Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Gentlemen (Movie Review)


Guy Ritchie is one of those directors whose work is instantly recognizable, with his dark humor, scattershot dialogue, fast cuts and frenetic pacing all serving to define his signature style. These were all on show in his Sherlock Holmes movies, as well as the two classic crime comedy films with which he rose to fame, Lock,Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. The Gentlemen has more in common with those earlier films, and as such serves as a return to form.

In the film, a private investigator named Fletcher (Hugh Grant) attempts to blackmail Raymond Smith (Charlie Hunnam), the right hand man of a drug baron, Mickey (Matthew McConaughey). He does this through an elaborate screenplay he has written about his findings about the drug baron's activities, information for which he is demanding £20 million. Much of the movie finds the pair going over the events of that screenplay, with Fletcher proving to be an unreliable narrator, and the viewer left to separate fact from fiction.

Mickey apparently wants to get out of the drug business, and in order to do so, he is seeking to sell his hard-won cannabis empire to American billionaire, Matthew Berger (Jeremy Strong), for the sum total of $400 million. But word soon gets out that he is trying to leave the business, which prompts interest from Dry Eye (Henry Golding), a rival buyer from a Chinese gang. Except both men fail to come to an agreement. What ensues after is a series of misunderstandings and unfortunate events, as Mickey tries to prevent the sale of his empire from falling through, while trying to prevent a full-blown turf war at the same time.

The Gentlemen is a Guy Ritchie movie through and through, and I was indeed hooked from the very first frame of its stylish opening sequence. Everything from its pacing, to its profanity-laden dialogue, and its soundtrack, just works. The film is driven by awesome performances across the board, with Charlie Hunnam proving to be a more than capable lead, and Collin Farrel all but stealing the show. I don't believe I've laughed as hard as I did here since watching Snatch all those years ago.

To think that I had been robbed of the opportunity to see this gem of a movie on the big screen. Shame on our local movie exhibitors for failing to show this in our theaters during its global theatrical run. Regardless of how I had eventually watched it, the movie itself is still a bloody brilliant piece of fine entertainment and it easily earns its place as one of my favorite movies of 2020.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Bloodshot (Movie Review)


Once upon a time, my favorite Hollywood actor was none other than Vin Diesel. Yep. The bouncer turned action movie star had endeared me back in the early aughts to his brand of cheesy oneliners and over-the-top action with films like Pitch Black, The Fast and the Furious, XXX and The Chronicles of Riddick. Over the years, I have since come to appreciate such movies for what they really are, guilty pleasures.

And of course, I am a big advocate for the occasional guilty pleasure here and there. I mean, every film can't hit the highest levels of pure escapism, or be the next Citizen Kane. So yeah, I was willing to give Bloodshot a shot (no pun intended). Heck, I was even prepared to brave going to the cinema (which have now all been shutdown by the way), before I'd learnt it was due out on VOD.

So I figured I'd wait for that instead, and boy am I glad I did.

The film stars Vin Diesel, who plays Ray Garrison, a U.S. marine who is killed and brought back to life as a nearly-indestructible super solider. This was done by a Dr. Emil Harting (Guy Pearce), whose company was able to bring him back by replacing his blood with nanobots. Waking up with no memory of his life before death, Ray is introduced to his new team, which consists of ex-soldiers that have been enhanced with various cybernetic augmentations.

But while spending time over drinks with one of his teammates (Eiza González), Ray starts to have flashes of his past life, discovering that he had been murdered along with his wife, as well as the name and face of the man responsible for the act. Consumed by a need to exact his vengeance, he sets off to kill that man, except what he finds at the end of the trail is a conspiracy that runs deeper than he could've imagined.

Bloodshot feels like a sort of throwback to a bygone era of action films, where CGI body doubles and stylized slow-motion action scenes were all the rage. I can totally see my teenage self grinning from ear to ear watching this. Except the movie didn't come out in 2003, and without the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia to garner it any favors, it quickly becomes apparent for what it is: a sub-par, B-grade action film. Worthy of serving as a mild distraction, both not worth much else.

