Whodunit murder mysteries and movies used to be very popular a long time ago. Can it win crowds again? Knives Out is willing to take that risk.
This film takes the common classic styles of the ‘whodunit’ murder mysteries that used to be very common in Agatha Christie mysteries and in classic movies and television of the past. The film reminds you of that charm. It keeps you intrigued from start to finish of the whole story. The film also provides some comedic twists whether it be the main protagonist’s illness, the eccentricities of the late millionaire in his lifetime, or the characters of the family members Marta has to deal with. However the film does an excellent job in taking this classic style of thriller film to the modern world. It presents a situation in today’s world of a rich eccentric man who dies and people don’t know whether it’s a suicide or murder. To makes things even crazier, the deceased had willed everything to the nurse, leaving the family to suspect the nurse behind this all. It’s a difficult mix to do, but Johnson succeeds in delivering such a film.
One of the things I like about this film is that it’s a ‘whodunit’ film that succeeds in being comical. We all know it’s a suicide, but we are intrigues when we see Marta follow all of Harlan’s instructions so that she’s not framed for his death, that really is a suicide. It presents a bizarre situation where one wonders if Marta really does deserve all the money and the house in Harlan’s will. Over time, you learn that the Thrombeys are first-class lowlives. Even the most liberal of the Thrombeys are ready to exploit Marta’s status as the daughter of an illegal immigrant to get their piece of Harlan’s will. It’s easy to see that at the very end as Ransom is arrested and the whole family watches him being taken away while Marta watches from the balcony of the mansion. By that time, you can understand why it’s Marta looking down upon the surviving Thrombeys. They’re first-class vermin!
The interesting thing about this story is that it not only mixes in the modern along with the comical, but it has something political to say too. With the exception of Great Nana, it appears all of the Thrombey including the in-laws have been spoiled because of their father’s wealth. Linda may have become wealthy on her own, but she did it on a loan from Harlan and her husband is unapologetically adulterous. There’s Walt who’s a fail and feels he has to threaten Marta outside her apartment to get anywhere. There’s Joni, the widow of his son, who embezzled Harlan’s money from her niece’s education fund. There’s Donna, who tags along with Walt and appears to speak a lot of ‘Trump talk’ about illegal immigrants. And then the grandkids. There’s Meg who appears liberal, but becomes two-faced with Marta. There’s Jacob, a masturbating incel who speaks his alt-right mind, when not obsessing over his phone. And then there’s Ransom: the most irresponsible of the bunch and the lowest of all. He’s immature and incompetent and he’s willing to commit murders and even mix up drugs for the death of his own grandfather to get Marta framed.
Now there’s Marta. At first Marta is beloved by the family as she’s the one taking care of Harlan during his last days. She was actually the one most loyal to Harlan during his last days. Then he dies. The family becomes comforting to Marta. But when it’s learned that Marta is the one person who will get Harlan’s major inheritances, the family either turns on her, backstabs her or attempts to blackmail her. She even gets hateful racist text messages from Jacob. The family knows they can get the inheritance is they expose Marta’s mother’s immigration status or if they expose her as committing medical malpractice, which she things she has. Even if Harlan committed suicide, the toxicology results can go against her and she could lose it all through the slayer rule. It’s funny how even the most liberal of the Thrombeys let their true colors out when they’re on Marta’s case. In the end it’s the housekeeper Fran who knows the truth and it’s the detective, whom ironically was hired by Ransom to expose a possible murder, that comes to the truth about what happened. It’s funny that it took a dying housekeeper and a detective from Texas to be the ones that knew Marta’s innocence.
That sends a message that’s fit for the time right now. There may be a lot of sacking of illegal immigrants, but this sends a message about illegals who do work heard in a society full of lazy entitled white people. The daughter of an illegal is the one who was most loyal to Harlan, while money has gotten to the heads of even the most liberal of Harlan’s family. You can see why Harlan would want to will everything to Marta. Money made his family privileged and entitled lowlives, and Harlan knew it. Marta was the only one he knew that worked hard. In the end, you are convinced that Marta, and only Marta, is the one deserving of the inheritances.
The top accolades has to go to writer/director Rian Johnson. He creates a story that reminds us of the charm of the ‘whodunit’ and even remind us that it can still win people to the box office. That’s a remarkable thing especially when it became newsworthy this year of how so many Oscar contenders spent a brief time at the box office and then made its way to NetFlix. As of now, it’s already grossed over $150 million in North America. It takes the ‘whodunit,’ gives it a modern twist, adds a social message and comes off entertaining. It also possesses a unique classy style about it that not even Marta’s vomiting problem can ruin the classiness of the story.
