"Stillwater" stars Matt Damon, Camille Cottin, Lilou Siauvaud, Deanna Dunagan, and Abigail Breslin. Released on July 30, 2021, the film has an oil worker attempting to clear his daughter's name.
The film was directed by Tom McCarthy, who also directed films such as "The Visitor", "Win Win", and "Spotlight". We're all willing to do whatever it takes to save the ones we love, even if it means losing the trust of others in the process. In some cases, however, that can only get us so far. Tom McCarthy is at it again with his latest drama that'll surely fill people's hearts with the feels and land him back into the Oscars. After being delayed by a year due to the pandemic, the film finally made its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival a few weeks ago. Based on the early reviews it received, it seemed that the wait might have been worth it. Considering how much I enjoyed McCarthy's work so far, that's a pretty good accomplishment. But was it good enough for me to make it three for three for the director? Let's find out.
The story centers on Bill Baker (Damon), an unemployed oil worker from Oklahoma. He has been regularly visiting his estranged daughter Allison (Breslin) in a Marseille prison. It is revealed that Allison is falsely accused of killing her roommate and is serving her four-year sentence. During his visit, Allison gives Bill a note that could play a key role in her exoneration. With the help of a resident named Virginie (Cottin), Bill sets out to prove his daughter's innocence and track down the suspect responsible. The film could be easily identified as a crime drama that offers plenty of non-stop thrills based on its plot and marketing. While there were some heart-pounding moments that'll leave its viewers speechless, the film took a risky approach of emphasizing the human drama more than the traditional search-the-real-murderer aspect. The risk happened to pay off as Tom McCarthy delivered another captivating drama that showcased the actors' talents and thoughtful themes. Although, its execution may not work for everyone. The people who are hoping to see a consistently intense investigation drama may leave the film feeling a bit disappointed, if not bored. The investigation and mystery aspects only appeared in the first and third acts. The middle part played out like a non-traditional family drama about Bill's relationship with Virginie and her daughter Maya, played by Siauvaud. On the one hand, I did feel that the middle part would've been more suitable as a separate movie. On the other hand, it's a solid effort to humanize the characters and their chemistry thanks to McCarthy's direction and the cast, even though it can be unfocused at times. The film was over two hours long, which could be due to its second act. While the story was compelling enough to keep me engaged, it can also be a bit of a chore to sit through regarding the pacing, especially if you're one of the people who desire more thrills in its storytelling. Aside from those minor issues, I found it to be a well-made and engaging character study about the consequences of secrecy and the guilt that drives from it. Matt Damon was a marvel to witness as Bill in terms of both his performance and his accent. His chances of going for Oscar gold may be slim in my eyes, but he should deserve some credit for making Bill into a determined yet flawed father figure. Camille Cottin and Lilou Siauvaud also made their presence highly watchable as Virginie and Maya, respectively, and Breslin delivered a heartfelt performance as Allison. Another thing I want to mention is something that's connected to the film itself. Its story was loosely based on Amanda Knox's similar experience, and it received some controversy for profiting off her wrongful conviction without her permission. While it's a good piece of filmmaking as its own movie, it's understandable that making a fictionalized version of someone's experience without their consent was embarrassingly troublesome. They should at least notify Knox first or leave a short description before or after the movie that the story is fictionalized or even both. It didn't hurt the film's quality that much personally, but they should've done something to soften the blow.
Overall, "Stillwater" didn't reach the high standards of "Spotlight", but it's no secret that it's an engaging and complex drama filled with heart and intrigue. It's admittedly overlong and unfocused during a couple of scenes, mainly in its second act. Nonetheless, it's a thoughtful showcase of its brilliant cast, themes, and McCarthy's directorial skills. If you enjoy this type of genre and like Damon as a leading actor, you might get some enjoyment out of this one.
"Jungle Cruise" stars Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Édgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons, and Paul Giamatti. Released on July 30, 2021, the film is about a scientist who teams up with a riverboat captain to search for the Tree of Life.
The film was directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, who also directed films such as "Orphan", "Unknown", "The Shallows", and "The Commuter". It is based on the theme park attraction of the same name by Walt Disney. Summer vacation is not complete without a relaxing cruise across the majestic seas. A cruise that's filled with games, performances, and a pool. However, this cruise, in particular, is anything but relaxing. On the bright side, the ship's captain is none other than Dwayne Johnson. Since 1997, Disney has been bringing famous attractions from its theme parks to the screen, ranging from Tower of Terror to Tomorrowland. With the exception of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films, those adaptations have done little to be as popular as the rides and attractions they're based on regarding their box office and critical reception. This year, the trend continues with a film that's inspired by a riverboat ride through the dangerous jungle life. I haven't ridden the attraction myself. Then again, I still haven't been to any of the Disney theme parks yet. However, I was curious to see it in movie form primarily due to the presence of Johnson, Emily Blunt, and director Jaume Collet-Serra, who's known for collaborating with Liam Neeson in their recent action thrillers. Was it a voyage worth taking this summer, or was it another failed attempt at bringing a theme park ride to the big screen? Let's get on that boat and find out.
