Knives Out

Knives Out
From left: Don Johnson, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Evans, K Callan, Ana de Armas, Christopher Plummer, Michael Shannon, Jaeden Lieberher, Riki Lindholm, Toni Collette, and Katherine Langford in “Knives Out.” CLAIRE FOLGER/LIONSGATE

After suffering through a dry spell in which there were no movies I really wanted to see, I now have several to write about, and the first one I’m going to cover is Knives Out, because I think it makes delightful holiday viewing. Writer and director Rian Johnson has crafted a winning valentine to Agatha Christie-style murder mysteries while paying homage to some of my favorite mystery/thriller/comedies from the 1970s, such as Murder on the Orient Express and Murder by Death. Like those films, he’s assembled an all-star cast in an enclosed space with a mysterious murder at the center and a dash of humor.

Daniel Craig hams it up as “gentleman detective” Benoit Blanc, who’s been retained by persons unknown to investigate the sudden death of famous mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer). Craig’s all-over-the-map Southern accent is no more authentic than the one he affected in the marvelous Logan Lucky, but he’s having a fabulous time, as are the rest of the excellent cast, who play the bickering, avaricious members of Thrombey’s grieving family.  The film is a satisfying blend of red herrings and plot twists, laced with a sprinkle of commentary about immigration and wealth disparity in the age of Trump.

Go see it with your own (non-bickering, I hope) family this holiday season.

Lt. Elliott: I’m Detective Lieutenant Elliot, and this is Trooper Wagner. We just want to ask a few questions. Now we understand, the night of his demise, the family had gathered to celebrate your father’s eighty-fifth birthday. How was it, by the way?

Linda Drysdale: The party? Pre-my dad’s death? Oh, it was great.

— Knives Out (



Dark 2

Photo by Julia Terjung / Netflix

My stepson and I just finished watching season 2 of the Netflix thriller Dark, a German show I’ve mentioned before. If you don’t mind time-travel scenarios that will make your brain start to ooze out your ears, then this is your thing. Moody and atmospheric settings, ominous music, scary happenings, mind-bending plot twists, terrific acting — Dark has got it going on.

As with any time-travel story, you’ll need to suspend the ol’ disbelief but good. The tale begins with a boy’s disappearance from a village at the edge of a creepy forest (of course!), which leads to more strange doings and uncovers sinful secrets among the townsfolk. Sprinkled in among the eventual time jumps are musings from several characters about the nature of time, faith, and the human condition, so if you like your spooky thrillers with a dose of world-weary philosophical theories, you’re all set. To reveal more about the plot would do a disservice to this riveting tale of tangled family connections, furtive love affairs, nuclear dangers, and cosmic power struggles. Just go watch it.

Once you’ve watched seasons 1 and 2 (there will be a third and final season) and you need an expert to help you make sense of it all, I highly recommend the funny and insightful wrap-up by Maggie Fremont on VultureAlso helpful is TV Guide’s family tree showing how the town’s four central families are connected.

H.G. Tannhaus: Will you tell me…what the future’s like?

The Stranger: I’m hoping that by tomorrow, it’ll already be different from today.

Dark, Season 1: “Alpha and Omega”

You Again?


A couple of nights ago, my husband and I watched the 2013 film Enemy on Netflix, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Jake Gyllenhaal. I was curious because Gyllenhaal is always interesting to watch, and because Villeneuve has, of course, gone on to direct Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, both of which I liked. While Enemy is compelling and artfully made, I can only recommend it if you like creepy, dread-filled head-scratchers, and if you do not have a fear of spiders.

Gyllenhaal plays a morose college professor who discovers a bit-part actor who is his doppelganger, and he begins to pry into the other man’s life. Mayhem, and some other bewildering things, ensue, including a few scenes where tarantulas play a key role. The film is effectively unsettling, shot in a sepia tone that gives Toronto (where it was shot) a sickly yellow cast, and with an unnerving score that creates a strong sense of foreboding.  The final scene is utterly baffling.

