All the Old Knives Review

I’ve watched sharper spy games than All the Old Knives, but it’s a durable diversionary thriller with a solid spark between its two leads. From Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen, Chris Pine and Thandiwe Newton are coworkers and lovers who break up over a seized flight (that old chestnut).

Some explanation is warranted. In 2012, CIA officer Henry Pelham (Pine) is in an office romance with analyst Celia Harrison (Newton). Stationed in scenic Vienna (this a lovely looking picture), the seizure and tragic ending of the hijack leads to suspicions that someone on the team leaked intel to the terrorists. Perhaps it’s Harry or maybe it’s Celia. There’s also higher ups played by Laurence Fishburne and Jonathan Pryce.

In 2020, Harry’s got a few more gray hairs while Celia is married with kids in California. She’s far removed from government employment while her ex is still investigating the near decade old case. This brings the pair together in a near deserted fancy restaurant for an interrogation or a bubbly fueled rekindling… or both.

Knives slashes back and forth between these events as twists fill up as frequently as the former couple’s wine glasses. Surprisingly light on action, the screenplay might get drowned out if there wasn’t adequate chemistry between the stars. Luckily there is and it was enough to keep me guessing. Pine missed the mark once as a better known CIA agent in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. This one hits the target more often.

*** (out of four)

 

Wonder Woman 1984 Review

I wish Wonder Woman 1984 wasn’t the disjointed viewing experience that it mostly is. I wish it had the humor that landed in the 2017 pic and the sweet love story between its heroine and her man that was well-developed. Here the humor seems forced as does the interplay between Gal Gadot’s title character and WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine). This is a sequel that feels like busywork and it’s devoid of, yes, some of the wonder that made the original a bright spot in the DC Extended Universe.

1984 means leg warmers and action sequences set in shopping malls. It also means part 2 picks up nearly seven decades later. Gadot’s Diana fills her days as an anthropologist at the Smithsonian and her nights pining for the long departed Steve. Of course, she also does some Wonder Woman stuff in between. When she thwarts a jewel heist in one of those sprawling shopping structures, it turns out the thieves were really after some black market artifacts that weren’t on display. That includes an ancient “Dreamstone” of Latin origin that grants wishes no matter how dangerous they might be. For Diana, it means bringing her lost love back. This is handled by Pine returning in the form of some random DC dude. While Pine’s courtship with Diana was a high point the first time around, the actor is now relegated to gawking in wide eyed disbelief at rocket ships and escalators. His participation here never smacks of anything more than plot device mechanics and that’s a letdown. He does get a reverse Pretty Woman style sequence in which he tries on pirate looking shirts and fanny packs in front of his nonplussed girlfriend. So there’s that.

Of course, this “Dreamstone” leads to nefarious actions from others. Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a failed businessman who’s known for cheesy infomercials. His acquiring of the artifact allows him to amass significant power and oil. He also has a young son that he’s desperately trying to impress and that results in some mawkish moments. And there’s Kristin Wiig as Barbara. She’s Diana’s supremely unconfident geologist coworker. Barbara feels invisible until her interaction with the Stone makes her as tough and beautiful as her fellow employee. Unfortunately her power trip partners her with the megalomaniac Max and his misguided plans. For Wiig, Barbara is one of those characters who immediately becomes attractive once her big glasses and frumpy dress go by the wayside. She’s simply not a memorable villainess. There are shades of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman from Batman Returns, but she’s not written nearly as potently.

Pascal’s Max is another story. I can’t say he’s not memorable because the performer portraying him goes way over the top in doing so. I think Pascal knows how much he’s hamming it up and his go for broke attitude does provide a bit of fun. That’s welcome because it’s in short supply. I might volley back and forth on whether he’s actually great or kinda terrible here, but it’s a performance worth mentioning. That’s more than I can say for everyone else.

For two and a half hours, 1984 often forgets to bring the joy. There’s a make it up as we go along vibe that wasn’t as noticeable when Patty Jenkins helmed the first (she returns here and is one of three cowriters).

