Our Greatest Living Film Critic, XIV

January, 2020

Knives Out (2019)

Watched Knives Out (2019), Rian Johnson’s ensemble murder mystery set in a country home. Interestingly, everyone is not a suspect, since the sequence of events around the murder are revealed pretty early. Some good references to murder mystery movies, including the animatronic sailor from Sleuth (1972) . Too many of the jokes in this movie will not make sense in 20 years, and were not necessary. James Bond (Daniel Craig) plays Benoit Blanc, the gentleman sleuth, and manages to be great even with a preposterously bad Kentucky accent. Knives Out is a great title for a murder mystery, but it’s clear they came up with the title first and then wrote in scenes to justify it, including the (very predictable, even by me) final beat. Chris Evans did a good job playing against type. Lots of vomit jokes. Jamie Lee Curtis was great. People give Don Johnson a lot of credit for his fun performance, but he did it exactly the way you’d expect Don Johnson to do it. Michael Shannon had nothing to add except one brief yell. I think Daniel Craig likes to do bad southern accents, because he did one in Logan Lucky (2017) too. I give it 4 knives out of a possible 5 knives.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Watched Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), Shane Black’s Los Angeles noir movie starring Robert Downey, Jr. as a man auditioning for the role of Tony Stark in Iron Man (2008). Val Kilmer is so good. There are a few films that are from the 2000s that feel like leftover scripts from the quirky crime movies of the ’90s: In Bruges (2008) and Lucky Number Slevin (2006) for example. This is another, and it feels weird. Some good jokes. On the whole I think I prefer The Nice Guys (2016), the other Shane Black movie that is this movie, but I do like this one as well. I give it 3.5 severed fingers out of a possible 5 severed fingers.

Is Paris Burning (1966)

Watched Is Paris Burning? (1966), a movie about the French resistance to Nazi occupation in Paris. This is an unexpectedly grand scale movie, with tons of stunts, and an ensemble cast I didn’t expect to see — not only every French actor I’ve ever heard of who wasn’t in Leon (1994), Green Card (1990), or Amelie (2001), but lots of Americans like Orson Welles, Kirk Douglas, and Anthony Perkins. Robert Stack as Eisenhower. Francis Ford Coppola and Gore Vidal wrote the script, but I’m not sure how much of that script is what I saw filmed. Charles de Gaulle had complete oversight, and did things like declare that the red and black Nazi flag could never be shown flying over Paris, which is why the film is shot in black and white (they used green flags even while filming to get around this declaration). Being in black and white did allow them to mix in actual footage from the liberation without being too jarring for me. It’s surprising, though, that covering fire had not been developed before WWII. There are a lot of genuinely great moments in what amounts to a propaganda film, and in that respect it could be paired with The Longest Day (1962) even more than a darker, less literally flag-waving movie about the Resistance, like Army of Shadows (1969). I give it 3.75 trout mousses out of a possible 5 trout mousses.

1917 (2020)

Watched 1917 (2020), a Roger Deakins film about WWI. The plot is Saving Private Ryan (1998), only moreso, with two lance corporals traveling through no man’s land to save one of them’s brother, and 1599 other doughboys from an ambush. This clearly isn’t a one-take movie: there’s a straight up fade to black in the middle of it, and the 40 other hidden cuts are not always subtle. Mark Strong should play Benedict: not Cumberbatch, the guy from Amber. The best day in a cinematographer’s year is when he gets to light a scene with flares. I think I understand the symbolism of the cherry trees. Everything audio-visual about this movie rules. I give it 4.5 rats out of a possible 5 rats.

Parasite (2019)

Watched Parasite (2019), Bong Joon-Ho’s satire about work and dependence in a pre-post-scarcity economy. This story would make absolutely no sense to Captain Picard of the Federation: I wonder what the Ferengi would think. Similar to Edgar Wright movies in at least one way: the fact that everything in the movie pays off eventually means the director is an obsessive. Similar to 1917 (2019) in at least one way: both owe a debt to Alfred Hitchcock, as we all do I guess. A partial list of things which have symbolic value: stairs, smart phones, scholar’s stones, plans, plum extract, the underground, pure water vs. sewage, native Americans, buses, lightning, concrete, sunbeams, the Boy Scouts, and flickering lights. The movie recapitulates its own story, by pretending to be something it isn’t and revealing itself halfway through! Lee Jung-eun, as the former housekeeper, has the best performance, or at least my favorite performance. Why did they think the family was abetting the driver Kim if they didn’t know he wasn’t really the driver Kim? This isn’t my favorite movie of the year (1917 (2019)) or my favorite Bong Joon-Ho movie (Memories of Murder (2003)), but it’s close. Great carpet in this movie. I give it 4.5 peaches out of a possible 5 peaches.

Uncut Gems (2019)

Watched Uncut Gems (2019), an elaborate, nerve-wracking movie about sports betting. Adam Sandler plays a diamond seller who get sexual pleasure out of taking ultimately self-destructive risks. Like the second shot of the movie, he is a complete asshole. This movie was directed by the Safdie brothers, who I hear have their own dance. Kevin Garnett plays himself, and just as in real life, he is obsessed with a fire opal he believes has magic basketball powers. Most people only know fire opals as a spell component for casting Fireball, or as the result of rolling 91-99 on the random treasure table for gems, where it is worth, on average, 1000 gp. In this movie, the fire opal symbolizes both Africa, Judaism, and the rejuvenation of lost potency. The movie ends abruptly, but in a way that makes you say yeah, that’s what would happen. I give it 4.25 bedazzled Gizmos out of a possible 5 bedazzled Gizmos.

King of New York (1990)

Watched King of New York (1990), Abel Ferrara’s crime movie where Christopher Walken is the crime boss. The twist is that Walken’s character thinks he is Robin Hood (1938) but he’s actually Scarface (1983), depending on where you stand. Laurence Fishburne plays the Joker. He’s at an 11 most of the time, but gets some quiet moments where he can take it down to about 8. Wesley Snipes is in there too, and so is David Caruso. I guess the message of the movie is that the city swallows good intentions whole while slowly sliding into ruin. Lots of nudity and late 80s hip hop in this movie. Lots of ketchup blood. Some very good lines, and memorable scenes. In an alternate timeline, there are posters of this movie on college dorm rooms. I give it 3.25 barrels of MSG out of a possible 5 barrels of MSG.