Category Archives: Movies

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.

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.

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Doesn’t take itself seriously. More of a series of buddy comedies than a movie. Lots of fun.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is best thought of as a series of buddy comedies in which Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and an ever-changing buddy find themselves in and get themselves out of amusing situations through hijinks and shenanigans. Or maybe it’s actually a Dungeons and Dragons game with a series of quests eventually leading to the boss fight at the end? Hmmm… Either way, it’s a lot of fun!

This is a wonderfully entertaining movie filled with tons of characters across vast expanses of the multiverse. It can be a lot to take in, but it is grounded by some pretty fantastic comedic acting pretty much across the board, anchored solidly by Chris Hemsworth. Jeff Goldblum ties much of the story together playing Jeff Goldblum, er, Grandmaster. Even the director, Taika Waititi (yes, that’s really his name!), gets into the mix as computer generated bit character Korg.

As has become rote with Marvel movies, the main villain is played by an awesome actor who is completely underutilized and mostly one-dimensional. In this case, it’s Cate Blanchett as Hela. In the Marvel retelling, Hela is the sister of Thor, while in Norse mythology, she’s actually Hel and the daughter of Loki. Why they decided to change this bit of mythology is beyond me. The stuff they could have done with Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Hela could have been epic. But nope, once again, they just wanted a disposable villain. Can’t blame them, as the formula has been proven to work, but man do I long for another Loki.

Every Thor movie that has come out has been better than the last. With “Thor: Ragnarok” being the third Thor movie, I think I can safely say that it is now the best standalone hero franchise in the Marvel universe, surpassing Ironman which started strong but has been weak. A lot of people dissed the first Thor movie, but I enjoyed its campiness which was very new at the time for a Marvel movie. It would be interesting to re-watch it and see if that holds up.

Movie Review: Justice League

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Didn’t suck! A mess of a movie, but fun. DC will live or die with the Wonder Woman franchise.

I had pretty low expectations going into “Justice League” because DC is really not good at making movies about their franchises. The previews for the movie didn’t help anything. Luckily, they actually did a pretty good job of introducing the myriad heroes and making them interesting. Well, mostly. Here is the definitive list of how interesting the “Justice League” heroes are:

  1. Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot)- Everything in the movie about Wonder Woman and the mythos surrounding her was awesome and DC is going to depend on her success for a long time, methinks. DC knows this which is why the Gal Gadot vs.serial harasser Brett Ratner contest resulted in him being removed from being involved with the sequel. A small victory.
  2. Cyborg (Ray Fisher)- There is some good potential here. His back story is interesting if not wholly fleshed out in the movie. I worry, though, that they’re going to stick with his “Justice League” intro as his complete backstory, which is a shame. I love the human side vs cyborg side of his character.
  3. The Flash (Ezra Miller)- Great comic relief. I’m not sure if there is a potential for a stand-alone movie or not with him, but he brings great energy to every scene he’s in. A Flash comedy along the lines of the recent Thor movie might work.
  4. Batman (Ben Affleck) – I am not a fan of Ben Affleck as Batman. He mostly comes off as an aloof jerk. Perhaps Batman is just too complicated of a character to fit in with the whole ensemble cast idea. This is a shame because Batman is without a doubt the most interesting character. This is especially true because he is also the only destructible character in the DC universe even if they liberally eschew what would actually kill him.
  5. Superman (Henry Cavill) – Superman is just not a compelling character despite Cavill having the perfect Superman look. Every problem can be solved by just calling in Superman. Boring.
  6. Aquaman (Jason Momoa) – Jason Momoa is lucky he’s hot because Auqaman has nothing going for him. The whole sarcastic Aquaman was a nice touch, but there’s really nothing there except super-hot Aquaman.

“Justice League” went for a lighter version of pretty much all the characters and their charisma together really showed. This charisma makes up for a messy plot that basically boils down to “send in Superman”. Sure, they did some “lets do this together” kumbaya crap, because that stuff is cool, but it still boils down to Superman at its core. It is definitely a fun movie, though, and if you are at all interested in the DC franchises, this is one of the better showings. That’s not saying much, but I would say that DC might be starting to learn from their mistakes with this movie and maybe there’s better things to come.

