“Knives Out” Whodunit Movie Review

Spectacularly crafted Whodunit! The kind of movie that would make J.B. Fletcher proud. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, Knives Out is a sleek modern interpretation of the a classic murder-mystery movie. He pays homage to Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries in terms of premise, but subverts what audiences expect out of a Christie mystery with his original expression, told through an outstanding screenplay complete with everything you want to get out of a Whodunit. You get it all: virtually everyone has a strong motive, plenty of deception, and a fortune at stake. Johnson displays a genuine love for Whodunits because he stays on brand by striking the proper tone and handling all the plot layers and characters with extreme care. The tone of this movie is one that is completely satirical yet never devolves into parody. Because it takes itself seriously, the moments of levity are placed with extreme precision. There are plenty of laugh out loud scenes in the movie, but the focus remains on solving the mystery of who killed Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Johnson’s satire on the obscenely wealthy class of Americans with their warped morality and ethics is highly entertaining, and will keep you amateur sleuthing along with Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) and Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). The central question in this Whodunit isn’t merely whodunit, but how could it not have been done. You just have to watch! Knives Out is a movie that did something boldly different with a classic premise and even the very act of spoofing a Whodunit. Johnson expertly crafted a highly clever plot that grows more fantastic with each moment of intrigue! You will want to watch it again to find all the clues you missed the first time around. Oh–in case you don’t recognize J.B. Fletcher, that is Angela Lansbury’s character in Murder, She Wrote, and she makes a cameo in this movie!

A detective and a trooper travel to a lush estate to interview the quirky relatives of a patriarch who died during his 85th birthday celebration.

The ability for a writer-director to master a cinematic story full of a labyrinth of layers, is truly a dying artform. In order for Johnson to have so successfully orchestrated such a spectacular whodunit, he had to study the source material films. Not source material in that this is based on a previous work–quite the opposite–it’s a wholly original story. But source material found in the hundreds of timeless film noir and murder-mystery films. Study the originals so closely that you know what tropes need to stay but also what elements can be re-interpreted for a modern audience. I can tell that every turning point in the main plot as well as every detail in the subplots was intentionally written and never left to afterthought. Johnson displays a mastery of the element of surprise. You may think you have this movie figured out, but you are likely wrong. Much like with the world’s largest, worse kept secret of the truth behind the murder in Murder on the Orient Express, it won’t take long for the secrets to be talked about at the water cooler in nearly every office.

These types of movies seem like relics of the past, the product of a long-since crumbled studio system, but Rian Johnson found a way to take the soul of what those films like The Maltese Falcon great, and channel it directly into a modern story that can provide a gripping mystery and touch on important social topics at the same time without it ever feeling preachy. Johnson never loses sight of the timeless grandeur of a serious Whodunit. While this movie takes itself seriously as a Whodunit, it is also hilariously funny. You wont’ find slapstick humor here, but well developed and fashioned drawing room humor coupled with brash candor. There are plenty of puns, one-liners, viciously funny insults the Golden Girls would be proud of, and even tell tale vomit. Some of Knives Out‘s humor is derived from the social commentary on the relationship between the 1%ers and the rest of the world. Furthermore, witty humor is born out of the relationships between individual characters and in the children/grandchildren and their grandfather. Humor that is grounded in conflict is always going to be more powerful than gag-based jokes.

Most of the performances are exemplary! Wish I could say all, but there are a few characters that are little more than furniture. If I have one gripe about the screenplay, it’s that there are 2-3 characters that do very little for the story, and pretty much just exist. If there are two standout performances in the movie, those would be Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas. Craig looked like he was having so much fun playing the southern aristocratic private investigator Benoit Blanc that I already want to see him reprise this character in another movie or even TV series! Not only did it look like he was having fun, but he remained committed to the character the entire time and never once faltered in any action or delivery. Maybe it isn’t a typical Oscar performance, but it was a command one never-the less. Just because he’s a caricature of a detective, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a stellar performance. Likewise, Armas’ Marta is a treasure to watch. Her sincerity, authenticity is unmatched by so many whom have played similar characters in the past. She completely transforms to play this nurse, and is strong, vulnerable, bold, and meek all at the same time. It takes tremendous talent to possess all those layers and never deliver one that isn’t precisely what is needed in that moment.

Now, I’d love to talk more about this movie, but I am afraid that if I go much further that I will tread close to spoiler territory. So I am going to do a little something different with this article. I am going to leave it here for now, but after the wide/general release of the film, then I can do more of a deep dive. Until then!

