Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Crooked House, or: Make a Mountain of a Mole Hill

And then there were none…except for one last film of period drama month. This week brings us a family of ritzy one percenters, a disputed inheritance, and…murder? That’s right–not only is this film a period drama, but also an Agatha Christie murder mystery. And yes, that does rhyme.

The Film:

Crooked House

The Premise:

The granddaughter of a recently deceased businessman hires her former lover to investigate the circumstances surrounding his…murder?

The Ramble:

After the death of the family patriarch Aristide, the Leonides family is in mourning but not overly troubled. Everyone, that is, except for granddaughter Sophia. Suspecting he was poisoned with his own glaucoma treatment, Sophia hires former lover Charles, now a private investigator. Charles initially dismisses her request to find out the truth about her grandfather’s death, but his lingering feelings for Sophia and detective’s determination quickly change his mind.

a woman smoking a cigarette sits across from a man at a disorganized desk

In order to learn what happened, Charles will need to cozy up to the family…and they are a quirky bunch indeed. Good thing he was also a spy posing as a diplomat in Cairo, which is a relevant detail for some reason…?

An appropriately fierce Glenn Close plays Aristide’s sister-in-law from his first marriage, and is engaged in hunting down moles with a shotgun when she makes her first appearance.

Meanwhile, a rather glam pseudo-goth Gillian Anderson is a dramatic former actress who mostly lounges around drinking.

a woman with dark hair wearing black sprawls across a chaise lounge

Aristide’s sons are constantly at odds over disputes surrounding the family business. The younger son is convinced that Aristide’s much younger wife Brenda is responsible for his father’s murder.

The only staff still around the house are the cook and the nanny, who cares for youngest grandchild Josephine. Fancying herself something of a detective, Josephine observes the family and takes careful notes of their activity.

Brenda’s scandalous past as a Vegas showgirl makes her suspect to the family, while Brenda herself appears to deeply mourn Aristide’s death and resents the family’s mooching. She does confess to giving Aristide the injection that killed him, though she believed it to be his daily dose of insulin.

a group of family members sit at an elegantly set dining table

As Sophia and Charles become close again, Charles begins to uncover the family’s dirt, including the deceased. Aristide was apparently a piece of work, overlooking his first son in favor of his second, controlling his grandchildren’s lives, and sort of generally being a manipulative dickbag.

In a shocking twist, Charles learns that Arisitde’s final will was never signed; therefore, the next of kin, aka Brenda, is set to inherit everything.

When the nanny turns up dead, finding the killer takes on a new sense of urgency. After twists and turns aplenty, Charles believes he’s finally unraveled the truth–but is it too late?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I’m obsessed with Glenn and Gillian in this film, but, like most of the actors here, they are extremely underutilized. They don’t really get a lot to do, and our focus here is on Charles, who is pretty fucking boring, honestly. Admittedly, I kind of checked out whenever we got the scandalous details of his sordid past (lol), but I’m still not totally sure why everyone kept talking about him being a spy; I really expected this plot point to tie in better with the rest of the story.

I don’t know what it was about this film, but there was something about it that felt more like a parody of an Agatha Christie novel rather than the real thing. And maybe because of the cynical times we live in, I suspected the murderer almost immediately and the reveal didn’t have the shock factor it was meant to.

However, the moments we do get from the phenomenal cast are great, and the costuming is to die for. Literally.

Would my lovely blog wife drink in excess with this one or take a shotgun to it like an unwelcome mole in the garden? Read her review here to find out!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Grand Piano, or: Not the Nicki Minaj Song Actually (Or Is It?)

Please don’t tell this week’s film it was second choice.  I think it already knows, though—a thriller about a piano concert isn’t really anyone’s first choice, is it?

The Film:

Grand Piano

The Premise:

See above.

