Tag Archives: janelle monae

Review: ‘Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,’ Delightful Interlocking Puzzles

Daniel Craig stars in a new mystery-thriller from writer/director Rian Johnson, arriving on Netflix December 23.

Around the world, several friends happily work together to solve a mysterious puzzle box that has been delivered to them, eventually revealing an invitation to an exotic location for a luxurious weekend getaway.

That opening sequence sets the tone for Glass Onion: A Knives Out, a sequel to Knives Out (2019) that is the best kind of sequel, in that it follows one key character, famed private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), and places him into an entirely new setting, surrounded by entirely new characters, as he unexpectedly finds himself endeavoring to unravel another complex and deadly crime. 

It’s an entirely pleasant film that builds upon the first film and gives Benoit Blanc an entirely new type of mystery to solve. Therefore, it would be entirely unfair of me to deprive any potential viewers of the opportunity to solve the mystery for themselves, or simply to wallow in the wonderfully complex world that filmmaker Rian Johnson has created for the sequel. 

Instead, let’s talk about Rian Johnson. 

From his first feature film, Brick (2005), Johnson has manifested an abiding interest in mysteries, which form an integral element in each of his narratives, which, in turn, swoop and jump around traditional story arcs, leading to surprising twists and unexpected curves, nonetheless always arriving at satisfying conclusions.  

To cloak his mysterious bent, Johson has further played with stylistic conventions, merging high-school and noir expectations in the aforementioned Brick, playing around with con artists and romance in The Brothers Bloom (2008), as well as action and science-fiction tropes in the delirious Looper (2012) and Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), the latter leaving an impossible puzzle for poor J.J. Abrams to try and solve, and prompting many hardcore fans to complain that Johnson had destroyed the franchise, somehow. 

Meanwhile, Johnson moved on to Knives Out (2019), which only weakened in its third act, as it leaned more heavily on a flurry of scenes that felt rough, unfinished, and obligatory. Whatever the reasons for that, and perhaps it’s only my remembrance of them in that manner, the complexity and pleasures of Glass Onion lies in its ability to maneuver smoothly between genres, paying homage to great mysteries of the past and revealing more about the personality of Benoit Blanc, perhaps the least believable “Southerner,” which may also be his greatest charm; we suspect that much more lies beneath his surface appearances, which feeds into the overriding mystery narrative. 

Glass Onion also features a powerhouse performance by Janelle Monae and entertaining turns by Edward Norton, as the villain of the piece, and juicy contributions by Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn and Leslie Odom Jr., with very welcome wildcard support by Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline, not to forget the dependable Noah Sagan. 

All in all, it’s a complete delight, and one of the year’s best. 

The film debuts worldwide, including Dallas and Fort Worth, on Netflix Friday, December 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Hidden Figures’

dfn-hidden_figures-300Sparkling performances breathe fresh life into Hidden Figures, a welcome, alternative perspective on the space race.

Growing up in the 1960s, it was easy for suburban, lower-middle class children such as myself to become besotted by the space program, though my earliest memory is the tragedy that took the lives of three astronauts. The idea of three men burning to death, trapped inside a capsule and unable to escape, scarred my psyche. Later, though, I recall listening to the car radio as my family drove home from an event in the summer of 1969, and looking up at the moon, and trying to picture men walking on it.

My fascination continued until the Apollo program ended, and with it my possibilities for walking on the moon. Those passing fantasies were reawakened when I watched The Right Stuff during its initial theatrical release, complete with intermission! Those fantasies were extinguished when Challenger exploded.

Hidden Figures stirs all those memories because it points out that they were incomplete. For me, it plays like a spin-off of The Right Stuff, raising its hand politely and drawing attention to a drama that unfolded behind the scenes.

The opening scene is a reminder of the widespread racism that was well-established in the U.S. by the late 1950s. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) are friends who carpool together to their jobs at the Langley Research Center in Virginia. When their car breaks down, they are immediately suspected to be criminals because of the color of their skin, at least in the eyes of the white police officer who stops to investigate.

They are skilled mathematicians, but they are segregated into their own section of the building where they work, permitted only to use colored restrooms and expected to know and appreciate their subordinate position. White supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) tells them they should be grateful to have any jobs at all.

They are highly skilled, however, and are known as ‘human computers’ for their computational abilities. When a pressing need arises, Katherine is called up to the big leagues, as it were, and becomes the first person of color (and the only woman) to work in the Space Task Group, assigned to make computations for the fledgling space program.

Al Harrison (Kevin Costner), director of the Space Task Group, is under extreme pressure. The space race has intensified, and the U.S. is falling behind the U.S.S.R. He is more interested in results than in who produces them, and so when Katherine begins making contributions unlike anyone else, he seizes upon a rising star.

The racism in the Space Task Group is still present, compounded by sexism, but the pressure is intense upon everyone, and gradually, begrudgingly, Katherine becomes an essential element of the group’s success. As that’s happening, Mary makes the most of an opportunity to be involved in the mechanical design group. Dorothy, learning that her group will soon become redundant with the arrival of actual, physical computers, takes it upon herself to learn about that and figure out how to preserve, not only her own job, but also her fellow workers.

Writer/director Theodore Melfi, who made the audience-pleasing St. Vincent with Bill Murray, delivers a similar style of entertainment, following a similar formula with likable characters who need only a challenge worthy of their abilities to succeed. The big advantage here is that this is a true story, drawing from the lives of praiseworthy women who navigated turbulent waters to emerge as heroes worthy of imitation.

Katherine is not a dynamic character, but she is a hard-working, humble and modest, nose-to-the-grindstone type of genius, and Henson gives her an appealing shine. Costner, Spencer and Monae acquit themselves (and their characters) admirably, while Dunst and Jim Parsons (as a suspicious, doubtful, more outwardly racist mathematician) are fine as unpleasant people who must be taught a lesson in humanity.

As a prototypical ‘inspiring story based an real life,’ Hidden Figures is, to a certain extent, entirely predictable, yet this particular tale offers more than enough unexpected touches to make it a fresh and rewarding spin.

The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas and Ft. Worth on Friday, January 6.