Movies often call to mind other movies.
That’s not always a bad thing. Sure, some films can be painfully formulaic or derivative. But others can resemble previous offerings and still entertain or even occasionally surprise.
Below are five movies that, for various reasons, echo other films, with varying results.
“She Said” (R, 128 minutes, in theaters). A true story in which newspaper reporters relentlessly pound the pavement to expose the abuse of power. Sound familiar? If you’ve seen “All the President’s Men,” about Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein taking down the Nixon regime, or “Spotlight,” about a team from The Boston Globe uncovering sex abuse in the Catholic Church, the answer is most definitely yes.
“She Said,” directed by Maria Schrader, depicts how New York Times reporters Megan Twohey (Carey Mulligan) and Jodi Kantor (Zoe Kazan) brought movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s long history of sexual harassment and assault to light and helped bring about the #metoo movement as a result.
As with the other movies, “She Said” shows the painstaking efforts of the reporters to get intimidated witnesses – here including famous people like Ashley Judd, who plays herself – to go on record about their encounters with the powerful Weinstein.
Even though the specifics of the case are much different, the similarities of “She Said” and the other newspaper movies mentioned above work against the new film. One of Kantor’s secret sources, for instance, comes across as a variation of Deep Throat in “President’s Men.” Meetings are held at a restaurant instead of a spooky underground garage, but it still feels too familiar.
Nevertheless, “She Said” tells an important story that goes well beyond Weinstein and the movie industry. Even if you’ve read about the case, seeing it dealt with on the big screen still comes as a punch to the gut. And – no surprise, given their other work – Mulligan and Kazan are first-rate. ***½ (out of four)
“Glass Onion: a Knives Out Mystery” (PG-13, 139 minutes, in theaters Nov. 23, on Netflix Dec. 23). It’s no mystery why a sequel would seem familiar, or why a film with a master detective might seem like something out of an Agatha Christie adaptation. Throw in a powerful man who hosts a game that turns deadly, and you find a bit of “The Last of Sheila” in the mix.
Writer-director Rian Johnson’s “Glass Onion,” the follow-up to his original “Knives Out,” features the return of Daniel Craig’s hilarious Southern detective Benoit Blanc with a whole new set of supporting characters/murder suspects.
This time Blanc has been invited to a private Greek island for a weekend murder-mystery party put on by tech billionaire. Only, what’s supposed to be a game becomes … well, you know.
Edward Norton is the host; the other guests (besides Blanc) are played by Janelle Monae, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Kathryn Hahn, Madelyn Cline and Jessica Henwick. There also are a few amusing surprise cameos.
The emphasis here is on good, nasty fun, with most of the suspects comically awful people, and the cast delivers lots of laughs while keeping us guessing who’s the killer. (OK, I guessed correctly, but I wasn’t sure.) As with the first “Knives Out,” though, the standout is Craig, whose absurdly heavy Foghorn Leghorn accent makes every line he delivers funnier than it might otherwise be.
The only flaw is the over-the-top finale, which isn’t nearly as clever or satisfying as one would hope. But the rest of the film is so entertaining that it almost doesn’t matter. ***
“The Menu” (R, 106 minutes, in theaters). With this horror comedy we get a blend of 1932’s “The Most Dangerous Game” (“We’ll give you a head-start, but you’ll only get so far”), 1989’s “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” (a meal going oh-so-wrong) and this year’s “Triangle of Sadness” (the awfulness of the modern social elite).
The great Ralph Fiennes plays renowned Chef Slowik, who prepares a special meal at his island restaurant for a select group of diners at $1,250 a head. Among the room full of diners are an obsessed foodie, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult), and his date, Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy); a powerful restaurant critic (Janet McTeer); an over-the-hill movie star (John Leguizamo); and three obnoxious buds who have made a killing in the tech biz.
It quickly becomes clear that 1) most of the diners are spoiled, pretentious or much, much worse; and 2) what’s on the chef’s menu is not necessarily going to be pleasant. This last bit tips the hand of the movie in a way that leaves us hoping there’s still a big twist in store for us. But the twist never comes. It’s not that we can predict exactly what will happen, or who, if anyone, will survive this evening of fine dining. So there is some suspense. But the movie lacks a wow finish. By the end it seems a bit undercooked.
But getting there is still fun. Fiennes always holds our attention with his intensity, and Taylor-Joy steals the film as Margot, the sanest person in the room, who early on delivers the best line: “We have reached the base camp of Mount Bullshit.” Another classic Margot response comes when a waiter describes a red wine as creating “a sense of longing and regret,” and she replies, “Longing and regret, my favorite.” ***
“Bones and All” (R, 130 minutes, in theaters Nov. 23). Kathryn Bigelow’s stylish vampire flick “Near Dark” meets Terrence Malick’s criminal-lovers-on-the-run “Badlands” in a horror romance that gives new meaning to the expression “Eat me.”
Yes, cannibalism is involved, and it makes for several grisly, stomach-turning moments (unless you’re into that sort of thing, of course).
This is the latest film from director Luca Guadagnino, who reunites with his “Call Me By Your Name” star Timothee Chalamet for an ’80s-set allegory about living outside society’s norms, in which gnawing on human flesh stands in for gay attraction.
Taylor Russell (“The Waves”) plays the central character, Maren, a high school girl who has a secret that sets her apart. She winds up alone, on the road, and along the way meets a kindred spirit (in more ways than one) in Lee (Chalamet). Their peculiar appetite, however, often puts them in danger.
While the link of cannibalism to gay desire in Reagan-era America is the most blatant symbolism in the film, the hunger that sets these characters apart could just as easily represent addiction or any compulsive behavior. Regardless of one’s interpretation, “Bones and All” questions how we judge people, based on who they are or what they do, and challenges us to consider whether they have any choice in the matter and what we would do in their shoes.
Russell and Chalamet give strong performances, but Mark Rylance dominates the picture as Sully, one of the weirdest, most comically horrific characters you’ll ever run into. He’ll make you laugh while scaring you to the bone. ***
“Devotion” (PG-13, 138 minutes, in theaters Nov. 23). This is the kind of movie you want to work, if only because its heart is in the right place. It tells the true story of Jesse Brown, the U.S. Navy’s first African American aviator. It should be an inspiring story about overcoming racism. Instead, it’s a collection of cliches that bounces back and forth between being a “Top Gun” wannabe (I kept looking for Tom Cruise) and a generic rehash of old World War II or Korean War movies.
In this case, the fighting is in early 1950s Korea. Brown (Jonathan Majors) and Tom Hudner (Glen Powell, who is in “Top Gun: Maverick”), become friends while training as elite pilots for the Navy. Brown even introduces Hudner to Brown’s wife. Brown encounters racism. Hudner tries to support him, but Brown wants to deal with it on his own. While on leave, Brown meets Elizabeth Taylor on a beach, and she invites him and his buddies to a casino. Later, Brown and Hudner, along with a few other fellow pilots, go on a dangerous mission in Korea.
And so it goes. The film is episodic and old-fashioned. The characters are likable, though not particularly interesting (except Serinda Swan, who’s lively as the strangely out-of-place Liz Taylor). I imagine there could be a great film made about Jesse Brown, maybe a documentary. But I didn’t buy “Devotion” for a second. **
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.