The Hand That Feeds — Knives Out Review

Family and business mix in Knives Out, a whodunnit sleuther from director and writer Rian Johnson that spins the genre on its head by starting out with the murderer revealed.

The real story and mystery reveals itself as a parable about good vs. evil, treating your guests hospitably, and the current state of our nation.

Ana Armas stars as Marta Cabrera, a nurse with a quirk — she can’t lie without vomiting. Her tell makes her the perfect canary for Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), a private detective hired to solve the murder of Cabrera’s charge, mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer).

Harlan was found with his throat slashed after his 85th party. Ruled a suicide, Blanc is hired by an unknown who suspects foul play. Blanc meets the family members at Harlan’s memorial for a second round of questioning.

Each of the family members are interrogated, and each one has a damaging secret to hide from the authorities who are looking for a motive. Vignettes show Harlan giving each of his entitled and untrustworthy family members marching orders in a bid to correct their behavior.

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Schadenfreude — The Disaster Artist Review

I first heard about The Room while I was in South Korea. Labeled as one of the worst movies ever filmed, it had somehow attracted a huge following that included sold-out midnight viewings.

To this day, I have not been able to get myself through one complete viewing of the original film. It’s an assault on the senses and a failure by every standard metric I hold regarding filmmaking.

It’s bad. Real bad.

The acting is subpar, the dialogue needs heavy editing, and the threadbare plot just sort of… happens.

Tommy Wiseau, the director, writer, producer, and star of the film plays Johnny, a man who eventually finds out his fiancee is cheating on him with his best friend Mark.

Supporting characters weave in and out of the movie, adding to the conflict and drama with the subtlety of a runaway Mac truck backing its trailer through a warehouse. There’s Denny, Johnny’s teenage friend, who is in debt to a violent drug dealer, and Peter the psychologist who learns about the secret affair from both Tommy and Mark. Lisa, the fiancee, tells Johnny she’s pregnant, admits the pregnancy was a lie to cover up her affair with Mark, and then moves in with Mark.

Betrayed, Tommy decides to take his own life.

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We Got Fun and Games — Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle Review

When Spencer “the nerd” (Alex Wolff), Fridge “the jock” (Ser’Darius Blain), Bethany “the princess” (Madison Iseman), and Martha “the smart one” (Morgan Turner) are sent to the school’s basement for detention, they end up opening a portal into the world of Jumanji.

Inhabiting archetypal video-game avatars in direct contrast to the real-world selves, our four teens with attitude have to rid the world of a curse while maneuvering through social and personal conflicts.

It’s a mix of Freaky Friday and the Breakfast Club, but the action/adventure twist makes Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle a fun film. It also helps that the movie doesn’t eschew character building and development.

Spencer, familiar with video game mechanics, takes the lead as the muscle-bound explorer Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson) while Fridge takes a sidekick role, entering the game as the zoologist Franklin “Mouse” Finbar (Kevin Hart), a diminutive researcher whose special ability allows him to hold weapons. Bethany, whose cell-phone addiction has kept her distracted throughout high school, takes the role of the portly Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black), the group’s cartographer, and Martha takes on a more active position in the group’s dynamic as the group’s physical bruiser Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan).

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Off-Key — Pitch Perfect 3 Review

The first Pitch Perfect was lightning in a bottle — it was a sleeper hit that worked the trending a capella genre for full effect and spawned a radio hit with Anna Kendrick singing the cover for Cups, aka When I’m Gone.

Pitch Perfect 3 brings the group back together for one last go, this time as an overseas touring group for the USO. Hoping to relive their glory days, the Barden Bellas — who have seen their lives diminish since they’ve last been together — compete on an uneven playing field against music groups and DJs vying for a spot as DJ Khaled’s opening act.

New developments include Fat Amy’s (Rebel Wilson) father Fergus (John Lithgow) entering the picture as he hopes to build a relationship with his estranged daughter. Beca (Anna Kendrick), whose music career still hasn’t taken off, gets an opportunity to show off her producing chops when she sits in for an impromptu session at Khaled’s mixing board. 

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Syndicated — Murder on the Orient Express Review

Agatha Christie, 20th-century’s master crime novelist, is the highest-selling novelist of all time.

All. Time.

With 2-billion books sold, she’s behind only the Bible and Shakespeare.

But a quick survey of my inner and outer circles either proves that people in general just don’t read anymore or that pop-culture — in America — has room for Sherlock Holmes but not for Hercule Poirot, Christie’s master sleuth who’s appeared in 33 of her novels and a set of films.

Poirot last appeared in 2013 in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case with actor David Suchet ending a 24-year turn as the detective for the United Kingdom’s ITV.