Movie Review: Suburbicon

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 2/5 stars

Bottom Line: A slow crawl through the incongruities of suburban life that ramps up quickly at the end and has a somewhat satisfying ending.

“Surburbicon” has a lot going for it. It was written by the Coen brothers, directed by George Clooney, and stars Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. Wait, no, that’s all it has going for it. It all should count for something, but it doesn’t. What you get instead is a ploddingly paced crawl through the banalities of evil set in a suburban environment.

Coen brothers films are like a frame of bowling with manual pin setters. They spend an inordinate amount of time painstakingly setting up the pins and then knock them all down with a bowling ball in a matter of seconds. “Suburbicon” follows this analogy. But whereas most of the enjoyment of their films is the setting up of the pins, here the pins seem to be set up haphazardly and in such a way that it takes a few extra throws of the ball to knock them all down. Don’t you worry, the pins do, indeed come down, and somewhat satisfyingly, but there’s still a messiness to it that leaves a bit of a feeling of being let down.

It’s best to view the film as told exclusively through the eyes of a child. In this case, Nicky (Noah Jupe), the son of Gardener (Matt Damon). It would make the simplistic, almost childlike, dialogue and the incongruous scenes make a lot more sense. Even though Nicky is not in a lot of the scenes, the movie is mostly about how the innocent have to survive the evils that surround them and how they eventually become immune or desensitized to them.

There are a few excellent scenes worth mentioning. The first is the initial interaction of Bud Cooper (Oscar Issac), a suspicious insurance investigator who interviews Margaret (Julianne Moore) about the insurance claim that Gardener has filed. Bud Cooper is the quintessential Coen brothers character, wily, suspicious, gregarious, dangerous, and Oscar Issac serves him up perfectly. The other is the scene where Uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) saves Nicky and puts him in the closet. It is a harrowing and tense scene, but also touching. Uncle Mitch can best be described as a well meaning but crass person and his well meaningness comes out in this scene.

The Coen brothers are excellent writers and a miss here and there is to be expected. “Suburbicon” is a solid miss. This isn’t a completely unenjoyable movie, but neither is there much enjoyment. I highly recommend you go watch just about any of their other movies instead of watching this one. Except “The Big Lebowski”, though I recognize that I am about the only person on the face of this earth that didn’t like that movie.

Movie Review: American Made

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A decent enough movie, but an incredibly crazy story! The things our government does…

“American Made” is one of those movies where it’s very difficult to tell fact from fiction. It purports to be based on the life of Barry Seal, a former commercial pilot who gets caught by the CIA smuggling Cuban cigars and ends up working for the CIA to avoid jail. This work includes running drugs, guns, money, and information back and forth between the U.S. and various Central and South American countries. Some of these details are almost assuredly untrue, but the movie contains so much truthiness that it’s all pretty easy to believe. For instance, the fact that Seal was first arrested for trying to smuggle explosives while working for TWA, not cigars, is completely absent from the movie. In the same vein, like anything to do with the CIA, it is almost impossible to tell what, if any, involvement Seal had with this clandestine organization.

Regardless of the inability to tell fact from fiction, the life of Barry Seal was absolutely insane and it makes really good fodder for a movie. The movie itself suffers from pacing problems and at almost two hours, could certainly do with some trimming. This is covered well by all of the absolutely incredulous stuff that happens throughout. Did the CIA really buy hundreds of acres of land for Seal to operate off of?  Did Seal really smuggle Contras into Mena, Arkansas for the CIA to train? Did Seal really meet George W. Bush in the White House and talk about their shared piloting experience? Who cares! Just believe it while you’re watching the movie and figure out the facts, as far as they’ll get you, and have a good time.