That said, the movie does offer Vin Diesel fans precisely what they want, namely Vin Diesel playing what is effectively the same role he has spent his entire career playing now. Not that we are complaining, but still. So if you are a fan, then it is definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

The Hunt (Movie Review)


One of the silver linings of movie theaters shutting down in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak is the early availability of their current slate of movies on video-on-demand services. This includes recent releases like Onward, The Invisible Man and Birds of Prey, with others like The Gentleman, The Way Back and Bloodshot set to debut next week. While it sucks that these movies won't be getting full theatrical runs, at least the studios are able to cut their losses and capitalize on all the people at home looking for something new to watch.

This is the reason why I ended up watching The Hunt, a movie that hadn't even been on my radar and didn't look like it would be getting a theatrical release over here in Nigeria. And while it is not A Quiet Place Part II (which had been slated to come out this weekend before the coronavirus situation threw a wrench in those plans), I am glad that it is here to help tide us over until things go back to normal.

The film itself is a political satire presented as a horror/thriller/action/comedy hybrid, in which a group of 12 strangers wake up gagged in a deserted countryside known only as Manor House, where they are subsequently hunted for sport by some wealthy elites. It is eventually revealed that each one of them had been chosen as punishment for views they had expressed online via social media. But things take a turn when one of the hunted (Betty Gilpin) takes matters into her own hands and starts to fight back.

The Hunt works more as an action-comedy than as a political satire. It is excellently paced and driven by some solid performances, the key standouts being Betty Gilpin and Hilary Swank, the latter of which plays Athena, the villainous leader of the liberal elites. It is also genuinely funny, bordering on the very edge of slapstick, which I wasn't expecting but liked all the same.

I also appreciated the fact that the film takes shots at both liberals and conservatives, and basically every other group out there on the Twitterverse voicing their political and non-political views. Keep in mind that I don't actively follow American politics, so I don't have a side in those heated debates, which probably explains why I prefer this more well-rounded approach the filmmakers have taken.

While its over-the-top gore and violence might not be for everyone, The Hunt is a movie I can easily recommend to anyone looking for a good laugh and some cheap thrills, so check it out now if you didn't get a chance to catch it at the cinemas.

Sunday, 15 March 2020

We need to talk about the coronavirus


So I usually don't talk about world events here on this blog, at least not outside of my Year in Review series of posts that go up at the end of every year. But when those events start to affect the things I primarily discuss here, namely movies and video games, then I think it is high time they get addressed.

I am of course referring to the ongoing spread of the coronavirus and all the measures being put in place to curb that spread. It has become common news over the last couple of days to hear that yet another event or public gathering has been postponed or canceled. Everything from sporting events, to awards ceremonies and video game conventions are currently affected, with some countries even placing their borders on full lockdown, all in a bid to slow down a disease that doesn't seem to know any.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bummed out by all of this. I mean, some of my favorite and most anticipated things for the year are being affected right now. I'd been looking forward to E3 2020, The 40th Golden Raspberry Awards, A Quiet Place Part II, Mulan, No Time to Die and The New Mutants, just to name a few, all of which have either been canceled or postponed indefinitely. But to assume that is all that is at stake here would not only be selfish of me, but very much shortsighted as well.

This is why it is important for us as fans (of films, sports, video games, music or whatever other entertainment medium you happen to follow) to not lose sight of the big picture. Actual lives are being lost here, with countless more to follow if the situation is not brought under control. And right now, one of the few things we can do to help out, aside from ensuring that we take extra precautions to stay clean and avoid large gatherings, is to respect the decisions of the various bodies to postpone or cancel these events, many of whom are losing sizeable amounts of money either way.

