Category Archives: Comedy

“The Shape of Water” Movie Review

Guillermo del Toro has officially called his new movie “a fairytale for troubled times.” There is no better description to be found. Seriously, there is none. This fantasy romance drama won the top prize, the Golden Lion, at the Venice Internation Film Festival when it premiered on August 31st of 2017. Following a lengthy festival run, it received a limited release on December 1st before expanding in the succeeding weeks. Made for the budget of just under $20 million, it has done considerably well in its limited run but it remains to be seen how successful it becomes when it goes wide. Primarily inspired by del Toro’s childhood favorite Creature from the Black Lagoon, it’s also believed that the full concept of the movie was conceived during a meal 6 whole years ago. 3 years were spent just trying to bring the updated Gil-Man to life, which means this was just as much of a passion project for the Mexican auteur as Pan’s Labyrinth. Set in Cold War America, (1962, to be exact) Sally Hawkins stars as a mute custodian named Eliza Esposito who has spent much of her life alone. While she’s working in a secretive government facility, she discovers that the authoritative Colonel Strickland is holding an ancient amphibian-humanoid captive for research. Out of pity and loneliness, Eliza befriends the creature, falls in love with it, and soon resolves to help it escape. Of all the movies that have been getting hyped up for awards season, none of them had me as excited as The Shape of Water. Guillermo del Toro’s work can usually be hit or miss for me, but he really hits it out of the park when he’s on top. And Pan’s Labyrinth isn’t just his masterpiece but it’s also my favorite foreign-language film of all time. The fact that this new movie won top honors at Venice only boosted my anticipation for it. A Cold War, adult version of the myth of Beauty and the Beast? Who wouldn’t want to check that out? And I can happily say that I was blown away by del Toro’s newest film. It’s also, in my opinion, one of the most hopeful movies of the year to come out. In the post-Obama era, several filmmakers have had no problem dealing out their feelings on the potential fallout from Trump’s presidency. Another film I’m looking forward to, The Post, addresses this rather directly. But most of these storytellers, no matter how good their intentions may be, come off as either stubbornly naive or relentlessly pessimistic. The Shape of Water addresses contemporary issues- such as prejudice against outsiders and trying to express yourself to people who won’t listen -but does it in a loving way. By avoiding the pitfalls of cynicism, we’re given a whimsical tale that never loses sight of its maturity. I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen Sally Hawkins in much, but I hope that changes with her lead performance in this film. She does a lot without saying