Review: Knives Out

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, (Hey stop! Quit shouting and throwing things!) “Knives Out” is a murder mystery throwback to the Agatha Christie style of such stories. This is a film that is wholeheartedly enamored with the classic ‘Whodunnit?‘ It’s also very aware of it’s place and relation to the genre classics, though while the film revels in the usual machinations of a murder mystery- it doesn’t hold itself to those rules and is keen to take a different tact whenever given the opportunity. As with most stories within the genre, it begins with a dead body. Who just so happens to be Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) the incredibly successful mystery author who had just turned 85 the night of his death. Thus, the game is afoot. With the whole Thrombey family still in town due to the birthday celebrations, a mysteriously hired gentleman Detective named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) digging around, and the quiet yet warm home nurse Marta (Ana de Armas) there to help pick up the pieces, there’s an awful lot of suspects and heck of a lotta suspicion in the air.

The Thrombey clan isn’t exactly one forged in humility or solidarity. First there’s Walt Thrombey (Michael Shannon), eldest son of the author who runs the publishing company that sells Harlan’s books. He’s been trying to convince his father to sell the books rights for film and television adaptions for years, and that night Harlan effectively fired his son from the publishing company. Next is Joni Thrombey (Toni Collette), former wife of one of Harlan’s sons who had passed on years ago and in that time she’s become a member of the Woo-Woo society, and instagram influencer of sorts. She’d been getting allowances from Harlan for her daughter Meg’s university (and also skimming a bit off the top to boot), though Harlan made it clear that he intended to cut her off that same day as well. Then there’s Ransom Drysdale (Chris Evans), the playboy and black-sheep of the family. He’d gotten into the biggest argument with Harlan that day out of anyone and stormed off early in the night when he learned that he was getting cut from the will. There’s a lot of combative energy and spiteful angst going to and from all of the Thrombeys as each and every one are interviewed by the inimitable gentleman sleuth himself, LeBlanc. There’s something incredibly exciting about an infamous Detective with a southern drawl questioning a bunch of rich entitled ne’er do wells in a massive country mansion that feels ripped from the Clue film. So much so that several characters feel the need to point these things out, and that’s part of the fun of this film- Rian Johnson’s contagious entusiasm practically bleeds off the screen.

There’s a whole bunch of twists and turns that the film’s mystery takes, and just when you think you’ve got it pinned down there will be another flashback from a different perspective or a return to certain events but with new information. “Knives Out” is an excellent film in a genre that has all but evaporated from cinema today, and we’re lucky to have such an entertaining resurgence with this film. The writing is playful and inventive and the characters are all a treat, but the cast of high caliber actors within this film is the reason to see this one. If you’re into a solid throwback to the classic ‘Whodunnit?‘ structure of a murder mystery- give this one a shot!

Final Score: 1 Chris Evans in a White-Knit Sweater


Review: Logan Lucky

Written by Rebecca Blunt and directed by Steven Soderbergh, Logan Lucky is a comedy heist film in which the Logan brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) & Clyde (Adam Driver) aim to break the Logan family curse by robbing a high-stakes NASCAR raceway during the busiest weekend of the year. This film brought Soderbergh out of retirement to direct as he was initially sought out to give a recommendation for applicable directors, but he ended up enjoying the script so much that he chose to direct it and simultaneously use it as a test subject for an independent distribution model of his own design, “Fingerprint Releasing”. Which turned out to be the right choice as Logan Lucky is a no frills, charming, and surprisingly intelligent redneck MacGyver version of Soderbergh’s past heist films like Ocean’s Eleven.


