[#2020oscardeathrace] Knives Out (2019)

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer

Screenplay: Rian Johnson

131 mins. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Original Screenplay [PENDING]

 

When it was announced that writer/director Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) would be making a murder mystery before returning to helm a trilogy of Star Wars films (I’m still convinced this will happen, but maybe it’s just my wanting), I was shocked but rather interested. After all, the subgenre of Agatha Christie-inspired murder mysteries had kind of dried in recent years outside of adaptations of her work like Murder on the Orient Express. Rian Johnson, who had dealt in the mystery genre several years earlier with Brick, seemed like the perfect choice to restart this once beloved subgenre, and I was all for it.

Famous crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, Beginners, The Last Full Measure) is dead. The death has been ruled a suicide, but someone unknown has hired the last great sleuth, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, Casino Royale, Logan Lucky) to investigate. It would seem that Harlan had no true friends within his family, and each of them has a motive strong enough to be a suspect, but just who did it? As lies are created and truths are uncovered, the family is turns on one another, and it’s up to Blanc to find the donut hole, the missing piece of the story.

Where to begin with this film? First off, we have to address Johnson’s tone for the film. It’s fun, sarcastic, stylish, and engaging. He sets most of the action in one location, Harlan’s mansion, a gorgeously-designed set that I just wanted to spend more time in. There are homages all throughout the mansion designed to invoke that classic mystery theme. Plus, it’s just a damn creepy house. Beyond that, the house and the characters residing in it feel real within the universe Johnson has constructed. The house feels lived-in. The characters feel like they have long lists of experiences to pull from. Everything fits, like puzzle pieces expertly placed to give a  clearer image and a staggering conclusion.

Daniel Craig leads the cast as Blanc with a truly molasses-mouth scene-chewing take on his character that is set to become iconic in years to come. His mannerisms, speech patterns, and physicality make Benoit Blanc a treat to be with, and that’s much like the mansion. I wanted to spend time with these characters. Not in the way that they are friendly, but in the way that they are fun to watch.

Each of the members of Thrombey’s extended family is like a slightly-damaged, partially-fractured chess piece arranged on a board, and Johnson is playing against himself. I was primarily taken with Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, The Informer) as Marta, Harlan’s nurse, who feels alienated within the family even though they all claim that she’s a part of it. Then there is Harlan’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Halloween) and her husband Richard (Vault, TV’s Miami Vice), who play very well on their own but have a dynamite chemistry when put together.

In fact, the cast is pitch-perfect, and there’s no real time to talk about all of them, but I have to give a shout to Chris Evans (The Avengers, The Read Sea Diving Resort) as Ransom, Harlan’s grandson, the loud-mouthed privileged youth who obviously has no friends within the family. Evans plays against-type when compared to his decade as Captain America with Ransom, and it’s a welcome return to the smarmy roles he was once more well-known for.

If there’s a flaw in the film, and I do believe there is one for me, it’s that certain reveals in the film happen far earlier than I would have liked, and I think the mystery would have been stronger if we were kept wondering for longer. That, and I personally was able to see where it was going a little earlier than I would’ve liked. Perhaps I was just good at guessing, as I’ve spoken to others who did not see the end coming. My suggestion would be not to try and unravel the mystery, but instead, enjoy the journey, because it’s a damn good one.

Knives Out is an elegantly-constructed Whodunnit with incredible performances, great production design, and a director at the helm who really understands story and tone. This was enjoyable as hell and I cannot wait to see it again. Rian Johnson’s Knives Out comes highly recommended.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi, click here.

Christoph Waltz to Return as Blofeld in Bond 25

The as-yet-untitled Bond 25 will see a familiar face joining Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, and Naomie Harris. Actor Christopher Waltz, who played the villainous Blofeld in Spectre, will return to play him in the upcoming sequel, according to The Daily Mail.

Blofeld, previously portrayed by Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, and Charles Gray in the main franchise, is the ultimate baddy of the Bond franchise, having appeared in a large number of installments, pulling the strings in the background of the evil Spectre.

The film is being directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga of True Detective fame and will feature many more returning faces, but I was shocked and pleased to learn that Waltz was one of them.

Spectre was not beloved by Bond fans in the same way Casino Royale and Skyfall were. I think the updates made to Blofeld in this new iteration of Bond didn’t really go over well, even though I’ve always found Waltz to be one of the most incredible performers working today, and I rather like his take on the villain. I like the idea of an antithesis to James Bond, and Blofeld is just that. Spectre did a lot of work tying the Daniel Craig saga together, and I think it would be odd to completely ignore it for the final installment of Craig’s run as the spy.

So what do you think? Should they ignore Blofeld or include him in Bond 25? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

More Trouble for Bond 25 as Explosion Damages Set and Injures Crew Member

Bond 25 has been having a hell of a time. Last month, star Daniel Craig had to step away from filming to have surgery on his ankle due to an injury that took place while shooting the film in Jamaica. Production was able to continue without him after some creative reshuffling, but on Tuesday, the official James Bond Twitter account reported a “controlled explosion” on the set that injured a crew member and damaged part of the shooting set. The crew member’s injury was said to be “minor” in nature, but no other injuries were reported.