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Uncondensed Version:

In the concert event of the classical music scene, Tom Selznick (aka Elijah Wood) is making a dramatic comeback after his breakdown 5 years ago.  Since he froze up onstage while attempting to play his mentor’s impossibly composition, Tom’s gone nowhere near a piano, much less played a sold-out concert in NYC.  Additional point of interest:  Tom’s mentor, Patrick, died a year ago, with his fortune mysteriously disappearing shortly thereafter.  This has all the makings of an Agatha Christie—all we’re missing is a mustachioed Belgian appearing out of nowhere to make wry observations.

a man in a suit and bow tie walks backstage at a theater

Understandably, Tom is so so goddamn nervous about his return to the stage and feels unworthy of using Patrick’s piano and fears a repeat of his breakdown 5 years ago.  Luckily, Tom has his world-famous actress wife, Emma, and his bff Wayne (played by Branson from Downton Abbey whose name I’m too lazy to look up) to believe in him.  By all accounts, this evening should be a glowing return to the classical music world for Tom.

But that would make for a very short film.  Shortly after Tom begins to play, he notices annotations on his sheet music—annotations demanding he play flawlessly or else…he’ll DIE, along with Emma.  This mystery person, played by John Cusack, has planned things out very well, planting an usher to carry out some unsavory tasks, leaving an earpiece for Tom to find so they can communicate, and relying on the spectacle of the stage to help him get away with it all.

a man dressed in black gestures to another man across a theater's light rigging system
I’m not going to even comment on this fight scene.

Ultimately, John Cusack (I can’t remember the character’s name, if it’s even provided beyond “Mysterious Sniper Who Takes Music Appreciation a Bit Too Seriously”) expects Tom to play the impossible piece without missing a single note.  For someone who doesn’t seem to be musical, he has a lot to say about musicians who aren’t also composers…?  He claims to want the most perfect concert experience ever and to go down in history, even going as far to give this big pretentious speech about how this has nothing to do with money…and then it turns out to be about money.  Because of course it fucking does.

Sorry this is really spoilery, but I need to share the absurdity of the premise (which is already pretty over-the-top to begin with).  What is all of this about?  A key that will be released from WITHIN the piano which will unlock the safe deposit box where Patrick’s fortune is hidden.  And, of course, how is this key released?  By playing his composition without a single error.  Obviously.

Tom is actually pretty smart about the whole thing, playing it much cooler than I probably would have.  He’s quite good at calling bluffs…well…some of them.  There are a couple that don’t end particularly well for Wayne and his date.  He also overcomes the obstacle of not having the sheet music to the piece in a pretty clever way.  I will leave you in suspense about whether this is enough for Tom to outsmart John Cusack.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

I will say this:  you do get to hear some very nice piano playing in this film.

IDK, I think because the premise seemed straight-up out of Agatha Christie, I was really disappointed Patrick didn’t fake his own death and then just sort of fuck with Tom.  If I had a protégé, that’s probably what I’d ultimately do.

a Roman-style bust looks towards a large mansion
Alternative plot twist that would’ve been acceptable:  angry bust is haunted and behind all of the shenanigans.

Also like an Agatha Christie novel, I didn’t like any of the characters in this, but this wasn’t for any real reason.  I was hoping Tom would be a bit morally ambiguous like every Christie character ever so there might be tension created about whether or not he should get out of this situation alive.  But that never happened—he remained bland as ever yet uncommonly lucky.  I ended up really resenting both him and Emma for seeming so effortlessly successful, yet doing very little to earn the money, fame, respect, etc.  Tom also seemed to have very little motivation to return to the stage, and even the sniper had a rather boring motive, i.e. money.  I just feel if you’re going to do something so out of sync with social norms, it’s rather odd to care so much about a pretty ordinary thing, aka money.

There are some truly suspenseful moments, like when we see the inner workings of the piano as Tom plays, but overall the entire movie is held back by a silly premise.  Plus the opportunity for the line “Play it again, Tom,” is missed.

However, on the bright side, Nicki Minaj’s “Grand Piano” is now stuck in my head for the rest of eternity.  And probably yours too.  You’re welcome.

Did this one play Christa’s heart like a grand piano or did she say “Play on” (or, like Nicki, all of the above)?  Find out by reading her review here!