“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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“Velvet Buzzsaw” One Movie Punch Review

The lowdown on high art.

The highly anticipated Netflix original satirical thriller Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming. Go beyond the frame into the vicious word of the art business. Much like the hype surrounding Bird Box, this movie was also proceeded by a prolific number of memes on social media. Although this movie opened to mixed reviews from critics and audiences, I found it to be immensely enjoyable. Not to the point that it’s a great movie, but a solid thriller. A plot and setting that could have so easily been boring were intense and seductive. Who would have thought being a critic would be so alluring and perilous. Furthermore, this movie provides audiences with thought-provoking commentary on art and business. You witness all the players in the art business game: the creators, critics, clients, and curators. Essentially, the theme of this sexy, sinister, satire is the more we attribute a monetary value to art, that is inspired by a creator’s incredibly dark place, the more we run the risk of suffering, even vicariously, a deadly consequence for our selfish actions…

For the full review, visit the One Movie Punch website for the audio review and transcript! And if you don’t do so, follow One Movie Punch on Twitter and subscribe with your podcast service.

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!

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Twitter: RLTerry1

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A24’s “Hereditary” (2018) horror film review

Arthouse meets mainstream in this outstanding horror film! This terrifyingly good nightmare will haunt you long after you leave the theatre. After all the hype A24’s latest generated out of the Overlook Film Festival, many were wondering if it could live up to the accolades. Suffice it to say, it did all that and more. It’s been characterized by many as The Exorcist for a new generation, and rightly so. In fact, elements of the plot, setting, and characters can be likened to not only The Exorcist, but The Shining and The Witch as well. When you have a film that’s being compared to two of the pioneering films in supernatural horror and a popular modern one, then you know the film is exceptional. Relying chiefly upon an overwhelming sense of dread from the onset and intense emotional agony, Hereditary will assault your mind and eyes with that which cannot be unseen or unfelt. Wrier-director Ari Aster’s thrilling masterpiece will likely join the canon along side other great horror films as it is one that pushes the boundaries of what a horror film can do. Unsettling beyond measure, this is the type of film that leaves a lasting impression upon the minds and eyes of the audience. Furthermore, the danger of describing this film in too much detail can mitigate the phenomenal experience that should be this film. Not for the faint of heart, I suggest taking someone along with you to watch this amazing horror film unless you want to brave the disturbing narrative alone.

Following the death of not so beloved Ellen Leigh, her daughter Annie Graham’s family begins to uncover cryptic secrets of a bizarre and terrifying nature. Annie’s ancestry contains generations of psycho-social disorders that begin to point to a sinister family heritage. When a tragic death befalls the Graham family, the beautiful mountain home turns into a house of nightmares. The deeper Annie goes into the grim history of her family, the more she unravels a sinister secret that will test the limits of human psychology and just how far one will go to protect loved ones while remaining sane. When the search for answers peals back the vein between the physical and supernatural worlds, Annie learns that her family’s inherited an insidious fate of the darkest of natures.

Hereditary delivers a new kind of horror, or should I say a classical approach to the post-modern horror experience. Classical in the sense that it relies upon the auteurist craft of visual storytelling, complex characters, and an overwhelming sense of dread brought on my the score and cinematography to assault your mind, ears, and eyes instead of simply terrifying the eyes. Instead of including cheap jump scares, prolific gore, blood soaked murders, or terrifying images, Hereditary transfers the horror from the screen into the minds of the audience. When a horror film gets into the mind of the audience, that is truly where the horror lies. What isn’t said, heard, or seen is far more powerful than what can be seen with the naked eye. Clearly the suspenseful nature of the film is taken out of the Hitchcock playbook while the horror craft is inspired by the Kubrick (The Shining) and Friedkin (The Exorcist) approaches. Audience are kept on edge and pleasurably uncomfortable  (Carol Clover’s pleasurable unpleasure theory) by sequences of events that cannot be completely discerned as being real or figments of the Graham family imagination, given the heritage of mental illness. You will be terrified by, not only the uncanny events and sinister secrets of the film, but the dark family psychodrama with characters suffering from internal torment.