The film possesses a great ensemble of acting performances from all who were involved from major roles like Marta and Detective Blanc who carried the story the most to Great Nana and Jacob who had very little screen time, but make you like Great Nana and hate Jacob. The two biggest standouts were Daniel Craig as the detective with a Texas accent. That’s a surprise; James Bond with a Texas accent? But he succeeds in being the main protagonist that holds the story from start to finish. Also adds a unique twist to the story how a Texas detective could be the one that sides with Marta. Ana de Armas is also excellent as Marta. She starts out well as the one most troubled by the death of Harlan. Then she becomes the victim, only to end up as the one that triumphs at the end.
In terms of supporting performances, the first of the two that stood out the biggest was Christopher Plummer. He was excellent as the millionaire who appeared eccentric, but actually had a brain to know what was going on and have the heart to find Marta the only one deserving of his wealth. The other supporting standout was Chris Evans. He really makes Ransom look like someone without a single positive quality and a complete lowlife who was easy to hate. Top technical accolades go to David Crank and Jeremy Woodward for the production design, Jenny Eagan for the costume design and Nathan Johnson for the musical score.
Knives Out is a modern day whodunit murder mystery that succeeds in charming people and keeping people intrigued. It also has a surprising social message to say, if you look close enough.
One of my goals each VIFF is to see a Canadian feature-length film. I had the good fortune when I went to see Edge Of The Knife. Not only is it a Canadian feature, but possibly the only feature-length film ever completely in the Haida language!
The film begins with the carving of a wooden mask and then burning it in a fire. The story begins with a meeting of two Haida families over at the Haida Gwaii in Northwestern BC in the 19th Century. It’s an annual fishing camp the families have together. Adiits’ii is the oldest son of and close to the family of Kwa and his son Gaas, who sees Adiits’ii as his mentor. Kwa’s wife Hlaaya finds his appetite for challenges to be too reckless for her son. However Adiits’ii often feels belittled by his own family. Sometimes Kwa makes him feel inferior.
In the evening, Adiits’ii decides to take Gaas onto the waters on boat. Overnight a storm hits the coast. The families fear the worst for Adiits’ii and Gaas. The next morning, the bad news. Gaas is found dead on the coast. Adiits’ii is missing and presumed dead. However Adiits’ii is still alive. He’s in a remote forested location and feels he can’t return because of the reactions from others he fears. Secluded, he becomes overtaken by a huge spirit. He transforms into a Gaagiid/Gaagiixiid — the legendary Haida Wildman — and his behaviors become feral and even demonic. The whole family searches for Adiits’ii. Kwa and his wife are first to discover Adiits’ii, but lashes out at him wanting to kill him. The wife tries to stop him, but that leads Kwa to speak out his belief of who he thinks Gaas’ true father is. The families work to get Adiits’ii captured before they can free him from his possession. They set up a trap and they succeed. It’s at a ritualistic ceremony that involves prayer and piercing of the chest that they have to free Adiits’ii from the possession of the Gaagiixiid. The film ends with Adiits’ii carving out a mask out of wood, the very mask seen at the beginning, and burning it. At the end, we notice it’s in the image of how Adiits’ii was when possessed by the Gaagiixiid.
As far as film quality goes, this is a film I’d call great, but not excellent. The story is very good as it focuses on physical actions and unspoken feelings. However I have seen Canadian films with better dialogue and better story lines. Culturally, this is an excellent film as it captures the Haida culture and the Haida language without any interruption of the English language. Also it captures Haida mythology with excellence. It introduces us to the Gaagiixid. I am not familiar with Haida culture at all, but the film gives me a good understanding about the mythological belief of other beings. We should remember that Adiits’ii is a person with personal demons. He feels like the misfit and he feels like he’s belittled. Although he doesn’t say it, it’s obvious. After the accidental death of Gaas, it’s his guilt that gets the best of him and runs away. It’s there when he turns into the Gaagiixid. I believe the Gaagiixid is all about his personal demons and bad self-image. He had to conquer the Gaagiixid inside of him to truly come to peace with who he is and what he did.
SPOILER WARNING – Ending Revealed In This Paragraph: The film begins with the scene of a mask being carved of wood and then burned in a fire. At first one would wonder why would a person burn a mask that was just carved? Then it’s repeated at the end. At the end, you see that the mask is the image Adiits’ii had as he was fighting his inner demon. Then as you see it burn again, you see why. It’s like the final step in ending the demon inside. That scene is a good interpretation of Haida culture and Haida mythology.
This is an accomplishment of a film as far as culture goes. First off, this is a film done by not one, but two First Nations directors: Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown. Secondly, this is a film done completely in the Haida language. This is a film that is essential for the language. At first, Haida was the only language the people spoke. However with the happenings of past history and with modernization, there are only twenty fluent Haida-speakers left. Even though there is educating young people inn the Haida language or even a resurgence of bringing back the language, the struggle is still there. This film does an excellent job in displaying the language and the culture of the Haida people. The idea of the film came back in 2011 by University professor Leonie Sandercock. In making the film, those involved received a Partnership Development Grant of $200,000 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, so even arts funds knew of the importance of this film to be made. Also to create a time before European settlers arrived really involved a lot of effort.
