Movies of the Week #52 (2019)

Knives Out (2019): If you’re an Agatha Christie fan, this flick written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper and Star Wars VIII) is an absolute treat. With a deliciously over-the-top performance from Daniel Craig as ingenue private detective Benoit Blanc, it’s a whodunit with a twist – the viewer finds out the would-be-murderer early on, which then turns the movie on its head. The high-profile cast (Toni Colette, Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Chris Evans and Christopher Plummer) forms a family of dysfunctional would-be-heirs to the estate of successful writer of detective mystery stories, Harlan Thrombey (Plummer), whose death occurs in the first scene of the film. They all play second fiddle to Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas), the Ecuadorian-Paraguayan-Uruguayan-Brazilian, salt-of-the-earth house nurse to the deceased, whose physical inability to tell a lie makes for a fun gimmick in unfolding the truth. As you would expect, there will be twists, turns and suspense, in this perfectly executed murder-mystery story of, really, a different age. 8/10

Psych: The Movie (2017): One of my goals for last year was to catch up on the last two seasons of Psych, a show that ended in 2015, and then watch the movie that came out a couple of years ago. It came as a shock to find out that Timothy Omundson, portraying one of the leads, had suffered a massive stroke in early 2017, at the age of 48. He has been recovering since, even made a small (heartbreaking) cameo in the 2017 movie and is headlining a second sequel for the series, to be released this spring. You can watch an excellent interview he did with Larry King a couple of months ago.
That being said, it was both entertaining and difficult to watch the Psych movie, which feels more like an extended (and mostly inspired) episode than a real format transition. It adds Zachary Levi to the cast and only really gets going in the second half, building up to a satisfying finale. If you’ve never seen the show (which is most likely), it’s one of the great buddy comedies out there, led by Shawn Spencer (James Roday), a would-be psychic detective who actually uses his acute powers of observation to make a living at the Santa Barbara police department. Chock full of pop-culture references, there were few shows as quirky and idiosyncratic as Psych out there in the last decade, so this probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for a fan, it sure feels like a welcome story. 7/10

After the Storm (2016): So I kept going with Koreeda and tested everyone’s patience once more with AtS. Featuring a father who is desperately lost in his own life, who is trying to stay close to his son and somehow recapture the attention of his (ex)wife, it’s a truly sad movie of underachievement, of fallibility, of vice. It will probably not be an easy watch unless you’re in the mood, because there’s not much going on in terms of a narrative, but there’s enough poetry in it to satisfy those with more metaphysical tastes. 7/10

Clear and Present Danger (1994): A classic Tom Clancy story cum Harrison Ford vehicle, CaPD is all you would expect of it – a complex story set in political context, with compromised characters contrasting Ford’s Jack Ryan, and quite a few moments of Clancy-esque exaggerations. Alongside it’s prequel, The Hunt for Red October (I have yet to see Patriot Games), the movie is a great treat for conspiracy theorists and political action-thriller lovers, as it outdoes the more recent sequels (The Sum of All Fears, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit). 7/10

Bad Times at the El Royal (2018): It’s hard to say where exactly El Royal gets it wrong. A great cast, starring the likes of Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Dakota Johnson, Cynthia Erivo and Chris Hemsworth, it tells the stories of its characters in a disjointed fashion, making for a much inferior version of The Hateful Eight (2015). It’s a familiar set-up, too: a bunch of strangers with hidden agendas come across one another at the El Royal hotel, a formerly famous resort for the rich and fancy, slowly expiring after its alcohol licence was revoked. At more than 140 minutes, it makes for an interesting start, which then quickly veers towards the tedious, unaided by the jarring timeline shifts used to tell everyone’s backstory. A decent finale brings it back to life, but my take is that it’s an underachievement from all involved, a movie I simply cannot recommend. 5/10