random thoughts on: glass onion: a knives out mystery

The first Knives Out movie from writer/director Rian Johnson was such a breath of fresh air back in 2019 it became an immediate sensation for a variety of reasons, including its incredibly meme-able dialogue and settings and the A+ sweater game from costume designer Jenny Eagan.

It was so good it was hard to imagine what a sequel might look or feel like. Thankfully Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, released late last year on Netflix, lived up to the reputation of the first movie and, now that I’ve watched it a couple times to fully appreciate how good it is, I have a handful of random thoughts.

Here we go…

Eagan’s commitment to putting Daniel Craig in an ascot should be awarded in and of itself and I’m only surprised it hasn’t led to a clear and unmistakable uptick in their adoption as a men’s fashion item.

Confused Janelle Monae GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

It makes so much sense that Kate Hudson’s performance caught everyone’s attention as she’s terrific as a societally-oblivious pseudo-celebrity, but what really makes it incredible is that all of her reactions to what’s happening around her are so stagey. It’s as if her character has absolutely zero experience in anything not involving mugging for the camera.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Kathryn Hahn’s gubernatorial candidate, who has such genuine reactions to everything, from Duke shooting his gun by the pool to her husband trying to be his own man to the revelation at the end that those reactions nearly become a character of their own.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

I know the movie – and The Menu – caught some flack for not going far enough in exploring its “the rich are terrible people” theme but come on. If Edward Norton’s Miles Bron had actually faced some kind of on-screen legal repercussions for his irresponsible actions it would have been written off as frothy wish-fulfillment. As it is he’s set up to be exposed as a massive fraud, which is much more realistic without dipping into fantasy.

Besides, Benoit Blanc spends the last 20 minutes of the movie just repeatedly calling him dumb, which is cathartic enough for the audience.

And Blanc immediately dismisses Birdy when she tries to spin Bron’s actions as “so dumb it’s just brilliant” by clarifying “No, it’s just dumb!” Now if only our technology and political press would be similarly truthful instead of continually succumbing to the myth of the genius.

Excuse Me What GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

At least Derol made it out of all that with his chill intact.

If there is an element of the story that isn’t explored enough for my personal liking it’s that Bron’s success is nearly entirely dependent on being a white dude who takes all the credit for a Black woman’s ideas and work and that feels like the most relevant theme especially given [gestures broadly at so many many things].

And, on that note, I very much dug Janelle Monáe’s performance as twin sisters, beginning when she’s introduced smashing the puzzle box and right through to her vengefully breaking all of Bron’s glass sculptures.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Someone give me a Leslie Odom Jr. / Kathryn Hahn buddy comedy STAT or I *will* riot.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Back to a point above, we all believed Norton’s performance as the not-at-all brilliant “genius” because we kind of suspect Norton’s not quite as bright as we’ve been led to believe over the years, right? Not that he’s not a smart guy, but…you get it.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

A brief ranking of current big name wrestlers-turned actors:

1. John Cena

2. Dave Bautista

….

25. Dwayne Johnson

Excited Janelle Monae GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

This whole brief sequence with characters looking in the middle distance as shadows pass over them hit me right where I live, evoking all those classic murder mystery noir films I was first exposed to watching “Family Classics” on WGN-TV on Sunday afternoons in the 80s.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Let’s take a moment and recognize how his brief appearance as Efficient Man ranks in the top five of Ethan Hawke’s performances.

It’s been such a long time since I watched a movie where the whole cast looked like they were having a good time. Too often the casts of the big super hero and similar movies look visibly miserable going through the paces and acting against tennis balls held on sticks in place of characters to be added later, it was genuinely relaxing to see an ensemble that appeared to be enjoying themselves and the project they were working on.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Sorry, I’m laughing again at Johnson blowing up his own movie by having Blanc solve the contrived murder mystery five minutes in to Bron explaining how the weekend is supposed to work.

Dinner Table Glass Onion GIF by Regal - Find & Share on GIPHY

Everyone else yelled “A SCHOONER IS A SAILBOAT” (even if it was just in their heads) when Lionel was working the stereogram on the puzzle box, right? Right?

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

In a movie filled with committed performances from talented actors Madelyn Cline’s performance as Dallas is near the top of the rankings and I will absolutely die on this hill. It’s so good and shows not only her talent as an actor but Johnson’s ability to make the audience invest in and care about characters that are clearly secondary but still important.

