Knives In and Out of Fashion

DATELINE: Old-Fashioned Murder Comedy

Massachusetts mansion.

The comedy murder mystery of the year, of perhaps the decade, is a Charlie Chan rip-off that is as trendy as it is traditional. Knives Out  raises the question of why would anyone have a display of hundreds of knives in his parlor.

We think the set designer deserved an Oscar, or a strait-jacket.

An all-star cast of suspects seem to have as much fun making, perhaps more than those of us watching it. Director Rian Johnson moves his cast to the real star of the movie: a gothic house most suitable for his plot outside of Boston.

The lunacy of the house furnishings is like a Victorian nightmare, hardly something anyone would design, even an Agatha Christie murder mystery writer (Christopher Plummer) who hates movie versions of his books.

The family gathers for his 85thbirthday—including his mother who must be 100 at least. And, the family members and staff are equally troublesome.

The cast even gathers for the reading of the will, which entails just about everyone—except the murder victim.

The best line delivered by Chris Evans is about cornpone Daniel Craig, playng super sleuth Benoit Blanc as “CSI- KFC,”   in shades of Sherlock with Hercole thrown in. But, we keep seeing James Bond slumming.

Director Johnson is utterly cruel with his camera. We have never seen these old stars looking so old. Every crevice, crease, and open pore, is ready for your perusal. Even Daniel Craig looks surprisingly aged in the wood.

The red herrings fly by at an alarming rate, so quickly it’s hard to keep track of the lies and false statements. We suppose Plummer’s nurse may be from Ecuador, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, or Paraguay, as everyone cites a different locale.

The few scenes around Boston are amusing for those of us who are homebodies—and we snickered when Gary Tanguay, a Boston sports reporter, showed up as a newsguy at another station.

It’s a silly romp and more like what old movies used to be, and those Sherlock/Chan/Poirot stories were more succinct. We suppose there could be a new series for James Bond here if he so chooses.

The Iceman Goeth

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP!

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Michael Shannon and Ray Liotta as Mobsters Most Dangerous

Whenever we see a title containing the word ‘Iceman’, we think either of the frozen tundra where a 5000 year old man was discovered looking like a woolly mammoth flash frozen. Or, we presume that another version of Eugene O’Neill’s complex play has been produced.

In the case of The Iceman, we are wrong on both counts. This is the 21st century, and any icemen you encounter are likely mob hit men. They used to be called mechanics, but that technology is long gone. You’d think the denizens of the icebox set would be out of fashion too.

We noted that James Franco, now ubiquitous in good and bad movies, appears in this movie as a sniveling coward. How can we resist?

The Iceman is based on a true story, and that usually warns us off the script immediately. As human life’s value continues to sink to a nadir in the new century, movies depict killers, paramilitary special force soldiers, sociopaths, and professional murderers, in a more favorable storyline. The Iceman is in there somewhere.

No matter how good or bad the film is, we are left with a queasy feeling. We are not amused by dumb families and enablers, which abide aplenty in this movie.

We are loath to spend a couple of hours with unlikeable characters and unpleasant situations, but once in a while we do it for a review and to confirm our correct assumption. This is not an uplifting movie.

Michael Shannon is brilliant as the sociopathic mob killer that allegedly fixed over 100 people with cold precision. Only when his killings took on a personal vendetta that Richard Kuklinski was caught. A mob boss (Ray Liotta, who else?) saw him as an amateur and recognized the talent to turn him pro.

Winona Ryder gives another solid performance as the obtuse housewife of the killer. Do we recommend this film? Well, only because Michael Shannon has a quality that is frightening: he reminds of us of the early roles of Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Aldo Ray. He is tough and a dangerous bad guy.

In years to come, viewers and fans of Shannon may turn back to this movie as quintessential in his canon. If you like feeling uncomfortable, by all means, view this movie.

 

 If you want to read more Ossurworld movie reviews, you may consult two books:  MOVIE MASHUP and MOVIES TO SEE–OR NOT TO SEE. Both books are available in softcover and ebook at Amazon.com.