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mystery

Knives Out (2019)

DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

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

REVIEW:

With Knives Out, writer-director Rian Johnson has wholly redeemed himself for his disappointing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Johnson and Star Wars were not a good fit, but he has returned here from playing in another’s sandbox to writing and directing his own material where he has been consistently intriguing (I’m a big fan of his 2012 time travel thriller Looper, for example) and churned out something we don’t see often, an original murder mystery of the type that Agatha Christie might have written (plus some modern sensibilities). Boasting a star-studded ensemble cast obviously enjoying itself, a slickly “keep you guessing” screenplay, and a quirky sense of humor, Knives Out is a deliciously twisty-turny and hugely entertaining morsel for anyone who appreciates a good whodunit. Johnson and his cast obviously relished making this movie, and they’ve given us something to relish eating up in turn.

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

DIRECTOR: Fede Alvarez

CAST: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL “SPOILERS”

“Generic” is not a word that should be used to describe Lisbeth Salander, but The Girl in the Spider’s Web brings her close.  An adaptation of the book, the latest installment in the so-called Millennium Series, continued by David Lagercrantz from where late crime journalist and author Stieg Larsson left off, and a soft reboot quasi-sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted to film both in Sweden (by Niels Arden Oplev and starring Noomi Rapace and the late Michael Nyqvist) and in an English-language remake (by David Fincher and starring Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig), The Girl in the Spider’s Web continues the series transition in Lagercrantz’s hands from dark, serious, slow burn murder/crime mystery into more straightforward action/spy thriller territory, sacrificing some depth and character along the way.  The result is a watchable and engaging action/spy thriller but arguably a poor Lisbeth Salander story. Continue reading

The Commuter (2018)

DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Liam Neeson, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Sam Neill, Jonathan Banks, Elizabeth McGovern

REVIEW:

Another year, another Liam Neeson action flick. Once a “serious thespian”, Neeson has recently reinvented himself as starring in as many disposable thrillers as Steven Seagal. This time, the big guy reunites with Jaume Collet-Serra, who attempts a variation on their previous project, Non-Stop, a wannabe Hitchcockian thriller set within the confines of an airplane and serving up paranoia with a planeload of suspects and red herrings. This time, in what passes for variety on Neeson’s filmography these days, it’s a train. If you enjoyed Non-Stop, you may also find The Commuter intriguing, but while Non-Stop was able to distract from its plot holes and implausibilities “in the moment”, the convoluted mess going on in The Commuter isn’t able to achieve the same effect, at least not to the same extent. This is the kind of movie that defines “flash in the pan”: compulsive viewing in the moment, and immediately disposable.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

THE-GIRL-WITH-THE-DRAGON-TATTOO-2DIRECTOR: David Fincher

CAST: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James, Yorick van Wageningen

REVIEW:

I’ll just get this out of the way right upfront. I have never seen the 2009 Swedish film adaptation of late author and journalist Stieg Larsson’s crime novel, which featured a much-praised performance by Noomi Rapace in the title role (nor have I read the book), so this review will not include any comparisons between the two versions, merely evaluate this one on its own merits. Continue reading

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie

CAST:

Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Noomi Rapace, Jared Harris, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly, Paul Anderson, Rachel McAdams

REVIEW:

Following on the heels of 2009’s cinematic reboot of the world’s greatest detective, Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie reteamed with stars Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law for A Game of Shadows, which is a very close relation to its predecessor.  Those who enjoyed the first installment should be entertained by the second, while those who were unimpressed are unlikely to have their opinion changed here, except perhaps by the choice of villain. Continue reading

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

DIRECTOR: Guy Ritchie

CAST:

Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong

REVIEW:

Devout followers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective novels may be appalled at what director Guy Ritchie has done with Doyle’s creation, but those with open minds may find a surprising amount of Holmesian details emerge intact, and for all others, Sherlock Holmes is a rollicking ride with plenty of action and comedy and some style and wit along the way. Continue reading

The Prestige (2006)

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST:

Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, David Bowie, Andy Serkis, Piper Perabo

REVIEW:

Director Christopher Nolan and his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, share not only obvious intelligence, but a fondness for complex plotlines. Continue reading

The Illusionist (2006)

DIRECTOR: Neil Burger

CAST:

Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell

REVIEW:

The Illusionist is the kind of low-key, independent, art house fare that often gets lost in the shuffle among the action flicks and romantic comedies, which is kind of a shame, because while  it aims to be fairly lightweight entertainment, isn’t anything terribly ambitious, The Illusionist is a lot of fun- a pleasant, enjoyable brew of romance, mystery, and magic. Continue reading

Conspiracy Theory (1997)

DIRECTOR: Richard Donner

CAST: Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts, Patrick Stewart, Cylk Cozart, Steve Kahan

REVIEW:

There’s a tantalizing glimpse of an edgier indie thriller/dark comedy somewhere within the genesis of Conspiracy Theory, but it’s buried within a “safe” thriller/mystery/romance potboiler. The result is watchable, and mildly entertaining, but it’s no more than mediocre as an action thriller, with a love story that somewhat strains credibility. It’s the kind of movie where one can see the cliched thriller/action/romance beats ticking themselves off.

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