'Knives Out'

The cast of “Knives Out.”

KNIVES OUT

An update on the drawing room whodunit genre, this comedy/murder mystery directed by Rian Johnson (“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”) pays tribute to Agatha Christie as well as to the bumbling Inspector Clouseau. Instead of a detective such as Hercule Poirot who uses his “little grey cells,” the film introduces Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), an oddly-accented southerner who does not appear to be especially clever.

When wealthy crime novelist Harland Thromby (Christopher Plummer) is found murdered the day after his 85th birthday party, everyone in the mansion becomes a suspect. This eclectic ensemble includes Harland’s daughter Linda Drysdale (Jamie Lee Curtis), her womanizing husband Richard (Don Johnson) and their playboy son Ransom (Chris Evans) along with other relatives such as Harland’s son Walt Thromby (Michael Shannon) and his other son’s widow Joni Thromby (Toni Collette). Harland’s nurse Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) comes under suspicion.

The wild plot twists lead to a shrewd denouement, which is weakened by the often silly antics of the Thromby clan. But it is still a hoot to watch Plummer, Curtis and Collette in their overarching performances.

Rated PG-13  3 Stars

WAVES

Writer/director Trey Edward Shultz’s impressive third feature “Waves” follows an upwardly mobile African American family in a Florida suburb through the best and worst of times.

The first half of the film remains flashy and fast-paced as wrestling star and senior Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) enjoys life with his gorgeous girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie). Except for the extreme exercise regimen demanded by his father (Sterling K. Brown), Tyler seems to have it all.

But Tyler chooses to keep a serious injury secret, and then he and Alexis encounter difficulties in their relationship. Everything spirals out of control into a horrific moment.

The slower, more nuanced second half of the movie focuses on Tyler’s shy younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell), whose life is changed by a boy named Luke (Lucas Hedges).

Filmmaker Shultz deserves praise for crafting a mature contemporary feature with fully developed characters (including Renee Elise Goldsberry as the mom).“Waves” exhibits heartbreak and eventually some healing.

Rated R  3 Stars

DARK WATERS

Even with the gross-out scenes of mad cows, this movie uplifts as a modern day David and Goliath tale.

Attorney Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo) works for a Cincinnati law firm that principally defends large chemical corporation against pesky regulations. But Bilott finds himself drawn into a West Virginia case in which a farmer (Bill Camp) claims that the DuPont chemical corporation has poisoned his livestock.

Based on actual facts, the farmer’s original case leads to a plethora of cases concerning folks who have suffered appalling illnesses and deaths because of toxic waste in the soil and water around the area where DuPont dumped vast amounts of PFOA, a biproduct of a chemical which was not regulated by the government. Instead of simply getting DuPont to clean up the area, Bilott finds himself dealing with powerful lobbyists and dawdling government agencies.

Ruffalo, who also serves as a producer of “Dark Waters,” brings the crusading, dedicated and idealistic attorney to life. Anne Hathaway portrays Bilott’s wife Sarah, and Tim Robbins is his boss Tom Terp.

Rated PG-13  3 Stars

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