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Movie Reviews
Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
(Harrison Ford, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Antonio Banderas, John Rhys-Davis, et al. | PG-13 | 2 hr 24 min | Walt Disney Pictures)

Overview: Daredevil archaeologist Indiana Jones races against time to retrieve a legendary dial that can change the course of history. Accompanied by his goddaughter, he soon finds himself squaring off against Jürgen Voller, a former Nazi who works for NASA.

Verdict: Ending the Indiana Jones franchise with a depressing, groaning whimper, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny proves that sometimes it is best not to unearth the relics of the past in the corrosive air of a creatively corrupt present.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had the perfect ending, with the third (and supposedly last) film in the series bookending the thrilling adventures of archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) with a race towards the horizon as John Williams’ iconic score brings the series to a crescendo.

That was 1989. Thirty-four years later and Indiana Jones is dragged kicking-and-screaming into a new adventure, this time under the command of the overlords at Walt Disney, who long-ago exchanged their talent for creating iconic family-friendly movies for a treasure-trove of IP. Yet with no Steven Spielberg at the helm and a weary, cranky Harrison Ford unable to recapture the glory of the past, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a lame dud that makes Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look like Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny begins with an 80-year-old Dr. Jones living a lonely and bitter life in a New York City apartment as the vibrant decade of the Sixties moves on without him. When Dr. Jones is visited by his long-estranged goddaughter Helena (Phoebe Waler-Bridge) who has established a reputation as a treasure hunter, Dr. Jones is thrust into a high stakes search for an ancient artifact that legend says can help those who possess it travel back in time. Also on the hunt for the artefact is Dr. Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) a former Nazi scientist who wants to redo the events of WWII.

Unlike Denis Villeneuve with Blade Runner 2049 and Joseph Kosinski with Top Gun: Maverick, director James Mangold (Logan) brings little in the way of innovation or style to the Indiana Jones story. The usual bag of tricks is present, yet delivered with lackluster energy and undercooked nods to nostalgia that are depressing in the reminder that better days – and indeed better films – are behind us.

…Dial of Destiny instead plays like a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie: a prologue uses de-aging VFX technology that ages poorly with every passing minute; time-travel and its implications is a core theme; and there is an introduction of new characters clearly shoehorned in the Indiana Jones story to create potential spin-offs in a pathetic bid to fit in with today’s world building themes.

The woefully miscast Phoebe Waller-Bridge lacks the charisma to turn her know-it-all rogue into a character worth investing in or rooting for. Even worse – surprisingly, frustratingly – is Harrison Ford who, in his fifth outing as Indiana Jones, has turned the crusading adventurer that we all love into a bitter and grumpy old man that closely resembles the real Ford.

While there are key dramatic elements that explains why Indy has turned into Grumpy, the handling of those moments and the films’ key themes of time and regret are never satisfactorily explored, not when there is another CGI action sequence to dull the senses. If only we could go back in time and erase this mess of a film from existence. [L.Z.]

Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part One
(Tom Cruise, Haley Atwell, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, et al. | PG-13 | 2 hr 43 min | Paramount Pictures)

Overview: In Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part One, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team embark on their most dangerous mission yet: To track down a terrifying new weapon that threatens all of humanity before it falls into the wrong hands.

With control of the future and the fate of the world at stake, and dark forces from Ethan’s past closing in, a deadly race around the globe begins. Confronted by a mysterious, all-powerful enemy, Ethan is forced to consider that nothing can matter more than his mission -- not even the lives of those he cares about most.

Verdict: Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One delivers as a high-grade action thriller in which star Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie continue to push the boundaries of daredevil blockbuster filmmaking, in which our heroes combat insurmountable odds and clunky dialogue during a high-stakes mission to save the world.

