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.