Glass Onion

STREAMING REVIEW:

Netflix;
Mystery;
Box Office $13.3 million;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content.
Stars Daniel Craig, Janelle Monáe, Edward Norton, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick, Madelyn Cline, Noah Segan.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s second Benoit Blanc mystery, Glass Onion, may be an even more satisfying viewing experience than the first, 2019’s Knives Out.

While the film’s structure still relies on misdirecting the audience and flashbacks to add context, the fundamental mystery itself is better crafted and not so dependent on questionable character interactions.

The story this time around involves a tech billionaire (Edward Norton) who invites a close circle of friends to a retreat on a secluded island, where he has planned an elaborate murder mystery game for them to solve. Somehow an invitation makes its way to celebrity detective Blanc (Daniel Craig), despite him having never met any of the participants.

Blanc’s presence turns out to be fortuitous when one of the guests actually ends up dead, prompting the detective to peel back the layers of the other guests’ friendships to reveal how any number of them have a motivation for murder, while some aren’t even who they claim to be.

This isn’t the type of mystery that the audience can play along with since several details are deliberately hidden from viewers thanks to a non-linear presentation. Scenes presented from one perspective in the set-up are revisited later from a different character’s point of view, changing the context of how viewers are supposed to interpret the plot.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

The film’s biggest downside might be how it anchors the story in the midst of the pandemic, when such a setting seemingly has no bearing on the proceedings aside from how it sets up a ballsy plot point that pays off in the resolution. Including such specific touchstones of the era such as masks only to have the characters ditch them early on for a wealthy soiree with no consequences might be a subtle commentary on privilege, but could end up dating the film in unfortunate ways.

Otherwise, the film’s only limitation is the same as with any mystery story — how many repeat viewings would be warranted once the secrets are revealed. That’s when films such as this have to rely on its performances, quirky characters and humor, and on those fronts Glass Onion conducts itself rather well.

The film is completely unrelated to Knives Out, aside from being another case for Blanc to solve in the great tradition of fictional detectives. The earlier film isn’t even referenced, aside from Netflix slapping the subtitle “A Knives Out Mystery” on the poster (it does not appear onscreen). Wanting to make sure the marketing helps the audience understands this is a follow-up to the earlier hit film is one thing, but perhaps “A Benoit Blanc Mystery” would have made more sense.

Hamilton

STREAMING REVIEW:

Disney+;
Musical;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for language and some suggestive material.
Stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, Christopher Jackson, Jonathan Groff, Okieriete Onaodowan, Anthony Ramos, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Jasmine Cephas Jones.

Disney’s decision to release a recording of Hamilton through its streaming service has undoubtedly clued in millions of viewers about why the popular stage musical has become such a massive hit with the audiences who had a chance to see it live. Writer and star Lin-Manuel Miranda has crafted a mesmerizing ode to one of America’s most notable founding fathers.

Famously described as “America then, as told by America now,” Miranda treats the production like a re-imagining of the founding of the United States, with minority actors playing the key roles of the American icons. The casting also fits Miranda’s musical sensibilities, with performers well-suited for the infectious, hip-hop infused soundtrack that relates the story of Hamilton’s rise and fall in American politics.

Follow us on Instagram!

The story is structured as a series of intertwining rivalries, centered on the dual narrative of the lives of Hamilton (Miranda) and Aaron Burr (Leslie Odom Jr.), who eventually kills him in a duel.

The fresh-faced idealist Hamilton arrives in colonial America with hopes of joining the budding revolution, while Burr is painted as a power-hungry opportunist who advises the young upstart not to make his beliefs too well known lest they get him into trouble. Hamilton eventually becomes a confidante of George Washington, establishing a centralized U.S. treasury and clashing with Thomas Jefferson, who prefers to give more deference to the individual states.

A second aspect to the play focuses on the love story between Hamilton and his wife, Eliza (Phillipa Soo), and her futile efforts to convince Alexander to make his family the priority of his life rather than his role in forming a new nation.

Pieced together from several 2016 performances at the end of the run of the original cast, the filmed version of the production is impeccably shot, showcasing complexly choreographed musical numbers and the ingeniously designed stage with spinning floors and detachable staircases that can be reconfigured as needed. Particularly interesting is the way the ensemble uses dance and music to simulate modern filmmaking techniques such as slow motion and replay.

Ironically, Miranda’s soft-spoken portrayal of the title character is often overshadowed by some of the play’s more colorful characters, particularly Daveed Diggs, pulling double duty as both Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette.

Miranda’s depiction of Hamilton as a scrappy upstart is a compelling one, despite his dubious and repeated proclamation of Hamilton as an immigrant, given that he was a British subject relocating from one British territory (the Caribbean island of Nevis) to another (New York), making him as much of an immigrant as someone moving from Nebraska to Hollywood. Still, Hamilton’s Caribbean roots resonated with Miranda’s consideration of his own Puerto Rican heritage, providing the genesis to explore how this man could rise from such obscurity to get his face on the $10 bill.

The songs have been meticulously constructed to resonate throughout the story, with Hamilton’s early anthem of “not throwing away my shot” taking on the double meaning of figuratively seizing the opportunities before him, as well as the literal action in a duel of missing on purpose. The concept of the duel is also central to the play’s layout, as three are featured, allowing the audience to fully understand what is taking place in the climax.

Subscribe HERE to the FREE Media Play News Daily Newsletter!

Hopefully the play will inspire viewers to look into the real story of Hamilton and the origins of the United States, rather than accept the historical assertions in the play at face value. (Among other conflations, the play offers a very messy summary of the election of 1800, presenting Jefferson and Burr as rivals for the presidency when they were, in fact, running mates, and also omits key details as to what motivated Burr to challenge Hamilton to a duel to begin with). Then again, this is a piece of artistic performance, not a college course, lest anyone believe George Washington’s cabinet meetings were actually conducted via a series of highly entertaining rap battles.

Fortunately, the play does a nice job shining a light on some of Hamilton’s lesser-known contemporaries, such as John Laurens and the spy Hercules Mulligan.

The Disney+ presentation also includes access to a 33-minute featurette of interviews with the cast conducted by The Undefeated, an ESPN-owned website that deals with the intersection of race, sports and popular culture.