“American Made” is by no means in the neighborhood of required watching. It’s enjoyable enough for a rainy day, though. Those of you who live and breath government conspiracy theories will likely get a lot of enjoyment. Like I said, the truthiness is strong with this one and it’s really easy to get sucked into it.

Movie Review: Marshall

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Thurgood Marshall was an unbelievable human being. This movie doesn’t do him justice. It’s still good, though.

Thurgood Marshall is one of those characters from history that defies reality. There is no way that someone like him could actually exist, is there? Well, yes, he certainly did and he left an indelible mark on the United States of America. To have him replaced on the Supreme Court by the likes of Clarence Thomas is almost as big a slap in the face of history as replacing Barack Obama with Donald Trump. The history of racism knows no lows and has a deep and long memory and will always exact its revenge for perceived slights. I kind of feel the same way about this movie. It is a slight against Thurgood Marshall’s legacy while wrapped in the veneer of an homage to the larger than life man.

I should back up a little and say that this is actually a good movie. It follows one of Thurgood Marshall’s (Chadwick Boseman) early cases when he was the only lawyer working for the NAACP. He enlists the help of an insurance claims lawyer named Sam Friedman (Josh Gad who is apparently required to be in every movie this year) since Marshall is not licensed to practice law in the state. The case is a defense of a black man who is accused of raping a white woman. Unsurprisingly, this case is both racially and politically charged. The movie is a very effective and slick courtroom drama and the topic is handled with both seriousness and some wink-nudge humor. Boseman does an excellent job of portraying Thurgood Marshall. You get the feeling that Marshall is one of those incredibly likeable and charismatic individuals whose job has taught him exactly how much of an asshole to be in any given situation. Gad as Friedman is also quite effective as a successful Jewish lawyer who doesn’t really want any part in the whole affair but is drawn in by Marshall as I’m sure hundreds of other people were.

What’s the problem then? Why does this movie do Thurgood Marshall a disservice? Because the movie is as much about Sam Friedman as it is about Thurgood Marshall and only barely touches on the large life of an African American icon. Already having one movie made about Marshall, what are the chances of another being produced, let alone one that sufficiently extols the greatness of this man? If not zero, the chances are very close to that number. What Marshall deserves is a Netflix series. Season after season of his trials, tribulations, successes, and failures, all wrapped around the thousands of people his legacy has touched.

You should all go see this movie. It really is good despite my social justice warrior outrage. But do yourself a favor. After seeing the movie, pick up a biography of the man. I certainly plan to.

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A beautiful movie from start to finish with a good story to boot. Did not at all seem like a 164 minute movie.

Our dark, dismal future never looked so beautiful. There can be a captivating quality to bleakness, an allure to destitution. This movie captures those qualities perfectly. There is so much attention to detail in the movie the mind boggles. Add to that a perfectly jarring soundtrack and you have a handful of Academy Awards just waiting for you to pick up.

I have not seen the first “Blade Runner” movie (I know, heaven forbid!) and I can safely say that you don’t need any of the knowledge from the first to enjoy the second even though Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) from the first movie is integral to the second. Blade Runners are kind of like bounty hunters. They search for replicants, which are basically engineered humans created to do horrible tasks for “real” humans, and either capture or kill them, replicants being outlawed after a couple replicant mutinies. In “Blade Runner 2049”, a new version of replicants are legal because they are more loyal, but the remaining old versions are still hunted down. Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is a newer version replicant working for the LAPD to hunt down the old versions. While hunting down an older replicant, Officer K discovers a secret and attempts to track down the source, all the while being followed by his creator, Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), and Wallace’s replicant agent, Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), who also want to know the answer to this secret.

As this is a movie mainly about “fake” humans, it delves greatly into the concept of what it is to be human. Can a replicant have a soul? Can a replicant love? What even is love? Does someone have to be real to be loved? Does someone have to be real to love? So, yeah, lots of thoughts on what love really is. Those scenes are some of the most touching moments of the film.

