Knives Out

I was a Rian Johnson skeptic for years. I can’t deny it. I recognized BRICK as original and well directed, but couldn’t swallow its stylized world of teen noir (“in my day a dude walking around with a duck cane was in for a serious ass beating, he would not be running a drug empire,” I wrote), skipped the second one because I thought it was gonna be bootleg Wes Anderson, liked LOOPER but recoiled at people talking like it was the Second Coming (“I feel a little out of step here. I mean I like it, but I don’t want to fuck it”), and this may be out of line but I have always thought his credits should read “Written and directed by Rian [sic] Johnson.”

Then STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI came along – a movie I didn’t think he was qualified to direct, but it turned out to be so much better than I expected, and so reinvigorating to a trilogy I thought was going in an emptier, more obvious direction. All the sudden I wanted to hear everything the guy had to say, listened to interviews, started spelling “Ryan Coogler” as “Rian Coogler,” and even considered maybe seeing THE BROTHERS BLOOM some day.

So I was much more open-minded for his new laughdunit mysteryblast KNIVES OUT, which sure enough is a fun time for all without anything that felt too corny, forced or self conscious for me. Only in the last shot did I think “oh, this is kind of Wes Andersony.” And by then it wasn’t gonna bother me much.

This is the story of the rich family of famed mystery author Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer, ROCK-A-DOODLE, MALCOLM X), who has just died of possible suicide, but police detective Lieutenant Elliot (Lakeith Stanfield, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB) and hotshot private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, LARA CROFT: TOMB RAIDER) have gathered them at the house to question them about his 85th birthday party that preceded his death. Since many of them had arguments with him, some involving money and inheritance, it seems like one of them could’ve killed him.

What I did not get from the trailers is that the actual main character is Marta (Ana de Armas, KNOCK KNOCK, BLADE RUNNER 2049), Thrombey’s longtime nurse. She lives in a small apartment with her undocumented mom (Marlene Forte, “Transport Chief,” STAR TREK) and sister (Shyrley Rodriguez, The Get Down), and knows more about what happened than she’s letting on. She also has a condition that causes her to vomit if she tries to tell a lie, so it’s hard for her to cover things up when Blanc pressures her to be his “Watson” during the investigation.

The story is twisty of course, but not always in the spots or the ways that I expected. At times it’s a whodunit, other times the question is what exactly was even dun? I found the story satisfying, feeling somehow traditional and fresh at the same time, keeping me guessing and surprising me in the right spots.

In the tradition of Agatha Christie’s adaptations and/or CLUE: THE MOVIE it’s a highly qualified ensemble cast playing colorful characters, and it’s fun just to watch them bounce off each other and transparently look after their own interests, regardless of the way it turns the gears of the mystery plot. Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis, ROAD GAMES) is the successful and responsible daughter, who resents Walt (Michael Shannon, KANGAROO JACK) for being a major “publisher” just by having access to their dad’s books. Richard (Don Johnson, DEAD BANG) is Linda’s country club husband, and Ransom (Chris Evans, BATTLE FOR TERRA) is their do-nothing playboy son who everybody hates. “Lifestyle guru” and Instagram influencer Joni (Toni Collette, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE) ends most sentences with a question mark, was married to a deceased Thrombey, and is still embraced by the family along with her college-going daughter Meg (Katherine Langford, deleted scene, AVENGERS: ENDGAME).

Also, Johnson regular Noah Segan, who I will always know as the gringo villain in Mark Zaror’s REDEEMER, gets some laughs as Trooper Wagner, the lieutenant’s dorky backup.

For me, three of these characters and performances stand out the most. First of all, de Armas as Marta pulls off a real tightrope act – she has to be the pure and innocent one who we all root for, but she’s also the one we know is lying and trying to hide her actions the entire time. And getting in over her head makes her a comical goof, like when she has to act oblivious while intentionally trampling her own incriminating trail of footprints.

Secondly there’s Evans, who comes into the movie late and insinuates himself into the center of the plot. Since CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER he’s been our favorite boy scout, but do you remember when he was in FANTASTIC FOUR and his whole thing was being the cocky smart ass? Here he blends the two personas because he’s an arrogant dick but he seems to be helping Marta outsmart his shitty family.

And thirdly there’s the show off, and the highlight, Craig. I gotta imagine Johnson saw him in LOGAN LUCKY and knew the world needed to see him doing more Southern accents. Sticklers for realism in regional dialect representation will have to go out to the lobby while we enjoy James Bond doing Colonel Sanders as Hercule Poirot. Some might say he’s chewing the scenery, but it’s more like the scenery is an alligator and he’s wrestling it. I would be down for more Benoit Blanc Mysteries.

