[#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.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 25 – The Fog (1980)

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, John Houseman, Janet Leigh, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Nancy Loomis

Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

89 mins. Rated R.

 

This one does for fog what Jaws did for the water.

There’s a fog rolling into Antonio Bay on the eve of its 100th anniversary, and as soon as the clock strikes midnight, people start seeing strange things in it. Father Malone (Hal Holbrook, Into the Wild, Blackway) discovers an old journal in his church that tells him a terrible secret from the town’s inception, one that involves an old ship called the Elizabeth Dane and its captain, Blake. Now, the Elizabeth Dane has rolled into town on the fog, and its captain is out for vengeance. Radio DJ and lighthouse keeper Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau, Argo, Creepshow) is the only one who can warn the residents of Antonio Bay that danger is coming; she just hopes they’re listening.

The Fog is proof that director John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Ward) can just about do anything. He has guys in costumes in a foggy atmosphere with glowing eyes, essentially just tall Jawas, and he makes them scarier than any current CGI could do (and we’re looking at you, 2005 remake to The Fog). It’s because he’s a smart filmmaker who solves problems. He knows that he is making a low-budget, possibly cheesy horror film, and so he chooses to shoot it in anamorphic widescreen Panavision in order to add to the grandeur of the gothically beautiful Antonio Bay layered in fog.

I like how separate Carpenter keeps things in this film. For the most part, Stevie Wayne barely shares the screen with anyone else. She gets her own slice of the story. Then, there’s the story of the hitchhiker Elizabeth (Jamie Lee Curtis, True Lies, Halloween) and Nick (Tom Atkins, Night of the Creeps, Drive Angry) as they try to uncover the mystery in the fog. Then, there’s the Father Malone sequences and the centennial sequences with Kathy (Janet Leigh, Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate) trying to keep the celebration together amidst the lingering danger. The film is filled with great characters in an insane situation. These individual “pocket stories” on their own would be great, but together they weave an eerie and creepy tapestry.

The Fog is truly brilliant. I can see why this is often called a Carpenter favorite. It’s a truly incredible little horror story that makes the ghosts (guys in costumes with glowing eyes) more terrifying than most other films could do with a bigger budget. John Carpenter is a horror maestro, and The Fog is just another master stroke.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s The Thing, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper’s Body Bags, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned, click here.

David Gordon Green is Done with Halloween After Next Two Sequels

The Halloween franchise has survived more potential deaths than most of its cast of characters, most recently being resurrected by David Gordon Green and writing partner Danny McBride for Halloween 2018 last year, but with the announcement last week of two more sequels with Green at the helm, the director spoke to Collider about finishing the story he began between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.

The two sequels, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, are set to release in 2020 and 2021, and will be a continuation of his Halloween 2018 reboot, which ignored all previous sequels to the 1978 original film.

Green told Collider, “They’re never done telling the Frankenstein story, and at this point, Michael Myers is a classic movie monster. But our Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode/Michael Myers saga will be done. The fun of it is also seeing it end, and knowing that it can. If you just keep trying to elongate it and milk it for all of the money, then that’s boring.”

Further on in the discussion, he discussed Halloween Ends as being his last contribution to the franchise, promising that the film will end in a satisfying finale.

Danny McBride recently spoke about their intent to do three films which tell a singular story following the original Halloween, so this is in line with what Green has stated.

For me, I happen to agree with this idea. I was never big on retconning the previous incarnations of Halloween in favor of a new timeline, but that’s the way it went, and I think if that’s the plan, make it a singular story that has an ending. The title Halloween Ends seems to confirm that, but what I will say is that if Green wants to ensure that his film is an ending, he had to do something none of the other Halloween films have ever been able to accomplish, which is a tall order going into these sequels.

What do you think? Is having a true ending the right way to go here, and do you think it can actually ever be a true ending without another sequel? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-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,

January 2015 Preview

 

Welcome to 2015! January is usually equal parts wide-release Oscar nominees and bad horror releases, so let’s take a look at January’s releases.

As before, this is a look and my predictions are based on my abilities as a film reviewer. I’m pretty good at reading into these things and so here they are in all their glory.

Don’t sue me.

 

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The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

I wasn’t all that keen on The Woman in Black. I was slightly disappointed by how normal it was. There was nothing to make it stand out as a horror film apart from a pretty good performance from Daniel Radcliffe. It just wasn’t all that original. The sequel looks to be the same fodder. I am curious as to exactly how this film will tie in with the original, so in that way, I’d like to see it, but this feel was clearly dumped in January.

 

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Taken 3

I really liked Taken starring Liam Neeson. I found Taken 2 to be less worthy of the awesomeness of the first film, but at the same time, I thought it was pretty action packed while not being a complete carbon copy of the first. Taken 3 is going in a different direction again, so I can’t wait to see what kind of trouble Bryan Mills has in store for him as he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit.

 

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Blackhat

A Hemsworth in a cyber-crime thriller? No, it isn’t Paranoia, its Blackhat from director Michael Mann. Mann is hit-or-miss for me. I liked Heat. I didn’t like Collateral. I liked TV’s Miami Vice. I didn’t like Miami Vice (the film). I saw the trailer last week and I gotta say, I’m not all that impressed here. On the bubble definitely.

