Knives Out

When wealthy crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is found dead on his 85th birthday, his eccentric family is gathered by an equally bizarre detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) to solve the case of Harlan’s murder.

When an original project from a respected filmmaker and an incredibly talented cast is released — that’s when I know I’m in for something good. Knives Out has mystery, laughs, and plenty of popular actors quarreling. The cast, including Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, and Michael Shannon, all get a shot to shine, but the film belongs to Ana de Armas. She steals the screen in every one of her moments and is the character you really want to root for. There’s plenty of witty, hilarious, and memorable dialogue from the remarkable Rian Johnson, who also uses some brilliant visual cues for glamour, as well as “a-ha!” moments and even some humor. From the first act, the movie takes a turn away from what you’d normally expect in a “Whodunnit” murder mystery, yet it all makes for an equally creative and thrilling experience. However, I do feel like some revelations were placed too early along the film’s runtime and could have been saved for a few sequences later. Also, while Johnson does present some truly golden moments throughout the film, like the savage, vulgar moments or the more showy, stylish moments, I think the film could’ve overall used a more distinct style, as I know Johnson is of much skill yet a few scenes felt like they could’ve been directed by anyone. Also, perhaps the film could’ve benefited from an R-rating as a few scenes do slightly hold back in terms of language, yet fortunately this is nothing that harms the film. Johnson also goes for some social themes — some so direct and on-the-nose that they feel too obvious and surface-level, and others so subtle and hidden that they require more digging and thought before the true meaning of some of the themes really come to me, but he certainly addresses ideas such as class, race, politics, and the Internet’s influence on Americans.

Ultimately, though, Rian Johnson is able to once again challenge genres and craft unique dialogue while still being able to appeal to mainstream audiences with the incredible cast that help make Knives Out quite the pleasing and interesting experience, appealing to all generations with its call-backs to Agatha Christie’s genres, and cast involving all generations, like Christopher Plummer and Chris Evans, as well as the fast-paced and humorous script that make for a “Whodunnit” like no film has ever “dunnit” before.

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Life in the zombie apocalypse can be quite tough — yet these four know how to make the best of it. The ten-year wait for the sequel to a fan favorite has finally ended, in the too-good-to-be-true reunion of the original cast, who by now have become renowned and award-nominated household names if they weren’t already – Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. Sony even successfully brought the original writers and director back on board — writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, who have since then found great success with another genre-breaking, beloved series with Deadpool and Deadpool 2 — and director Ruben Fleischer, who even after an awful misstep with whatever the hell Venom was supposed to be, retains the signature taste of what made Zombieland so great. Double Tap is one of those sequels that takes everything the first film does and tries to do it all but bigger, and for the most part the film hits its target quite well. From the opening narration that will already get a few laughs, to a slo-mo opening credits action scene that recalls a montage that opened the predecessor, it’s clear that the heart and unique fun from the first film is back. It’s ideal to watch the first film to thoroughly understand the characters and their relationships, as well as some call-backs, like Harrelson’s character Tallahassee’s signature catchphrases, as well as a joke about a famous celebrity’s unfortunate demise as depicted in the first film. However, Zombieland: Double Tap can still stand on its own for general audiences searching for a violent action comedy that doesn’t hold back.

While not as iconic as he was when he first played the role, Woody Harrelson is still delightful as the badass Tallahassee who since the first film has grown to love his new family but still is the unrestrained, hilarious zombie-killer who loves Elvis and his guns, and takes annoyance towards car designs and pacifism. Eisenberg is also once again solid as Columbus, even though sometimes his narration gets a bit too explanatory or excessive, and his character arc feels slightly questionable at times when it comes to his love interests, and Stone is also charming and great again, though it’s hard today not to compare to her superior performances like La La Land and The Favourite. And while Breslin is still decent, it’s slightly disappointing to see her character separated from the rest of the gang for part of the film so we don’t get to see as much chemistry from the main four. Rosario Dawson and Zoey Deutch are surprisingly terrific additions to the cast who both have plenty of energy and also have great chemistry with the leads. While the film mostly keeps that signature fun the first film had, there’s one action scene that felt poorly shot, with too many cuts and shaky cam. However, this is redeemed by a later long-take action scene that’s quite enjoyable and creative. Also, the humor does sometimes get routine and predictable, but there are still a fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. Overall, the movie doesn’t feel as fresh as the original considering how many films have tried to do similar, and the story doesn’t have the same natural flow, but there’s still plenty to commend here, including an exciting final battle. Ultimately, Zombieland: Double Tap is a worthy sequel, and although some moments are rushed and other comedic moments don’t feel top-tier, the over-the-top violence and dialogue and the ultimate execution of the film including the cast and story, that’s set in a violent apocalyptic world yet still makes you smile and think about themes like family, is what makes it feel worthy of your time and money, so follow Columbus’ list of rules and enjoy the little things by going to enjoy Zombieland: Double Tap on the big screen.

