By Lynn Venhaus

One of the most entertaining films of the year, “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is a spellbinding and stylish whodunit that satisfies from start to finish.

Southern detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) travels to Greece to peel back the layers of a mystery involving a new cast of colorful suspects.

Names will be dropped, drinks will be spilt, airs will be deflated, and secrets divulged in a saucy blend of clever comedy and a tough-to-crack mystery from the fertile mind of writer-director Rian Johnson.

Johnson, who helmed the first “Knives Out” in 2019, has kicked this one up a notch. The original’s time-honored chamber formula of a rich old patriarch’s demise that revealed his family’s fissures set in an old-timey mansion was one of the most critically acclaimed and popular hits that year.

Johnson goes bigger in this sequel, and it’s better than the first. He weaves an impressive yarn that’s thoroughly plausible, aided by a tight ensemble that’s at the top of their game.

The location is luxe, a private island in Greece that’s the home of tech billionaire Miles Bron, deftly played by Edward Norton. He has invited his college friends who knew him when – and each of them owes their careers, and their well-heeled lives, to him. They get together every year, and this time, it’s for an elaborate murder mystery game where he will be the victim.

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022). (L-R) Kate Hudson as Birdie, Leslie Odom Jr. as Lionel, Kathryn Hahn as Claire, Edward Norton as Myles, Jessica Henwick as Peg, Madelyn Cline as Whiskey and Dave Bautista as Duke. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022.

Come to find out, these folks do have reasons to be on the enemy list – and for them to each have a motive to dispense him, too. There to throw a wrench into the proceedings is Benoit Blanc – “the world’s greatest detective” – who has inexplicably landed an invitation.

Now playing the sharp Southern sleuth for the second time, Daniel Craig is as smooth as a craft cocktail at a swanky soiree. He oozes smarts and charm, carrying the film with much authority. It’s a terrific performance, much more lived-in than the first time we met him.

Miles’ estate is as ostentatious as possible, and the guests live large. The pre-fame buddies are an assorted box of chocolates with surprises inside. Kate Hudson hasn’t been this good in a while as flaky conniver Birdie Jay, a former supermodel now lifestyle influencer whose assistant Peg, well-played by Jessica Henwick, prevents her cancellation multiple times.

Beefy Dave Bautista, Drax the Destroyer in “The Guardians of the Galaxy” franchise, is a lunkhead wild card here. He’s a social media star, a men’s rights advocate who is always packing heat. He also has a sassy hot girlfriend, “Whiskey,” played by Madelyn Cline.

Mixing business with politics is steely Kathryn Hahn as a Connecticut governor now running for the Senate, Claire Debella.

Closest to Miles’ inner circle is sharp-dressed scientist Lionel Toussaint, Leslie Odom Jr. as more of a silent observer here. He’s responsible for making Miles’ tech ideas work.

GLASS ONION: A KNIVES OUT MYSTERY (2022) Janelle Monáe as Andi. Cr: John Wilson/NETFLIX

Along comes Andi Brand, a never-better Janelle Monae, whom everyone is shocked to see there. She was Miles’ former business partner who was shut out in a messy corporate break-up. She is moving in mysterious ways, raising more questions than answers.

The plot thickens in such a beguiling way, with interesting twists, and a parade of fun cameos keeps the film breezy.

Johnson, Oscar nominated for original screenplay for the first one, is a frontrunner in this year’s awards season, only this time, it’s for adapted screenplay. He demonstrates a flair for piecing intricate puzzles together and a firm grasp of building vivid characters.

The film is meticulously crafted in other ways. Jenny Eagan’s costume designs pop and are playful – especially Birdie’s dazzling rainbow gown and Benoit’s seersucker swim set. Rick Heinrichs’ production design is a marvel of glass, artsy-fartsy nouveau riche bric-a-brac, and luxury resort accoutrements. And Nathan Johnson’s music score captures the shifting moods perfectly.

The whodunit may be set in a remote location, but it’s not cut off from the world, and Johnson’s jabs at the 1% and vapid celebrity culture land with fine precision.

A nice touch is Johnson’s homage to Angela Lansbury, who played widowed mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher on “Murder, She Wrote” for 12 seasons, and legendary composer Stephen Sondheim, who penned the 1973 mystery film “The Last of Sheila” with Anthony Perkins, and was known for his obsession with games and puzzles. They show up in cameos, and the film is dedicated to the two. Touche.

“Glass Onion” is a fun romp, surely setting up another sequel. In the meantime, Johnson has given us something to savor, a bright spot in an already dreary winter.

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery” is a 2022 mystery comedy-drama written and directed by Rian Johnson. It stars Daniel Craig, Edward Norton, Janelle Monae, Kate Hudson, Dave Bautista, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Jessica Henwick and Madelyn Cline. Rated PG-13 for strong language, some violence, sexual material and drug content, it runs 2 hours, 19 minutes. It began streaming on Netflix Dec. 23. Lynn’s Grade: A.

