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

The Shape of Water


Viewed – 07 July 2018  Online rental

I’ve been really looking forward to this.  Having been a long time admirer of visionary director Guillermo Del Toro since his fantastically ingenious debut ‘Cronos‘, we come to this, the Oscar winning movie that finally after so many years, recognised Del Toro for the master that he is. Telling the story of Elise, a young mute woman working as a cleaner at a military base during Cold War era 60’s America … we discover that a new ‘asset’ has come to the base for further experimentation and investigation by a team of scientists headed by Michael Shannon’s unhinged Government Agent.  Said asset is a amphibious humanoid creature who Elise forms a unique bond with that gradually turns into love.

The Shape of Water

A gothic romance, a dark fantasy … hallmarks of what Del Toro does best and this takes some of the most interesting aspects of his earlier work and weaves them together into probably the best thing he’s done since Hellboy 2.  The performances are first rate, with a scenery chewing Michael Shannon, although no stretch for an actor used to playing intense characters, on brilliant form.  Also the often underrated Doug Jones who has appeared in several of the director’s works always underneath a wealth of prosthetics is mesmerising as the creature.  Yet it’s the breakout turn from relative unknown stage actress Sally Hawkins that impresses most, bringing incredible depth and emotion to a character who can not speak.

The romance at the centre of the story did feel a little rushed however, with Elise too easily attracted to a creature-from-the-black-lagoon looking monster, although her urge to help it was more understandable.  Also how the movie doesn’t exactly treat the creature as anything all that unusual considering it’s like nothing anyone had ever seen up until that point, is puzzling.  Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention Del Toro’s direction and eye for darkly beautiful imagery; macabre and at times weirdly erotic.  A true master of his art whose movies always look stunning – this is no exception as the set design, the slightly exaggerated 60’s Americana and the often cartoonish characters all create a tone and atmosphere uniquely his own and it’s a real joy.  Del Toro has put together a movie that is both heart-breaking and touching yet thrilling, funny and magical.  Although not quite up to the standard of Pan’s Labyrinth for me due to an undeveloped villain who’s motives are unclear and a little too much mystery to the creature … this was still a captivating watch from beginning to end.

Verdict:  4 /5

Midnight Special


Viewed – 20 March 2018  Netflix

I certainly love me some science fiction, especially if it’s offering something different or unusual than I’ve seen before, not just alien invasions or space exploration.  Here we’re presented with what appears to me a rather X-Files-like scenario of a young boy who has been taken from a religious group and reported abducted.  Police and shady government officials, along with members of the religious group are hot on his trail and that of his kidnappers, one of which turns out to be his father.

Midnight Special

A cast headed by an actor increasingly becoming a favourite, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) also see’s Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst along for the ride..  The mystery surrounding the child and just why everyone seems out to nab him is intriguing and what transpires certainly kept me hooked.  However with somewhat subdued performances, especially from a rather sleepy Shannon who normally delivers such intense characters, I was left a little frustrated.  Nobody seems all that affected by the increasingly bizarre or life and death situation they find themselves in … bar perhaps Edgerton who isn’t evenly emotionally connected to the situation other than being an old friend of Shannon’s.  Add to this an under-explored backstory (just how did the boy become a part of the religious group, what happened to the mother…and who was she?) this is a movie that leaves a little too much unanswered to be satisfying.

Jeff Nichols’ direction however is solid, at times eerie and atmospheric, decorated with some impressive visuals. Along occasional heart-in-mouth moments (the motel), I still had a good time with this, despite it not being the complete package.

Verdict:  3 /5

Nocturnal Animals


Viewed – 13 May 2017  online rental

How could I pass up a movie starring two of my favourites?  I tend to enjoy almost anything with Amy Adams or Jake Gyllenhaal and consider them two of the best around right now.  This latest effort has Adams as a high society, somewhat pretentious art gallery owner who when we meet her has just held her latest exhibition (something to do with overly obese women dancing around naked).  One day she receives a manuscript off her ex (Gyllenhaal) who she hadn’t heard off in a while.  Adams is currently in a rather loveless relationship with Armie Hammer (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) but quickly finds her own past with Gyllenhaal echoed in the pages of the violent thriller he’s sent her.

Nocturnal Animals

Director Tom Ford’s highly atmospheric drama has a great noir-ish mood with an eerie style not unlike something by David Lynch or Alfred Hitchcock.  This is aided well by a haunting orchestral score from Abel Korzeniowski.  However the structure … the fact the movie jumps back and forth from Adams’ present circumstances, her past with Gyllenhaal and the story within the manuscript, which plays out like a revenge thriller … is all it’s own and makes this not your average movie.  It’s an intelligent study of a relationship, about regret, revenge and bitterness but done in such a way that I found particularly gripping.

Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire), increasingly an actor I’m impressed with lends the movie a degree of intensity as a character in the manuscript, and Gyllenhaal is again convincing even if we mainly see him in the manuscript setting (I’d have liked a bit more explored of his motives in the real-life segments but that aspect is mostly left to your imagination).  Amy Adams is again very good and particularly nuanced making a generally unlikable character sympathetic as the movie draws to a close.  The point that is reached felt a little ‘…and?’ but that’s small thing for what is otherwise a clever and engrossing experience.

Not for everyone, but I came away rather impressed.

Verdict: 4 /5

Man of Steel


Viewed – 18 June 2013  Cinema

Following the huge disappointment of Brian Singer’s Superman Returns, fans and critics alike have been right to think the series was dead in the water, again.  Thankfully, I have been quite optimistic on just how this latest interpretation of one of the most famed superhero characters ever might turn out – mainly because Zack Snyder was directing.  Overseen by producer Christopher Nolan and writer David S Goyer (the team behind the Dark Knight movies) – and with the man who brought Watchmen to the big screen – really, could this fail?

Man-of-Steel

Inspired by the story of Superman: The Movie (1979) and the comics before it we start on the gradually dying planet of Krypton where Jor-El (Russell Crowe) launches his only child into space after General Zod (Michael Shannon) attempts to rage war.  Yet once baby boy Kal-El (superman) is gone, Zod is trialed for treason and sentenced to the phantom zone along with his cronies.  Cut to about 30 years later on earth, and Kal-El is now Clark Kent, raised by Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, but yearns to find out his true origins whilst struggling to hide from the world who he really is.

From the off this is an energetic and confident movie full of spectacle and solid performances, especially from scene-stealing Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire).  Casting here is what impresses most with a surprising but perfect Crowe nailing the part of Jor-El and also an enjoyably feisty (and gorgeous) Amy Adams as Superman’s love-interest Lois Lane.  Snyder’s direction whilst at times lacking in subtlety like a mad professor drunk on his own power (or wealth of effects tools) still delivers probably the best Superman movie we could hope for in this age of anything-is-possible CGI.  The action is loud, brash, mad-as-hell but most importantly FUN, and with an interesting structure (Clark’s childhood / teenage years is shown only in brief flashbacks) and lots of welcome ideas (Clark overwhelmed by his powers, more back story of Krypton) … this fan-boy couldn’t have had a bigger grin on his face.  Of course the big question remains just how good was Henry Cavill as Kal-El / Clark Kent?  Well, if memories of the late (great) Christopher Reeve didn’t even come to mind, then instantly he’s doing something right – he had the charisma, the vulnerability and the looks, so yeah job done – and ladies, prepare to swoon big time!

There you have it … Superman returns – for real this time!

Verdict:  5 /5