Janelle Monae Glass Onion GIF by NETFLIX - Find & Share on GIPHY

Same goes for Jessica Henwick’s put-upon assistant Peg. If you don’t feel her disappointment and frustration when Birdy reveals she has a secret phone and her resignation when she says “…Did you think a sweatshop is where they make sweatpants?” I’m not sure movies are really your thing.

Oh, along with the Odom Jr. / Hahn buddy comedy I want a direct spinoff where Dallas and Peg team up and create the next big socially-conscious lifestyle goods brand and have all kinds of wacky adventures while doing so.

glass onion: a knives out mystery – marketing recap

How Netflix has sold the return of everyone’s favorite dashing gentleman detective

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery movie poster from Netflix
Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery movie poster from Netflix

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery arrives on Netflix this week, a sequel to 2019’s Knives Out. Once again written and directed by Rian Johnson, the only connection to the first movie is the return of private detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig). Blanc is crashing an invitation-only gathering of friends organized by billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton) at his private island estate. Those friends have been assembled for an extended murder mystery party, the twist being they need to solve Bron’s own murder, though he’s not actually dead.

Playing the various friends, whom Bron terms his “fellow disruptors”, are such talented individuals as Kathryn Hahn, Janelle Monáe, Dave Bautista, Leslie Odom Jr., Madelyn Cline, Kate Hudson and Jessica Henwick.

So with such a high powered cast and a writer/director known for creating intricate yet easily-followed storylines that actually earn emotional moments and payoff their setups, let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

As the original neared the threshold of bringing in over $300 million worldwide, speculation Johnson was working on a sequel became more frequent. That speculation was confirmed by the writer/director when he was interviewed on the red carpet of the 2020 Academy Awards, where he was nominated for, but didn’t eventually win, Best Original Screenplay.

In March 2021, news came that Netflix had outbid Lionsgate and others for not just this film but an additional sequel as well. Or, as Johnson put it,

Additional details came out later saying Johnson, Craig and producer Ram Bergman would make $100 million each from the deal.

In mid-May of 2021 a slew of casting announcements came, each more exciting than the last. Bautista, Norton, Monae, Hahn and others coming aboard all got people eager for the movie to finally arrive. Bautista was interviewed about being cast and his anticipation over working with Johnson. Odom Jr. and Hudson joined the cast a bit later.

Production began in late June, marked with a photo from Johnson.

Henwick talked briefly about the project while promoting other things in 2021.

Footage from the film was included in Netflix’s 2022 feature film preview.

In June 2022 Johnson and Netflix released a video announcing the movie’s official title as well as showing off the impressive cast list.

Later that month news came the movie’s world premiere was scheduled for the Toronto International Film Festival in September. It was then slated to close the BFI Film Festival in London.

Netflix *finally* set a release date in late August while also announcing the movie would receive a limited theatrical release in advance of streaming at the end of December.

Empire Magazine talked with Johnson and the cast about what the audience could expect in this new installment in an issue that featured a couple exclusive images as cover photos. There were also more new stills in the story.

the marketing campaign

The first teaser trailer (13.1m YouTube views) was released in early September. Understandably it doesn’t offer much of the story but does promise some kind of murder mystery Benoit Blanc has to solve with an impressive cast all of whom seem to be having a lot of fun wearing outrageous outfits and lounging around magnificent pools.

A poster showing Blanc standing authoritatively above one of those pools came out at the same time.

Also released in early September was a puzzle website where, by solving the puzzles, you could unlock clues and other material about the movie.

The cast and Johnson assembled for the TIFF premiere, which included a Q&A and interviews where Johnson warned against sharing spoilers and teased his enthusiasm for making more Knives Out mysteries with Craig.

Later in September Johnson introduced the first clip while also offering a bit more of an explanation as to what the movie’s story is.

In early October the details of the theatrical release were revealed. Specifically, that the movie would play in theaters for ONE WEEK ONLY, VASILY around Thanksgiving. To the surprise of many industry watchers, all the major exhibitor chains – including those that had steadfastly refused to play any of Netflix’s major titles – agreed to the limited engagement, obviously smelling money.

Tickets for that engagement went on sale accompanied by a TV spot.