Also the film has been widely welcomed and celebrated by the Haida peoples and other First Nations peoples of BC. I remember a couple of times during the VIFF, I was waiting to see a film after Edge Of The Knife over at the theatre I was to attend. Each time I was in line, I was given the news that there would be a 30-40 minute delay of the start of my film. As Edge Of The Knife finished, I saw more than just people exiting. I saw some dressed in traditional First Nations costume. Some even brought drums and performed a song of celebration. When I saw that, I felt I had to see Edge Of The Knife when I had the chance. This was more than just something. I’m glad I did.
Gwaii Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown did an excellent job in directing and creating a world far back in the past and appear authentic. The script by Gwaai and Jaalen Edenshaw, Graham Richard and Sandercock was not too intense in terms of dialogue, but it does present a very good story that’s more about emotions and image-based. Tyler York did a very good job as Adiits’ii. His acting was more about what was inside of him rather than what he said. Willy Russ almost stole the show as Kwa. The actors involved are more of a Haida community rather than actors by profession. All did a very good job. The film was light on special effects, but the effects fit the film and the scenes right. It didn’t need more effects than necessary.
Edge Of The Knife may not be the best Canadian film I’ve seen or even the best of subject of First Nations peoples. However this is a very culturally-important film that deserves to be shown. It also tells its story in both an entertaining and mesmerizing way. Definitely worth seeing.
The AFI (American Film Institute) ranks Some Like It Hot as the best comedy of the 20th Century. No doubt it’s one of the most legendary comedies ever made. The question is does it still have what it takes to entertain people today?
Here’s a brief synopsis for those who’ve never seen it. It’s 1929 in Chicago. Joe and Jerry are musicians by day, bootlegging gangsters by night. They face themselves in a lot of trouble first with a rival mob for being in the crossfire of the St. Valentine’s massacre and secondly for the money Joe owes thanks to losing it on gambling. Their talent agent finds them a job to help them get away from the mob racket and make the money. There’s one catch. It’s with an all-girls band–Sweet Sue and her Society Syncopators—and they’re heading to Miami. They accept and agree to pose as women: Josephine and Daphne.
The beginning is not the best. As they board the train to Miami, they meet Bienstock, their manager who is one to give band members a cheap feel. However they do meet band member Sugar Kane who likes to take a drink every now and then and takes a liking to the two women-in-disguise. They soon start a good friendship after Sugar accidentally drops her liquor flask and the two try to cover it up to bandleader Sweet Sue.
Sugar confesses to the two on the train trip how she’s interested in millionaires. However they can’t make passes at her because they know they have to keep their disguises as women. Once in Miami, Joe disguises himself as a millionaire named Junior to woo Sugar: heir to Shell Oil who has a problem with his ‘disinterest’ in women. However Jerry faces a pursuit of his own as an aging millionaire Osgood Fielding III takes an interest in Daphne.
One night Osgood invites Daphne for dinner on his yacht. Joe convinces Daphne to keep Osgood occupied onshore so that he can take Sugar to the yacht as Junior and pass it off as his. Once on the yacht, Junior tries to convince Sugar that he is impotent because of psychological traumas. He does say he’ll marry anyone who changes that. Sugar tries to arouse him and it’s after some amount of effort that she succeeds. Meanwhile Daphne’s very good at charming Osgood as the two tango all night.
It’s right as Jerry tells the good news to Joe– that Osgood has proposed to him and a divorce upon the truth will result in a huge cash settlement–that they learn the charade has to end. Spats and his gang of mobsters from Chicago are in the hotel for a ‘Friends of The Italian Opera’ conference and they have to quit the band and escape the hotel. This also means that Joe has to disguise himself as Junior again and break off the engagement to Sugar. He succeeds by telling her he has to marry a woman of his father’s choosing but it breaks her heart.
But it doesn’t end there. The two finds themselves in pursuit of the mobsters from the Valentine’s Day killings. It’s right after a revenge shooting at the conference that the two find themselves in pursuit again by Spats and his gang. Even their disguises as dames won’t help them get away for long. They face an additional problem as Joe notices on stage how brokenhearted Sugar is. It’s there that Joe has to tell Sugar the truth and kisses her in his Josephine guise.
Soon Sugar, Joe and Jerry have to leave in a getaway boat for Osgood’s yacht. They all find the boat in time but not before a drunken Osgood runs out. It’s right in the end with all four in the motorboat that all the truths come out, but with unexpected results.
