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

Star Wars: Episode VIII


Viewed – 20 December 2017  Cinema

The Last Jedi

After what I’d call the triumphant success of Episode VII: The Force Awakens for re-establishing a much loved franchise and resurrecting it from the ashes of George Lucas’ mostly misguided prequels – I awaited this follow up in the proposed trilogy with no small degree of anticipation.  What would Luke Skywalker say to Rey on top of that mountain?  What would Kylo Ren do in wake of what he did to his own father Han Solo?  I was about to find out…

Following the destruction of star-killer base, Kylo Ren and General Hux lead the First Order in an assault against the resistance to restore rule over the galaxy. Rian Johnson (Looper) takes over directing duties and has delivered what largely looks like a Star Wars movie, has the action and confrontations you’ll expect from a Star Wars movie, but offers up a decidedly different feel than expected following Force Awakens and Rogue One.  This is a much more lighter in tone movie with what appears to be a stronger focus on a somewhat child-friendly audience with as a result, a surprising lack of menace.  Almost every serious situation is sprinkled with humour, sometimes well judged, sometimes out of place.  When two of the main bad guys end up coming off like a squabbling comedy double act, something seemed a little off.

Kylo RenThankfully we do get what we came for, especially Rey (a more mature Daisy Ridley, settling into her role) finding herself getting reluctantly trained by a world-weary and cynical Luke (Mark Hamill), and discovering a telepathic link with Kylo Ren (a still slightly bratty yet complex Adam Driver).  This as expected turns out to be the movie’s beating heart, with the myriad of space battles and daring missions onto enemy starships proving less enthralling (especially that casino sequence).  Finn (John Boyega) again sits awkwardly between hero and bumbling buffoon, with Po (Oscar Isaac) taking a (much appreciated) larger role at the forefront of the dogfights and fancy X-Wing piloting.  However the late Carrie Fisher seems to get put on a pedestal (be it intentionally or following reshoots after the iconic star’s passing) and is bizarrely given a rather God-like stature with one scene in particular just coming out of nowhere, leaving me baffled. She’s great, but her character doesn’t seem to fit in with what we’ve previously known.

That’s ultimately where Episode VIII falls a part.  Characters that we’ve grown to know and love, are poorly handled (Luke included), add to this a Saturday morning cartoon vibe to action, performances and situations, and although I still gasped at certain moments and got the feels where it counted … I also didn’t get all that invested – and I really should have.  For it’s pluses and minuses, this is still a fun, visually spectacular and at times exciting sequel.  Yet as a long time Star Wars fan, it leans closer to those prequels than either the earlier movies or the recent ones … and that’s slightly worrying.

Verdict:  3 /5

Looper


Viewed – 16 October 2012  Cinema

The trailer sold me on this.  The ticking pocket watch, a great concept and frenetic action.  This follows the story of ‘Looper’  Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) a sort of hired assassin who kills mob targets who are sent back in time so there is no trace of them in the future.  Joe makes a living this way, quick executions, clean disposal and lots of silver bars to add to his savings.  Only one problem – one day a target is sent back, and it’s him – 30 years older.  Can he kill his future self (Bruce Willis), or choose not to and face the wrath of those he works for?

This is an intelligent and superbly played sci-fi thriller.  Gordon-Levitt may have a slightly odd Willis impersonation going on, but as a particularly gifted actor, still manges to pull it off, handling action, emotion and some brain-melting plot developments with ease.  Veteran Bruce Willis is also good; determined and somewhat ruthless in his quest … of which I wont spoil for you here, but just to say – he came back for a very good reason.  Additional support is also decent, with a sexy but wasted Piper Parabo as a hooker and Brit actress Emily Blunt almost steeling the show in the later stages.

Director Rian Johnson has delivered a damn clever and resoundingly fresh take on the age-old time travel subject, injecting shades of Mad Max, The Terminator and to some extent Cronenberg’s Scanners, whilst still retaining his own identity and flavour.  The action throughout is shot with attitude and style, and I even found some elements disturbing (telekenesis … shudder), making events really get under my skin – not expected.

One of the finest movies of the year.

Verdict:  5 /5