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.