Movies

Knives Out Will Keep You on the Edge of Your Seat

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Knives Out (2019)

Rating: 9.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

I don’t watch mystery movies too often, but I really enjoyed this one. I watched it once with my uncle and once with my roommate.

Background

Knives Out was directed by Rian Johnson. Many people are not happy with what he did to Star Wars, but I can honestly say that he was in his element when he directed this movie.

The movie stars Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, and Christopher Plummer.

Knives Out is currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

Summary

Detective Benoit Blanc investigates an apparent suicide, believing it to be a murder. Investigation into family matters reveals most family members had sufficient motives for murder, but this wacky mystery is much more complex than it seems.

Pros

  • Creative title
  • Phenomenal acting and cast
  • Complex and entertaining characters
  • Interesting setting
  • Subtle aspects of the film rewarding those paying attention
  • Plausible yet unexpected ending

Cons

  • Marta’s vomiting is overused

Review

Title

The title was well-chosen, part of one of the most impactful quotes in the whole movie by Benoit Blanc – “You’re a pack a vultures, knives out and beaks bloody.” In context it is blunt, but cuts to the heart of the problem with the whole Thrombey family.

The title could also be a reference to the stunning display of Harlan Thrombey’s knives, which was certainly the most iconic object in the movie.

Acting

The acting was phenomenal, especially by Daniel Craig as Benoit Blanc and Ana de Armas as Marta Cabrera. Some people found Craig’s southern drawl annoying, but it didn’t bother me.

Characters

Again, Benoit Blanc and Marta Cabrera were the best characters, though I appreciated Harlan Thrombey as well.

Benoit is an eccentric detective, not just another cookie-cutter Sherlock. He has elaborate metaphors involving donuts, and even seems incompetent at times. Yet he is super sharp too.

I feel a noose tightening. The family is truly desperate. Desperate motives, with the mystery of who hired me, the impossibility of the crime, and yet a donut. One central piece, and if it reveals itself, the fog would lift, the arc would resolve, the Slinky become unkinked.

Benoit Blanc

Marta Cabrera is a kind-hearted nurse who cared for the deceased Harlan Thrombey during his old age. She has complicated relationships with all the members of the Thrombey family. She is basically the protagonist of the movie.

Setting

The house most of the action is set in, becomes, as a character pointed out, just like a Clue board. It has all these quirky aspects that made it stand out. These details are what made the family home the family home. And as a former English major and a (hopefully!) future librarian, I appreciated the sheer number of books in the house. At the same time, I don’t think I could handle the clutter. That being said, this house just had so much character.

Details

There are some details that added to this masterpiece of a story. When each family member told the story, the flashbacks had slight differences even in places where they intersected, which is especially notable in the scene with the birthday cake.

Different members of the family say that Marta’s family is from different countries. Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil…none of them cared enough to know for sure her story.

According to Fandom, the accuracy of the clocks was carefully considered when setting the scenes. Each one was carefully at the time it should have been for the scene.

The timing of Benoit hitting a piano key during the investigation was the way one of the investigators was prompted to ask a certain question. I thought that was pretty creative.

Ending

The ending was well-executed and I would say most people would not see it coming. Obviously I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that I certainly was not disappointed.

Conclusion

I would recommend this movie even for people who don’t usually watch mysteries. It’s not your typical whodunit. The rating of PG-13 is entirely reasonable.

Also, I heard a sequel is coming out, so it’s the perfect time to watch Knives Out!

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Movies

Disney’s First Southeast Asian Princess

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Raya and the Last Dragon

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Intro

I had high expectations for this movie, but while the animation was fabulous, the rest was generally unimpressive. It looked really cool, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed.

Background

Raya and the Last Dragon is a Disney movie that was released in 2021. Raya became the first Southeast Asian Disney princess.

This movie stars Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Izaac Wang, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, Benedict Wong, Sandra Oh, Thalia Tran, Lucille Soong, and Alan Tudyk.

Summary

In the land of Kumandra, Raya the warrior princess must find the last dragon to restore her family and kingdom to its former prosperity.

