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Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – Benoit Blanc is back for more with sleuthing sequel spectacular

His name was Bond, James Bond. And for 15 years, it really was.

Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Daniel Craig as Detective Benoit Blanc in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Like several fine stars before him, Daniel Craig took up the mantle of 007 knowing full well his identity and that of Her Majesty’s finest would become inseparable, possibly forever.

This is the poisoned chalice that is the Bond gig. One of the most coveted roles in cinema comes with the heavy price that once touched by it, you are also tainted. Unable to shake the sharp suits and sex appeal for the rest of their career (bless), any actor who takes the part on does in fact face an uphill battle to get audiences to see them as anything else ever again.

Craig is almost universally accepted as one of the finest custodians of the role – adding plenty of spit and grit and taking author Ian Fleming’s creation closer to his rough and ready roots than ever before. A controversial appointment in the first place (“What do you mean a ‘blonde’ Bond?!”), Craig stands as one of the most popular 007s of all time, his image more deeply chiselled into the part than any incumbent before him save Connery. How on Earth could he now ever convincingly be anybody else? Oh how we were stunned...

In 2019, Daniel Craig caused a global jaw-drop when he stepped into the shoes of sartorially-refined detective Benoit Blanc in Rian Johnson’s Knives Out.

A masterpiece of no mistaking, this flick gave the murder mystery genre just the kick it required. With Craig front and centre as an American sleuth with a delicious southern drawl, Knives Out made us forget all about the Vodka Martini’s that had passed those same lips for the lion’s share of two decades.

Craig was brilliant – burying Bond and birthing Blanc triumphantly. And now, Blanc is back for round two.

The Glass Onion has landed folks, and the game is about to begin. Let’s take a look...

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (12A, 140 mins)

Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland)

In Agatha Christie’s 1929 short story The Man In The Mist, detective Tommy Beresford astutely observes, “Very few of us are what we seem to be”.

Writer-director Rian Johnson heeds those words in his deliciously gnarly and deceptive whodunnit sequel, deftly engineering more than one gasp-inducing twist as his Southern detective Benoit Blanc trades Massachusetts familial strife for avarice and betrayal on a sun-kissed Greek island.

The original Knives Out was a blast, a tongue-in-cheek country house murder mystery that both honoured and distorted genre tropes with a starry A-list cast portraying the rogues’ gallery of shadowy suspects.

Glass Onion is an ingenious, self-contained puzzle, which is both funnier and sneakier than its predecessor (and 10 minutes longer) and explicitly references Christie’s most popular novels in its clinical dramatic set-up and skilful sleights of hand.

The script is as tight as the dashing blue cravat knotted around Daniel Craig’s neck, returning to the fray as the quixotic sleuth who randomly splutters Halle Berry’s name when a splash of a hot sauce made by actor Jeremy Renner stages an aggressive assault on his taste buds.

Celebrity name drops and cameos, including the final screen appearance of Dame Angela Lansbury, underline the playful spirit of Johnson’s elaborately choreographed dance of death.

The identity of Blanc’s live-in lover is amusingly reduced to a glorious throwaway gag in flashback. Eccentric billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton), co-founder of tech giant Alpha, sends ornate puzzle boxes as invitations to a murder mystery-themed party on his private island getaway.

Recipients include Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), Alpha scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr), Miles’ former business partner Andi Brand (Janelle Monae), social media star Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), politically incorrect fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson) and Benoit Blanc (Craig).

Duke arrives with girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline) in tow while Birdie is shadowed by her exasperated personal assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick).

At dinner on the first night, Miles reveals that he will play the murder victim and cryptic clues hidden around his Aegean paradise can be pieced together to deduce his killer.

The first person to solve the dastardly crime wins.

When the sound of a real gunshot reverberates across the island, Blanc is perfectly positioned to peel back layers of deceit and expose at least one blackened heart.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery goes down as sweetly as the hard kombucha (fermented by Jared Leto), which everyone drinks on Miles’s retreat.

Craig and co-stars are clearly having a blast – Norton, in particular, relishes his self-congratulatory corporate titan, who couldn’t pour water out of a wellington boot with instructions on the heel.