This doesn't mean we should all give in to hysteria and start to panic either of course. If there's anything that post-apocalyptic movies like Zombieland have taught me over the years, it is that keeping a level head in the midst of uncertainty can go a very long way in seeing you through it.

So how is all of this actually going to affect the discussions (read: reviews) I'll be having here on this blog going forward? To be honest, I'm not exactly certain. For now, cinemas remain open here in Nigeria. But with most of the forthcoming tentpoles having been postponed, I can only imagine how they would keep moviegoers coming back over the next couple of weeks. I mean, we can only watch Bad Boys 4 Life so many times before we declare enough is enough.

I was going to skip out on Bloodshot, which is currently scheduled to release over here later this week. But seeing as this might very well be the last major tentpole release we'd be getting for the foreseeable future, I just might have to brave the virus-infested halls of the nearest cinema, with hand sanitizer in tow of course, for one final hurrah before we all hunker down with our streaming service of choice and attempt to make our way through our back catalogues. So there's at least that to look forward to.

Friday, 6 March 2020

The Invisible Man (Movie Review)


Horror films haven't exactly been having a swell 2020, with releases like The Grudge and The Turning all managing to fall short of critical and financial expectations. So it is something of a relief that the genre has scored its first bona fide hit this year in the shape of The Invisible Man, a modern retelling of the classic H.G. Wells novel. Originally planned as part of the short-lived Universal Monsters connected universe, those plans were put on hold following the lukewarm receptions of both Dracula Untold and the 2017 reboot of The Mummy.

Directed by Leigh Wharnell, the film puts a spin on its source material by choosing not to focus on the titular villain, but one of his victims instead. Her name is Cecillia Cass (Elizabeth Moss), and right from the opening scene of the movie, it is clear that she is terrified as she executes her escape from what is clearly an abusive relationship. Two weeks after her escape, she is given the news that her ex-boyfriend and abuser (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has committed suicide. But instead of giving her the closure she needed to rebuild her life, she still feels haunted by all the trauma she'd had to endure.

But things begin to take a decidedly darker turn when she discovers that he is haunting more than just her thoughts, and she becomes convinced that he had faked his own death and somehow found the ability to turn invisible, just so that he could continue to torment her after her escape. Now she must struggle to convince the people dearest to her that she is not going insane, even as the titular villain's tactics become increasingly violent and impossible to ignore.

It is a good thing The Invisible Man was approached as a standalone movie, because it works beautifully in its current iteration. The movie starts off strong from its very first scene, and despite a relatively slow-burn opening act, it manages to keep that tension going right through to the end. There is a constant push and pull between what is real and what might merely be misconstrued as real, and Elizabeth Moss does a fantastic job of bringing that gradual descent into perceived insanity to life.

The movie is also genuinely scary, in spite of the fact that it takes a more sci-fi-inspired approach than your typical horror film. Most of that works largely because of the movie's smart cinematography and score, both of which work together to make the invisible man's presence felt in every scene he is in, despite not being visible to naked eye. These are elements that seemed to have been carried over from Leigh Wharnell's previous effort, Upgrade, and they work just as effectively here as they had there.

The Invisible Man should stand as an example of what can be achieved with a smartly written script and a unique take on an existing property. The fact that it was made with a shoe-string budget of $7 million is an accomplishment in its own right. It is a film I would easily recommend to horror fans, and it should be more than enough to tide them over until A Quiet Place Part II releases later this month.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Onward (Movie Review)


I am a sucker for advance screenings, so when I'd learnt that Disney and Pixar had elected to host advance screenings for their latest film, Onward, a full weekend before release, I was instantly sold. The film itself had been on my radar since trailers dropped for it last year, and Pixar being what it is, my expectations were indeed very high. So I'm pleased to say that the movie lived up to those expectations, even though it doesn't quite reach the heights of the greater films in its stable, not that it needed to.

