Knives Out


Viewed – 25 April 2020. Online rental

Despite what my opinion may be of the choices made by director Rian Johnson with The Last Jedi, I remain a fan of his earlier movie ‘Looper’ and so sat down to this latest offering with optimism. The trailer certainly name dropped a few famous faces and add to this a Cluedo-esque murder mystery premise and positive word of mouth. A wealthy family are brought together following the apatent suicide of the eldest member, famed crime novelist Harlen Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). So enters renowned detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) who suspects there may be foul play at hand.

A strong cast and an immediately intriguing set up quickly drew me into this. It’s put together expertly by Johnson who free from the restraints of a franchise can really show off his directing chops – aided by eye-catching cinematography, great atmosphere and a tongue-in cheek tone. The story, initially a who-dunnit which gradually develops into a back stabbing family drama … is full of twists and turns, but with good use of flashbacks never felt confusing like similar movies can. Daniel Craig is great, camping it up as the Southern speaking slueth, but the real star here is Blade Runner 2049’s Ana de Armas, who delivers the most complex and layered performance as Harlen’s nurse, and carries the movie.

Support cast such as Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson are a bit wasted, and because the movie doesn’t exactly play by the who-dunnit rule book, it loses a little bit of it’s momentum around the middle (but hits its stride again in the final act). Clever and highly entertaining. Check it out.

Verdict: Recommended

Avengers: Endgame


Viewed – 30 April 2019. Cinema

This year’s most hyped movie begins with a rather gentle ‘where the world is now’ first act that sets a melancholy tone for this sequel and eases the viewer into a complicated turn of events to ‘put right what once went wrong’. As anyone could predict after that ending for Infinity War … this is all about time travel as Ant Man gets a disbanded team of the surviving Avengers back together to attempt a risky mission to reclaim the infinity stones before Thanos originally did.

So what we get are several very entertaining sequences taking place in earlier time periods (but mostly the first Avengers movie) that prove funny, exciting and rather clever … if it wasn’t for the fact that this movie turns time-travel conventions as we’ve come to understand like ‘the butterfly effect’ on their head. This leads to a few moments of ‘hang on, how can they do that? Won’t that change such and such…’ which proved problematic for me.

That aside, banter between the various characters is at the forefront and brilliantly comical and well written. also throwing in a few emotionally poignant scenes between the characters we have grown attached to over the years. Add to this some very slick action (Captain America v Captain America?), epic battles and feel-good moments this still delivered a satisfying, at times awe-inspiring piece of cinematic grandeur. Shame then, that towards the end it had to hit a few of those pc-culture tick boxes that came across as obvious and totally unnecessary. So not quite the masterpiece I hoped for, but regardless I still had a great time.

verdict: 4 /5

Avengers: Infinity War


Viewed – 09 May 2018  Cinema

Do I suffer from comic-book movie fatigue?  To a degree yes.  I still enjoy some super-hero smack down action but have felt underwhelmed by recent fare both through over-familiarity with the concept and the desire for something different and a little deeper.  So we come to this epic instalment where it seems Marvel is throwing everything at the viewer for the ultimate battle against what appears to be the ultimate foe – Thanos.  Hinted at and foreshadowed in previous movies, the intergalactic megalomaniac, played by Josh Brolin is finally out to claim the fabled Infinity Stones, of which if he claims all six will give him ultimate power over life and death in the universe.

Avengers Infinity War

So the stakes are immensely high and it’s up to a disbanded Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk, Scarlet Witch, Black Widow etc) and any friends they can pull into their ranks (including Spider Man) to stop this powerhouse of a villain.  In a movie like this it would be easy to go lazy and just fill the run time with fight after fight, which we get in spectacular fashion … but what takes this to another level is the depth to the characterisation I wasn’t expecting and even though it’s crowded with ego’s butting heads, somehow many of the characters get time to have their moment and stand out individually.  Despite such a serious situation it also throws in moments of decent humour, especially with the inclusion of the Guardians of the Galaxy, with the scenes between Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Chris Pratt’s Star Lord proving particularly funny.