As I pointed out at the beginning, Some Like It Hot has received renown since its release and over the years as both a film and as a comedy. There’s always the question of whether today’s moviegoers will understand the films significance or its comedic value. There’s no question that people of today would still find men dressing as women funny. Heck, the ‘S*** Girls Say’ videos are a hit partially because of it. However we’re at a time where we’re not that unfamiliar with drag queen shows and men dressing up as women. We may not be blasé but we wouldn’t be as shocked as say a crowd from back in 1959 would be upon seeing this. Even the sight of two women kissing would be less shocking to us. Humorous but not so shocking.
We shouldn’t forget that this was released during a different time. A Streetcar Named Desire caused some controversy because of its depiction of promiscuity and a failing marriage. Rebel Without A Cause raised eyebrows with its portrayal of teenage crime. And Blackboard Jungle was being labeled as ‘outrageously violent.’ All these movies would be considered tame by today’s standards. It just goes to show how far we’ve come.
Even Marilyn Monroe’s sex appeal comes into question. By now we’ve had all sorts of screen actresses who have had their own shots at achieving sex appeal with male moviegoers. By now the top screen queens would be Kristen Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Megan Fox. Most males who are charmed by them would probably have a look at Marilyn and probably think she’s not as ‘babe-like.’ They may also think she “doesn’t show enough skin.” Heck some might even think she’s ‘fat.’ It wouldn’t surprise me, knowing today’s casting standards in Hollywood. Anyways those who know the screen goddesses of the past would know Marilyn was about more than her looks. She was also about her charm and charisma. That’s something today’s top screen queens lack.
The one thing that surprises me about Some Like It Hot is that it has cross-dressing during a time when Hollywood movies were still subject to the Hays Code. For those of you who don’t know or are too lazy to click on the link, the Hays Code was a rigid code used on movies and television up until 1966. It allowed for certain things to be in the movies but disallowed a lot of things too like an image of a toilet bowl or negative depictions or religious figures or certain things about sexuality. Even while watching it, I was thinking of the Code that was used at the time and wondered about certain scenes—the kiss between Sugar and Josephine and the “Well nobody’s perfect” scene—that left me wondering how they were able to get away with it at the time. Actually back then it did receive some flack from the Catholic Legion Of Decency who gave it a C (Condemnatory) rating. They’d also give Psycho a C rating the following year. Soon after other later films followed with a C-rating, it would lead to an overhaul and eventual end to the Hays Code in the 60’s. You have to give credit to some of these movies of the 50’s for pushing envelopes at the time and eliminating a lot of censorship in Hollywood in future decades. Mind you I don’t see why ‘decency committees’ should have a problem with cross-dressing. Besides we shouldn’t forget that Milton Berle dressed up as a woman on TV frequently during that time.
This is another winning movie for Billy Wilder. Billy is sometimes known for darker movies but rarely for comedies. This is probably his best comedic effort. Not his first but his best. He really took some challenges in making this film but he pulled it off well. This was also very good acting from both Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Their performances were very humorous and it was amazing to see Jack, or should I say Jerry, instantly get into character as Daphne. Marilyn was also good but we shouldn’t forget that in this, like most movies, she was encouraged to play the movie sex goddess we all know her for. She pulled off her part very well. It’s still surprising how Marilyn is the biggest actress never to have even received as much as an Oscar nomination. Character acting from the supporting actors was also very good and added to the movie. The big surprise is that costuming was done by Orry-Kelly. Usually in the movies at the time, especially in Billy Wilder’s movies, it would be Edith Head who would do the costuming back then. Yeah, there were two types of costumers back in Hollywood back then. There was Edith Head and then there was everybody else.
Also interesting to see all the accolades this movie has received over the years. Besides being ranked the #1 Comedy by the AFI, the movie has been ranked #14 on their list of the Top 100 movies of all time back in 1998, then changed to #22 in their 10th Anniversary list in 2007. The line of “Well nobody’s perfect” ranks as the 48th-best movie line in their 100 Years…100 Lines list. In fact “nobody’s perfect” is even on Wilder’s epitaph. However it was not as lucky back at the year-end Oscars. That year the big toast of Hollywood was Ben Hur which would receive 12 nominations and 11 wins including Best Picture. The big surprise is that Some Like It Hot was not even nominated for Best Picture. Nominations did go to Wilder for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay and Lemmon was the only nominated actor with his Best Actor nomination. The only Oscar win was for Orry-Kelly for Best Costuming – Black and White who even beat out Edith Head. Some Like It Hot did fare better at the Golden Globes for wins for Lemmon, Monroe and Best Picture – Musical Or Comedy.
Some Like It Hot is a cutting edge comedy of its time in which most of today’s film goers who go to see it might not understand why it’s labeled the “Best Hollywood Comedy Of All Time,” especially since they’ve seen more shocking and more outrageous stuff. People who appreciate old movies and know the history of Hollywood film making will understand why and appreciate for such. For me, it was my first time seeing it and I was entertained.