The film takes place in an urban fantasy setting where mythical creatures had lost all knowledge of magic in favor of the conveniences of modern technology. It is the story of two elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightbody (voiced by MCU alums Tom Holland and Chris Pratt), both of whom receive a gift from their late father on the former's 16th birthday. It comes in the form of a magical staff and spell that would bring back their father, but only for 24 hours.

Ian, who had never met their father before he'd died, performs the spell, except it doesn't go according to plan and it only brings back their father's bottom half. Now the two brothers must embark on a quest, along with their father's legs (as crazy as that sounds), to find a means to bring back their father's remaining half, before their 24 hours are up and Ian loses his chance to meet him forever.

Onward is both a coming-of-age film and road movie rolled into one, but one that is filled with so much charm and heart that you'd be left choked up by the end of it. Leave it to the writers at Pixar to hit you right in the feels. It might not hit you quite as hard as the likes of Up or Toy Story 3, but there was something deeply relatable in this particular film that elevated it to similar levels for me.

The animation in the movie is of course topnotch, so the fact does not need to be stressed. It's Pixar were talking about here, it comes with the territory. A Best Animated Feature nomination at next year's Oscars is pretty much a given already, but whether or not it would secure said nomination or ultimately win depends on how great or otherwise their next movie, Soul, turns out to be. Good thing we don't have to wait much longer than its June 19th release date to find out.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Sonic the Hedgehog (Movie Review)


Video games rarely ever translate very well onto the big screen. This is why we've been left with duds like Super Mario Bros. and Alone in the Dark over the years. Even the more successful adaptations like Resident Evil and Tomb Raider are severely lacking in their story departments, relegating such movies to nothing more than mindless popcorn fare. So of course, my expectations were very much lowered going into Sonic the Hedgehog, which probably explains why I'd come out of it pleasantly surprised.

Based on the Sega video game series, the movie tells the story of the titular speedster (voiced by Ben Schwartz), who as it turns out is actually an alien that was forced off his homeworld and now lives in isolation in the sleepy town of Green Hills, Montana. Tired of living in loneliness, the blue hedgehog unknowingly lets off an energy signal while running laps in frustration at a baseball field. This prompts the US government to send in one of their top scientists, the nefarious Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey), to trace the source of the anomaly. Now Sonic must seek the help of the town Sheriff (James Marsden) in order to escape capture.

If you by any chance happen to follow movie news, then you must've heard about the backlash received by Paramount Studios following their reveal of the first trailer for Sonic the Hedgehog. The public outcry was so bad that the studio was forced to delay the film's release from its November 2019 release date to February 14th. This was to allow its animators enough time to completely redesign the title character, which looked nothing like the video game mascot its fans had grown up loving.

Well, it turns out that was a great move on the studio's part, because not only is Sonic the Hedgehog the current highest opening video game adaptation, it is also a pretty okay movie. Emphasis on the okay, since the film itself is geared towards kids and fans of the game, and doesn't try to do much to subvert or elevate itself from its source material. Not that it has to, since no one should be going into the movie expecting some high drama or a thought-provoking storyline. The main highlight in my opinion is Jim Carrey's take on the Sonic villian, Dr. Robotnik, a performance that harkens to his Ace Ventura days. The story is also quite serviceable and surprisingly heartfelt, which is more than we can say about the typical video game adaptation.

In case you haven't guessed it already, there is quite a bit of enjoyment to be had with Sonic the Hedgehog. It was fun and had a few genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and the theater full of kids I saw it with seemed to have enjoyed it quite a lot. It might not be one of the best films out there at the moment, but as far as video game adaptations go, the movie can be considered a somewhat decent one.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Birds of Prey (Movie Review)


Anyone that saw the 2016 DCEU supervillain team-up movie, Suicide Squad, would remember that Margot Robbie had more or less stolen the show as Harley Quinn. So it came as no surprise when she was singled out to receive the standalone movie treatment. Fast forward some 4 years and that standalone movie finally arrives, but in the form of another supervillain team-up, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of one Harley Quinn).