So we come to the central figure here, the long awaited and somewhat hyped appearance of Thanos, and Josh Brolin brings a surprising amount of pathos and grit to the character that makes him the closest Marvel has got to the level of Heath Ledger’s Joker.  He really is that good, and in a movie with many surprises and bold plot developments, he elevates the movie into the realm of classic status.  The fact the movie takes risks with a very familiar formula, especially in it’s closing moments just has to be applauded also.  This is the best Avengers movie yet and could possibly be the best Marvel movie.  So simply put, you have to see this one.

Verdict:  5 /5

Captain America: Civil War


Viewed – 06 September 2016  Blu-ray

There seems to be a theme of late in these continuing comic book franchises, that of repercussions and casualties of otherwise heroic endeavours.  First we had Batman facing off against Superman after the fall out from Superman saving the world from the threat of General Zod, and now we have the Avengers turning against each other when a government initiative tries to Police them.  Tony Stark / Iron-Man (Robert Downey Jnr) feels his band of heroes, that he helped put together has caused too any deaths in their bid to save the greater population, but Steve Rogers / Captain America (Chris Evans) doesn’t feel having to await orders from a higher power is the way to go if or when a new threat appears.  Then in the midst of their conflicted beliefs, Steve’s old friend, elite brain-washed super assassin The Winter Soldier is supposedly linked to a terrorist bombing.

Civil War

This complex plot at least on paper is aided immeasurably by a wealth of solid, at times stellar performances and it’s ensemble cast, that also includes Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and even Spider-Man to name but two, never feels bloated or confused.  The writing is key here and everyone’s agenda and personality gets time to shine and despite a ton of superbly executed fights, chases and battles the focus on character and agendas is brilliantly done.

Iron Man War MachineHowever once again rather vague references to the other movies in the series gets a bit mind-blowing at times unless you’ve you have a cast-iron memory for the Marvel movie cannon (including Iron-Man 3 and Avengers 1 & 2).  Also, I thought how the villain’s master plan seemed to rely on a rather convenient plot development was a little cheap … but this isn’t a movie that follows a tried and tested route and how things eventually turned out surprised and shocked in equal measure … not something we normally get in these kinds of movies.

I had a great time with this as you’ll probably have figured out and along with the last two movies in the Captain America franchise, you can consider this a hat-trick of quality entertainment.  And it delivers the ‘heroes turning against each other’ better than Batman V Superman.

Verdict:  4 /5

Avengers: Age of Ultron


Viewed – 29 September 2015 Online rental

With the never ending juggernaut that is Marvel Studios, it would be easy to say this cash-cow is getting milked dry. However with a plethora of comic book stories to mine from, those udders aren’t drying up any time soon. So we come to this sequel to the highly entertaining Marvel Avengers Assemble.

avengers

We are thrown straight into the action as our heroes attack a Russian Hydra base to steal back Loki’s sceptre (which you’ll recall him wielding during the last movie).  However little is explained as to what is going on or why, and so despite having seen all the other Marvel movies up to this, I still felt a bit in the dark. Now here’s the first issue – this is again a sequel that relies on you having a very good recollection of not just the last Avengers movie but also Thor: The Dark World and especially Captain America: The Winter Soldier.  So Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury is missing from the line up, the Avengers are holed up in Stark Tower with seemingly Robert Downey Jnr as their boss (?), and there’s two rogue super-powered teens wanting revenge for something Tony Stark did with a bomb.  Then Downey’s Stark goes and complicates it even more by creating an artificial intelligence (Ultron) that turns evil and goes all megalomaniac.

elizabeth olsenSo we come to this globe-trotting and overly complicated sequel’s saving grace … James Spader’s Ultron; a charismatic, darkly humorous villain, with seemingly unstoppable power and a somewhat clichéd kill the entire human race and start again evil plan.  Yet Spader livens up what would otherwise be just another, albeit action-packed super hero movie.  Director Josh Wedon’s skill at snappy dialogue seemed watered down in place of more realism, with downbeat and heartfelt exchanges instead of the humour I’d expected (although there are still some great gags).  The first half an hour or so also drags with a couple of redundant scenes (the tiresome lifting Thor’s hammer bit).  Yet a romance sub-plot between Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow and Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner / Hulk is handled well, and each character again gets their moment in the spotlight, most welcomely Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

Overall a solid sequel slightly let down by the usual sequel trappings such as too many characters and storylines going on at once.  Yet with slickly directed action, several stunning sequences (especially the Iron-Man vs Hulk fight…) I still have to recommend this one.

Verdict: 3.5 /5