Friday, 10 July 2020

The Old Guard (Movie Review)

The summer blockbuster movie season is heating up folks, or at least it is still somehow managing to chug along, depending on how you choose to look at it. You would remember that the season began with the release of Extraction on Netflix way back in April, and since then we haven't really gotten any films on the scale of a full-blown tentpole release. Well, the ongoing draught ends today with the release of The Old Guard, a Netflix Original with all the trappings of a standard Hollywood blockbuster.

The movie stars Charlize Theron as Andromache of Scythia (aka. Andy), the leader of a group of ageless immortals that have fought through countless wars. They live a life of secrecy, even as their actions have helped shape the course of history through the ages. But when a shady pharmaceutical magnate called Merrick (Harry Melling) gets wind of their ability to heal from their wounds, he enlists the help of Copley (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a CIA operative (Chiwetel Ejiofor), to apprehend them.

To complicate things further, a new immortal named Nile (KiKi Layne) has recently awakened, after being killed in action while serving a tour in Afghanistan. This prompts the others to seek her out and bring her into the fold. Except Nile is not ready to accept her newfound abilities and leave behind her old life, so it is up to Andy to show her the ropes, all while trying to escape from those seeking to unlock the secrets of their abilities and use it for personal gain.

The Old Guard offers both slick action as well as plenty of heart, which is not something you can say about other recent Netflix Originals. Watching Charlize Theron kick butt is always a sight to behold, even in otherwise cringeworthy affairs like Aeon Flux. The same is true of her performance here, a performance that helps elevate the entire enterprise from being just another superhero flick. She is helped along by KiKi Layne of course, who brings just the right amount of wide-eyed wonder into the mix.

Of all the Netflix Originals we've gotten thus far, The Old Guard is the first one I'm hoping finds enough success to warrant a sequel. There's just so much lore and backstory in the world the filmmakers have crafted here, that I can already see the potential for an entire franchise. I haven't read any of the comics the film is based on to know this for sure, but the fact that the film includes a mid-credits scene alluding to such only goes further to pique my interest.

There's no telling if movie theaters would reopen in time for films like TENET and Wonder Woman 1984 to arrive and salvage what is left of the summer blockbuster season. But as things currently stand, The Old Guard is the closest we have to a true summer blockbuster this season, and we have Netflix to thank for that.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Hamilton (Movie Review)

You might not know this about me, but I am a sucker for stage shows and musicals. There's just something about watching a narrative coming to life and taking shape in front of you. It creates a sense of immersion that even the biggest movie theater screens and formats like 4DX can't replicate. But in spite of that love and adoration for the art form, I haven't been opportune to see that many, with Harry Potter and The Cursed Child currently taking a slot on my ever-evolving bucket list.

So you can imagine my joy and elation when I'd learnt that a filming of one of the most talked about Broadway productions in recent years had not only been acquired by Disney (for a record sum of $75 million), but was also getting an earlier-than-planned release on their Disney+ streaming platform, just in time for the Fourth of July celebrations in the US. That show is of course Hamilton, and it is often described as a must-see event and a cultural phenomenon.

But prior to seeing the filmed performance on Disney+, I had very little exposure to the story of Hamilton. At least nothing beyond my basic understanding of American history. I hadn't heard any of the songs on its soundtrack, nor had I seen any bootleg recordings or read the book upon which its story was based. So in a way, you could say I was going in with a fresh pair of eyes and minimal bias. And I believe this has proven instrumental to how I have experienced the story.

I am not even going to attempt to mince words here: Hamilton is truly phenomenal. It not only lived up to the hype, but scattered my expectations as well. It is an inspirational tale of the men and women that were instrumental to the founding of the United States, told through music that was brought to life by an ensemble of truly talented actors. One of my favorites was Jonathan Groff as King George III, whose performance of the song You'll Be Back had me grinning from ear to ear. A great performance, in a film that is already teeming with great performances.

The film itself was stitched together from 3 separate performances of the Broadway show, but you'd be hard pressed to notice where one particular performance ends and another begins. This is a testament to both the direction of original stage show director, Thomas Kail, as well as the tight editing done by Jonah Moran. There were moments when I almost felt like I was actually there in the theater, watching the events unfold along with the audience, and that is not an easy feat to accomplish.

That said, I acknowledge that this filmed version can never serve as a replacement for the live show. Would I have loved to watch this in an actual theater? Sure. Would I be willing to go out and watch this with a live audience (in a post-COVID world of course), given the opportunity to do so? Hell yes. But while the experience of seeing this version of Hamilton might pale in comparison to the actual theater production, it remains the closest a lot of people would get to seeing the Broadway show, so I guess that I am just overjoyed that it exists to begin with.

