Saturday 30 January 2021

The Little Things (Movie Review)

Warner Bros. continues to make good on its promise to release all its tentpoles for the next year simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max. And while we all await the impending release of Godzilla vs Kong in March, the first movie to be coming out off its highly-publicized slate is The Little Things, a crime thriller starring Denzel Washington. Written and directed by John Lee Hancock, the film offers a throwback mystery that might prove to be more style than substance for most.

Set in the 1990s, Denzel Washington plays Joe Deacon, a Kern County Deputy Sheriff who is sent back to his former LA district to retrieve some evidence that would help with an ongoing case. And while he is there, he comes across a hotshot detective named Jim Baxter (Rami Malek), who is currently working a case with a serial killer that has an MO quite similar to an unsolved murder case Deacon had worked on in the past. 

Both men immediately appear to have a shared respect and disdain for one another, with each one trying to one-up the other. But with more victims turning up dead by the day, and a prime suspect (played by Jared Leto) that always seems to be one step ahead of the authorities, they must learn to put aside their differences and work together if they hope on closing the case once and for all.

The Little Things is one of those films that sounds great on paper, but falls flat in its execution. It had all the intrigue and mystery you'd expect to find in a crime thriller, but none of the payoff or satisfaction offered by the better films in the genre. This is not to say that the film offers no thrills at all, as I was at the very least mildly engaged while following along.

It was just that the whole thing somehow managed to lose most of its steam by the time it arrived at its third act, where in an attempt to circumvent expectations, it presented a twist that most viewers would find head-scratching to say the least. There were no gaping plot holes to speak of, just a feeling that you've arrived at a destination that wasn't all that meaningful in the grand scheme of things.

What The Little Things does offer is a somewhat promising start to the packed slate of movies Warner Bros. plans on releasing this year. But while it definitely benefitted from its strong cast and a solid overall atmosphere, those elements were ultimately letdown by a story that was by the numbers, and a resolution that was unsatisfying. The movie is hardly worth going out to see at the cinema, but it is still worth checking out if you happen to have HBO Max.

Thursday 28 January 2021

Nomadland (Movie Review)

As we get closer to this year's Golden Globes and Oscars, one film that keeps coming up in discussions about potential hopefuls is Nomadland. The movie made a splash last year when it received top honors at both the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, besting other critical darlings like One Night in Miami. It would go on to appear on several year-end lists of best films of 2020, even managing to come out on top on quite a few of them.

So all through the praise and accolades, I'd patiently waited for an opportunity to see Nomadland, wondering if it could ever live up to my incredibly high expectations. I finally got to do so this past weekend, which raises the question of why I am only just putting out this review now. There's a very strong reason for that, which I'll be addressing in the latter portion of this review, along with my overall thoughts about the movie.

Written and directed by ChloĆ© Zhao, the movie stars Frances McDormand as Fern, a woman that adopts a nomad lifestyle by selling all her belongings and using the money to buy an RV, after she loses both her job and husband. She gets a temporary job at an Amazon fulfillment center, where she meets and befriends Linda, and from whom she learns about a gathering of nomads that meet in the Arizona desert every winter. 

Much of the film is spent following Fern around the empty highways of the American West, as she slowly contemplates her life and the choices that led to where she is. But on those highways is where she'd encounter several characters that would help shape her journey of acceptance and self-discovery.

Nomadland is both a character study and a window into the lives of those that uproot themselves from already established lives with the singular hope of starting out fresh. Frances McDormand, who has given quite a number of stellar performances over the years, gives one of her best ones till date. But it is the characters she encounters in the movie, and how she interacts with them, that truly stands out in my opinion. 

The fact that most of these characters were played by real-life nomads lends the movie a certain level of authenticity seldom seen in such films. We've had similar techniques used in movies like City of God and Up in the Air, where much of the cast is made up of real-life people, and the technique pays off in spades here. The latter in particular has a stronger thematic connection with this one, since both films are set in the aftermath of the American recession.

Like I said at the start of the review, I've been sitting on this review for Nomadland for a couple of days now. This is news because I typically try to review movies right after seeing them, but something about Nomadland was different. The film almost demands that you spend some time ruminating on its story, themes and larger-than-life characters, which is something I've found myself doing this last couple of days. The movie definitely sticks with you well past the credits.

