Deep Water

STREAMING REVIEW:

Hulu;
Thriller;
Rated ‘R’ for sexual content, nudity, language and some violence.
Stars Ben Affleck, Ana de Armas, Tracy Letts, Grace Jenkins, Rachel Blanchard, Kristen Connolly, Jacob Elordi, Lil Rel Howery, Brendan Miller, Finn Wittrock. 

Adrian Lyne’s first directorial effort since 2002’s Unfaithful follows a similar tact as his previous film in adapting the 1957 novel Deep Water.

Aside from some erotic overtones and major changes to the ending, Lyne’s Deep Water is mostly faithful to the primary story points from the book. Vic and Melinda Van Allen (Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas) are a couple in a small rural town who seem to have an open marriage, in that she has a number of close friendships with other men that all their friends assume are her lovers. The book is a bit more explicit to this point, that they have an arrangement that allows her to step out as long as they avoid a divorce for the sake of their daughter.

However, Melinda’s constant flaunting of her sexuality in front of other men is actually causing Vic to seethe inside, and he scares off one of her would-be love interests by claiming to have murdered her previous one. This gives him a bit of a reputation among town for a dark sense of humor, but intrigues new-to-town screenwriter Don Wilson (Tracy Letts) with a flair for conspiracies.

Vic’s jealousy really boils over when he meets Melinda’s next would-be lover, a local musician named Charlie (Jacob Elordi) giving her piano lessons. When Charlie ends up drowning in a pool at a local party, Melinda immediately accuses Vic of murdering him, which drives Don to investigate further.

Despite her doubts about her husband’s innocence, Melinda is still willing to tempt fate with another boyfriend, Tony (Finn Wittrock), who might just inspire her to run off to Brazil.

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Deep Water is mostly a dry arrangement of passive-aggressive character interactions that occasionally result in some fatalistic intrigue. The film is rather ambiguous at first about just what Vic is capable of before removing any doubt by the final act. The story mostly requires Affleck to look angry at the people around him, an acting technique not far off from his usual range. To compensate for the slowly simmering plot tensions, Lyne turns up the eroticism with a very sensual performance from de Armas, who also, thankfully, is well suited for the task.

The best thing about the movie is little Grace Jenkins as Vic and Melinda’s adorable daughter Trixie, who steals pretty much every scene she’s in. The filmmakers know it, too, which is why the end credits are just an extended outtake of a scene of her riding in a car singing the ’70s hit “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.”

No Time to Die

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 12/21/21;
Universal/MGM;
Action;
Box Office $158.62 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.98 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language and some suggestive material.
Stars Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Rami Malek, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Billy Magnussen, Ana de Armas, David Dencik, Rory Kinnear, Dali Benssalah.

After nearly 60 years of cinematic history, audiences have a certain expectation of what a James Bond movie is supposed to be. No Time to Die defies a lot of those tropes.

The 25th film in the EON Productions Bond canon, No Time to Die serves as a coda to the Daniel Craig era of the character, a five-film arc that began with 2006’s Casino Royale. As such, it plays very much like a series finale, wrapping up a number of loose threads that interconnected the Craig’s films.

Most notably, the film finds Bond with the same love interest from the previous film, a first for the franchise. In this case, 2015’s Spectre had Bond retire from the British Secret Service and run away with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). No Time to Die picks up with their attempts to build a life together, a prospect hampered by her complicated past being the daughter of a top Spectre agent. When Bond assumes she arranged for Spectre to attack him on vacation, he puts her on a train and vows to never see her again.

Cut to five years later, and Bond is living in seclusion in Jamaica (a location iconic to the Bond franchise) when his old CIA buddy Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) recruits him to help retrieve a missing Russian scientist who is responsible for a biological weapon that can target the DNA of specific bloodlines.

Bond has a run-in with the British agent (Lashana Lynch) who took over his 007 number, and learns the weapon was originally developed by the British government. It has fallen into the hands of a man named Safin (Rami Malek), who wants to use it to cleanse the world of people he considers detrimental to his utopian vision. What’s worse, the answers to retrieve it seem to lie with Bond’s Spectre nemesis Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and Madeleine.

Director Cary Fukunaga has delivered an entertaining Bond adventure filled with splendid action sequences, beautiful visuals and amazing set designs that evoke the great over-the-top villain lairs of yesteryear.