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Irresistible (Movie Review)

2020 hasn't exactly been a great year for movies. And now that we are at the halfway mark, perhaps it is worth accepting that there just might be no salvaging the situation. Everything is in a constant state of influx, with studios trying to adapt by pushing back their releases, or putting their smaller-scale productions on premium video-on-demand (VOD). Irresistible is the latest movie to make that jump, a political satire written and directed by Jon Stewart.

The film stars Steve Carell as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic political strategist still licking his wounds from their defeat at the 2016 US presidential election. But after he is shown a YouTube clip of a retired veteran, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), standing up for the rights of immigrants in his small town during a town-hall meeting, he is convinced that Jack is just the type of man they'd need to gain a foothold in the right-wing state.

So Gary flies down to Wisconsin and convinces Jack to run for mayor. But Jack only agrees on the condition that Gary oversees the campaign personally. However, the Republican National Committee soon get wind of Gary's activities in the traditionally Republican state, and they send their own strategist and Gary's archrival, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to run the campaign for existing town mayor, Braun (Brent Sexton). Soon they find themselves embroiled in a full-blown political campaign.

Irresistible is yet another by-the-numbers comedy that does very little to break new ground. Steve Carell carries the movie as best he could, and he is helped along by Rose Byrne and Mackenzie Davis (who plays the mayor's daughter and Gary's love interest). But the film proves to be too self aware for its own good, relying too heavily on stereotypes and trying too hard to telegraph its message of a flawed electoral system.

The film definitely has its moments, but ultimately feels like a letdown considering the talent involved. I guess we could say it is a product of the times we are in. And while we all long for a day when we might be able to return to theaters, at least we are still getting these movies being put on streaming and premium VOD, for better or worse.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (Movie Review)

Long before singing competitions started to spring up everywhere like weeds, The Eurovision Song Contest was the main platform for European musicians hoping to jump start their careers. Over the years, it helped put superstar acts like ABBA and Celine Dion in the public eye. But with the coronavirus throwing a wrench in pretty much everyone's plans this year, the closest thing we'll be getting to the competition in 2020 is the romantic comedy, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.

The movie stars Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams as Lars Erickssong and Sigrit Ericksdottir, the duo making up the titular Icelandic band, Fire Saga. The pair have been friends since early childhood, sharing a love for music that drives their dream of one day representing Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest. This is despite the fact that they are considered terrible by pretty much everyone in their small town, most especially Lars' father, Erick (Pierce Brosnan).

But following an unlikely chain of events, the singers are given the opportunity to live out that dream. The question though is will they be able to handle the pressures of being on the world stage, with its bright lights, theatrics and overproduced dance routines? Or more importantly, would their 15 minutes of fame affect their long-time friendship as well as their growing romance?

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is funny more often than not, and unsurprisingly, has a lot of heart. And a lot of that has to do with its two leads. Will Ferrell is no stranger to playing a man child, having done so in such comedies like Elf and Step Brothers. So his performance here is more or less what you would expect from him at this point, and whether you find some of his gags funny or not might depend on your tolerance for penis jokes.

Rachel McAdams on the other hand shows some serious singing chops, bringing a level of believeability to the various performances. I would even go as far as say she could stand a chance in an actual Eurovision Song Contest. That said, the movie itself is far from perfect.

My main issue stems from its uncertain tone; you can never truly tell if the filmmakers had set out to make a parody of the Eurovision Song Contest, or a homage, making it hard to decide if we should be laughing at the performances, or singing along. The movie probably sits somewhere in-between. And while I would have preferred if it was just a smidgen shorter than its two-hour-plus runtime, it never truly overstays its welcome or slows to a crawl like some other comedies tend to do.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Wasp Network (Movie Review)

Wasp Network is the latest Netflix acquisition to debut on the streaming platform. It was written and directed by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, and is based on the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War, which was itself based on the true life story of the eponymous spy organization whose members were sent to Miami to gather intel during the tail end of the Cold War.

Back in the early 90s, the communist nation of Cuba was under a lot of pressure from anti-Castro groups working out of Miami. Some of those groups went as far as coordinating terrorist attacks on the nation in a bid to discourage and destabilize its tourism industry. To counter their activities, the Cuban government sanctions and sends a number of spies to infiltrate those groups and report back on their operations.

René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramírez) was one of those spies, an airplane pilot who is leaving behind his wife (Penélope Cruz) and young daughter under the guise of defecting to the US. He is joined by Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura), a Cuban officer who had surrendered at Guantanamo Bay, and together with their leader, Gerardo Hernandez (Gael García Bernal), they must navigate an intricate web of lies and double crosses as they try to bring down "the revolution."

Wasp Network explores an interesting slice of history and does so from a point of view that is seldom given this much attention. The movie is beautiful to look at, and boasts strong performances by its casts. I especially loved Ana de Armas, who I have loved since her star-making turn in Blade Runner 2049, and more recently in Knives Out, a performance that had earned her a Golden Globe nomination earlier in the year.

