Legend of Zelda, a rhythm game, a roguelike and some truly killer tunes? You get Cadence of Hyrule, that's what. Developed by Brace Yourself Games, it is a game that marks the first (and probably only) time Nintendo would be licensing one of its biggest IPs to an indie developer. And I'm sure glad that they did, because the game has a very addictive gameplay loop that involves hopping around its grid-based, randomly-generated levels in time with the aforementioned killer tunes, which are all renditions of classic The Legend of Zelda themes.

Untitled Goose Game



I don't believe I was as excited to play any one game this past year the way I was excited to play Untitled Goose Game. Ever since it was first unveiled in 2017, the game had endeared players with its promise of letting them wreak all manner of havoc in a quiet English village, as a goose of all things. It turns out the finished product was just as gratifying as we'd expected, and the game would go on to become an internet sensations as it managed to make its way into the mainstream media.

The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening



The second remake to be featured in my list of favorites, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening was a beautifully-rendered top-down, action-adventure game developed by Greezo for the Nintendo Switch. Unlike the RE2 remake though, Link's Awakening was a faithful recreation of the original Game Boy game from 1993, for better or worse, shunning modern gameplay and quality of life improvements in favor of a more classic feel. It is also the second The Legend of Zelda game to be featured on my list, so I guess you could say this was a good year for Zelda fans.

Sayonara Wild Hearts



It is hard to describe Sayonora Wild Hearts. I guess at its core you should say it was a visual album that also happened to be a rhythm game, "a pop album video game" as its developers, Simogo, would call it. But what perhaps sets it apart from anything else I can think of is its striking visuals and fast, ever-evolving gameplay that finds you riding a skateboard one second, then has you flying while fighting a giant, winged dragon the next. It also doesn't hurt that its music is actually quite good on its own terms, provided you are into some electronic pop that is.

Luigi's Mansion 3



There was clearly no shortage of first party, triple-A games on the Nintendo Switch in 2019. But of all the ones that were to be released this year, Luigi's Mansion 3 was the one that first caught my eye. Hands down, this is one of the best-looking games to grace the Nintendo Switch, and should stand as a benchmark to other developers for what can be done with the hardware. But going beyond the gorgeous visuals and fluid animations, the game is actually backed up by some very good gameplay which involves making your way through the multiple floors of a haunted hotel, each one with its own unique theme, while catching and battling some truly hilarious ghosts.

Pokémon Sword



Of all the games on this list, I don't believe there was any whose release was more controversial than the new pair of mainline Pokémon games, Pokémon Sword and Shield. Following its first reveal and subsequent announcement that not all Pokémon from previous generations would be featured in its regional Pokédex, fans had expressed concerns that developers, Game Freak, were not giving the game the amount of polish and effort it deserved. Good thing the actually game turned out alright though, and of all the games on this list, it is the only one I am still actively playing.

And the winner is...

Resident Evil 2 Remake



From the first moment I had stepped foot into the re-imagined halls of the Raccoon City Police Department, I could tell that RE2 Remake was going to be something special. This is beyond a doubt one of the best remakes of a video game ever made. Rather than just retell the same story from 1998, but in a fresh coat of paint, the game is a grounds-up re-imagining of the original that retains the same sense of dread while updating the formula with modern gameplay mechanics. Simply put, this is the new gold standard for all remakes going forward, and with Resident Evil 3 Remake coming in just a few short months, I guess it is high time I go get a new hard drive for my PS4.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Movie Review)


Heading into 2019, there was truly only one movie I knew I absolutely had to see at all cost. And no, it was not Avengers: Endgame, as much as I loved that movie and Avengers: Infinity War before it. I am of course referring to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and what is currently being billed as the final installment of the decades-spanning Skywalker Saga. This was primarily because I had been so blown away by the previous installment, The Last Jedi, that the requisite two-year wait for the release of this one had felt unbearably long. Well, that wait is finally over and I am pleased to report that it was worth every second of it, at least to a degree.

Much of the film's plot had been kept under wraps leading up to its release, so I won't be discussing any story details beyond what was already shown in the trailers. To summarize then: the sith are back in the form of Emperor Palpatine. The First Order continues to spread its tyranny across the galaxy. The Resistance is still holding on to hope where there seems to be none, as their leader, General Leia Organa, helps Rey complete her Jedi training in preparation for the climactic showdown to come. That's the general premise of the film, but you're probably more curious to find out how all of that plays out on screen.

