I Saw ‘Spiral’ and ‘Wrath of Man’ on the Same Weekend, and I’m Happy with That Decision

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(CREDIT: Brooke Palmer; Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

Spiral:

Starring: Chris Rock, Max Minghella, Samuel L. Jackson, Marisol Nichols

Director: Darren Lynn Bousman

Running Time: 93 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: May 14, 2021 (Theaters)

Wrath of Man:

Starring: Jason Statham, Holt McCallany, Jeffrey Donovan, Josh Hartnett, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso, Raúl Castillo, DeObia Oparei, Eddie Marsan, Scott Eastwood, Niamh Algar, Babs Olusanmokun, Josh Cowdery, Andy García, Rob Delaney, Lyne Renée

Director: Guy Ritchie

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: R

Release Date: May 7, 2021 (Theaters)

I’m tempted to say that Spiral is my favorite Saw movie, but that wouldn’t mean all that much, as it’s only the second one I’ve ever seen. And it might not even be true anyway, since I enjoyed the philosophical conundrums that Saw 2 made me ponder. But Spiral has a whole “surprisingly favorite” vibe to it in opposition to the rest of the series. It may not be entirely different from its predecessors, but it diverges enough for me to go, “I’m pleased with the new direction.” I may not have seen Saw, Saw‘s IIIIV, Saw 3D, or Jigsaw, but I’m familiar enough with them to feel like I’m emerging upon a new horizon. The torture is still too mentally and visually taxing, but the game’s rules and players have been updated.

As for Wrath of Man, I can confidently say that it is indeed my favorite Guy Ritchie movie. Although I should note that I haven’t seen his early stuff, so this might sound like faint praise. (My previous favorite by default was probably Aladdin. Or the parts of The Gentleman with Hugh Grant.) But Wrath of Man nevertheless stands tall on its own, and in opposition to the rest of its director’s filmography. Instead of being about a bunch of gangsters having a bloody good time, this is about a bunch of criminals and working stiffs being deathly, DEATHLY serious about everything. This movie is so bleak. It’s as bleak as a butt. It’s an elemental examination of Violence, Retribution, and Pure Evil. I don’t want to spend all my moviegoing hours in Wrath of Man Land, but visiting there every once in a while provides a healthy catharsis.

GRADES:
Spiral: 3 out of 5 Minghella Rocks
Wrath of Man: 4 out of 5 Statham Hartnetts

Movie Reviews: With ‘Knives Out,’ Rian Johnson Can Add the Whodunit to His Collection of Filmmaking Merit Badges

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CREDIT: Claire Folger © 2018 MRC II Distribution

Starring: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, Frank Oz, Raúl Castillo, M. Emmet Walsh

Director: Rian Johnson

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Few Explosions, Possible Poisonings, and (Attempted?) Stabbings

Release Date: November 27, 2019

If you’d like to dust off a musty old genre and guide it to unexpected new depths, then you might just want to call Rian Johnson. He’s already shown what new joys await in a neo-noir mystery, a time-travelling actioner, and the biggest franchise of all time, and now with Knives Out, he moves on to the whodunit, and the answer to that question is, “By golly, Rian Johnson has done it once again!”

Since every whodunit needs a murder victim and a set of suspects, Knives Out has a bounty of them. The recently dead man is super-wealthy mystery novelist (wink, wink?) Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and the folks who might be responsible or maybe know something consist of his mother Wanetta (K Collins), his daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Linda’s husband Richard (Don Johnson), their son Hugh Ransom (Chris Evans), Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon), Walt’s wife Donna (Riki Lindhome), their son Jacob (Jaeden Martell), Harlan’s daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), Harlan’s housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson), and his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). While his employees generally get along with him, his family members all have reason to resent him (and they also keep mixing up which South or Central American country Marta is from). Naturally enough, there are also a couple of police detectives on hand (Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) and an idiosyncratic private investigator named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been hired under mysterious circumstances.

CREDIT: Claire Folger

The trick that Knives Out pulls is that within twenty minutes, it reveals everything (or nearly everything) that happened in thorough detail. Harlan’s death is initially ruled a suicide, and we are shown pretty much unmistakably that he sliced his own throat, and everyone’s presence at that moment is accounted for. Done deal, then? Well, there’s still nearly two more hours of running time left. The script keeps itself honest thanks to one particularly telling character quirk: Marta’s “regurgitative reaction to mistruthing.” That is to say, whenever she lies, or merely even considers lying, she spews chunks. Thus, there is no other option than for the truth to similarly spill out, and there is no room for contrivances to keep the audience in the dark. But that having been said, information can be obscured and unknown unknowns can take some time to make themselves known. Ergo, Rian Johnson gives us the simultaneous joy of being let in on a little secret while also playing the guessing game.

CREDIT: Claire Folger

In addition to Knives Out‘s masterful mystery machinations, it additionally offers plenty of keen observations of human nature. There is the ever-timely message of the tension that emerges when the haves and have-nots bump against each other, as well as the chaos that can reign when fortunes swing wildly. Furthermore, there is an astute understanding of the difference between truth and honesty, and how the latter can help you survive when the former is hidden. All of this is to say, motivation matters a great deal in cinema, and in life.

Knives Out is Recommended If You Like: Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, Logan Lucky

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Colorful Sweaters