But apart from some great cinematography and strong acting, Wasp Network doesn't have much else going for it. At least nothing in the way of actual suspense. The movie attempts to juggle too many things at the same time with its plot, and as a result, doesn't come across as strongly as it could have. Still, if you fancy a history lesson, then you can be rest assured that it is at least watchable on those terms.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

You Should Have Left (Movie Review)

Blumhouse has earned a reputation for delivering the goods when it comes to low-budget horror films. And with the recent success of The Invisible Man, it is clear that theirs is a formula that works more often than not. You Should Have Left is just the latest in a long string of such titles, and when it was announced that the film would be skipping theaters in favor of a VOD release, I was simply happy we wouldn't have to wait for theaters to reopen before we got to see it.

Written and directed by David Koepp, the film stars Kevin Bacon and Amanda Seyfried as a married couple with a lot of secrets and emotional baggage. In a bid to save their relationship, they both decide to book a vacation with their daughter at a house located in a remote Welsh village. But as they soon find out upon getting there, there is more to that house than its beauty reveals.

You Should Have Left is a psychological horror film that borrows a little too heavily from others that came before it. The premise of the film is intriguing enough, and I especially thought the way it manipulated our perception of space and time during its narrative was neat. But the fact remains that this is merely another haunted house movie, and we've already gotten quite a few of those.

The movie thankfully doesn't rely on too many jump scares, but then again, we didn't get any quality scares of any kind either. And therein lies the film's biggest problem, that jaded feeling of knowing everything that is about to happen before it does. I won't go as far as calling it underwhelming, but I wasn't exactly on the edge of my seat either.

Ultimately, your enjoyment of You Should Have Left hinges on what you're expecting to get out of it going in. If you're looking for something cerebral and deeply unsettling, then you'll most likely come out disappointed. But if you're merely looking for something to pass the time, I was definitely captivated enough by the story to see it through to its end, but just barely so.

Saturday, 13 June 2020

The King of Staten Island (Movie Review)

Comedy, like all other art forms, can be highly subjective. The same material can hit different people in different ways, depending on everything from their personal experiences, their beliefs and ideologies, or even how they happen to be feeling that day. So when I'd heard The King of Staten Island being labelled as "unfunny" in early reviews, I went into the movie with my expectations tempered. Which probably explains why I ended up laughing so hard during its over 2 hours runtime.

Directed by Judd Apatow, the film serves as an autobiography of sorts for star, Pete Davidson, much in the same way that 8 Mile mirrored Eminem's life prior to achieving superstardom. Pete plays Scott, a young aspiring tattoo artist with ADD. His father was a firefighter who died when he was 7, and ever since, Scott has been struggling to find a sense of purpose in life, and now spends his days hanging out with his stoner friends.

But after his younger sister goes off to college, his mum (Marisa Tomei) starts to crave companionship. This leads her to start dating Ray (Bill Burr), a man who Scott finds out is also a firefighter like his dad. Devastated by the prospect of his mum ending up with Ray, Scott is determined to do everything in his power to ensure their relationship ends badly. Except things don't exactly play out as planned.

Judd Apatow has worked on some of my favorite comedies in recent memory, but The King of Staten Island is possibly his most heartwarming one till date. It balances the heaviness of its subject matter with just the right amount of dark humor, and a lot of that can be attributed to its star. Pete Davidson really carries this movie with an effortless charisma that is both relatable and alien at the same time.

A lot of his actual DNA can be seen throughout the film, like the fact that his real-life father had been a firefighter who died during 9/11, or that he also suffers from Crohn's disease and partakes in the use of recreational drugs, or his real-life love for the music of Kid Cudi. The movie might feel a bit long as a result of exploring these things with this level of depth, but it never ceases to be captivating.

The King of Staten Island might not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you like dramatic comedies or Judd Apatow movies specifically, then it is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Artemis Fowl (Movie Review)

Disney is no stranger to putting out the occasional dud, so it might come as no surprise that their latest release is one of them. The warning signs were all there after all, from the many years it spent in development hell, to the uninspiring trailers that eventually started to materialize, to the fact that it was being put on Disney+ and foregoing a theatrical release. Except none of that was enough to prepare me for the king of duds that Artemis Fowl has turned out to be.

I'd be lying if I said the plot of the movie made any lick of sense to me, but there is at least enough to come up with a general synopsis. From the little I could gather, the film centers on a boy genius named Artemis Fowl (Ferdia Shaw making his acting debut). He is a kid that routinely gets into trouble at school for his lack of respect and empathy for his teachers and peers. So, yeah, he is kind of a schmuck and a brat to boot.

