September 9, 2019

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Knives Out” & “A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood”


KNIVES OUT (Lionsgate – November 27):  Rian Johnson’s delectable reinvention of the old-fashioned puzzle whodunnit wears its convoluted plotting on its sleeve, weaving and circling about so that when you think you know what’s going on, he can bang his trap shut.  Johnson isn’t shy about his influences here.  The murder victim, Harlan Thrombrey (Christopher Plummer, necessarily brief but delightful), is a fabulously wealthy mystery novelist who lives in a Victorian edifice complete with creaking stairs and a false window.  The deep-fried Southern detective, Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), has a name and arrogance meant to recall Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot.  There is the requisite Who’s Who of suspects related to the victim, all with murderous motives to spare, that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Don Johnson, Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford and Chris Evans.  The proceedings end with a set-piece sequence wherein the detective explains to the at-a-loss local police (and the audience) exactly what’s been going on.  There’s even a brief on-screen clip of a Murder, She Wrote episode.  All that might suggest a Murder By Death-type parody or a wax museum revival a la Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On the Orient Express remake, but whie Knives Out has its intentional jokes, Johnson treats the genre with love and imagination.  Despite that all-star cast, the star role actually goes to Ana de Armas, who provides the movie’s heart as the victim’s nurse Marta, and Johnson builds some contemporary social commentary into that choice, and into Marta’s relationship with the family.  Johnson’s affection for ingenious plotting has been clear since Brick and Looper, and his time in the Breaking Bad and Star Wars franchises has made him a highly-skilled entertainer.  You can feel Johnson’s pleasure as you watch Knives Out, and if younger audiences can be convinced to try out a genre so old it’s new again, that pleasure may extend to the box office.

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (TriStar/Sony – November 22):  Have you heard the one about the cynical journalist who becomes a better human being after spending some time with an interview subject who practically glows with goodness?  Frank Capra was telling that story 80 years ago, and he wasn’t the first.  The film everyone has been referring to as “the Mr Rogers movie” is actually about a fictionalized Esquire feature writer named Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who’s estranged from his irresponsible father Jerry (Chris Cooper), and whose marriage to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) is in a less-than-ideal place.  In the manner of countless reporters in such stories, he’s reluctant and disdainful at his new assignment, which is to interview the legendary children’s TV host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks).  But like all the hard-bitten characters who came before him, slowly but surely he melts before Mr. Rogers’ sheer virtue.  There’s no question that A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood will move many ticket buyers deeply, and that the script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster is structured with a well-gauged sense of how to move Lloyd along his road to redemption.  For some stone-hearted of us, though, it will be a little bit icky and so predetermined that there isn’t a breath of oxygen between its gears.  Marielle Heller’s direction is far smoother than in her more indie-minded Diary of A Teenage Girl and Can You Ever Forgive Me, and she and the writers have some clever bits that incorporate Lloyd’s story into an episode of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, especially its toy miniature “exteriors”.  Rhys acts with great sincerity, and Watson and Cooper provide professional support.  But the only truly notable aspect to Neighborhood is the supporting performance of Tom Hanks, who does a remarkable, unfailingly graceful job of wearing Mr. Rogers’ sneakers and duplicating his gentle cadence without doing an imitation.  Hanks is special enough to make the whole contraption work, but anyone who actually wants to learn about Fred Rogers and not the plight of a reporter is still better off watching the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."