Well, there's a lot to love about Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, just as there is a lot that might not sit well with fans and casual audiences alike. It is hard to talk about any of them in specific details without going into spoiler territory. But I'll say this much: the movie is about as visually stunning as these movies can get, and the plot moves at an almost breakneck pace, doling out action setpiece after action setpiece. It is just a shame that the story holding it all together is not the best the series has seen, and some of the creative choices made, while bold and ambitious, felt forced, and their associated payoffs unearned.

My biggest gripe is how much the movie felt like an apology for The Last Jedi. This is especially frustrating for me because I frigging loved The Last Jedi, as divisive as it was, and I thought its director, Rian Johnson, had made some very interesting choices with the movie that was sure to take the entire Skywalker Saga into a bold, new direction. Alas, I was wrong, and for the first time I could truly feel the pain of this current trilogy not having a clearly mapped out endgame from the onset. It is obvious that J. J. Abrams had tried his hardest to please fans on both sides of the fence, while also smoothing over those narrative choices that didn't sit too well with audiences. But as we all already know, it is impossible to please everyone.

It was always going to be an herculean task, wrapping up the current trilogy while also delivering a fitting end to the much-beloved Skywalker Saga. The Rise of Skywalker is proof that it should've taken a whole lot more than one movie to do so, and definitely a lot more planning and proper foreshadowing. There were simply too many things going on in this one movie, so much so that I know I'd need to see it again just to try and unpack it all. The one thing I think the movie doesn't fail at though is in delivering the kind of fan service we've all come to expect from the franchise.

There were several moments during Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker where I totally geeked out as the theater screen was filled with pure, jaw-dropping spectacle. If you're a fan of the franchise and its storied history, then chances are you will find yourself geeking out as well. It might not be the best film in the just-concluded sequel trilogy, but as a celebration of the last 42 years of the Star Wars franchise as a whole, the film delivers in spades. And sometimes, that is the best a fan could hope for.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Knives Out (Movie Review)


For a very vocal online minority, Rian Johnson would forever be the man that "ruined Star Wars." Not for me though, as I still stand by my original position that The Last Jedi is one of the very best Star Wars films. Talk of not living up to the legacy of the older films aside, the movie demonstrated the director's eye for filmmaking and quality storytelling, much like his prior work on Breaking Bad and Looper. So of course I was already sold on his next project even before I knew what it was.

Billed as a modern take on the classic whodunit formula, Rian Johnson's Knives Out is a murder mystery that stars an ensemble cast of A-listers. These include Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jaime Lee Curtis, Toni Collette and Christopher Plummer. The mystery at the center of the film is the death (murder?) of Harlan Thrombley (Christopher Plummer), a famous mystery writer that is found dead on the morning following his 85th birthday with what appears to be a self-inflicted knife wound.

The fact that his entire extended family was gathered at their family home at the time of death makes pretty much everyone a suspect. And at least three of them have very strong motives behind why they would want the eccentric writer dead. So it is left to the equally-eccentric private detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), and police investigators Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) and Wagner (Noah Segan), to sift through all the motives and alibis and get to the bottom of the mystery.

The less that is said about the plot of Knives Out, the better, as half the fun comes from trying to piece together the pieces of the puzzle ahead of the on-screen actors themselves. But needless to say, there are several twists and turns along the way. What elevates the movie above other murder mysteries though is the way it manages to play around genre tropes while keeping the audience guessing with each new reveal. The end result is a movie that is part parody, part homage, but full-blown satisfying.

Friday, 22 November 2019

Frozen II (Movie Review)


2019 has not been without its fair share of hits and misses. But even so, this has been the only year where we've had up to seven movies gross over a billion dollars worldwide. And with films like Jumanji: The Next Level and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker just around the corner, it looks like that number is only going to grow. Whether or not Disney's Frozen II would be joining their ranks is up for debate. What is certain here is that the animated sequel is going to make tons of money this holiday season. The question though is does it deserve to?

Set three years after the events of the first movie, Frozen II finds the sisters Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell), along with friends Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), Olaf (Josh Gad) and Sven, going on a new adventure into an enchanted forest after Elsa answers the calls of a mysterious voice. This awakens some ancient powers that forces the people of Arendelle out of their homes. Now Elsa must push her magical powers to their limits to protect the entire kingdom, while Kristoff is busy trying to find the right time to propose to Anna.

Frozen II is a good-enough sequel that is sure to please fans of the original. The animation has improved tremendously since the release of the original in 2013, and this is immediately apparent from the very first frame. The soundtrack is also populated with a fresh batch of catchy tunes that will keep viewers humming for weeks to come. Where the movie falters though is with the story itself, a tale of adventure that never quite manages to match the original or break new ground, but still offers enough to remain entertaining in its own right.