Wonder Woman 1984 is all about how you can’t get ahead by cheating and lying (a prologue featuring some familiar faces from part 1 makes that message clear). The following 150 minutes hammers it home with convenient and haphazard storylines that, ironically, sometime feel like cheats. I wish this came close to the quality of Gadot’s first stand-alone venture, but we are left waiting and wanting in 1984. 

** (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Wonder Woman 1984

After experiencing COVID-19 related delays, Warner Bros. is finally unveiling their superhero sequel Wonder Woman 1984 on Christmas in theaters and HBO Max. Needless to say, this is certainly one of the most anticipated 2020 releases as the 2017 predecessor was a critical hit and massive blockbuster (making over $800 million worldwide). Patty Jenkins returns as director with Gal Gadot back in the title role and Chris Pine reprising his role. Costars include Kristin Wiig, Pedro Pascal, Robin Wright, and Connie Nielsen.

Two and a half weeks ahead of its unveiling, the review embargo has lifted and signs are encouraging. The current Rotten Tomatoes meter stands at an impressive 89% (just slightly lower than the 93% achieved by part 1). There are some gripes about over length, but reviewers are mostly calling it a nostalgic blast. Could the second coming from the warrior goddess also known as Diana garner any awards attention?

It is worth noting that Wonder Woman 2017 received no Oscar nominations. That said, the amount of eye-popping blockbusters in 2020 is smaller than any other year in recent memory. This could mean that 1984 could pop up in technical races including Makeup and Hairstyling, Production Design, Sound, and Visual Effects. The first two categories could be a bit more doubtful while Sound and Visual Effects seem like solid possibilities. Gadot’s hero will compete with another Warner Bros. superhero property in those races with Birds of Prey (released just before the pandemic outbreak).

I do not expect that this will play in the big awards derbies. There was some chatter three years ago that part 1 could get a Best Picture nod, but it never materialized. Black Panther still stands as the only superhero property to play in that race and Wonder Woman 1984 is highly unlikely to be the second. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Movie Review

In the 21st century cinematic universe, the famed web slinger has been reinvented on a number of occasions – from Tobey Maguire to Andrew Garfield to Tom Holland. SpiderMan: Into the SpiderVerse is the first one that feels truly inventive. Anyone thinking this animated experience would be a sub par spin-off or money grab will find themselves sorely mistaken. This iteration of the iconic hero has a lot of heart, plenty of action, and a warped sense of humor that elicits genuine laughs. Directors Bob Perischetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman (who co-wrote the screenplay along with Phil Lord) have drawn up what is probably the most satisfying Spidey pic on its own terms.

The picture posits the theory that our title character does his Spidey thing in multiple dimensions and in different forms than just Peter Parker. These characters are familiar to fans of the Marvel Comics and even includes Spider-Ham, representing the hero in pig form. He’s here and he’s fabulous. Our primary Spidey here is Miles (voiced by Shameik Moore), a Brooklyn teen with a police officer father and a potentially shady uncle that he admires. Miles attends a prep school and feels lost in his adolescence just like Peter Parker did. He’s a fan of Spider-Man, who is currently fighting Big Apple crime in the manner we’re accustomed to. That’s until bad guy Kingpin (Liev Schrieber) knocks him off, but not before Miles get a radioactive bite that gives him the well-known powers.

What follows is a visually splendid adventure where it’s clear that the makers really adore the character. At the same time, they take him in unforeseen directions that perhaps only the animated format could allow. Miles’s Spidey teams with an aging and out of shape Peter Parker (Jake Johnson) from a different “verse”, along with Spider-Woman (Hailee Steinfeld) and the aforementioned Ham version. There’s others, but part of the fun is watching them appear without me spoiling it.

