Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Release: Friday, November 23, 2022 (limited)

👀 Netflix

Written by: Rian Johnson

Directed by: Rian Johnson

Starring: Daniel Craig; Edward Norton; Janelle Monáe; Kathryn Hahn; Leslie Odom Jr; Dave Bautista; Kate Hudson; Jessica Henwick; Madelyn Cline

Distributor: Netflix

 

****/*****

The elite and entitled once again take it on the chin in Glass Onion, the sequel to Rian Johnson’s highly entertaining 2019 murder mystery Knives Out. Set in the era of COVID and inspired by the director’s own cabin fever during the lockdown period, this new installment, the first in a two-sequel Netflix deal worth upwards of $460 million, may not be as sharp as its predecessor but it still has the engaging characters and plot to make it a worthy follow-up.

With the exception of Daniel Craig reprising his role as the brilliant Detective Benoit Blanc, Glass Onion is a complete reset, luring a fresh cast of characters into a new, unrelated web of deception and backstabbing, and establishing a lavish, borderline Bezosian setting to match the more exotic ambition of Johnson and company. Thankfully what also returns is the crisp and dynamic pacing of Knives Out, returning editor Bob Ducsay sewing together the many moving parts to create another intricately designed puzzle that also happens to be narratively fleet-footed — even at two hours and twenty minutes in length the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome.

While everyone else is locked down, tech billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) decides to open his doors to some of his closest friends — his fellow “disruptors” — by hosting a murder mystery party on his private Greek island. Apparently the gathering is an annual event but this year the vibes are a little different, for reasons that are obvious and some that are festering below the façade of pleasantries. The guest list includes Connecticut governor and aspiring Senator Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), cutting edge scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), controversial fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista) and Cassandra ‘Andi’ Brand (Janelle Monáe), the recently ousted co-founder of Miles’ company, Alpha.

While the latter’s attendance causes a stir amongst the other guests, and Monáe floats through her scenes with an aura of mystery that’s hard to ignore, it’s the presence of the world-famous detective that seems to throw things off balance from the get-go; unlike Birdie’s high-strung assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) and Duke’s sidekick of a girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) Benoit hasn’t actually been invited (despite passing through the same comical screening process all attendees must, including spending the time just trying to figure out how to open the invitation). But hey, the more the merrier for Miles’ evening theatrics, which of course don’t go to plan when someone actually ends up dead.

The ensuing chaos, exacerbated by a power outage as well as good, old-fashioned paranoia (not to mention the sudden disappearance of a loaded weapon), is nothing if not the product of a filmmaker who likes to take risks. If Johnson doesn’t quite manage to outsmart his previous whodunnit, he certainly gets bolder toying around with conventional wisdom — the already divisive writer/director pulling off a reveal that has no right to work as well as it does. Unlike Craig’s genteel detective, whose job is to distill the simple truth from the noise and nonsense, Johnson delights in obfuscation. His screenplay is a delicious layer cake that simultaneously props up genre conventions and subverts them with style and humor.

While the comedy may end up overriding the drama, and the tension never gets as high as it maybe should, the time is well-spent thanks to the efforts of a dedicated cast, some of whom really stand out in atypical roles: Bautista bros out hard and is counterintuitively entertaining with his caveman attitude, while Hudson is a hoot as a tone-deaf tweeting fashionista who can’t be trusted with her own phone. Norton, as per usual, brings his A-game and threatens to steal the show from everyone. Ah but wait, the cherry on top is another terrific turn from Craig, whose joy in not being burdened with the Bond role any longer is obvious, practically worn in his summer fabrics here.

Bigger, louder and flashier, Glass Onion turns out to be a sequel that’s more playful than substantial. Look no further than the curation of needle-drops and A-list cameo appearances throughout, or the title itself which contains layers of meaning (particularly if you know your Beatles lyrics). And it’s probably for the best Johnson takes broad swipes at COVID-era politics, and instead drills deeper into the interpersonal tension that unfolds between these hypocritical, self-absorbed buffoons. The collective thematic burn may not leave much of a scar, but in the moment Glass Onion, with all its attendant distractions, is undeniably good fun.