Pros

  • Relationship between Raya and Namaari
  • Relationship between Chief Benja and Raya sweet
  • Animal life interesting
  • Cool idea that each dragon has a unique power
  • Somewhat unique villain
  • Strong theme that came through clearly
  • Well-researched setting
  • Somewhat developed cultures
  • Cool weapon
  • Stunning animation

Cons

  • Very predictable at points
  • Dragon design a little too cute and fuzzy to be the majestic beings they were made out to be
  • Concept worn thin at places
  • Despite being unique, villain was underdeveloped
  • Sad moments just weren’t that sad
  • Unmemorable sound tracks
  • Hit you over the head with the theme all the time

Review

Relationships

Raya and Namaari had an interesting and complex relationship throughout the film. Many people complain that despite the obvious chemistry between them, Disney was purposely ambiguous about whether either or both characters were gay, and I definitely see that point. It has a very queerbaity-feel because it definitely seemed like there could be romantic tension there. Even the actor playing Raya, Kelly Marie Tran, said openly that she believed her character was gay. I am hoping they have a sequel where they will have more space to develop their relationship further so that it is clear.

The relationship between Chief Benja and Raya was sweet. He is a father to her, but also a mentor. He embodies trust and hope and is a real role model for Raya.

Villain

The Druun are both a unique villain and an underdeveloped one. It was a creative idea but not well fleshed out. They end up being more like a natural disaster, yet seem to stem somehow from the evil of humans. None of this is well explained in the movie, but basically the villain is like a plague that turns people to stone.

Creatures

Tuk Tuk is Raya’s pet, an odd mix between a pill bug and an armadillo. It grows quite large and is surprisingly mobile even in its larger form.

Weapon

Raya’s weapon is a kind of whip sword, shifting between a normal sword form and a separated form that is longer and acts like a whip. This was much more creative than going with a traditional medieval-style sword.

Theme

The theme is trust. More specifically, that you should trust people regardless of whether you know them or if they have betrayed you in the past. This movie thrusts its theme in your face from beginning to end. While that is good for very young children, older children and adults may find this patronizing.

I wouldn’t say that this is a necessarily good or realistic theme, but for a kids movie, whatever. Generally it is good to trust people, but it’s also good to be smart about who you trust.

Setting

According to IMDb, the cultures and land of Kumandra were inspired by the countries of Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia, the Phillipines, Indonesia, and Laos.

Kumandra is beautiful, consisting of various cultures known for certain traits but also defying those traits at times. A culture is not simple, and cannot be described in a couple sentences like Raya tried to in the beginning of the film. That becomes increasingly obvious as the film moves on.

The setting is beautiful, a mix of rivers, deserts, mountains, towns, and cities that were all beautifully animated.

Predictability

This was your formulaic Disney story. I won’t spoil it, but it had all the plot elements of a typical Disney movie. Yet it was much more dry, cliché, and lacking in emotion at some of the most critical moments of the film. However, it was nice that the movie had a strong female lead without having a man come in to save the day like in the earlier Disney films.

Soundtracks

None of the songs stuck out to me, unlike with the other Disney princess movies new and old. James Newton Howard composed the score, and while it added somewhat to the mood of several scenes, there were no takeaway anthems for this movie like there were for Tangled, Moana, and even Brave.

Animation

The animation of the backgrounds was phenomenal, particularly fog and water. The characters were not as well done but still pretty high quality animation.

Conclusion

If you like formulaic Disney, you may like this movie. But if you expect the movie to try anything new or exciting, you will be disappointed.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

  • Raya and the Last Dragon Trailer – quick note: It may be more fun to watch the movie without the trailer because the trailer actually spoils more than I was willing to in my article.

Movies

A Forgettable Sequel to Finding Nemo

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Finding Dory

Rating: 6.5 out of 10 stars

Intro

I watched this movie with my younger sisters recently, and found it to be a cute and fun movie. Although it was not phenomenal, I found it to be enjoyable and well-designed.

Background

Finding Dory was released in 2016. The movie won the Saturn Award for Best Animated Film. It stars Ellen Degeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, and Ty Burrell.

Finding Dory can be watched on Disney+.

Summary

The blue tang Dory, who struggles with short-term memory loss, seeks out her parents after several memories of them surface. Finding Dory occurs one year after the events of Finding Nemo.

