Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

© Netflix and Lionsgate

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery  – Film Review

Cast: Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monáe, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista

Director:  Rian Johnson

Synopsis: A group of friends are invited to a private island to take part in some murder mystery games, among the guest list is renowned detective Benoit Blanc…

Review: With its all-star cast and stark social commentary, Rian Johnson’s 2019 murder mystery Knives Out was the beginning of a renaissance for the murder mystery genre. Alongside a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Johnson’s screenplay, it ensured  Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, with his “Kentucky-fried Foghorn Leghorn drawl”(as one character so memorably put it), ensured Monseur Blanc was another addition to the memorable detectives have graced our screens over the years. So it came as no surprise when Netflix sanctioned a $469m deal for the rights to two future sequels featuring everyone’s favourite Southern sleuth. Having set such high standards, does this sequel prove Johnson can match those with yet another all-star cast? The answer, is an emphatic, yes.

Set on a remote Greek island, a tech billionaire (Norton) has invited a group of people closest to him for a weekend of murder mystery-themed shenanigans. They include a fashion designer (Hudson), her assistant (Henwick), a politician (Hahn), a scientist (Odom Jr), a YouTuber/vlogger (Bautista) and his girlfriend (Cline), and a businesswoman (Monae). Yet, also along for the ride is, mysteriously, Monsieur Blanc, whose detective skills may well be called upon once more once the murder-mystery festivities have got underway.

Given the film’s trailers gave very little away, it would be remiss not to extend the same courtesy, so the name of the game will be to be as cryptic as possible from here on out. As with this film’s predecessor, the less you know going into the sequel the betterthe better. Benoit Blanc’s first mystery was far more than just your average run-of-the-mill whodunnit. It had a lot to say about privilege, class and politics while weaving a wonderfully clever murder mystery narrative into the story. So, it is immensely satisfying to see Johnson has lost none of his sharpness as he once again crafts a brilliantly witty and equally sharp screenplay keeps the audience very much on their toes. It maintains the wonderful humour of its predecessor (though sadly there are no hilarious monologues about doughnuts) whilst also retaining some very topical social commentary that makes this franchise stand out from the crowd amidst the resurgence in popularity of the murder mystery.

It seems a near impossible feat to have a more star-studded cast this time around when you look at the jam-packed A-list cast Johnson assembled for the first mystery, yet Glass Onion sure gives its predecessor a run for its money. Of course, the one constant throughout both these movies is Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc, and he is once again, a sheer joy to watch. Given for years, he embodied the sometimes cold and detached persona of James Bond, to see Craig throw himself back into Blanc’s shoes is wonderfully refreshing, and he is clearly once again having a blast working with Johnson’s writing. The same is also applicable to each and every member of the rest of the cast. It would be rude to go into specifics as to who shines the brightest, as this runs the risk of giving away the marvellous mystery Johnson has crafted. However, each and every one of them gets their moment to shine as the layers of this new murder mystery and what connects this group of friends are peeled back with glorious results.

What this new mystery definitely has in its favour is its exotic location, trading a Boston mansion for a luxurious Greek private island, which is captured so beautifully through Steve Yedlin’s cinematography. Equally, Rick Henrichs’ production design, particularly when it comes to the titular glass onion, is flawless. While it might disappoint some that there are no iconic sweaters this time around, costume designer Jenny Eagan more than makes up for the lack of unique knitwear, giving numerous characters plenty of colourful outfits which will surely be as memorable as those aforementioned sweaters.

But, through all it all, everything comes back to the genius of Rian Johnson. It is so wonderful to see a director who feels thoroughly at home with this genre be given carte blanche to realise his vision for this franchise, especially when the results are this good. While we can be thankful there will be at least one more case to be solved. However, given the quality of the first two entries, there are likely going to be very few complaints if Johnson continues to use his little grey cells to craft more entries in this franchise for many more years to come.

