Tag Archives: Netflix

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: ‘First They Killed My Father’

dfn-first_they_killed_my_father-300The latest film from Angelina Jolie feels more personal than ever. Her oldest child was born in Cambodia; she adopted him a year later. She recently stated: “I wanted my son to know who his countrymen are.”

Based on Loung Ung’s memoir, first published in 2000, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers presents an unflinching view of genocide through the eyes of a child. Ung told her own story as the youngest child in a warm, loving and supportive family. One day in 1975, after the U.S. had finally pulled out of a losing war in neighboring Vietnam, the Khmer Rouge came to town. Loung and her family were forced out of their home and onto the road, along with thousands of their fellow Cambodians.

Soon they would endure steadily worsening conditions under the constant menace of automatic weapons, which served, in effect, as prison bars in the open-air camps. Everyone suffered in common, as the effects of a famine took hold and physical will was beaten down over time by the drumbeat of enforced physical labor for all, including the youngest of children.

When they weren’t working, they were indoctrinated into Communist teachings by strict military teachers, who tried to convince everyone that this was all to their benefit, as individual family members were separated from one another and, in many cases, marched to their murder.

And it only gets worse from there.

Jolie shoots a portion of the film from the eye level of Loung (portrayed by Sareum Srey Moch), a portion of the film from Loung’s own perspective, and smaller portions from the medium shot and “God’s Eye” (overhead looking down) perspectives, mixed in with dolly shots, all captured by expert cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, known for his work with Danny Boyle. (He won an Academy Award for Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.)

The photography reflects Loung’s circumstances; the colors are sublime when things are peaceful and fine, but drain away as the full horror kicks in. Jolie has certainly developed as a feature filmmaker, from In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011) to Unbroken (2014) to By the Sea (2015), steadily progressing from intense drama to operatic excess to languorous romance.

Distinctive as it is visually from Jolie’s earlier work, First They Killed My Father mostly strikes a fine balance between humanism and outrage. It’s difficult not to become infuriated by the conditions suffered by the Cambodian people, even if it was more than 40 years ago, because we are aware of the direct parallels to horrible events happening in the world today on a daily basis.

Yet Jolie steps back continually to look at the larger picture, allowing Loung to wrestle with her own emotions as a child thrust into a life that adults can barely comprehend. Above all, the film is sobering and, yes, didactic. That’s a good thing, in my view.

First They Killed My Father is now available to watch on Netflix.

Review: ‘Beasts of No Nation’

'Beasts of No Nation'
‘Beasts of No Nation’

Two-thirds of a masterpiece, Beasts of No Nation bristles with righteous judgment and fierce anger.

In adapting Uzodinma Iweala’s novel for the screen as a Netflix original film, writer/director Cary Joji Fukunaga wisely sets up the story in visual terms. Young Agu (Abraham Attah) lives with his family in an unnamed African country. Agu, his parents, his older brother, his younger sibling, and his grandfather live together in a small village. They must work hard, but they also enjoy the intimacy of their family relationship.

Agu loves to play — and strays into activity with his brother that borders on the criminal — yet he is also obedient to his parents. He is, in other words, a good boy, a typical kid who has been sheltered from the world by his circumstances. One day, that explodes. Rebel forces have risen up against the government, and their battle marches into Agu’s village, tearing apart his family and leaving him alone, racing into the jungle and fearing for his life.

There, he is forcibly recruited into the local branch of the rebel force, run by Commandant (Idris Elba), an ambitious, arrogant military man who rules by the sheer force of his personality and his ruthless disregard for the sanctity of life, whether friend or foe. Separated from his family for the first time in his life and scared senseless, Agu is nonetheless smart enough to recognize that the rebel force represents his only chance at survival.

Agu quickly adapts to the quasi-military regime and gradually becomes a trusted member of the brutal force, a standout in whom Commandant puts increasing confidence. Concurrently, though, Agu also gradually loses his humanity, his conscience wandering away as the rebel force becomes increasingly merciless.

Up to this point, Beasts of No Nation is a masterful, swirling portrait of innocence lost and inhumanity ingrained, a devastating tragedy that has a tremendous impact upon the psyche. Then the story turns, moving the relentless focus away from Agu, thereby weakening what has been built. The movie feels like it’s been trimmed down from something grander, something more far-reaching and elusive that the present version can’t quite reach.

Idris Elba is the foundation stone. His character is defined in ragged terms as a bully, a brute, a blast of evil; Elba ably personifies those qualities. He goes beyond that, suggesting hidden, disturbing nuances that eventually bubble to the surface, as well as the traits that limit his leadership potential. He may be an unquestioned threat locally, but that doesn’t mean he’s invincible.

Beasts of No Nation remains a staggering drama, a potent meditation on life and war and nationality and what’s really important to those who want to survive and make a difference.

The film opens on Friday, October 16 at Landmark Magnolia and on Netflix Streaming.