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Hustlers

A group of strippers learn to cheat their way into wealth by luring greedy, wealthy Wall street clients and drugging them into spending all their money at their club, in a desperate attempt to take their lives back after the 2008 economic collapse cuts into their profits.

What could’ve easily been a laughable, terrible misfire instead shines at the hands of its two leads and an engaging screenplay boasted by a vibrant style. Jennifer Lopez sticks out as the “mentor” of the gang who I’ve never seen with this much depth on the screen. Lopez’s energy and her chemistry with Constance Wu make the film, with Wu’s turn here being grounded, layered, and far above her work in Crazy Rich Asians. The casting also brings back names that haven’t been prominent on screen before — I was afraid Julia Stiles’ career had died with her Jason Bourne character, and Keke Palmer was last notably seen ten years ago on in her True Jackson role on Nickelodeon, which not many remember either. Lili Reinhart also hasn’t really had a known big-screen role before and was only popular before for her leading role on the teen series Riverdale. One cast member, however, that I was glad we didn’t see a lot of was Cardi B, whose irritating, unbearable presence is only around for one scene, almost as if the studio forced the writers to put her in just to gain more audiences. However the rest of the cast proves you don’t need more than one or two popular names to attract audiences for this kind of concept. The script often hits the same notes as every other scam film, like The Wolf of Wall Street, Catch Me if You Can, War Dogs, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, and so on — so it’s not hard to see where the movie will end. But it’s the seemingly ridiculous/over-the-top yet true concept, and the sisterly connection between the two leads, that make Hustlers worthwhile. The flashy, fast-paced style sometimes makes for some strong energy but it also leads to some parts being rushed past or feel undermined, like some scenes that include music in the background that would’ve worked better without the background score. There’s also some inconsistencies in the style, with some distracting handheld cam that thankfully calms down as the film goes. Also, though the film is quite funny, the writers choose to play it safe in the first act with mostly sex jokes or physical humor (“character who throws up often” cliche, characters getting drugged and passing out, etc. I was glad things got especially crazed in the second half where the plot is very engaging and sticks the landing towards the end. Hustlers can be viewed both through the lens of a comedy and a drama, andwhile it soars but occasionally stumbles at both, it’s got a spark of intrigue and excitement at its core that it makes it, while not a must-watch, stand out above other big genre players out right now like Hobbs and Shaw or It Chapter Two.

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Blinded by the Light

In England in 1987, a teenager from a Pakistani family named Javed aspires to be a writer but feels learns to live his life, understand his family and find his own voice through the music of American rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Blinded by the Light is an urgently needed breath of fresh air from all the big franchise films studios tend to release, so the fact that Warner Bros. picked this film out from Sundance to distribute in a wide release really means a lot. Without much exaggeration or many large Hollywood names, Blinded by the Light has a slightly familiar formula but remains a grounded, touching human story that’s inspiring in just about every way. If I had to describe it in some way, it feels like Yesterday meets Sing Street meets Bend it Like Beckham. It ‘s not only entertaining, funny, and uplifting, but also takes themes such as racial tensions and applies it to a creative and fascinating premise, elevated by a strong cast all around, that doesn’t include many known actors although I’m sure they all will be one day with the talent they deliver here — the one face some viewers may recognize is Captain America‘s Haley Atwell does have a memorable supporting role. But this movie isn’t about seeing the big stars, or the big visual effects, or Oscar worthy acting. This is a film you go to not just to enjoy but to also learn about the importance of passion, dreams, dedication and hard work, but also about family, love, and the bonds that make us who we are. While most these kinds of movies are about following your dreams even when everyone is doubting you or bringing you down, this movie emphasizes pursuing your passion but above that embracing your family and the ones closest to you even when it seems like they’re bringing you down. The great takeaway is that power of dreams, passion, and talent don’t mean the same without familial bonds and togetherness. The movie is also able to add some strong themes about the hardships especially faced by minorities, when the “American dream” seems even more out of reach for this poor immigrant family facing racism, which also connects to today’s time with Islamophobia being a prominent topic in the news. This adds a whole extra layer to the film and makes the themes about dreams and finding your voice even more meaningful. But don’t worry — there’s also lots of humor, musical numbers, and overall positive themes that allow us to have fun while also reflecting on the impact of pop culture on the individual the way Yesterday did. Although it’s currently not shining at the box office, I feel like this is the kind of film that will grow on people over the years and more people will come to watch and love it later on, even if the blockbuster-filled climate of modern cinema prevents audiences from choosing to see it on the big screen. But it’s universal themes will certainly reach out to audiences of all ages and backgrounds — whether or not you’re a fan of The Boss.

