NOTE: These are spoiler-free reviews.
The sports world is ablaze with action and excitement, and in nowhere more than Baltimore itself. Not-so-subtle flex: the Ravens are as great as I’ve ever seen them — four straight wins against teams with winning records, with a total margin of 104 points among those wins — and rank as both the best offense and best defense in the NFL. Lamar Jackson, their MVP quarterback, is reason number one for their success and my own interest in football amidst the rush of schoolwork (hey, my grades are still OK).
But today’s column isn’t about sports. Rather, we’re taking a trip to the movie theater, where box office hits are rolling in. Two recent ones were so great that they merit their own reviews, while others have me literally circling their opening dates on my calendar. Get your popcorn ready.
Option 1: Ford v Ferrari
When I first heard of the title, the flashbacks to flop Batman vs Superman gave me pause in crowning it a must-watch movie. Then, the positive reviews started coming in, and the Matt Damon-Christian Bale flick rose to the top of my priority list. It didn’t disappoint. Ford v. Ferrari is one of the best investments of movie ticket fare I’ve made and is one of the most remarkable sports movies of its time.
The premise of Ford v Ferrari is simple: the erratic race car driver Ken Miles (Bale) and designer/manager Carroll Shelby (Damon) agree to help Ford unseat Ferrari as the best designer of race cars and win the Le Mans race. Yet despite its simplicity and its over worn genre, Ford v Ferrari is a triumph.
Damon and Bale are masterful in their roles (Bale is so natural in the oddball role of Miles that I may never see his Batman character the same way) and their chemistry, the centerpiece of the film, never lags. Ford’s knack for stepping on its own feet adds another layer onto the plot, and the relationships, from Miles-Shelby to Shelby-Ford to Ford-Ferrari and every combination in between, are genuine to the point that it merits emotional investment from the audience.
And that is what enables the greatest part of Ford v Ferrari to be so spectacular. The race scenes are edge-of-the-seat-level tense, just as engaging in the first minute as the middle. The choreography depicts the action and speed with 21st century clarity, while at the same time staying true to the 1966 time period and its feel. Watching those races, and their impacts on the film’s crucial characters, is an exhilarating experience.
Ford v Ferrari runs long, but like fellow 2019 release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, part of its allure is that it’s a movie you want to hang out in. And unlike the majority of sports flicks to hit screens, it puts you in the emotional driver seat and takes you on a ride until the end.
Option 2: Knives Out
As an avid reader of Agatha Christie novels and a casual fan of the mystery genre itself, the whodunit movie Knives Out seemed intriguing. Add in the star-studded cast and the fact that the film’s director was Rian “The Last Jedi” Johnson himself, along with positive reviews praising the film’s fresh take on the genre (I take my reviewers very seriously), Knives Out seemed like another solid bet at the box office, a couple weeks after Ford v Ferrari gave me one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had in years. Knives Out did exactly what I’d hoped it would do, and not an ounce more — be a fun, unpredictable diversion in an oft-copied genre.
Daniel Craig, most famous for his role as James Bond, plays detective Benoit Blanc in this mystery flick, which is self-aware of its genre at times but modernizes and adds twists to the genre’s traditional structure. Assigned to investigate the death of famous mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), Blanc questions Thrombey’s spiteful and colorful family and sees the death as something more complex and vile than its initial ruling of suicide.
Knives Out isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s a load of fun and was well worth the $6 ticket. Johnson prides himself on being a contrarian, and like his controversial Star Wars installment The Last Jedi, this movie has unforeseen twists and quirky humor throughout its duration. It straddles the line between classic mystery (its typography, soundtrack and creepy mansion locale are odes to its genre forebears) and 21st century tweaks (technology and pace), which lifts it above recent uninspired box office mysteries such as Murder on the Orient Express.
Knives Out lacks the lasting punch of other 2019 movies like Ford v Ferrari and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, but even on the tier of “pure entertainment”, it’s a rock-solid choice for a night out at the movies.
Option 3: Upcoming Pictures
2019 has been a
good great year for movies thus far, but December could send the year out with a bang.
At the time of publication for this column, I have not seen The Irishman but have made it an absolute priority to check it out.
The combination of Adam Sandler (as a shady jeweler) and Kevin Garnett (as himself) in the crime drama Uncut Gems sounds absolutely awesome.
But the granddaddy of them all — Star Wars Episode IX: Rise of Skywalker.
Star Wars is the best movie franchise of all-time — it’s not even close. The first six movies are treasures to me, and I’ve staked out at the movie theaters for Episodes VII and VIII. Even though the Disney-era installments have been met with mixed reviews and lack the magic and direction of the first ones, sitting in the movie seats with lightsaber in hand has been wildly entertaining and exciting. Star Wars IX will be the last of the Skywalker saga, and maybe the last time I am truly invested in the Star Wars flicks Disney churns out. I’d love to see the saga go out with the ending it deserves.