GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022) – Mystery Comedy Sequel As Superficial and Contrived As First Film

0

Full disclosure: I was not a fan of the first KNIVES OUT (2019) movie. While most people loved this mystery comedy, I found it all too contrived and superficial to really enjoy.

So, if you liked the first movie, you probably will enjoy its sequel, GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022) more than I did, because I didn’t like this one either, as I once again found it too contrived and superficial to enjoy.

It also rolls out some pretty awful characters, a group of friends who call themselves the disruptors and are about as enjoyable as a migraine headache, and we’re supposed to care if one of them is murdered? We just saw this same issue in the recent Santa Claus action-comedy VIOLENT NIGHT (2022) which featured some of the worst characters I’ve seen in a movie in quite a while. Well, the characters in this movie are equally as awful. Both sets are uber rich, so that seems to be becoming a thing, writing super rich annoying characters, but in both these cases, they were written so poorly that they don’t come off as real people but as caricatures.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY, which premiered on Netflix this weekend, once again stars Daniel Craig, reprising his role from the first movie as the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc. He may be the world’s greatest detective, but he’s got the world’s worst Southern accent. Craig’s attempt at a Southern drawl grated on me in the first movie, and it’s no better this time around. Craig is the only cast member from the first movie to return, as a new all-star cast plays a brand-new set of suspects, murderers, and victims.

This time around, a group of friends and business associates all travel to the private island of their brilliant friend Miles Bron (Edward Norton). Which gives this one a similar opening and feel to a much better movie from a few weeks back, THE MENU (2022), when a group of rich guests traveled to the private island of famed Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) and who also found themselves in harm’s way. THE MENU is a much, much better movie than GLASS ONION.

So, Bron has a controversial business proposition for his guests, one that would instigate all of them for numerous reasons of their own to do him in. Plus, to make things more “fun,” he has set up the island get away as a murder mystery party, in which they will have to solve his murder. Benoit Blanc also receives an invitation, and the guests assume Bron wanted to include the world’s greatest detective in his game, but once on the island, Bron tells Blanc that he didn’t invite him, which begs the question, who did? Ah, the mystery deepens! If I only cared…

The guests/suspects/victims include Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson), Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom, Jr.), Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), and a few others. As I said, this lot of characters are about as unlikable and unrealistic as you will find in a movie. I had zero interest in any of them.

There are also a whole bunch of additional cameos and appearances by other celebrities and stars, and it’s all oh-so-much-fun, except that it isn’t.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY was once again written and directed by Rian Johnson, who wrote and directed the first movie as well as STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI (2017). He does this movie no favors. He has created a glossy bright colorful movie that will look good playing in the background on TV sets inside your home, the type of film that seems like a fun time if you don’t pay attention to the actual script. Basically, it’s a good-looking piece of fluff that is about as satisfying as an empty plate.

Then there’s the clever, intricate mystery that is simply too complicated to figure out for anyone other than the world’s greatest detective, Benoit Blanc. You know why it’s complicated? Because it’s fabricated! It’s not a real mystery. Blanc goes around making pronouncements that have no basis in fact. He just says things and they turn out to be true, not the other way around. Unlike Sherlock Holmes who used logic and observation to solve mysteries, Blanc uses the “I have the screenplay in my hands” reasoning. He solves things because the writer says he does. We are never invited inside his mind to see just exactly what it is that makes him such a great detective. He just solves crimes.

But there are so many little “in” jokes peppered throughout this movie. Aren’t those funny?

In a word.

No.

As much as I didn’t enjoy his accent or his in-name only detective skills, Benoit Blanc was a more enjoyable character here in the sequel than he was in the first movie. In fact, one of the few things I enjoyed this time around was Daniel Craig’s performance. He actually made me laugh several times during this movie, albeit when he wasn’t trying to solve the crime. Some of his best moments come during random throw away lines, like when he talks about how much he hates the game Clue.

Edward Norton seems to be playing a variation of himself, or at least of his onscreen persona. He knows how to play an arrogant creep in his sleep. Janelle Monae gets a lot of screen time and is enjoyable, as she plays one of the less despicable characters in the movie, but she is overshadowed by the superficial annoying antics of everyone else.

The rest of the cast, in spite of the names involved, put me to sleep, frankly, mostly because the writing was so gosh darn awful. Rian Johnson has written a movie without one single realistic character appearing in it.