Pros

  • Loveable, familiar characters
  • Introduces new characters that are just as fun
  • Beautiful animation
  • Creative use of animal features and abilities
  • Acknowledges problems with pollution and how animals have to adapt
  • Semi-educational for kids
  • Fitting yet simple music
  • References to first movie, Finding Nemo
  • References to other films

Cons

  • Watching the fish try to travel from water source to water source to try to reach their goal is exhausting
  • Similar concept to the first movie
  • Just not as good as the original
  • Sea lions acting all friendly toward fish for no apparent reason, even though they are predators

Review

Characters

The cuteness factor of the movie is augmented by the addition of scenes from Dory’s childhood. Learning Dory’s backstory and how she lost her family was a lot of fun. Her faulty memory explains why she never thought about her family during the events of Finding Nemo. Even as a child, Dory introduces herself by saying, “Hi. I’m Dory. I suffer from short-term remembory loss.” Her relationship with her parents is cute and wholesome.

Dory’s parents are sweet and do their best to look after her wellbeing. This is not enough to prevent young Dory from getting lost as a child, though. Over time, Dory forgets her memories of times with her parents, even though she does recall certain things such as the fact that they told her to “just keep swimming.” Near the beginning of the movie, these memories start coming back.

Hank is a sarcastic, pessimistic octopus with seven tentacles. All he wants is to live in captivity for the rest of his life, as this is what he is accustomed to. However, the policy of the Marine Life Institute where he lives is “Rescue, Rehabilitate, and Release.” At least at first, Hank is only interested in helping Dory for his own benefit.

Dory makes some new loveable friends, who are at the Marine Life Institute, one who is there for a head injury and the other for shortsightedness. They have unique personalities that make them a great addition to the team.

Animation

The animation in Finding Dory is vibrant and beautiful, filled with soft blues and bright colors. Whether underwater or on land, the style is attractive.

Educational

There are aspects of the movie that teach children facts about life. The issue of pollution is explored somewhat in the movie. Dory in the picture above has gotten caught in plastic rings, obviously due to human irresponsibility and carelessness. The movie also demonstrates how wildlife are forced to adapt to pollution and humans as they become part of their habitat. Little facts such as that the octopus has three hearts and that belugas use echolocation are sprinkled throughout.

Music

The music fits the theme of the movie, even if it is relatively simple. It isn’t music I would add to my Spotify playlist, but for the movie itself, it added to and supported the mood.

References

“A113” appears in the movie, as it does in most Pixar films. This time it shows up on a license plate.

The Pizza Planet truck appears twice in the movie, once underwater in a dilapidated state and once on the road.

Some of the visitors to the Marine Institute come from other Pixar Films such as Toy Story 3 and Inside Out.

There are also so many references to Finding Nemo, such as the Tank Gang appearing in the end credits.

Concept

The concept is very similar to the original movie, except that Dory and her parents are lost instead of Nemo. The movie simply isn’t as good as the original–it isn’t as creative, fun, or enjoyable, and relies on the first movie for familiarity with characters and ideas.

I like that in the end credits we get to see Hank hiding in different places, like a look-and-find.

Some predators in the movie don’t act like actual predators and are helpful. This is kind of similar to the first movie, but Finding Nemo did better at portraying animals still acting like actual predators.

It was clever to have a touch tank from the point of view of the animals rather than the kids.

Conclusion

This is a solid family movie, great for kids even if it may not be as good as Finding Nemo.

Rating System

If you interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Movies

A Romance Masquerading as Horror

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

Rebecca (2020)

Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

Intro

I had high expectations for this movie. The trailer was intriguing and even looked spooky. Unfortunately, the movie did not satisfy. I haven’t read the book it is based on, so I cannot compare the two, but I have heard that the book is much better.

Background

This version of Rebecca was released in 2020 and is based on a novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. It fits into the genre of romantic thriller. The movie stars Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristen Scott Thomas, Ann Dowd, Keeley Hawes, and Sam Riley.

Summary

An unnamed newlywed woman is brought to Manderley, her husband Maxim de Winter’s English estate. There she desires to live happily, but cannot help contending with the memory of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. She feels threatened by Mrs. Danver’s, a servant in the house who was intensely loyal to Rebecca. As she spends more time at Manderley, the details of Rebecca’s life start to fall into place and mysteries begin to unravel.