As both a capper to the Craig era and a milestone film for EON, No Time to Die is loaded with references to several previous Bond films dating back to the beginning of the series with 1962’s Dr. No, as well as Bond creator Ian Fleming’s novels. The film draws particular influence from 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, from Hans Zimmer’s terrific score quoting some of its music to Craig uttering the immortal line “We have all the time in the world,” which Bond fans know always foreshadows trouble ahead.

The Easter eggs should provide a serious blast of nostalgia for Bond fans without being distracting for viewers not intimately familiar with the entire history of the franchise.

Craig himself puts a memorable cap on a unique run for the character, in that all five of his films more or less tell a larger story of the life of a British superspy and his complicated love life. One interesting aspect of No Time to Die is that it is almost framed as a story told from Madeleine’s perspective, evoking the essence of Fleming’s The Spy Who Loved Me novel if not the plot itself.

The experiment of serializing the Bond movies certainly had its ups and downs, with the biggest complaint being that the films were too reliant on tracking Bond through missions that had a personal connection to him, from seeking revenge for fallen lovers to uncovering long-lost family secrets. While in retrospect the Craig saga plays fine for what it is, it’s hard to argue that the two best films in the sequence aren’t Casino Royale and 2012’s Skyfall, the only two films of the five that could be considered standalone adventures. Detractors will say the interconnectedness is just an attempt to modernize Bond by aping the Bourne movies. Fans would just as soon see Bond get back to duty carrying out just protecting the free world with fantastical missions he otherwise has no personal stake in.

While this is Craig’s swan song in the role, the movie does carry on the franchise tradition of promising that “James Bond Will Return,” which begs the question of where the series goes from here. I for one would be interested in seeing the series returning to its roots by going retro with Bond immersed in the Cold War in the 1960s.

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The No Time to Die Blu-ray presentation is a bit unusual in how the extras are presented. The 4K combo pack offers the extras on the 4K disc alongside the film, which the regular Blu-ray that is included has no extras. Most discs typically employ the reverse strategy, with minimal extras on the 4K disc and all of them on the Blu-ray.

The included extras consist of four behind-the-scenes featurettes and the 47-minute Being James Bond documentary that was previously released in the lead-up to No Time to Die and provides an intimate look at Craig’s history with the character. Being James Bond is exclusive to the 4K edition.

The making-of material totals about 35 minutes and gives a succinct EPK-style glimpse at the production. The longest is the 11-and-a-half-minute “Anatomy of a Scene: Matera,” which deconstructs one of the film’s pre-credits action scenes. The six-minute “Keeping it Real: The Action of No Time to Die” focuses on the film’s stuntwork, the eight-minute “A Global Journey” looks at the film’s shooting locations, and the 11-minute “Designing Bond” details the building of the film’s sets and costumes.

The standard Blu-ray combo pack and the DVD editions it seems have the supplements included on a separate bonus disc. Even keeping Being James Bond as a 4K exclusive, it’s only a handful of featurettes that would need to be included so it’s a bit baffling why they weren’t stacked onto the same Blu-ray disc as the film.

Also note that the included digital copy code is listed as redeemable through Apple TV/iTunes, but not Movies Anywhere, as MGM is not a signatory to the digital locker service.

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IMDb: Ana de Armas (‘Knives Out’), Anya Chalotra (‘The Witcher’) Top Stars in 2020

Amazon-owned IMDb Dec. 1 unveiled the Top 10 Stars and Top 10 Breakout Stars of 2020. Topping the lists, respectively, Knives Out star and Golden Globe nominee Ana de Armas and Anya Chalotra from Netflix’s “The Witcher.”

Rather than base its annual rankings on small statistical samplings, reviews of professional critics, or box office performance, IMDb determines its Top 10 lists using data from proprietary data, which is based on the actual page views of more than 200 million monthly visitors to IMDb.

“Our lists … highlight the actors and actresses our fans and professional customers were most excited and curious about this year,”  Matt Kumin, head of IMDbPro, said in a statement.

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Chalotra received an IMDb “Breakout” STARmeter Award for her standout performance as Yennefer in “The Witcher,” which ranks as one of the most popular TV Shows on IMDb this year. Chalotra has been a strong performer this year on the IMDbPro STARmeter chart, spending four consecutive weeks in the No. 1 spot and an additional four weeks in the Top 10. IMDbPro STARmeter rankings are determined by page views of more than 200 million monthly visitors to IMDb worldwide. IMDb STARmeter Awards have proven to be a keenly accurate predictor of stars who are about to have a breakthrough career moment.