There are other things to love about Nomadland, from its beautiful cinematography to ChloƩ Zhao's capable hands as a director. But I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that the movie might not be for everyone. It doesn't offer the kind of instant gratification that most films provide these days, with its leisurely-paced narrative and strong character focus. But if you're willing to accept that going in, then what you'll discover is something wholly captivating.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

News of the World (Movie Review)

As I continue to play catch up with the films released over the weekend, the next one on my review list is News of the World, a western co-written and directed by Paul Greengrass. The Academy Award-nominated director once again teams up with Tom Hanks for the movie, following their previous collaboration in the brilliant Captain Phillips. And this time around, they swap the pirate-infested waters of the Atlantic Ocean for the rolling hills and valleys of the American frontier.

In News of the World, Tom Hank stars as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kid, a former confederate soldier who now travels from town to town reading the news for a living. Basically he does so for the benefit of those not learned enough to read the newspapers for themselves, or those whose lives have proven too busy to afford them the time during a typical work day. So in a way, you can think of him as the Wild West equivalent of a modern day newscaster.

During one of his trips, he comes across a young girl whose horse and carriage had been attacked. The girl is immediately reluctant to accept his help. This isn't helped by the fact that she didn't appear to speak a single word of English. He soon discovers that the girl was being transported to her last surviving relatives prior to the attack. But all attempts to leave the girl in the hands of relevant authorities prove futile, and now he is left with no choice other than to embark on a perilous journey across Texas in an attempt to reunite the young girl with her family.

Chances are that anyone planning to see the News of the World is doing so solely because of its bankable lead, so it should come as no surprise that Tom Hanks once again proves to be more than capable in the role. So the real breakout then was his co-star Helena Zengel, who plays Johanna Leonberger. She perfectly captures the spirit of a young feral child caught between two worlds, and the fact that she managed to convey such a broad spectrum of emotions with barely any spoken dialogue is worthy of praise. 

Also worthy of praise was the cinematography on display, which effectively captured both the beauty and horrors of the American frontier. This was no doubt helped by the film's director, Paul Greengrass, who has proven to have an eye for such details. There were plenty sweeping shots of beautiful landscapes, as well as tight closeups of the character's faces, whenever the action called for that. And the transitions between the two was always smooth and seamless.

With all that said, my one area of criticism was the movie's pacing. The movie takes a somewhat leisurely approach with the unraveling of its plot, and for large stretches of time, all we really get to go with are the aforementioned sweeping shots and landscapes. I understand that this is meant to help build a sense of atmosphere, which is especially useful in such a character-driven narrative. But I'm also concerned that this could be considered off-putting for some viewers.

News of the World is a western that might prove a little too familiar to fans of the genre. The comparisons with True Grit are inevitable, with both movies centering upon a road trip of sorts, wherein an older, seasoned gunslinger accompanies a young girl across the Old West on a singular mission. Except unlike that other movie, the characters in this one aren't driven by a thirst for revenge, but rather an opportunity to move on and heal from past traumas.

Monday 18 January 2021

One Night in Miami (Movie Review)

Regina King makes her feature film directorial debut in One Night in Miami, a film that seemed to be garnering nothing but praise ever since it made its debut at the Venice Film Festival last September. Based on a stage play written by Kemp Powers, the movie was noted for being the first one in the festival's history to be helmed by an African-American woman, where it eventually got named the runner up for its People's Choice Award. 

All that is to say that the movie had been on my radar for quite some time now. I even flirted with the idea of waiting to see it before compiling my list of Top 10 Movies of 2020, but decided I might as well consider it for my 2021 list instead. And despite getting a limited release in theaters last Christmas, I didn't get an opportunity to see the movie until it got released on Amazon Prime Video this past weekend.

Set on the historic night of Muhammad Ali's heavyweight title victory against Sonny Liston, the film explores a celebratory meeting between him and three other African-American legends of the time: Sam Cooke, Jim Brown, and Malcolm X. But rather than spend the night drinking and cavorting with women, he soon discovers that Malcolm had other more important plans.

It was to be a night of reflection, with each man expected to look back on their accomplishments up until that point. And by so doing, gain some insight about their place in the present day struggle of African Americans. But tensions soon begin to rise amongst the men when Malcolm accuses Sam of not using his influence and power to help that struggle, even as he grows increasingly paranoid that there were people out to get him.