By Lynn Venhaus

“No Time to Die” is everything you want in a Bond movie, a super-spy thrill ride elevated by director Cary Joji Fukunaga’s flair for assembling dynamic action sequences and his attention to details.

And in a welcome surprise – assertive women show up in an impressive triumvirate of Ana de Armas, Lashana Lynch and Lea Seydoux.

For the fifth and final entry in the Daniel Craig era as the suave James Bond, our very human hero has left active service at M16 and is enjoying a tranquil life of retirement in Jamaica. However, his peace is short-lived when his old friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) from the CIA asks for help in rescuing a kidnapped scientist. The mission turns out to be far more treacherous than expected and leads Bond onto the trail of a mysterious villain (Rami Malek) armed with dangerous new technology.

Fukunaga’s keen eye is well-documented in his unflinching 2015 film “Beasts of No Nation,” in which he was also cinematographer, and his masterful first season of the dark, hypnotic “True Detective” in 2014, for which he won an Emmy Award for directing.

He excels at moving this intriguing spy story along and the globe-trotting camerawork by Linus Sandgren, Oscar winner for “La La Land,” is dazzling. Even at 2 hours and 43 minutes, this slick yet gritty adventure keeps our attention, and satisfyingly wraps up Craig’s story arc as the British icon.

While most other Bond films can stand on their own, some 25 and counting over six decades, the five in the Daniel Craig era are connected. “No Time to Die” relies on viewers knowing that Vesper Lind was Bond’s first wife in the 2006 “Casino Royale” reboot and that tragic backstory, as well as familiarity with what happened in the last one, “Spectre” in 2015 – especially about his girlfriend Dr. Madeleine Swann, daughter of nemesis Mr. White, and sinister mastermind Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), Swann’s dad’s boss.

The script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as well as Fukunaga, is noticeably impacted by the contributions of screenwriter Phoebe Waller-Bridge (heralded creator of “Fleabag”), who brings a refreshing female perspective to the well-documented male patriarchy of the Bond franchise.

This entry is far more female-forward than previous Bond installments – and there is a new 007, Nomi, and she is a feisty, ferocious machine, with Lashana Lynch in a dandy performance, the first black British agent in the film’s 58-year history. No, he may be legendary, but they did not retire Bond’s number, 007.

The iconic ID has been around since Ian Fleming’s first novel, “Casino Royale,” in 1953, and he went on to write 11 novels and two short story collections. Other authors have carried on Bond’s missions.

What direction the Bond franchise goes after Craig’s swan song is anyone’s guess – but post-credits, producers are emphatic: Bond will return in 2022. Debate rages over the possibility of Idris Elba or Rege-Jean Page, or even a female agent. Hmmm…anticipation grows.

In the meantime, Craig fans will enjoy his final emotionally charged performance. He’s been a fine Bond, one of the best, displaying an intensity about dedication to duty, a wily intelligence and a tiny chink in his reserved demeanor about feelings, which is endearing. His orphan roots and lovers’ betrayals have exposed his internal wounds.

While he might not be as memorable as some previous villains, Rami Malek is an interesting adversary as mad genius Lyutsifer Safin, warped by his father’s zeal for using chemicals as weapons.

As the other Bond villain, Blofeld, Christoph Waltz is far better here in one confrontation than he was in the entire “Spectre,” which was a disappointing film after the extraordinary “Skyfall” in 2012.

Not everyone is sold about French actress Lea Seydoux playing the love interest, a rare second appearance for a girlfriend, but it deepened the Craig finale.

This foray features a solid cast, with the always-exceptional Ralph Fiennes returning as a conflicted M, Ben Whishaw as tech whiz Q, Naomie Harris as loyal assistant Eve Moneypenny, Rory Kinnear as government wonk Tanner and this time around, Jeffrey Wright compelling as CIA pal Felix.

Besides a take-notice turn by Lynch, Ana de Armas is sensational as a rookie CIA operative helping Bond in Cuba. She is not given as much screen time as she deserved, and her captivating sequence had viewers wanting more, ushering in a new type of “Bond girl” in a changing era.

Bond may be a relic from a distant past, but the fact that filmmakers acknowledge that change is necessary, makes for a fascinating future.

The franchise, known for stylish escapism, may be forced to adapt to keep relevant in a brave new world, but viewers will always want engaging stories of right triumphing over might – no matter if it’s good girls AND guys.

And wow, are those car chases fun to watch.

Daniel Craig as James Bond in “No Time to Die”

No Time to Die” is an action-adventure directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and stars Daniel Craig, Rami Malek, Lea Seydoux, Lashana Lynch, Ben Whishaw, Naomi Harris, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Jeffrey Wright, BIlly Magnussen and Ana de Armas. It is Rated: PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, brief strong language, and some suggestive material. Its run time is 2 hours, 43 minutes. It is in theaters on Oct. 8. Lynn’s Grade: A