Whine and dine

Moral of the Story: Though I found it bizarre and a little frustrating the film only spent a week in theaters before heading to Netflix, Glass Onion is a movie that will probably reward repeat viewings, perhaps not as much as Knives Out, but there are surely little nuggets to be found a second (or more) time around. And what better way to peel back the layers of Johnson’s creative — and at times audacious — approach to the murder mystery thriller than by having it sitting right there in plain sight on a prominent streaming platform, begging to be watched and rewound. Probably multiple times over. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 139 mins. 

Quoted: “Buttress!”

“Yeah, I’m trying real hard to buttress, but this sounds nuts.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Release: Friday, December 14, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Phil Lord; Rodney Rothman

Directed by: Bob Persichetti; Peter Ramsey; Rodney Rothman

A Review from the Perspective of a Spider-Newb

A cornucopia of visual delights that rivals the best of Pixar and Studio Ghibli, two of the giants in the world of animation, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has taken Sony Pictures Animation to a whole new level. The combination of painstakingly hand-drawn and slick computer-generated imagery is something you can’t help but marvel at. All of the little stylistic flares — splitting the screen into panels, the employment of thought bubbles and of lightning bolts indicating a Spidey sense tingling, the minutiae of lighting textures — work in concert to make the viewer feel like they have “walked right into a comic book.” And then of course there’s a sense of timeliness. The recent passing of Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee adds poignancy to what is already clearly an ode to a legacy. The rich detail and emotional resonance makes Into the Spider-Verse the cinematic equivalent of a mother’s handwoven quilt.

I’ll say it once and I’ll probably say it several more times before we’re done here: I can’t get over how good this movie looks. The visual language contributes so much to the film’s energetic personality and individuality. Yet what’s maybe most surprising about Into the Spider-Verse is how fresh and engaging this yet-again origins story feels. Its self-aware and occasionally self-deprecatory humor, courtesy of Phil Lord — the brilliantly quick-witted writer/producer of high-octane adventures such as The Lego Movie and 22 Jump Street — helped me buy back in. This is only like the 167th time we have seen an ordinary kid get bitten by a special spider but only the first in which we have been able to laugh along with those involved at how many big-screen iterations of the web-slinger there have been in recent years. More to the point, this is the first time we have seen someone other than the iconically average Peter Parker become Spider-Man.

Yes, of all those versions that have preceded it Into the Spider-Verse is the most inclusive one yet. The film offers seven Spideys for the price of one and while comics readers will be getting the most value from their dollar as they pluck out all the myriad Easter eggs hidden inside, the story graciously makes room for Spider-Newbs, taking the idea of an ordinary individual gaining unusual abilities and extrapolating that to the general populace. That any one of us holds the potential to become Spider-Man is a conceit juicy with possibility. It also seems a logistical nightmare from a writing standpoint. How will all these characters coexist within one story? Is it even one story? How many and which villains do we go with? How many Mary Janes? (Sorry for the spoiler, but there can only ever be one of those.)

In bringing this ambitious project to life, three different filmmakers are charged with directing, with Peter Ramsey handling the action sequences, Rodney Rothman overseeing the comedic aspects, and Bob Persichetti supplying what Lord describes as the “poetry” of the story. Indeed this is a real team effort, with the writers (Lord, alongside Rothman and a whole host of credited character developers) fixating upon the emotional maturation of a new Spidey-in-the-making, one Miles Morales (Dope‘s very own Shameik Moore), a New York kid of Afro-Puerto Rican descent trying his best to please his cop dad, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and mom, Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), a nurse. He attends a private boarding school where his parents hope he will aim for great heights. Oh, the irony. He has a close friend in his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who encourages Miles to keep pursuing his artistic passions, frequently taking him to a subway station where he graffitis beautiful expressions onto the otherwise lifeless walls.