anything, her use of Sign Language and facial expressions being almost too real to think of as acting. Alongside Frances McDomand in Three Billboards, she gives perhaps the best female lead performance of the year, and it hopefully scores her a Best Actress nomination. Opposite her, in his sixth collaboration with the director, Doug Jones is fantastic as the god-like Amphibian Man. With spots on his skin that glow and moving gills, some viewers might be turned off by this type of romance. But the way that he moves around and expresses himself underneath the thick suit is so magnificent and even sexy. The supporting cast is filled out by Michael Shannon as the villainous Colonel in charge of operations, Octavia Spencer as the snappy work friend of Eliza, Michael Stuhlbarg as a reclusive yet brilliant lab scientist, and Richard Jenkins in his scene-stealing, career-best role as a closeted neighbor. But if I were to be honest with you, I would say that Guillermo del Toro is the real star of this picture. He brings his unique eye to the technical aspects without being clouded by a filmmaker’s ego. Dan Laustsen frames and moves the camera in ways that masters of old Hollywood would have been proud of. It’s steady, fluid, and several scenes are made as if they were shot on one take. There’s even a wipe scene transition, which cemented both its 1960’s setting and love-letter to cinema. Del Toro also flaunts his love of digital cinematography and specifically highlights the color green. Using it as its own character, it plays a factor in defining the future-obsessed setting and even contrasts with the ancient force of the Amphibian Man. Whether it’s the green Cadillac, the green walls of the facility, the green candy, or the green Jello, you’re gonna find a shade. One of the most criminally underrated film composers in the industry, Alexandre Desplat lends his unique talents to the musical score. And man oh man is it lovely to hear in a theater. Because this is still essentially a fairytale, there’s a whimsical quality to the sound, often incorporating plucked strings and soothing flutes. He also blends a French romanticism into the tracks with hints of the accordion and subtle bits of whistling. And the primary piano melody is so elegant that it makes it feel as though we’re floating through the sea. It’s sentimental for sure, but it’s not cheesy or manipulative. But again, there are bound to be people who will walk away from this film feeling cold because let’s face it: This is a story about a mute woman and a fish man falling in love during the Cold War. If that doesn’t scream “weird,” then I don’t know what does. For others like me, The Shape of Water is a gorgeous, warm-hearted love story celebrating the outsiders. By far one of the most impressive fantasy films of recent years, it’s also Guillermo del Toro’s finest English-language work. Given time, I may even say that it’s his best, if not his most mature.