One Night in Miami is a beautiful slice of alternative history that is brought to life by some powerhouse performances. All four actors got to shine in their respective roles, but it was perhaps Leslie Odom Jnr. that could be regarded the standout. His portrayal of Sam Cooke was every bit as electrifying as his role in Hamilton, and he had his full acting and singing chops on display.

I'll be remiss if I fail to also mention Regina King's direction. The woman has been in quite a few critically acclaimed movies over the years, and was most recently seen in the brilliant Watchmen TV show on HBO. But here she proves that her talent extends behind the camera as well. And the fact that her movie was so grounded in history lends it a sense of authenticity seldom seen in such films.

One Night in Miami is a must-watch for history buffs. The movie definitely had all the trappings of a stage play adaptation, with its dialogue heavy screenplay and sparse location changes. But it never truly felt confined by those origins. The movie is a definite shoo-in for one of the Best Picture nominations at the Oscar's later this year, and it stands as one of the best films of the year thus far. 

Friday 15 January 2021

Outside the Wire (Movie Review)

As the new year slowly kicks into gear, Netflix continues to strengthen its commitment to provide quality at-home entertainment during these unprecedented times we still find ourselves in. And that commitment was made public after the company had announced that it would be releasing more than 70 movies over the course of this year. Outside the Wire is just one of those 70 films, a science fiction war movie starring Anthony Mackie.

Set in the near future in the middle of a Soviet civil war, the movie follows Lt. Thomas Harp (Damson Idris), a US drone pilot that is sent into the field after he'd initiated an unauthorized drone strike that resulted in the deaths of two fellow soldiers. Expected to find a renewed value for life after his exposure to on-the-ground warfare, Thomas is assigned to a commanding officer named Leo (Anthony Mackie), a man he quickly finds out is not a man at all.

Leo is an android designed by the US Army to help with the ongoing efforts to win back the war-torn region of Ukraine. Unlike the other robots being used in the war, he is distinctly human in appearance, and has an uncanny ability to feel human emotions. It is that ability that drives his mission, and together with Thomas, they must go behind enemy lines as they attempt to track down a local warlord before he gets his hands on enough nuclear missiles to start World War III.

The best thing about Outside the Wire was easily Anthony Mackie, who is no stranger to Netflix productions of this kind, having starred in the lead role of the second season of the now-cancelled sci-fi show, Altered Carbon. Here he brings most of the charisma and charm he'd displayed in that show, as well as the physicality required for such an action heavy role. But he also never failed to display the level of emotion needed to keep the action grounded in reality.

And that's another area where the movie excels, in its action scenes. There was no shortage of hand-to-hand combat and gunfights to be had, some of which involved robots and future tech, all of which looked convincing enough. So action junkies will definitely want to check out the movie for that reason alone, even though I fear that more casual audiences might become a bit desensitized towards all the fancy explosions after a while.

And speaking of becoming desensitized, the one area where I felt the movie could've used some improvement was its story, or more precisely its resolution. We've had countless movies about future wars at this point, and I was really hoping that this one would at least bring something new to the table. But what we got instead was a barely serviceable story with a final act that was a bit too twisty for my tastes.

Regardless of this, I still think Outside the Wire can serve as a mild diversion for anyone looking for something to check out on Netflix. It might be nowhere as brilliant as the likes of Edge of Tomorrow, but should still offer enough entertainment value for anyone that happens to enjoy such movies.

Monday 4 January 2021

My Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2021

Happy New Year, everyone. And a new year means new movies to look forward to, or in this case a bunch of carryovers from last year. 2020 left us with a good amount of unreleased movies, but with the current shift by big studios like Disney and Warner Bros. to online streaming (not to mention talks of a coronavirus vaccine being closer than we think), there's more likelihood that a good chunk of those movies would finally get to see the light of day.

All that is to say that my list of Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies for 2021 looks a lot like my list for 2020. But I'm fairly optimistic (read: hopeful) that these films would not only get released in one form or another this year, but that they'll live up to expectations as well. Because there's nothing worse than having to wait an extra year for something that turns out to be less than stellar. So in the spirit of that optimism, here are my Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2021.