After a very emotional breakup with the Gotham City Clown Prince of Crime (that is, Jared Leto's Joker for those of you keeping track), Harley Quinn begins the painful process of moving on with her life, and she does this by destroying the place where she'd proven her allegiance to the Joker, Ace Chemicals, and adopting a pet Hyena she names Bruce Wayne. The former act however signals to the city's criminal underground that the power couple were no longer together, which prompts all of the criminals she had wronged in the past to start coming after her.

This includes Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), a very eccentric criminal boss with a tendency to peel off the faces of his enemies. But when a precious diamond in the possession of his personal enforcer, Victor Zsasz (Chris Messina), gets stolen by a young girl named Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), Harley convinces them to let her help them retrieve the diamond. Roman agrees and gives her 24 hours to do so, but to make things interesting, he also puts out a half-a-million-dollars bounty on the girl, prompting other criminals to come into the fray.

The DCEU has had some significant success of recent with movies like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and Shazam, and I am pleased to report that Birds of Prey is already poised to continue that winning streak. It is hands-down one of the most violent comic book movies we have gotten till date, wearing its R-rating on its sleeve. It also fully embraces what made Harley Quinn so great in Suicide Squad, and runs with it. The fact that it has some of the most eye-popping and straight-up bonkers action sequences this side of John Wick is just another achievement.

Birds of Prey is the Suicide Squad we should have gotten in 2016. But unlike that movie that was all style but with very little substance, it starts with a promise of delivering a quirky comic book movie like none before, and manages to follow through and stick the landing. It is that rare film where the trailers were nowhere as good as the actual movie itself. This is probably why I had gone into it with some cautious optimism, and I came out of it pleasantly surprised as a result.

Friday, 17 January 2020

1917 (Movie Review)


So I finally got around to seeing 1917, the World War I epic directed by Sam Mendes. This is mainly because our local film exhibitors had once again elected not to show it, despite the movie receiving a wide release in the US last weekend (it originally received a limited release on the 25th of December). The film has been getting a lot of buzz this movie awards seasons, and is in fact the current frontrunner to take home Best Picture at next month's Academy Awards, and for very good reason.

Set in war-torn France during the peak of the First World War, 1917 tells the story of two British soldiers, Schofield (George McKay) and Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman), who must cross into enemy lines in order to deliver a message that could save the lives of 1,600 fellow soldiers. Those soldiers have been led to believe that they have the Germans on the run, when in fact their retreat is an elaborate plan by the German forces to draw them in for a devastating ambush. Both men must go above and beyond as they race against time in a mission that seems doomed from the start.

The first thing that immediately sets 1917 apart from other war movies (or other films in general) is its breathtaking cinematography. The entire movie is presented as one single take, ensuring that we the viewers are constantly in the thick of the action, with the camera weaving through trenches and buildings with an almost impossible fluidity. There is one particular scene where the two soldiers witness a distant dogfight taking place up in the air, that ends with one of the planes crashing towards them; it was just one of many shots that exemplifies the brilliant camerawork and effects in the movie.

Also worthy of note is the movie's score, which goes from somber to rousing and back again as the on-screen action demands. Then the whole thing is held together by some of the best editing I have seen in recent years, effectively masking the cuts between takes to perpetuate that sense of immersion the single-take camerawork is going for.

1917 is a film that is every bit deserving of all the praise and accolades it has received thus far. It is a movie that goes from effectively capturing the tension and horrors of war in one scene, then shows the quaintness of the world being affected by all that bloodshed in another. It is a technical marvel that accomplishes that almost impossible balancing act through careful pacing and tightly-choreographed action, and it would surely go down in history as one of the great film accomplishments of our time.

