Tag Archives: Don Johnson

Parasites

Knives Out

by Hope Madden

It’s interesting that three of the most deliciously watchable films of 2019 exist to question the societal value of the rich. Earlier this year, the action-comedy bloodbath Ready or Not pitted one regular schmo in a bridal gown against a mansionful of one-percenters looking to end her life.

Too bloody for you? How about Joon-ho Bong’s masterpiece of social commentary, Parasite? Who, exactly, is it living off the blood of others?

Rian Johnson follows this path with the hoot and a half that is Knives Out.

If you only know Johnson for his brilliant fanboy agitator The Last Jedi, you should give yourself the gift of every other movie he’s ever made, Looper and Brick, in particular. This guy is an idiosyncratic storyteller, one who balances style and substance to create memorable worlds you aren’t ready to leave when the credits roll.

Knives Out is his own Agatha Christie-style take on the general uselessness of the 1%. And it is a riot.

Christopher Plummer is Harlan Thromby, the recently and mysteriously deceased mystery novelist whose family is in a pickle. Though they believe their gregarious patriarch offed himself, the notion seems unlikely however clear the death scene seems to make it.

Renowned gentleman detective Benoit Blanc (that’s a name!), played by a priceless Daniel Craig, joins two police detectives (LaKeith Stanfield and Johnson go-to goof Noah Segan) to dig into the affair.

As little as possible should be said about the plot, as it is a whodunnit, but at the very least it’s appropriate to acknowledge this cast.

The spoiled and entitled are played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Jaeden Martell (from It), Toni Collette as well as Michael Shannon and Chris Evans and their sweaters. Each finds a memorable character and each clearly has an excellent time doing so.

Credit also Ana de Armas as Marta, the homecare nurse and anchor for the story. De Armas has previously been cast primarily for her looks (Blade Runner 2049, War Dogs, Knock Knock), but proves here that she can lead a film, even a film with this strong an ensemble. Her Marta is wholesome but funny, gullible but smart. Her chemistry with Craig is enough to generate some interest in their next collaboration. (Well, that and the writing.)

Johnson proves that you can poke fun without abandoning compassion. More than that, he reminds us that, as a writer, he’s shooting on all cylinders: wry, clever, meticulously crafted, socially aware and tons of fun.

Gray Matters

Book Club

by George Wolf

Book Club offers up a boatload of veteran Oscar winners and nominees, but limps to its final chapter as a ninety minute catch-22. So many roles for senior stars: good! What this movie makes of those roles: not so much.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are Diane, Vivian, Sharon, and Carol, lifelong friends who began a monthly book club back in the 70s with the scandalous Fear of Flying.

With all four friends now comfortable in their golden years, the randy Vivian chooses Fifty Shades of Grey as the group’s next assignment. The girls are a bit hesitant at first but right on cue, Christian and Anna’s naughty romps reignite some fires down below.

Laughing at older people being sexual is beyond lazy, it’s ignorant. Thankfully director/co-writer Bill Holderman, in his debut feature, does seem actually interested in laughing more with his stars than at them.

But too many of those laughs are leftovers from every episode of Three’s Company, when Mr. Roper overhears Jack and Chrissy in the bedroom saying something like “It’s not big enough!” while we know they were just trying to hang a curtain rod the whole time! Ribaldry!

While the ladies juggle possible boyfriends (Richard Dreyfuss, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson) and a disinterested husband (Craig T. Nelson), contrived antics and double entendres go straight to the unfunny bone.

If you were checking off boxes, all the rich, white characters and romantic fantasies would seem like Nancy Meyers material. But Book Club can’t dig any more than surface deep, and even with all this talent, it never shows the confidence in character that elevates Meyers’s best (It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give).

And then, a surprisingly subtle metaphor built around the comeback of vinyl albums gives you reason to believe Holderman’s heart is in the right place here, he’s just in over his head.

 





Texas Two-Step For Your Queue

It’s new release Tuesday, and we recommend something pulpy for your queue. Start off with the newly available Cold in July from filmmakers to watch Jim Mickle and Nick Damici. With three outstanding performances – Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and especially Don Johnson – they weave a lurid Southern tale of the elusive honor in masculinity.

You couldn’t go wrong by pairing this with either of the filmmakers’ prior efforts, both horror: We Are What We Are or Stake Land. But if this puts you in the mood for something else a little pulpy and a lot Texan, may we recommend Blood Simple, the genre masterpiece from then-novice filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen? Twisty, surprising and gorgeously filmed, benefitting immeasurably from M. Emmet Walsh’s unforgettable performance, it is a film that predicted genius.





Terrific Texas Trio

Cold in July

by Hope Madden

Pulpy, seedy and hot with hidden dangers, Cold in July is that uniquely Southern crime drama that moseys at its own pace as it unveils its lurid details.

Michael C. Hall turns in his Dexter lab coat  in favor of a mullet and short-sleeved button down as Richard Dane, the Texan family man who startles a burglar and accidentally puts a bullet in his head.

Thus begins our investigation of Texan ideas of manhood.

Hailed a local hero, Dane is troubled by his own actions, but even more troubled when the dead boy’s ex-con father (a delightfully salty Sam Shepard) shows up looking for revenge.

Nothing’s as it seems in this twisty yarn that weaves through corruption, deception and the elusive honor in masculinity.

Here and in several other recent turns, Hall has proven a cagey character actor able to slip on the skin of wildly different characters and find an authentic human heartbeat. Shepard, a seasoned pro, also performs admirably, but both are routinely outshone by the sheer joyous swagger Don Johnson brings to his role as a flamboyant  Texas P.I.

With Johnson comes some much needed wry humor. His character’s entrance also alters the trajectory of the story, and while the film benefits from the change of course, it also never fully resolves the questions brought up during its first act.

Paternal anxiety fuels the sometimes questionable decisions made by the threesome, and the sordid, conspiracy-riddled mess they find themselves in is pure Joe R. Lansdale (Bubba  Ho-Tep!).

That great (and often mediocre) purveyor of pulp wrote the source material that’s adapted here by director Jim Mickle and his creative partner, co-star Nick Damici.

The duo have honed a storytelling style that never ceases to compel, with previous efforts (Stake Land and We Are What We Are, in particular) worth seeking out. This effort takes too long to find its path and its pace, feeling in the end like two separate films sewn together. Questionable character motives don’t help matters. But, together with a gripping trio of performances, the filmmakers have crafted a potent, unwholesome little thriller.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars