Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2019

(Spoiler Free) Knives Out (2019) Resurrects The Who Dun It Genre

Knives Out movie review
Knives Out / Lionsgate
Every once in a while, a movie comes along that manages to hit all the right spots - funny, suspenseful, detailed production design, fantastic cast, a real entertaining thrill ride. As the film industry is in the throes of artful cinema versus blockbuster cinema, sometimes you need a director who can kind of do both. Enter Rian Johnson.

On his 85th birthday, acclaimed mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) dies unexpectedly and leaves his entire family grasping at straws over his passing. Renown detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) comes in to investigate and teams up with local Thrombey fanboy Trooper Wagner (Noah Segan) and Detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield) to find out the truth. With a massive estate on the line, what is initially ruled as a suicide unravels into a much deeper mystery where everyone - Thrombey's goodhearted nurse Marta (Ana De Armas) and his whole family Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), Walter Thrombey (Michael Shannon), Richard Drysdale (Don Johnson), Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), Meg Thrombey (Katharine Langford), Jacob Thrombey (Jaeden Martell) - are a suspect for Harlan's murder.

After the divisive reception to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, taking over the murder-mystery genre is a step in the right direction for director and writer Rian Johnson. His longtime familiarity and appreciation of the genre is evident in Knives Out from beginning to end. From the lone antique-filled house on a hill in the midst of a cold Boston winter to the unraveling plot that manages to stitch itself together act by act, Johnson has total control over the film. Even when the plot ventures in directions you never imagined, he manages to keep it on track but keep you guessing.

At the film's heart and as a true source of zest is the fantastic ensemble. The Thrombeys are teeming with greed, ignorance, and entitlement. A death in the family doesn't necessarily show their true colors, but instead makes their genuine personalities grow more self-absorbed. There are a few sympathetic faces among the selfish elite, but doesn't necessarily dim just how dysfunctional and passionate the family truly is about their own self-interests and their patriarch. Despite the massive undertaking of making sure the characters are treated as evenly as possible, every supporting character feels like a person on their own with potential motives for killing Harlan. They also feel like a part of a whole, and surprisingly, nobody gets too lost in the shuffle - their audacious behaviors almost makes you want to see more of how this family works from the inside out.

Their chaotic dynamics are spectacularly balanced out with Marta and the detectives - Benoit Blanc, Trooper Wagner and Detective Lieutenant Elliot. While the film is definitely an ensemble piece, it's not difficult to see who the film truly belongs to - Ana De Armas, Daniel Craig, and Chris Evans. Even though Marta is apart of the family, she's also clearly an outsider excluding Harlan. She manages to survive their prejudice through a test of wills, courage, and kindness, and becomes of the best written characters and performances of the year. This role, combined with her next stint in Bond, will make it hard to believe her career does anything but skyrocket. Next to her is Blanc, a detective clearly pulled from the archives of every murder mystery detective ever, yet manages to be his own quirky, trusting, enigmatic, sprightly character on his own. (For those who aren't familiar with Craig's work outside of Bond, he's finally going to turn a lot of heads.) And, even though Evans carved out great performances outside of Captain America, it's refreshing to see him emerge from the Marvel umbrella even more; Ransom attracts everyone into his web with honey and vinegar, and Evans's charm makes you trust and question his every move. The trio's chemistry together truly acts as the film's glue.

Expectantly, as a murder mystery, Knives Out runs the risk of audiences figuring out the plot early, leaving the rest of the film to feel boring and uninteresting. While I was left generally guessing all the way through, the main plot is surprisingly answered quite early in the two hour running. Initially, this might give off the impression that the rest of the film will struggle to add up. However, with time and every act afterwards, Johnson's script is a true beast at connecting all the dots; his plotting shines with the full breadth of twists that never stop unfolding.

However, this is also where some of the story decisions works for and against itself - sometimes the direction or script is too obvious for its own good, or sometimes subtle enough to let the atmosphere and dynamics take on a life of their own. Where Johnson goes right is fleshing out the main mystery into a wider plot that weaves Harlan's death into a full circle. As stones are turned, there's always another that has to be turned again. Every act in their entirety is suspenseful and thrilling, even if the revelations themselves might be predictable for some moviegoers. Where Johnson struggles, and only slightly, is when compelling moments are spelled out directly and come across as unnatural and forced instead of letting them be subtle and take on a life of their own - (one regurgitated gimmick that'd probably work on SNL isn't as smart as it thinks it is, and a Thrombey-fueled debate on immigration feels forced rather than a natural extension of how ignorant they are.). There is a slight imbalance with tones that Johnson employs to infuse the moment with wit and tension that doesn't always stick the landing. Even with the smallest details that aren't as strong as they could be, the film combines humor, heart, and suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat.

