Knives Out – A Movie Review

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I saw this quite a while ago but never got around to reviewing it. However, now that I see it is available on demand, and because quite a few of us have a lot of extra time on our hands, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

First of all, if you’re looking for a compelling grown-ups movie, a movie that a couple might enjoy for a “date night,” this is the one for you.

It is funny, mysterious, thrilling, and–best of all–endlessly entertaining.

The general plot revolves around a famous author dying unexpectedly at home while his entire family happens to be visiting. Each member of the family stands to benefit from his death, and each is a suspect. They, consequently, believe that his home health care assistant–Marta Cabrera–could be at fault. Daniel Craig enters the movie as Detective Benoit Blanc, a seemingly inept investigator. He doesn’t even know who hired him, but he means to get to the bottom of this mystifying case.

The acting in this film is a hoot. Daniel Craig utilizes a ridiculous southern drawl that doesn’t take long to become charming. Chris Evans is at his absolute best when he’s playing a cocky jerk. Ana de Armas loses every ounce of glamour as Marta which makes her all the more sympathetic. And those are just the main players! The film also has excellent performances from Michael Shannon, Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, and Christopher Plummer.

The writer and director, Rian Johnson, reminds us that movies don’t have to have huge special effects, CGI, or muscular people in tights to be great. This movie thrives on an irresistible mystery, quirky details, and superb acting.

Like I said, if you need a movie that will appeal to a variety of grown-ups, you can’t go wrong with Knives Out.

Amazon’s The Boys – A Few Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to write about this crazy show for a long, long time because I actually watched it last summer. However, it says something that even after all of these months, it still stands out as one of the best series I’ve seen in quite a while.

Based on a comic book, The Boys is about a group of normal men who have decided to take revenge against a team of super heroes. However, these super heroes are anything but altruistic. In fact, most of them are scarier than any villain you could imagine.

Super hero stories are no longer unique on the screen, but The Boys is absolutely original in that there are no “good guys” in this story–not really. Everyone is selfish, or brutal, or willingly ignorant, or–worst of all–apathetic. And while that certainly sounds like a bummer, the show manages to infuse a grotesque sense of humor. Despite all of its savagery, The Boys is a captivating watch.

In fact, Amazon Studios seemed to spare no expense with The Boys. The special effects are top-notch, the actors–especially Karl Urban–are excellent, the story is very well conceived and executed, and the characters never fail to surprise you.

However, as good as Karl Urban is, it’s Antony Starr who steals the show. He plays Homelander, a twisted amalgam of Superman and Captain America. I’ve never heard of Antony Starr before The Boys, but his Homelander absolutely terrified me. Every time that character appeared on screen, I got nervous. You’ll have to watch the show to see what I’m talking about.

Yes, The Boys subverts the genre in a way that feels fresh, but it’s the wicked humor, the interesting characters, and the relentlessly violent story that won’t let you look away. Even after all these months, I’m still thinking about it. Season Two is on the way, so now would be a great time to catch up.

Be warned, though, this is not a show for children. The violence is shocking. Believe it or not, they actually had to tone the show down. Supposedly the comic book is even more hardcore.

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Netflix’s Dracula – A Few Thoughts

I watched this show on Netflix in early January when it debuted. It had two things going for it that definitely got my attention.

First of all, it looked to be dealing with the real Dracula–Bram Stoker’s Dracula–my Dracula. Secondly, it was created and written by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the talented creators behind my favorite versions of Doctor Who and Sherlock.

The show had some good buzz. Critics were saying the first episode was genuinely scary, and it was! It had some quirky, funny moments, to be sure, but that first episode absolutely dabbled in the horrific and grotesque.

Somewhere throughout the three episode series, though, it became … campy? I still got a kick out of it, but it felt less scary and more wacky. There were some clever twists and turns, but the end of the series didn’t leave me particularly impressed.

Probably its greatest assets were the lead actors–Claes Bang and Dolly Wells. Bang plays Dracula and Wells plays Sister Agatha, as well as [REDACTED]. These two had incredible chemistry together and were a lot of fun to watch.

I can’t say I’m excited for a second season of this particular Dracula adaptation. I’m not sure I would watch it, honestly.

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Netflix’s Locke & Key – A Few Thoughts

I’m a big fan of IDW’s series entitled Locke & Key. Written by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), this title was a little bit horror, a little bit fantasy, a little bit family saga, and a whole lot of charm. Besides the captivating writing, it also benefited from a nice blend of the cartoonish and the Gothic from artist Gabriel Rodriguez.

When I heard Netflix planned to make a series out of it, I got very excited. After a few starts and stops in production, it finally got made.

I actually watched this series after it released several weeks ago. I’ve had some time to think it over and … it’s not great.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it–I did. But I’m also a fan, you see. I’m not completely objective about Locke & Key. While I thought it looked great and had nice pacing, it just failed to capture the magic of the comic series.

This is primarily because of the actors. The acting just never quite clicked for me. I didn’t ever enter that space where I forgot that I watched people acting. They didn’t become the characters, and that’s a problem with a story like this.

Also, the show didn’t commit to its actual identity. It frankly tried to play too nicely. I think it hoped to capture the Stranger Things crowd, but Locke & Key is not Stranger Things. It’s far more violent, graphic, and intense. The themes are more mature, and the consequences more severe. I love Stranger Things, but they shouldn’t operate on the same frequency. As it stands, Locke & Key came off more like a bland imitation, which is a real shame.

Of course, I want you to watch Locke & Key because I want more of it on Netflix. It’s not too late to course correct. Like I said, it looked beautiful, and they moved along at just the right speed. They just need to get comfortable in their own skin and maybe bring in an acting coach.

