Review – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Anthony Daniels, Domnhall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Mark Hammill

Rise of Skywalker

Twenty-nineteen was a big year for pop culture climaxes. In April, Avengers: Endgame drew Marvel’s 22 film ‘Infinity Saga,’ if not the the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole, to a close. May saw the culmination of Game of Thrones’ eight season run. Popular consensus suggests that one stuck the landing better than the other. Neither, however, carried quite the same level of pressure as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and, we are told, final film in the central series which we are apparently now calling ‘the Skywalker Saga.’ Since its debut in 1977, Star Wars has in many ways defined contemporary blockbuster filmmaking as both a narrative and a franchise. Unfortunately, while a perfectly adequate piece of blockbuster filmmaking, watching The Rise of Skywalker confirms what has been suggested by the previous two instalments: that this has been a trilogy without a clear, overarching plan. Continue reading

Review – Knives Out (2019)

Director: Rian Johnson

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

Knives Out

While the classic whodunit has been all but absent from the big screen for some time, it has been a generic staple of television programming for decades. From Murder, She Wrote to Midsomer Murders to Death in Paradise, the pleasure of its formulaic structure makes it perfect for self-contained, episodic storytelling. With the ridiculously entertaining Knives Out, however, writer-director Rian Johnson reminds us of the effectiveness of the whodunit as a big screen product. Coming up for air between his Star Wars commitments, Johnson returns to his crime roots – his debut feature, 2005’s Brick, transported the hard boiled detective genre to a high school setting – to bring us a film that is equal parts homage to and parody of the classic Agatha Christie formula. Continue reading

Review – Frozen II (2019)

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee

Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Jonathan Groff, Sterling K. Brown, Evan Rachel Wood, Martha Plimpton, Jason Ritter, Rachel Matthews

Frozen II

This will hardly come as news to anyone with young children, but Disney’s Frozen was kind of a big deal. In grossing US$1.27 billion at the international box office it became both the highest grossing animated film and the highest grossing movie musical in history. It showed that even in the era of Pixar there is still a market for the traditional Disney animated musical while subverting that very formula, giving us a Disney princess movie with a feminist twist in which the true love that saved the day was not the romantic love between our princess heroine and her handsome rescuer, but the familial bond between sisters. Five years on, it is with much anticipation that they are again deviating from the formula, this time by giving the film a theatrical sequel, something Disney animations have never really had before. Even mega hits like The Lion King, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid only received direct-to-video follow ups. Continue reading

Review – The Irishman (2019)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Bobby Cannavale, Ray Romano, Stephen Graham, Jesse Plemons, Harvey Keitel, Anna Paquin

Irishman

One of the American cinema’s most revered auteurs, Martin Scorsese’s career has been marked by a series of long-gestating projects. The Last Temptation of Christ, Gangs of New York and Silence all sat with the filmmaker for many years before he was finally able to realise them. Likewise, his latest film, The Irishman, spent twelve years on his to-do list. The result of that time, though, is a film which, technologically and tonally, he likely could not have made a decade ago. Based on Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, it tells the story of Frank Sheeran, a mafia hitman who claimed to have murdered the Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa. The Irishman brings Scorsese back to the gangster genre with which he is intrinsically linked, but offers a different perspective. Where Mean Streets was a young man’s film, alive and overflowing with energy, The Irishman is an old man’s film, introspective and contemplative. Continue reading

Review – Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Avan Jogia, Rosario Dawson

Zombieland

For a film that when it came out back in 2009 was viewed as a fun, relatively clever but largely insignificant schlock comedy, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland proved to be ahead of the curve. The ten years since its release have seen zombies experience a pop culture resurgence with ten seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead plus a further five of its spinoff Fear of the Walking Dead. In that same period, Zombieland’s quartet of stars have combined for six Oscar nominations between them, while writers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese struck it big with Deadpool and Deadpool 2. So even though a decade has passed, it made sense that they would get the band back together for a sequel, and thus we Zombieland: Double Tap. Continue reading

Review – Hustlers (2019)

Director: Lorene Scafaria

Starring: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Wai Ching Ho

Hustlers

While one could be forgiven for making certain assumptions about a movie about con artists strippers – after all, it does sound like the premise for a 1970s exploitation film – from the get go Lorene Scafaria’s energetic caper film Hustlers sets about defying any such expectations. Based on the true story first captured in Jessica Pressler’s New York Magazine feature, the tables are turned as the exploited become the exploiters in this interesting and thoroughly entertaining film. Continue reading