Plenty of superhero movies take themselves quite seriously and many have succeeded with that tone. Guardians of the Galaxy and Deadpool introduced a different dynamic that is evident here. Yet SpiderVerse is not derivative. It manages to take one of the most repeated story arcs in the genre and cleverly turn it on its head. I enjoyed it immensely. The possibilities are many for this particular universe to continue and I’m up for it.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch: Outlaw King

The historical action drama Outlaw King might not immediately strike one as an Oscar hopeful. Yet it’s considered a bit of a thematic sequel to Braveheart, the Mel Gibson epic that also focused on the Scottish battle for independence. That film won Best Picture in 1995. This is also director David Mackenzie’s follow-up to Hell or High Water, which earned a Best Picture nod two years ago. And it was selected to open the Toronto Film Festival, which has kicked off today.

Even with that considerable pedigree, critical reaction suggests this won’t be a major player on the Oscar scene. Mackenzie reunites with Hell star Chris Pine with a supporting cast including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Florence Pugh, and Stephen Dillane. Early reviews haven’t been too kind thus far, though they have praised its epic scope. Perhaps some down the line tech recognition is possible, but even that could be a reach.

Bottom line: don’t expect Academy voters to crown King with love.

The pic is slated to debut on Netflix on November 9. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…

A Wrinkle in Time Box Office Prediction

Blogger’s Note (03/07): I am revising my estimate from $42.8 million to $37.8 million, meaning I have it debuting at #2

What film could knock Disney’s Black Panther off its perch atop the box office charts after its momentous performance? Well, it should be another Disney property as A Wrinkle in Time debuts next Friday. Based on the famed and acclaimed 1962 novel from Madeleine L’Engle, the sci-fi fantasy comes from Selma director Ana DuVernay and marks the biggest budgeted feature ever (a reported $103 million) from an African-American female director. The cast includes Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu-Mbatha Raw, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Pena, and Storm Reid.

The Disney marketing machine is certainly a formidable one and familiarity with the source material and high-profile actors should serve as a benefit. One potential hindrance: while reviews are embargoed until March 7, initial word-of-mouth from screenings has been mixed.

On the low end, Wrinkle could see a debut in the mid 30s. However, I feel it will manage to climb higher with low 40s gross that could certainly reach as a high as $50 million. I don’t see it hitting the high 60s grosses that Disney’s live-action adaptations like Maleficent or Cinderella managed. That should be enough to allow the Mouse Factory to hold the 1-2 position next weekend with this and Panther.

A Wrinkle in Time opening weekend prediction: $37.8 million

For my The Strangers: Prey at Night prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/02/28/the-strangers-prey-at-night/

For my The Hurricane Heist prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/01/the-hurricane-heist-box-office-prediction/

For my Gringo prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/03/01/gringo-box-office-prediction/

Wonder Woman Movie Review

The small sub genre of female driven superhero movies has unfortunately been a bit of a cinematic litter box with forgettable fare like Supergirl, Catwoman, and Elektra. That changes with Wonder Woman from director Patty Jenkins. It is not only by far the most satisfying comic book adaptation headlined by a woman, it’s the most entertaining DC pic since Christopher Nolan was handling the Batman franchise.

We first saw Gal Gadot’s title character in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice as a sidekick to those two iconic titans. While it deservedly earned its reputation as a mess, it was also a mess worth watching and Wonder Woman was a bright spot in it. Now we get her origin story. We begin in present day with Diana Prince collaborating with Bruce Wayne. The Caped Crusader’s research has uncovered a photograph of the ageless Wonder from the World War I era (which we first saw in BvS). This causes Diana’s memory to travel way, way back.

Before the events chronicled in that picture come into play, we get Diana as a young girl on the lush and secluded island of Themyscira. It is a land of only women, including her Amazon queen mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her warrior aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). As a child, she’s told grand stories of the Gods and how Ares the god of war killed Zeus and it all led to this private island paradise. Mother mostly wants this quality of life preserved while Auntie Antiope insists on training Diana into a warrior princess. And it seems even pre teen Diana has a knack for kicking butt.