Well, that kid is eventually drawn into an underworld of sorts, where fairies and magic exists, when his father (also named Artemis Fowl and played by Collin Farrel), a famous antiques collector, disappears after being accused of stealing several priceless relics. Apparently, Artemis Fowl Snr. has been kidnapped by a mysterious figure from the fairy world and is being held ransom in exchange for a magical artifact called the Aculos, so it is up to Artemis Fowl Jnr. to save him.

I am not too familiar with the source material, so I can't really speak to how well it has been adapted here. What I can comment on however is how well the basic elements that are supposed to make up a movie come together, or in this case, fail to. Everything from its unlikable lead, to its messy plot and hideous special effects, to the cheesy dialogue and just as cheesy delivery. The whole thing comes together in a way that is sure to generate enough laughs and internet memes to last us many years.

It is hard to imagine how this movie was actually expected to kickstart an entire franchise, when all it has going for it is the involvement of a few A-list Hollywood stars. You've got to feel sorry for an actress as talented as Judi Dench though, starring in two back-to-back duds like Cats and Artemis Fowl within the space of six months. This was clearly nothing more than a paycheck for her. And if not, then I sincerely hope she gravitates back towards the kind of roles that endeared her to so many fans.

For a movie that is populated by magical creatures doing magical things, it amazes me just how much Artemis Fowl seems to lack magic of the cinematic kind. This was something that the Harry Potter movies always had in spades, so it is a bit of a shame to see just how much this one misses the mark.

As for the prospects of a sequel happening anytime in the future? Only time would tell I guess. It could very well end up finding some kind of cult following amongst its target demographic on Disney+, or receive the reboot treatment and get adapted into a TV show instead. Let's just hope that it doesn't get botched this badly if that happens.

Da 5 Bloods (Movie Review)

The Oscars might still be a good couple of months away, but boy does it feel like things are heating up already. First we had Elisabeth Moss giving a career-best performance in Shirley, now its Delroy Lindo stealing every scene in Da 5 Bloods. But the latest Spike Lee joint has a lot more to offer than just great performances. It also boasts the director's unique vision as well as a heartfelt story.

That story is of course about Da 5 Bloods, a group of soul brothers that fought together through the horrors of the Vietnam War. Several decades after the war has ended, the men decide to reunite in Vietnam. Their mission is two fold: bring back the remains of their fallen comrade, Norman (Chadwick Boseman), and recover a shipment of gold they had found in a downed plane and left buried in the jungle.

At two and a half hours in length, the movie feels long enough for its subject matter, but never overstays its welcome. Its first act is carried along by the depictions of the bond and camaraderie between the Bloods. Delroy Lindo's performance as Paul, the self-appointed leader of the group, needs to be acknowledged at this point. He captures the fear and anger, the kind that can only be born through the pain and anguish of warfare, and does it so accurately that his acting elevates the material.

In many ways, Da 5 Bloods feels like an apology by Netflix for The Last Days of American Crime. It is just as timely and emotional as the latter was tone deaf and soulless. It tackles social issues that are just as relevant today as they were back when these men fought in Vietnam, but it never ceases to be bold, funny and/or thrilling while doing so, which is more than we can say about that other film.

The fact that the movie is also beautifully shot, tightly edited and well scripted only goes further to elevate the experience. Flash backs are presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio, with film grain effect to simulate old-time war footage. This works well enough to differentiate the multiple time jumps that dot the movie, and the decision to not digitally de-age the principal actors in these scenes is an interesting choice.

Spike Lee has proven once again why he is still considered one of the visionary directors working today. That Da 5 Bloods is coming right off the heels of BlacKkKlasman is proof that we haven't seen everything he has to offer yet. You can definitely expect to see the movie on my list of favorites by the end of this year, as it is easily one of the best movies I have seen so far.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Shirley (Movie Review)

After that poor excuse for entertainment I reviewed yesterday, I was in need of some good-natured palate cleansing. Lucky for me, Shirley had also been released on video-on-demand (VOD). The movie made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, where it won its director, Josephine Decker, a U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Autuer Filmmaking. So, yes, it sounded like just what I needed right now.

The film stars Elisabeth Moss as the eponymous writer, Shirley Jackson. Like most writers of renown, Shirley is considered by many to be very eccentric. She barely steps out of her home, preferring to spend most of days trying to complete her latest work. But after she and her husband, Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg), welcome a young couple into their home, their arrival turns out to be just the spark she needed to get her creative juices flowing again.

On the flip side of the equation are Rose and Fred Nemser, the young couple played by Odessa Young and Logan Lerman respectively. They move in with the wide-eyed ambition of starting a life together in someplace new, with Fred hoping to get tenure at Stanley's university. But things take an unexpected turn after Stanley requests that Rose help look after their home, and by extension, his wife, Shirley.