The story takes place during World War I, where a British scientist/explorer named Lily Houghton (Blunt) and her brother McGregor (Whitehall) are on a quest to find the magical tree that possesses healing powers. They seek the help of Frank Wolff (Johnson), a cynical but noble riverboat captain who guides them through the dangerous jungles. During the trip, they must survive against the Imperial German expedition lead by Prince Joachim (Plemons), who also seeks the tree, to reach their location unharmed. I've been hearing many people comparing this film to the other adventure films from years past. After watching it for myself, I couldn't help but agree with that theory. Not only does "Jungle Cruise" hearkened back to the genre that's been thrilling audiences for years, but it also shared a similar vibe to both "Indiana Jones" and "Tomb Raider". The question is, was it fun enough to honor these two source materials? The answer to that, my friends, is a yes. It's another big-budget Disney film that provided enough escapism and energetic thrills to satisfy those with a hunger for adventure. For Collet-Serra, the film was a different beast altogether regarding its light-hearted tone because he's directed plenty of movies with dark and violent essences, notably the ones with Liam Neeson. Regardless of this, the director maintained a sense of excitement in its environments, action scenes, and characters. He's also not afraid to showcase some little scares if necessary, but I must warn you, some of them may be a bit much for some kids. So please be mindful of that before you take them aboard this cruise. Another thing I enjoyed was its cast. Even though there's nothing special about Dwayne Johnson's performance as Frank, he's able to pull through with his compelling charisma and fun humor. His puns can be a bit annoying, though, but I'm willing to forgive them since they made me laugh. Emily Blunt also did wonders in delivering a satisfying performance as Lily Houghton. This character is more along the lines of a female Indiana Jones than a Lara Croft rip-off in terms of her scientific knowledge and adventurous spirit. While she's nowhere near as memorable as Harrison Ford's iconic character, Blunt succeeded in making Lily a likable and robust lead with a healthy mixture of charm and comedy. Plus, her chemistry with Johnson was just as lively as the exotic wildlife presented on screen. It's always essential to know that you have to have a cast that's as entertaining as its concept whenever you make a fun and dynamic film. "Jungle Cruise" accomplished that feat with ease thanks to its attractive and talented main leads. Jack Whitehall as Lily's brother seemed like a pretty big gamble in terms of his character being a comic relief, but it's a gamble that paid off well in the end. What seemed to be an unnecessary addition that's only there for cheap laughs turned out to be a surprisingly decent guest in the expedition. Jesse Plemons also had some fun in his role as Prince Joachim, a character that had the actor show off his impressive German accent. As for its flaws, the storyline in "Jungle Cruise" was undoubtedly formulaic, with plenty of nods and winks to the genre to go around, mainly from "Indiana Jones". Despite that, it offered some goofy enjoyment and a couple of surprises to make this tour more exciting than it should have. There were also some uses of CGI that were understandably overplayed a bit. The visuals for the jungle-like settings looked nice, but there were also some scenes where the CGI made its animals less convincing than others, mainly the jaguar. You read that right, folks, the jaguar in "Jungle Cruise" is 100% computer-generated. Not a single real-life jaguar in sight. Probably to get PETA off Disney's back, which I can understand. The editing could also be a bit better for a few action scenes and scenery shots. It sometimes felt too rushed for me to enjoy the latter in their full capacity.
Overall, "Jungle Cruise" is far from a perfect voyage, but it has enough mileage in its engine to keep the ship floating. Despite not matching the standards of "Pirates of the Caribbean" in terms of its plot and inconsistent visuals, the film accomplished its goal of being a suitable callback to the adventure films of yesteryear. With its charismatic cast, a delightful yet formulaic story, and its irresistible adventure vibe, this is another decent addition to Disney's series of attraction-turned-blockbusters. It's worth checking out if you're a fan of the two main leads and enjoy films with pure escapism. I wonder if they'll do a movie based on Space Mountain next.
"The Green Knight" stars Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Kate Dickie, Barry Keoghan, and Ralph Ineson. Released on July 30, 2021, the film has a knight embarking on a quest to confront a gigantic creature.
