In our original review of Knives Out, we lauded Rian Johnson’s ability to craft a film with a thematic message that mattered for the story but didn’t eclipse the pure, whimsical fun of the whodunnit. It was never a given that Knives would get a sequel, much less a trilogy (Netflix ordered the second and third films shortly after the success of the first). But here we are: Glass Onion hit theaters for a limited run last week in advance of the Christmastime release on Netflix, continuing the exploits of Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) as he accepts an invitation to a murder mystery party on a private island in Greece. But does Onion follow suit in couching a timely theme into the breezy fun?
Yes and no — but it’s worth mentioning up front that Onion is indeed a lot of fun, and a looser brand of fun that’s perhaps natural for a sequel. The protagonist is already known to us and the budget, frankly, is far larger, and so Johnson and Co. cut loose from the jump and never really let up. If there is a lack of thematic heft — we’ll dig into that more in a moment — then I didn’t notice it during the film. Glass Onion is more ambitious than Knives Out on almost every level, from the locales to the special effects to the cameos (in Knives Out it was M. Emmet Walsh, here it’s Ethan Hawke, Hugh Grant, Serena Williams, Yo Yo Ma, etc, etc). That ambition may not automatically make Onion a better film, but it’s refreshing to see Johnson and Co. commit so fully to breaking fresh ground rather than try to rebottle that first lightning strike.
Continue reading Glass Onion (2022)
As far as indicators of things to come are concerned, Blood Simple has everything you need to know about the Coen Brothers right there in the opening. Okay, maybe not everything — after all, daring to think you’ve nailed down the Coens is, as critic David Edelstein put it, “a sure way of looking like an ass.” The most immediate hallmark is a somewhat superficial one, what with Blood Simple sporting the same exact opening (drawling narration over barren establishing shots) as later Coen films The Big Lebowski, The Man Who Wasn’t There and No Country for Old Men. But from there, the way light and shadow pass through Blood Simple serves as a solid marker of the artistry for which the first-time filmmakers would someday be known.
After the opening narration, credits roll over Abby (Frances McDormand) and Ray (John Getz) having a conversation in the car at night. The credits don’t roll, actually, but flash brightly whenever passing headlights illuminate the car’s interior. The pair have a cryptic conversation about Abby leaving Marty (Dan Hedaya) to be with Ray, and in the next scene they’re rolling around in a motel room bed, headlights from the highway still illuminating them briefly.
Continue reading Blood Simple (1984)
It ain’t always fun, the movies. Amongst this year’s least-fun pictures we probably have the likes of Alita: Battle Angel, Glass, Dark Phoenix and Gemini Man, all of which share in common a clear prioritization of special effects over storytelling. They’re also united in the fact that production was rocky in every instance, be it years of limbo or last-minute hackjobs in the editing bay, though that’s not necessarily synonymous with a bad film. Production on one of this year’s best, The Lighthouse, was described by its own director as “tense” and “cold”. No fun to be had in making that movie. Only in watching it.
In a pre-recorded clip before the New England premiere of Knives Out, writer/director Rian Johnson — whilst thanking us for seeing the film and imploring us not to spoil it — said flat out that making it was “a blast.” It’s not hard to believe, and evident from the film’s very first scenes: everyone in front of the camera (Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis and a million others) breezes through having the time of their lives. And Johnson, too, exudes a confidence here as both a writer and a director that can only be borne of exciting material in the hands of a craftsman coming into his prime.
Continue reading Knives Out (2019)
This article first appeared as a part of the Brattle Theatre Film Notes commentary series, presented by the Brattle Theatre in Boston, MA, for a special screening of Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Slight edits have been made from the original posting.
So: is Deckard a replicant? This is the question that most everyone comes to after seeing Blade Runner, especially if the version in question is Ridley Scott’s 2007 Final Cut. There are seven distinct version of the film — including the U.S. and International Theatrical Cuts (both 1982) and the Director’s Cut (1992) — each of which is evidence of a continued preoccupation with this dystopian vision of our future. Granted, the broad strokes of all seven versions are more or less the same. Harrison Ford plays Rick Deckard, an android-hunting policeman quite different than most other Ford heroes. Regardless of which version you’re watching, Blade Runner is about Deckard’s brush with dehumanization after he’s assigned to track down a band of escaped androids (“replicants”) and terminate them before they discover a way to extend their own lifespans.
But the Final Cut is the only version to place emphasis squarely on that question: is Deckard himself a bioengineered replicant? The original versions certainly leave little reason to doubt the humanity of the protagonist. Deckard and Rachel run away at the end of the theatrical cuts and presumably live happily ever after. Along with a completely restored picture, a restored sound mix, removal of Deckard’s voiceover narration and addition of several improved effects shots that simply weren’t possible in 1982, the Final Cut also subtracts that happy ending and includes a few key scenes that had been cut from the initial releases.
Continue reading Blade Runner: The Final Cut (1982/2007)