Image result for the shape of water poster

Advertisements

“Die Hard” Movie Review

There are two types of people in this world: Those who believe that Die Hard is a Christmas movie and those who do not. I’ll let you decipher which camp I fall under. This holiday-themed action classic was released on July 15th, 1988, and went on to earn back over 10 times its $28 million budget at the box office. A critical success, the film spawned a lucrative franchise including 4 sequels and 6 video games. Directed by John McTiernan, the same man behind the original Predator and The Hunt For Red October,  the script was shopped around to various established action stars. After they all turned it down, then-comedian Bruce Willis took it up for a surprising salary, changing the entire course of his career. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp, the superbly simple story follows an NYPD cop named John McClane who travels to Los Angeles to be with his family for Christmas. In a last-ditch attempt to save his marriage with Holly Gennaro, he goes to her company’s Christmas Eve party at the Nakatomi Plaza when, all of a sudden, a team of German terrorists led by Hans Gruber takes over the entire building. Managing to slip away, McClane must fight off the assailants to save everyone inside and also get help from the authorities. Everyone, no matter who you are or what your tastes may be, has a movie that they like to watch every holiday season. Maybe it’s something you like to sit down with your family to enjoy or perhaps a guilty pleasure that you want to hide from loved ones. It doesn’t matter as long as you have that one special picture. And while I could go on about my love for National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Gremlins, nothing will beat watching Die Hard before unwrapping the presents underneath that big green tree. What makes it a Christmas movie, though? Yes, it’s not traditional in that the characters don’t scramble to get each other presents the night before it all. But, in the most unconventional yet entertaining way ever conceived, we get to witness the true spirit of Christmas come into play with the plot. To me, it evokes the importance of being together with the ones you love even in the most bizarre and incomprehensible situation possible. Does it shake things up with bullets and guns? Yep. And glass. Lots and lots of glass. There are only a handful of actors who were born to play certain roles; Bruce Willis as John McClane is among those titans. Despite his badass nature, he gives the character shades of relatability with a sarcastic wit and a genuine desire to reunite with his family. Opposite him is the late Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, who subverts the typical action movie bad guy who’s simply villainous for its own sake. His sarcasm and intelligence bounce off of that of Willis perfectly, making for one of the truly great cinematic duos of hero and villain. But that’s not to discredit everyone else by their side, who make do great in what have since become genre archetypes. Cops trying to figure out what’s going on from the outside? We have The Breakfast Club‘s Paul Gleason and Reginald VelJohnson as the Deputy Chief and a bumbling-yet-lovable Sargeant, respectively. How about the menacing right-hand man of our main antagonist? Alexander Godunov covers that basis as Karl. Hell, do we want a snobby reporter making things worse just to have headlines? William Atherton basically reprises Walter Peck from Ghostbusters. As far as technicality goes, the team behind the scenes lend some extra helping hands. Jan de Bont’s fluid camerawork is an antithesis to the shaky, cut-to-shit style of most genre movies in recent years. We see everything that is necessary to know in a scene at any given time. And his use of lighting is damn-near haunting, especially in the second half when the hay really hits the fan. But the real miracle workers here are both John F. Link Frank J. Urioste with their immaculate editing. The precise cuts and movements between smart angles keep the story advancing constantly for the 131-minute runtime. The way it cuts back between the intense shootouts indoors with the red tape-laden politics of the law enforcement outside increases the stakes without ever losing what makes it personal. There are copious amounts of blood, and the two of them never shy away from it or any of its R-rating. And because of these characters and scenarios, screenwriters Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza have crafted an absolutely iconic action movie template. If it were to come out today, critics and audiences would label it as unoriginal and watered down. That should give some great context to its impact. Many action movies afterward (Including some of its sequels) mimicked its style. Olympus Has Fallen? Die Hard in the White House. Air Force One? Die Hard on a plane. Escape from New York? Die Hard in a dystopian city. (Okay that one’s pushing it, but you get the point) But unlike almost all of those imitators, there’s almost nothing trite or dumb about this movie. The script is tightly focused on one location, the characters are always given something to do, and there are virtually no gaps in logic. In other words, this movie is pretty much perfect. Following an unpredictable screenplay with fully realized characters and boasting a decades-defining premise, Die Hard is a true genre original with plenty of holiday cheer. It has since become one of my premier traditions this time of year and perhaps my favorite. Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie of all time and no one can change that. Yippee-ki-yay to one and all, and to all a good night.