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“007: SPECTRE” movie review

SpectreA brilliant Bond film and excellent followup to the wildly popular Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes pulls out all the stops in MGM and Columbia’s Spectre the 24th official title in the Bond 007 franchise. After the soaring success of the previous chapter in the Bond anthology, who would have known that this final appearance of Daniel Craig as the heartthrob MI6 “paid assassin” would be just as thrilling! Just the opening sequence of the movie will have you on the edge of your seat, and the many throwbacks to past Bond film plots or characters will capture your attention for the two and a half-hour runtime. Even Blofeld, the original Bond villain, and his fluffy white cat appear in this epic Bond story. The jaw-dropping action will satisfy even the most ardent and long-time James Bond fans. Whether you’re an old-school or new 007 fan, you are definitely in for a treat. Some of the most refreshing and getting-back-to-authentic Bond elements, of the Craig chapters in the series, is the lack of over-the-top and at times absurd gadgetry, and a return to the very essence of what makes this franchise stand the test of time.

After the tragic events at Skyfall and the destruction of MI6’s massive facility on the Thames, James Bond 007 (Craig) is following a lead in Mexico City thanks to a cryptic posthumous message from the former Agent M (Judi Dench). When the actions in Mexico City draw the attention of the UK’s new head of security and Agent M (Ralph Fiennes), 007 is both grounded and puts the very existence of MI6 in jeopardy. After an unauthorized mission to northern Africa, 007 learns of the sinister crime syndicate known as SPECTRE. Coming face-to-face with the leader of Spectre, 007 learns of a chilling connection between the leader and himself. From northern Africa to the Austrian Alps, 007 must race against the clock to stop a big surveillance data collection organization from being the eyes of the world, and take out the leader of Spectre before he has his hands in the security pockets of several countries around the world.

This final chapter in the Craig Bond series has it all: action, romance, espionage, intrigue, and car chases. But probably the best elements of the movie are connected to  getting back to the very core of what has kept this franchise alive for over 50 years and 24 official titles. Despite the success and popularity of the 90s Brosnan 007 movies, they tended to place a lot of significance on the futuristic and ultimately impossible gadgets. Understandable, because the 90s were a time of massive personal electronic device innovation and the dot com boom. However, this emphasis on the gadgets took away from the plot and character development. Still, those era of Bond movies were exciting and still popular today amongst mostly the newer Bond fans. Returning to the very essence of what make Bond the 007 that fans adore is what makes the Craig films unique and exciting–especially in Skyfall and Spectre where 007 truly comes into his own. We still get some gadgets and the famous Bond film cars, but there is a degree of believability and realism that exists in these films that did not exist in the 90s Bonds. Even though these are still high concept films that have over-the-top action packed sequences, these movies still have a sense of old-school espionage class about them. An interesting side note: there is definitely a hint of the plot from Tomorrow Never Dies in this current installment.

No 007 movie would be complete without an original song that is eerie, romantic, and mysterious all at the same time. The title song from Skyfall performed by the incomparable Adele was an outstanding work of music and lyrics. It truly embodied the film itself and cemented her career as a master of soul/jazz. I cannot say the same for Sam Smith’s performance of “The Writing’s on the Wall.” I was not all that impressed with his performance and I thought the song itself paled in comparison to 2012’s “Skyfall.” Despite the fact that I didn’t personally care for Sam Smith performance or the song, it definitely still had that Bond theme flare about it. Between the graphics and editing, you still knew that you were watching a 007 movie without needing to see the poster or title. Looking to the next vocal artist, I’d like to see Elle King perform the next Bond theme song after her very Bond-ish sounding “Under the Influence.” Regarding the film score, Thomas Newman shines as he so often does with his remarkable talent for capturing the soul of a film in the score that accompanies it.

Facing the popularity of Skyfall, it was definitely a monumental task for Mendes to direct this Bond film. And although I do not feel that Spectre is better than Skyfall and at times I felt that I enjoyed the previous one more, I still thoroughly enjoyed this present installment of the anthology. And to my pleasant surprise, Dame Judi Dench makes a small cameo appearance as the M we’ve had for nearly 20 years. In respect to the characters in and of themselves and their personal/interpersonal relationships with one another, I really felt that the chemistry between M, Q, 007, Money Penny, and Blofeld was right on the ‘money.’ There really isn’t much in the way of traditional or conventional character development but that is commonplace in high-concept films. However, the glimmer of development in both M and 007 was enough to show that these characters and actors were almost made for each other. It was never awkward or boring to watch their interactions with one another.

Ready for an actual spy movie filled with assassins, intrigue, espionage and romance–especially after having sat through Bridge of Spies??? Then definitely watch the next chapter in the Bond, James Bond 007 anthology SPECTRE! Prepare yourself for over two hours of excitement, explosions, and dynamic car chases. Return to old school Bond! Watch as many plot elements through the years and even the villain who started it all make it full-circle.