From beginning to end, Knives Out does as it promises by taking movie goers on an absolute rollercoaster ride. Its immaculate casting, splendid production and costume design, and dauntless performances is a refreshing jaunt outside of beloved franchises and stream-worthy series as of late. It's difficult to not love the film as it is, but also question if its non-stop praise is due in part that we haven't seen a film like this in a while (a la Clue, Gosford Park, etc.), and not because it's absolutely flawless as many claim. That said, Johnson still delivers a funny, suspenseful and relevant murder mystery that breathes new life into the Who Dun It genre.

Rating for Knives Out: ★★★
Have you seen Knives Out? What do you think?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Film Spotlight: The Fare (interview with Brinna Kelly)

In the middle of nowhere, a charming woman Penny (Brinna Kelly) hails a taxi from a world-weary driver Harris (Gino Anthony Pesi). Though their initial encounter is only fleeting, their chemistry is suspiciously electric - almost as if they’ve met before. Soon, the duo come to an unsettling realization that they are trapped reliving the same moment over and over. The search for truth about what’s happened will undoubtedly change their lives forever.

Directed by D.C. Hamilton, The Fare immediately grabs your attention with its nostalgic atmosphere. A lone cab out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but two passengers, a mysterious radio show, and an electrical storm blocking their trip makes you feel like you’ve been transported into The Twilight Zone. There’s the natural sense, like with any sci-fi flick, that something else is brewing underneath the surface of what’s occurring on-screen. The use of special effects between the stretch of road Harris’s cab cruises over and over again as well as the black and white cinematography gives The Fare a production value of a much larger studio. Yet, as Penny and Harris’s relationship unfolds, the film also holds onto the intimate character experience of an indie, and lets the film unfold more than the initial sci-fi impression. Despite the seemingly simple premise, there’s a lot at play with the production between the characters and story, and Hamilton manages it with ease.

Similarly, some films falter when its cast can’t live up to the story, or the story engulfs the characters. But as a two-person show (three including the voice-over of Jason Stuart), it’s hard to believe how much the film relies and thrives on the deft performances of Brinna Kelly and Gino Anthony Pesi.

For Penny and Harris to work as individual characters reliving the same moment, as well as a partnership that evolves and flows with the story, their chemistry has to shine from the start. Even though the characters have been trapped together for an inordinate amount of time, their connection must be strong enough to sense that something else is going on between them – it’s not too fresh or too worn down to ruin the allusion of how long they’ve running into each other. They have a real interest in each other as well as a light-hearted banter and connection that makes you root for them. Both Kelly and Pesi exude that balance as their characters grapple with the routine of what they’ve experienced before as well as the startling discoveries that come along. It’d be difficult to believe that Kelly and Pesi don’t break out into the wider span of what Hollywood has to offer at some point, and hopefully The Fare will give them a bigger launching pad.

While this film works seamlessly together with the actors and production, The Fare’s greatest strength is its script. The direction and look of the film will grab your visual attention, and the performances will hook you emotionally, but the set-up of mystery and drama unfolds throughout Kelly’s plot with an impressive amount of pacing. The story rarely lags or feels overdone as the sci-fi element of a time loop gradually explores the loneliness of Harris’s lifestyle, the loss and yearning for connection, and contemplating the unknown. Kelly offers enough questions to keep you guessing about why and how the characters are trapped together, but doesn’t limit the characters’ own story. As the movie moves towards the ending, it’s surprisingly fitting how the film doesn’t throw in a twist just to be shocking as many sci-fi films manage to do. By all means, there is a twist - it’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but you also can’t say for sure you saw it coming. It fits well into the story that Kelly lays out, and depending on your guesses, should still leave you feeling satisfied.

Hamilton’s work on the production offers a visual appeal for longtime fans of The Twilight Zone, while Kelly’s script digs just as deep as Rod Serling’s character studies. Being forced to relive a moment or being trapped by the limitations of time has been done before throughout film and various genres – Memento, Groundhog’s Day, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and About Time, to name a few – yet none of them can quite compare to The Fare.

As always, I provide an honest critique for every film that I screen, and hope that you will check out the review and interview below. The Fare is currently available on YouTubeGoogle Play, and Amazon.

Rating for The Fare: ★★★