Previous IMDb STARmeter Award recipients in the “Breakout” category include Nicholas BraunOlivia CookeJacob ElordiPom KlementieffBrie LarsonDacre Montgomery and Miles Teller.

Cuban-born Ana de Armas, who appears with Knives Out co-star Daniel Craig in the next James Bond installment, No Time To Die, cut her teeth in Hollywood in 2015 erotic thriller Knock Knock with Keanu Reeves.

IMDb Top 10 Stars of 2020

  1. Ana de Armas
  2. Julia Garner
  3. Anya Chalotra
  4. Millie Bobby Brown
  5. Erin Moriarty
  6. Margot Robbie
  7. Aidan Gallagher
  8. Anya Taylor-Joy
  9. Linda Cardellini
  10. Henry Cavill

 

IMDb Top 10 Breakout Stars of 2020

  1. Anya Chalotra
  2. Aidan Gallagher
  3. Maria Bakalova
  4. Lauren Lapkus
  5. Victoria Pedretti
  6. Jurnee Smollett
  7. Alba Baptista
  8. Golshifteh Farahani
  9. Freya Allan
  10. Diana Silvers

 

Knives Out

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/25/20;
Lionsgate;
Mystery Comedy;
Box Office $163.71 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.
Stars Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Noah Segan, K Callan, M. Emmet Walsh, Frank Oz.

Director Rian Johnson’s penchant for subverting expectations has manifested itself in the delightful Knives Out, a modernized take on the classic murder mystery format.

The set-up is familiar. In a quirky mansion in the countryside of New England, the maid discovers the body of her wealthy employer — crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — dead from seemingly cutting his own throat.

As Harlan’s family comes out of the woodwork for the funeral and reading of the will, the police initially rule it a suicide. Yet the case remains open at the behest of private sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Johnson’s southern-flavored homage to the likes of Columbo and Hercule Peroit. Hired by an anonymous party to ensure all aspects of Harlan’s death are explored, Blanc quickly uncovers dissension within the family, several members of which having had loud arguments with Harlan in the day leading up to his death.

The expertly-crafted, Oscar-nominated screenplay toys with the conventions of the genre, revealing what actually happened within the first 30 minutes or so, then uses the next hour-and-a-half to clue the audience in the fuller context of the events viewers have already seen, thus providing the true focus of the mystery.

Blanc recruits Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), to aid in his investigation, though she is more aware of what happened than she lets on. A unique physical tic causes her to puke whenever she lies, providing one of the film’s central running gags but also lending a fair amount of tension to the proceedings as Marta has a fair number of secrets she’d rather not help expose either. The pairing of Craig and de Armas must have been agreeable enough for them, as she’s slated to appear in his next James Bond movie. And for Craig, tapped to reprise Blanc investigating new cases in future sequels, the role offers a nice new franchise once he wraps up his tenure as the super spy.

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This is the kind of film that not only invites multiple viewings, but practically demands them. Luckily, the Blu-ray offers a couple of nice options for the rewatch in the form of audio commentaries that dissect the story structure and reveal many of the details layered into the film’s intricate construction. Both are well worth a listen. One is a solo commentary by Johnson, originally released online while the film was still in theaters so fans could listen to it through headphones when they returned to their local cinema to partake in a fresh viewing. The second commentary, recorded for the home video release, features Johnson, cinematographer Steve Yedlin, and actor Noah Segan, who plays one of the cops investigating the murder.

Visually, Knives Out is gorgeous, shot digitally yet rendered to evoke the feeling of classic film, bringing forth textures and color that immerse the viewer in the story’s uneasy atmosphere while making one wish they too could be crawling around that quirky old mansion searching for clues.

The Blu-ray includes the outstanding “Making a Murder,” an eight-part, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary that provides in-depth details on all aspects of the production, from writing it, to casting it, to making the costumes and sets, and recording the music. It runs a shade under two hours in total.

The “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette supplements this a bit, with a six-minute video on how Johnson created the story to be, as he describes it, a Hitchcock thriller within a whodunit. There’s also a 42-minute Q&A from a SAG screening in November that gives the massive cast a chance to sing their own praises while recounting their joy in making the movie.

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The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes comprising about five total minutes, with optional commentary by Johnson. These add some interesting subtext to some of the film’s subplots, but it’s easy to understand the decision to omit them from the final cut.

Finally, the disc offers a trove of marketing materials, including trailers and viral ads starring several of the characters in the film.

All-in-all, it’s an impressive package that harkens back to the glory days of DVDs that really gave fans a lot of bang for their buck.