Going into the holiday season, time off work, or maybe even school holidays, here’s another batch of movies I’ve finally caught up with for you to consider…
Knives Out (2019)
Despite every intention to watch this since it came out, it always slipped my mind but more importantly, I have absolutely no idea how I was able to avoid spoilers for over 2 years!
“Subverting expectations” became an overused dirty phrase in the wake of the The Last Jedi (a film I really enjoyed and appreciated, by the way) and Rian Johnson did exactly that again with the classic “whodunnit” in Knives Out by taking the familiar genre and turning it on its ear to craft a great mystery in its own right, full of colourful and potential murder suspects. You may think the movie has given it away too early but then it keeps twisting and turning until we get a most satisfying reveal at the end.
The cast are all fantastic and giving it the right amount of ham or subtly where appropriate for the role or moment. Daniel Craig in particular may be better suited to (and having more fun with) over-the-top characters like this private investigator, Benoit Blanc, rather than the often one-note 007. And although Ana de Armas has been in a lot of movies, between this and her small role in No Time to Die, you start to wonder why she’s not getting bigger roles.
It’s a bit of an odd one in parts but it’s also a helluva time and a definite recommendation even if you’re not into traditional murder mysteries.
I actually tried watching this once before when it first popped up on Netflix a few years back but I wasn’t in the headspace for it that night, didn’t finish it, and just left it ever since. With Afterlife on the way (we don’t get it properly until New Years here in Australia) I finally tried again and… it’s okay.
Faint praise I guess. Honestly, I was originally excited for this movie when it was first released and then just let it go by the wayside due to the messy online discourse. I previously avoided voicing my opinion on what little I did see that first time because I had an incomplete perspective and that wasn’t fair. Also I never wanted to be lumped in with all the vile and toxic misogyny that accompanied this movie. Because it certainly doesn’t deserve any of that, however, there are major problems dragging this film down.
Ghostbusters 2 was previously not well-regarded until the recent “re-writing of history” by fickle fans. I enjoyed it as a kid and have no problem with it to this day because the cheeky secret there was that the sequel was just a beat-for-beat re-tread of the original with a few attempts to beef-up the big and popular moments of the first movie. That’s half the problem with the 2016 movie “reboot” in that it’s trying to hit all the familiar story beats as well as attempting to out do the classic. When it introduces new elements, doing its own things, and answering logistical (or even plot-based) issues that arose with the original (or how it would work today) it’s where the film truly shines or at least becomes interesting (being able to afford a place to work out of, Patty’s introduction, testing the equipment, a main villain to focus on who’s an obvious and perfect dig at whiny fanboys). The final climactic battle isn’t exactly earned but in isolation it’s actually a really good third act and makes sense for a modern day blockbuster.
This is a funny movie (for the most part) with a cast who are all very good at what they do (in fact they were the reason I was excited for this in the first place) but even the most talented of performers need direction and none of them were told when to show restraint with a joke. This is especially bad with side characters who should not be trying to pitch things at the same level as the main cast. The jokes are legitimately funny but they don’t leave them alone to be enjoyed, instead they stretch them out, killing the laugh. We all know the supposed “magic” of great comedic performers who adlib their greatest and most iconic moments (Bill Murray was notorious for this) but it doesn’t always work and needs someone to either reign the cast in or know when the cut down the scene (which they did for Murray back in the day too). This falls on the director and editors.
This is a perfectly serviceable film that did NOT deserve any of the backlash, however, it being the jumping off point for a new mega-franchise was a little too optimistic.
Pixar have this almost consistent ability to craft unique stories full of charm, warmth, and broad appeal, and an unnerving knack for finding the emotional core of its characters and plot. They do this better than anyone else, even better than their sister studio at Disney.
Luca was released straight to Disney+ due to the pandemic and a little like last year’s Onward probably would have done better and become more of a thing had it been released in theatres. It’s a gorgeous looking movie with it’s own art style that differentiates it from Pixar’s other movies, some wonderful characters to relate to and root for, as well as a really fun story for kids and adults to enjoy.