The film is written and directed by David Lowery, who also directed films such as "Ain't Them Bodies Saints", "Pete's Dragon", and "The Old Man & the Gun". It is based on the poem of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Everyone knows the story of King Arthur and his accomplishments via books and movies, but little do they know that there's one legend that involves one of his Knights of the Round Table. One that has him challenging a tree-like monster to a duel. A legend that happens to share the same blood as Arthur. This film sees writer/director David Lowery take his filmmaking skills to medieval times and introduce the Arthurian legend to modern audiences. Out of the movies that are out this weekend, this one happened to intrigue me the most because of A24's successful track record and Lowery himself, who has made a name for himself as a visionary storyteller. Plus, I do love me some Arthurian lore. With that said, let's travel back to the Middle Ages and see if this legend is as epic as it sounds.
The story centers on Gawain (Patel), a farm boy who is also the nephew of King Arthur (Harris). During a Christmas celebration, a mysterious creature known as the Green Knight (Ineson) arrives at the castle to seek a worthy opponent to take on his challenge. Gawain accepts the challenge and slays the Green Knight, who immediately survives and tells him to take a return blow in a year. Gawain then sets out on a journey across the dangerous land to confront the creature. Whenever there's a film that has the words "epic" and "fantasy" in its genre, it usually serves as a sign that it'll involve a lot of spectacle in its violence, magic, and CGI, similar to the "Lord of the Rings" films. While "The Green Knight" has those elements, its spectacle is far less traditional than your typical medieval fantasy blockbuster. It's a subtly grim and realistic take on the source material that showcases the character's coming-of-age journey to face his trials. It may not sound exciting to many people, but it does have an artistic sense of beauty in its story to compensate for its lack of high-stakes action. This is another film that saw David Lowery relying on the visuals and cinematography to represent his storytelling, ranging from the stellar production design to the lighting effects. The result is a magnificent piece of medieval cinema that's as thought-provoking as it was hauntingly beautiful. The story was highly fitting and absorbing regarding its underlying themes, and the performances from the cast were suitably honorable. Dev Patel was truly a sight to behold as he effectively balanced the emotions of Gawain, both internal and external. His performance was one of the best I've seen in quite a while. Sean Harris and Ralph Ineson were also astounding in their roles as King Arthur and the Green Knight, respectively, and Alicia Vikander represented her impressive talent once again as Lady. What I loved about the film was how Lowery managed to balance his narrative with the technical qualities surrounding it. In most cases, it can be straightforward for filmmakers to get lost in their films' appeal and lose focus on the stories they want to tell. Fortunately, Lowery was able to avoid that mistake. He quickly understood that the emotion and the human essence are a part of the film's visual splendor, not just the sceneries and CGI fight sequences. Because of this, I managed to feel fully immersed in the world it presented without feeling overwhelmed by its overabundant spectacle. I also really dug the film's incredible costume design and Daniel Hart's musical score. They successfully captured the appropriate soul of the film's timeline. Even though it succeeds in its gorgeousness, it can also be a slow burn for people who wanted some fast-paced action. Its two-hour-plus runtime might not make things any better either. However, both its appeal and pacing were respectable enough to slay those minor concerns in half.
Overall, "The Green Knight" is a marvelous cinematic adaptation of Sir Gawain's legend that's visually striking and narratively spellbinding. It's easy to admit that its quality and direction may not suit well for everyone, similar to the other films from A24. Nevertheless, it's another big win for the studio and the people who adore its projects so far. Thanks to its engaging cast, Lowery's direction and storytelling, and its technical aspects, this is one of the best-looking films I've seen this year. It also continues to showcase David Lowery as a talented and artistic filmmaker who knows how to balance the presentation with the narrative beats. I will highly recommend this one if you're into Arthurian lore and love some of the director's other works.
"Old" stars Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Alex Wolff, Embeth Davidtz, Eliza Scanlen, Emun Elliot, Kathleen Chalfant, and Thomasin McKenzie. Released on July 23, 2021, the film is about a family who discovers a terrifying secret during their vacation.
The film was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who also directed films such as "The Sixth Sense", "The Village", "The Visit", and "Split". It is loosely based on the graphic novel Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Levy and Frederik Peeters. We've all been saying that our kids grow up so fast. One minute, they're young and joyful, and the next, they're old enough to start looking for jobs and even true love. This film will make us wish we haven't said those words. M. Night Shyamalan, the master of twist endings and suspense, continues his recent comeback that started with "The Visit" with a mystery thriller that showcases how scary growing up can be. The concept was one of the reasons why I wanted to see the film, with the other being Shyamalan, who I've been rooting for since 2016's "Split". Whether this frightening element succeeds or not will depend on the filmmaker's execution, which has proven to be quite divisive regarding his filmography. Was it a vacation worth taking, or are we better off staying home this summer? Let's head on down to the beach and find out.
