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

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Image is property of LucasFilm and Walt Disney

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  – Film Review

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Andy Serkis, Laura Dern, Domnhall Gleeson,

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: Following on from the events of The Force AwakensThe First Order is hot on the trails of the Resistance, while Rey seeks out the guidance of Jedi Master Luke Skywalker.

This review will be 100% spoiler free.

Review: Very few films manage to become such events that build anticipation and excitement among audiences quite like Star Wars does. Though for a long time (a decade to be exact) no new films were made in the Star Wars universe, it never lost that magic and majesty that it carries for so many people. Though that was unlikely to ever diminish, as 2015’s The Force Awakens came along, it was the film the franchise needed to revitalise itself and get the force flowing through it once more.

Picking up almost immediately after the events of Force Awakens, without divulging too much information, the First Order is now aggressively hunting The Resistance, which is to be expected after you blow up a significant asset, namely Starkiller Base. Meanwhile over on Ahch-To, Luke Skywalker has chosen to hide himself away, due to a horrible event that took place in the past, which doesn’t bode well for Rey, who is seeking Luke out to return a significant possession of his, and for help in honing her Jedi powers.

For many a big criticism of Abrams’s efforts was that it was just a rehash of A New Hope, and while it is not a shot for shot remake, it does undeniably heavily borrow elements of that film. The reception of the prequels and how different they were to the original trilogy meant that the decision to make the first chapter of the new trilogy feel like the film that started all this was a sound decision. However, taking over from Abrams, Rian Johnson continues on what Abrams built so successfully and gives another strong addition to the franchise that continues at the themes that almost every film before it has touched upon.

For many the greatest film in this celebrated franchise is The Empire Strikes Back, and justifiably so too. It took the characters and developed them in extremely unique ways, and it’s clear Johnson is going for a similar vibe, but this is not just a rehash of Empire, it crafts a story that needs to be told, taking the characters and taking them in certainly very intriguing directions. Conflicts are occurring both between the First Order and the Resistance and intense personal conflicts are raging inside some of the characters. Of the familiar faces, Daisy Ridley is once again superb as Rey, adding real intensity into her performance as she goes on a journey to discover the answers to the questions that we had about her last time out. John Boyega likewise as Finn, is certainly a very likeable presence, as is the roguish charm of Poe Dameron. Of the newcomers, Laura Dern has an authoritative presence alongside the late Carrie Fisher’s Leia.

On the flip side, there’s a lot going on with Kylo Ren too, which given the heinous crime he committed against his father is understandable. But even then, his character has a lot on his plate, just like many of the characters here. Though once again, the Skywalker siblings are key pieces in this puzzle. Having had a mere cameo last time around, Luke has a lot more to do this time around and given that so much has happened to him since he decided to adopt the hermit lifestyle, there’s much to be explored and Hamill is once again terrific in the role. Though there is an obvious element of sadness surrounding Leia and the passing of Carrie Fisher, in what will be her final turn in the role, she bows out tremendously. That being said there are some new characters who could have really done with more fleshing out, and some characters who were so frustratingly underutilised previously are still not given the time to shine.

last jedi

Though the story does move along at a steady pace, there are moments in particular around the second act that really slow the film down, and in some cases seem almost completely out of place and for some it might take them completely out of the film. That being said, that does not take away from the brilliant direction that Johnson puts into this. Sometimes a film can have the feel that it was almost directed by a committee, absolutely not the case here. The film looks immaculate and the action scenes are superbly well handled. There are some scenes that could have been omitted but there’s plenty of scenes that will get the adrenaline flowing.

A key task of any chapter two in a trilogy is to leave the audience desperately wanting more by the time the credits start to role, that criteria has been met. What Johnson crafts here is so well done it’s easy to see why Disney has given him the green light to make a new Star Wars trilogy unrelated to the current events of the saga, or so we are led to believe at this moment in time. The task of completing this story for these characters now reverts back to the man who introduced the world to them, and given that excitement and interest in this franchise is now likely to continue to the end of time, can we somehow make the jump into lightspeed to December 2019 already?

Continuing on the foundations laid by Force Awakens, The Last Jedi packs plenty of emotional punch, taking the characters in exciting directions and setting the stage for what should be an enthralling conclusion to this new trilogy.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Looper (2012)

looper
Image rights belong to Endgame Entertainment, DMG Entertainment, TriStar Pictures and FilmDistrict

Looper – Film Review

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano

Director: Rian Johnson

Synopsis: Joe (JGL) is a Looper, someone who’s hired to take out people who are sent back in time by the criminal underworld, but runs into some trouble when he’s tasked with taking out his older self.

Review: Time travel movies can be a risky endeavour, as the Doctor himself will probably tell you, the timelines can get very messy and the plot can get very confusing, which might make the viewer’s brain start to hurt. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about your brain melting here as writer and director Rian Johnson delivers a very sharp screenplay and a very riveting and thought provoking story in equal measure.

In this time twisting tale, upon the invention of time travel, it is almost instantaneously outlawed, meaning only criminals use it to dispose of people to wipe them off the map.  This is done courtesy of Loopers who do the deed once the person is zapped back in time, and then destroy their bodies, erasing them from existence. When the contract of a Looper expires, their older self is sent back to their younger self, which then”closes their loop.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis

Yet for Joe, things go a bit awry as he’s faced with his older self, and he can’t bring himself to kill himself, and as a result, a hunting game begins. The screenplay by Johnson is tremendous, it delves deep into this futuristic world and the plot hooks you in, and goes in some very interesting directions that you might not expect. There are elements from other time travel movies for sure (Terminator 1), but the film certainly holds its own as a remarkable piece of science fiction storytelling.

In another collaboration with Johnson following 2005’s Brick, Joseph Gordon Levitt is terrific as the younger version of the film’s main character Joe. He has that cold and ruthless trait about his personality that helps him in this crazy job that he does. Similarly Bruce Willis is also first class in his role as the Older Joe. He’s a man who clearly believes with age comes experience, and watching these two on screen together, is insanely gripping and mental to watch. The make up to make JGL look like a young Bruce Willis is tremendously well done, to the point where you actually believe that he IS a young Bruce Willis. The arrival of Emily Blunt’s character on screen ensures the plot takes a very interesting turn, and she too gives a wounded, yet powerful performance.

However, despite all the interesting timey wimey time travel elements to the story, there’s plenty of fist flying and guns blazing to get the pulses racing. The story is paced for the most part very well, although there are moments where it does lull for a little bit, but never for any substantial period of time. The film looks incredible as well, the world of 2044 although we haven’t seen it yet (unless you’re reading this in 2044!) looks very detailed and futuristic. What’s more the action scenes looking crisp and are edited supremely well with superb cinematography. If Looper is the film that ensured that Star Wars: Episode VIII was put into the hands of Rian Johnson, then you have to say, Bravo! As it means the next instalment in a galaxy far, far away is in very capable hands.

A very unique and creative story with some superb writing, directing and acting especially from JGL and Willis, ensured that Johnson is a director to keep a firm eye on. 

a