There is always giddy excitement whenever a new Mission: Impossible film hits theatre’s, and for good reason. In a market overpopulated with superhero movies and other IP driven cinema “content”, there is something refreshingly old school to Mission: Impossible as movies made for the cinema without any spin-off streaming content to tide over the time between years long releases. Then there is, of course, Tom Cruise, perhaps the last great movie star standing whose displays of daredevil showmanship continues to put butts in seats.

Cruise reprises his role as IMF agent Ethan Hunt: incorruptible, daring, and always fighting for the side of good. That fight this time pits him against an old foe in Gabriel (Elias Morales) who has on his side a powerful artificial intelligence program called “The Entity” with which he plans to take over the world. When Ethan learns of way to destroy The Entity, the race begins to gain the upper hand in a mission with consequences both personal and world-shifting.

Fans of the Mission: Impossible film series can expect many of the series’ calling cards: cool gadgets; bone-crushing car chases; dastardly villains; gorgeous women; and a McGuffin with world-destroying implications. Thankfully, director Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher) succeeds in keeping the quality of the filmmaking and storytelling at a high-standard, with the stakes at play (although familiar) nevertheless worth investing in, despite a near three-hour runtime with which editor Eddie Hamilton (Top Gun: Maverick) does a great job in maintaining an engaging pace.

Cruise, of course, delivers upon the star-studded, risk-taking expectations placed on his well-seasoned shoulders. The real surprise is franchise newcomer Hayley Atwell who, in her portrayal as an unwilling player in a high-risk game of espionage, delivers a charismatic, at times comedic, and spellbinding performance that hopefully will ascend her star further. Great too is Pom Klementieff as a sadistic assassin who leaves carnage in her wake.

Although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of 2018’s …Fallout, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One is action thriller cinema at its best, and another achievement for the Cruise-McQuarrie partnership. [M.P.]

(Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, Kate McKinnon, America Ferrara, et al. | PG-13 | 1 hr 54 min | Warner Bros. Pictures)

Overview: To live in Barbie Land is to be a perfect being in a perfect place. Unless you have a full-on existential crisis. Or you’re a Ken.

Verdict: For all practical purposes, Barbieland is pristine. Various iterations of Barbies and Kens live their beautiful lives in blissful ignorance of the real world. But when the quintessential Barbie (Margot Robbie) begins to have unusual thoughts, she is directed by another Barbie (Kate McKinnon) to enter the world of humans and address her existential crisis. However, chaos ensues when Ken (Ryan Gosling) tags along with her on this quest.

Barbie’s production, combined with its costume, art & set design, is picture-perfect, immersing us into the predominantly pastel and particularly pink Barbieland with a plethora of colorful characters. Played by an ensemble cast, some are given substantially more to do, while others are relegated to the backdrop. Even though this is by design, it does make some of these characters slightly redundant, albeit not overbearing.

Margot Robbie reminds us of her incredible depth and range as the main character Barbie and is perfectly cast in the lead role. Ryan Gosling is a scene-stealer whose Ken is an unlikely brand of a jerk that draws laughs effortlessly, often at his own expense. However, the ace in the pack is America Ferrera, who is impressive, especially in one memorable monologue that perfectly captures the complex conundrum of women’s equality.

This brings us to the film’s most vital aspect – its writing. Taking a prominently feminist outlook, Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach deftly pull off the tricky tightrope act of a self-aware screenplay that hits hard on the nose while being thoroughly entertaining. Using comedy and musical numbers to charm the audience, the message is deliberately heavy-handed. Sure, there’s a looming question of whom this film is aimed at, and ‘Barbie’ is certainly not just for those who’d play with these dolls.

Slathered with satire that eventually sheds off its sugar-coat, this film decisively takes the patriarchal bull by the horns. Quite the risk by toymakers Mattel, Gerwig’s style meets substance with her direction that dissolves all debate of ‘Barbie’ being a corporate cash grab as it will undoubtedly tip-toe its way to the front row of awards ceremonies. [K.T.]

(Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, et al. | R | 3 hr 00 min | Universal Pictures)

Overview: During World War II, Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves Jr. appoints physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spend years developing and designing the atomic bomb. Their work comes to fruition on July 16th, 1945, as they witness the world’s first nuclear explosion, forever changing the course of history.

Verdict: Love and regret lie at the heart of Christopher Nolan’s movies no matter how complex and demanding they seem in structure and storytelling. True to his style in spirit but deviating from the usual in execution and content, the acclaimed director creates a moving masterpiece on human disillusionment. How a man’s biggest discovery and bravery marked his biggest doom. Oppenheimer may have been a genius, but he wasn’t acquainted with the ways of the world. He spoke his mind, trusted everyone, and paid a price for it.

Talky and dense, the film unravels like a psychological horror-investigative-courtroom thriller even as it recreates known historical events. IMAX cameras go dangerously close to the actors exposing every pore, every unsaid emotion, and every falling tear perfectly. Sound and silence especially in that chilling detonation scene, play an unsettling game of hide and seek. Ludwig Göransson’s music lends the film its unnerving ticking time bomb effect. Nolan keeps amplifying your anxiety, holding you emotionally captive with no interest to slow down whatsoever. You find yourself being moved to tears as he finally releases his flawed lead character from the prison of his own guilt.

The 3-hour long film is based on Pulitzer Prize-winning biography called ‘American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer’. It meticulously follows the celebrated and controversial physicist’s life story in a nonlinear fashion. The narrative shuttles between past and present while addressing the key events leading up to the nuclear test and its repercussions. These involve the American Jew’s equation with self, fellow scientists including Albert Einstein, political activism leaning left, implications on him being a Russian spy and revocation of his security clearance in an unfair government hearing.

A man who took great pride in his discoveries could never look at it in the eye. The atomic bomb though only forms a section of the film, it largely studies the mindset of its creator. Oppenheimer’s ambition and relentless love for physics swamp him with a sense of impending doom and moral scruples. Nolan cleverly pits Oppenheimer’s heart against his mind and the disconnect between the two at the centre of his film.

If you happen to be a World War II geek, you will get the Germany-USA-Japan-Russia arms race and socio-political situation better. One man’s desire to combat fascism and save lives resulted in the destruction of human lives and no one could have played it better than Cillian Murphy. His soul-piercing blue eyes convey agony and quiet anger remarkably. Robert Downey Jr and Emily Blunt are excellent. Matt Damon, Rami Malek and Kenneth Branagh are well cast in extended cameos.

Oppenheimer leaves you in tatters as it is a gripping piece on a man consumed by guilt and inner turmoil. “A man who became death, the destroyer of worlds.” You won’t forget this film for a long time. [R.V.]

Haunted Mansion
(Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, LaKeith Standfield, et al. | PG-13 | 2 hr 03 min | Walt Disney Pictures )

Overview: A woman and her son enlist a motley crew of so-called spiritual experts to help rid their home of supernatural squatters.

Verdict: In theaters this weekend is Haunted Mansion, the new reimagining of the story surrounding the beloved Disney ride and it’s a fun little romp with some nice surprises. The story revolves around a single mom and her son that move into a big creaky old mansion that is – you guessed it, haunted – and when they leave, the ghosts follow them, so they get a priest to come by then a paranormal photographer to the same result so they’re all stuck in it together until they can figure out how to shake the many many ghosts!

Of course we know Tiffany Haddish, Rosario Dawson, Owen Wilson, Jamie Lee Curtis and Danny De Vito can really carry a big movie but LaKeith Stanfield and Chase W. Dillon are the real heart and soul here – and what a joy to see them both shine here. Stanfield is always great but this is a big platform for him and Dillon is a kid that seems to have a promising future.

You wouldn’t expect to tear up in a movie like this but you might a couple of times given these two together. Director Justin Simien gets a good shot here to mix funny, scary, sweet and something for everyone, which is hard to do. It’s a bumpy ride here and there but overall pretty fun which is all you could hope for from a movie based on an amusement park attraction. [P.S.]