When you can make a 164 minute movie and make it seem like no time has passed, you know you’ve made a good movie. “Blade Runner 2049” definitely fits that bill. Sure, there’s lots of establishing shots and scenes made more for their beauty than for their utility, but you won’t regret any of those scenes. This is film making at its finest and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Movie Review: Battle Of The Sexes

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Man, Billy Jean King is awesome. And Bobby Riggs was a lovable prick. This is their story. Dun DUN!

The Battle of the Sexes, a tennis match between Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs, happened the week before I was born so I don’t have a memory of it at all nor do I recall hearing anything about it until previews of this movie started showing. For most of the world, it was merely a spectacle, but for Billy Jean King, it was dead serious. It was about pride and position and being taken seriously in the world of tennis and general misogyny. That was 1973. Very little has changed. Women still have to fight for equal pay in the sports arena even when they draw larger crowds, bring in more revenue, and outperform the men’s teams.

The Battle of the Sexes tennis match is more of an epilogue to the movie than the main attraction. The meat of this movie focuses on Billy Jean King’s (Emma Stone) fight for equality in tennis and being a complete bad-ass while doing so. Whereas most people would simply cave to demands if it meant the very real and likely loss of your career, King and the rest of the women players walked away from the professional tennis league they were a part of to start their own women’s league after a protest over equal pay. What strength these women had! The two other tangential stories that are important to this movie are King’s discovery of her own sexuality, which appeared to be handled beautifully in real life by all parties involved, and the showmanship and gross misogyny of Bobby Riggs (Steve Carell). Bobby Riggs was what you’d call a character. A compulsive schemer and gambler, a theatrical sideshow and provocateur, you never quite get the feel for who the real Bobby Riggs was. Perhaps he didn’t even know himself. Despite being all that and an all around prick a lot of the time, he comes off as very lovable.

This movie is filled with great acting, not just by the two stars, Stone and Carell, but also Sarah Silverman as Gladys Heldman who was a character all unto herself and Natalie Morales as Rosie Casals who was also quite instrumental in paving the way for women’s tennis, though the movie doesn’t quite get into that story. The writing is also excellent and the dialogue is crisp and witty.

This is one of those movies that I would recommend everyone see. Even if you know and lived through the tennis match, there was so much happening behind the scenes that you probably don’t know about but should. It helps that it is a legitimately good movie. Though the Battle of the Sexes is a bit of a misnomer. It wasn’t then, nor does it continue to be today a battle between men and women, but a battle between dominance and equality. I like to think that equality will someday win through, but man has it been a long, though slough.

Movie Review: Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: Takes a while to get into. Still has some of the ridiculous magic as the first movie, but not as much. A lot of self-referential jokes.

I was in a bad mood going into this movie. Not a good way to write an impartial review. So be warned.

Movie #2 follows much in the mold of movie #1. Since movie #1 was an origin movie of sorts, there was a lot of beginning material to work with. Movie #2 didn’t have that advantage so I was interested to see how they would transition into this already built world. The answer is with a bang. Whereas your traditional James Bond movie would go for a semi-plausible chase scene, Kingsman decides to go all out bonkers. It was probably a lot more fun that I thought it was because, like I said, bad mood. I found myself doing a lot of eye rolling.

I did finally start to get into the swing of the movie after they the villain Poppy’s (Julianne Moore) ridiculous plot for world domination. Like in movie #1, Poppy’s plans are absolutely insane, but come from a place where there’s a whole lot more truth than people might be comfortable with. From that point on, the movie is a good time. There are ridiculous fight scenes and double crosses and evil politicians and Elton John!

While it is not absolutely necessary to see movie #1, it will certainly help you appreciate movie #2 a lot more. There is a lot of self-referential humor in movie #2 that requires having seen movie #1 to appreciate. It is sprinkled throughout and I’m sure I missed a lot of it. This is one of those things where it would be cool to look up all the self-referential bits to see what you caught and what you missed.

My bad mood aside, I did enjoy this movie. Others, whose opinions I respect, said that it was very worthy of the title Kingsman. I will take their word and recommend this movie to you if you thought the original was a crazy good time like I did.