The story centers on the Cappa family, which consists of Guy (Bernal) and Prisca (Krieps) and their young children Trent (Elliot) and Maddox (Davidtz). They travel to a tropical resort as their last family vacation before the couple's divorce. One day, the family visits a secluded beach with three other groups of vacationing people. They then discover that one of them begins to age rapidly, and the children suddenly become teenagers. Every parent's worse nightmare. Knowing that the mysterious beach is responsible for these changes, the people must join forces to solve the mystery and escape before their times are up. The plot is something out of a "Twilight Zone" episode regarding the strangeness of the environment and the tone. It painted a horrifying portrait of aging through people's bodies and medical conditions thanks to this phenomenon. It can be a scary thought seeing our time fly away in an instant without realizing it, and Shyamalan had a peculiar way of reminding his audience constantly. While his storytelling didn't age well with the themes it represented, the film managed to overcome this easy-to-spot flaw with its style and effective use of disturbance and frights. Shyamalan continued to play with his strengths by providing a sense of dread and mystery into the environment and the characters themselves. He didn't rely so much on jump scares to spook his audience. Instead, he used haunting imagery, along with its cinematography and editing, to gain some unnerving vibes from them, which I thought were handled very nicely. Speaking of the cinematography, it's not a surprise to see that cinematographer Michael Gioulakis conjured up another gorgeously-looking creep-fest that's filled with panning shots and some wide angles. After seeing that he's done other horror films with Shyamalan and Jordan Peele, like "Split" and "Us", it made me think that Gioulakis should deserve some more recognition for his remarkable work in the genre. I also want to mention the film's set design, most notably the beach, which looked as beautiful as the camera work. As for the film's narrative, it was pretty clear that Shyamalan hasn't quite recovered his "Sixth Sense" groove yet. Although, it did happen to provide some tolerance and enjoyment in its main characters and plot to keep it from being outdated. The entire cast was somewhat decent in their roles, including Bernal and Alex Wolff as Guy and Trent, respectively. However, there were a few times where their acting felt a bit wooden, mainly from the child actors who weren't nearly as compelling as the adults. When the actors were in "terrified mode", they're good, but when they're not, they're slightly passable. The same can be said about the dialogue, which was pretty rough around the edges. I wouldn't say that it's downright atrocious, but I will say that it wasn't astounding either. The last thing I want to mention is the film's twist ending. Yes, much like his other films, Shyamalan provided a shocking twist in the film's third act that changes how we look at the film entirely. These twist endings have been pretty divisive, with some people liking it and some people hating it. "Old" is unsurprisingly no exception. Without giving too much away, how did I feel about the ending? Honestly, it wasn't as good as the first two acts, in my opinion. The shock value in the twist wasn't nearly as impactful as I thought it would be, and it somehow managed to make some of its plot holes more impossible to ignore. It irritatingly raised a couple more questions instead of answering them thoroughly, which can be a massive nuisance for some people. I have to say that the ending in "Old" was by far the weakest the director has ever done so far in his career. If you like the ending, then hey, major props to you. I'm just not feeling it.
Overall, "Old" is anything but timeless, but when it comes to its creepiness and tension-filled moments, it's another enjoyable and chaotic ride that originated from Shyamalan's creative mind. His execution towards its plot is admittedly a hit-and-miss, with its ending and dialogue being the worse offenders. However, the visual style that cooperated with its tone and imagery managed to levitate it to "decent" status rather than let it sink to "The Last Airbender" status. With its tolerable cast, cinematography, set design, and Shyamalan's direction towards the horror aspect, this latest original thriller from the divisive filmmaker was worth my time. I'm sorry, I couldn't resist saying it. It's not something that'll completely turn Shyamalan's career around, but it does show that he's still working his way back to the top. It may be a slow process for him, but as long as he continues to build that momentum, I'm sure he'll get there eventually. It's only a matter of time. Dang it, I did it again!
"Snake Eyes" stars Henry Golding, Andrew Koji, Iko Uwais, Úrsula Corberó, and Samara Weaving. Released on July 23, 2021, the film depicts the origin story of Snake Eyes.