Related image

“The Emoji Movie” Movie Review

After looking over my archive of the past month, I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of reviews are for films that I actually liked. And the perfect way to balance that out was by sitting through The Emoji Movie because… yeah. I’m a true masochist if ever there was one. This computer-animated adventure “comedy” was released worldwide on July 28th, 2017. Made for the budget of about $5o million, the film somehow managed to find an audience as it grossed over $217 million at the box office. Announced at CinemaCon 2016, there was actually a bidding war for the script from director Tony Leonidis, with Warner Bros. also a possible contender. But Sony Pictures won out and even went so far as to cancel Genndy Tartakovsky’s plans for a Popeye adaptation to make room for this new concept. Hey, it’s their mistake, not mine. Set in modern day, most of the story takes place inside of a phone where all of the apps and emojis live together in Textopolis. T.J. Miller stars as the “Meh” emoji Gene, who is outcast by everyone for being able to create other expressions. After something goes wrong with the phone’s owner, a high school freshman named Alex, Gene must embark on a quest with his best friend Hi-5 and a hacker named Jailbreak to get back into society. All the while, Alex is struggling to communicate in the real world with a girl he likes. Alright, no B.S. here; when I first heard about this movie back in Spring, I genuinely thought that it was a joke. I was convinced it was an Onion article satirizing Hollywood’s apparent shortage of fresh movie ideas. But no, this is a real, feature-length film brought to us by the same company behind Sausage Party and Spider-Man: Homecoming. Because of this, I didn’t see it in its theatrical run because I refused to give them any of my money. Thankfully, (Or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) it came to me on home media streaming for a short time. And now I’m sitting here… trying to come up with the words to describe my hatred. In fact, I’ve come to one solid conclusion. After careful consideration and enough time to sit on it, I can say without reservation that The Emoji Movie is the worst animated movie I have ever seen. Also true story: I saw this a few weeks ago. So why did it take me so long to get my thoughts out when it seems like they’re abundantly clear? Well, I actually gave this movie a genuine chance. I spent that entire time trying to think if there was a single redeeming quality within this mess. And I honestly couldn’t find even one. In better hands, the concept could potentially work as a satire of the digital age. Ever since The Lego Movie, I’ve been willing to give animated films the benefit of the doubt if they just seem like giant advertisements. But sadly, that’s all this is. All of the voice actors are phoning it in, probably because they’re aware of the fact that this is a “kids movie.” (More on that later) The most shocking member of the cast is the esteemed Sir Patrick Stewart, an accomplished Shakespearean actor, and former Professor X, voicing the poop emoji. There’s nothing funny about him since all of his jokes are related to feces, but there’s some novelty in saying that his role is literally shit. If we’re being real, he probably didn’t even know what emojis are and just sent a tape recording of his lines to the studio. But it’s not just him; all of the characters are given insufferable quirks and lazy surface-level jokes that never made me laugh. The only time I chuckled is when I realized the film was finally over after 86 minutes. It felt like a lifetime. What’s perhaps most baffling about The Emoji Movie is the amount of product placement shoved in. In fact, it’s bloated to the point of absurdity. Unfortunately for the filmmakers, at least half of the apps on display are outdated, such as Just Dance, Candy Crush Saga, and even Crackle. The only one of those that provided any sense of fleeting enjoyment was when the blue Twitter bird swooped in to save the heroes from peril, a la Lord of the Rings. But perhaps most annoyingly, one of the most important plot points is that the characters have to get into Dropbox and upload into the cloud. Into DROPBOX!!! Oh, and did I forget to mention that Spotify plays an integral role in saving the world? On the one hand, it’s suddenly become easy to tell where all the funding came from. But then again, it’s just heavy-handed and dumb. Speaking of heavy-handed and dumb, I have rarely seen an animated film that hamfists such a mean and disrespectful message to children this century. There’s a common excuse that gets thrown around in the industry that argues, “Oh you’re being too hard on it, it’s just a kids movie. It doesn’t have to try as hard as everything else.” I find this argument to be an insult to the intelligence of children, but still not as insulting as this film. Do you really want your child to learn that using computer expressions is better than face-to-face interactions? It’s as if the writers took all the wrong cues from Inside Out and Wreck-it-Ralph and doubled-down on pandering to the lowest common denominator. Just thinking about it right now makes me angry. Trite as can be, predictable to a fault, and feeling over 3 hours longer than it should, The Emoji Movie is an agonizingly cynical and stupid exercise in corporate advertisements. It’s completely disconnected from whatever audience it was trying to find and thus feels utterly pointless. Save yourself the trouble and just watch something like Inside Out. That’s a film that treats its audience with respect and intelligence.