Are the professor and the actor brothers? The same man? Who knows. If you watch Enemy and want some answers — and I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want some answers! — here’s an interesting theory from Slate, and here’s one from Vulture


A film with a similar theme, which I enjoyed more, is The Double, also released in 2013 (hmm, what was it about doppelgangers in 2013?) and based on a story by Dostoevsky, starring Jesse Eisenberg, Mia Wasikowska, and Wallace Shawn. There is some comedy, albeit dark comedy, in this story of a meek government clerk whose drab life becomes a nightmare with the arrival of a confident, charismatic new co-worker who is his exact physical double. This isn’t on Netflix anymore, but it’s available a bunch of other places. If you like absurdist black comedy and Jesse Eisenberg, it could be just your thing.

The Colonel: There aren’t too many like you. Are there, Simon?

Simon: I’d like to think I’m pretty unique.

— The Double

The Tunnel


Last night I finished watching the final season of a British/French crime thriller called The TunnelI recommend it, but with some reservations.

There are three seasons of The Tunnel, all of which aired on PBS and are available on the PBS streaming app (possibly only if you are a member of your local PBS station and have their Passport feature), as well as other streaming vendors. The first season was a remake of a 2011 Danish-Swedish crime series called The Bridge. The second season, The Tunnel: Sabotage, and the third, The Tunnel: Vengeance, are original stories.

The primary reason to watch the series is for some superior acting from the two leads: English actor Stephen Dillane as Detective Chief Inspector Karl Roebuck, based in Folkestone, and Clémence Poésy as Captain (later Commander) Elise Wassermann, based in Calais. Dillane is the relaxed, wisecracking, seasoned detective to Poésy’s serious, single-minded, less-experienced crime fighter. Elise also exhibits traits that indicate she might have Asperger’s syndrome — she’s highly intelligent with a great eye for detail, but she’s hopeless at interpreting social cues and dealing with other people’s emotions.

The two are thrown together in the first season when someone places the upper half of a French politician and the lower half of a British prostitute in the Channel Tunnel at the halfway point between the UK and France. The tale is off and running from there, with our two protagonists and their teams collaborating willingly at times and clashing at others. The show is bilingual, which gives me a chance to try and use my high-school and college French, and I love seeing a glimpse of how people in those areas of England and France live. The British and the French detectives needle each other, each taking turns getting in their digs at the other country’s culture, and the third season, filmed after the Brexit vote, works in some gibes from both sides about the UK leaving the EU.

International issues and politics permeate the storylines, which involve elaborate, even baroque crimes devised by villains who have plenty of time and resources on their hands. The series is quite gritty, and there are downright heartbreaking events that occur in each season — that’s my reservation about recommending it. But if you enjoy seeing two well-matched actors play characters whose sparring relationship grows into a deep friendship, look no further. I was especially taken with Dillane, who was a new face to me, even though he has a long history on British stage and screen (and evidently plays a role on Game of Thrones, which I’ve never seen). He’s been called an “actor’s actor,” and that’s exactly right — he’s completely comfortable in his own skin, and reveals Karl’s inner workings with the subtlest expressions.

If you watch it, come back and let me know what you thought!

Elise Wassermann: I can’t eat anything sweet until I get my tooth fixed.

Karl Roebuck: What’s wrong with your tooth? Did you bite somebody?

— The Tunnel: Vengeance

La Mante

Carole Bouquet

Here’s the reason you might want to watch the French crime series La Mante, now streaming on Netflix: Carole Bouquet. Who, you may rightly ask? I had only vague memories of her as a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only in 1981. But she’s worked steadily in France over the years, and in La Mante (French for The Mantis, as in praying mantis), she plays an imprisoned serial killer who agrees to help her estranged son, a cop, catch a murderer who is copying her methods. Bouquet is riveting.

The Mantis was active 25 years prior in the series’ narrative, killing men who were guilty of despicable behavior. Her father and son have had nothing to do with her since she was captured and incarcerated. As he works with her to solve the copycat murders, her son uncovers secrets about his family’s past. Bouquet is, by turns, calm, devious, clever, calculating, ice-cold, and heartbreaking. In 1990, she won the French equivalent of the Oscar, a César Award, for best actress for her role in Too Beautiful for You, which I’ll now want to watch.

There are scenes that are not for the faint of heart (Stephen King lauded the series on Twitter, saying it “is surveying previously unexplored realms of gruesomeness”), so if you’re like me, have a pillow handy to hide behind from time to time. (Just like in the header photo for this blog! If you’ve wondered about that photo, the explanation is in my first blog post.)