Bond 25 is still untitled, but will likely be Craig’s final outing as the secret agent, where he will be facing a new villain played by recent Oscar-winner Rami Malek under the direction of True Detective veteran Cary Joji Fukunaga. The upcoming installment will also feature regulars Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, and Jeffrey Wright.

I’m glad to hear there were no serious injuries in filming and hopefully the crew member who was injured has a speedy recovery.

Bond 25 hits theaters April 8, 2020.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Knives Out Slices Into Theaters November 2019

Deadline is reporting that Knives Out, the new original film from director Rian Johnson (The Last Jedi), is slated for release on November 27, 2019. Lionsgate has popped the film right into Thanksgiving season in a nice, awards-friendly place.

The film was also written by Johnson and the cast is incredible, featuring Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Michael Shannon, Lakeith Stanfield, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Christopher Plummer, and Don Johnson among others.

Craig’s joining the principal cast was made possible by the Bond 25 switcheroo when Danny Boyle left the project and Cary Fukunaga stepped in.

For me, this news is incredible. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of Johnson’s Looper, I admire the original story and the captivating structure. I also love The Last Jedi, and you can hate on it all you want, but he made a damn good Star Wars film. That’s what excites me here. Johnson gets to play in the sandbox with some very talented performers. I know very little about Knives Out but I really don’t feel like I need to.

So what do you think? Are you interested in a new mystery movie from Rian Johnson? What’s your favorite Rian Johnson film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

Daniel Craig Still Top of Wishlist for Bond 25

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It would seem that Spectre may not be the last time we see Daniel Craig as the iconic James Bond, at least, if producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson have anything to say about it. According to BBC, executive producer Callum McDougall said that Craig is still at the top of the wishlist to return, remarking that he was the “first choice” for the role. McDougall was also hesitant to make any claims about the actor, saying “I wish I knew” when asked about a confirmation of Craig’s return.

I myself don’t want to see another Daniel Craig Bond movie. I think he has done admirable work, but one of the worst parts of last year’s Spectre was the noticeable wear on Craig’s performance. He just wasn’t into it. I thought he did a better job at his hidden cameo in The Force Awakens than he did as the martini-guzzling spy.

As for who to replace him, I don’t mind the idea of an African American James Bond with Idris Elba, as long as it is taken seriously. That being said, I do not want a female Bond, because that is far too drastic of a change for the character. It would cease to be James Bond and the jarring shift would remove audiences from the story, which the most recent films have strived to build upon. Plus, it degrades the idea of bringing strong female characters to the film world by just taking existing properties and gender-swapping them. Instead, give us a female spy. A new character. Someone exciting and new.

So what do you think? Should Daniel Craig come back to Bond? Who should pick up the mantle if he should walk? Let me know!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

[#2016oscardeathrace] Spectre (2015)

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Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

Screenplay: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth

148 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (“Writing’s on the Wall”)

 

Well, let me assure you by saying that Spectre is the third best Bond film…featuring Daniel Craig (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Adventures of Tintin). Okay, I’m playing now.

Spectre opens with one of the single most impressive shots and sequences of the entire Bond franchise, due in large part to the masterful directing of Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition, Away We Go). Sadly, it is the film’s best moment, and while the rest of Bond 24 is exciting, it is missing something.

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James Bond has lost someone very close to him. In her place, he now has M (Ralph Fiennes, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, The Invisible Woman), who has bigger fish to fry when MI6 comes under political scrutiny. While M and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later…, Southpaw) try to protect the organization, Bond is off to discover the mysterious plans of the criminal syndicate known as SPECTRE, and his connection to its apparent leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained, Big Eyes). There are a lot of spoilers to stay away from, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Sam Mendes described Bond’s dedication to uncovering SPECTRE as a more focused passion, and if that is the intention, I did not see it. Daniel Craig feels bored in this entry.

Christoph Waltz brings a healthy dose of fear to the villainous Oberhauser, and his henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) feels nicely reminiscent of Oddjob from the glory days of Goldfinger, a much better version of homage than the way Die Another Day beats you over the head with it.

Fiennes, Harris, and Ben Whishaw (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, In the Heart of the Sea) as Q do their collective day’s work nicely, but the film rests far too much on a personal story for James, and Craig’s best work is when he is being tortured.

Director Mendes gives us a gorgeous Bond film, even after losing the incredible Roger Deakins to other projects. In his place, we get Hoyte van Hoytema, who does some better than expected work but fails to properly convey his visual medium to the story correctly. It isn’t easy, and he certainly tries.

In Bond girls, we get some of the most well-crafted Bond girling from Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, The Grand Budapest Hotel) and some of the most underutilized work from Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Revolutions, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice).

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Maybe that’s the problem with Spectre. It’s just so uneven. There are some truly incredible sequences, and there are some snoozy moments. It just didn’t keep me the way previous entries have. Not a bad Bond film, but a step down for the franchise, its director, and Craig (who gave us better work this year in Star Wars: The Force Awakens; oh, you didn’t know that?).

 

2.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

So what did you think of Spectre? What’s your favorite James Bond movie? Let me know!

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