When a ridiculously rotund baddie named Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), attempts to use a particle accelerator to access alternate dimensions for personal reasons that won’t be revealed here, beings from those other worlds are inadvertently thrust into ours. This opens up a quasi-anthological narrative that brings in different Spider-People to inform the central conflict — Miles’ inability to own his newfound . . . well, abilities. Multiple character arcs are provided along the way, each different Spider-Person explaining how they won the mutated-genetics lottery, all while Miles’ internal struggle — that oft-referenced grappling with power and responsibility — remains front-and-center. More impressive is the way all of it unfolds at a breakneck pace without ever becoming convoluted and difficult to keep up with.

What really perpetuates the flow of the narrative is this revolving door of different characters. There is always something new to latch on to, like swinging through the corridors of Manhattan from building to building. Chris Pine is in as the one-and-only Peter Parker, and while the role is small he does something we haven’t seen Peter do in any of the live-action adaptations. Jake Johnson’s Peter B. Parker, by contrast, is an over-the-hill, jaded crime fighter whose sweatpants-and-protruding-gut look suggests he isn’t overly concerned with image these days. He is perfectly charming in all of his 9-5 day job blasé. Then we have Hailee Steinfeld taking up the mantle of Gwen Stacy and while her trust issues are a cliché the actress/singer makes her reservations not only believable but emotionally satisfying when it comes to the main protagonist’s development.

From there it gets a little more obscure, with SNL’s John Mulaney lending his voice to Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (and here is a perfect example of my ignorance; how dare I limit my imagination of what Spider-Man can be to just human beings) while Nicolas Cage, of all people, becomes Spider-Man Noir. Last and most definitely least interesting (again, to me) is Kimiko Glenn’s Peni Parker, a Japanese incarnation who apparently made her Marvel Comics début only a few years ago in Edge of Spider-Verse #5 (2014). She’s got some weird robot-machine thing named SP//dr with which she telepathically communicates and uses to properly engage with the enemy — a device that also apparently links her to the ominous OsCorp.

There are familiar faces and characters scattered throughout as well. The older, more cynical Spider-Man’s Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) has a pretty important part to play as the many Spideys set about trying to find a way back to their own worlds while Miles tries ever more desperately to prevent Kingpin from destroying New York and, on a more personal level, help his father overcome his anti-Spidey bias. Secondary villains appear in the form of Doc Ock/Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hann adding a female twist on Alfred Molina’s interpretation from Spider-Man 2), and Prowler, whose unmasked identity is best left masked in writing.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is sure to have long legs at the box office, and it deserves them. Whether this is the epitome of what comic book movies should feel like and be about is something that can be debated until the cows come home. For this outsider, this is just one of the most consistently enjoyable and immersive experiences I have had in 2018 and in a year in which I have had to absorb the blows of Infinity War, endure the cold loneliness of being First Man and try to survive the completely unknown in (my personal favorite) Annihilation, that is some accomplishment.

“I think, therefore I am . . . Spider-Man?”

Recommendation: Into the Spider-Verse has it all: an incredible visual spectacle, a streamlined but hardly contrived narrative with a big heart and a great sense of humor, a villain with a compelling motive, a heartbreaking plot-twist and an emotive soundtrack. Best of all, the multiverse doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of what is canonical and what isn’t for you to really get inside it. I don’t know if this is literally “the best Spider-Man movie ever made,” but I am fairly confident it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. Your move, Marvel.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “That’s all it is Miles, a leap of faith.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

 

The D Train

the-d-train-poster

Release: Friday, May 8, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Andrew Mogel; Jarrad Paul

Directed by: Andrew Mogel; Jarrad Paul

Ah, the time-honored ‘Act Like a Jackass at Your High School Reunion’ plot.

Even though it’s a far cry from consistent entertainment, The D Train presents a valid argument for staying away from said social function if you’re not in the right mindset. Although I admit I would be more inclined to attend mine (happening within a matter of weeks) if I could get either of these movie stars to come and crash the party. . .

Head of reunion committee Dan Landsman (Jack Black) wants to compensate for his status back in high school by convincing Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), the most popular guy in school, to attend the humble little get-together after seeing him in a national commercial for Banana Boat sunscreen. “Hell-to-the-yay-yeah,” Dan says, in thinking that what he has seen is Oliver truly making a name for himself post-grade school.

