Sunday, 8 December 2019

Movie Review - Knives Out

A traditional whodunit story with a modern twist, Knives Out sees detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) called in to investigate the murder of wealthy novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) following a family gathering with all manner of suspects; particularly those motivated by their long desired earnings from Thrombey's will.

Knives Out's first key merit is arguably a renowned and well chosen cast, with the likes of Daniel Craig (sounding odd but still impressing with his American voice) as well as Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, and of course the renowned Christopher Plummer among many others. This is a cast that performs strongly throughout; while there's occasionally some inconsistencies with screen time and focus, always difficult to avoid when handling such a large ensemble, it still manages to impress thanks to the majority of said characters being full of charm and depth.

As a mystery film, one would certainly expect a clever plot with unique twists, and Knives Out certainly doesn't disappoint in that respect. This is a story writer/director Rian Johnson clearly put great effort into and prepared with significant care and attention to detail, and one brought to life on screen with a fluid pace bolstered once again by some terrific performances and a lovely visual approach. Superbly filmed from start to finish, with a cinematographic style more than apt for the mysterious vibe of the genre, Knives Out is more than easy to admire and appreciate even during some of its less exciting moments.

The plot itself is one that has its complicated aspects, but thankfully the film's confident storytelling transcends this in order to convey everything as clearly and fluently as possible, though also without making any exposition truly forced or gimmicky. As things unfold throughout, a definite wow factor is certainly apparent, with the plot's numerous twists and turns expertly handled to leave audiences incredibly enticed and amazed. Knives Out also boasts some brilliant and witty comedic value; value that blends nicely with the overall tone, thus never feeling overly shallow or juxtaposed with the film's more mysterious elements. It all adds up to a thoroughly enjoyable murder mystery from start to finish; not without some minor faults, but such faults aren't a huge consequence when the majority of it is all so fantastic.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Movie Review - Joker

The most renowned adversary of Batman has seen multiple live action portrayals on the big screen, with Jack Nicholson setting standards back in 1989, the late Heath Ledger remarkably earning a posthumous Academy Award for his twisted performance in 2008, and Jared Leto being met with fairly mediocre reception despite initial hype back in 2016. Now Joaquin Phoenix brings his take on the character with a surprisingly dark R rated depiction; one that's yielded mixed results with a fair few audiences, especially the politically correct.

Joker sees failing standup comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) living within the ruined hellhole that is Gotham City, himself suffering from both physical and mental illnesses which crucially rely on medication to tame. When his already miserable life soon reaches an all time low, Fleck slowly drifts toward one of crime and disorder, adopting the iconic persona as he does.

Phoenix brings fans a powerful and unique performance that certainly doesn't attempt to mimic other live action depictions; it's one that perfectly captures the most disturbing psychological problems that fester within the character's mind. Acting as an origin story, Joker naturally focuses more on the character's transformation into his villainous self rather than his numerous actions once he dons the suit and makeup. It's this that makes him relatable despite his dismal characteristics; audiences can sympathize rather than simply viewing him as a merciless criminal as the story progresses. This exploration of mental health is handled with care, and sequences displaying the most prominent and twisted symptoms make for some of the film's freakiest yet most insightful moments.

While the plot can sometimes be a bit of a tonal jumble, with most supporting characters not quite leaving the same impact despite a strong cast, it still remains an engaging tale from start to finish. Those expecting a traditional superhero story will certainly be surprised with the film's menacing approach; one that doesn't attempt to sugarcoat the character's most disturbing attributes. This brave and thoughtful development, coupled with Phoenix's dedicated performance, makes for a thrilling if imperfect experience for those interested. It's not void of some repetitive moments, nor graphic visuals that occasionally feel rather abrupt, but it'll still leave a lasting impression for many; one that's both gripping and frightening in the process.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Movie Review - It Chapter Two

Splitting film adaptations of popular novels became a common pattern since Harry Potter's final installment in 2011. It was a format other major franchises including Twilight and The Hunger Games quickly embraced, yet one that's seen by many as a tired pattern without any true justification beyond bigger profits. On the flipside, not only is Stephen King's It a novel with over 1000 pages, but also one with two core narrative phases set within different time periods, making a two part cinematic adaptation arguably necessary at the end of the day. With It Chapter Two, we move 27 years onward from the original's 1989 setting, seeing our key protagonists within the Loser's Club as their adult selves, all forced to combat the eponymous monster as it returns to haunt their hometown of Derry once more.

Whilst portions of screentime are still dedicated to the youngsters from the original, who certainly remain as talented as ever, the main story once again focuses on their adult counterparts; counterparts who are brought to life with a superb main cast who flawlessly match the core personalities of their respective characters whilst also adopting believable adult development. This impressive cast includes the likes of James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, Jay Ryan, Isaiah Mustafa, James Ransone, and Andy Bean; and, of course, Bill Skarsgard returns as the villainous monster's primary form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, arguably standing tall as the highlight of the film in many ways once again.

It Chapter Two has plenty of scares, though the overall approach is different and sometimes less effective this time round. Indeed, there's a further appreciation of jump scares over a consistently tense atmosphere; to be fair, said jump scares are much more than just random thuds and crashes to make you flinch with little after effect, but it doesn't stop them from becoming somewhat repetitive in the end. Repetition is an equally ideal word when it comes to the overall narrative itself, with one of its central concepts being explorations of each character and their disturbing childhood memories from the original film, returning to haunt them once more as the eponymous monster reawakens from its long rest. It's a unique format that's handled relatively well and of course one that's host to many frightening moments, but also one that can't help but feel a tad boring in the long run.

