Bro-Reviews: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Best Jedi.

When news broke that the next installment of the new Star Wars trilogy, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, was having its release date delayed from May to December of 2017, people began to fear the worst. Coming off the heels of the vastly overrated Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the at first warmly received but now popular to mock Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi had its work cut out for it. Throw in new director Rian Johnson replacing Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams, and it seemed The Last Jedi was doomed. Does the latest tale in the worldwide phenomenon crumble fans hopes and dreams, or does it deliver another epic entry in the space opera?

The Last Jedi picks up around where Force Awakens left off, with Rey (Daisy Ridley) finally finding the last known Jedi in the galaxy, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), living in self imposed hiding. At the same time, the First Order is hot on the Resistances’ trail, and Rey and the Rebels must find assistance before the Rebellion is destroyed once and for all.

Forget what you think you know about the Star Wars universe, as The Last Jedi boldly goes where no other Star Wars has gone before. The story elements we have become accustomed to are shattered in the beginnings of The Last Jedi, and delivers unexpected character arcs that breathes new life into the heroes we’ve come to know and love and further develops the newest additions to the space set saga.

While he was not much of an actor in the original three films, Mark Hamill delivers his finest performance as Jedi master Luke Skywalker. His evolution from legendary hero to now disillusioned hermit is a compelling story that anchors the film. This evolution also includes his interactions with Daisy Ridley’s Rey, who continues to grow as a strong character, and she owns her star making role even more in The Last Jedi than she did in The Force Awakens. While many still question the believability of Adam Driver as the next master Sith, Kylo Ren, Driver’s youthful goofy look and perceived conflict lends itself in a positive fashion even more this time around, as he’s still just a scared little child with enough power to destroy all in his path, making for a tenacious performance.

These unfamiliar themes also spill into the action sequences of the film. While much of the suspense can be attributed to the fact that it is a Star Wars movie and we don’t know what is going to happen next, these scenes of battle and peril are not only some of the most exciting unpredictable sequences in a film in quite some time, but have you on the edge of your seat more than any other Star Wars film that has come before.

The rest of the cast acquits themselves well, with Oscar Isaac once again showing he’s a fiery fly-boy as Poe, Andy Serkis as good as ever as in motion capture acting as the leader of The First Order Snoke, and Denzel-in the making John Boyega showing off his movie star qualities as a more heroic rendition of Finn. Of course, one would be remiss if they failed to mention Carrie Fisher’s final screen appearance as the legendary General Organa, or otherwise known as Leia. She saves her best performance for last in The Last Jedi, as her calming presence and hopeful demeanor brings absence of balance to the film.

While The Last Jedi does forgo many of the familiar story elements we’ve known for over four decades, there are obviously still moments akin to previous Star Wars lore. One can’t help but notice parallels to The Empire Strikes Back as it pertains to certain characters, and of course it wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie if there wasn’t one flight sequence in tight corridors. And while new creatures such as the Porgs are at first endearing in their interactions with Chewbacca, they become shameless toy commercials screaming BUY ME towards the latter parts of the film. One of the new human additions to the film is Kelly Marie Tran, who plays Rose in the film. She eventually finds her footing, but for a majority of the film seems out of place due to her limited acting progress.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has minor flaws within it that may bother some, but they are not enough to derail the entire film. The Last Jedi is filled with tension and delivers stellar blockbuster thrills at a whole new level. The story takes everything you think you know about a Star Wars film and flips it upside down, making it the best Star Wars entry to date. The Last Jedi is a near flawless blockbuster film, and will stand the tests of time in this galaxy far far away.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi stars Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Laura Dern, and Benicio Del Toro. It is in theaters December 15th. 

 

 

 

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Bro-Reviews: In Defense of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The hype was too big to live up to.

The early buzz for the latest entry in the world famous space opera saga Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been very positive, with many saying it is one of the best the series has to offer. With Star Wars: The Last Jedi opening in theaters this week, many television networks are of course opting to show the previous entries in marathon fashion throughout the week. This of course always re-opens the conversation Star Wars junkies and casual fans almost universally agree upon: the prequels are awful.