As far as autobiographical dramas go, Shirley is an unconventional take that succeeds in ways that recent efforts like Capone just couldn't. Much like that other film, it attempts to blur the lines between fact and fiction, even employing literary devices that mirror the kind of stories its protagonist was renowned for. The fact that viewers are never left scratching their heads is a testament to its direction and screenplay, areas where that other movie fell flat.

But none of that would have come across as strongly as it did if it wasn't for the mesmerizing performance at the heart of the movie. Elisabeth Moss might have already proven her acting chops in The Invisible Man, but her performance here is very much deserving of an Academy Award consideration. And she isn't even the only standout, not with Michael Stuhlbarg and Odessa Young serving as capable foils.

It's too early to talk Oscar considerations, especially now that the movie industry is in a state of uncertainty with most theaters still being closed. But when that time comes, I'll be surprised if Elisabeth Moss isn't at least mentioned as one of the frontrunners for Best Actress. But come what may, Shirley contains one of the year's most buzz-worthy performances so far, and it is worth experiencing for that reason alone.

Friday, 5 June 2020

The Last Days of American Crime (Movie Review)

In an alternate universe, this would've been my review of Wonder Woman 1984. Unfortunately, things in this one have pretty much gone to the dogs, and that highly-anticipated superhero tentpole was pushed back till August 14th in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving us with bottom-of-the-barrel Netflix productions like The Last Days of American Crime instead.

Set in a dystopian America that is nearly overrun by crime, the film centers on Graham Bricke (Édgar Ramírez), a renowned bank robber who is recruited for one final heist by an unusual couple, Shelby Dupree (Anna Brewster) and Kevin Cash (Michael Pitt). They'll need to act fast though, as the government is on the verge of rolling out its American Peace Initiative (API), which would take the form of a signal that would make all citizens incapable of taking part in criminal activities.

I won't even try to downplay it, The Last Days of American Crime is a cringefest. I can't remember the last time I saw this much bad acting and cringeworthy dialogue in one movie. It is a movie that has very little redeeming qualities, other than perhaps to show us how other Netflix productions like Extraction are at least ahead of the pack.

For a movie that is billed as an action thriller, it is amazing just how little action and thrills there were to be seen or had. The movie takes its sweet time in setting up the main heist at the center of its plot, which contributes to its two and a half hour runtime. This itself wouldn't be a problem if the characters it was spending most of that time introducing were relatable and had interesting backstories.

But the characters are so thinly developed that it would take all the patience you can muster just to resist turning the movie off before the bullets start flying. And even when they do start flying, the movie still can't mask that overall feeling of cheapness. It even manages to make its sex scenes look boring as well, boasting what is possibly the most unimaginative bathroom sex scene I have witnessed on screen.

If you like B-movies and don't mind several helpings of bad acting and cheesy dialogue, then you might be able to glean some enjoyment from The Last Days of American Crime. If not, then you'll be better served watching Money Heist or any of the better heist movies also available on Netflix.

Friday, 29 May 2020

The High Note (Movie Review)

As movie theaters around the world start revving up to reopen ahead of TENET this coming July, smaller titles affected by their current closure continue to find a home on video-on-demand (VOD). The High Note was originally slated for a May 8th release, but landed on VOD earlier today. I'll confess, I would have more than likely skipped this movie had it been released in theaters. But with the pickings being as slim as they are right now, I figured it was at least worth checking out.

The movie stars Dakota Johnson as Maggie Sherwoode, a personal assistant to an aging soul singer named Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross). It is a job that she sort of excels in, even as she struggles to cater to the every demand of one of the music industry's biggest divas. But Maggie is also aspiring for more, through her overall love of music production, a love that drives her to secretly cobble together mixes of her boss's music during her off-work hours, much to her roommate's chagrin.

She is convinced that Grace needs to put out new music in order to stay relevant, a conviction that is not shared by Grace's long-time manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube). Jack believes that Grace is well past her prime, and is content with her continuing to live off the success of the music in her back catalogue. So when Grace is offered a residency at a Las Vegas nightclub, Jack sees it as the logical next step for a woman of her age, a sentiment that is also echoed by the executives at her record label.

But an opportunity would soon present itself for Maggie to realize her dream of becoming a producer, when she meets David (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), an upcoming R&B singer with whom she shares a love of music but who has no aspirations of taking his music to the next level. Maggie is determined to produce for both artists, except she would first have to convince each one to take that leap of faith with her, a risky venture as she could end up losing everything she'd worked for in the process.

The High Note is a comedy drama that sticks quite closely to the rom-com template. It is helped along by great performances across the board, but it never even attempts to thread new ground, and when it tries to throw a curveball, it takes the form of a twist that I feel required a little too much suspension of disbelief. I am not going to spoil what it was exactly here of course, but I found it a bit jarring (not to mention lazy) that the writers would actually go that route with the story.