You know what though, I gotta give an honorable mention because also Motherfuckin M. Emmett Walsh (STRAIGHT TIME, HIGH NOON PART II, BLADE RUNNER, BLOOD SIMPLE, MISSING IN ACTION, CRITTERS, RED SCORPION, THE MIGHTY QUINN, THUNDERGROUND, PANTHER, WILD WILD WEST) shows up for one scene. I haven’t seen him in anything in ten years (admittedly my fault for not seeing SCORPION KING 4 yet) so I was delighted the second I heard his voice. He plays a character that’s not required to be anything special at all – he’s the guy who lets the copes watch a security tape! – but he makes every frame of his screen time a joy to behold.

This type of movie is old fashioned, maybe timeless, but Johnson very gently and organically folds some of-the-moment themes into the mix. Though Marta is repeatedly told she’s loved as a member of the family (“I thought you should’ve been at the funeral. I was outvoted.”), no one seems to know which South American country she’s from. Asked his opinion about immigrants by the police, Richard quotes Hamilton (the musical, not the actual guy), but at the party he drags everybody across concrete with a rant about immigrating “the right way,” cluelessly dragging Marta into it as his proof of a “good” immigrant. The bastard forces us to side with idiotic Joni in this argument. Her hysterics are correct. But none of them are aware of the struggles of this so-called family member, not even young Meg, who rages at police when they ask if Marta is with “the help.”

There are repeated discussions of what constitutes “self-made” by these people who were given millions by birth or marriage. They strongly believe that everyone must pull themselves up by those famous American bootstraps, and also that they are entitled to their family fortune and “ancestral home.”

And in the tradition of Rose Tico’s “fight for what we love” philosophy in THE LAST JEDI, Johnson promotes a warm, positive ethos that rewards characters for being kind and doing the right thing regardless of personal interest. The person who SPOILER gets the money is the only one who’s not expecting it or trying to get it. Harlan probly deserves blame for what a bunch of snakes his family turned out to be, but in his final days he’s discouraging greed and sacrificing himself for others. And his decorative knives are retractable.

If I have one complaint about this one, it’s that Curtis (who I love seeing treated as a marquee star again) and Colette (who seems to be having a blast playing a cartoon) aren’t in it enough. But in my capacity as Mr. Above It All I wrote that when LOOPER “was over I felt like that was enough, I don’t feel like I’ll necessarily want to watch it again.” So congratulations to Johnson for leaving me wanting more.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2019 at 7:34 am and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Mystery, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

44 Responses to “Knives Out”

  1. I thought this was a lot of fun, and the absolutely ridiculous cast was a big part of that- I love when you can look at any random person in the background of a shot and they’re doing something just as interesting as the main focus, and this movie had a lot of that.

    In addition to the welcome appearance of M Emmet Walsh, another small part with a pretty big name attached was the lawyer who reads the will- none other than Miss Piggy himself Frank Oz, following Rian over from THE LAST JEDI set I guess.

    If the movie has a misstep for me, it’s that there was a period (intentional vagueness for spoiler’s sake) between where we find out what happened but long before we get all the details about what REALLY happened where I wasn’t 100% sympathetic to our main character. It never brought me fully out of the thing, and I thought they tied it up well but for a while there I was questioning why I should root for her. It definitely helped that the rest of the family are so obviously despicable.

    Also, between this, DJANGO UNCHAINED, MACHETE, and the WATCHMEN show, Don Johnson is having a real “racist uncle” moment as an actor.

  2. I’ve had the exact opposite Rian Johnson experience. I loved BRICK. It was one of those movies that seemed to be tailor-made for me. But I’ve enjoyed every movie he’s made since progressively less. BROTHERS McWHATEVER was merely forgettable and derivative but LOOPER is where I started to suspect that he might be totally full of shit, and LAST JEDI (a movie I admit I was never going to like no matter what) was just an utter mess. Couple that with his prior attempts at comedy not exactly inspiring confidence and the fact that the sight of Toni Collette now leads to instant eye rolls and I have been on the fence about this movie, which should otherwise be right up my alley. I love mysteries (though admittedly not necessarily those of the English drawing room tradition) and light capers and hammy acting, so it should be a no-brainer for me. Sadly, I’ve lost all confidence in Johnson’s ability to tell a story that holds the slightest bit of water so I think I’m gonna have to wait for DVD.

  3. Yeah, I’m sort of in the same boat (except I didn’t really like Brick. It was Miller’s Crossing with teens. And somewhere in the middle I realized I’d rather just watch Miller’s Crossing again), so no matter how much praise gets heaped atop this one, it doesn’t change the fact I have zero faith in the guy (plus, I read an interview with him and he says ‘dude’ and ‘totally’ a whole lot. I usually don’t let such things interfere with the films themselves, but it was a WHOLE LOT)

    So, if I still remember when it hits video, I’ll give it a spin. But, something tells me I’m going to forget and I’m okay with that,

  4. I loved this one so much. It’s got a lot that I just love inherently – whodunit, drawing room mystery; elaborate, gothic set dressing; diverse cast of greats. But in itself, it’s just so well done. There were so many little touches that impressed me. I absolutely loved when Don Johnson was going on his immigrant tirade how he seemingly unconsciously handed the nurse his plate. I just read that it was an ad lib on his part. Brilliant.