Though these story elements are of course part of the novel itself, faithfulness to source material can't always excuse such flaws; some things arguably work better on paper than they do on screen. Perhaps this can also be applied to the film's chaotic climax which drifts away from horror in some ways, eventually leaning more toward crazy action with bizarre imagery, strange plot twists, and occasional contrivances. For the most part, there is a nice degree of emotional depth and solid overall development for each character, which in turn bolsters some of the film's scariest moments as you genuinely fear for the victims on screen; though with its beastly and not fully justifiable 169 minute runtime, It Chapter Two simply ends up less interesting the more it goes on. It's ultimately just not as consistently entertaining as its predecessor, and while the exceptional cast, superb visuals, and fair share of thrills deserve much praise, its slow pace and repetitive formula also prevent it from reaching its full potential.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Movie Review - The Lion King (2019)

Disney's live action updates of many of their greatest animated hits continues, this time with The Lion King, arguably their most renowned to date in the eyes of many. An enormous success upon release in 1994, The Lion King's global earnings now sit extremely close to the $1 billion mark, making it one of the highest grossing animated films even 25 years on, and easily the highest earning among traditionally animated films. So with all this fame and success surrounding it, one would expect a live action remake to be handled with extensive care; sadly, this is not quite the case.

The core story, influenced largely by Shakespeare's Hamlet, matches the original without any major changes. Following the murder of his father Mufasa (James Earl Jones) at the hands of his sadistic uncle Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor), young lion Simba (Donald Glover) finds himself exiled from his kingdom and left in despair, though soon learns he must follow his destiny and take his rightful place as leader of the Pride Lands before all falls into ruin.

The narrative doesn't need to adopt any significant changes to be good, but when many scenes have near identical shots and dialogue to those in the original, the lack of originality is extremely apparent, leaving us with a film that essentially feels like a discount alternative with a different aesthetic. While the visuals themselves are a major achievement in photorealism, beautifully rendered throughout, such a strong focus on realism leaves no room for any unique style or charm, making many of the story's most iconic moments tragically dull and uninteresting. Consequently, the characters find themselves as little more than well rendered animals with moving mouths; a real shame considering Disney did a great job making similarly realistic animals in 2016's remake of The Jungle Book full of personality for the most part.

The work from this largely decent cast also fails to meet expectations, with the efforts of Donald Glover and Beyoncé (a strange choice...) leaving their respective protagonists hugely forgettable; such criticism applies even more so to James Earl Jones' lifeless performance, making his initially welcome return an unwanted one without a doubt. Perhaps the only real praise can be aimed toward Ejiofor as a suitably sadistic (if slightly cliché) Scar, as well as Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen as an admittedly funny Timon and Pumbaa, but they aren't able to carry the weight of all this alone. Those in love with the original's musical achievements should also be prepared for mixed results; while it's good to see not every song being a complete rehash, they still can't help but feel painfully inferior to the originals.

This update of Disney's animated classic has its perks, especially when it comes to the technical side of things, but still finds itself as little more than an uninspired and lazily structured retelling. Disney's ongoing string of live action updates are still met with significantly polarizing opinions, and considering The Lion King remains my favourite film of all time, this poor and disappointing remake, for me, is definitely a deep and personal loss.

Wise old mandrill Rafiki is also one of the most loveable characters in the original, and sadly one of the most, if not the most, forgettable characters this time round. For shame.

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

Movie Review - Spider-Man: Far From Home

Avengers: Endgame now edges closer to stealing the highest grossing film of all time accolade from Avatar after 10 years; although it certainly brought multiple key story arcs within this beastly franchise to a close, even a film of such scale was certainly never going to finish it all for good. Not every film the MCU has offered has been an entertaining one, and the longer a series like this lasts, the harder it surely becomes to make new instalments consistently engaging. Thankfully, Spider-Man: Far From Home shows that those involved desire a strong future for the series and will certainly make the effort to achieve it.

A sequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming whilst also following on from plot elements developed in Endgame, Far From Home sees Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) inevitable desires for a regular life alongside his superhero duties challenged further as he finds himself recruited for yet another mission by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) of S.H.I.E.L.D. An unfamiliar face in the form of Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mysterio to the world, also joins the fray to helm the fight against a new wave of threats; conflict which soon leads to more unsettling truths.

Most will agree that the MCU has always been relatively flawless when it comes to casting, and Far From Home is another key example of this. Holland exemplifies further his acting talent considering the standards that have to be met with such a major comic book icon, with a performance as an innocent and naive teenager, a character explored with a surprising amount of depth, blending nicely with his more confident persona when donning the suit itself. Jake Gyllenhaal's efforts as one Quentin Beck stand out just as superbly; his character deftly combines humour, an intimidating presence, as well as a genuine emotional core, and his confident performance makes him one of the most memorable characters despite being having many acclaimed talents to rival.

Far From Home succeeds just as nicely on an aesthetic scale, living up to modern blockbuster expectations with ease but also going that little bit beyond with some stylish and unique visuals revolving primarily around the character of Mysterio once again. This twisted imagery adds a touch of innovation to some of its most prominent set pieces, and while not all of them boast this accolade, even those which end up a tad repetitive after a while are still largely exciting. The overall narrative itself is thankfully far from predictable due to smartly handled plot twists; it also cleverly integrates elements from previous MCU films without forced retconning becoming an issue. Indeed, while some supporting roles amongst the villainous crew are fairly forgettable, their integration is cleverly developed. With all this, Far From Home succeeds as another thoroughly entertaining entry to this enormous franchise, showing that it still has room to impress further despite the countless new standards that have been set since it began.