Later in October it was named the opening selection of the Miami Film Festival.

At BFI the cast and crew were back together for another screening that only added more positive reviews and buzz to the movie’s publicity

At the end of the month another poster came out that has the entire cast arranged along the side of the pool we saw in the first one-sheet.

The full official trailer (12.2m YouTube views) was released at the beginning of November. After showing all the characters arriving on his island, Miles explains they’ve been invited there to participate in a game where they have to solve his murder. Blanc is the wildcard in the group and when things turn from playful to actually dangerous he gets very serious about finding out who’s responsible. There’s lots of great footage of the various characters acting in outrageous ways both toward each other and the situation in general and, once again, this just looks like a lot of fun.

Netflix then put out a video of the cast reacting to the trailer.

An EW feature story had Johnson sharing how he developed the story and what he wanted to accomplish with a sequel along with comments from Craig about his character and accent and from others in the cast about the experience of shooting the movie, how quickly they signed on to the project and more.

Composer Nathan Johnson (Rian’s cousin) debuted parts of his score for the movie at a Netflix event focused on music. A week or so later snippets of that score were released for public consumption.

The L.A. premiere red carpet was held in mid-November, timed to be just before the movie hit theaters. At the premiere everyone talked more about how much fun they had while filming, the outfits they all sport and lots more.

That was followed by the announcement of the Glass Onion Experience. Set up in L.A. and running through December, people could attend and as a group try and solve a series of mysteries, like an escape room.

A set of character posters once more used the pool setting to show off the beautiful location and cast.

Just before the movie came to theaters another clip of Miles explaining the weekend to his guests – and Blanc being slightly confused as to the point of this all – came out.

a brief digression about the theatrical release…

The success of the theatrical engagement resulted in no small amount of hand-wringing among entertainment insiders and commentators. Had Netflix left tens of millions of dollars on the table by limiting release to just one week? Was it a mistake to have it play in theaters so far in advance of it debuting on streaming?

Those questions are interesting in an academic sense but also tended to overlook the fact that many of the answers went counter to Netflix’s business model.

Asking if Netflix should have kept Glass Onion in theaters longer, or if it should put more of its movies in theaters to begin with, is akin to asking if McDonald’s should sell more frozen hamburgers in grocery stores. Sure, the numbers will likely go up, but the goal of most all advertising by McDonald’s is to get people to visit its restaurants. So the end result is a weakened business.

There’s also the fact that all the prognostications about how this movie could have cleared $100mm at the box office is supported by almost nothing. None of the movies on the list of 2022’s top 10 opening weekends are this weird. They’re all very safe franchise entries, not the next chapter in a loosely-connected anthology series of high-concept murder mysteries.

back to the campaign…

The cast appeared in a video where they guessed what some Southern phrases actually meant in a nod to Craig’s accent. Later on Hudson and Hahn had some fun guessing which of three “facts” about their costars was the lie.

Online ads that began running in early December directed visitors to a site with information about screenings and events along with other press and promotional material.

At Brazil Comic-Con a behind the scenes featurette debuted showing some of the movie being filmed along with comments from the cast and director.

Another set of character posters put each one behind one of the letters in the movie’s title.

Talk show appearances by the cast included

And more, I’m sure.

At a moment when there were lots of profiles of Monae and attention paid to her performance Netflix released a featurette focusing on her role in the film and how much her collaborators enjoyed working with her. Another featurette focused on the production design of the film.

A bit later there were also a handful of profiles like this of Cline and others for Henwick.

What started out seeming to be a gag turned out to be real when Outback Steakhouse debuted the Bloomin’ Glass Onion, a special version of their signature dish, and supported it with an extended TV spot that kind of has to be seen to be believed.

The movie also got some promotional support from the video game Among Us, which introduced a Benoit Blanc character skin. And ice cream brand Van Leeuwen created a movie-inspired flavor. White Claw did likewise but for their style of drink while Zillow created a listing for Miles’ island house.

overall

Regardless of my feelings about the campaign (I love it, btw) it should be pointed out that the official Knives Out Twitter account remains undefeated.

There also seemed to be some A+ trolling of Twitter Owner, who the character of Miles Bron is based in part on, with photos from the film that seemed to be expert subtweets of current news.

So it’s a win all around. There is no quirkier or more entertaining campaign I’ve seen this year.

