‘Sergio’ Review: Unfocused political drama gambles coherency for sweeping romance

This review was first published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

The early scenes of “Sergio,” a convoluted political biopic that hits Netflix Friday, suggest a movie that would have rather been a documentary in its telling about a Brazilian-born diplomat killed in a terrorist attack in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. A quick glance at director Greg Barker’s filmography and you’ll spot that – aha! – the experienced documentarian made one in 2009 of the same name and subject matter for HBO, to the tune of an Emmy nomination. It’s natural to wonder: Is Barker’s fascination that acute, or does the familiar material simply make for stable ground on which the director can create his first narrative feature?

Arriving in Baghdad as George W. Bush declares a new era and recycled newsreel catches the viewer up (or throws us back), Sergio Vieira de Mello is a United Nations representative on a mission—and he’d rather it be accomplished on its own terms, and not those of White House envoys. How his assignment to bring things under control will end isn’t a mystery the movie dangles over the viewer. It’s in the first five minutes that we see him gasping for breath under rubble, sparking a “Ladder 49”-style structure as the fragmented film skips through years and cinematic tones, turning recent history into a game of hopscotch as it struggles to compromise intimate observations of its title character with the admirable goal of educating us about a rare caliber of sympathetic political deal-broker. Continue reading →

‘Knives Out’ Review: Rian Johnson’s clever, caustic whodunnit rips into the uber-entitled as it subverts a classic genre

This review was originally published on KENS5.com, and can be viewed here. 

 

You haven’t met a family at the movies this year that’s easier to hate than the chronically self-righteous, self-serving Thrombeys, who shamelessly leech off the wealth of patriarch Harlan – a successful mystery writer – and for whom the suggestion of creating something with their own hands seems more like cruel and unusual punishment than a gentle nudge towards individual autonomy. The movie’s stunning carousel of actors (among them Michael Shannon, Toni Collette, Jamie Lee Curtis and Chris Evans) fills their shoes with exaggerated greed and understated villainy, but this family’s mask of superiority also indicates something deeply ingrained—a resentment for all things unfamiliar, and for those who enter their cavernous country mansion without permission.

At the start of Rian Johnson’s caustically funny and cleverly-constructed “Knives Out,” the Thrombeys are grieving Harlan’s death. The evidence seems to indicate he committed suicide the week before, just as he had turned 85 at a party attended not just by his family, but also his nurse, Marta (a great Ana de Armas somehow still in the breakout phase of her career). A week later, the police are back for another round of questioning, this time accompanied by man observing from a distance: Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig, fiendishly good and spilling words like molasses with a southern drawl). Suffice to say, the case may not be an open-and-shut affair as previously thought, and Johnson, working from his own scrupulous screenplay, continues a career-long mission of leaving his mark on well-worn genres while thematically elevating them to new levels. Continue reading →