[#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.

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

 

 

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Get Out (2017)

Director: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, Lakeith Stanfield, Catherine Keener

Screenplay: Jordan Peele

104 mins. Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references.

 

Early in 2017, first-time director Jordan Peele released Get Out, a very well-received horror-thriller about race in present-day America. The film has been hotly discussed since February, and now that we are near the nominations for the Academy Awards, I thought it would be fun to look at one of the more interesting frontrunners for the big award.

Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario, Kick-Ass 2) is a talented African-American man about to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time at their secluded homestead in the country. On the surface, Dean (Bradley Whitford, Megan Leavey, TV’s The West Wing) and Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener, Capote, The Croods) seem nice enough, but as the weekend goes on, Chris begins noticing strange behavior surrounding the Armitage parents and their odd houseguests. Soon, Chris uncovers exactly what’s going on, but is it too late to save himself?

Okay, so even if the rest of Get Out was terrible (thankfully that is not the case), the film would still be noted for its incredibly well-written screenplay, also from Peele. The nuances and symbolism that Peele employs almost endlessly are so perfectly-placed into the story’s framework so that none of the film feels forced as you peel back the layers.

Beyond all that, the performances are amazing and Peele proves himself to be an incredible first-time director well-worth the recognition he’s been given. From his pitch-perfect storytelling to the great work, particularly from Kaluuya, Allison Williams (College Musical, TV’s Girls) and Lakeith Stanfield (Short Term 12, Death Note). From most of the info coming out of the set, Peele created a great atmosphere on set, having a lot of fun with his cast and crew, and it shines through into the finished product.

Peele’s not afraid to take what he loves about a genre and roll with it. The opening of the film is very reminiscent of the single-shot opening of John Carpenter’s Halloween. The film is so packed with detail and content that there is even a class being taught at the University of California about the film’s impact.

Get Out is a film that only gets better with multiple viewings. I’ve now seen it many times and I’ve found something new each and every time. This is a film for fans of horror and newcomers to the genre. It’s made with care and dedication from a surprisingly strong first-time director. I can’t wait to see what Jordan Peele comes up with next.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

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