Related image

“Raw” Movie Review

In all of 2017 cinema, I don’t think there has been a single film that lives up to its title quite like this one. Dear God, I had to take a few showers after watching this. The debut feature of writer-director Julie Docournau, this sexually-charged horror drama premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival under the International Critics’ Week section where it won the top prize. It was released worldwide on March 10th the following year and just barely earned back its budget of $3.1 million. It also held a screening at TIFF, and the screening for it was apparently was so real and volatile that two viewers fainted and were escorted out via emergency medical services. That should give you some idea as to the effect this movie had upon audiences, including this critic. The story follows a young woman named Justine who begins attending an unnamed veterinary school somewhere in France. Upon meeting up with her older sister Alexia, she becomes embroiled in harsh hazing rituals from upperclassmen. Despite being a lifelong vegetarian, she is forced to eat raw meat on campus and her craving for flesh only gets stronger as she goes on a personal journey. How do you even evaluate a film that repulsed you in almost every possible way yet still loved everything about it? This movie had gotten a lot of hype leading to its release, if only because of how explicit its content was. I’m not typically one for foreign films, but I was still intrigued. There’s not much I can build up to saying this, so I feel it’s appropriate to put out there: Raw is one of the best directorial debuts of the 21st century so far. One could easily write this off as the nothing more than the next shocking entry in art-house French horror cinema. You’d be forgiven for thinking just about that. But it’s also a surprisingly involving coming-of-age drama about Justine’s transitional period in life. There’s a sensual undercurrent flowing with every act of brutality carried out onscreen. She’s just budding her true self out into existence in a very horrific yet captivating manner. It’s not until she finally blossoms like a flower that we discover what she’s truly capable of. And it’s not exactly comfortable viewing. Garance Marillier totally knocks it out of the park in her lead role as Justine. She evokes all of the insecurities and naivety typical in a teenage girl, but she also brings something charming and different about the character. She and Docournau were made for each other, evident in the fact that they made a short together before this. Her sister Alexia is played by Swiss actress Ella Rumpf, who brings something neat to the supporting table. She’s definitely the more unstable and party-hungry of the siblings, and her wildly unpredictable decisions throughout the movie take the viewer further down the rabbit hole of juvenile hedonism. And finally, Justine’s roommate Adrien is played well in a fantastic debut from Rabah Naït Oufella. Of the characters, he was perhaps the most interesting one because of his contradictory nature. And his scenes provided most of the spare laughs in the film. And Raw also makes sure to grab viewers’ attention through its technical aspects. Belgian cameraman Ruben Impens contrasts the lens’ technique quite often. Often times, a scene unfolds from a beautiful, distant wide shot which helps develop the atmosphere. We can’t see the faces of the people, but we know what they’re doing. The one exception was a during a party scene early on in the film that was captured on a single shaky shot. We follow Justine the whole way through the event, and we really share her feeling of discomfort. Other times, a shot will linger on one particular subject for a certain amount of time which heightens the uneasy and foreboding tone of the film. The musical score is composed by British man Jim Williams in his 6th feature film, and boy is it memorable. The soundtrack at times feels like an homage to old-school horror movies, with plucked strings and organs switching off from each other. In fact, that’s probably not too far off from he had intended. But still, the main melody is composed of a harsh synthesizer that works to further establish the warm feeling of tension and anxiety. It also succeeds in keeping the audience humming after the credits roll. Before you start humming, though, you’ll have to wash out all of the disgusting imagery you’ve just witnessed. Despite its 99 minute-long runtime, virtually everything horrendous or provocative that you could imagine is placed somewhere in the movie. Want a bit of context? Arguably the tamest part of the entire movie is when Adrien, Justine’s roommate, is watching gay porn on his laptop. But it’s not exploitation. There is ultimately a purpose for the violence and gore, it pushes the plot and character development forward. All of it leads to a shocking final twist where everything is suddenly given more meaning and all we’ve seen is explained. To be honest, it’s actually not as bloody as I had anticipated, but that’s not saying much. While it’s certainly not for everyone, especially the faint of heart, Raw is a lurid parable of flesh and sexuality. It has finally been added to Netflix after months of failing to hunt it down. It’s genuinely one of the best films of 2017 and reveals Julie Docournau as a brand new talent to keep it an eye on.