I think my only criticisms have to do with the pacing and some of the contrivances. The first act rushes through an introduction establishing this film’s setting and rules in order to get to the “good part” and so the longing and motivation for our lead, Luca, doesn’t feel as arduous and earned as it probably should but you go with it. And without wanting to spoil the ending, certain outcomes feel a tad flatter than one anticipates, although I guess it does fit in that “subverting expectations” notion that I do enjoy but not enough was done to earn it (I’m not saying it doesn’t earn it, it’s just that there could have been a bit more oomph in it).
Still, this is such a lovely and charming adventure.
I’ve said it before, it’s always fascinating to see how films outside of Hollywood handle the movie tropes and styles we’re all familiar with through their cultural lens. Sometimes you get gold and sometimes… Well, if you want “amnesiac Asian who can fight hoards of bad guys” then Jackie Chan’s Who Am I? is a far superior alternative.
This isn’t a good movie. Sure, I may admire the ambition on a seemingly low budget, the creative brutality, and the potentially interesting “story” but overall it’s a poorly told story. The micron-thin plot that implies a larger crime world than is actually presented is just an excuse to stage imaginatively graphic fight scenes and imitate gritty moods from better movies.
This is a case of style over basic logic where even if you turn your brain off you can’t help switch it back on again it’s so inane. Endearing as the CG muzzle flares and clumsy attempts to create lore are, nothing is particularly convincing, nothing is earned, nor does anything really matter. Which is a shame because its charismatic star, Iko Uwais, really made a name for himself with The Raid (2011), rocketing Indonesian action cinema onto the world stage, but this is such long drop from that high perch. Generously, this is only for the morbidly curious who need a dose of creatively graphic and over-the-top violence.
Ladies in Black (2018)
I don’t often get into films like this, let alone Australian movies, but every now and then I’m grabbed by the nostalgia for a different time that I wasn’t even around for.
Based on the 1993 book The Women in Black, this charming period film is set in Sydney during the summer of 1959 and follows the lives of the women who work at a prestigious department store as they deal with love, family, fitting in, and the expectations of others. It’s a somewhat laid back story with a heap of great performances from a very likable cast with their varying Aussie drawls and broad migrant accents.
It feels somewhat like an idealised depiction of the era, often playing out like a stage play, where the effort to overcome the gender norms of the time period or even the casual racism toward refugees (or “reffos”) from post-war Europe feel rather downplayed in their matter-of-fact tone. Some may accuse the film of watering down certain themes it deals with whereas it can also be argued that the “normality” of it provides a layer of subtext that a lot of the audience may have an easier time relating to (versus a more obvious, extreme, or exploitative plot).
Or at least that’s my reasoning for the latter as it doesn’t always have to be such an arduous dissection of such topics to get the point across. I’m not saying it does a “Green Book” in that regard or anything so tone deaf but it is refreshing to see such a story with a more nuanced take and overall just a delightful film.
Red Notice (2021)
Released theatrically and on streaming at the same time (at least here in Australia), here’s a really fun and slick action comedy that is apparently THE MOST watched movie on Netflix ever.
I really enjoyed Red Notice, however, I’m not particularly satisfied by it. Sure, put three talented and charismatic leads into a big budget flick and you’re bound to get something enjoyable but somehow for every positive there’s a counterpoint: It’s thrilling and high-energy but so incredibly contrived, it is funny but at some points that humour gets rather grating, for all the effort put into fleshing out our main characters it forgets to invest in some of the important side characters, and while it’s interesting to explore and blend genres the shifting from one to the next is whiplash-inducing (it can’t decide if it’s a heist movies, a glamourous Bond-alike, a prison film, or on-the-nose homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark).
The cast are all great with Gal Gadot having a blast playing the antagonist but we are also now at the point where the always likeable Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds are just playing the same versions of themselves and yet it still works (the obvious product placement for both their respective spirit companies were rather amusing).
I suspect there were some important bits that ended up on the cutting room floor and although I enjoyed the many twists, there were perhaps one too many. At the risk of spoiling the ending, I can’t decide if it was an open ending or an explicit set up for sequels (there’s a minor difference), either way it’s kind of annoying.
Overall, it’s a really fun (if somewhat disposable) time but I’m not sure I’m thirsting for more at this stage.