But negatives aside, The High Note is a feel-good movie that doesn't offer much in the way of surprises. Is it entertaining enough to keep you occupied on a lazy weekend afternoon? Yes. Sure it is. But would it leave you with any kind of lasting impression afterwards? Nope. It didn't leave me with any. That's not to say that it isn't worth checking out though. At least until the TENETs start coming out once again.

Friday, 22 May 2020

The Lovebirds (Movie Review)

Netflix continues to be one of the main beneficiaries of the ongoing coronavirus-induced closure of movie theaters, with several studios trying to find new homes for their unreleased movies and their platform looking like a pretty good alternative. Originally slated for a theatrical release early last month, distribution rights for The Lovebirds were subsequently sold to the streaming giant, and now here we are.

The Lovebirds is a romantic dark comedy in which Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani play a couple who have arrived at the end of the road for their relationship. After being together for four years, the couple comes to realize that the spark that kept their relationship alive had all but flicked out. But they are forced to put their breakup on the backburner when they are both implicated in a hit-and-run murder.

Having fled the scene of the crime for fear of being arrested due to their ethnicity, they become convinced that the only way to exonerate themselves would be to find the real murderer. And so begins their wild night of misadventures, as they try to get to the bottom of the mystery, even as things continue to spiral out of control and they start to develop newfound feelings for one another.

The Lovebirds is a by-the-numbers romantic comedy that rests primarily on the shoulders of its two leads. And they carry the entire movie quite nicely, sharing great chemistry while generating the kind of racially-laced laughs that one would expect from such a pairing. But the overall film never attempts to be anything more, with a script that is largely unimaginative and a plot that never ceases to be predictable.

And sometimes that is okay. It is that very fact that makes it easy to recommend The Lovebirds to anyone looking to pass some time or catch something new while we are all relegated to Netflix. But to anyone expecting the next The Big Sick or Game Night, or something closer to the two stars' best work, you might be better served looking elsewhere or simply rewatching those aforementioned films instead.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

The Justice League Snyder Cut is coming

After what has felt like a lifetime of lobbying and speculating, fans of the DCEU have finally received their first official confirmation of the impending release of the original cut of the 2017 superhero movie, Justice League. Popularly referred to as the Snyder Cut, this much-sought-after version of the movie is set to debut exclusively on HBO Max in 2021, the new streaming service by HBO which is itself set to debut next week.

The announcement was made by Zack Snyder himself, during a watch party for his 2013 movie, Man of Steel. This would not be the first time that the director would be releasing an additional cut of one of his films, as both Watchmen and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvS) had received extended cuts that fleshed out their stories. But this one stands out for the fact that unlike those movies, it would be representing his original vision for the movie.

A little history lesson is in order at this point then, to put that previous statement into perspective. Back when Warner Bros. had decided to put together its own superhero cinematic universe, Zack Snyder had been given the reins to that endeavor. But unlike Marvel Studios whose movies were considered fun, campy and a general delight to watch, the first two movies in the DCEU were accused by both fans and critics of being too dark and introspective.

This complaint was reflected in the box office performance of BvS, which despite opening to $166 million worldwide during its opening weekend, had only managed to gross $873 million total during its global theatrical run. So in a bid to avoid a similar fate for its sequel, Justice League, Warner Bros. had decided to lighten the tone of the movie, even though the film was already in production at the time.

This would result in rewrites and extensive reshoots, all of which contributed to the movie's troubled production. Zack Snyder was forced to step down from his position as director during post-production, following a family tragedy, and Joss Whedon, director of both Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron, was brought in to finish the movie.

The theatrical version of Justice League was released in November of 2017, and it was met with a lukewarm reception, grossing only $657 million against a $300 million production budget. While I did enjoy the movie and appreciated its lighter tone, a subset of fans believed that this contributed to the release's uneven tone. And thus began their campaign to have the original Zack Snyder version of the movie released.

In the 3 or so years since its release, fans have employed various tactics to bring attention to the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement. This has included renting out signboards at Time Square during New York Comic-Con, as well as having a plane fly over San Diego Comic-Con with the Twitter hashtag. Well, their voices have finally been heard, but work on that particular cut of the movie isn't done yet apparently.

Current reports state that Warner Bros. would still need to spend between $20 to $30 million to complete the movie, as well as bring in some of the original cast to record additional lines of dialogue. But considering how much fans have proven they would like to see it, it is an expense the studio is hoping would pay off in the long run for its new streaming service. Here's hoping that the actual film lives up to expectations.

Friday, 15 May 2020

Scoob! (Movie Review)

Till today, I still harbor fond memories of the first time I'd stumbled across Cartoon Network, a TV station that was devoted to showing nothing but cartoons. A first of its kind back in the day, the channel would show back-to-back classics from the Hanna-Barbera stable, shows likes The Flintstones, Tom and Jerry, and Looney Tunes, just to name a few. And of all the shows that was on heavy rotation during the station's inception, Scooby-Doo, Where are You! was easily one of my favorites.