    ****SPOILERS**** from here on out.

    They did such a good job with layering on the Ransom character. He was so obviously despicable, so why was it so easy to believe he was helping her and could be a good guy? First you cast Chris Evans. One, he is really good at playing an asshole character, but he’s also Captain America and you really want to like him. All that was needed was the one line from Harlan saying Ransom was the most like him. Now we’re set to give him a break. Plus, we never see his argument with Harlan until the end. We didn’t get the police questioning scene where we see what is really said versus what they tell the police is said. The final piece is putting him in fucking comfy sweaters. All you want to do is cuddle up to him like he’s a fucking teddy bear. Or was that just me? Seriously, though, it totally softens the character subliminally.

  5. This was good and fun. Some of the dialogue was a little wobbly and I’d like to see them lop 10 mins or so off the run time, but I liked this one. I think my favorite line was “You think a will reading is going to be exciting like a gameshow, when in reality it’s more like a community theater production of a tax return.”

  6. I was just thinking about M. Emmet Walsh this weekend! Hadn’t seen him in a while and figured the next time I heard about him it would be sad news. Hooray!

  7. Enjoyed it and thought it was a ton of fun but thought it would be a very good and maybe even great movie if Johnson put aside his ‘Aren’t I so clever and funny and quirky!?’ sensibilities. I knew he would not so I’m not disappointed.

    So that said: One part a really good movie but it also gets a bit too cute and clever with itself.

    In other words: it’s a Rian Johnson movie.


    I agree that, while I enjoyed this movie overall, I would have liked it more if Johnson have simplified the script a little bit more and got less cutesy with it. The convoluted explanation at the end is fine, but I can’t really get behind the entire first act being an elaborate fake out. It wastes a lot of time establishing various characters and what they were doing on a particular evening, and then almost none of this turns out to be important. It sets them up as suspects for one act and then immediately drops it. The twist is nice, I suppose, but it sure makes a lot of the characters feel pointless. They aren’t even red herrings.

    Also, it’s weird that most people are talking about KNIVES OUT as a whodunit, when that only really applies to the very beginning and the very end. The majority of the film is a comedic thriller (and a fun one!), the mystery ends up being the least important part.

  9. I am and always shall be a Rian Johnson fan. Loved Brick and the rest (only haven’t seen Brothers Bloom, but I should I guess). I liked the episodes he did for Breaking Bad, too. Just gets into my head.

    This was the exact movie I needed this weekend, post Thanksgiving. The family squabble about race and immigration was sooo on the nose for I am sure a lot of people’s holiday gathering this and other years. I am with Maggie above, too and loved Don Johnson handing over the plate.

    What made the mystery work throughout, even when we find out the “how-dunnit” before the who I liked the Rashamon-like flashbacks. Some were lies, for sure, but some were perspectives. Like we see Don Johnson waving over Marta in one flashback saying, “she was one of the family” and then we see the same scene from her perspective and it is less an invite than an attempt to bully her into talking immigration when she clearly doesn’t want to.

    I was also excited about M Emmet Walsh. If you are into more recent work, he was actually great in Sneaky Pete on Amazon as a old used car huckster and con-artist. Very cool to see him in action once again. Speaking of that show, it also had the final performance of Ricky Jay in it, too (I think they had to re-film some of it to take into account his death mid-shoot). So color me surprised when I thought I saw a small homage to Ricky Jay in Knives Out, too. When Walsh was introducing himself and his job, there were a bunch of pics on the wall behind him and one of the older black and white ones (former guard like him?) was Ricky Jay. Kind of sweet.

    Anyway, great review Vern and I think it is a spot on one, too.

  10. Vern my man, you nailed my feelings on Rian Johnson exactly. I have only seen his first three films once each: I remember Brick pissing me off, I just couldn’t stand the high school stylisation. Brothers Bloom I don’t remember at all. Looper felt like a throwback to cruddy late 90s action movies.

    Then The Last Jedi came and I had to reckon that I was wrong about the guy. That movie is a triumph and quite possibly my favourite Star War or at least top 3. It is certainly the most thematically cohesive. So suffice to say I really enjoyed Knives Out for just the reasons you say. I think need to revisit his earlier works too.

  11. I laughed so hard at the “Gravity’s Rainbow” reference. I also own a copy, never finished reading it, feel smart for having it on my shelf

  12. Vern,

    A while ago I asked if you had seen The Last Jedi since it’s theatrical run (you hadn’t).

    Like you, I came away from seeing it in the theater that first week when it was released pretty impressed. As time has gone on, I have found it almost unwatchable. I love everything with Luke, Rey and Kylo, and it is a great looking movie. But the entire filler story with Finn, Poe, Leia, Holdo has to be some of the dopiest crap in any Star Wars movie. I’m curious if you have rewatched it lately. If not, you should, especially with Episode 9 right around the corner.

