*** Rich old men and their shitty families were all the rage in 2019, so the zeitgeist is primed for the return of the old-fashioned murder mystery, a genre all about wealthy old corpses and the insufferable, squabbling relatives they leave behind. It makes sense that Rian Johnson would be the one to bring it back, too: Knives Out, which he wrote and directed, is just the sort of fun, frivolous and utterly uncontroversial palate cleanser he probably needed after climbing out of the cesspool that is Star Wars fandom. Johnson has done these resuscitation jobs before—his first movie, Brick, was a gimmicky noir that placed 1950s pulp dialogue in the mouths of suburban millennials. But while Knives Out is strewn with postmodernist winks, Johnson embraces the clichés of the genre more than he subverts them. The story is pure boilerplate: A novelist and publishing magnate (Christopher Plummer) is found dead under suspicious circumstances the morning after his birthday party…and everyone's a suspect! It's the setup for a classic, convoluted whodunit in which the zigzags of the plot are just an excuse for the massive cast to stretch out and go ham. Chief among them is Daniel Craig, sporting a ridiculous Kentucky-fried accent worthy of the name "Benoit Blanc," and Ana de Armas, in a breakout role as a nurse with a very obvious, and disgusting, tell. With a first-generation immigrant at its center, and references that place it squarely in the Trump era, it's tempting to see Knives Out as a political allegory, but it's best taken at face value—as a wickedly entertaining diversion from the actual rich old men with shitty families that are part of all our lives right now. PG-13. MATTHEW SINGER. Dine-In Progress Ridge 13, Mill Plain 8, Vancouver Mall 23, Cedar Hills, Clackamas, Cornelius, Eastport, Laurelhurst, Living Room, Mission, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Cascade, Cinema 99, City Center, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Sherwood, Tigard, Vancouver Plaza, St. Johns Twin Cinema & Pub, Studio One.
** Now that he's three films in, it's clear that familial dread fuels Trey Edward Shults' burgeoning career. It worked in his bottle drama Krisha (2015); it worked in the horror powder keg It Comes at Night (2017). In the sprawling, bifurcated melodrama Waves, however, that dread arrives as overstyled manipulation. From the moment we lay eyes on lovestruck teenage wrestler Tyler (Kelvin Harrison Jr.)—belting out notes along to the car stereo, foot dangling in the South Florida breeze—a swirling camera depicts his world already testing its axis. Tyler loses control from there, pressured into an unsustainable mold of black masculinity by his father (Sterling K. Brown). Six things go wrong when seemingly two would do, and a movie allegedly obsessed with our shared humanity spends an hour turning its main character into a device set to Kendrick and Kanye, so its Ordinary People-esque second half can reconcile with Frank Ocean and Animal Collective. Perhaps the back half of Waves should simply be the whole. As the second POV character, Taylor Russell (playing Tyler's younger sister) gives a beautifully present and gentle performance, and Brown makes his bid for Best Supporting Actor. But that's all achievable without the panic-attack Terrence Malick impression threatening to make "A24-core" a punchline. R. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.