Dan’s presumption gets him on a flight out to California to visit Oliver in a desperate attempt to pitch the idea. But it’s not quite that simple. In excusing himself from his job for an extended weekend, Dan inadvertently involves his boss Bill (Jeffrey Tambor) by selling the trip as an effort to expand their business. In one of many examples of writer-directors Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul’s rather contrived script, Dan passes Oliver off as the business contact. This is only possible after the pair. . . e-hem. . . establish a repartee the night prior. Talk about an awkward scene.

The D Train chugs along with little consideration for tonal or logical consistency. It toots its horn for being a comedy but in truth it’s closer to black comedy, and not just because of who stars in it. Black’s character is something of a jerk whose ostracism from most social circles doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It is odd, though, how quickly Marsden’s slick and suave Oliver takes to him when he arrives, especially given the disinterest he advertises when the two first speak on the phone.

The poster may advertise this as a buddy-comedy, but in truth the spotlight falls on Dan and his desperation for redemption. He’ll all but ignore his family, even refusing to give relationship advice to his son Zach (Russell Posner) who is this close to getting into a threesome at the ripe age of 14. (“Dad, you should be proud of me.”) Empathetic, Dan is not; though we may at times feel sympathy towards him when he’s fully backed into a dark corner. This is largely due to Black’s strong presence, juggling comedy and drama often in the same scene.

Perhaps we shouldn’t judge him — nor Marsden for that matter — too harshly in the context of a story that favors humiliation, melancholy and selfishness. Kathryn Hahn’s Stacey as the under-appreciated wife is an oasis of kindness, but she’s undervalued both by her husband (apparently she’s known Dan since high school) and questionable characterization.

Contrivances extend beyond the little stunt Dan manages to pull over his boss and they include Stacey’s willingness to let Oliver crash with them at the drop of a hat, not even blinking an eye when he brings his Hollywood partying lifestyle home with him; Dan’s plan for financially reinstating Bill’s company following Dan’s essential bankrupting of it because of that one little lie he told. In fact the entire plot is one long shot in the dark that even fellow members on the reunion committee acknowledge as such.

The fates of some of the characters in The D Train are almost too good for them. Almost. However, this is the stuff of farcical modern comedy. More often than not what Mogel and Paul come up with is pretty damn amusing. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. I’m closer to calling this a B-grade movie experience, it’s not totally deserving of the D-grade.

jack-black-and-james-marsden-in-the-d-train

2-0Recommendation: You are likely to find far worse films in Jack Black’s rather inconsistent comedic backlog. On the other hand, he has been better elsewhere. But the pairing of him with James Marsden is very interesting and these two together make up for some of the film’s many shortcomings. Come for the jokes and the high school drama, but maybe not for the story.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “It’s like one of those charity events. They bring out the celebrities; if Dave Schwimmer goes, everyone goes.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Bad Words

bad_words_xlg

Release: Friday, March 28, 2014

[Theater]

When a child uses choice language around the house, they run not from their parents, but rather away from the bar of Irish Spring they know will soon be in their mouth. The expression ‘I am going to wash your mouth out with soap’ may be timeless, but it’s never quite the deterrent parents think it should be, because. . . . . let’s face it. Most of us grow up, become well-adjusted and live a long life of swearing our asses off. Not really, but hopefully the point has been made.

Harmful (i.e. ‘bad’) words are an inescapable commodity, and most of us at some point have used them, maybe even aimed them at people we are nearby or perhaps talking directly to. But why did we use them — was it out of frustration? Or were we dropping the f-bomb because we were so thrilled about something? Did we not like the way we were being treated so we assaulted those who caused us pain with colorful and spiteful language? Context and intent is everything.

Jason Bateman decides to exploit these concepts in Bad Words, his directorial feature debut. Starring as the film’s definitive anti-hero, a 40-year-old miscreant named Guy Trilby determined to become the nation’s best speller, Bateman knew in order for the material to reach its highest comedic potential he would have to step in front of the camera as well. He could not have made a better move, for his performance is unquestionably the best work he’s ever turned in. By a mile.