Pros

  • Narrative voice at the beginning compelling
  • Acting by Kristen Scott Thomas was excellent
  • Several memorable quotes
  • Not very predictable
  • General setting attractive, especially Manderley

Cons

  • Most of the acting fell flat
  • Suspense was lacking
  • The protagonist was unnamed, which felt unnecessary
  • Maxim de Winter’s signature mustard yellow suit looks terrible
  • The trailer suggested undertones of horror that were never realized in the film
  • The movie dragged and then wound up too quickly

Review

Narrative Voice

The story begins with narration by the unnamed protagonist:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. I dreamt that where our drive once lay, a dark and tortured jungle grew. Nature had come into her own and yet the house still stood. Manderley. Secretive and silent as it had always been. Risen from the dead. Like all dreamers, I was allowed to pass through my memory. Spanning the years like a bridge. Back to that summer in Monte Carlo when I knew nothing and had no prospects.”

This imaginative language drew me into the story. I only wish that the story had merited such a beginning.

Acting

The acting by Kristen Scott Thomas (Mrs. Danvers) was excellent. Watching her subtle expression when she welcomed the protagonist into the house gave an immediate indicator of how well her character was going to be portrayed. Her loyalty to Rebecca seemed intense and sincere, as did her hatred of the new Mrs. de Winters.

Armie Hammer (Maxim de Winter) came off differently. It was like he was trying to play the wrong role. His intimacy was too intimate, and his subsequent coldness was too cold. It was as if he were trying to act out two separate roles, and that made the romance hard to enjoy.

Lily James (Mrs. de Winter) made for a timid protagonist that it was easy to feel sorry for but hard to really root for.

Suspense

There’s not much to say about suspense. There wasn’t any. For there to be suspense, you have to care what’s going to happen to the characters, and I really didn’t.

Sure, it wasn’t very predictable, but that cannot in itself create suspense. There has to be emotional investment in the movie for suspense to exist.

Quotes

There were a couple good quotes from Maxim, and one notable one from Mrs. Danvers.

I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”

Maxim de Winter

Not the most romantic line, but pretty unique. I doubt I would appreciate being called a little fool, but whatever. If that’s her thing.

All marriages have their secrets.”

Maxim de Winter

Again, not the most romantic thing one could say. I mean, it’s probably true. Most married people likely keep secrets from each other, but most people are not blunt enough to come out and say it. Trust and communication are not Maxim’s strong points, even though that’s what relationships need to be stable and healthy.

I wonder what’s she’s thinking about you.”

Mrs. Danvers

This line, delivered with finesse by Mrs. Danvers to the new Mrs. de Winter, is chilling. The “she” in the quote is the late Mrs. Rebecca de Winter. It’s one of those lines that make it seem like the movie is pretending to be a horror film. The trailer itself gives off horror vibes, and you get the feeling from the trailer that this is some ghost story, but it really is not. Nonetheless, this quote fits with the creepiness of Mrs. Danvers extremely well.

Setting

The setting is beautiful, whether it’s Manderley itself, the beach, the restaurants–all of it. The detail taken with the house made and the way the protagonist interacted with the things in the house made it all too clear how out of place the protagonist felt.

Details

The fact that the protagonist was never named bothered me. I know the movie was keeping with the tradition in the novel and earlier adaptation of not naming her, but this doesn’t really constitute an excuse. Why was she never named in the movie? It’s frustrating trying to refer to her and having nothing to call her before she is married and nothing to call her afterwards other than Mrs. de Winters after she is married. Names are so strongly tied into who people are. They, in a sense, make their names mean something by their actions. The fact that she doesn’t have a name makes her seem like a non-person, a non-character or like an extra with too many lines.

There isn’t any reason given during the movie for her not having a name, and her husband never uses it, which is so weird. Even when I am talking to my friends, I address them by name. How much more would this be true if I were in an intimate romantic relationship with someone?

Screenrant has an interesting article about why she was not named and regards it as a creative choice, but I still think it was an unfortunate decision.

Maxim de Winter’s suit near the beginning couldn’t help but call to mind images of the Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George. I don’t like the mustard color. He also wears this outfit repeatedly during their courtship period. He’s a rich dude, so he should be able afford some changes of clothes and at least something more aesthetically pleasing. I checked to see if I was the only one with this opinion, but looking at the reviews on IMDb, it seems I am not alone.

Conclusion

I wouldn’t recommend this movie for anyone, honestly. I would say it’s rating of PG-13 is reasonable due to sexual content, but there is nothing scary about Rebecca.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links