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Moon – A Movie Review

I’ve been meaning to watch Moon for a really, really long time. (After all, it came out in 2009.) For some reason, I never knew quite enough about it to warrant devoting an entire evening.

Recently, I saw a list of the top science fiction movies on Netflix. I can’t remember what website I saw this on, but Moon topped the chart. That, coupled with the extra time we all now have, prompted me to finally give it a chance.

At barely over an hour and a half, Moon came in at just the right amount of time. The premise is both simple and complex. Sam Rockwell plays a man in the near future supervising a large moon station that’s responsible for mining helium and sending it back to Earth. He is the sole human in the station, though he does have an artificially intelligent robot called GERTY that is tasked with preserving his health and maintaining the station’s mechanics. Because of a persistent malfunction with the station’s live stream capabilities, Sam is completely cut off from his wife and child. However, the end of his three-year contract is only two weeks away, and Sam could not be happier to get back home. As you might expect, a complication arises, one that threatens both Sam’s homecoming but also the entire understanding of his existence.

Sam Rockwell, who plays the aptly named “Sam,” is always fantastic. I could be wrong, but I think this is the first starring role that I’ve ever seen him in. He is likable, vulnerable, and–most importantly–charismatic. To watch a movie featuring virtually one actor … well, it takes a special person to pull off that role.

I also appreciated the mystery of Moon. A strange occurrence happens early in the film, and from that moment on, Moon keeps you guessing. It’s a quiet movie with moments of intense action, but it’s never boring. The special effects, by the way, are exquisite.

As I said, you can stream Moon on Netflix right now. I’ve read that another movie available on Netflix, Mute, is a sequel of sorts to Moon. I’ll have to check that one out soon and let you know my thoughts.

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The Singing Wilderness by Sigurd F. Olson – A Book Review

A friend recommended this book to me. We have a mutual admiration of Stephen King, and he knows I’m a writer, so I think he believed I’d appreciate Olson’s writing technique. My friend was most definitely correct!

The Singing Wilderness is a series of essays depicting the various seasons in northern Minnesota. Olson somehow finds a way to describe local animal life, lakes, forests, rivers, and insects in a dynamic, captivating, and unique way throughout the length of an entire book.

And while Olson’s style is brilliant, The Singing Wilderness spoke to me on a far deeper level than simply craft. Even though it debuted in 1956, his words and style transcend time. Reading this book isn’t like stepping into a time machine, though–it’s more like passing through a portal into the wilderness.

As Olson says, there is something in us that loves nature, that needs nature, that wants to coexist with nature. Until relatively recently, we didn’t just visit nature, we actually lived in it. The Singing Wilderness somehow captures that dynamic and makes our heart yearn for the sights and sounds that our ancestors experienced.

I’m no outdoorsman, but The Singing Wilderness inspired me to get outside. Not just my backyard, but local state parks and nature preserves. I’ve already developed a plan to visit several this summer with my wife and young daughters.  I feel confident the book will equally encourage you.

If you love nature or masterfully written sensory language, I highly recommend The Singing Wilderness. You can find a copy at both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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The Lost City of Z – A Movie Review

I’ve meant to watch The Lost City of Z for several years now. I would see it on my Amazon Prime Video menu, but would move along due to its 2.5 hour run time. I typically won’t watch a movie at home until my kids are in bed, so that run time would keep me up way too late.

Well, as may be the case with you, I’ve found myself with a little extra time lately. Though it still took me two nights to watch, I gave The Lost City of Z a shot, and you know what? You should, too.

If you’re like me and you don’t know much about the premise, it follows Percy Fawcett, a British soldier, adventurer, and explorer as he charts the Amazon and develops a theory that an ancient, complex civilization once existed in the depths of the jungle. He becomes obsessed with the idea and returns over and over again in the hopes of discovering evidence. Interestingly enough, The Lost City of Z is based on a true story (and a best-selling nonfiction book).

As I said, I highly recommend this film, and for many reasons.

First of all, it’s gorgeous. Much of the movie takes place in the Amazon. They filmed on location in Columbia, and it shows. However, the movie also occurs in beautiful English countryside, war-torn WWI trenches, and stunning architectural interiors.

Secondly, the acting is excellent. I’ve always liked Charlie Hunnam. He consistently manages to bring a masculine energy to any character he plays, one that is rare with a lot of Hollywood’s elite. I wish he had better luck with some of his choices–both The Lost City of Z and King Arthur: Legend Of the Sword failed at the box office despite being very good. Robert Pattinson managed to surprise me with his supporting role. As you may know, he’s currently filming the lead in The Batman. I’ve heard his work outside of Twilight is very good, but I haven’t been impressed with him until now. (I did not care for either High Life or The Lighthouse.) Sienna Miller, whom I have not seen in a film for quite a while, made “Nina Fawcett” more than just the wife left behind as she strives to keep her family together and push the boundaries of convention. There is yet another actor in this film that I won’t name. I did not expect his appearance in the movie despite having a large role, which proved a pleasant surprise and contributed to the film’s emotional ending.

Finally, while I admittedly didn’t know much about this story, I presumed the entire thing would take place in the Amazon. This was not the case at all. As previously mentioned, there is an incredible trench warfare scene, as well as some wonderful moment’s in Fawcett’s home, a British meeting room, an extravagant party, and more. In fact, The Lost City of Z spanned several decades of Percy Fawcett’s life, so this obviously contributed to many, many different locales.

While full of action, suspense, and thrills, The Lost City of Z is not a typical “action movie.” It does have it’s quiet moments, as well as several emotionally potent scenes. It portrays Fawcett as more than just an adventurer. It also allows him to be a father, a husband, a friend, and–perhaps most importantly–a person.

If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch The Lost City of Z right now as part of your service. I recommend you do just that.

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