It might have seemed an impossible task to match Benoit Blanc’s first case. Yet, with its equally impressive all-star cast and an impeccably sharp and hilarious script, the master of the modern murder mystery strikes again.

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

She Said (2022)

© Universal, Annapurna Pictures and Plan B

She Said – Film Review

Cast: Zoe Kazan, Carey Mulligan, Patricia Clarkson, Jennifer Ehle, Angela Yeoh, Samantha Morton, Andre Braugher, Ashley Judd

Director:  Maria Schrader

Synopsis: Telling the true story of the two reporters from The New York Times whose reporting uncovered the truth behind the sexual assault allegations that sparked a worldwide movement…

Review: 5th October 2017, a date that will go down as the day that not just the film industry, but the world changed forever. It is the date when the shocking truth behind the repeated abuse and sexual misconduct committed by numerous powerful men, most notably Harvey Weinstein, against countless women came to light in an exposé published by The New York Times. A story that sparked a global movement of women to come forward to report their own allegations against numerous high-powered individuals who used their positions of power to sexually assault women in multiple industries. However, what is not nearly as well known is the tireless and vital work done by the heroic journalists whose courageous and resolute reporting helped to spark the Me Too and Time’s Up campaigns, and ignite a much-needed conversation about sexual harassment and treatment of women the world over.

The film opens in 2016, with investigative reporters Jodi Kantor (Kazan) and Megan Twohey (Mulligan) reporting on the 2016 US Presidential election, the sexual assault allegations made against the then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and later when similar accusations against prominent Fox News TV host Bill O’Reilly came to light. Flash forward several months, and the two of them are assigned to investigate allegations of appalling misconduct perpetuated by Weinstein against several women that worked for one of his studios. The two soon uncover a shocking system that protects high-profile individuals committing these horrific abuses by bullying the women into silence, either through cash settlements or non-disclosure agreements and any attempts to publicise the story are derailed by Weinstein and his lawyers. Consequently, Kantor and Twohey become even more determined to speak to victims and attempt to persuade them to go on the record to tell their story to bring down someone whose rampant abusive behaviour had been left unchecked for decades.

Given that the rise of the Me Too and the Time’s Up Movements represent very recent history, it was of critical importance for the film to approach this story and subject matter with the utmost respect. It would have been so easy for the film to devolve into a puff piece where the reporters pat themselves on the back for a report that brought to an end the system abuse by a man who was regarded as one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood, but Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s screenplay (based on the book: She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement by Kantor and Twohey) is having none of it. In a similar manner to the Oscar-winning Spotlight, the film expertly walks the line between demonstrating the pain-staking work that went into the investigation, and the effect that such work has on the personal lives of these journalists, whilst paying tribute to these courageous victims who came forward to speak out and help bring down someone who wrought so much devastation on the lives of countless women.

Kazan and Mulligan are both exceptional as the journalists at the centre of this investigation. As their investigation progresses and they uncover more and more evidence through speaking to these witnesses, the emotional weight of the horror that these people experienced, begins to take a hefty toll, especially when it comes to their personal lives. However, they remain undeterred, because they know the importance of the work that they are carrying out and amid the threat hanging over them that Weinstein might bury the story before they have a chance to publish. The supporting performances of everyone most notably Samantha Morton, Angela Yeoh, Jennifer Ehle, and Ashley Judd, the latter of whom plays herself, help ground the film in reality and provide a significant amount of emotional heft as they recount the horrific nature of their experiences.

Nicholas Britell’s stripped-back score captures the gravity of the situation and when necessary shifts gear to the urgency of the reporters attempting to get their story into the public domain. The work of the Me Too campaign is an ongoing struggle, and much more work will need to be done. However, the brilliant work of Maria Schrader and her predominantly female crew represents another timely reminder of the importance of investigative journalism, and the hugely essential stories it can bring to a global audience, stories that may well have never seen the light of day had certain people got their way. But it is much more than that, it is also the essential fact that when it comes to telling these stories, it is imperative that the voices of women come to the fore when telling these stories. It is a testament to those who would not let themselves be intimidated, and who raised their voices when it mattered the most.