Monday, 6 January 2020

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2020

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope we all had a swell holiday and are glad to be back to the hustle and grind of everyday life. This is historically that time of year when I set my goals and resolutions for the new year, but since this blog has evolved over the years to have a much heavier focus on movies and movie reviews, I'll be keeping with that trend and doing a top 10 list of my most anticipated movies instead. So without further ado, here are the movies I am most looking forward to in 2020:

A Quiet Place: Part II



My favorite movie from 2018 is getting a sequel, so needless to say, I have nothing but high hopes for this one. The movie looks like it would be serving as both a prequel and a sequel to the first movie, at least judging by the trailer above. I am still pained that the first film didn't get a theatrical release over here in Nigeria, so here's hoping that the asshats that run our local cinemas get their shit together this time around.

Mulan



Disney's current modus operandi remains remaking their classic animated films in live action, and Mulan is the next film from the stable to be getting this treatment. This version appears to be shedding most (if not all) of the fantastical elements from the original though, in favor of a more historical retelling of the tale, and is in fact being billed as a war drama. So don't expect to see any talking dragons or musical numbers, both of which appear to have been replaced with some sleek-looking martial arts.

No Time to Die



Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond comes 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 close to 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.

The New Mutants



Well, it looks like 2020 would be the year that we finally get to see The New Mutants. This is of course after multiple delays, and the movie seemingly getting lost somewhere between the Disney-Fox merger. Originally billed as the first bonafide horror film in the X-Men universe, the film has since undergone reshoots after being acquired by Disney. Here's hoping that the finished product manages to stick the landing.

Black Widow



Marvel Studios might have ended its 22-movie Infinity Saga with Avengers: Endgame last year, but that doesn't mean we have seen all the stories it has to tell from that time period. Set two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, Black Widow promises to fill out more of the secret agent turned Avenger's backstory in her home country of Russia. And who knows, we might finally get to find out what happened between her and Clint Barton in Budapest.

Wonder Woman 1984



Wonder Woman 1984 is the second of the two planned DCEU movies releasing in 2020. Patty Jenkins returns to direct, but she is not the only one making a return apparently, as Chris Pine would also be reprising his role as Steve Trevor, the Amazonian's doomed love interest from the first movie. Don't ask me how that is possible because I am just as clueless as you are, but nonetheless eager to find out. The film swaps the dull greys of the previous film's World War I setting for a bright and colorful 1980s aesthetic, and the right kind of killer 80s tunes to back it up. Let's just hope it doesn't turn out to be all style and no substance.

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.

Tenet



I was lucky enough to catch the 6-minute trailer for Christopher Nolan's Tenet when I'd gone back to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in IMAX. And boy was it a beauty to behold, with the director's flair for tension and conflict on full display. Granted, I barely knew what exactly it was that we were looking at, as the trailer seemed to drop viewers right into the very middle of the film. But therein lies the reason why I am stoked to see the film, if only to find out what is up with all the crazy backwards time looping.

Venom II




Admittedly, I wasn't the biggest proponent of the first Venom movie, even though I did enjoy Tom Hardy's portrayal of Eddie Brock and the titular symbiote, and the chemistry between the two. This time around they'll be facing off against fellow symbiote, Carnage, who was portrayed in the first movie by Woody Harrelson in a post-credit scene. And with rumors of a potential Tom Holland Spider-Man cameo, there is every reason to be excited.

Dune



Capping off the 2020 blockbuster release calendar is director Denis Villeneuve's take on the Frank Herbert science fiction saga, Dune. Set on the desert planet of Arrakis, the story would trace the trials of House Atreides as they attempt to forge a lasting dynasty on the titular world. It features an ensemble cast that includes Timothée Chalamat, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Zendaya and Jason Momoa. We are yet to get a teaser trailer, but the film already seems poised for success based on talent involved, timing and premise alone.


And there you have it, film fans, my 10 most anticipated movies for 2020. I wonder how many of these would actually make it to my list of favorite movies by the end of the year. Only time would tell I guess. It is worth noting that these are not the only movies I would be going to see or reviewing in 2020; for a full list of movies currently on my radar for the year, you can check out this post by Movie Facts over on Instagram.