For some reason, the story takes place at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak. At first, I thought this would have some bearing on the plot, as the characters are all masked, but once they get to the island, they receive a “magic” shot which I guess gives them immunity as they are told they can shed their masks without fear. The pandemic does set up the reason why Blanc takes the case, as he’s stuck at home and bored and begging for a case to come his way, a plot point I didn’t really buy. I mean, crimes are still committed during the pandemic, and there would still be a need for his services.

There’s also an annoying flashback right in the middle of the story, which goes back and fills in a lot of the blanks that the story left out the first time around. While the revelations in the flashback were interesting, the flashback itself killed any pacing the movie had up until that point.

The Glass Onion refers to the Beatles’ song by the way, and the tune plays over the end credits. While there is an obvious connection between the movie and the song, no attempt is really made to connect the movie to the point of the song, which was that John Lennon was poking fun at fans who were reading too much into the Beatles’ lyrics.

Then again, maybe Rian Johnson is poking fun at movie audiences who take movies too seriously. Hmm. Could be. That could explain why he made such a dumb movie.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY is disguised as a clever comedy mystery, but in reality, it’s shallow and dumb.

I give GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY a mundane two stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

DUNE (2021) – Latest Film Version of Frank Herbert Novel Needs Spicing Up

0

For a movie about spices, DUNE (2021) isn’t all that zesty.

Yes, one of the main plot points in DUNE is that the most valuable commodity in the universe these days is spices, mostly because in the future in which these people live, it’s the main ingredient in their ships’ warp drives, and so the races that control the spice trade have all the power. It’s the oil of its day.

DUNE is based on the celebrated science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, and it was filmed once before in 1984 by director David Lynch, with mixed results.

Denis Villeneuve is at the helm this time around. Villeneuve directed one of my favorite movies of the past few years, SICARIO (2015), which was my pick for the top movie that year. He also directed the well-respected BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). So I was excited to see what he would bring to this project.

And what he brought was a visual style and mood to this piece which plays out in a deliberate fashion that keeps this one intriguing yet low key throughout. I was always interested, but I was never excited. Not a good thing for a two and half hour movie.

The biggest problem with the story told in this version of DUNE is it’s all about potential and never really focuses on the here and now. It’s the story of young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) who’s the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), whose people have inherited control over the much sought-after spice planet when the emperor rules that the current owners move out and Atreide’s people move in. Paul is the heir to the dukedom, but more so, he’s viewed as a “chosen one” by the indigenous race who lives on the spice planet who have been fighting their oppressors for independence for generations.

Amidst deceit and war over the spices, Paul is destined to emerge as an all powerful leader in the struggle for independence. But alas, that’s the story for another movie! As young Chani (Zendaya) tells him near the film’s conclusion, “this is just the beginning.”

Um, no it’s not. This is the END of the movie, sweetheart.

And that’s the biggest problem I had with this version of DUNE. The entire two hours and thirty five minutes are spent setting up the next movie. Why not just skip all this stuff and get to the part of the story you want to tell? I found this exceedingly frustrating.

The screenplay by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth doesn’t help. Nearly every character in this movie is wooden and sleep-inducing, the situations slow and uninspiring, and the action scenes few and far between. This one could have used a heavy dose of some of those valued spices, that’s for sure! And these guys are seasoned screenwriters— heh, heh— with lots of credits. You’d think this screenplay would have struck gold. But it doesn’t. It’s all so bland.

The best part of DUNE is its cast, which reads like a who’s-who of tough guys and superhero movie veterans.

Timothee Chalamet gets the lead role here as Paul Atreides, and he acquits himself quite well. Chalamet has delivered strong performances in such films as LADY BIRD (2017) and LITTLE WOMEN (2019), but I liked him even more here as Paul Atreides. It’s a quiet understated performance, which Chalamet does well. I enjoyed his performance throughout the movie, but I just kept waiting for him to do something, which again is the main problem with this movie. Chalamet provides some great acting with an interesting character, but if you want to see him do something significant, you will have to wait until the next movie.

Oscar Isaac is very good as Paul’s honest and well-respected father, Duke Leto, who rules with great integrity. Which means he doesn’t stand a chance in this world of brutal and vicious dictators. Isaac is an excellent actor who played Poe Dameron in the new STAR WARS trilogy, but he’s delivered far more notable performances in such films as EX MACHINA (2014) and OPERATION FINALE (2018). Isaac turns in another solid performance here.