Image result for raw movie

 

“The Disaster Artist” Movie Review

Have I ever told you guys that I’ve thought about becoming a film director someday? Well, this movie has given me even more of an incentive to pursue that dream. That’s one of the few things we can thank The Room for. This biographical comedy-drama received a standing ovation at the premiere of its rough cut at South By Southwest in March. After another screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it released worldwide on December 1st, 2017, where it has already earned back its $10 million budget. Based on the tell-all nonfiction book by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell, Seth Rogen’s production company set up film rights with James Franco in place to star. Despite the real-life subject wanting Johnny Depp for the lead role, Franco and A24 replicated the marketing strategy by having an actual billboard on Highland Avenue where they would call him and he’d ask them to see his movie. Beginning in 1998, the true-story stars the director’s younger brother Dave as an aspiring actor named Greg Sestero who befriends a fellow student Tommy Wiseau. After the two move to Hollywood and struggle to find any work, they resolve to make their own movie, The Room. And as the production unravels, their friendship and passion for acting is tested by a number of blunders which lead to the creation of one of the worst movies ever made. For those wondering, I have seen The Room. I caught it on cable once a few years ago and kept thinking the entire time, “What the hell is this?” It earns its reputation as the epitome of “so bad, it’s good” because, despite its terribleness, I just couldn’t look away. I will say that the only way to truly enjoy it is with a crowded theater where attendees know the movie backward and forwards and throw spoons at the screen. But the idea of a movie about the making of that movie? That’s like a cinephile’s wet dream come true. Do you need to have seen The Room in order to appreciate The Disaster Artist? No, you don’t. But you should definitely see James Franco’s new film because it’s highly entertaining. You can tell his deep passion and respect for the subject at hand. In fact, some scenes from The Room, such as the rooftop or the flower shop sequences, are recreated exactly as they were, right down to the framing of the shots. But also because Tommy Wiseau is one of the most mysterious and eccentric figures in the history of the film industry. No one, not even Sestero, knows anything concrete about him except that he apparently has a bottomless pit of money. And screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter, previously scribes for The Spectacular Now and The Fault in Our Stars, find the empathy and the human being inside of him. At least, as much as they could. The younger Franco Dave finally finds himself a worthy role as Sestero, a good-hearted yet quiet actor. Having him play Greg was a stroke of genius because he manages to have great chemistry with his older brother and is the only one in Hollywood willing to give him a chance. But I’m sorry, no matter how many celebrities make a cameo in this film (I counted at least 45) none of them come close to James Franco as Tommy. A revelation in every part of his performance, he nails everything about Tommy Wiseau. From his strange accent to his oddball laugh, it was all spot-on. He has no business making a movie of any sort, but we still root for him in the end. If we’re going to talk about Gary Oldman receiving praise for his makeup-heavy work in Darkest Hour, then James Franco also deserves Oscar consideration for Best Actor. As I said, he has a clear passion for the subject at hand, and that also shows on the technical side of things. Cinematographer Brandon Trost chooses to use a shaky, vérité-style movement around the set in between takes of The Room. In fact, several shots are on one take which gives off this feeling that we’re watching a documentary about Tommy Wiseau rather than a narrative feature. With the creative decision to have several celebrities give interviews at the beginning in a cold open, everything felt real and lived-in. And like many other films of its kind, it ends with a montage of footage and photos featuring the real-life versions of both Greg Sestero and Tommy Wiseau. While this strategy feels tacked-on most of the time, I felt like it worked here pretty well. The way that Stacey Schroeder edits the real footage together with what’s unfolding before our eyes is pretty nice. And for me, The Disaster Artist could not have come at a better time to come out. For all the scandals of abuse, harassment, corruption, cover-up, divorces, and indifference in current stories regarding the film industry, here’s a movie about a couple of goofballs who are genuinely trying to chase their dream. And seeing the tumultuous production of it progress was invigorating as they constantly butt heads on opportunities. As many of you probably know, The Room was meant to be a very gritty, Tennesse Williams style drama. And so when Tommy slowly realizes how people are actually reacting to the finished movie, it was heartbreaking to see his brainchild collapse. I felt like that was what this film captured best, even though, again, no one really knows anything about Wiseau. The Disaster Artist is a hilarious and unexpectedly heartfelt tribute to all the dreamers in the world. Some characters feel like they get left behind, and it occasionally panders to fans of The Room. Otherwise, I’m very happy with this product. In a way, Tommy Wiseau succeeded because his “masterpiece” is still shown and talked about all over the world. And he got a movie made about it.

