Knives Out (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Rian Johnson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 130 mins

Knives Out is a murder mystery film from director Rian Johnson. This film has always seemed like an interesting premise and with the risks Johnson took on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, this film looked like a Pandora’s box of ideas for him to explore in a different genre. Unfortunately, the result is a film that thinks it’s more intelligent than it actually is and I struggle to understand why the response to this film has been so positive.

Much in the same fashion as Looper and The Last Jedi were for the sci-fi genre, Knives Out is Johnson’s deconstruction of the murder mystery. He has assembled a tremendous cast of suspects, with Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc who is tasked with investigating the sudden death of wealthy murder mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey. It quickly transpires that within Thrombey’s family and circle of individuals, there are many people who would have a reason to commit foul play. These include suspects such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Chris Evans and Toni Collette to name but a few of the star-studded cast. Rising Blade Runner 2049 star Ana de Armas is the clear standout as Harlan’s nurse of unknown Latin origin. Her character is well-layered and she pretty much carries the film.

The first half of Knives Out is pretty good and the characters are reasonably well established. The film is tonally quirky and Johnson succeeds in balancing comedy within the more morbid, darker moments. Johnson then takes a bold risk early on which is pretty refreshing but then it’s never really expanded on in the second half. The second half is frustrating and I lost interest in what was going to happen. The final twist towards the end of the film is also rather obvious. Ultimately, there are some interesting ideas in Knives Out but the overarching narrative is rather messy, resulting in a rather disappointing film. The first half and the performance of Ana de Armas are Knives Out‘s bright spots.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Ford v Ferrari (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Matt Damon, Christian Bale, Jon Bernthal, Caitriona Balfe, Tracy Letts, Josh Lucas, Noah Jupe, Remo Girone 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 152 mins

After solidifying the 15/R rating in the comic-book film and inciting a transformation within the genre with the excellent Logan, director James Mangold pretty much had the creative freedom to make whatever he wanted. He chose to make a biopic about the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1966 which pitted the two car manufacturers together in a revolutionary fashion.

Ford v Ferrari pedals an entertaining and gripping story of its source material that is bolstered by some strong performances and good racing sequences. This is despite a lengthy 152 minute run time which is impressive as it always sustains the pace. The characters are well-developed, particularly Matt Damon and Christian Bale’s leads and the interplay between them is heartfelt yet entertaining. Bale is particularly effective as British World War II veteran / professional race driver as he is constantly let down by his peers who do not appreciate his genius. Tracy Letts is also a standout as the CEO of Ford who is able to balance the authoritarian, no-nonsense but a little dim side with the sheer thrill of race driving. There is a particularly effective scene when he is driven in the car that bears his name around a race track where he breaks down in tears. Visually, the film is sharp with Mangold-regular Phedon Papamichael’s photography showcasing the scope of the race. There are also some sound themes from another Mangold-regular, Marco Beltrami who co-scores the film with Buck Sanders.

As entertaining as the film is, Mangold is surprisingly rather slavish to the biopic formula, something which he managed to subvert beautifully in Logan. The plot is mostly predictable in terms of the character beats needed to serve the genre and there aren’t many surprises to the formula. But ultimately, despite its reliance on formula, there is more than enough in Ford v Ferrari to enjoy and this is an above average effort in a genre that can often isolate audiences that aren’t car enthusiasts.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Doctor Sleep (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 152 mins

Ever since it was greenlit, Doctor Sleep sounded like a big risk. Not only does it have to function as a sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of The Shining but it also has to function as a Stephen King adaptation and as a sequel to his novel. King’s novel itself is also a drastic departure tonally from The Shining. Director Mike Flanagan is a safe bet and has proved himself multiple times in the genre with films such as Oculus, Hush and he even managed to make a good sequel to the critically panned Ouija. Flanagan has already found success adapting King’s work as he directed Gerald’s Game a couple of years ago which received positive reviews, although I had some major problems with it. The cast seems like a gamble too with leading actor Ewan McGregor not seeming like a match for this material, a polar opposite to Jack Nicholson’s bravura performance as Jack Torrance. Rebecca Ferguson has also had a very spotty career, with some terrible performances in films such as The Girl On The Train and The Greatest Showman.