Rebecca Ferguson is on hand as Paul’s mystic mother Lady Jessica, and she’s very good as well. While not as memorable as she was as the menacing Rose the Hat in DOCTOR SLEEP (2019), she does achieve better results than her last turn as Mae, the mysterious stranger who walks into Hugh Jackman’s life in the recent subpar science fiction tale REMINISCENCE (2021).

Jason Momoa, Aquaman himself, plays Duncan Idaho, a loyal warrior for the Atreides family. Momoa as he almost always does imbues his character with a charismatic personality, so much so, that it’s too bad he’s not in the movie more. He gets some of the film’s best scenes. He’s not in this one nearly enough. It was good to see Momoa on top of his game again, after seeing him in the pretty lame actioner SWEET GIRL (2021) earlier this year.

Josh Brolin, who played the most infamous Marvel superhero movie villain yet, Thanos, in the AVENGERS films, here plays Gurney Halleck, the Duke’s head of security. Halleck could have used some of Thanos’ superpowers in this one. And Dave Bautista, who plays Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and the AVENGERS movies, plays Beast Rabban Harkonnen, one of the baddies, but Bautista is barely in this one and hardly makes an impact.

Faring better is Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the main villain in the movie. Sure, he’s practically unrecognizable under CGI, motion capturing effects, and make-up, but he still delivers one of the better performances in the movie. Skarsgard is a superior actor with a ton of credits, who today is largely known for his role as scientist Erik Selvig in the Marvel THOR and AVENGERS movies.

The same can be said for Javier Bardem, who appears briefly as Stilgar, the leader of the indigenous race fighting for their independence on the spice planet. He only has a couple of scenes, but he makes his mark in each of them. Bardem is another superior actor with a long and varied career, and he played one of the more memorable Bond villains in recent memory, Silva, in SKYFALL (2012). Of course, for me, his most memorable role remains hitman Anton Chigurh, in the Coen brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) in which incidentally he also co-starred with Josh Brolin.

I also enjoyed Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet Kynes as she turns in a nice performance as a mysterious yet ultimately likable character. And Zendaya spends the bulk of this movie in brief snapshots from Paul’s dreams, and her character Chani doesn’t show up for real until the film’s conclusion. So, like everything else in this movie, if you want to know more about her, you’ll have to wait for the next film.

Visually, DUNE is satisfying, and you can’t go wrong with the cast, but the story is as flat as a deflated dune. A nice microcosm of this movie’s problems is there are these massive and dangerous worms that travel underneath the sand which makes spice harvesting dangerous. Do you think we ever get to see these monsters? Nope. That’s kind of how the entire movie plays out. There’s all this potential, all this talk about prophecies, the chosen one, oppressors, and fighting for independence, but none of this happens in this movie. It’s all a set up for the next movie.

DUNE is okay. It would have been better had the filmmakers paid attention to the movie they were making rather than the one they plan to make next.

And frankly, after watching DUNE, I can’t say I’m all that excited about sitting through a DUNE 2.

It was all just a bit too bland for my palate. Pass me the pepper and salt.

—END—

ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021) – Zack Snyder Zombie Actioner Fun But Overlong

0

Zack Snyder needs a best buddy to pull him aside and tell him point blank, Dude, you gotta edit down your movies!

Snyder’s latest, ARMY OF THE DEAD (2021), a zombie apocalypse action flick starring Dave Bautista and currently available on Netflix, is exciting, action-packed, and a heck of a lot of fun. I almost loved it. Why didn’t I? Because it’s so gosh darn long! It’s two and a half hours! Had this movie been 90 minutes… heck, even two hours… it would have been so much better. If you’re going to make a movie that runs two and a half hours, you’d better have a strong enough story to hold the audience’s interest. ARMY OF THE DEAD has an average story and characters that are not fleshed out. The best thing the movie has going for it is its expertly choreographed zombie attack scenes. The action here doesn’t disappoint. But if that’s all you got, that makes for an excruciatingly long 150 minutes!

And that simply put was the part I liked the least about ARMY OF THE DEAD. It was way too long. Which is too bad. Because there was a lot I liked about this one.