So yeah, I was mildly intrigued when I'd learnt that Warner Animation Group, the studio behind The Lego Movie and its various spinoffs, was making a new Scooby-Doo movie. Originally slated for a theatrical release, the film joins the likes of Trolls World Tour as yet another animated film being put directly on video-on-demand (VOD) in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the closure of movie theaters around the world.

Serving as both an origin story and a new chapter in their adventures, the movie finds the Scooby gang members (Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo) teaming up with the Blue Falcon and Dog Wonder in a bid to stop Dick Dastardly and his nefarious plot to unleash the ancient Egyptian guard dog, Cerberus, upon the world, with other classic Hanna-Barbera characters like Captain Caveman also making an appearance. Because, why not?

It's hard to imagine any scenario where Scoob! would have found any kind of success in theaters. This is a movie that seems almost tailored made for a direct-to-streaming and VOD release, with its uninspired screenplay and barely funny jokes. The voice acting isn't particularly great either, despite employing the voice talents of Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfriend and Jason Isaacs.

On the plus side, the animation is at least pleasing to look at, as it manages to replicate the look and feel of the original animated series, while still looking modern enough to not look out of place or dated beside the animated films being churned out by other animation studios. But without a worthwhile story or plot to keep audiences engaged, none of that matters.

The end result is a movie that is nothing more than a weak attempt to recapture some of the mystery and wonder that made the original Scooby-Doo cartoon show a hit back when it was still okay to go outside and play in the dirt. As such, it is hard to recommend Scoob! to anyone but the most diehard of fans looking to revisit their childhood in these uncertain days that we find ourselves in.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

Capone (Movie Review)

Josh Trank makes his return to the director's chair with Capone, a biographical crime drama about the gangster also known as Scarface. This is following the director's previous effort, Fantastic Four, a movie that is universally considered one of the biggest disappointments in the realm of comic-book movies. The newer film is just the latest in a string of mid-tier movies to be receiving a premium VOD release, in lieu of movie theaters being closed, so of course I was going to check it out.

Tom Hardy stars as the titular gangster, a man that had spent the better part of his life building an empire through his involvement in the then-illegal liquor trade. But rather than set the film in his heydays of crime and violence, the film hones in on his final year of life. It was a time after which he had been sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax invasion. With his finances dwindling, and his health and mental state gradually deteriorating as he succumbed to dementia, Al Capone is released after just 7 years of incarceration and allowed to live out his days in the comfort of his estate.

Except he isn't exactly free though. He is not only being watched closely by the government, who are hoping that he would reveal the whereabouts of the $10 million he had stashed somewhere he can no longer remember, but he is also being haunted by the demons of his past. All this would feed into his paranoia and the movie explores his decent into madness in cringe-worthy detail.

Capone is a difficult film to watch, no doubt, but this has less to do with the subject matter and more to do with the muddled execution the overall film has received. In an attempt to mirror the troubled state of mind of its protagonist, the movie doesn't really make much effort in marking out what is real or merely imagined, making the film somewhat hard to follow by less discerning viewers. But at least it is anchored by a very impressive performance by Tom Hardy.

So then, the movie can be viewed as a character study, one that explores the plight of a cunning man struggling to keep his grasp of reality. Except it doesn't really offer any insight into that man's psyche, at least not in the same way that movies like The Theory of Everything managed to do. And unlike The Passion of Christ which also focused on the final moments of its main character, there really isn't much happening here to justify choosing that time period as focus for a character study.

Capone is far from the return to form by Josh Trank that many were hoping for. But with just three movies under his belt so far, including the beloved found-footage/superhero movie hybrid, Chronicle, there is still some hope that he would manage to score the kind of home run we all know he is capable of.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Extraction (Movie Review)

We're officially in the summer movie season. But with movie theaters still on lockdown, film fans are forced to look elsewhere for their blockbuster fix. And by elsewhere, I am of course referring to the offerings on video-on-demand and streaming giants like Netflix. Which is where Extraction comes in, their latest ultra-violent action thriller that owes a lot to B-movies of days past and the stellar stunts of more modern action movies like John Wick.

Written by Joe Russo and serving as the directorial debut of frequent collaborator and stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave, the film stars Chris Hemsworth as Tyler Rake, a black market mercenary who is hired to extract the son of a powerful drug baron, after the boy, Ovi, is kidnapped by members of a rival gang. But of course, things don't go according to plan, and what follows are a series of double crosses and increasingly-audacious action set-pieces.

And speaking of action, Extraction has some of the most impressive stunt work I have seen since The Raid. There was this one scene in its first half in particular, which had everything from tightly-choreographed hand-to-hand combat to some truly insane camera work and editing. But incredible action and a slick presentation does not a great movie make, which is kinda where Extraction falters as a whole.

