Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Posted on December 23, 2022 at 5:41 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images, strong language, and thematic content
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking and drunkeness
Violence/ Scariness: A murder mystery with peril, homicide, and fighting, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: December 23, 2022

Copyright Netflix 2022
I have very conflicting ideas about this review. Part of me wants to tell you all about “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” but a bigger part of me wants you to find out all of its secrets and surprises on your own. So bear with me if I lean too far in that direction. I’m doing it for your own good. “Glass Onion” is an enormously entertaining delight and I want you to enjoy it fully. In fact, go ahead and watch it and then come back here if you want to see what I think about it.

Like its predecessor, “Knives Out,” it is a deliciously twisty remix of the classic British-style murder mystery, with a fabulous location and a group of suspects who all have motive and opportunity. Also like its predecessor, it has an all-star cast clearly enjoying themselves enormously.

The very large cast is efficiently and wittily introduced as each of them receives an elaborate invitation to a party at a fabulous glass mansion on a remote island, the home of a billionaire named Miles Bron (Edward Norton). In a brilliantly edited sequence, we see each of the characters trying to open the box, telling us a lot about who they are and how they think. Jackie Hoffman, as one character’s mother, is hilariously bored and sharp at the same time.

Receiving the astonishingly crafted puzzle box with the invitation:

Kate Hudson as Birdie Jay, a flamboyant, selfish, famous-for-being-famous celebrity whose outspoken remarks are often offensive.

Kathryn Hahn as Claire Debella, the governor of Connecticut.

Dave Bautista as Duke, an obnoxious, gun-toting social media star. He brings his girlfriend, Whiskey (Madeline Cline).

Leslie Odem as Lionel, a scientist working with Miles on a secret project.

Janelle Monae as Andi, formerly Miles’ girlfriend and partner.

These people were all friends before Miles became wealthy and they get together once a year. This year, Miles has something special planned, a murder mystery game.

Also arriving on the island — the one carry-over character from the earlier film, the brilliant detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig).

We learn about the connections that tie this group together, with some hilarious cameo appearances (two very touching from huge stars we recently lost) and celebrity references. Miles’ glass palace is filled with the kind of gauche art displays you would see in the home of an ultra-rich guy who wants bragging rights. (Genuine art lovers will notice that the “Rothko” is hanging upside down.) Amidst the twists and turns of the story are some clever digs at those we consider “influencers” and “disrupters.”

The performances are all spectacular. Hudson nails the selfish, superficial fading star desperate for attention, pretending that she does not know the difference between being outspoken and having something to say. Norton is just right with the false geniality of of a man who has given up everything to think of himself as a winner. Craig is a hoot (one of the movie’s best surprises is the reveal of his romantic partner). Monae masters a role that requires a lot of subtlety as the estranged member of the group and looks like a billion bucks as she does so.

What song will Johnson pick for the next one? Which superstars will appear? I can’t wait to find out.

Parents should know that this is a murder mystery with homicides and betrayal. There are some graphic images, characters use strong language and drink and get drunk. The movie also includes sexual references and a sexual situation.

Family discussion: What was the biggest surprise in the movie? How does the Beatles song “Glass Onion” relate to the film? Who should star in the next chapter?

If you like this, try: “Knives Out” and “See How They Run” as well as some of the stories that inspired them: “And Then There Were None,” “The Thin Man,” and the original “Murder on the Orient Express”

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Needle in a Timestack

Posted on October 14, 2021 at 5:30 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Some peril and references to violence including an accidental death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: October 15, 2021

Copyright Lionsgate 2021
“Needle in a Timestack” has an intriguing twist on the time travel genre. Ever since the originals, from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to “The Time Machine” and up to “Back to the Future,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” “About Time,” and “Avengers: Endgame,” we almost always see time travel through the eyes of the travelers. The stories are about their goals, their discoveries, their impact. But in “Needle in a Timestack,” based on the story by Robert Silverberg, time travel is, unsurprisingly, extremely expensive, and thus available only to the very wealthy.

The main character is Nick (Leslie Odom, Jr.), and early in the film we see him at a meeting in his office, the boss and staff seated around a table in a conference room, and they are talking about ordinary business topics. But then something that looks like a virtual tsunami washes over the room. What is most surprising about it is that everyone acts as though it happens all the time. It turns out to be something like a temporal sonic boom, the backwash of some wealthy person’s time travel.

As we all know from concepts like “the butterfly effect” and many other time travel movies, the slightest difference a time traveler creates in the past can have enormous impact in the present day. Nick’s response to this evidence that someone has been tampering with time is to make sure that what he values most is still the same. And what he values most is his wife, Janine (Cynthia Erivo, and I cannot be the only person watching this film who wishes it was a musical, with both stars legendary Broadway singers). He calls her to make sure she is still the Janine he knows, the one who loves him and is committed to their life together.

