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

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

If you are one of millions who plan to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, you may be in for a surprise. Isn’t this the story of Fred Rogers’ TV relationship with the children who idolized him when they were small? Not quite.

Parents of that time were grateful for the certainty that their smallest children were in a positive, secure space when they tuned into the program. Mr. Rogers was soft and wise in his performances. He listened.

Tom Hanks paints a portrait of Fred Rogers’ quiet way of reaching his very young audience. Here he is again in his cardigan sweater and calm demeanor. But this time he is helping Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a serious, angry man with negative view of everything in life. Mr. Rogers can’t resist trying to help.

Vogel is married to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), a quietly pleasant wife who adores their new baby and is developing a deep sadness at her husband’s lack of interest in the little guy. We learn quickly that Vogel is an unpleasant man at work, at home, and with all people. He has been assigned by his magazine to write a 400-word interview with TV personality Mr. Rogers.

Vogel’s negativity meets Mr. Rogers’ deeply rooted positive approach to life and that 400-word article turns into an extended interaction between the two men. The clash is set and we watch Mr. Rogers’ careful, quiet determination to extinguish Vogel’s dark view of life. That’s it. As the movie unfolds, a mild dullness sets in. Why are people in the audience groaning a little? Why am I feeling bored when I have such respect for Tom Hanks?

This is an actor so well-known and admired for his own kindness and talent that it seems odd that the movie feels weak. It’s possible that despite what is unfolding in the remainder of the story, he is always Tom Hanks even though he tries with quiet modesty to create the gentle Mr. Rogers. Given this problem of his total familiarity, we feel we are watching actor Tom Hanks rather than the quiet, shy, gentle Fred Rogers who once was equally familiar. One famous man is creating another. Isn’t it possible that a lesser known actor might have been able to become Mr. Rogers more successfully?

Sad to say, that’s probably the answer. Each of these two good human beings became so famous in their own fields that it doesn’t work for one to play the other. It happened earlier this year when the fine singer Rene Zellweger played Judy Garland in a movie that never worked. Zellweger created a fine singer but audiences were far too familiar with Garland to enjoy watching her created on screen by a stranger. Famous people are best captured in documentaries with clips of themselves in action (See RBG where Ruth Bader Ginsburg plays herself). Beautiful Day is a perfect example of the difficulty of dealing with fame and fiction.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:48
Rating : PG
Date : November 17, 2019