    I liked Knives Out a lot. I was actually kind of amused (not to get too spoilery), but it really isn’t as twisted a whodunit as it is made out to be in the advertising. There are twists for sure, but it isn’t that wild of a story.

    Also, I think it is funny that Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas will be a couple in the next Bond movie (obviously looking significantly more attractive).

  13. Vern,

    A while ago I asked if you had seen The Last Jedi since it’s theatrical run (you hadn’t).

    Like you, I came away from seeing it in the theater that first week when it was released pretty impressed. As time has gone on, I have found it almost unwatchable. I love everything with Luke, Rey and Kylo, and it is a great looking movie. But the entire filler story with Finn, Poe, Leia, Holdo has to be some of the dopiest crap in any Star Wars movie. I’m curious if you have rewatched it lately. If not, you should, especially with Episode 9 right around the corner.

    I liked Knives Out a lot. I was actually kind of amused (not to get too spoilery), but it really isn’t as twisted a whodunit as it is made out to be in the advertising. There are twists for sure, but it isn’t that wild of a story.

    Also, I think it is funny that Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas will be a couple in the next Bond movie (obviously looking significantly more attractive).

  14. Patrick: Nobody’s ever finished GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. The purpose you are using it for (sitting on your shelf looking real impressive) is its only recorded usage. It’s the MOBY DICK of the modern age.

  15. Mr. M- that is the joke in the movie as well.

    For what it’s worth, though, I actually like MOBY-DICK a lot. I first read it during an embarrassing literary phase of my early 20s where I thought carrying a copy of NAKED LUNCH around in my bag all the time made me A Real Cool Dude (I feel it is now safe to admit what a chucklehead I used to be, since I’m now a totally different kind of chucklehead), and I was surprised how entertaining and readable I found it to be.

  16. Like most people, I got to the chapter in MOBY DICK that’s just a badly edited wikipedia page about whales and decided to have mercy on myself. You are made of sterner stuff than I.

    Ah, pretending to like NAKED LUNCH. A vital rite of passage. I used to wear a William S. Burroughs T-shirt for that purpose.

  17. Inspector Hammer Boudreax

    December 4th, 2019 at 12:34 pm

    I just want to step up in defense of Melville here. Also, Gravity’s Rainbow, a book I did finish and enjoyed very much. So, as much as I liked KNIVES OUT, that throwaway wisecrack will be fueling anti-intellectual dumbasses for years.

    I’ve read Moby Dick four times and I’ve read multiple books about Moby Dick. It means a lot to me. The thing is, it is on at least one level a book about obsession. And the book therefore gets obsessed with whales. I have a bit of an obsessive personality myself, at least in love. I’m not OCD in daily life, but if I’m in love with a woman, I will find her very toenail clippings to be worthy of attention. Moby Dick’s “boring” chapters enact this.

    I also feel like Moby Dick is the only book that gets two contradictory bad raps. On the one hand, some describe it as a boys’ adventure story without depth. On the other, some regard it as a turgid philosophical tome. To be insulted in both ways is surely a mark of excellence.

    Also, Pierre: or, the Ambiguities is punk AF.

    Also, also, debating what the white whale represents is a sucker’s game, akin to trying to figure out what’s in the briefcase in PULP FICTION. But I subscribe to the case that it is God. Ahab wants to kill God. Like Nas rapped: “Putting hits on 5-0, cause when it’s my time to go, I wait for God with a four-four.”

  18. Just for the record:

    I liked Looper a lot.

    I liked the Mark Hamill parts of The Last Jedi. The rest I mostly did not.

    I have been to the movies almost 30 times this year, I think.

    This for me was the worst film I’ve seen all year. Actually, a film hasn’t made me this angry since that abomination Life back in 2017.

  19. I was *really* interested and confused by where this movie was going for about 30-seconds when Marta pulls out some syringes and asks Plummer’s character if he wants to “get high” on “some of the good stuff.” I was just like…woah. That really subverts my expectations of the decent Old Man and angelic, hard-working immigrant tropes.

    Was it supposed to play as really dirty and weird for a second? Like they’re both gonna shoot up as a night cap? Or did I just misunderstand?

    Overall, I enjoyed the movie, but it mostly felt like an aperitif, a pallet cleanser, a trifle. There was very little THERE, there. I was way ahead of the plot nearly every step of the way and, while I enjoyed the proceedings, I left wondering if it was actually supposed to play as a mystery, or just as a farce about people solving a mystery?

    Also, it’s not progressive in my mind to cast minority actors as living saints. It’s still dehumanizing and shallow. Marta is a blank canvas with no flaws, no internal dilemma and virtually no *character.* the ultimate arc of her finally learning to lie, so as to expose the truth is well done, but she’s only well written as an expression of theme and poetic irony, not as a representation of a human being.