To my dismay and against all the odds stacking against it, Doctor Sleep is an enthralling sequel to The Shining that is refreshingly different from its predecessor but still has some spiritual connections. It is frequently mesmerising and has a fascinating narrative at its core. The characters are well-developed and Flanagan establishes some emotional narrative stakes. Of course, there does not need to be some connection to what has come before it and the third act returns to The Overlook Hotel. The film does dip a little into fan service here but not enough to derail the entire film. But it is the first 2 hours are so that are really, really strong. Speaking of the 152 minute run time, this is a film that earns its length. There are so many standout scenes here and Flanagan does an excellent job of conjuring dread. A scene with Rebecca Ferguson astral-projecting mid-way through is just stunning and a shootout at the end of the second act are the highlights.

The performances are great and Ewan McGregor makes for a strong lead – this may be one of his best performances. McGregor plays Danny Torrance, who we saw as a child in The Shining and he is now a grown-up alcholic and has never managed to rid the fear that has haunted him throughout his life. Even Rebecca Ferguson does a good job here as Rose The Hat, who is the leader of a nomadic tribe who thrive on hunting psyhic children and draining them of their powers. Kyleigh Curran is great as a young girl who also shares Danny’s gift and she is suitably well-developed through the narrative. Jacob Tremblay also impresses in a small role that he performs with ease.

The film is visually astute as well. Michael Fimognari’s photography is fluid and illustruous and there are many standout shots. He manages to capture the chilly atmosphere that haunts Ewan McGregor’s character and manages to stay true to Kubrick in the composition of the shots in the third act. The score by The Newton Brothers is also good, especially a repeated motif of a heart beating throughout the run time that adds to the intensity.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is a surprisingly great sequel that holds it own with Kubrick’s original. Throughout much of the film, I was enamored by it and even though it does begin to dip into fan service in its final sequence, it is a logical conclusion. Doctor Sleep is a triumph and one of the best films of the year.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Terminator: Dark Fate (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Tim Miller 
Starring: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 128 mins

Terminator: Dark Fate is the latest in the series, whose sequels have never managed to replicate the spark the first two James Cameron directed entries. After both Terminator Salvation and Terminator: Genisys sadly failed to ignite a new trilogy, Dark Fate is the latest attempt. Dark Fate unquestionably has a lot more promise in that this film reunites Linda Hamilton with the series and James Cameron also has more creative input, taking a producer credit. The film is directed by Tim Miller, who found success with Deadpool but creative differences meant he didn’t return for the sequel. It’s an interesting project for him to pick as he doesn’t seem like a natural fit and I had big problems with the first Deadpool tonally. With plans for Dark Fate to spark another new trilogy, will this film finally fulfil this promise after two failed attempts or will this film represent yet another nail in the coffin for this franchise?

Although rather generic in parts and with a shaky opening, Terminator: Dark Fate is often very entertaining and even elegiac in parts in how it melds the old and new. Miller makes a bold decision in the film’s opening which has polarised viewers but I thought it worked. There are some gritty action sequences – the first car chase is particularly good and demonstrates Miller’s visual effects heavy background. The other action sequences are all exciting but one does have to suspend disbelief as there are a couple of distracting breaking the laws of physics, which does lower the emotional investment in the characters a little. The film does feel a little like a soft reboot in its narrative, very much in the vein of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Halloween. That said, much like the latter, it works as the new characters the film introduces, especially Natalia Reyes’ Dani Ramos are sympathetic and well-developed. The film is visually interesting and is shot by Ken Seng, who also shot Deadpool. It’s a shame Junkie XL’s score isn’t particularly memorable, especially considering how strong a career he has had so it’s rare for him not to have a hit.