After the 1983 release of Return of the Jedi, fans had to wait nearly 16 years for another Star Wars film. It came in the form of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menance, the first film in a planned trilogy that would act as a precursor to the original three films from the man who helmed the 1976 film that started a worldwide phenomenon, George Lucas. With the promise of state of the art special effects, a talented ensemble cast including the likes of Liam Neeson and Samuel L. Jackson, and an ominous new threat, the film had sky-high expectations, especially considering the positive reception the first three films earned.

While the film earned over $431 million and was a smash hit at the box office, many left the theater disappointed. Most of the complaints centered around the terrible acting, over-complicated plot, lack of action, and Jar-Jar Binks. One might say the film is one of the biggest disappointments in the history of cinema, and the release of two more not well received prequel films only solidifies this status, as it was the one that started the disappointing cycle. I, however, invite you to reconsider, as while The Phantom Menace is far from a perfect film, it is a fine entry in the Star Wars saga.

Many criticize the acting in the film, placing much of the blame squarely on the shoulders of unrefined child actors Natalie Portman and Jake Lloyd as Padmé Amidala and Anakin Skywalker respectively. Here’s a newsflash: most child actors are terrible. I would never advise one to praise their acting prowess in the film, as they deliver mostly wooden performances, but they get the job done. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor are great as Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Won Kenobi respectively, and are able to anchor the film. And lets be honest, the acting in the original three films is awful as well. There’s a reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fischer (*R.I.P.*) didn’t get much work once the original saga concluded, it was because they weren’t very good. Star Wars isn’t a movie franchise you go to see for the acting, you go for the visuals and the story.

However, many complain the story in Phantom Menace is poor as well. What they really mean is that the story is complicated. It isn’t as clear as the Cold-War like storyline represented in the original three films, which is the Rebels (*the good guys*) fighting the Empire (*the bad guys*) for space supremacy. In Phantom Menace, there’s many more parties involved, including the Republic, the Trade Federation, the Gugans, the Galactic Senate, the Jedi Council, and the Sith. Each of these parties have their own agendas, with some even acting as double agents, thus alluding to the political climate we have grown accustomed to. The film may not have the sharp dialogue required to pull off the story due to George Lucas’s shortcomings as a writer, but the film should be praised for containing such a complex story-line and using it as the set-up to the stories in the 70s and 80s films.

If there’s anything I can agree with most people about, it is Jar-Jar Binks. Actor Ahmed Best will have to live with this burden the rest of his life, as the borderline racist character will forever live in infamy as one of if not the worst character in the Star Wars universe. However, fans and critics are missing the point as to why the character exists: it’s a movie for children. Yes, Star Wars appeals to fans of many ages, but the films target children. Jar-Jar was the major selling point for kids to see the movie, as the fun loving, goofy character represented the lighthearted side of the film, and whose main function was to provide comic relief for the children. After seeing him in the film, children who more than likely loved the character would then bug their parents enough for them to buy them a Jar-Jar toy, thus allowing the Star Wars franchise to obtain even more funds from everyone. The same was and remains true for Chewbacca, the Ewoks, and also continues for new additions like BB-8 and Porg.

The podracing scene stands out to most as the best sequence in the entire movie. It’s undoubtedly inventive and suspenseful, and clearly took advantage of the advancements in special effects technology to deliver one of the most thrilling scenes in Star Wars canon. But let’s not forget the feeling of dread and awesomeness when one of the baddest Sith lords to ever grace a Star Wars film, Darth Maul, reveals his double sided lightsaber in the best lightsaber battle in all the Star Wars films. Sure, it’s interrupted by a somewhat annoying Anakin Skywalker in an auto piloted starfighter joining the federation in fighting the droid control ship and the Gugans battling the droids with a clumsy Jar-Jar somehow saving the day, but even those scenes are fun as well. The choreography for the lightsaber fight is unprecedented, filmed in such a way you can tell what’s occurring on screen and feel every clash of a lightsaber, and adds one of the biggest gut-punches that would forever shape the Star Wars universe.