  20. Tawdry- I took that beginning moment to be basically just some playful banter between the two of them to demonstrate their rapport. I don’t think she was going to shoot up with him or anything.

    I also didn’t necessarily take Marta as a saint, either. Her character put me in mind of a noir character, a normal person who gets drawn into an extreme circumstance. As I mentioned earlier, based on the information we had in the beginning of the movie I wasn’t sure whether I was rooting for her to “get away with it” at all and despite the weird vomiting quirk, she’s clearly willing and able to conceal the truth of what happened from the beginning- if that’s not lying, it’s a distinction without a difference. It made her more morally grey in my eyes.

  21. @Krugan (SPOILERS!)

    Sure, she’s lying. But it’s framed in a manner that does everything possible to minimize culpability. It’s almost at the level of a fan-fiction self-insert. She had a Byronic past and a dark secret… except the ‘ain ’ In her past is being a brought to America as a child and In the present, she does everything within her power to correct the honest mistake and her “victim” immediately forgives her, then actively participates in the creation of her false alibi. As his dying wish, no less!

    She doesn’t even have a *single* glass of champagne or a puff off the joint. Hell, she didn’t even knock over the Go Board. In these kind of stories a tiny lie can spin out of control, but even her choice to lie doesn’t come from within, even *that* is external.

    I get that her sinlessness and inherent goodness are the point, central to the theme and all of it is elegantly structured within the rules of Campbell, but it’s still a character more befitting of a children’s story. Marta is the protagonist in a fable

    Actually, maybe that’s it, Marta isn’t a character from a Noir, she’s a fairytale princess. The inability to lie without vomiting fits right in with a bedtime story designed to teach right from wrong. Hhmmm, I’m probably gonna see this movie a second time with the Lady, so perhaps My opinion will evolve.

  22. Just got back from this one and had a blast. Lots of fun and heart, very handsome without being showy. Brisk without being choppy. One of those types of movies they allegedly don’t make anymore, alive and kicking on the big screen.

  23. Also, I have to disagree with you, Tawdry. I think Marta is presented as a highly scrupulous person with a weird phobia. SPOILERS******************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

    I think most of us track the social commentary, about a bunch of entitled “born on third” people operating under the patently delusional and internally contradictory ideology that (a) they deserve their father’s wealth as a kind of feudal/caste-propagating birthright and that they also are simultaneously (b) self-made entrepreneurs who have built their own fortunes and careers. The whole film lampoons this mentality and reveals what a farce it is and also exposes the rank hypocrisy of their moral posturing, which is clearly just realpolitik — self-serving bullshit designed to rationalize and justify awful behavior. Powers of cognitive dissonance reduction and self-delusion so powerful that overtly mean-spirited, greedy, craven, slothful, dehumanizing behavior can be reimagined as righteous. In other words, these people are clueless and have some serious nerve!

    Marta is not presented as a Mary Sue or as morally flawless. Instead, she is presented as marginal, unseen, unvalued. She is an underpaid helping professional, tending to the needs of others and regarded as a second class citizen. She has a strong moral code, but also her aversion to lying is not entirely under her control (it’s not as though she is a saint who never wants to lie, her body just won’t let her without a lot of drama). Mostly, she is just a nice, caring person, motivated to help people and not motivated by greed or guile. Are we so cynical as to dismiss the existence of such people? They are out there. It’s what personality psychologists call “high conscientiousness” and “high agreeableness.” The film is about the economic and identity politics of ethnicity and class and citizenship, but I would say it is equally or more so about the psychology of entitlement and of disenfranchisement — of being a spoiled-ass brat so cynical and entitled as to reach the level of borderline (or in some cases full-blown) psychopathic narcissism and of being a somewhat naive if principled idealist/romantic who wants to see the good in people and adhere to a moral code of compassion even in a world where that often leads to hurt and indignity at the hands of the wolves who play the game.

  24. Skani

    I see what you’re saying and you make a good argument, to be sure. But I’m coming at this from the perspective of long talks with my writing partner, who – before writing became a full-time gig – was an executive at a prominent Mexican-American production company. They would constantly run into the issue of writers positioning the Latino star as saintly when cast against A primarily white cast, which resulted in said star being the least interesting character. Maybe this has jaundiced my view, because I like your reading and want to see the film through that lens.

  25. I can appreciate your jaundiced view. I have a friend who has had big problems with recent “liberal issues movies” (to borrow a phrase from another thread here) like THREE BILLBOARDS and ROMA and SHAPE OF WATER. His complaint is that they are so on the nose with their woke politics and their “evil toxic (white) man” as general purpose bad guy / fall guy for everything narrative that they fail to challenge or invite people to wrestle with the shared humanity and culpability of the human predicament. Much like the right-wing paranoia fantasies (RAMBO V, PEPPERMINT), the film externalizes problems and reassures you that they are the result of some specific class of person that is the bad guy that you can identify and then hate/kill into submission. I think there is some false moral equivalence in this, since personally I *am* pretty comfortable demonizing bigots, the ultra-wealthy, the super PACs, and the business as usual center-neoliberal status quo incrementalists, among others. His point is, where is the art or creativity or invitation to transformative impact in a film that just scolds your or pats you on the head for sharing its particular political vision or version of moral rectitude? I have not seen any of those films, so, I can’t really speak to whether he’s right or wrong about them.

