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For the record, I really enjoyed The Last Jedi. I thought that director Rian Johnson knocked that Star Wars story out of the park with bold narrative choices, strong visuals, and a modest, but palpable sense of humor and fun. My fellow critics appear to agree with me for, the most part, but a venomous, vocal group of Star Wars fans has nevertheless fouled much of the memory of The Last Jedi with their toxic takes on the movie.
Those toxic takes have resurfaced, now that Rian Johnson is returning to mainstream filmmaking and the first trailer for his latest effort, Knives Out, has arrived online. While the trailer should be the subject, much of the online discourse surrounding Knives Out, appears to be stuck on mentioning how much people hate The Last Jedi. That's a rather unfair disservice to Knives Out, which appears to have a lot going for it outside of the purview of toxic Star Wars fans.
Here are five takeaways from the first trailer for Knives Out:
1. What a Cast!
Rian Johnson has assembled a remarkable cast for Knives Out. It begins with James Bond himself, Daniel Craig as some sort of mysterious investigator, and slowly we unfold a cast of incredible actors and movie stars. Jamie Lee Curtis plays the matriarch of this spoiled rich family, the daughter of the dead man at the center of the plot, her father, played by Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer. Then there is Sorry to Bother You star Lakeith Stanfield as a police detective, Academy Award nominee Toni Collette as one of Curtis's family members, and Don Johnson as a character that I am assuming is Curtis' husband. Michael Shannon and comedian Riki Lindholme are also glimpsed in the trailer, while future Bond gal, Ana De Armas appears to stand somewhere near the center of this mystery plot. And then there is Chris Evans.
If one actor stood apart in the trailer for Knives Out it is Chris Evans as a nattily dressed, narcissistic rich boy at odds with pretty much everyone in his family. Evans drives the hints of comedy in the trailer with his prickishness, but he also strikes one of the strange false notes of the trailer with a joke line about Craig's investigator, a reference to CSI KFC? What is the context of that joke? Is there a context that could make that funny? Is he referring to Craig's oddball southern accent? It's a weird note to go out on for an otherwise intriguing trailer.
2. Even more cast talk
Aside from the remarkable ensemble we've already mentioned, the IMDB cast list holds one oddly intriguing name. The one that jumps off the list, for me, is Frank Oz. Yes, that Frank Oz. The voice of Yoda is in the cast of Knives Out, and I am struggling to understand what role the famed voice actor, puppeteer and filmmaker will play in a movie that doesn't appear to have much use for voice acting or puppets. IMDB offers no clues as to who Oz is playing in the movie, the site only lists Oz's name in the cast and nothing else.
3. Radiohead connections?
A little more mystery and fun from the Knives Out IMDB page. According to the trivia section on IMDB, Rian Johnson was inspired by the work of Radiohead while coming up with Knives Out. The title Knives Out is also the title of a Radiohead song as is the film's working title, Morning Bell. Listening to Radiohead's "Knives Out" could not be any further from the bombastic, Frank Sinatra tune from the trailer for Knives Out but there are some interesting thematic similarities in the lyrics and the story in the movie.
As soft and gentle as the song Knives Out may sound, there is a nasty streak in Thom Yorke's lyrics that bears a striking resemblance to the nastiness of the family at the center of the movie Knives Out. The line "If you'd been born a dog, they would have drowned you at birth," would not be out of place as an insult from any of the characters in the trailer for Knives Out, or at least a variation on that line. The song is filled with dog eat dog lyrical imagery, which seems fitting for a movie where siblings and parents are considering murdering each other over an inheritance.
4. Agatha Christie by way of 'Brick'
While Rian Johnson came to fame in the mainstream with Star Wars, the noir mystery is where Johnson got his start with the brilliant teen noir, Brick. That film demonstrated Johnson's unique filmmaking voice and established him as a singular, distinctive filmmaker. The idea of Johnson applying his mystery genre chops to a nasty, gritty, Agatha Christie style whodunnit is wildly intriguing.
5. Blockbuster or Awards Contender?
What is the intention of Knives Out? Is this just a mainstream mystery aimed at garnering big box office or is there a more serious intent, one aimed at garnering awards consideration? Knives Out is being released in November, which is certainly in the window of the Awards contending releases. However, the Thanksgiving weekend slot has also become a popular spot for studios seeking blockbuster success in the winter season.
There is no really good weekend to weekend comparisons for Knives Out in recent releases. Most recently, the last weekend in November has been the home of animated features including Moana, Coco and Ralph Wrecks the Internet. Each of those were certainly awards contenders, but specific to the Animation Oscar and not to the big categories. Perhaps the only clue to the intentions of the movie come in looking at the weekend competition. Knives Out opens opposite the racially charged Queen and Slim, which certainly has the appearance of an Awards movie with its big themes. Knives Out would then be positioned as counterprogramming in a more audience friendly vein.
Knives Out opens November.