Zombies invade Las Vegas! After they overrun the city, and the military fails to contain them, the decision is made to nuke the entire city. This poses a problem for billionaire casino owner Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada). He’s got a ton of money in a vault in one of his casinos, which he will lose once the city is leveled by the bomb. Guess he’s never heard of electronic banking! Anyway, he hires mercenary Scott Ward (Dave Bautista) to assemble a crack team of soldiers and a safe cracker to get into the city, fend off the zombies, break into the safe, retrieve the money, and get the hell out of there all before the nuke is dropped. And Ward being the movie hero that he is, accepts the offer and assembles that team, and that’s what the rest of the movie is all about.

A bank heist in the middle of a zombie apocalypse! It’s OCEAN’S ELEVEN (2001) meets WORLD WAR Z (2013). Actually it’s better than these movies. I’m not a fan of the OCEAN’S movies at all, and while I liked WORLD WAR Z, I think I enjoyed ARMY OF THE DEAD a bit more, by the length of an extended zombie finger. It’s livelier, the action sequences are more fun, and it has Dave Bautista.

Bautista was the main reason I wanted to watch ARMY OF THE DEAD. I always enjoy his performances, from his outstanding portrayal of Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his comedic turns in films like STUBER (2019). As an action star, Bautista definitely has a persona and presence, reminiscent of what Arnold Schwarzenegger used to have in his hey day.

As expected, Bautista is very good here as mercenary Scott Ward, even though he is let down by the script. This is the kind of movie where a character like Ward deserves some catchy one-liners, but there’s nary a one to be found. And I’m not so sure I bought how easily Ward decides to accept this mission. Sure, there’s a lot of money to be earned, but knowing his back story you’d think he’d just want to keep away from this sort of thing.

But Bautista brings his amiable personality to the forefront as Ward, making him yet another of his likable movie action heroes, and with his build he certainly looks the part of a soldier who can take down hordes of zombies at a time.

And while there are some other notable performances in the film, again, the screenplay by Zack Snyder, Shay Hatten, and Joby Harold let’s the actors down as the characters are not fleshed out, and so for two and half hours we are watching characters we know so little about go into harm’s way. The film would work so much better if we actually cared about the characters.

Ella Purnell plays Ward’s estranged daughter Kate, and she enjoys some good moments, but nothing out of the ordinary. And the idea that her dad would let her join this mission never really rang true to me.

Garret Dillahunt makes for a very suspicious right hand man to mission financer Tanaka, and the team doesn’t really trust him, and rightly so. And in his few scenes, Hiroyuki Sanada plays Tanaka as that guy you know you shouldn’t work for but you do anyway because the money is too good. We just saw Sanada a few weeks back in MORTAL KOMBAT (2021)

I really liked Nora Arnezeder as Lilly, the mysterious woman who helps the team get into Las Vegas. And Matthias Schweighofer entertains as expert safe cracker Dieter who’s a bit squeamish around zombies and has one high-pitched wail whenever he’s in danger.

Stunt man Richard Cetrone looks good as Zeus, the hulking alpha zombie leader who makes for a formidable foe. In fact, when he and Bautista’s Ward finally tangle in the film’s climax, it’s one of the movie’s highlights. Of course, it would have been even better had Zeus had more story and Cetrone was allowed to do more than just look good.

So, while I had fun watching ARMY OF THE DEAD, I would have enjoyed it much more had it been shorter, had the characters been stronger… we know so little about them it’s hard to care what happens to them… and had the actual story been a bit tighter. There’s a twist at the end which raises questions as to whether the entire bank heist was even necessary!

I’m not the biggest Zack Snyder fan. It’s been hit or miss for me with him, and the misses have not been fun. I hated BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), was lukewarm to JUSTICE LEAGUE (2017) and MAN OF STEEL (2013), but I really liked WATCHMEN (2009) and remember liking SUCKER PUNCH (2011) more than most others.

ARMY OF THE DEAD is not bad. In fact, it’s quite good. No lie. I enjoyed watching this one. I’m a big fan of Dave Bautista, and the action sequences work. The problem, as I have already said, is that it goes on and on, and without supporting characters to pick up the slack or a story to really keep me riveted, after a while, what was enjoyable and entertaining became less so.

At 90 minutes, ARMY OF THE DEAD would have been a helluva movie. At 150 minutes, it’s a helluva long movie. There’s a big difference between the two.

—END—