Monthly Archives: December 2017

Movie Review: Darkest Hour

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: An interesting look into the first month of Winston Churchill’s ascent to Prime Minister. Loses some steam at the end.

I approached the viewing of “Darkest Hour” with trepidation. Winston Churchill is one of those mythic figures for which retold history has raised in status well higher than factual history would ever have let him climb. Reality is that Churchill was a massive asshole who just happened to become Prime Minister when World War II broke out. His accomplishments were real, but in the end he was just a guy who really liked war and being in charge during a time when it was actually beneficial to have a person in charge who really liked war. That’s why i was pretty happy when the movie did kind of portray him as the asshole he was.

“Darkest Hour” portrays Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) rise to Prime Minister near the beginning of World War II and follows his first month up to his iconic “We shall fight on the beaches speech”. It takes a few liberties with reality, mostly with Nevil Chamberlain being a bit more back-stabby than he actually was, and with Churchill’s completely made up train ride. Oldman gets Churchill just right. Larger than life in both physique and personality, Churchill dominated every room and Oldman captures that perfectly. I’m sure he’ll win some awards because well portayed historical figures are complete Oscar bait.

My one complaint about the movie is that there is a bit of a slow down in the pace of the movie near the end. Churchill is tired and being bombarded with bad news from all fronts and the movie attempts to portray that, but does so just a little too much. Then there’s the aforementioned made up train ride. It’s one of those things that makes for easy feel-goodedness, but is completely hollow.

All in all, this is a pretty good movie as far as historically semi-fictional movies go and very much worth seeing. If you are unfamiliar with Churchill, it’s a decent enough introduction. Just don’t take it for gospel.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A fun movie that holds up upon multiple viewings. Still kind of derivative. More comedy than action.

Right from the start of “The Last Jedi”, you can be forgiven if for a moment you think that you maybe walked into Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs 2: The Search For More Money”. In fact, I fully expected General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) to declare that he was surrounded by assholes and for them to keep firing. You see, while the other Star Wars movies had a bit of a comedic side to them, “The Last Jedi” peppers the comedy throughout and it mostly works pretty well. It is a welcome departure for a series that, under George Lucas, often took itself way too seriously and fumbled mightily when bringing the humor. *cough* Jar Jar *cough*

You can also be forgiven for that sense of deja vu you feel throughout the movie, for “The Last Jedi” borrows heavily from “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi”. But whereas “The Force Awakens” outright stole from “A New Hope”, “The Last Jedi” feels more like an homage to the other two movies than a cannibalization of them. It really makes a world of difference in the enjoyment of the movie. And yes, I also gave “The Force Awakens” three stars even though, through the sands of time, I think I enjoyed “The Last Jedi” quite a bit more. I am large, I contain multitudes.

One thing to take note of in this movie is all the heroes are female. No, Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) is not a hero. He may have saved the day, but his direct and repeated insubordination to his female leaders, Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), causes more problems than it solves and almost single-handedly wipes out the rebellion. No, Finn (John Boyega) is not a hero, or at least not right away. He needs to be “coaxed” into becoming one by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). No, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) is not a hero, or again, at least not right away. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has to convince him and almost drag him kicking and screaming into the fight. So yay for strong women and the movies that showcase them!

Yes, I’ve already seen the movie twice. Yes, if someone asked me to go see it with them, I would willingly go. You can complain about the minutia of this movie endlessly and since it’s Star Wars, you almost certainly will, sometimes even rightly so, but it’s a whole lot of fun to sit through and that’s what movies are all about in the end.

Movie Review: Murder On The Orient Express

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Wonderfully acted. Brilliant introduction. Cute rest of the movie.

What happens when you take a diverse cast of actors, give them all distinct and colorful characters to play, put them all on a train together, kill one of them off, and just happen to have one of the most beloved literary detectives on board to solve said murder? Not much, unfortunately. What you do get is a fun little movie with some gorgeous set design and costuming, but one that leaves you feeling a little empty inside when it’s over.

Most of the fun in the movie comes from the first act and it is just a delight! For one, you are introduced to Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh). If you have not read a Agatha Christie Poirot novel, you should. In fact, you should probably read “Murder on the Orient Express” and then just watch the first half of this movie. Hercule Poirot is a character in every meaning of the word. Even when you get past the ridiculous mustache, you also have a ridiculous personality couched in extreme self-awareness. The introductory quick-solve case lets you know everything you need to know about the man, even if it does come very close to the cheesy line to do so.

After the Poirot introduction, we are then introduced to the parade of suspects through a series of meetings both incidental and intentional resulting in everyone eventually aboard the Orient Express itself. It is a lot of fun watching Poirot interact with this motley cast of characters on the train. Up to this point, it felt like I was in for a wonderful ride of mystery and suspense. Unfortunately, then the train and the story lost its head of steam. There are just too many people with too many moving parts to effectively capture this detective tale in under two hours. What you end up with is a few pieces of the puzzle exposed while others are kept maddeningly hidden from view. Already having read the book, albeit a long time ago, I already knew the ending so I was focused on the pieces and how they fit together and there is enough there to make out the edges of the picture, but not the middle.

