A private detective is hired to investigate the suicide of a wealthy writer of mystery novels.
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, and Chris Evans
Review by Jon Kissel
Rian Johnson, having dipped into noir, heist, and sci-fi, tries his hand at chamber mysteries in Knives Out and continues his unbroken streak of inventive takes on established genres. In his films, Johnson can be counted on to distill his tightly-crafted plots into one big takeaway, wherein the journey is plenty compelling but the residue sticks around long after the end credits. In Looper, he used the cliched questions of time travel to great effect, and in The Last Jedi, he somehow was allowed to subvert the entire Star Wars franchise, at least until the follow-up entry undid all his work. With Knives Out, an airtight mystery plot tramples upon the pretensions of second-generation wealth and leaves the viewer with a perfect final image and more to think about than merely whodunit.
Many years ago, I went to the local second-run theater with a large group of college friends for Pint Night i.e. bring a pint of liquor to a movie. The movie: David Dobkin’s frat pack romp Wedding Crashers. The liquor: probably Smirnoff. As was my wont in college, I knocked out my pint too fast and had to leave the theater sometime around Will Ferrell’s cameo to spend some time in the restroom. I remember thinking, as I sat on the floor by a toilet, how much time could possibly be left in this movie? In the intervening fifteen years, I no longer drink til I throw up but Dobkin is still making overstuffed and underedited comedies that exhaust all their energy long before the end credits. Combined with Netflix’s impulse to encourage filmmakers to make longer movies, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is suffocated by drawn out improv, false plot developments, and sloppy characterization.
For time-loop movies, all live in the shadow of obvious gold standard, Groundhog Day. Howard Ramis’ Bill Murray vehicle is beloved by pretty much everyone, up to and including religious scholars who teach it in universities. Its descendant, Palm Springs, likely won’t be showing up on any syllabi, but it stays true to Groundhog Day’s melding of humor with emotion, slapstick with philosophy. On the other hand, if Ned Ryerson can live in perpetuity, I don’t see why Cristin Milioti fluffing a biker’s mullet can’t also join the pantheon.
An American Pickle has several ways it could go. In Brandon Trost’s directorial debut, a dual starring role for Seth Rogen as a Jewish immigrant put in pickle brine stasis for a century and reunited with his great-grandson, there’s the natural path of fish out of water comedy that morphs into something more heartfelt once the modern-day eccentricity jokes wear out their welcome. To the film’s credit, this obvious path is eschewed in favor of a comedy of rivals, where both Rogen characters attempt to sabotage each other. Not making easy choices, however, doesn’t make the end result anything worth praising when it’s this clunky. What good is it to go off the beaten path when this new path is filled with lazy observational humor, contrived scenarios, and tired millennial gags?
Brian De Palma, one of 70’s cinema’s greatest pervs, goes oddly mainstream with The Untouchables. Doubly odd in how its script is written by David Mamet of all people, the film seems like two idiosyncratic creators reaching for popular success. They achieved it on the awards circuit and at the box office, but while this movie might have been thrilling in 1987, it’s now rote and almost boring in its predictability and its ridiculousness. The Untouchables has De Palma’s knack for composition and Mamet’s utility with a resonant line, and that’s about it.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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