Image result for the disaster artist

“Thor: Ragnarok” Movie Review

So this must be what it looks like when the entire board of head bosses at Marvel starts tripping on acid. If this is the result, then I’ve gotta have a taste of it. Released on November 3rd of 2017, this sci-fi superhero comedy has thus far earned over $833 million at the box office worldwide. The 17th(!) overall entry in the most unexpectedly successful franchise ever to hit theaters, it also serves as the final film starring the God of Thunder in the leading role. The film serves as the first blockbuster for director Taika Waiti, who previously found success from indie comedies like What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Set two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor finds himself in a new battle with Hela the Goddess of Death. After a freak accident, he is deserted on a distant alien planet where he’s forced to fight to the death, Gladiator style. With the help of Dr. Bruce Banner/Hulk, who’s also imprisoned as a fighter, he must find a way to get back home in time to prevent Ragnarok, the prophesied ending of Asgard. I have an odd history with the Thor franchise. Even though I liked the first one by Kenneth Branagh, it just didn’t hold up upon repeat viewings. And the second one The Dark World was… one of Marvel’s worst films to date and one I never saw again after leaving the theater. So you can imagine my reaction when plans were announced for a third installment. But I suddenly became more excited when I heard that Taika Waititi was at the helm for it. What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople are 2 of my favorite comedies in recent years, and seeing the little New Zealander moving into blockbuster territory was what ultimately got me to give in my ticket. And he has delivered to us not just the best Thor movie by a country mile, but the first straight-up superhero comedy in the MCU. The film is by far the most distinguished from the rest of its siblings by infusing every frame with a flaring personality. Jokes were cracked and gags were unleashed almost every other line. Waititi himself scored huge bits of stomach-hurting laughter as the voice of a CGI rock creature called Korg. On more than one occasion, a dramatic monologue would be interupted by a sudden physical gag. At times, it felt like there were too many jokes being crammed in at once. One thing’s for sure, though. The director 100% doesn’t care what you think of his movie. In an age where stories of clashes between studio profit and artistic vision are regular, it’s refreshing to see a filmmaker being allowed to let loose onscreen. At least, to a point. Having been one of the most boring characters in the MCU up til now, Chris Hemsworth is finally given the chance to be cheeky yet vulnerable as the titular protagonist. Stripped of his hair and hammer, he shows off great skills of improvisation and surprisingly on-point timing. However, for the third time in a row, Tom Hiddleston and Idris Elba steal the show from right under him as Loki and Heimdall, respectively. Whereas Heimdall is a world-weary warrior coming down to his last stand, Loki is as deceptive as ever, yet there is a sense of genuine concern for his home and adopted brother. Jeff Goldblum shines as a pitch-perfect alien caricature of himself, while Mark Ruffalo gets one of the few quiet moments with Thor. Tessa Thompson may seem like a generic drunkard-turned well-intended badass, but Cate Blanchett is more so as a dime-dozen all-powerful villain. She does what she can, but she falls into the same lame archetype we’ve seen countless times already. However, whatever Thor: Ragnarok falters in for its story or characters is completely made up for by its technicality. Bright, saturated colors fill up the picture in every scene. By far the most visually interesting movie of the series, Waititi’s quirkiness seemingly never ends to shine throughout the 130-minute runtime. There are spare moments when the action starts to get super cut-up by Joel Negron and Zene Baker, as they try to keep everything as slick as possible. The way that Javier Aguirresarobe moves the camera from moment to moment keeps the audience immersed in a tale that never takes itself too seriously. I’m telling you, it was borderline psychedelic at times. Composer Mark Mothersbaugh moves from T.V. to film to give us one of Marvel’s most memorable scores to date. (That’s not saying much) The forgettable sweeping orchestras are replaced here with pulsating synthesizers and fitting electronic music. It matched the idiosyncratic space adventure unfolding before our eyes. The movie opens with an action scene using Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song,” which fits incredibly well and sets the offbeat tone to follow. That was immediately followed by a surprise celebrity cameo that had my entire theater roaring. This, along with the gorgeous color palette, makes it feel as though they were going for a vibe throwing back to the 1980’s, the golden age of cheesy adventures. And thank God they do. However, try as he did, Taika Waititi is still confined to the regular formula of the other Marvel movies. The film is at its best when it’s silly and weird, mostly on the alien planet. But when we cut back to Asgard, it’s moody and rather predictable. Now that’s not to say that the ending turned out how I expected it to be. In fact, without spoiling anything, it signals a huge shift for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole. But up until then, nearly everything outside of the alien planet is uninteresting and nothing more than Hela giving extended monologues about why it’s her duty to rule the Nine Realms. But Waititi does his best, and that’s good enough in this case. Thor: Ragnarok lays endless jokes and appealing visuals on top of a patented superhero formula. Although not quite my favorite of the MCU, it’s leaps and bounds better than the previous Thor movies.

