Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review, London Film Festival 2019

Knives Out (2019)

Image is property of Lionsgate and Media Rights Capital

Knives Out – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: After a family patriarch dies in mysterious circumstances, a highly renowned private investigator is hired to lead the police inquiry…

Review: After making one of the most polarising blockbusters of all time in The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson would have been forgiven for taking a break from film-making, given the fierce, at times toxic, reaction that his Star Wars film generated. Yet, Johnson was having none of that and has wasted no time getting back into the game. After conceiving the idea of a murder mystery following the release of Looper, he takes obvious inspiration from the likes of Agatha Christie to give his own unique take on the “Whodunnit” genre, with extremely enthralling results.

As with all entertainment that centres on a murder mystery, it pays to know as little as possible about any plot details before diving head first into the madness. Therefore, vagueness is the name of the game from this point onwards. As he celebrates his 85th birthday party with his family, a family patriarch dies. Sensing something suspicious about the circumstances of the death, an official investigation is opened. As the tagline reads: “Hell, any of them could have done it.” As such, with everyone who attended the party a suspect, the detectives must interview the family members, and use those “little grey cells” in a bid to piece together the clues and to try and crack the case.

The most attractive group of suspects you’ll maybe ever see…

With such a stacked, A-list, ensemble cast, to give everyone their moment to shine would be extremely difficult. However, with a sharp and brilliantly witty script, Johnson does exactly that, and it enables him to get excellent performances out of everyone. Every member of this family is given fascinating, fleshed out back stories, which enables the audience to try and establish their potential motivations. Though, like all great murder mysteries, the audience is kept on their toes. Though, to go into too much detail about who gives the best performances is running the risk of getting into spoiler territory. With that in mind, let’s just say that, apart from Daniel Craig’s brilliant turn as the lead detective channelling his inner Poirot (if Poirot ever became a gruff Southern sleuth), the characters who wind up being at the centre of this investigation, are the best of a truly outstanding bunch.

There’s some ingenious subtext to the story that could have been a massive turn-off. However, it’s written so cleverly into the plot that makes it relevant and extremely entertaining. With every line of dialogue, Johnson’s passion for the genre comes across effortlessly, and he proves that he is a master of his craft. There’s also the distinct possibility that with some of the lines that these characters spit venomously at each other, that it’s Johnson’s subtle way of firing back, following the vitriol that was aimed in his direction following his Star Wars venture. For a film that centres on a murder investigation, it seems absurd that there’d be so many hilarious moments throughout. They are plentiful and they never feel out of place as the jokes keep the plot moving along at such a thrilling, kinetic pace. It ensures that not a single moment of the film’s run-time is wasted.

Bolstered by some immaculate, very colourful production design, this was the perfect film for Johnson to “bounce back” from the endless mire of the The Last Jedi backlash. It proves, if it were somehow ever in doubt that, Johnson’s mastery of the craft remains intact, and that he’s at the very top of his game as a writer and a director. Furthermore, it’s evident from every frame, that the cast are having a blast with this script, and there’s a good chance that this feeling will be reciprocal for the audience. It will make them want to grab their deerstalker hat and magnifying glass, and strive to  solve the riddle at the centre of this enthralling mystery.

A razor sharp, ingenious screenplay, backed by an impeccable ensemble cast ensures that Johnson’s modern update on the Whodunnit genre is an audacious, riveting spectacle. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

It (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros. Pictures and New Line Cinema

It – Film Review

Cast: Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jack Dylan Grazer, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Bill Skarsgård

Director: Andy Muschietti

Synopsis: After a number of children go missing in the town of Derry, a group of young outcasts get together to fight the mysterious entity that’s terrorising their town…

Review: Let’s be honest, even if you like them, there’s always been something mildly/extremely terrifying about clowns. Designed to be entertainers, bringing nothing but joy, more often than not, they make people want to run away in fear. Stephen King’s 1986 novel It certainly perpetuated that fear and equally, with the adaptation of the aforementioned novel back in 1990. Though this didn’t really float with viewers, Stephen King’s work has once again been brought to the big screen to remind us all why clowns are the terrifying entities many of us perceive them to be.

It is 1989 and in the town of Derry, Maine, an alarming number of children who have disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again. One of these victims is Georgie, the younger brother of Bill (Martell), who becomes determined to find out what really happened to his brother. He’s joined on his quest by his friends Richie, Eddie and Stan (Wolfhard, Grazer and Oleff) who are all the targets of the unpleasant bullies at their school. Recruiting Beverly (Lillis), Ben (Taylor) and Mike (Jacobs) and going under the name of the Losers Club, these seven misfits band together in a bid to defeat this dastardly clown and put an end to the nightmare that he’s inflicting on their town.

Run away, run away, run away, run away, run away…..

The chemistry between the members of the Losers’s Club is ultimately the core component of this story and though some performances are stronger than others, each member of the club brings something to the table. Being the one who has the significant emotional investment in this investigation, Jaeden Martell gives the strongest performance. Though he may stutter in his speech, but he poses a steely determination not to be unnerved by the sinister events that are occurring, though each member has their moment to shine. Yet being at the centre of this nightmare, Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise delivers a performance that’s profoundly creepy and unsettling. Though this is in no small part due to the excellent costume and make-up design, it’s almost a certainty that clowns, or certainly Pennywise at least, will be continuing to haunt nightmares for many years to come.

The early stages of the film chooses to use it as an opportunity to flesh out each member of the Loser’s Club lives, which while important to the story as these are the film’s protagonists, it means the pacing is a little rough.  As before any showdowns with that ominous clown, they have to deal with the horrible bullies at their school, as well as in some cases, in their own homes. Though it can be a bit of a chore to get through, it’s necessary set up, for these characters. However, once we have arrived at the film’s climatic third act, is when the film merges its coming-of-age and horror elements of the film combine. Bolstered by Andy Muschietti’s excellent direction, and excellent production design, all of the above ensure that Pennywise’s dwellings have an extremely ominous feel to them.

Jump scares are not anything new when it comes to scaring the audience, indeed when used poorly and frequently, they often become ineffective and lazy film-making tropes. However, Muschietti utilises them effectively, as they help to build and maintain the tension and dread in this climatic showdown. A showdown that is merely at the halfway point, because  as we know, the Losers Club have some unfinished business.

 A little sluggish in its opening stages, but the film truly floats once it finds its greatest strength: the strong relationships between the members of the Losers Club.