Jimmy Logan works construction at the Charlotte Motor Speedway- that is until he’s fired by unseen insurance bureaucrats who spotted his limp and found him to be a liability. Choosing to find solace in brotherhood Jimmy soon makes his way to his brother Clyde’s bar where we first hear Clyde rambling off superstitions about the family curse. Given the brothers’ apt nature towards bad luck, with Clyde missing an arm- sorry- a hand, in the Iraq war and Jimmy’s leg injury keeping him from his youthful ambitions at national level football, the curse could have merit from this perspective. We soon meet Jimmy’s daughter Sadie who’s working hard to win a local beauty pageant, and through Jimmy’s estranged ex-wife we learn of her plans to move with her new husband out of state and away from Jimmy. Thus, our motivation inherent. From here the movie picks up its pace as the pieces begin to fall into place for the eventual heist. The Logans know of an infamous local safecracker named Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) whose been imprisoned. They go meet him and they unveil their plan to entice him into helping them break into the vault under the speedway. He isn’t too keen on the idea as he only has five months to go until his release, that is until they tell him that they plan on sneaking him out for the job, but then also sneaking him back into the prison without anyone knowing he was gone in the first place. Bang only has one condition, the Logan brothers must enlist his own two brothers to insure his interests until his sentence is up. The Logans’ also enlist the help of their sister (Riley Keough) as a transport driver during the shuffle of retrieving Joe and Clyde (his incarceration is also part of the plan) from the prison during a planned riot.


This film was an absolute joy from start to finish. The characters are never portrayed in a demeaning light and they all have an earnest sensibility about them as they go about their illegalities. Soderbergh brings a specific framing and polish to the film that may have been mishandled in another’s stead, while also crafting an edit that fills in the details as soon as you begin to question the choices certain characters make. It seems the director has cemented his return to filmmaking through this release and his upcoming film titled Unsane, Soderbergh’s first dip into the horror/thriller genre, which he also plans to release independently through Fingerprint Releasing and Bleecker Street once again. I know I’ll be looking forward to it based on how good Logan Lucky turned out. Soderbergh and his crew brought together an excellent cast and drew out some truly memorable performances from his actors while keeping everything light and fun. We can only hope for the success of more independent features like this!


(Adam Driver & Daniel Craig pose with director Steven Soderbergh while on production)

Final Score: Three Lucky Logans & One infamous Joe Bang!


Review: 007’s Spectre, Superb-but its no Skyfall

*Warning: Spoilers*

Spectre opens with, quite possibly, one of the most fun, brash, and intense sequences in all of James Bond’s onscreen adventures. It’s a shame the rest of the film doesn’t live up to that standard. Heading into this movie I wasn’t entirely sure if this iteration of MI6’s most famous secret agent would be a more direct sequel to Daniel Craig’s previous films, or simply another standalone adventure in the spy’s long gestating cinematic history. Let me tell you now, this movie heavily leans on Daniel Craig’s Bond legacy. If you want to fully appreciate all that ‘Spectre’ has to offer repeat viewings of the three previous Craig films would do you well (Although it would be understandable if you skipped ‘Quantum of Solace’).

Now, you might ask, with the 007 series reaching 24 films long, is ‘Spectre’ worth the price of admission? Overall, I say yes. There is enough the film accomplishes here to merit it a success within the terms of what people come to expect from Bond films.  That being said the biggest shadow looming on ‘Spectre’s horizons is ‘Skyfall’. ‘Skyfall’ reshaped Bond’s world in a way that was unprecedented in the series’ history. What made ‘Skyfall’ a standout was that it continued what ‘Casino Royale’ started in adverting expectations and wowing us with a Bond for the new millennium. More visceral, grounded, and gruff yet still suave and classy. ‘Spectre’ has a problem though, its not entirely sure what kind of Bond film it wants to be. The film relishes in larger set pieces, more visually captivating locales, and a host of other well trodden established Bond tropes. Bond reverts to the more Sean Connery style of persuasion with women, he exhibits far more reckless behavior than past Craig offerings, and black turtlenecks. Which I might add, I thoroughly enjoyed purely out of my adoration of the cartoon, ‘Archer’. So you might ask, ‘do any of these aspects weaken the overall experience?’ Well, that depends on what you expect out of a Bond film. Were there car chases? Did Bond have/drive/crash an expensive car? Did Q and Bond have an argument/moment? Was there a torture sequence? Did he get the girl? Did Bond go fist to fist in a brawl with an overly large henchman?  The answer to all of these questions is ‘Yes, most definitely’. If that is enough for you as the viewer, then it is enough, just don’t go into ‘Spectre’ expecting a reinvented wheel. This film is in love with its own past, and it seems to be racing to check off all the boxes of Bond’s world so quickly that it doesn’t even realize that the audience can feel the expectation of the plot as it happens. Every time a box was checked I was happy that it was, though it felt as if we’d all been here before. ‘Skyfall’, again, looms large.