Toni Collette’s captivating, terrifying performance as Annie Graham is one that screams Oscar contender. We will be hard-pressed to encounter another more compelling and gritty performance the rest of the year. Although horror has always been popular and bankable, it has largely been passed over by The Academy until recent years with major wins by Get OutThe Shape of Water, and even Ex Machina’s visual effects. The genre that can trace its cinematic roots back to the dawn of indie and commercial motion pictures is finally being embraced at the Academy and Golden Globe awards. There are no shortage of reasons why critics and fans are praising everything about Hereditary. What’s there not to like??? There is little doubt that Collette’s portrayal of a tortured daughter and reluctant mother will be the most most exceptional performances of a female actor this year. Whether talking horror or other genres, the role of Annie Graham will go down in the record books as one of the most gut-wrenching characters of contemporary cinema. Her command performance is spellbinding as you get forcibly sucked into this twisted world of a family-heirloom evil that is showered by outstanding remarks by critics and fans across the spectrum. With landmark wins for the horror genre for actor, actress, picture, and more, it’s entirely possible that we got a look at one of the films that will earn many nominations and even some wins at the next award season.

It’s important to note that this isn’t simply a “scary movie.” Scary horror is simple to achieve; sheer terror, nightmare-inducing horror is difficult to create. The former is mostly concerned with the moment; include a jump scare, some violent gore, or a creepy figure. Whereas with the latter, the writer/director is pre-occupied with creating a simple plot, complex characters, and an atmosphere filled with dread to successfully carry the film from beginning to end. Hereditary is frightening on every level. To Hereditary’s credit, it delivers what audiences want plus subverting the expectations of the genre to generate true primal fear in the experience of this horror masterpiece. It’s far too easy for for a writer/director of a horror film to give audiences what they want to see. The danger in that approach is delivering a film that only has temporary value. Like getting a sugar-rush for energy versus proper nutrition. The effects of the “scare” provide nothing after the shallow energy has been used. Shallow versus depth. On the opposite end of the spectrum. a horror film that is too deep often fails to deliver what general audiences want to see and only cinephiles, like yours truly, find appreciation in the story. Hereditary contains the kind of masterfully crafted visceral imagery, emotional agony, and psychological trauma that creates a powerful, penetrating horrific experience that will give this film an evergreen life.

Not for the timid, this film will test the limits of your imagination and ability to sleep without fear of nightmares. Brilliantly frightening, this motion picture harnesses the power of how to effectively impact the mind and body of the audience. From moments of sheer terror to tormented souls caught in a dark family psychodrama, throw in a healthy dose of ominous evil and you have a don’t-miss cinematic experience. Exceptional characters, plot, a nightmarish score and more, give this film reachability and material to discuss in future film studies classes.

“Krampus” movie review

KrampusTwas truly a nightmare before Christmas! What would happen if Charles Dickens, Dr. Seuss, and the Brothers Grimm would combine their unparalleled literary social commentary and storytelling abilities for a Christmas movie? The answer is Universal and Legendary Pictures’ Krampus. Based on an actual legend of German origin, Krampus is the antithesis of Santa Claus. Whereas this narrative is not based soley on the legend per se, many of the insidious characters are. A Christmas horror movie is nothing new–recently watched Silent Night Deadly Night with a friend–but a movie of this quality, in terms of production design and plot is, and provides us with a movie that is equal parts a holiday and horror film. In an unconventional way, this movie highlights what Seuss and Dickens wrote about in their timeless tales: Christmas becoming more commercialized and about selfish material gain rather than the spirit of sacrifice, giving, and relationships. Just like Scrooge was so terrified emotionally and physically by the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and yet to come, that he believed in Christmas with all his heart, you may also call your behavior, this holiday season, into question as a result of coming face to face with Krampus.