It would be interesting if Frozen II matches or even manages to surpass the success of the original. Then we could be talking about having up to ten movies grossing over a billion dollars by the end of the year, eight of which were distributed by Disney. That is simply insane, and further proof that moviegoers would still show up for these movies in droves even in this day and age of streaming services like Netflix and Disney's very own recently-launched Disney+.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Ford v Ferrari (Movie Review)


While I've never had any kind of affinity towards sports in general, I've always had a soft spot for sports dramas. This is mainly due to how they (read: the good ones) are anchored upon larger-than-life personalities, which helps them go beyond the viewer's enjoyment of the particular sport in question. Ford v Ferrari is no different, except it also boasts some truly exhilarating race sequences and several laugh-out-loud moments that had me on the edge of my seat for the better part of its lengthy runtime.

Set in the mid 1960s, the film depicts the rivalry between the two car manufacturers, Ford and Ferrari. The rivalry is sparked into being after the former attempts to buy the latter but the deal falls through due to their inability to reach an agreement on which of the two companies would have final say in matters concerning their racing division. This prompts Ford to build a race car within 90 days that would be fast enough to compete in the Ferrari-dominated Le Mans, a grueling 24-hour race in France.

To accomplish this feat, they hire the former racecar driver and engineer, Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon), who in turn must put together a dream team of drivers and engineers that would make this happen. Except things don't sit well between Shelby and Ford after he hires the hot-headed and very eccentric British driver, Ken Miles (Christian Bale). But Shelby is convinced that Ken is one of the only men skilled enough to handle whatever contraption they manage to build before the race, so much so that he is willing to stake everything he has worked for to prove it.

Ford v Ferrari is one of those rare movies that manages to tick all the required boxes without feeling over-produced or soulless. It is beautifully shot and tightly edited to the point where you can actually feel every lurch of the cars on the race track, as though you were sitting there in the cockpit. It is also beautifully acted, with both Matt Damon and Christian Bale giving Oscar-worthy performances.

But I think the highest praise should be reserved for director James Mangold, who somehow manages to keep the two-and-a-half movie moving at a good and steady pace, doling out the laughs and thrills without glossing over any of the human drama at its center.

Friday, 15 November 2019

Charlie's Angels (Movie Review)


The fall movie season is already proving to be almost as packed with blockbusters as summer, with what seems to be big release after big release enticing moviegoers to visit the multiplexes. I am of course referring to the likes of Joker and It Chapter Two, even though we've also had a few misses amongst the bunch, with Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Gemini Man and Terminator: Dark Fate all failing to find an audience. Charlie's Angels is primed to take a stab at the box office this weekend, but of all the aforementioned films, it is the one that has surprised me the most.

Rather than make this iteration of the classic franchise a reboot or reimagining, the filmmakers have opted to make it a continuation. The basic premise is that the classic trio of angels has grown to include multiple teams of women from all walks of like, each one being directed by a handler holding the rank of Bosley, all of whom report to the eponymous disembodied voice of Charlie. These angels have been trained in the art of espionage, and they put those skills to good use working for the Townsend Agency.

When the oldest of the Bosleys (Patrick Stewark) retires, one of the older angels (Elizabeth Banks) is promoted to take his place. But her leadership abilities are immediately put to the test after she and the angels are drawn into a conspiracy involving an energy company with a revolutionary technology that could be weaponized if it falls into the wrong hands. The cast includes Kristen Stewart and Naomi Scott, as well as newcomer Ella Balinska, and Mrs. Banks pulls double duty as star and director.

I'll admit, I wasn't particular keen on seeing this movie. Sure it looked like it could offer a fun night at the movies, but all its preceding trailers and promotional material had felt shallow, making the movie itself feel like another unnecessary cash grab. Well, not only was I wrong about this but I was also pleasantly surprised. The film is helped by the great chemistry between its three leads. It also boasts some fun action, smart stroytelling and a collection of catchy tunes on its original soundtrack.

I felt it took a while for things to click, but by the halfway mark, I was invested enough in its storyline to be genuinely engaged by its twists and turns. Ultimately, I feel it is another fun addition to the franchise, even though it lacks a lot of the over-the-top action and overall campiness that made the last two movies memorable. Still, it is a hopeful indicator of what can be done with the franchise going forward, should the movie prove successful enough to warrant a sequel.