Speaking of Henchmen, Dave Bautista’s ‘Mr. Hinx’ is one of the truly standout performances of the film. The bulky and brooding heavy hitter barely utters a word his entire time onscreen, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t an unrelenting challenge for every second of his time with us. Mr. Hinx will definitely be remembered in the long line up of Bond baddies for his introduction alone, forgoing eloquence for complete brutality in the juxtaposition of the orderly and organized ‘Spectre’ boardroom that the scene takes place in. The organization at the heart of the film’s title is one that largely rests its image on the shoulders of Christoph Waltz’s Oberhauser. I am at the same time both content with, and let down by, this performance. It has nothing to do with Waltz’s acting ability, I think he was fine, I was just expecting a bit more out of it. This may have been unfair of me to do so because of my comparing the character of Oberhauser to that of Hans Landa, Waltz’s infamous Nazi from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Oberhauser is a far more restricted, internal character of sorts, in short, I simply had brought a different level of expectation to the role than if it had been a different actor. The slow burn of his introduction in ‘Spectre’ is handled enticingly well in my opinion though. Oberhauser is however part of the film that, in my opinion, asks almost for too much from us.


‘Spectre’ attempts, and ultimately succeeds, in asking the audience to retcon the last three Bond films into one cohesive piece of storytelling. Partly in building the mythos around the shadowy organization ‘Spectre’ the film constantly throws us little reminders of villains of Craig’s past as bits of evidence tantamount to the tentacled group being, as Oberhauser himself describes it in one particular line, “I am the Author of all your pain James Bond”. But is he really? Oh and the big reveal that Oberhauser is actually ‘Blofeld’ shouldn’t have been all that much of a surprise to anyone knowing the history of the organization in the film series’ past. I think the idea at face value is a bit of a stretch, though they handled it effectively enough in the film, but the less time you spend analyzing it, the more you will enjoy it. If they had gone further with the idea I think it would have been too much, but done as it was, it is acceptable.

It is also worth mentioning that from ‘Skyfall’ to ‘Spectre’ there was a change in the guard of cinematographer from Roger Deakins to Hoyte van Hoytema. It might not be the most apparent change from film to film but the loss of Deakins style can be felt throughout. The use of Q and his relationship with Bond was also more fleshed out than in ‘Skyfall’ so that was a welcome addition. There was also the subplot of Andrew Scott’s ‘C’ merging both MI5 and MI6 operations while simulataneously nixing the double O program in its entirety. He is also the link between ‘Spectre’ and MI6 as he hurries to get international approval for a new global initiative of blending cutting edge technology with George Orwell’s worst nightmares. Hey, a dash of ‘Winter Soldier’ never hurt, right? The film also tries, ever so briefly, to peel back more layers of Bond’s childhood past and psychology, but again, ‘Skyfall’ did this better and in a more compelling fashion.

All in all, this is a fine James Bond movie. If all you are looking for is a competent, rousing, and entertaining action spy movie, then you’re in luck, because ‘Spectre’ was made for you. If on the other hand you wanted just a bit more from Daniel Craig’s latest, and possibly last, outing as the double O, then you might be left wanting more.

Final Score: 8/10