The performances are all great, with Linda Hamilton giving a heartfelt performance in her long-awaited return. Natalia Reyes is great as Dani Ramos, a young Mexican woman who a Terminator is sent after and I think she could easily go on to lead future films. Surprisingly, Arnold Schwarzenegger is also excellent as his signature role with an interesting spin on the character which really works. Mackenzie Davis plays an enhanced soldier sent back to protect Ramos and she fares well here too and although not reaching the heights of previous villains, Gabriel Luna as the Rev9 is good.

Overall, Terminator: Dark Fate is much better than expected and at its height, is very entertaining. The film is bolstered by its strong performances and Miller has markedly matured as a filmmaker. I hope we see more of this franchise but reviews seem to be mixed and despite being in the minority, I thought both Salvation and Genisys were good fun too. Dark Fate is definitely a step-above from Genisys and is also probably better than Rise of the Machines. The question remains though whether audiences have had enough of this franchise or are willing to give it another chance.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Joker (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, Brian Tyree Henry
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 122 mins

Joker is the highly anticipated comic-book villain origin story that has proved rather controversial to both audiences and critics in many respects. This film is separate to the mainline DCEU and stars Joaquin Phoenix as the crazed clown whose devastating story is captured here. Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a down-on-his-luck, mentally challenged individual who lives with his mother and is shunned by society. As circumstances in his life start to deterioriate, Fleck gradually morphs into the iconic villain.

Joker has had an interesting route to the screen since its inception. Choosing to sidestep Jared Leto’s rendition of the character in the ill-received Suicide Squad, director Todd Phillips has chosen to make the film based on an original idea that departs from the conventions of the comic-book genre, opting to create a character study and shy away from big-budget action sequences. Phillips is not at first an ideal fit for this film, having come from a comedic background and his fame has mostly come from the terrible The Hangover trilogy. But his clear inspirations from the works of Martin Scorsese (who did have some input initially before leaving to work on The Irishman) films such as Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are an interesting diversion to the character that has had many tales on the screen.

Joker is enthralling from start to finish and is one of the best films of the year. Phoenix is mesmerising as Arthur and is strangely sympathetic as a character who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong and commits some despicable acts. Phoenix really becomes the Joker in the last 20 minutes of the film or so and this is particularly effective and it’s astonishing to chronicle the difference in the character from the start of the film to the wicked monster we get at the end.

What also elevates Joker from more standard comic-book fare is how it proposes so many different meanings and interpretations. This is a film that requires multiple watches to really get the full picture. Phillips interrogates many interesting themes, the most interesting of which is his depiction of mental illness and the questioning of how society tackles this problem.

The string-based score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is hypnotic and compliments the film beautifully, doing a lot of heavy lifting in places. It’s one of the best scores of the year. The film is also beautifully shot by Lawrence Sher, who manages to capture the grittiness of Gotham City and juxtaposes it with the neon, pulsating urbanisation.

The film isn’t quite perfect though. As is clear in all of Phillips’ career, he’s not the most subtle director and there are a few instances in which Phillips chooses to explain certain choices which were pretty self-evident. I’m also a little unsure of the film’s final scene tonally and thought the film could have ended a scene earlier but based on some critical readings that have been put forward, it is admittedly necessary.

Ultimately, Joker is an unqualified success and another stellar retelling of the iconic character. I think Heath Ledger is still my top pick in so much that his origin is unclear and this makes him an all the more interesting cipher. There are hints with Phoenix’s character that what we are watching may not be accurate too though. There are so many standout scenes here that are just stunning to behold. Joker is one of the best films of the year and it will be interesting to see if it gets considered for Awards in the upcoming season, especially given how divisive it has proven to be.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)


Captain Marvel (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck 
Starring: Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Djimon Hounsou, Lee Pace, Lashana Lynch, Gemma Chan, Annette Bening, Clark Gregg, Jude Law 
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 124 mins

Captain Marvel is the final film before the deliriously anticipated Avengers: Endgame. Although it may seem as if it is filler material, it sets in motion the famous superhero’s story before she enters the fray with the other established Avengers. Captain Marvel also represents Marvel’s first female-led feature which is a big deal and the bar set by rival DC with Wonder Woman is fairly high. Captain Marvel is introduced in this film as an amnesiac who is training to fight a war against the Skrulls led by Kree leader Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). She has glimpses of her previous life on Earth but cannot piece together how she has come to be. This film is directed by duo Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, who previously directed the flawed but fun Mississippi Grind. They don’t seem a great fit with the material and the marketing for the film didn’t particularly instil confidence. How does Captain Marvel fare?

