April 2024


murder mystery

Knives Out (2019)

DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson

CAST: Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Lakeith Stanfield, Christopher Plummer


With Knives Out, writer-director Rian Johnson has wholly redeemed himself for his disappointing Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Johnson and Star Wars were not a good fit, but he has returned here from playing in another’s sandbox to writing and directing his own material where he has been consistently intriguing (I’m a big fan of his 2012 time travel thriller Looper, for example) and churned out something we don’t see often, an original murder mystery of the type that Agatha Christie might have written (plus some modern sensibilities). Boasting a star-studded ensemble cast obviously enjoying itself, a slickly “keep you guessing” screenplay, and a quirky sense of humor, Knives Out is a deliciously twisty-turny and hugely entertaining morsel for anyone who appreciates a good whodunit. Johnson and his cast obviously relished making this movie, and they’ve given us something to relish eating up in turn.

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Child 44 (2015)

889372DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa

CAST: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Fares Fares, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Charles Dance


Adapting a book can be a tricky task; change too much and outrage its adherents, but follow the text too slavishly and risk a sluggish motion picture. Book and film are different mediums and should be treated as such.  With its myriad subplots and in-depth exploration of life in the 1950s Soviet Union, Tom Rob Smith’s best-selling historical crime novel (loosely inspired by the case of 1980s Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo) doesn’t lend itself to being inherently cinematic, and director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter Richard Price’s attempt to bring it to the screen is sometimes murky, scattershot, and difficult to follow.  However, while a flawed film, Child 44 is not the outright disaster that its status as a dismal box office flop would indicate (the film barely played in only 500 theaters before quickly disappearing from them, delaying this review from its limited and short-lived theatrical release in April until it became available on DVD and online streaming in late July).  There’s still plenty of intrigue here, and for those interested in a murder mystery against the historical backdrop of the Stalin-era Soviet Union, Child 44 is worth giving a chance. Continue reading

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)


CAST: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Geraldine James, Yorick van Wageningen


I’ll just get this out of the way right upfront. I have never seen the 2009 Swedish film adaptation of late author and journalist Stieg Larsson’s crime novel, which featured a much-praised performance by Noomi Rapace in the title role (nor have I read the book), so this review will not include any comparisons between the two versions, merely evaluate this one on its own merits. Continue reading

Insomnia (2002)

insomniaDIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

CAST: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Maura Tierney, Jonathan Jackson



In hindsight, after such impressive entries on Christopher Nolan’s filmography as The Dark Knight, The Prestige, Inceptionand InterstellarInsomnia feels low-key and even slight, lacking the grandiose ambition the British director would later become known for.  Ranked alongside his later efforts (Insomnia was only his third film after little-seen indie Following and the critically acclaimed mind-bender Memento), it’s one of his least memorable films, but a “lesser” Christopher Nolan film is still a taut and intriguing murder mystery/psychological thriller worth viewing. Continue reading

The Gift (2001)

The Ace Black Blog: Movie Review: The Gift (2000)


CAST: Cate Blanchett, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank, Keanu Reeves, Giovanni Ribisi, Katie Holmes


Sam Raimi’s The Gift functions equally as a supernatural thriller, a murder mystery, and a character drama, wrapped up in a strong sense of Southern Gothic atmosphere and overcoming some of the tropes and melodrama inherent within with Raimi’s stylish direction and a first-rate cast.

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Strange Days (1995)

DIRECTOR: Kathryn Bigelow


Ralph Fiennes, Angela Bassett, Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, Vincent D’Onofrio, William Fichtner, Brigitte Bako, Josef Sommer, Glenn Plummer


A murder-mystery with the backdrop of a vivid and fascinating slightly futuristic sci-fi visionary thriller, Strange Days is entirely worthy of anything with James Cameron’s name attached, and director Kathryn Bigelow (Cameron’s ex-wife) is entirely up to the task of helming Cameron’s story. Strange Days is the whole package: thinking man’s entertainment while appealing equally to the brain and the visceral. Continue reading