    What I can say is that I think KNIVES OUT loves and empathizes with and humanizes all of its characters, even the entitled, no-good, low-down scoundrels. But it does ultimately root for the underdog and, like the old white male patriarch in the film, it wants the entitled scoundrels to experience a bit of tough love for their own good — for their own souls — as much as anything else.

  26. Skani,

    Not to derail things or avoid engaging with your thoughtful response, but good lord, I DESPERATELY want to see RAMBO V PEPPERMINT: DAWN OF WHITE FLIGHT.

  27. Skani

    RVP:DoWF aside, I roll my eyes at most “issue movies” because, beyond the didactic surface, these films also by and large fail to encourage introspection on the part of the presumed-good-open-minded-liberal core demographic. These films consistently convey the message that as a “woke” liberal, my work is already done. I never need to look inward and consider my own deeply ingrained biases and bigotries. Nope! I’ve already conquered such demons, as is demonstrated by my willingness to purchase a ticket to this movie and sit through a lecture about how bad racism is… in cities I’ve never visited, or *was* in time period before I was born.

    Do you think HIDDEN FIGURES would have been a big hit if it were set in modern day NASA? Hell, do you think it would have even been *made?* I think it’s pretty clear that the answer to both questions is a resounding no. Or perhaps, FUCK NO! If one is feeling loquacious.

    No, even us good liberals like to keep the hard stuff tucked away in the past or else point the finger at others. As if we’re not also racist. As if we’re not also participating in and benefiting from a centuries old system of endemic and systematic racism that has resulted in the average white household enjoying 58x the average wealth of the average black household.

    Honestly, I think CRASH (2006) is underrated because, for all it’s barn door grandstanding and emotional manipulation, it makes a concerted effort to interrogate well-meaning liberal mindsets and the potential and actual damage done by our unwillingness to interrogate our actions and motivations.

    Beyond CRASH (2006) the only Other film I can think of off the dome that successfully conveyed a similar message – and met with widespread critical acclaim and commercial success – is GET OUT. That film definitely states that there are no “good white folks” in my reading. But the message is buried so deeply that most viewers – even attentive, politically-minded ones – are apt to miss the point. Of course, I’d wager that this was 100% intentional. No black filmmaker could ever hope to speak this basic truth outright and expect to continue receiving funding.

    All of this was swirling through my head while watching KNIVES OUT. I need to see it again before it leaves theaters. I’ve concluded that I wildly misunderstood what I was watching and thus robbed myself of many of the film’s potential joys. I presumed I was in for a mind-bending whodunit instead of a farcical thriller in the vein of late-period Hitchcock (ie THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY) and thus, I found myself frustrated because I consistently felt like I was a few steps ahead of the game, when in fact, I was missing the entire game.

    Thanks to VERN and everyone else here for helping me set my head straight. I love Rian Johnson’s work and would hate to miss out on enjoying his latest joint on account of baggage I brought to the theater.

  28. Do I need to worry about LaKeith Stanfield essentially playing Inspector Lestrade to a character whose name means white?

    So I finally got to see this, and then came back for this review and spoiler-filled comments.

    I’ve been Johnson agnostic ’til now. BRICK was look-at-me clever, but it’s hard not like a movie where Shaft plays a tough-talking high school principal. LOOPER, a film that wouldn’t even be on Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s resume if digital de-aging tech had been 5 years further down the line back then, left me cold. But I guess it had Bruce in a funny wig and an early showing of Emily Blunt’s badassery. And THE LAST JEDI was fine; it didn’t offend me, it didn’t thrill me. It was fine.

    So you have to wonder that I turned out for this at all, but I’m glad I did. KNIVES OUT is, as most of y’all have noted, a blast. I don’t think I’ve seen a movie since UNFORGIVEN that quite so brilliantly has its genre conventions and eats them too. And if UNFORGIVEN is a significantly better movie that’s because it was played straight, an option hardly open at all in a genre that requires playing it twisty and not a little hammy.

    Hell, imagine how much fun the Craig Bonds would be if they’d let him ditch the po-face in favor of a little Benoit Blanc.

    I appreciate Tawdry’s remarks on Marta, but it’s a point of view that I missed while watching the movie. Shame on me. She seemed as much a real character as any of the others and probably more than those genre conventions would normally allow. But while the ending is clever and fun, I felt it let her down. Patriarchy and privilege still win. To borrow from another Chris Evans vehicle (pun acknowledged), SNOWPIERCER, Marta has fought her way to the front of the train but just accepts the role offered her by the dying patriarch. I agree that KNIVES OUT has some empathy for all its characters, but I really wanted an ending that derailed the train and cast everyone out into the snow.