I’m still on a British and European kick with my Netflix viewing, and one of my recent favorites is a British series called Requiem. It combines elements of both a ghost story and a thriller, and while it can be a bit over-the-top and implausible here and there, I found it quite compelling overall.

It stars Lydia Wilson as Matilda Grey, a professional cellist whose life is upended when her mother commits suicide right in front of her. Photos and newspaper clippings Matilda finds among her mother’s possessions spark questions about Matilda’s past and her true identity. The series is set in Wales — lovely and atmospheric — and has a haunting score that features an organ, of all things. Should sound cheesy, but it really works.

The series is not overly gory, and if you enjoy supernatural chills, it’s got plenty. It even incorporates some actual history in the form of references to an Englishman named John Dee, who was a mathematician, alchemist, astrologer, dabbler in the occult, and an adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. My only real problem with the series was Lydia Wilson’s hair — she’s wearing either a bad blonde wig or a bad blonde haircut with bangs that are just too short. I hope for her sake that it was a wig.

Meredith: Waste of a question. Ask again.


Why I Think You Should Watch the Original ‘Murder on the Orient Express’

It’s been a few months since Kenneth Branagh’s version of Murder on the Orient Express (based on the novel by Agatha Christie) was released, but I hadn’t started this blog yet, so I wasn’t able to fulminate in written form about the many things that film got wrong, and advocate for seeing the original instead, except to a few lucky friends and colleagues. So now’s my chance! Grab a cup of tea and settle in.

My mother and sisters took me to see the original Murder on the Orient Express (1974) at the venerable Century Theatres in South Salt Lake — not the new cinema, but the old ones, the goofy space-age-inspired dome theaters. (I love that the photo below has It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on the marquee. I remember being taken to see that wacky little gem as a kid as well, although since it came out in 1963 — before I was born — it must have been in re-release.)

Century Theatres dome

The original Murder was directed by the masterful Sidney Lumet, and it featured what the DVD case’s tagline accurately calls “the Who’s Who in the Whodunnit”: Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York, and more. In the role of Hercule Poirot is the surprising choice of Albert Finney: surprising because he was a slim chap in his 30s and had to be padded and made up to look like the older, more rotund Poirot. It’s an amazing transformation, and a mesmerizing performance. He is still the definitive Poirot in my book (closely followed by the excellent David Suchet on PBS).

Which brings us to Kenneth Branagh. I often like his work, both as an actor and a director, and he wears both hats for his 2017 version of Murder. I’m still not sure what he was thinking with this portrayal of Christie’s famous Belgian detective. He looks nothing like Poirot: he is slim where he should be portly, silver-haired where he should be dark, and sports a gigantic mustache that seems to be unprecedented in the annals of male grooming. He does nail the accent, of course, as any actor trained in the rigorous English tradition would. But he can’t help but suffer in comparison to Finney. Finney’s Poirot is self-confident without being a show-off, fastidious without being effete. Branagh’s Poirot is smart, but also pretentious, sentimental, and much too athletic. (Poirot in a foot chase with a suspect? Seriously?)

The tone of Branagh’s film is needlessly dark and self-important. The original film is delightfully light and even funny, with the exception of the opening sequence, an eerie montage laying out the kidnapping case that forms the crux of the story. I found the sequence frightening as a child, and I realized later that was in large part because of the effectively chilling music. The score for the entire film is wonderful, and the composer, Richard Rodney Bennett, was rightfully nominated for an Academy Award. (The movie was nominated for six Oscars; one was won, by Ingrid Bergman for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. I feel it would have won more if it hadn’t been up against things like The Godfather Part II and Chinatown.)

A digression: here’s one of my favorite examples of how fundamental music and editing are to filmmaking. It’s a happy version of the trailer for The Shining.

Anyway, there you have it. I admit to having a sentimental attachment to this version of Murder on the Orient Express; it was a favorite of my parents, and I have fond memories of watching it with them on our huge, clunky Betamax video machine (my dad was always an early adopter when it came to technology). Please seek it out and watch it if you like mysteries.

Foscarelli: Hey, what are you reading, Mister Beddoes?

Beddoes: I am reading “Love’s Captive,” by Mrs. Arabella Richardson.

Foscarelli: Is it about sex?

Beddoes: No, it’s about 10:30, Mister Foscarelli.

— Murder on the Orient Express