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Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

Frenemies Luke Hobbs and Deckard Shaw must reteam two years after The Fate of the Furious in order to stop a genetically enhanced criminal mastermind from unleashing a deadly virus onto humanity.

I’m normally quite an admirer of this franchise; their storylines aren’t always amazing but they’re ridiculously fun and something that I can’t miss on the big screen. These kinds of huge action movies bring audiences together and normally put a smile on my face. So while I wasn’t expected to be moved by Hobbs & Shaw or see something particularly unique, I was at least expecting more than what I ended up getting. Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw lacks the energy and personality that makes this series exciting and memorable. Fast & Furious is about people using cars to pull of unbelievable stunts and going on impossible missions. Meanwhile, Hobbs & Shaw is just another action movie. Is The Fate of the Furious necessarily a great movie with masterclass choreography or some sort of strong message? No. But what makes these movies work so well for what they are is moments like Dwayne Johnson pushing a torpedo with his bare hands or Vin Diesel flying his car through different skyscrapers in Furious 7 that allow the past movies to indulge in the ridiculousness that it is and find merit through crazy popcorn action and likable characters and dialogue. Nothing about the action in this movie has any of that personality that makes the rest of the series’ action, while ridiculous, ultimately entertaining. It’s only in the climactic final battle where the movie allows itself to up the ante, get over-the-top, and actually have somewhat lively fight scenes. The cinematography and editing are also sometimes poor and either too choppy or just not consistent or interesting. The humor, despite some good moments, also falls flat many times and gets tiring. Dwayne Johnson still breathes light and liveliness into his role but after a while him and Jason Statham roasting each other gets old. Also, they made amends at the end of the last film so it’s not even clear why they still hate each other. Another thing that really bugged me is the villain, played by Idris Elba. His character is nonsensical and laughable (I mean you can expect that from this series but can we also ask for a villain that isn’t so absurd you want to laugh at it?). I mean, that’s what this movie is, absurd, and that’s what its supposed to be. But the movie tries to make Elba’s character deep and motivated but it really is hard when his evil organization feels like something out of a bad Ninja Turtles show. His purpose is questionable and his motive is nearly the same as another big villain this year from the film Avengers: Endgame. His antagonist was probably even as bad as Charlize Theron’s character in the last movie. Fortunately, the movie does make up for it with some awesome and unexpected celebrity cameos that are perfectly utilized.

I’m a fan of David Leitch’s directing for Deadpool 2, as well as some spectacular action for an otherwise mediocre debut film Atomic Blonde, and while sometimes the lighting and settings are well selected, the action feels either too quickly edited so it’s hard to take in what’s happening, or just too dull and boringly choreographed. Like I said, Hobbs & Shaw‘s action lacks personality so it feels like this could’ve been out of any standard spy action film worth passing over. The plot has a somewhat cool device involving a virus, but really nothing interesting is done with the story until Hobbs is forced to confront his past and his family in Samoa. The scenes where we see Hobbs’ family and culture being embraced are some of the best parts of the film story-wise, and every other attempt to craft a compelling story fails and there are some lines that don’t really belong. Like I said, I’m not looking for an incredible script with these movies, but at least the past movies were able to make their themes of family and friendship work. Hobbs & Shaw aims for this but it only really lands towards the end, like I said. It feels like writer Chris Morgan, who has worked on this franchise for seven films, has started to lose grip on how to make effective humor and conflict to craft a truly worthwhile blockbuster like he has several times before. When the final act utilizes a unique setting and culture, it becomes amusing, but Hobbs & Shaw unfortunately takes many of the wrong things too seriously and when it does go for comedy, it sometimes doesn’t hit the mark. There’s also a very forced hinting at a romance that thankfully never happens but the writers felt they had to push it into there just to check off a studio box. There’s also an ending that’s pretty abrupt and for some reason the movie decides to tell its entire epilogue through the credits. Believe me, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is quite ridiculous, but it doesn’t succeed in having that personality that makes everyone enjoy the hell out of this franchise, and lacks that energy that got me pumped while watching Fast 5, 6, 7, and 8. Instead this movie feels tiring and doesn’t allow the audience to indulge in the lack of believability, instead it takes the plot too seriously and the humorous banter doesn’t always succeed either. Perhaps this movie would’ve worked better if it was marketed as some sort of parody rather than a real spin-off to a franchise I’ve had better times with. I’m glad next time we’re getting a different director and writer, and some more of Dom, Roman, and Tej. If you want to watch an action comedy where Dwayne Johnson fights people, well, this movie has that. But what I was also hoping for was that spark of energy and exhilaration that has always made the absolute insanity of the Fast & Furious franchise worth it.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

In the golden age of Hollywood in the late 1960s, actor Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth seek to breathe new light into their careers in an ever-changing industry, while a dangerous cult led by the infamous Charles Manson plans to strike at the heart of Hollywood.