Motherless Brooklyn – Marketing Recap

Edward Norton’s sophomore directorial effort is a 1950s noir about corruption in the big city.

motherless brooklyn posterIn this week’s Motherless Brooklyn, based on Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel, Norton plays Lionel Essrog, a man with Tourette syndrome who’s found his unique way of looking at and processing the world around him is an asset as an assistant to private investigator Frank Minna (Bruce Willis). When Minna is killed, Essrog sets out to solve his murder as a way to pay tribute to the man who helped him out.

Doing so puts Essrog on a collision course with the powerful men who run New York City, including Moses Randolph (Alec Baldwin). That doesn’t stop him, though, as he continues to chase down clues until he finds what he’s looking for.

Norton, who also wrote the screenplay, changed the setting of Lethem’s book from modern times to the 1950s, and Warner Bros.’ campaign has taken advantage of that to sell the movie as a throwback to the days of procedural dramas.

The Posters

Essrog walks alone across a New York City bridge on the poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) released just a month ago in mid-September. The entire image is shaded in a deep blue to set a somber and cool tone to the film. There’s no copy or other text to explain the story here, but the floating heads of the rest of the cast appear at the top to show the solid lineup of talent on display.

The Trailers

Essrog introduces himself as the trailer (6.6 million views on YouTube), released in August, begins as someone with something wrong. He has Tourette’s Syndrome and will scream things at odd moments, creating problems with those around him. Working for Minna has helped him keep his head straight, so when Minna is shot Essrog is determined to find out who’s responsible. His investigation leads him to meet Rose, who shows him a world he’s unfamiliar with. It also brings him into conflict with Randolph, who will stop at nothing to protect his reputation as an angel in the city, not a devil.

Online and Social

There’s some good stuff on the movie’s official website, but none of it rises above the usual material found on other sites.

Advertising and Publicity

Footage from the film was shown to exhibitors attending CineEurope in June 2019, amounting to the first major publicity beat for the film. In August the movie was named the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival. It was also added to the schedule of the Toronto Film Festival in August and then the Rome Film Festival in October as well as the Camerimage International Festival in November, where Norton was slated to receive the Krzysztof Kieślowski Award.

Regal Cinemas shared an exclusive interview with the cast.

Media and Press

An interview with Norton from August, just before the trailer came out, had him talking about the timeliness of the story and the themes that he wanted to communicate. Many of the pieces and features about the movie focused on how this was only Norton’s second directorial effort, one that’s taken the better part of 20 years to get made after he first became interested in it.

Norton spoke about how Thom Yorke, lead singer of Radiohead, inspired the movie and how he got Yorke to create not one but two songs for the film’s soundtrack.

While in Toronto, Dafoe shared how Norton reacted to the beard he’d grown for The Lighthouse.

Norton appeared on “The Tonight Show” to talk about directing the film and working with the other actors. He and Baldwin in particular made a number of other talk show appearances to promote the film and raise audience awareness. Costar Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who plays a women Essrog befriends during his investigation, was part of some of these appearances along with a few profiles on her own.

Notably, Norton took time to praise the work of the behind the scenes crew that helped bring the film to life, something not many filmmakers take time to do. He also made sure to discuss the care he took in playing someone with Tourette’s, wanting to be true to the condition while not overdoing it and falling into parody, even unintentionally.

Overall

Tracking estimates have the movie opening around $3 million this weekend, maybe a little higher if the wind breaks at the right time. It’s hoping to be a serious dramatic alternative to the special effects-driven entries already in theaters or opening alongside it, but despite the totally decent campaign from WB and the enthusiasm of Norton and others, it’s hard to see it going much higher.

At various points in the publicity push, Norton has called this “a love letter to New York City,” something that’s been used to describe many films over the years, but that’s the least interesting aspect of what’s on display. Instead the most compelling message is that it shows someone with a condition not often seen portrayed in a serious way leading a productive and normal life, with goals and feelings that extend beyond that condition. While there’s nothing wrong with the campaign as it is, emphasizing that would have been something unique.

Picking Up the Spare

The cast and crew spoke about the movie and its story at the L.A. premiere. There were also a number of additional interviews with Norton, allowing him to further explain the characters and story.

A new featurette covers similar ground.

The contributions of Thom Yorke and Wynton Marsalis to the soundtrack were detailed here.