The dynamic of life on Themyscira is altered when hunky WWI spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and his plane crash lands there. Diana rescues him and get her first exposure to the male species. She’s also exposed to the news that a massive war is taking place outside her small world and she feels it’s her duty to help. So off she goes with Captain Trevor with the idea that she’ll rid the Earth of Ares, whom she believes is the real culprit behind all the chaos.

Our scenery changes from the bright and shimmering island to gray and drab London where Diana is a major fish out of water. There are scenes of her adjusting to her new surroundings (including having to try on the restrictive clothing of the era) that are quite humorous. The duo soon assemble a rag tag team with tacit approval from a commander played by David Thewlis. Their mission is to stop a German general (Danny Huston) and a deformed scientist (Elena Anaya, who is memorable here) who’s developed a dastardly gas concoction.

While all this intrigue is occurring, Diana and Steve are becoming closer and Gadot and Pine have a romantic and often funny chemistry. Their interactions lead to some charming moments, but also ones that lead to dramatic heft later. Unlike recent DC titles like BvS and Man of Steel, Wonder Woman isn’t afraid to have a degree of silliness that is welcome. After all, our heroine’s “lasso of truth” is present here and it’s difficult to take it very seriously. What’s easy to admire is Gadot’s work in selling her character’s reaction to her new reality off the island. Wonder Woman believes that simply stopping the God she’s heard about for all her life will make everything right. It’s fascinating to watch her realization that the world is a bit more complicated.

The grand action sequences here aren’t much different in style or quality than what we’ve witnessed before in countless other superhero tales. Wonder Woman doesn’t break the mold from the many origin stories that come from comic book pages. Some of the plot points are familiar – we know there will be an additional villain reveal in the third act and there is.

However, Wonder Woman succeeds because it takes time to develop her story. It gives her a partner and romantic interest that we like and care about. The screenplay isn’t solely consumed with loud and fiery battle set pieces. The writers remember that character exploration and humor are assets as well. And, yes, for the first time witness a superhero with “wo” added to the “man” that hits the mark.

*** (out of four)

Wonder Woman Box Office Prediction

The DC Cinematic Universe continues next weekend with the release of Wonder Woman, Warner Bros. spin-off of Gal Gadot’s version of the iconic character that first appeared in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Patty Jenkins, who hasn’t made a feature since directing Charlize Theron to an Oscar in 2003’s Monster, is the first female director to helm a big-budget comic book adaptation. It’s also the first of its genre to focus on a female protagonist.

In addition to Gadot’s Amazon princess, Chris Pine costars along with Robin Wright, Connie Nielsen, David Thewlis, and Danny Huston. DC is looking to replicate the smashing success that Marvel and Disney have accomplished in their series of Avengers flicks and spin-offs. The aforementioned Batman v Superman debuted in March 2016 to $166 million, which accounted for over half of its eventual $330M domestic haul. While that’s certainly a very solid gross, many critics and moviegoers weren’t blown away by what they saw. That said, Gadot’s Wonder Woman was considered to be a highlight among many.

The pic is not expected to approach BvS territory. Early estimates have been all over the map as to how it will open (anywhere from $65 to $115 million). A bright spot: word-of-mouth has been encouraging and reviews have been very strong.

I believe Wonder Woman will make over half of what the Caped Crusader and Man of Steel achieved for its start over a year ago and approach $100 million. Hopefully, fans will like what they see as they’ll only have to wait five and a half months to see the title character again in Justice League. 

Wonder Woman opening weekend prediction: $98.3 million

For my Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2017/05/25/captain-underpants-the-first-epic-movie-box-office-prediction/

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Now that this latest iteration of the Star Trek film series has reached its third entry, the creative forces behind it are free to just let Beyond be a two-hour episode upon itself. In other words, JJ Abrams was quite successful directing the first two features in 2009 and 2013 and establishing a new cast playing iconic roles. By part III, those objectives have already been met and Abrams leaves his successor Justin Lin the opportunity to make this one an action packed sci-fi spectacle. We also have the hallmarks of the 50-year-old franchise that include celebrating the camaraderie of the Enterprise crew and injecting well-placed humor.