Every action he makes and every word he hisses at those around him is a calculated effort of a possible sociopath in the making. Just because he doesn’t swear all of the time (even though it’s still a lot of the time), it’s to whom he speaks and throws insults and the timing of his actions that really matter. His masterful understanding of social context and a person’s ability to mask their intentions are chief among the many reasons Bateman deserves much credit. In this performance, he does his best to make us not like him but damn it he’s still too great to not (quietly) root for when truths eventually do become revealed.

Bad Words epitomizes situational comedy, or at least comes extremely close. Turn to any number of scenes in which Guy is a physically dominant opponent. We’re not talking about NBA basketball here, we are watching The Golden Quill Spelling Bee competition. As a full-grown adult, he’s in the wrong place and not only does he realize this, he doesn’t care. He wants to be the best at something, and knows he is also competing well within the rules. (A technicality based on a graduation date allows him to participate.)

There’s an equal number of scenes in which his intellect goes virtually unmatched by his diminutive, prepubescent competitors. He’ll try anything to gain an advantage, and I do mean anything. Thanks to Bateman’s incredibly funny and self-deprecating performance, Guy Trilby turns out to be a man with an alarming lack of morality; a conscience so twisted he’ll expose one of his ten-year-old rivals to his first pair of real boobs (to prove they all have nipples) before he offers up an honest answer to his journalist travel buddy, Jenny (Kathryn Hahn) about why he’s committing himself to this spelling bee. He maintains no kid will be a match for his sky-high I.Q.

You might think this guy is a complex character reading this review, when in fact it’s quite the opposite. Bateman’s dedication to keeping things simple, but earnest, crafts Bad Words into a better picture than it might have been in the hands of a director just coming off the high of directing an epic superhero film, or a director whose own lofty ambitions often run away from them. It’s what makes the character better, too. Guy Trilby has one thing to prove, and that’s. . . . . . .well that’s a spoiler. One gets the sense there is a deep pain he is hiding; when the truth is revealed we know it’s a basic, fundamental issue but it completely fits. The development proves to be great debut screenwriting from Andrew Dodge.

Despite things maintaining a straightforward procedure, that’s not to say the movie lacks interest. Bad Words instead allows its low-key status to enhance character’s presences, especially with how they are introduced. En route to the competition, Guy encounters what he initially considers the world’s most annoying brat, an Indian boy named Chaitanya (Rohand Chand). Eventually this inquisitive and impossibly intelligent kid destroys his ill-begotten misconceptions via a series of misadventures they both share during the final rounds of competition. Chaitanya is, inexplicably, looking for a friend in this obnoxious 40-year-old and the two have a bit of fun before they must get down to business. . . and spell the hell out of some words.

Bateman may take a fairly predictable route, and the final rounds of this highly unusual competition make for a foregone conclusion. Such are the traits of a film created by an accomplished actor turning his attention towards a new aspect of filmmaking — there are growing pains. Fortunately, as predictable as some of the routes are they can’t be called completely safe. That is certainly one word that does not apply here, as the proceedings often take a turn to the dark and depressing. One thing we’re not going to feel in this sitting is safe — at least, not with Bateman’s character lurking around. But that’s a good thing.

For all of its rushed third act and its many foreseeable developments, Bad Words is a thoroughly entertaining comedy that doesn’t slip nearly as much as other debut attempts have in the past. (I am not Guy Trilby so I won’t call these people out by name.) It is a laugh riot in a number of scenes, surprisingly heartwarming in others and is a great example of an actor successfully bridging the gap between acting and directing.

red-band-trailer-for-jason-batemans-comedy-bad-words

4-0Recommendation: Bad Words is intelligent, raunchy, insulting and touching, often in the same scene. It is a film of an impressive quality that often beckons comparisons to Bad Santa. Is it any coincidence the two share the same first word? Methinks not. But in all seriousness, yes. This movie, it’s pretty much the shit. Go see it. And no, it’s not nerdy if you find spelling bees interesting. That’s why I saw it. . . . . . . . . . . . .

Rated: R

Running Time: 89 mins.

Quoted: “Your chair called me for help. . .it’s like help me, it’s so heavy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com