  29. Tawdry makes a great point about Marta. The movie itself is another rich asshole using her as ballast for talking points, like in that one scene. A stronger film for me would have been if she turned out to have orchestrated the whole thing to take their money, because fuck them. I feel like there was an impulse to go there; my favorite parts were when she counterthreatens the family with their own wealth, saying she’ll lawyer up and pay for the kid’s tuition.

    Also it would be cool if real life cops sided with the poor immigrant against the rich folks like Craig here. Basically there was enough of an eat the rich streak in here for the movie to coast on good graces for me but I wish they’d gone harder, what can I say fellas it’s 2020 and that’s where my head’s at

  30. I don’t think I agree with the idea that making Marta overtly manipulative and antagonistic would automatically make her a more interesting character. I liked her more as a throwback to the Hitchcockian archetype of the decent normal person thrown into an outrageous circumstance for which she isn’t prepared but has to figure her way through anyway. To me it would be less fun to watch her get over on the rest of the jerks if she was actually just a bigger jerk in hiding.

  31. I don’t think it would have made her an antagonist or a bigger jerk, I would have been even more on her side :)

  32. NO TIME TO DIE has been delayed till Nov.

    Understandable due to the circumstances but this sucks.

  33. For some reason, to me November has always been James Bond Month, so I’m ok with it.

  34. Funny when people complain so much about the Marta being such a good guy is a bad thing, as if there haven’t been good guys in movies. And then acting like Rian Johnson was just going out of his way to make the immigrant a saint…while totally ignoring there is ANOTHER character who it totally good and out to do the right thing…the white male lead.

    Rian Johnson was right to discard the formula for murder mysteries, because the middle part of these things is where it gets saggy, just a bunch of questioning scenes. By getting rid of this we instead got suspense, which is far more engaging. It’s why the Columbo movies were so fun, we know EVERYTHING…but how is Columbo going to solve it? The difference here is an innocent person trying to get away with something she didn’t do so we’re rooting for her.

    Problem with getting rid of the middle section is it raises the ire of internerds who like to make lots of lists and take notes and watch a movie and then exclaim that they were ahead of it the whole time and knew exactly who did it, and I think usually it’s because they suspected everyone so in the end they can say “oh yeah I knew it was that guy.”

  35. Good comments above, Tawdry. Sorry I missed you and dropped off the thread til now.

    Muh – not only that, but the Christopher Plummer character somehow manages to check the boxes of

    a) rich, self-made, tough love libertarian-y type toward his own family — finally kicking them off the dole on the principle that they need to finally earn their own way AND \

    b) compassionate woke liberal who sacrifices to protect the marginal immigrant to whom he also re-distributes his wealth

    Also, can we just appreciate what fucking rockstar Christopher Plummer is. He stays killing it.

  36. Also, Tawdry, I’m not sure I follow the point about no good white folks in GET OUT, other than the fact that there are no good white folks in that movie — i.e., that particular family and its social circle. Obviously, the film is substantially about white racism and ethnic identity and tends to have only bad white characters (spoilers!) and only good black characters. But I see it more about that white family as a stand-in for white racism vs. that family as a stand-in for all white people writ large.

    More broadly, I don’t see Jordan Peele — who is whatever the appropriate term currently is for mixed ethnic parentage — as generally taking aim at white people in isolation. This is what I appreciated about US, was how it pans out more broadly to reveal that no skin color is immune to conspicuous consumption, self-serving and rationalizing bullshit, callous indifference to the economically or socially vulnerable, or cutthroat-ass behavior to protect yours or get out of a bad spot if the opportunity should present itself.

    I know it is not popular to defend white people — especially not for a white person to defend white people — when, statistically, American white people have it much better and, factually, white people have had most of the power and done some really foul shit with it. However, just as it is easy for white liberals to assume they’ve done their job by going to see CRASH or BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN or US or whatever-the-fuck, it is easy to project all societal ills onto whiteness as though there were something dispositional to white skin tone that inclines one toward being oppressive, and as if there were something dispositional to darker skin that inclines one toward being compassionate and just. Among other things, the world history of ethnic cleansing and caste systems puts this idea to rest.

    . I view lazy stereotyping of white people (as opposed to fact-based criticism of oppressive acts and forces) as just another form self-righteous othering and scapegoating.

    With that in view, what I appreciate about US (and Jordan Peele’s comedy) and KNIVES OUT is their willingness to confront both white racism in particular and human kindness and shittiness in general with some level of nuance and some recognition that class and individual differences in values/ethics are important factors. Particularly, with US, I love the way Peele wrestles with the broader humanity of othering and standing on the backs of others and their misery. It’s not just a white people problem. It’s a human condition problem.

  37. Plummer was so so so damn good in that movie. Was really sorry he had to die for it to continue, I would have just watched a movie of him and Marta dealing with that family. The scene of he and Marta in the attic was just great, my favorite of the whole movie.