 

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The Wedding Ringer

I know Kevin Hart isn’t the leading man of, how do I put it best, “good” movies. The Wedding Ringer actually sounds pretty funny. Hart plays the owner of a business that places best men in weddings for socially awkward grooms who don’t have the adequate friends to put together a wedding party of his own. I’m not saying good, I’m saying possibly good.

 

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Spare Parts

Spare Parts is the true story of four undocumented immigrants who enter into a national robotics challenge with $800 bucks and borrowed robotic parts and end up facing off against M.I.T. students. It stars George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis. The poster looks good, and the story seems pretty engaging, but it also has George Lopez. Yikes.

 

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The Boy Next Door

Hey look, another guy is stalking Jennifer Lopez. After a sexual encounter with a younger man living next door, she discovers that he has taken an uncomfortable obsession to her. I’m just not interested anymore.

 

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Mortdecai

Mortdecai is based on a book and stars Johnny Depp as a charismatic (yeah, again) rogue art dealer hunting down a stolen painting that could lead to Nazi gold. This film is star studded and directed by David Koepp who worked with Depp on Secret Window back in 2004. I loved Secret Window and I still believe in Depp’s abilities. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish here.

 

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Strange Magic

Now, the word stoked needs to get tossed around more for Strange Magic, an eclectic new animated fairy tale from Lucasfilm. Still not a ton is known about this film, except that George Lucas wanted to create another film with the love and affection that Labyrinth has. It also contains new versions of pop songs that were strung into the film’s story. I love it when films like this actually work, so I am excited.

 

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Project Almanac

I actually discussed this movie last February before it was postponed. At that time, it was called Welcome to Yesterday. My thoughts haven’t changed much.

 

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Wild Card

Wild Card is a remake of the 1986 film Heat starring Burt Reynolds. Jason Statham is Burt Reynolds here, a recovering gambler who becomes security-for-hire to fuel his addiction. January Statham is a bad idea. Skip.

 

So there you have it. One more time:

Best Bets: Taken 3, Mortdecai, Strange Magic

On the Bubble: Blackhat, The Wedding Ringer, Spare Parts

Likely Misses: The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death, The Boy Next Door, Project Almanac, Wild Card

 

Look forward to my first list of best films this year coming soon and we will see you for another preview in February.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror: Day 31 – Halloween (1978)

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Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Donald Pleasance, Jamie Lee Curtis, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis

Screenplay: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

91 mins. Rated R.

 

Well, here it is. I promised you would make it to Halloween with me, and you did. Congrats!

 

I think I knew that this would be the movie for today. I didn’t plan for it until I got down to the last couple days. It just so happens that John Carpenter’s Halloween is my favorite horror film, and I am excited to share it with you today. Enjoy and then go have some tricks and treats, whatever they may be, and thank you for a great month.

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Halloween opens with an absolutely amazing shot (okay, it looks like a single shot but is actually three, I think) of Halloween night some years ago. Young Michael Myers is supposed to be watched by his older sister Judith but instead she chooses to have her boyfriend over and she ignores Michael as her and her fella proceed to have sex upstairs before he leaves for the night. Michael, in a seemingly unbelievable act, grabs a kitchen knife and his clown costume, goes upstairs and kills his older sister in a gruesome and merciless way. He then goes downstairs to greet his parents as they come home and discover his grisly act. Flash forward several years to modern day 1978 Haddonfield. Michael Myers has escaped from Smith’s Grove Penitentiary and made his way home, now stalking several teenagers on Halloween night.

The film might seem very simple for younger audiences, but it was one of the very first slasher films of its time, and certainly the odd that created all the elements that would later be overused into mediocrity. The plot, though, isn’t about the normal stalker chasing down woman. This isn’t just Michael Myers we are talking about. The credits perhaps say it best, calling him The Shape. He is being pursued by the incredible versatile Donald Pleasance (The Great Escape, Escape from New York) as Dr. Sam Loomis (see the Psycho reference?). Pleasance is at the top of his game here, and it equally matched by the commanding performance of then-newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Veronica Mars) as Laurie Strode, a normal girl who just wants to finish her babysitting gig and get home alone, a task not always as simple as she would assume. Laurie is a girl plagued by real-world big problems like the question of whether or not Ben Tramer like-likes her. Her fellow friends Lynda (P.J. Soles, Carrie, The Devil’s Rejects) and Annie (Nancy Loomis, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13) are also on The Shape’s radar tonight, and both are ably performed characters that do nothing special but also do not deter us from our fears.

It is difficult to talk about the cinematography of a low-budget horror film. Many contain nothing of merit. Halloween is not one of these regulars. John Carpenter (Escape from L.A., The Ward) has always been known for his handling of the camera. His shots are sweeping and focused and always purposeful. When the camera doesn’t move, it haunts. From there, the film is perfectly plotted and edited into a tight package of fear.

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There are times when I try to come up with something bad about this movie as a fun little game, and I usually lose. I find John Carpenter’s Halloween to be a perfect film in every way. There isn’t a single thing I would change about it. I have been watching it since I was four years old and I will keep watching it multiple times throughout the October holiday. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I advise it. Not only is it a working film school of guerilla movie-making, but it is still scary today. Enjoy it. It is Halloween after all, and everyone is entitled to one good scare.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For the rest of the 31 Days of Horror, click here.

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