“Murder on the Orient Express” is still an enjoyable movie and worth your time, but it would be nice if stories like this were given the format they deserve. I am unsure what that format would be for a Agatha Christie novel. They’re not exactly serial in nature, but nor are they a good fit for the two hour movie format. Maybe what’s best for Christie is a streaming service where three hour movies would be more welcome. The movie format choice has been made and “Murder on the Orient Express” sets up the next movie, “Death on the Nile”. It has been reported that Branagh plans on doing all the Agatha Christie novels and with “Murder on the Orient Express” being a pretty decent box office success, looks like we’ll at least see him continue his quest for one more movie.

Book Review: Day by Elie Wiesel

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

I realized something very early on into reading “Day”. Elie Wiesel has a very bad relationship with women. Neither “Night”, nor “Dawn” has a viable female character in it so this unhealthy relationship stays hidden, thought there are hints of it in “Dawn”. With “Day”, it is out in full force and really detracts from the novel. Here, women come in two different camps. There are the mothers and there are the objects. The early concerning scene was when Elezer (who is Wiesel’s id) and his girlfriend, Kathleen, are walking down the street when Kathleen gets catcalled by some construction workers. She expresses anger at this and Elezer completely blows it off. He does so very poetically and beautifully, but still blows it off. This is the best that Kathleen or any other non-motherly woman is treated throughout the novel. What’s left is women being tolerated, pitied, scorned, or objectified.

Horrible depictions of women aside, “Day” is also incredibly depressing, but in a way that it absolutely should be. Elezer is a Holocaust survivor who gets hit by a cab in New York City and ends up in the hospital for weeks as a result. Bedridden, his mind wanders from past to past questioning his life. Always in the past. There is nothing for him in the present or the future. Survivor’s guilt is a thing. “Day” explores it in depth. It sucks. Elezer’s mental scars run deeper and stronger than any scars he might gain from his car accident. Wiesel is very good at evoking the sadness and pain that accompany those scars. Unlike the other two novels, there is absolutely no hope to cling to here. Everything is horrible and will continue to be and all you can do is deal with it. That’s the lesson here.

If you can get past the whole treating women like crap thing, this may be a book you should read if you’re not affected by such a doldrummy book. That sort of sadness would not normally bother me in a book, but I can’t forgive a novel that treats its women the way this one does. It is a shame Wiesel included this book as the third of the “Night” trilogy because he was really on to something with the other two novels. The other two were by no means happy or terribly hopeful, but at the same time there was hope. A realistic hope. Or perhaps they were just dreams and “Day” is all those dreams coming crashing down to the earth.

Movie Review: Coco

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Stab Olaf repeatedly with his stupid carrot nose. Takes a while to get going, but turns into a fun, colorful, family themed movie.

Ok, Disney, we really need to talk. The beginning of a Pixar movie is usually set aside for a short, independent animated special. That was thrown out the window here. Instead, what do we get? I’m not even sure. What the eff was “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”? I mean seriously, holy crap. Disney has a pretty good reputation of buying studios and letting them do mostly their own thing and they have done so with Pixar. Until this flaming sleigh ride of blatant commercialism gone horribly wrong. I don’t think it was nearly as bad as everyone is screaming, but it is just so out of place and so saccharine and so in your face that it riles up so much hatred. Luckily, Disney has listened to the venom spewing pubic and has promised to remove “Olaf’s Horrible, Horrible Mistake” from the beginning of “Coco”.

And on to “Coco”! Perhaps this movie deserves four stars, but it is part of a package and the package must be taken together. “Coco” itself is a delightful film even if I strongly disagree with the main theme of the movie. More on that later. It is colorful and vibrant and brings the Mexican heritage surrounding Dios de los Muertos to life beautifully. It does take a bit of time to get going, but once it does, it is an enjoyable ride filled with music and skeletons and spirit animals. The movie’s only other real flaw is how long the final bad guy battle goes. Other than that, lots of fun.

I would make a horrible Mexican. The main theme of “Coco” is family and how all important they are and how they come to visit you on Dios de los Muertos as long as you remember them and put up a picture of them on your shrine and this is pretty ingrained in Mexican culture from what I can tell. Ugh. I can give the whole afterlife concept a pass because it’s really cool and the idea of you being alive in spirit as long as people have you in their minds and hearts is very touching. The whole emphasis on family, though, I could do without. Some families are great. Most of mine included in that. Some, though, are not. Where is the theme in this movie for the people that belong in the latter group, of which there are many? According to “Coco”, they’re out of luck. How difficult would it have been to add in a much more inclusive version of family. Family is not who you’re born to or where your family tree branches. Family is who you choose to spend your time with. The ones who make your life special. The ones whose lives you make special. My family expanded beyond blood relations long ago. It’s time that movies like “Coco” do the same.

Now that the short that shall not be named is no longer opening for “Coco”, I highly recommend going to see this movie with your family, no matter who they may be. Maybe even go to a Mexican restaurant together afterwards and celebrate this family that you’ve created for yourself with a margarita or two. Family is what you make it. Keep them close. Hold them tight. Celebrate being in each other’s lives.