  38. GLASS ONION is really good. I’ll consider this at least on par with the first film.


    The game cast is clearly having fun, and the script straddles the fine line between emulating the Traditional Murder Mystery while still gently mocking it’s conventions. And some cool cameos.

    If I have an issue with it, it’s the length. A fun, breezy murder mystery shouldn’t run almost 2 and a half hours long!

  40. If GLASS ONION: KNIVES OUT 2 is the breezy concoction that goes down easy but which you really struggle to remember afterwards, then may I recommend the far more pungent and bitter THE MENU which nevertheless leaves a far more memorable and lingering after taste.

    A far darker and sinister take on “Entitled, narcissistic douchebags marooned on an island and subject to the whims of a powerful maniac”, THE MENU is wicked twisted, but also sublime and beautiful. Sharply written with another juicy scenery chewing performance from Ralph Fiennes and a scene stealing one from Anya Taylor Joy ably supported by an always reliable Nicholas Hoult.

    Like KNIVES OUT 1 & 2, THE MENU is also a commentary on Class and Privilege, but gutsy enough to take it as far as you wouldn’t think it would go.

    It’s KNIVES OUT…with a pair of humongous, hairy, hanging balls.


    I wanted to like GLASS ONION more than I did. Whereas KNIVES OUT was somewhere in “really, really liked a lot” to “loved” range, this one is in the “decent” to “pretty good” range. So, we’ve fallen down a rung.

    No offense to any of them, but the cast in this one skews B-list, whereas I think the cast in part 1 skews A-list (or iconic and one-time A-list, like Don Johnson), and the whole conceit of KNIVES OUT is that these are either iconic/beloved actors or very familiar heavies of the more recent past who we’ve seen in a bunch of shit (e.g., Michael Shannon). That’s a big part of the appeal, is the stunt casting of all these one-time icons and scream queens, or current big stars (Evans in a career-best) or heavies (Shannon, Plummer). In contrast, the GLASS ONION suspects are mostly randos*, and then Kate Hudson and Edward Norton,* but I don’t think either of them is particularly charismatic or interesting in this or holds a candle to the more interesting or charismatic actors / performances in KNIVES OUT. Actually, I’ll go further: Norton is is just kind of a nothing in this and registers as somewhere between snooze and mildly obnoxious. Great actor, sounds like a prick to work with (at least historically), stronger in a supporting role. Can’t tell you anything he’s done that I’ve given a shit about since ILLUSIONIST (good flick!). Kate Hudson? Please.

    PART KNIVES OUT had mood — some fall moody spooky atmosphere, a dope CLUE! house vibe and milieu, and even though it clearly was not a period piece, it looked and felt like a throwback. This one feels like a hard pivot toward shiny and contemporary and generally un-grounded and ridiculous. A very odd pivot in terms of the setting and even with working in the covid stuff. I like the concept or notion of a film trying to work covid into the story, but not this film. In this film it amounts to doubling and tripling down on this pivot from something with a timeless feel (part 1) to something that feels aggressively contemporary but also heightened and kind of silly and even disposable. It’s like Benoit Blanc being lifted out of his natural habitat to guest star on SCOOBY-DOO or FRIENDS (I would absolutely watch an actual episode of Scooby-Doo that does just that, to be clear).

    Janelle Monae is fine, but I feel she is overrated in this, and has nothing much of a filmography, and generally not as convincing or compelling here as Ana de Armas, who is the part 1 analogue in terms of story function. I like Monae fine in this, and she’s definitely trying, but the various pivots and fake-out things they try to do with her character(s) don’t entirely work for me, nor does her accent, which seems a little in and out.

    Finally, the last 15-20 minutes in which the spell is broken through the magic of glass smashing is dumb and unconvincing. Real dumb and real-not-at-all convincing.

    Really, only Daniel Craig, a general spirit of mirth, and my general game-ness for this type of a whodunit is enough to make this a win. I like the cast, but their b-list-ish-ness and general just-okay-ness in this is distracting as contrasted with the KNIVES OUT template and precedent. Honestly, the more I talk about it the less I like it. Hopefully, part 3 is better. Even if it’s only this good, it will be worth a watch, but this one felt like it should’ve been better.

    *Bautista is great, I like him, and I recognize he’s royalty round these parts, but I don’t think the average person recognizes him outside of the Drax make-up. Scott Adkins is cool, too, but for a KNIVES OUT joint, we need a Statham or Diesel or Rock or van Damme or Arnold or maybe Snipes -tier guy just for the intentionally distracting stunt-casting appeal aspect that is part of the KNIVES OUT value proposition introduced in part 1.

  42. Did Vern review Glass Onion?

  43. I’m sorry, I didn’t. I must’ve been busy with something or other at that time. I enjoyed it and in particular was impressed by Kate Hudson, because I sometimes don’t like her in things, but I thought she had the best line.

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