Returning to cinemas for the first time 1982’s Evil Under the Sun, Poirot takes on the form of Kenneth Branagh who also directs a a stacked ensemble cast featuring the likes of Johnny Depp, Penélope Cruz, Willem Defoe, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. It could have done no less — watch any crime procedural on television, and you can spot the guilty criminal based solely on the guest star making the cameo.

In Murder on the Orient Express, it takes a village to come up with a master plan.

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Minor Leagues — Justice League Review

Marvel has Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in the Avengers, but DC has the Trinity — arguably, the three most important and popular comic book heroes in comic book history.

Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Ben Affleck), and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) — who made an appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice finally join forces with Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to fight cosmic invaders in an action-packed but fluffy movie that ultimately fails to shoulder the momentum of this year’s breakout Wonder Woman film.

With the world in turmoil after Superman’s death, fear has risen to new heights. Who will protect Earth from the incoming alien forces being called by the powerful Mother Boxes?

It’s up to Batman to find out. Traveling the globe as Batman and Bruce Wayne, the Dark Knight hopes to build a superteam to stop the extra-terrestrial Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) from collecting the boxes into one construct that will redesign Earth into a fiery landscape more fitting for his kind.

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Heavy Metal — Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) tries to stop the end of the world in Thor: Ragnarok, a conflicted mess of a film that showcases some of the best that Marvel Studios has to offer along with some of their cringiest.

If you’ve seen the trailers, you have the main gist of it all — Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death, has come to take her place on the throne of Asgard after Odin’s death releases her from the prison his life-force created.

As Odin’s firstborn, she is the strongest of his children, and she makes her mark within moments by destroying Mjolnir and sending Thor and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) into retreat. As the brothers attempt to teleport back to their homeworld with the help of the Bifröst Bridge, Hela follows them and send them off course.

Hela appears in Asgard, where her claim to the throne hits deaf ears — that’s what happens when an entire era’s history is wiped away or covered up. Viewed as an invading force, Asgard’s army tries to hold her at bay but fails miserably against Odin’s strongest child.

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Life in Three Acts — Dunkirk Review

The battle and escape at Dunkirk was a defining point during the first stages of World War II — it ultimately rallied the British who were at one point considering a conditional surrender to Germany.

The safe return of 330,000 British and allied soldiers with the help of civilian forces spurred a counterpoint to Germany’s blitzkrieg that was pushing its way through Europe with relative ease.

While the film takes place during the harrowing hours before the retreat, Dunkirk isn’t a simple and linear retelling.

It’s a collection of parables that uses the event as a backdrop to explore the paradigm of human existence. Compressing time and space, Dunkirk is a microcosm of chaos, beauty, and the circle of human life.

The movie opens with a literal bang as German soldiers open fire on Allied troops who have, so far, maintained an uneasy and untenable position with their backs to the French oceanside in Dunkirk. A few hundred-thousand troops wait on the beach as, one by one, ships pick up the wounded first.

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Welcome Back — Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

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Marvel Studios brought home a big prize back in 2015 when they announced they had partnered with Sony Pictures to bring Spider-Man into the MCU. The Internet broke, and hope was renewed that Marvel could one day bring back other franchises sold off to other studios during a time of financial crisis.

As celebration turned into speculation, Marvel explained they weren’t going to explore Spider-Man’s origin story and that his introduction would come in Captain America: Civil War. The cameo was stellar, and the hype for Homecoming (the title, not so much) went through the roof.

The single best decision for the movie was the exclusion of an origin story — which would have made it the third retelling in 15 years. Spider-Man: Homecoming arrives ready to go, and he’s a bit more evolved than any previous version’s first single-movie appearance.

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Diet Alien — Alien: Covenant Review

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Never has an Alien movie felt so rote — so … familiar.

Looking back, each film in the series had something new or original to offer, even if the overall package was hit or miss.

The first two films are considered classics — rightly so and each for varying reasons. The first film, Alien, was a gripping horror movie that gave science fiction movies a new angle. Its sequel, James Cameron’s Aliens, went the more-is-better route, giving audiences a war movie pitting human forces against an overwhelming and superior company of predators.

Subsequent movies weren’t as well-received — Alien 3 went through numerous rewrites, and the final result felt like a letdown in contrast to what could have been. Alien: Resurrection went far into the future with a cloned Ripley and an interesting cast of characters, but it lacked the spirit of previous films.

And the prequel Prometheus tried to expand the lore while exploring religious and moral plot points. Many felt it was too convoluted and messy, while others critiqued it for silly characters who just couldn’t keep themselves from dying.

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