We went to see our little nephew play hockey on professional ice today. It was a fundraising effort for his team – we bought tickets to see the pro home team play, and then the kids took to the ice afterward. They got to walk onto the ice through fog, with swirling lights, have their names announced, and stood for the anthem. Then played a game with music breaks and the announcer throwing out goal credits, and our nephew rose to the occasion with a hat trick. It was a perfect way to spend our Saturday noon, except getting in and out of the parking garage was perfect hell. The arena was in the same area as a big open-air Christmas market and the whole thing meant we spent 30 minutes driving to the venue and 50 minutes waiting to park, and the exit process was looking to be just as harrowing only with more honking, so we got into our car, considered our options, and got back out to spend our time more wisely: paying for a movie that at least one of us had already seen.
[It’s awards season, so besides Frozen 2 and Last Christmas, which we’ve already seen, the theatres are packed with things one or both of us have seen previously at film festivals.]
Of our options, we went with Knives Out, even though we grabbed two of the last 5 seats in the theatre, which means we were watching from the front row and Daniel Craig’s head was horrible distorted.
The script, however, was just as delightful. So even though I’ve already given you a full review of the film here, I wanted to urge you, if you’re at all interested in this film, to check it out at the cinema. Our packed theatre was having so much fun, laughing out loud consistently, it’s such a great communal experience to laugh alongside your fellow hooman.
Every year there are a few TIFF titles that have everyone buzzing, and those tickets become nearly impossible to get our popcorn-greasy hands on. This year, those titles were Jojo Rabbit, Joker, and Knives Out. I saw all 3 because I am very, very fortunate, but I was the only Asshole to see Knives Out, which also means that I have a pretty big responsibility to get this right.
Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is a highly successful mystery writer. His family gathers under the roof of his mansion to celebrate his 85th birthday, after which, they all retire to bed. The next morning, Harlan is found on his sofa with his throat slit. Initially ruled a suicide, both the local police and a private investigator are suspicious. As they start interviewing the family it becomes clear that each and every one of them has a motive, and that they’re all pretty enthusiastic about pointing the finger at someone else.
First, let’s get the cast of characters out of the way.
Marta (Ana de Armas) is Harlon’s nurse, and the last to see him alive. She put him to bed after administering his meds. As an outsider, she becomes P.I. Benoit Blanc’s (Daniel Craig) go-to source for all the family secrets.
Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) is Harlon’s daughter, a successful businesswoman. She is married to Richard (Don Johnson) who is perhaps a bit of a leech. They have a son, Ransom (Chris Evans) who is way too old to never have worked a day in his life. He is supported by Grandpa Harlan because, though rebellious, Harlan sees a lot of himself in Ransom.
Joni (Toni Collette) was married to Harlan’s now-deceased son. She and daughter Meg (Katherine Langford) are still quite close to the family, and are supported by Harlan. Joni is a bit of a free-spirit and doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the more conservative clan, though she may not realize it. She’s also at the other end of the political spectrum from brother-in-law Richard, and of course the two butt heads.
Walt (Michael Shannon) runs Harlan’s publishing empire, though with one hand tied behind his back as Harlan has no interest in selling movie rights or any other of Walt’s money-making suggestions. His wife Donna flies under the radar while his teenage son Jacob is a known weirdo and gossiped about as the family masturbator (does every family have one?).
That’s it. Those were all the people in the house the night Harlan died. It’s up to Blanc (a Poirot type, and not a little flamboyant) and police detective Elliott (Lakeith Stanfield) to sift through the pieces to try to assemble the puzzle. One helpful hint: nurse Marta is incapable of lying without barfing. It’s a tell that’s going to come in handy.