The movie can't quite shake off that "been there, done that" feeling it gives you, right from its opening shot which has Chris Hemsworth making a last stand on a bridge strewn with smouldering cars. And while he does what he can with the material he is given, none of that helps to hide what is effectively a film that relies a little too much on style over substance.

There appears to be this gulf between Netflix Originals. On the one hand, they've produced high-caliber awards movies like The Irishman, Marriage Story and The Two Popes. On the other hand, we have low-brow action movies like Bright and 6 Underground. Extraction clearly belongs in the latter category, but considering just how slim the pickings are right now, I'll say it is still definitely worth the watch.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Celebrating milestones and the little things

A little over eight years ago, I had decided I wanted to start a blog. This very one you are reading right now as a matter of fact. It was right around the time I had just started to take my writing seriously, and I saw a blog as a way to not only hone my skills, but also create some exposure for some of my work.

Over the years, the blog has evolved to become more of an outlet for sharing my thoughts. But one thing I had always neglected to do was to celebrate the little milestones I'd reached along the way. I'll give you an example. Just a few weeks ago, I had written my 100th movie review. I'd meant to put up a post to mark the milestone, but life got in the way and that never happened.

Well, as it turns out, I am just about to cross another milestone. In fact, by the time you read this post, I would have already crossed it. And that milestone, my friends and casual surfer of the interwebs alike, is 2,000,000 pageviews across my posts.

Let me just wrap my head around that figure for a second. This is a number that seemed impossibly far away when I started this blog in 2011, back when my daily pageviews were barely in the double digits. My 2011 self would probably never had imagined that my words would have been read (or at least crawled by search bots) that many times, but here we are today.

I know there are other bloggers out there that do 2,000,000 pageviews monthly (or even daily), but considering where I started from, and how long it has taken to get here, I think it is worth taking a moment to savor the achievement, for what its worth.

So how exactly am I celebrating this milestone? By continuing to write the kind of content that led to hitting the milestone of course. So watch this space, and here's to another eight years of blogging about movies and celebrating the little things.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Trolls World Tour (Movie Review)

With most of the world's theaters still on lockdown due to the coronavirus, more movie studios are looking to streaming services for distribution of their movies. The latest one to be given that treatment is Trolls World Tour, the sequel to the 2016 animated musical, Trolls. The movie lands on video-on-demand platforms today, although this is coming after Universal had already tested the waters by releasing both The Invisible Man and The Hunt, after their truncated theatrical runs. But unlike those movies, this one is receiving what it is calling a day-and-date release with theaters.

The new movie finds Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick reprising their voice over roles as Branch and Queen Poppy respectively, two trolls that share a love for pop music and have grown to become best of friends. But as it turns out, Branch is seeking to be more than friends with Poppy, but can't seem to find the right words or time to express his feelings. All of that is put on the backburner though after they receive an unexpected letter from a neighboring troll kingdom.

As it turns out, the trolls once lived under the harmony of a six-stringed harp. But over time, they started to fight amongst themselves over what type of music should be played with those strings. This eventually led to the harp being destroyed and its six strings being used to form six troll kingdoms, each based on a different style of music: Classical, Country, Funk, Rock, Techno and Pop. Now, Queen Barb (Rachel Bloom) of the Rock Kingdom is seeking to aggressively reunite all six troll kingdoms as "one nation under rock," and it is up to Branch and Poppy to stop her.

I was never really a big fan of the first Trolls movie and I had quite frankly forgotten it existed until Universal had announced its sequel would be going straight to VOD. The one thing I remembered enjoying from the first movie though was its music, which included the Academy Award nominated song by Justin Timberlake, "Cant Stop the Feeling." The new movie might not have the benefit of any such instant standouts, but it does benefit from incorporating so many different musical styles into its song catalogue.

The story itself is fairly predictable, but heartwarming nonetheless. It is a story about embracing our differences as individuals, and one that I found particularly poignant in this day and age of social distancing we find ourselves in. Perhaps this is why Universal had pushed to have it released on VOD rather than delay it till theaters reopened, because of the timeliness of its message.

The theater owners were not too pleased by their decision to forgo a theatrical release though, and have in fact promised not to forget this particular incident, although it remains to be seen what form their retaliation might take.

Trolls World Tour is definitely worth the watch while you're at home and in need of something to entertain yourself or the entire family. It is filled with so many sing-along tunes that you'll be hard pressed to sit still as you resist the temptation to join in or dance. I really hope it recoups a good portion of its production budget on VOD and streaming, so that we can continue to get more movies dropped directly on those platforms while everyone is stuck at home.

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 backlogs of unseen movies and TV shows. 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 the 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.


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.


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.


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.