The film is directed by Robert Schwentke, who also directed films such as "Flightplan", "The Time Traveler's Wife", "Red", and "R.I.P.D.". It is the third installment in the "G.I. Joe" film series, which is based on a series of toys and comics of the same name by Hasbro. There are three things that came to my mind whenever someone brought up the Hasbro brand: Transformers, My Little Pony, and G.I. Joe. Even though I'm more familiar with the former two than the military-focused franchise, there's no doubt that I'm more than willing to see the G.I. Joe come to life on the big screen and this latest action film I'm looking at this weekend is no exception. The G.I. Joe made their big-screen debut in 2009's "The Rise of Cobra", which turned out to be a live-action Saturday morning cartoon that's a bit too cartoony and CGI-heavy for its own good. It was then followed by 2013's "Retaliation", with Dwayne Johnson leading the crew. Despite the negative reviews from critics, these two movies managed to become box office hits, although they're not as successful as the "Transformers" films. Less than a decade later, Paramount and Hasbro decided to take the "Bumblebee" route and reboot the franchise with an origin story of one of the team's members; One that is both silent and deadly. "Bumblebee" served as a great reintroduction/spin-off of the live-action "Transformers" film series, so I was inquisitive to see if this spin-off/reboot would do the same to the "G.I. Joe" brand. With that in mind, let's see if this origin story can slice and dice its way to greatness.
The story chronicles the early days of Snake Eyes (Goulding), a lone fighter with a mysterious past who roams around the country and attempting to make an honest living. One day, after saving the life of Tommy Arashikage (Koji), an heir of an ancient ninja clan, Snake Eyes is recruited into and trained by the organization known as the Arashikage. During his training, he finds his beliefs tested when the secrets of his past start revealing before his eyes. Snake Eyes then begins his journey to outsmart his enemies, including an elite terrorist operative called the Baroness (Corberó), and become the hero we know and love. As mentioned earlier, the film serves as a new starting point for the "G.I. Joe" film series with a new diverse cast and plenty of ninjas. That's right. There's no Channing Tatum, no Dwayne Johnson, and especially no Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Cobra Commander. There's only Henry Golding from "Crazy Rich Asians" and some suitable doses of Japanese culture. Oh, and a few references to the G.I. Joe and Cobra organizations, just to let its audience know that it's a G.I. Joe movie. However, even with those helpful elements, the film couldn't acquire the proper skills to restart the franchise with a bang. There's nothing too special about "Snake Eyes" that makes this a must-see event for G.I. Joe fans, but I will also admit that it's enjoyable enough to warrant the big-screen treatment. To the film's credit, it did manage to improve upon the previous "G.I. Joe" films by balancing the action set pieces with an effortful storyline. Rather than showcasing the razzle-dazzle of its big-budget explosions, shootouts, and CGI, "Snake Eyes" offered a character-driven plot that's part revenge story and part ninja film. While the effort for the story and the characters was there, it was sadly bogged down by its genre cliches, the lack of solid character moments, and some mundane pacing. It's a lot less idiotic than "The Rise of Cobra" for sure, but it's also far from a good "G.I. Joe" adventure. One of the things that were able to make its flawed story entertaining for me was its cast. Henry Golding was challenged to showcase himself as a reliable action star and deliver his own representation of Snake Eyes, who Ray Park played in the previous installments. For the most part, Golding managed to conquer that challenge by effectively manifesting the character who's driven by revenge. He was also not afraid to provide some small bits of humor without losing his character's edge. Since Snake Eyes is known for being the silent type, it does feel odd hearing the character speak louder than his actions. Fortunately, the presence of Golding and its plot managed to make this little detail work. Thankfully, it's not as painfully embarrassing as Snake Eyes's mask in "Rise of Cobra". Andrew Koji was also respectable in his role as Tommy, also known as Storm Shadow, and Samara Weaving proved to be a decent addition to the cast as Scarlett. The action sequences were also pretty entertaining, primarily because they're not as overabundant or headache-inducing as the other G.I. Joe films. They're more reliant on sword fights, hand-to-hand combat, and gunfights rather than massive explosions and CGI effects. What kept them from being memorable was not just the direction provided but also the film's poor use of shaky cam. The shaky camera work and editing were highly irritating during the first couple of fight scenes, but they happen to be a bit better as the film went on, but not by much. The people in Hollywood should've known by now that shaky-cam does not always make the action scenes better.
Overall, "Snake Eyes" showcases a noticeable step in the right direction regarding the "G.I. Joe" brand. But it also served as a run-of-the-mill origin story that's not as silent and deadly as its titular hero. It failed to reach the same heights as "Bumblebee", another origin story/solo film based on the Hasbro toy line. Yet, it has enough entertainment value in its action and Golding's performance to please a good amount of G.I. Joe followers and casual viewers. There's a solid installment hidden in its shadow based on the direction it went. It just wasn't able to come out of it. If they manage to continue the franchise with this direction, I think there's a good chance they'll find a good G.I. Joe film sooner rather than later.