The movie is a lot of fun. First, there’s the fact that Harlan himself wrote murder mysteries. His house is full of mementos and artifacts – a display of knives behind the interview chair feels particularly ominous. But the ensemble cast makes it what it is. The script feeds them all some pretty snappy lines. I really loved Lakeith Stanfield’s referring to the Thrombey mansion as a “Clue board” – thanks for that, Rian. In fact, though the trailer bills Knives Out as a “whodunnit like no one has ever dunnit,” the truth is, plenty of murder mysteries came before it, and Johnson is not afraid to reference them. Johnson is a movie lover, a genuine movie lover, which makes his own movies so goddamn much fun to watch. He’s winking at us from the director’s chair. Going to a Rian Johnson movie is like taking my 5 year old nephew to a frozen yogurt place. He fills his little bowl with the first flavour, then a second, and probably a third. His eyes are bigger than his little belly. But he’s just getting started. Next come the toppings, which are his favourite part: cherries, chocolate chips, sprinkles, bigs of sugary cereal, broken up pretzels, strawberry flavoured boba, chunks of chocolate bar, pieces of cookie, bits of brownie. Next come syrups. Just one? Ha. That’s for amateurs. Then you cover it in whipped cream. Then a few more sprinkles, for the colour. More is more. Every spoonful digs up a new layer of goodness. He (both my nephew and Johnson) delights in every bite. There’s a sumptuous deliciousness to Rian Johnson’s films. And I don’t even worry about the belly ache: Rian Johnson is the one time you can eat every last bite and you never quite get enough.
Which is not to say this movie is unsatisfying. Johnson elevates the whodunnit by throwing in timely social elements that take a bite out of the wealth and class systems that literally allow people like this to get away with murder.
Millie Dunbar (Halle Berry) is the big-hearted, hard-working foster mother of many, many children. They’re crammed in to her apartment, bunk beds stacked on bunk beds, but they are safe and happy and loved. Except of course when Obie (Daniel Craig), the cantankerous upstairs neighbour, is harassing them, yelling at them to shut the hell up. Other than that, it may be a struggle, but it’s home.
Unfortunately, home, in south central Los Angeles, is about to get shaken up. It’s just days before the Rodney King verdict will be delivered. Things are about to blow up.
Like Gook, Kings looks at this contentious, violent time by getting intimate with one of the every day people affected by it. And I don’t just mean affected by the riots directly, though Millie’s family certainly will be. In Kings, we see the trial on the tiny, fuzzy TV sets in every living room. People are living and breathing it. Millie is deeply moved by the updates on the news, and Halle Berry’s excellent work reaches out to touch us in the audience. Millie is raising multiple black boys in a neighourhood patrolled by white cops looking for any excuse (or no excuse) to take out their disgust with the trial on anyone whose skin fits the profile. For her, it’s real, and the consequences are terrifying. Halle Berry hasn’t had roles really worthy of her lately, but this is a good one to sink into.
Of course, things really get moving after the verdict is read. Millie’s kids are strewn all over a city going down in flames, and she is not the type to sit on her couch and hope they come home safely. Her rescue mission will be aided and abetted by Obie.
This movie isn’t about the riots, but about an unconventional family caught up in them. I am not old enough to have my own memories of this time, but of course I haven’t failed to absorb all kinds of details and impressions over the years. That said, I don’t think I’ve ever really felt it, or understood the extent of what it must have been like for a black person in L.A. (and elsewhere in the country, I imagine) at the time, the disbelief that this verdict could be returned, and the utter fear, the utter terror for one’s safety, and for that of every kid in the community. What a brutal reminder, as if one was needed, that their lives are not equally valued in their own country, to their fellow countrymen. Berry’s panic, and the tears that come so easily to her eyes, tell me this.
Jay-Z announced his retirement from the rap game in 2003 with his Black Album. He was back three years later. Barbara Streisand retired from public performance in 2000 but has since toured the world not once but twice. Clint Eastwood declared his intention to retire from acting after 2008’s Gran Torino “You always want to quit while you are ahead” — then appeared in the forgettable 2012 movie Trouble With the Curve. Alec Baldwin wrote “Goodbye, public life” in New York Magazine but made three movies the following year. Shia LaBeouf infamous marked his 2014 retirement with his “I’m not famous anymore” campaign, then signed up for a movie role 3 weeks later. Cher embarked on a 3-year farewell tour, then signed up for Las Vegas residency as soon as it ended. Michael Jordan retired from basketball, played a little baseball, then went back to basketball. Point being: fools keep retiring, then unretiring. Director Steven Soderbergh belongs on the list, after telling everyone in 2013 that he’d lost his passion for film making, and that was it for him. Logan Lucky is the movie that brought him out of “retirement” – was it worth it?
Having directed Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve AND Thirteen (and producing the upcoming Eight), Soderbergh is no stranger to heist movies, but considers this one to be their “anti-glam” cousin. Logan Lucky’s characters are gritty, the setting low-rent, the heist a lot less slick – but not uninteresting.