Emotionally riveting, with compelling performances across the board in a vitally important film that pays tribute to journalistic integrity and the extraordinary combined with the bravery of those who came forward to spark an incredibly important movement.

a

 

 

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review, London Film Festival 2022

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

© Searchlight Pictures, Film4 Productions and TSG Entertainment

The Banshees of Inisherin – Film Review

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan

Director:  Martin McDonagh

Synopsis: Tensions arise between two friends when one of them decides to end their friendship…

Review: Friendships can be of tremendous value to us as we navigate this crazy journey that we call life. Yet, sometimes, there can be those situations where a friendship comes to an end, which can be challenging to accept for all the parties involved. What do you do? Allow yourself to accept the situation and move on? Or do you refuse to take no for an answer and make efforts to rekindle the friendship? After setting his last film in the USA, playwright-turned-director Martin McDonagh moves closer to home to deliver another hilarious black comedy, set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War.

It is 1923 on the fictional remote Irish island of Inisherin. Padraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) were at one time in their lives, the best of friends and had been for a number of years. However, one day, Colm decides to abruptly end their friendship, which Padriac has difficulties coming to terms with and demands a reason why, which Colm refuses to acknowledge. Wondering what it was that caused Colm to end their friendship, Padriac becomes determined to make amends but these attempts only cause more tension between the two (former) friends, which threatens to boil over into something much more unpleasant that neither of them will like.

Black comedy is an extremely difficult genre to successfully pull off, yet McDonagh is one of those directors who has proven himself to be one of the best in the business when it comes to writing razor-sharp and hilarious dialogue from the bleakest subject matters you could possibly imagine. His last film was filled with some biting social commentary about racism and police brutality in the USA, set against the backdrop of the murder of a young woman.  By contrast, Banshees is a bit more dialled back in terms of the melancholic nature of the comedy, focusing on the (failed) friendship of two men. That being said, by framing this bitterness and anger, ragainst the context of the Irish Civil War, the film offers an extremely compelling analytical look at themes of nihilism, isolation and loneliness. It is perhaps not nearly as thought-provoking as Three Billboards, but it is not a million miles away.

Reuniting with McDonagh after working together to wonderful effect for In Bruges, it is a sheer joy to see both Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson share the screen once more. The pair of them strike comedic gold once again, even if they are not together on screen as much as you would perhaps want them to be. Farrell’s Padraic is by his own admission, a bit of a simple man who enjoys tending to his animals, whilst enjoying a good tipple in the evening. The limelight belongs to Farrell and he is truly wonderful to watch and makes the perfect contrast to Colm. The latter of whom is a cultured man without a doubt but one who makes it quite clear that he simply does not have time or willingness to be in Padraic’s presence anymore, and is willing to go to drastic measures to prove his point. The friendship that has now turned to bitterness and hostility between them gives McDonagh license to craft hilarious dialogue, and he does not disappoint, providing numerous moments that will have you howling with laughter.

While both Farrell and Gleeson are in brilliant form, it is Kerry Condon (who made the most of her small role in Three Billboards) who comes the closest to stealing the show from both of them as Siobhan, Padraic’s sister. She provides tenderness and warmth to the story, which can at times be a much-needed respite from not only the cold and detached nature of her brother and Colm’s ruined friendship but from the island of Inisherin as well. Ben Davis’s cinematography manages to simultaneously capture the beauty of the country, yet at the same time, the unwelcoming atmosphere which hangs over the majority of the island, accompanied by another excellent score from Carter Burwell. A story about two friends falling out might seem like an unlikely vessel for hilarity, but McDonagh proves once again that when it comes to crafting comedy from the dreariest of situations, there aren’t many writers/directors who can do it better.

Boasting brilliant performances from Farrell and Gleeson, combined with extremely witty and sharply written dialogue ensures The Banshees of Insherin is another masterclass of bleak hilariousness from Martin McDonagh.