10. F9

While I don't consider myself the biggest fan of the long-running Fast and the Furious series, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at the very least curious to see what ridiculous new heights they intend to take the series for its ninth outing. There's even talk of taking the action to space, which sounds par for the course given the current trajectory of the franchise as a whole. But with Tokyo Drift favorites like Han said to be making a return, and the addition of another wrestling icon into the mix, the film promises to be tailor-made for fans and the morbidly curious alike.

9. Morbius

So I originally had the Venom sequel, Venom II: Let There Be Carnage, taking this particular slot on my list from last year. But in the absence of any trailers or new information about that movie (aside from a change in release dates), my interest has drifted towards the other forthcoming Sony Pictures superhero movie, Morbius. And with Jared Leto taking on the role of the brilliant scientist turned vampire, and Michael Keaton believed to be reprising his role as Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming, I'm eager to see how the movie ties into the larger Sony Spider-Man universe.

8. Raya and the Last Dragon

Pixar will continue to churn out some quality family entertainment this year when Raya and the Last Dragon hits both theaters and Disney+. This is following the truncated release of Onward at the start of the pandemic, as well as the more recent debut of Soul this Christmas. Initially slated for a November 25th release last year, the movie would be joining its growing library of content on Disney+ on March 5th, through a premier access model similar to the one used for the release of Mulan a few months ago.

7. 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.

6. Coming 2 America

Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall would be reprising their roles from the 1988 comedy film, Coming to America, in its aptly titled sequel, Coming 2 America. Originally scheduled for an August 7th release, the film was eventually picked up by Amazon amidst the pandemic and it is currently set to debut on Amazon Prime Video on the 5th of March. The original film was such an endearing hit with Eddie Murphy fans and fans of comedies in general, so much like Bill and Ted: Face the Music managed to do last year, this one is also hoping to recapture some of that old magic.

5. Black Widow

Having gone more than a solid year without any new MCU movies, all eyes are currently on Black Widow to offer the much-needed superhero fix fans so crave. The year-long delay might end up working in the movie's favor, since it also offered fans an equally-needed respite after both the climactic Avengers: Endgame and the Phase 3 closer, Spider-Man: Far from Home. And with other MCU films like Shang-Chi, The Eternals and the next Spider-Man movie all slated for release this year, this one should hopefully help kickstart what is already shaping up to be a packed Phase 4.

4. No Time to Die

Daniel Craig's final outing as James Bond (hopefully) comes out 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 more than 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, two question that would hopefully get answered by the end of No Time to Die.

3. The Suicide Squad

DC fans got their first look at the forthcoming Suicide Squad sequel/reboot, The Suicide Squad, during last year's DC FanDome event. And if that sneak peek was anything to go by, the film looks like it would be taking the franchise into a wild, new direction. The film is being helmed by James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, so we can expect some of the humor from that other film to be reflected in this one. It also brings back fan favorite characters like Harley Quinn from the first movie, while also introducing a fresh rooster of DC baddies that include King Shark, Peacemaker and Bloodsport.

2. Dune

The first part of Denis Velleneuve's adaptation of the novel, Dune, was delayed from its original December 18th date, all the way to October 1st this year (bumping the forthcoming Robert Pattison Batman movie in the process). And while it was a bit disappointing that it didn't manage to stick to that release date, we did get our first look at the movie through a trailer that was released in October last year. The film looks like it would have the director's flair for breathtaking visuals, as well as the source material's epic scale, on full display. And with a simultaneous release currently being planned on HBO Max, this is one I'd definitely opt to see on the big screen.

1. A Quiet Place Part II

A part of me is still kind of pained that I didn't get to see A Quiet Place Part II last year. This is especially true considering how close we had gotten to the film's release date before the pandemic hit with full force. The rest is history at this point, but I'd be lying if I said any of my excitement for the movie had waned since then. Which is why it holds the distinction of being my most anticipated movie for two years in a row. Hopefully things work out better for the film's release this time around, and we finally get to see it in theaters or on video-on-demand.

Overall, 2021 looks like it could be a solid year for movies, looking at the current slate of films expected to release within the year. But the truth remains that we are still very much in the middle of a global pandemic, so some release dates are subject to change while some movies might even get pushed further into 2022. In the absence of such changes though, what movie(s) are you looking forward to the most in 2021?