By simply putting the name “Quentin Tarantino” on a film poster, your film is guaranteed to generate excitement and audiences. As a huge fan, I’ve seen all his filmography and wouldn’t say he’s made a bad film yet. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is both the least like Tarantino’s other films, but also the most Tarantino-y of them all. It has less violence than his past movies but it’s also identifiable as a film of his because nobody has more of an attachment to old cinema than Tarantino. Firstly, Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent in his welcomed first role in over three years as an actor trying to revitalize his career and pushing himself to become the best. Brad Pitt is a standout as one of his best characters in years, a hilarious and skilled stuntsman who does questionable things but also takes on challenges head-on and just loves to drive. And did I mention the dialogue for his character is incredible? There’s also plenty of Tarantino frequents like Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen as well as other famous actors such as Al Pacino, Damian Lewis, and the late Luke Perry. Margot Robbie’s presence as Sharon Tate has lots of energy and is fun to watch although her character plays a rather minor part in the story.

Tarantino writes many entertaining scenes with funny dialogue as well as a great soundtrack, with outstanding production design and strong cinematography to support the film. However, there are some scenes that unfortunately drag, like an extended scene involving the filming of a fictional movie that’s only there to build up one great moment at the end, and a long scene in the desert that has some tension — until it leads nowhere. The movie is 161 minutes but it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a storyline — I don’t expect a linear narrative or formidable character development when it comes to Tarantino, but it ultimately does feel like too little stretched too thin, unlike Inglorious Basterds and Pulp Fiction where the all-over-the-place stories and long sequences actually led to more going on with something rewarding and unpredictable happening. The real reward here comes at the very end — the climax of the film is pure Tarantino. Violence, laughs, and pure insanity and entertainment make one of the best film sequences of the year — I just wish there was a little more of an interesting buildup to make the rest more rewatchable as well. Tarantino does an excellent job with world-building, and a phenomenal job directing and adding eye-catching production. However, I was surprised when the movie ended because sometimes it felt like he relied on witty dialogue and awesome world-building than plot. There are some very entertaining sequences but some of the long runtime is wasted on scenes that go on too long or weird conversations like an underage girl trying to make it work with a much older man.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a love letter to the golden age of cinema. It has fascinating direction like always, with so much passion from Tarantino who takes an unorthodox approach to writing a screenplay like no other modern film, and delivers with extremely memorable characters and dialogue. However, some scenes feel a bit stretched or don’t serve much of a point to the overall idea of the film and there could’ve been a bit more to make the film feel worthy of its long runtime, though there’s an awesome and fulfilling climactic final scene that’s Tarantino at his best. It may be one of his lesser films to me but it’s still worth going to see because there’s enough originality and style to make it interesting, even though some scenes don’t have strong pacing or merit like the genius filmmakers’ other masterpieces which felt more worthy of their extended lengths.

Yesterday

Jack Malik is a struggling singer-songwriter in a tiny English seaside town whose dreams of fame are rapidly fading, until a freak bus accident during a mysterious global blackout, after which Jack wakes up to discover that nobody except him can remember The Beatles. Soon Jack makes a life-altering decision that sends him to fame as he starts taking credit for the band’s forgotten songs.

Yesterday is a movie with a fantastically original premise, compared to the same recycled formulas in a lot of genres. Though it does sometimes get stuck in mediocre rom-com tropes, like a cheesy romance in the second act that doesn’t know where it’s going until the very end, this movie takes advantage of its genius idea and makes for a fun, humorous, and interesting two hours. Himesh Patel is not only fun and charming but also sings really well and was well-cast — he hasn’t been in much before but may soon make a name for himself after his starring role here — and also entertaining are Lily James as his best friend, and Ed Sheeran as himself — the singer who helps Jack skyrocket to stardom. However, one character I found to be annoying was his manager played by Kate McKinnon, whose comedic turns I usually enjoy on Saturday Night Live, but here her character was simply irritating and unlikable. It’s no surprise the music is so enjoyable — they chose the best band to make this movie about, and as a huge Beatles fan myself, it’s great to hear them all through the film, and luckily they cast a great actor who can sing as well. There’s also plenty of humorous moments I didn’t expect and the jokes almost always land. Like I said, the second half does lose a little bit of steam but once you see where it all ends up, you get to take in some of the themes the movie is going for. There’s also another sweet theme about how the most iconic of pop culture is what touches people’s hearts and should be kept alive. As one character says, “A world without the Beatles is a world infinitely worse.” So I have to applaud director Danny Boyle and writer Richard Curits for creating one of the most original films of the year that sometimes doesn’t avoid genre tropes but the fresh plotline makes for some truly great moments, and there’s also plenty of excellent musical moments as well. When everything that’s out has to do with killer toys, superheroes, and animated animals, why not try something new for a change and support this one-of-a-kind film I bet you won’t regret seeing in theaters.

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