Knives Out

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Knives Out

See Knives Out when you’re in that blissful movie mood of wanting to sit in the dark waiting to be transported to a different time and place. Actors, writers, and director Rian Johnson all moved together on this one to create a place we have never been before and it is magical. Let the mood roll over you slowly.

Mystery writer Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) has been found dead in his home of a head wound at 85. As police stand on the scene, Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) investigates Thrombey’s dysfunctional family and devoted staff. All had gathered for the old man’s birthday. We quickly begin to see that nothing here is ordinary.

In an atmosphere of other worldliness, every room in the house is full of odd, unexplained furnishings and possessions of the dead man. His family is rather ordinary but his surroundings are eccentric. As we are pulled into this strange story, the inventive filming drops us quickly into wondering where we are being taken by this family.

We fasten quickly on the girl we met in the first scene who was hired to take care of Mr. Thrombey while he lived alone in his old mansion. Young Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) is his young nurse and in the first scene we watch her set the stage for everything that follows. Detective Blanc absorbs the atmosphere and the family quietly as police do their ordinary investigative job.

Who killed Harlan Thrombey? As we are introduced to each family member, we realize they are individual nutcases, more politely, eccentrics, and we watch detective Blanc as he quietly absorbs the family one by one in his search for the killer. Every one of the dead man’s adult children wants the inheritance.

Because we in the audience know from the beginning how the old man died, we never have to wonder about that. Instead we concentrate entirely on the behavior and personalities of the family as detective Blanc tries to unravel the mystery. Watching the clues build is such fun that I’ll give no details here. All that is building at the same time in the mind of detective Blanc as he watches the behavior of the family and nurse Marta.

The whole is beautifully filmed. A car chase, the mansion’s interior, the strange family – none of it is ordinary and we feel we are in some unknowable world that is riveting our attention. That’s it. The movie feels as if it’s made in another time in another world and we are in that world while the detective tries to unravel the complex reality of what surrounds him.

Look forward to fine performances and to a final scene that is a sharp, sophisticated thrust by the reality of what we have been watching. All the experts who made this movie knew exactly how to design something that would stun us. Fun, curiosity, suspense, talent? It’s all right there in this non-violent murder mystery.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Knives Out
Word Count : 500
Running Time : 2:11
Rating : PG-13
Date : November 2019

Marriage Story

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Marriage Story

Marriage Story opens beautifully as a husband and wife describe each other and the path of their marriage from day one to now. As each finishes the personal tale, we have become happy captives in their problems. The rest of the story expands our knowledge of this marriage based on that fine beginning. We have been warned there will be a divorce but have no idea where that will lead.

It’s common knowledge now that the conventional long marriage between two individuals – each different from the other – can be a big problem confirmed by divorce statistics. Within minutes we know that Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) have loved each other, love their son Henry (Azhy Robertson), and that she is coming unglued over her frustrations in the marriage. It is a welcome relief to watch it unfold without the usual Hollywood anger. This couple does not want to detest each other.

Then the lawyers come. Must lawyers always push their clients to extremes just to bolster their side of the case? Must they always be rooted in building a nasty case instead of a discussion? Nicole is an actor in California, Charlie a director in New York. He wants her there by his side, she wants to establish herself in Hollywood. Both love their son; each respects the other.

As things disintegrate, they both cherish their time with the son each of them loves so much. A haunting sentence from Nicole: “The kids – once they leave your body, they just continue going away.” We are watching a grandmother, lawyers, and shrinks who rough everything up but we never lose our affection for Nicole and Charlie. We root not so much for their marriage because we understand why it’s over, but for their deep appreciation for the decency of the other. Have the lawyers managed to shred that along with the marriage?

The audience is caught and is rooting for each. That rare situation is due to writer/director Noah Baumbach who paints the differing atmospheres of Hollywood and New York along with the essential decency of his players. Randy Newman’s score is quietly supportive rather than dominant or melodramatic. Even grief and defiance are delivered calmly and in small detail.

Every actor here seems to understand director Noah Baumbach’s determination to avoid a melodramatic divorce drama. This one unfolds with fine acting by the whole cast as the audience roots for both of them. Scarlett Johansson and Azhy Robertson, as mother and son, are quietly and consistently good which allows us to become thoroughly drawn to the gradual collapse of Adam Driver’s Charlie. His long and very deep performance captures all of us.

Watch the skillful unfolding of the small physical details that flesh out the characters and carry the story, and prepare for the finest surprise gesture that ends this movie. This is a quiet story not of a divorce war but of an unfortunate but inevitable separation.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Marriage Story
Word Count : 498
Running Time : 2:16
Rating : R
Date : November 10, 2019