There is a reason he is anxious about this. Nick and Janine were part of a group of friends in college, and Nick suspects that another member of the group, an extremely wealthy man named Tommy (Orlando Bloom), who was once married to Janine, may be using time travel to get her back, not by wooing her in the present but by preventing her from falling in love with Nick in the past. As science fiction writer David Brin says, time travel stories are all about “make it didn’t happen.”

Writer-director John Ridley gives the film a lived-in look. This is not one of those futuristic settings where everything is shiny and spotless and people wear clothes made of some fabric that has not been invented yet. Nick and Janine live in a world very much like the one we know and when we finally see how the time travel experience works, there are no fancy contraptions with spinning dials and Tesla coils. It is almost like a spa and its very ordinariness makes the story more intimate and compelling. The connection between Nick and Janine is powerful enough we think — and hope — it can survive any attempt to interfere with it. But it is clear that the tension caused by the risk of “didn’t happen” may have a destructive impact with or without Tommy’s involvement.

No one in science or fiction has figured out a way around the inevitable paradoxes of time travel, and this movie does not withstand too much attention to its internal logic. And some characters feel padded or distracting. But as a variation of Orpheus and Eurydice with some economic justice issues added in plus the electricity between the two stars (please put them in a musical together, please), its deep, unabashed romanticism makes it a worthy watch.

Parents should know that this film has some strong language, an off-screen accidental death, and some mature themes.

Family discussion: If you could go back in time, what would you do? What would you change? What do you think someone else would change that could affect your life?

If you like this, try: “About Time” and “Reminiscence”

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Murder on the Orient Express

Posted on November 9, 2017 at 5:54 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Plot concerns a murder, references to kidnapping and murder of a child, suicide, miscarriage, gun, knife, scuffle
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, racism is raised as an issue
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2018
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2017

One of Agatha Christie’s most beloved mysteries has returned to the screen with another all-star remake of “Murder on the Orient Express,” this time starring Sir Kenneth Branagh, who also directed, as the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It does not have the lush glamour of the 1974 original, directed by Sidney Lumet, and the tone is uneven, but the tricky puzzle is still fun to try to solve, for those who have not read the book or seen the earlier film, and the international cast makes it entertaining.

We first see Poirot in Jerusalem by the Wailing Wall, one of the most sacred locations in the world. It is before WWII and Israel is not yet a state. A priceless relic has been stolen and the suspects, as Poirot notes, are right out of the set-up for a joke: a rabbi, an imam, and a priest. Poirot neatly solves the crime and even more neatly blocks the culprit’s attempt to flee. He explains that he is what decades later would be called obsessive-compulsive, so aware of patterns that he becomes deeply distressed when they are not symmetrical. He even refuses to eat two boiled eggs because they don’t match. But what causes him enormous anxiety in life turns out to be ideal for solving crime. “The imperfections stand out,” he explains. “It makes most of life unbearable but it is useful in the detection of crime.”

When he says he is going to take a nice long train ride and relax with a book by Dickens, we know he will soon be solving another mystery.  As his friend, a handsome but louche train company official, says, a train combines three things: boredom, anonymity, and a gentle rocking motion, and that can lead to all kinds of fascinating possibilities.

Of course, in order to have a mystery, we have to have suspects and clues, so much of the film is taken up with introducing us to the cast of characters, a very international group, as one might expect on a train from Istanbul to Paris. It includes a friendly governess (“Star Wars'” Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham), a British doctor of African heritage (“Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot), a professor (Willem Dafoe), an elderly countess (Dame Judi Dench), an Italian-American car dealer (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a shy missionary (Penelope Cruz).

Some additions to the storyline are more distracting than illuminating. More seriously, they take away from our chance to get to know the very large cast of characters and that takes away from the sense of mystery and the stakes of the outcome.  Shifts in tone give the film a disquieting inconsistency and flashy camera moves, like an extended shot looking down at the characters’ heads, serve no purpose except to make us wonder what they are supposed to be doing.  Poirot is famously proud of his mustache, and so any depiction of the character must have some impressive facial hair.  Branagh’s is close to farcical, making us wonder whether it merited or required its own trailer on set. One thing we know about Christie and her famous creations — they always knew exactly where they wanted us to be. This movie does not.

Parents should know that this film contains peril and violence including murder, references to kidnapping and murder of a child, suicide, miscarriage, gun, knife, scuffle, drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual references including prostitute, some racist comments, and some mild language.

Family discussion: Did Poirot make the right choice? What were the most important clues? What can you learn from him about observing significant details?

If you like this try: the original version with Albert Finney and other movies based on Agatha Christie stories like “Death on the Nile”

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