In a way, Star Trek Beyond reminded me of the previous 007 pic, Spectre. How so? Spectre arrived three movies after Daniel Craig had put his stamp on another half century old institution. By the time part 4 rolled around, I was ready for something that needn’t burden itself with continually reshaping itself. Spectre didn’t and was mostly successful. Beyond doesn’t either and is even more satisfying.

We begin in year 3 of the USS Enterprise’s five-year voyage that they embarked on at the conclusion of Star Trek Into Darkness. Not all is well. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, grown and confident in the role) is struggling with the endless journey. Trusty Spock (Zachary Quinto) is having girl troubles with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and mourning the reveal that Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has passed. This, of course, holds special meaning to the audience due to Nimoy’s passing in between pics.

Everything perks up for the crew when the ship is invaded by Krall (Idris Elba), a ruthless extraterrestrial tracking a relic that Kirk has in his possession. This attack leaves the crew splintered for a decent portion of the running time, allowing many of the members their moments to shine. That includes Karl Urban as McCoy and Simon Pegg’s Scotty, who both continue to provide sturdy comic relief. Sofia Boutella is a fine addition as an alien who joins Team Enterprise. Both Saldana and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov are a bit more relegated to the sideline in terms of the overall story (tragically, Yelchin died just a month before the film’s release). John Cho’s Sulu is given a previously not revealed character development. And when it comes to the main villain, Elba is quite menacing and effective.

Without having to set up anything new, Beyond gets right to the fun stuff and doesn’t let up. Lin is no stranger to elaborate action sequences, having helmed four Fast and Furious flicks. Yet enough time is set aside to explore the strong bonds of the team. It’s about family… to borrow a theme that Fast and Furious characters endlessly beat into our skulls. So while this might be the simplest of the trio of new Star Trek’s we’ve witnessed, it also manages to be the most purely entertaining.

***1/2 (out of four)

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Pretty much every character in David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water conceals a weapon in its desolate and beautiful West Texas setting. They don’t conceal their feelings that the system (think banks) works against them. So in these laid back locales, the brothers Howard (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) robbing those establishments in order to save their family farm is something of a noble cause. However, the unpredictability and violence that normally follows those crimes (no matter how sensical they might be) are present.

Pine is Toby, a divorced father of two suddenly put in charge of the Howard ranch after the death of his mother. Tanner (Foster) is his loose cannon brother, fresh out of prison. When the pic opens, they are beginning their plot to pilfer enough cash from several branch locations to pay off a reverse mortgage that Mom was saddled with. Tanner’s outlaw past often interferes with Toby’s well-plotted scheme. Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) is tasked with nabbing the duo, along with his half Comanche partner (Gil Birmingham), who’s often the brunt of Hamilton’s sort of good-natured teasing.

A peak into Tanner’s trailer home reveals a “Don’t Tread on Me” banner and it summarizes the general worldview of even the background players we see here. This applies to the Indian fellow Tanner plays poker with in the casino or the flirtatious waitress who gets a healthy tip from Toby. Yet one suspects that unseen forces have been treading on them for generations, as evidenced by the wasteland their small towns have become.

The typical genre fare we’re used to seeing are to be found here, from Hamilton being this close to retirement to Tanner’s combustibility. Where Hell or High Water succeeds is many facets, from the gorgeous cinematography to top notch performances. Pine sheds his leading man facade to blend in well with the scenery. Foster sells his off kilter criminal with relish (his reaction to being unexpectedly woken up by his brother tells you lots about who he is). Bridges’ Ranger gets opportunities to be a detective in ways he probably rarely does and it’s a joy to see the actor try out his garbled accent while doing so.  While Hell or High Water may not be anything too different in the heist category of film, its fleshed out characters and actors playing them make it a worthwhile watch.

*** (out of four)