Friday, 1 November 2019

Terminator: Dark Fate (Movie Review)


Remember all those times Arnold Schwarzenegger had told us "I'll back back?" Well, the aging action star was not kidding as he returns yet again as one of the titular terminators in Terminator: Dark Fate. Directed by Tim Miller (Deadpool), the films serves as a direct sequel to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, ignoring all of the events that took place in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator: Salvation and Terminator: Genisys, for better or worse.

Not long after Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) had managed to prevent Judgement Day, a T-800 (Arnold Schwarzenegger) from the future manages to carry out Skynet's mission to kill the human resistance leader, John Conner. And right off the bat, the film showcases some incredible use of CGI to recreate the likenesses of the three actors from 1991's Terminator 2: Judgement Day. But the focus quickly shifts after a time jump to 2020, when much like the previous films, two time travellers arrive from the future.

The first one is a woman named Grace (Mackenzie Davis), a cybernetically-enhanced soldier from 2042 who has been sent to protect Dani (Natalie Reyes), a girl being hunted by the second time traveller, a Rev-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna) with the ability to split itself into two. The basic premise here is that a new AI called Legion had risen after Skynet's defeat, so while Sarah had prevented Judgement Day, she still couldn't alter humanity's fate. Now she must help Grace and Dani while joining forces with an unlikely ally as they try to prevent the end of humanity once again.

The best thing about Terminator: Dark Fate is the return of the franchise's two leads, Linda Hamilton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both actors bring a certain level of charm and chemistry that was sorely missing in the other sequels. The film also boasts some truly "special" special effects as previously mentioned. But it never quite manages to shake that "been there, done that" feeling it leaves you with by retreading much of same story beats from the first two movies.

That said, Terminator: Dark Fate can still be considered a success as it succeeds at bringing the story arch from the first two movies to a somewhat satisfying close, while also leaving the door open to a new chapter in the franchise. Let's just wait and see if it succeeds where it truly counts, at the box office.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Gemini Man (Movie Review)


Not many films end up spending 20 years in development hell. But that is precisely what had happened with Gemini Man, a technothriller that was originally conceptualized way back in 1997. The main reason for this delay was the fact that it has taken that long for the technology required to bring the story to life to come into its own. I am of course referring to the film's main elevator pitch of an actor being pitted against a younger version of himself, a feat only made possible through recent advancements in CGI rendering. So how does the finished product stack up you ask? Well, not so good, but definitely not as bad as I had feared.

Directed by Ang Lee (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), the film stars Will Smith as an aging assassin called Henry Brogan. After barely managing to kill his latest mark without incurring some collateral damage, Henry decides to retire from life as a marksman for a government agency. His decision is met with some aversion from his superiors though, which prompts them to send one of their agents, Danny (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), undercover in order to keep an eye on him. But after Henry learns that his last target had been an innocent man, they decide to take more drastic measures to contain the situation.

This culminates in the villanious Clayton Varis (Clive Owen), director of the eponymous GEMINI, sending in his ultimate weapon, a cloned version of Henry dubbed Junior (also played by Will Smith). Having raised and trained Junior as his adopted son, Clayton tasks him with killing Henry. But when both assassins butt heads, it quickly becomes apparent that they were equally matched. And after Henry learns the true nature of his latest foe, he takes it upon himself to set things right as he tries to save his younger self from following in his footsteps.

Much of the hype surrounding the release of Gemini Man is about its use of 3D and a high-frame rate, neither of which I was able to experience as I'd seen the film on a regular 2D screen. But even in that standard format, it was still possible to tell just how ambitious Ang Lee's vision was. The action scenes were impeccably shot and choreographed, giving it a lifelike quality that was nothing short of captivating. It is just a shame that those setpieces felt like they deserved to be in a better movie, one with a less generic plot and a villain that wasn't so laughably bad.

The CGI used to create the character of Junior also needs to be commended, even though it did start to create an uncanny valley effect by the end of the movie, especially in those scenes where both characters were shown side-by-side under direct sunlight. Movies like Rogue One have already shown us what is possible with fully CGI characters, but Gemini Man somehow manages to move the needle even closer towards photorealism, thanks to some great performance capture from Will Smith in conjunction with the magic of the visual effects team.

Overall, the movie is not the unwatchable mess I'd feared it would be when I'd first caught wind of its impending release, even though its story does fall short of the high standards of its director's previous efforts.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Joker (Movie Review)


I can still remember my initial skepticism when I'd learnt that Joaquin Phoenix would be playing the title role in a standalone Joker movie. And I guess you could say that this was understandable; after all, the late Heath Ledger had already given us a nigh-on-perfect performance as the Clown Prince of Crime in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. But in retrospect, I was mainly concerned that the movie would be nothing more than a villain-centric cash grab in the same vein as last year's Venom. Well, it turns out I was wrong, and I couldn't be happier as a result.