Johnson flatters and deceives, making mirth from murderous intentions with grand theatrical flourishes.

The knives are out and they cut sweetly to the funny bone.

ROALD DAHL’S MATILDA THE MUSICAL (PG, 117 mins)

Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland)

Alisha Weir as Matilda Wormwood

In 2010, director Matthew Warchus scored top grades for his euphoric staging of Matilda The Musical in Stratford-upon-Avon as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Christmas season.

The show transferred to London’s West End the following year and continues to send terrific tykes to the Chokey.

Warchus reunites with composer and lyricist Tim Minchin and scriptwriter Dennis Kelly for a swashboggling, phizz-whizzing screen adaptation that retains the acidic tang of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1988 children’s novel and elegantly expresses the loss and reclamation of childhood innocence in barn-storming song and dance numbers choreographed with breathless abandon by Ellen Kane.

Bookish wunderkind Matilda (Alisha Weir) has the misfortune to be raised by garish used car salesman Mr Wormwood (Stephen Graham) and his monstrous wife (Andrea Riseborough).

The precocious youngster escapes into fantastical worlds on the shelves of a mobile library run by Mrs Phelps (Sindhu Vee).

Matilda harnesses dormant telekinetic powers when she enrols at Crunchem Hall under hulking headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (Emma Thompson), a former world champion athlete who performs an exemplary hammer throw over the school gates using one unfortunate girl’s pigtails.

Thankfully, caring teacher Miss Honey (Lashana Lynch) recognises Matilda’s genius and encourages her gifted ward to soar higher than the unfortunate and airborne Amanda Thripp.

Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical confidently combines sweet, salty and sour flavours, juxtaposing the cuteness and steely determination of Weir’s spirited heroine with the comic grotesquerie of Thompson’s tyrant.

Warchus overloads our senses in exuberant musical set-pieces, maintaining a rip-roaring pace until the film’s new song Still Holding My Hand allows a curtain to gently fall over quietly contented characters.

Aristotle spoke the truth: the roots of education are bitter but the fruit is sweet.

Warchus’s picture is a peach.

SHE SAID (15, 128 mins)

Released: November 25 (UK & Ireland)

She Said: Carey Mulligan as Megan Twohey and Zoe Kazan as Jodi Kantor

On February 24, 2020, a New York jury of seven men and five women found Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein guilty of a criminal sexual act in the first degree and third-degree rape.

He was subsequently sentenced to 23 years in prison and has recently been granted the right to appeal his conviction.

The road to the court began publicly on October 5, 2017, when New York Times journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey published a story entitled Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.

The expose prompted more women to come forward and added fuel to the flames of the “me too” movement.

Directed by Maria Schrader, She Said powerfully dramatises the newspaper’s far-reaching investigation into Weinstein and the psychological toll on the journalists responsible for gathering testimonies and documentation.

Screenwriter Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s methodical and largely chronological approach recalls 2016 Oscar winner Spotlight, neatly distilling events with occasional cutaways to Kantor and Twohey’s home life.

Following the 2016 election of Donald Trump to the White House, New York Times investigations editor Rebecca Corbett (Patricia Clarkson) encourages her team to ask uncomfortable questions about the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Writer Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) picks up the scent of impropriety in Hollywood.

She elicits advice and help from fellow NYT writer Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan), who had fiery exchanges with the Trump camp during the election, and the two women meticulously shape a story about Weinstein under the guidance of Corbett and unflappable executive editor Dean Baquet (Andre Braugher).

“People have tried to write this story before. He kills it every time,” despairs former company assistant Zelda Perkins (Samantha Morton), who believes the article is much bigger than one man. “This is about the system protecting abusers,” she adds.

Another former assistant Laura Madden (Jennifer Ehle), who is battling breast cancer, bravely recalls her ordeal. Kantor and Twohey give Madden a voice in their article.

She Said underlines the power of investigative journalism to spark vociferous debate and catalyse lasting change. Kazan and Mulligan both deliver impassioned performances but the words of Weinstein’s on-screen accusers are the gut punches.

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