It’s elements such as these that makes Phantom Menace much better than its reputation would have you believe. Yes, it’s far from perfect and maybe has its sights set too high in regards to its story for a Star Wars film, but Phantom Menace delivers blockbuster thrills and tremendous state of the art visuals on a grand scale. The hype machine set the expectations for the film so high there was no way it could live up to it. People had been craving another Star Wars movie for over a decade, and wanted it to be the way it was when they were a child. There’s no doubt “this wasn’t my childhood” sentiment also hindered the film, but it’s been long enough now that hopefully everyone has grown up and realized these movies, while they can be enjoyed by all ages, are targeted towards children, which they obviously no longer were by the time Phantom Menace landed in theaters nearly 20 years ago. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace should be given another viewing, and one should leave with a greater appreciation for the film than they did a long time ago in a galaxy far far away.

Rating: 2.5/ 4 Stars. Pay Matinée price.

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace stars Liam Neeson, Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Jake Lloyd, Ian McDiamird, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Ahmed Best, Frank Oz, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Bro-Reviews: The Disaster Artist

No, this is not a Funny or Die sketch.

The Room is widely heralded as one of the worst films ever made. Written, directed, and starring the quirky and mysterious Tommy Wiseau, the film was released in June of 2003 to universally negative reaction. In the following years, however, The Room has gained a cult following, with dozens of midnight screenings attended and merchandise sold that has since made the film profitable and turned Tommy Wiseau into a beloved figure. A book chronicling the making of the film written by Wiseau’s co-star and friend, Greg Sestero, called “The Disaster Artist: The Greatest Bad Movie Ever” was released in 2013 to universal acclaim, and caught the attention of one of Wiseau’s biggest fans, actor James Franco. Franco has taken it upon himself to tell the story of Wiseau’s attempt to make it in Hollywood by directing and starring in an adaptation of Sestero’s memoir, The Disaster Artist.

The Disaster Artist sees Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) struggling to achieve his dream of becoming an actor due to his lack of confidence. He then meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a classmate of his in an acting class in San Francisco, and is mesmerized by his vulnerability on-stage. The two begin an unlikely friendship, which sees them move together to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming matinée idols. When the two are rejected by Hollywood, Wiseau decides to make his own movie, entitled The Room, in the hopes of finally achieving success and a Hollywood ending.

When the trailer for the film first appeared online, many, including myself, thought it was a Funny or Die sketch. That no one was actually making a movie about the making of arguably the worst movie to ever grace the silver screen. And while many now adore The Room and categorize it as a film that is “so bad, it’s good”, I am not one of those people. The Room is a bad film made by an amateur who had enough money to do it. Nothing more, nothing less.

While there is no doubt hero-worship occurring, James Franco is tremendous as Tommy Wiseau. Sure, there are times where it feels as if he is parodying Wiseau, but he is able to portray Wiseau as a sympathetic figure you root for and an off-putting on-set monster all at the same time with the careful dexterity we have come to know James Franco by. Dave Franco also showcases his acting chops finally with his performance as Greg Sestero, and shows he’s capable of delivering good character actor work. The two share many scenes together in the film, and their impeccable chemistry makes their friendship and semi-homoerotic relationship shine on-screen.

The film’s final two acts are nothing short of fascinating, as they focus mainly on the making of The Room. While I am not one of the members of the film’s cult, it is fascinating to see just how in the world the film got made. Scenes showing The Room‘s troubled production and the difficulty of working with Wiseau will no doubt add to The Room‘s and Wiseau’s legend, and deliver some of the funniest scenes in the entire movie.

Much like The Room, The Disaster Artist does have somewhat of an amateurish feel about it. This is due to the fact that its director, James Franco, is not very experienced in this field. There are scene transitions that come across as clunky, and would have fared better perhaps if the film were in the hands of more skillful director. And while much praise should be given towards the Franco brothers for their seamless chemistry, there’s a point when the two decide to move to Los Angeles where I felt myself groaning at their over-excitement over them taking this next step, as it is clear by this point the two have developed a special bond that does not require more showing, but instead more telling.