Other than a wonky first act, Captain Marvel is entertaining throughout and is refreshingly light for a superhero film. It’s also a film that doesn’t spend copious amounts of time explaining everything and the decision to start the film on an alien planet with a whole race of beings audiences are not familiar with is quite bold. Once Captain Marvel finds herself on Earth, there is some great interplay between Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel and Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, who gets developed exponentially as a character here. The film is at its best when it fully embraces its 90s setting and fun is poked at Larson’s fish-out-of-water character. When the superhero antics finally arrive, the film doesn’t outstay its welcome and it’s never boring. The film has some good twists up its sleeve too and subverts expectations.

The performances are generally good, with Samuel L. Jackson and Ben Mendelsohn being the standouts. Nick Furyhas always seemed a little one-note for a Samuel L. Jackson character compared to his exhaustive filmography but here we get to see a different side to him which works well. Ben Mendelsohn, who previous collaborated with the duo on Mississippi Grind, plays a Skrull called Talos and he is equally great and is clearly having a fun time, chewing the scenery. Brie Larson is good as Captain Marvel and is better towards the film’s end but she plays the character a little stiff and wooden. But if you look back to stalwarts Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans first outings for examples, they weren’t great so good things are to be expected once Larson and the crew have settled into their roles.

Overall, Captain Marvel is surprisingly better than expected and ranks strongly in the Marvel canon. It is ultimately a good leading film into Avengers: Endgame and it will be very interesting to see where the character is taken next. It’s particularly impressive that Boden and Fleck are able to avoid many of the genre pitfalls and suggests good things to come now that they have established the characters. This is a much better film than expected and offers strong competition against DC’s Wonder Woman.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Green Book (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Peter Farrelly 
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 130 mins

After a spotty career with more misses than hits, it seems slightly surreal that Peter Farrelly, one half of the Farrelly Brothers famous for gross-out comedy, is tackling a true story drama. Green Book tells the story of a New York bouncer, Frank ‘Tony Lip’ Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) who loses his job at the beginning of a film and needs work. He is portrayed to be an apalling racist, loves to eat pretty much anything and has a close knit relationship with his father. Things take a turn when he takes up a job of escorting an African-American pianist, Doctor Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a musical tour through the Mid-West and Deep South. The two initially clash but are brought together after some instances of racism against Don Shirley and the two form an unlikely friendship.

Despite a somewhat problematic white saviour narrative, on the surface Green Book is a thoroughly enjoyable film with some outstanding performances from both Mortensen and Ali. The script is sharp and provides some fascinating insights into this prejudiced culture. The interplay and relationships between characters is also excellent, who I really got on board with from the start. It is well-directed by Peter Farrelly and fantastically paced.

Green Book provided a controversial win at this year’s Oscars as it ultimately took the coveted Best Picture gong. Whilst I really like it as a film, the controversies surrounding how it represents race and ethnicity are valid. It is unashamedly a white saviour narrative and the film does perpetuate stereotypes. These are questions that come up after watching the film and although it does somewhat tarnish the quality of the film, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really enjoy Green Book.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

The Mule (Review)


⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Clint Eastwood 
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 116 mins

The Mule is the latest by Clint Eastwood and his first performance in front of the camera since Trouble with the Curve back in 2012. Inspired by a true story, this film 90 year old horticulturist and Korean War veteran, Earl Stone, who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican Cartel. At the start of the film, we see that he is in financial hardship and estranged from his family. When he takes the job due to his love of driving and seeing the country, he doesn’t realise what he is doing until he takes a look at what he is transporting in the back of his van. Due to his age and unthreatening nature, the Cartel begin to entrust him with bigger amounts of cocaine and more trips. At the same time, the DEA are investigating the Cartel and start to close in on Stone. Eastwood has a knack for working with fascinating material, demonstrated by his vast filmography both in front of and behind the camera. Both American Sniper and Sully were excellent additions to his most recent filmography but The 15:17 to Paris marked a major disappointment, despite the interesting premise.