The Logan family consists of brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver), and little sister Mellie (Riley Keough). They’re known locally for the Logan family curse; Clyde believes the bad luck sets in just as things start to pick up for them. He recently lost an arm just as his deployment was ending in Iraq. Jimmy, meanwhile, has just lost his job at the mines where he uncovered a bunch of tubes that blast cash money from a NASCAR speedway to an underground bank vault. You can practically see the light bulb go BING! above his head. Soon he’s plotting an elaborate sting that will reverse the family’s fortunes. The one little hitch in is plan is that the heist requires the expertise of Joe Bang, bomb maker (Daniel Craig). And it just so happens that Joe Bang’s in prison. Which means to pull of the heist, they first have to break Joe out of (and then back into) prison.
The caper’s afoot! Logan Lucky has a fun ensemble cast that keep things spicy. The film works because Soderbergh reaches for his familiar bag of tricks: a zippy pace, an almost zany plot. These characters are perhaps not the cleverest, they’re reaching above their pay grade. Half the fun is watching things go wonky. Instead of plot twists, Logan Lucky is peppered with…shall we call them mishaps? Small calamities that keep you groaning, and guessing. It’s almost farcical, and to that end, it’s well-cast. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and Daniel Craig is its shining, absurd beacon, stealing all the scenes he’s in and making you anticipate his next one when we’re following someone else.
Unfortunately, the movie really loses steam during its last act. Introducing Hilary Swank as the detective pursuing the case feels both rushed and drawn-out at the same time, somehow. Plus she’s kind of awful. But you know what? The film’s final 10 seconds save the whole damn thing, the cinematic equivalent of a smirk and a wink, and I fell for it.
SPECTRE is, without a doubt, the dullest, most phoned-in Bond movie since Daniel Craig took over the part in 2006’s Casino Royale.
How bad SPECTRE, the 24th in the series, really is is a matter of personal taste. Personally, I will always prefer the tone of the Craig films – even the worst (Quantum of Solace, SPECTRE) of them – to even the best of the campy Roger Moore pictures or the silly Pierce Brosnan outings. Given my admitted preference for a rougher and angrier 007, I am still submitting SPECTRE as one of the better (well, Top 10) entries in the franchise.
My expectations going in were high. First of all, I had been dying to order a 007 martini at Cineplex’s VIP Experience ever since it opened earlier this year and had been saving it for this movie. “Oh, that’s the perfect drink for this movie,” my waitress informed me, as if my ordering it had been a coincidence. More importantly though, my eager anticipation of SPECTRE reached new heights once its title had been released.
SPECTRE had always been my favourite part of the old Sean Connery classics and I couldn’t wait to see what the 21st century reboot would look like. Back in the 60s, the organization known as SPECTRE would always be trying to trick two superpowers into going to war with each other. And MI-6, Bond included, would always fall for it for the first half of the movie until the inevitable revelation that would invariably lead to what I consider to be one of the most iconic 007 lines “Of course. SHHHPECTA”.
Because SPECTRE reimagines Bond’s first dust-up with the nefarious organization, I probably should have known that I would not be hearing my favourite line. Which isn’t to say that the latest 21st century Bond film isn’t without its share of silliness. With the success of Casino Royale and Skyfall, the creative team seem more confident than ever and allow themselves licnese to have some fun with the material that Craig’s earlier and darker installments would have never allowed. SPECTRE is a return to Bond’s glory days, featuring exploding watches, secret societies, elaborate torture devices, and unkillable villains.
It’s mostly fun to watch. Craig’s performance, continuing to redefine Bond’s signature charm as a brave face against deep psychological scars, balances the less restrained elements nicely, making it easier to just sit back and enjoy the insanity without rolling our eyes as much. Bond’s close-quarters fight with the indestructable Hinx (played as the strong silent type by David Badista) aboard a train is particularly reminiscent of the best Bond brawls from the Connery and Moore days and was a definite highlight for me.
Unfortunately, director Sam Mendes and company have also taken Skyfall’s success as license to rest on their laurels a bit. The chases too often feel uninspired and familiar, even from – as Jay pointed out – earlier in the movie. Other scenes resort too often to a kind of melodrama that Craig’s earlier films were mostly successful at avoiding.
Still, SPECTRE looks great and is well-cast (although Christoph Waltz isn’t nearly compelling as a Bond villain as Mads Mikkelsen or Javier Bardem were) so is only disappointing when compared with Bond’s best missions.