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not reject Christmas, I’m telling you why, Krampus is coming! For those who lose sight of the true spirit of Christmas and get selfishly wrapped up in their own negativity instead of wrapped up in love, ancient European legend speaks of Krampus (the shadow of Santa Claus) who visits the houses of non-believers who have turned their back on Christmas. Krampus is about a family that, much like yours, is getting together for the holidays. And most likely, just like your extended family, there are members who do not get along with one another–and even resent one another. The Engel family is about to find out the hard way not to lose sight of the magic this time of year. During the course of a day, young Max (Emjay Anthony) falls out of the spirit of Christmas after his dysfunctional family continues to squabble and rejects the spirit of the season. After he rips up his heartfelt letter to Santa in rage, Max unknowingly unleashes the spirit of Krampus and his fractured family must ban together in order to save their very lives from Santa’s sinister shadow.

Following a montage of what looks like Walmart or Best Buy on Black Friday juxtaposed against cheerful Christmas songs, the movie opens on a scene from a film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Krampus establishes the subtext of this unconventional Christmas movie up front. It is no surprise that there are many self-reflexive elements in this movie; but, it is surprising how well-executed the plot of this film is. Despite the fact the trailer was quite good, I had fairly low expectations for this film because usually Christmas horror movies are just campy. However, there are naturally exceptions to that trend in films like Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas or A Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol? Yes. For those who have read the masterpiece, you know that it is a very macabre story in many respects. It had to be. How else was Scrooge going to be so scared for his life and the future if he wasn’t terrified and truly desire to embrace the spirit of the holidays? Maybe A Christmas Carol film adaptations are not traditional horror films, but they certainly contain many horror elements. Krampus takes the idea of developing a horror film out of Christmas to a whole new level. One that is billed as a horror comedy, but it is really more of a traditional horror film.

Horror films, like other genres, often follow the “order–>disorder–>order again” plot structure, but there are times in which it is more like: “order–>disorder–>order–>disorder again.” As I have written in my own research and previously on my blog, horror is concerned with warping that which is otherwise safe or familiar in order to comment on a societal problem or trend. Not always, but many times horror films can enable us to look at gender roles, sexuality, racism, economic, and technological sociological factors in a different light either positively or negatively. That has always been the case since the days of Nosferatu to Psycho to Alien to Silence of the Lambs. Horror films usually have substantial twists or reveals; and one in Krampus definitely caught me by surprise. Just when you think everything is going to be fine and follow a more cliche path, you are blindsided! Although the dialog is typically not strong in a horror film, Krampus contains well-written dialog that is both funny and fitting. Regarding the dark-comedic content in the plot, the comedy is more subtle than prominent; although, watching a jack-in-the-box devour a small child has a degree of demented humor in it.

Like with Universal and Legendary’s Crimson Peak, German expressionism is presented quite well in Krampus. In my previous writings, I have highlighted that German expressionism is at the root of the American horror film. There is even an animated sequence integrated very well into the diegesis that contains copious examples of German expressionism with elongated buildings, gothic design influence, and the use of natural and artistic shadows. Not as pronounced, the rest of the movie clearly shows that German expressionism was included in the designs of the creatures, Krampus himself, and in the neighborhood. By using shadows and warping the perception of landscape and residential engineering, the otherwise upper-middleclass neighborhood looks like it jumped right out of Nosferatu. Whereas this may be an unconventional Christmas movie, it still very much embodies the holiday season. We are reminded to never lose sight of the spirit of sacrifice, tolerance, giving, and relationships. Furthermore, this movie is instrumental in encouraging us to not allow the holidays to become a mechanical reaction, but to truly allow the magic of Christmas to aid us in bringing cheer to those around us.

If the lyrics “he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he know if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake” were not creepy enough as it is, then knowing that the shadow of Santa will be unleashed and not come to give, but to collect, if you turn your back on Christmas, then they just became even more terrifying. Universal has proven for more than 100 years that they are the king of horror; and this newest addition to both horror and Christmas movies continues that tradition of a commitment to being the subject of our nightmares.