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story.  The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing.

The film is not without fault and there is one scene that is a mis-step in this film. There is a sequence in which Eastwood’s character is invited to meet a cartel member and what follows is a sequence of debauchery which is quite uncomfortable in how straight it is played and unnecessary.

Ultimately, The Mule is a return to form for Eastwood after a disappointing blip and is a gripping account of this interesting narrative. Out of the films Eastwood has directed in the 2010s, it would be a close call between The Mule and Sully between which is the best. It’s a shame this film hasn’t made a bigger impression critically within the film industry and much like Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun, if this does end up being Clint Eastwood’s swansong in front of the camera, it would be a fine note to go out on.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Destroyer (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Karyn Kusama 
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scott McNairy
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 123 mins

Although much has been touted of Nicole Kidman transformative performance, Destroyer functions well first and foremost as a film. This is a dark, twisty crime thriller that follows Kidman’s unorthodox LAPD detective who tries to take down members of a shady gang, after her cover was blown years prior, which the film portrays these events in tandem. Kidman’s detective looks not far from death with a weary, almost decaying face and she doesn’t keep herself in good health.  However, Kidman isn’t the only bright spot of the cast as they are all transformations, with Toby Kebbell in particular standing out as the slimy main antagonist. Although a small role, Bradley Whitford also makes an impression as a nasty lead in Kidman’s case.

Director Karyn Kusama has had a somewhat spotty career, previously behind the now positively reassessed feminist dark comedy Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation, the latter of which had a great premise but a lacklustre third act. Destroyer definitely marks her best work and her direction is fantastic, from the way in which the story is told to the technical aspects. There is a particularly gripping and gritty action sequence set in a bank in the latter half of the film which is just jaw-dropping in its unpredictability and rawness. Julie Kirkwood’s cinematography further heightens the tension and the film has an interesting colour pallette.

Ultimately, Destroyer is a dark and suitably dour descent into the unravelling of Kidman’s go-for-broke detective that is a dark horse this Awards season. It deserves far more credit than it has recieved as it is a much better film than people are making out to be, with the highlight not just being Nicole Kidman’s performance that many see as the film’s main asset.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Vice (Review)


⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan, Bill Camp 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 132 mins

Vice is Adam McKay’s second foray into more serious filmmaking after directing The Big Short which did well in its respective Awards season. Before then, McKay was responsible for his many collaborations with Will Ferrell, with films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The Big Short was an interesting film – an unconventional investigation into the American financial housing crisis in 2007-8 that regularly broke the fourth wall with its explanations of financial concepts and had some good performances. However, the ambition behind the camera was more admirable than the film itself as I found it very obnoxious tonally and its pacing was very disjointed. McKay’s sophomore more serious effort is a biopic, very much in the same vein of The Big Short, focussing on Dick Cheney and his path to becoming the controversial, powerful Vice-President. Christian Bale looks unrecognisable as Cheney, gaining 18kg and wearing lots of prosthetics, much like Gary Oldman’s take on Churchill last year in Darkest Hour only with a bit more effort on Bale’s part put in by gaining the weight.

There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.

At least these negative aspects to the film are significantly muted compared to The Big Short. The story itself that McKay tells is fascinating and the way the story is structured is interesting. The performances are uniformly strong with Bale the obvious standout and there’s also a brilliant, muted performance by Tyler Perry. Technically, the film is excellent. All of the characters look impressively authentic and the film is well-shot and edited.

Overall, Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and although McKay’s directing won’t be to everyone’s tastes, he’s working with some strong material. It’s one of the lesser films this Awards season and the lavish praise this film has recieved is rather baffling. But taken on its own merits, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)