Related image

“Murder on the Orient Express” Movie Review

Well, that was stylish. This mystery drama has thus far grossed over $148 million at the worldwide box office since it was released on November 10th, 2017. Overall, this new interpretation from director Kenneth Branagh is the 4th adaptation of the highly celebrated novel by Agatha Christie. It’s also reportedly the first installment of a new franchise starring this iconic character if it’s successful enough for 20th Century Fox. Set in the 1930s, the film stars Branagh as the Belgian PI Hercule Poirot, perhaps the greatest detective in the world. On a ride back home on the lavish Orient Express train in Europe, an American tycoon is found slain in the middle of the night. Trapped in the mountains by an avalanche, Poirot must deduce the killer’s identity before the train gets back on track and they can get away. This might be the part where I lose some readers, but I feel like I should lay my cards out on the table before proceeding any further: I don’t much care for Christie’s bibliography. I mean, I have read the eponymous book and remember liking it, but it’s been quite a while since that happened. And I only vaguely remember episodes of the BBC adaptation of the character where he was portrayed masterfully by David Suchet. But aside from that, most of Poirot’s other stories didn’t click with me as they seemed like cold cases with no real stakes involved. However, I was somewhat interested in the prospect of Kenneth Branagh taking on a new adaptation of the novel. After all, he’s a thespian king who directed Henry V, one of my all-time favorites and a very underrated film. And I gotta say, this movie… really wasn’t that impressive. But I’ll give Branagh and Co. credit; they really tried. After all, this is the 4th live-action adaptation of one of the most popular mystery stories ever written. They added a whole new sequence at the beginning which, aside from forced humor that didn’t click with me, did a good job at setting up Poirot’s skills as a genius. Then, as soon as the murder actually happens, the tone completely shifts from lighthearted and jovial to serious and moody. It works to a point, but ultimately feels jarring the more I think about it. Whatever shortcomings the film has, Kenneth Branagh carries the whole film with his own mustache. Brimming with quirky humor and an inimitable level of intelligence, it’s quite a joy to follow this man as we’re solving the case with him. He spouts a majority of the dialogue in quick bursts with ease and never loses the attention of either the suspects or the audience. Meanwhile, he is backed up by a huge supporting cast of great actors and actresses. *deep breath* Johnny Deep, Judi Dench, Olivia Coleman, Lucy Boynton, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Penelope Cruz, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin, Marwan Kenzari, Michelle Pfieffer, and frequent collaborator with the director, Sir Derek Jacobi, all become involved in the central case. But it feels like too many characters to juggle at once without much of an earnest connection to them. Were a couple of them cut out, I don’t think the story as a whole would’ve been hurt. But there’s no denying the film’s technical brilliance. Haris Zambarloukos frames the cinematography in a way that’s almost old-fashioned. (Whenever there isn’t CGI snow) Since the movie mostly consists of Poirot interviewing the suspects, he keeps the viewer interested through unique moves such as overhead view and wide shots. The film ends with a tricky but impressive tracking shot on 65 mm, the same format used for the director’s version of Hamlet, which gives the feeling of this grand scale to the murder. Meanwhile, the editing from Mick Audsley uses great saturation and contrasts of big colors for many scenes. For the lavish looking interior of the train, we get a mixture of red and blue teal. But as Poirot deduces the clues, we see flashbacks in drowned black-and-white, much like an old Hollywood movie. Scottish composer Patrick Doyle creates the musical score for his 10th collaboration with director Kenneth Branagh, and he goes for an interesting route. For the scenes of action or intense investigation, there would be these rousing orchestral beats to bring excitement out of the viewers. For the more quiet, emotionally-driven character moments, he’d move to a soft melody of piano and strings. Often, the flashback scenes are shown without any sound; just narration and the sweet or mellow music to fit the mood. It’s certainly one of the prolific composers better scores recently, if not quite his most memorable one. And for anyone who wants to see this movie but hasn’t read the novel, I won’t spoil the ending here. But for me, it fell kind of flat. It made perfect sense and brought a whole new level of depth the film’s interpretation of justice. But it just didn’t really capture the big picture of its implications. And with all the characters the film attempted to swap in and out, it was kind of hard for me to feel anything really emotional. Again, the ending was fitting for the story and made everything you’ve just watched become more nuanced than initially realized, but screenwriter Michael Green’s approach felt more heavyhanded. Murder on the Orient Express is a stylish but flawed take on a time-worn story. Were this one to come across me on cable later on, I’d give it another go. If for nothing else, it’s a great film that should be saved for a rainy Friday night when you have nothing else to do. This adaptation isn’t without entertainment and even has legitimate merits for a franchise, but it could have been so much more. Oh well.

Related image