What sets Joker apart then? Is it the film's mature take on a character whose origin is often glossed over or left to mystery in other film adaptations? Or Joaquin Phoenix's nuanced portrayal of that character in what is sure to get him a Best Actor nod at next year's Academy Awards at the very least? Or perhaps it is the fact that director Todd Phillips attempts to take comic book adaptations into previously unexplored territory and succeeds? I think it is a mix of all three factors, and much more.

Set in 1981, the film depicts a version of Gotham City on the verge of collapse. The people are increasingly unhappy with an ineffective government. An ongoing worker's union strikes means that the city streets are practically overflowing with garbage. And in the midst of all that filth and unrest lives Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), an aspiring stand-up comedian who just can't seem to catch a break. He is routinely bullied and made fun of for a medical condition that sends him into uncontrollable bouts of laughter.

He is forced to work as a clown-for-hire just to make barely enough money to continue caring for his ailing mother (Frances Conroy). But in spite of all that, he still dreams of one day appearing on a late night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), an aging comedian he views as a father figure and the pinnacle of his aspirations. But when Arthur is attacked by a group of drunk businessmen one night after losing his job, he finally reaches breaking point and decides to fight back, an action that sets in motion a chain of events that would shake the entire city to its very core.

There is quite a lot to unpack in Joker, from its cautionary tale of how society is oftentimes responsible for giving birth to our most fearsome villains, to the way it manages to make the viewer feel actual empathy towards such people. I won't even attempt to get into such discussions here though. I would instead just state how utterly mind blowing the experience of seeing the events of this movie play out was.

Joker is another shining example of what can be done with comic book material when placed in capable hands. It is a character study that is not only thought-provoking, but also beautiful to look at. Every single scene is meticulously shot and scored to mirror the emotional rollercoaster its title character is on. And what a wild ride it was as well. Unburdened from all the overarching world-building that the typical connected universe movie has to do, Todd Phillips has crafted an origin story that would go down in history as one of the very best in filmmaking.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Rambo: Last Blood (Movie Review)


The 80s were ripe with several genre-defining movies, but as far as B-grade action movies were concerned, First Blood was easily one of the most memorable. Released in 1982, the film introduced moviegoers to the character of John Rambo, a veteran from the Vietnam War struggling with PTSD who is forced to put his wartime skills to use when he is caught in a fight for survival against the police in a small town. The film was so successful that it spawned an entire franchise. Rambo: Last Blood is the fifth and potentially final installment in the series.

In Rambo: Last Blood, John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) has since left his days of bloodshed behind, and taken up residence in an old family horse ranch he'd inherited from his late father. He lives there with an old friend called Maria (Adriana Barraza), who helps him care for the aging property. They also care for Maria's granddaughter, Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), whose mother had died while she was very young. With the help of her friend, Jezel (Fenessa Pineda), Gabrielle is able to track down her estranged father, Miguel (Marco de la O), who now lives in Mexico.

Gabrielle expresses her desire to visit and reconnect with her father, a desire that both John and Maria warn her against. She proceeds to do so anyway, but while in Mexico, she is abducted by members of a Mexican cartel, who run a sex trafficking ring that is led by the two Martinez brothers, Hugo (Sergio Peris-Menchata) and Victor (Óscar Jaenada). John learns about her disappearance and goes to Mexico to find her. Except what he finds there instead is enough to make him become unhinged once again, and he finds himself in the middle of a full-on war with the Mexican cartel.

There is very little to love about Rambo: Last Blood, from its cookie-cutter, revenge-driven storyline, to its over reliance on excessive, gratuitous amounts of blood and gore. The fact that the whole film takes a fair amount of time to kick into gear, despite its relatively short runtime, doesn't exactly help matters. You get the sense that somewhere between the jumbled mess of an uneven pacing and over-the-top violence the filmmakers were actually trying to make something thought provoking, which only serves to highlight the movie's shortcomings even more.

The best thing about Rambo: Last Blood was the montage of past films that plays over the end credits, a section that effectively charts the title character's journey from lonely Vietnam War veteran to full-blown, B-grade action hero. And that says a lot about the overall quality of a movie, when the best part is watching the end credits roll. Still, if you happen to like B-movies or like me, you grew up watching the series, then this latest (and as the title suggests, final) installment is worth checking out on the strength of its nostalgia alone.

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 is 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.