As stated earlier, I am not a person who has a love for The Room. One of the problems that hinders The Disaster Artist is the film’s over reliance on people loving and praising The Room. The film opens with celebrities applauding the film and Wiseau, and as a person who only admires Wiseau for his gumption to make his own movie and not the movie itself, the opening felt like an unnecessary add-on. The film also closes with a side-by-side comparison of The Room‘s most iconic scenes and those scenes being re-enacted by the actors in The Disaster Artist. Had the film cut-off just five minutes earlier, I wouldn’t have left with the feeling of over-adoration for a film that I do not share the same feelings for, which somewhat left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

The Disaster Artist is still a fine adaptation that does its subject matter justice and further illuminates the mystery of Wiseau and his beloved creation. While fans of The Room are no doubt in for a treat, non-fans may grow wary of the film’s unnecessary over-adoration of its topic. However, The Disaster Artist succeeds due to its terrific lead performances and admittingly compelling story, and will more than likely find itself as an awards contender since it is a movie about making a movie. Hollywood loves to tell such stories and pat themselves on the back for telling them, even though the end result could potentially be hypocritical considering Hollywood rejected The Disaster Artist‘s subject many years earlier.

Rating: 3/4 Stars. Pay Matinée Price.

The Disaster Artist stars James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutchinson, Jacki Weaver, Zac Efron, Jason Mantzoukas, Hannibal Buress, Melanie Griffith, Paul Scheer, and Sharon Stone. It is in theaters December 1st.

Bro-Reviews: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

An unfocused narrative paired with a tour de force in acting.

Denzel Washington is as accomplished an actor there is in Hollywood. Whether you are a film buff or not, you can identify Mr. Washington easily, particularly by only saying his iconic first name, Denzel. One would think at this point in his illustrious career he may be slowing down, but past awards worthy roles in 2007’s American Gangster, 2012’s Flight, and 2016’s Fences prove he is only getting better with age. Pair him with screenwriter and director Dan Gilroy, who’s coming off the success of his directorial debut Nightcrawler, and Roman J. Israel, Esq. should be chalked-up as another victory for Denzel, right?

Denzel Washington stars as Roman J. Israel, Esq., a legal genius but socially inept lawyer who has spent years fighting the good fight for a small law firm in Los Angeles, California. When his partner in the firm unexpectedly experiences a health emergency, Roman finds himself working for the law firm of a former student of his partners’, George Pierce (Colin Farrell). After years of staying true to his values, he finds his morality being challenged due to a deadly case he’s working on with Pierce, while also starting a relationship with a civil rights worker (Carmen Ejogo).

Roman J. Israel, Esq. rests on the shoulders on its iconic star, and Denzel delivers more awardsworthy work as the titular character. Although the character is not entirely likeable, there’s something stunning about Denzel’s transformation into this very intelligent but people skills lacking lawyer. Washington has displayed unbelievable range and has carried films throughout his career, and once again displays his talents in this film.

One has to think it’s bizarre to see him share scenes with Denzel, but Colin Farrell is on his A-game. He may not be able to match Denzel blow for blow, but his supporting part should be highlighted and deserves awards consideration. Carmen Ejogo also delivers a fine performance as well, as she admires Roman’s quirkiness and sees him as an inspiring figure.

The issue that looms large over Roman J. Israel, Esq. is the film’s jumbled narrative. At its core, the film is about a man who abandons his selflessness for a short period of time only to realize it is this quality that makes him who he is. The film takes way too long to set this up, as its main story could be told in under two hours easily, but instead runs for an overlong two hours. Its heavy handedness is also glaring, as there are more subtle ways to depict a redemption story than having your leading man call himself a hypocrite at the beginning of the film and seeing him stray away from his magnum opus civil case to experience the luxuries in life once he is able to obtain them. Director Dan Gilroy made Nightcrawler such a taut, slick thriller back in 2014, so it’s curious to see just how this film managed to escape from him and be so distorted.

It doesn’t help seeing Washington’s character struggle in social situations continuously, which becomes more irritating than endearing after awhile. This is due to the fact Roman is the very definition of someone you wouldn’t trust to park your car. He would not only fail to follow instructions, he would attempt to explain why he didn’t do what you told him to do. This hypothetical situation is similar to many of the actions Roman takes throughout the film, making him rather obnoxious. This handicaps the film, as we typically want to sympathize with the protagonist of a film or at least have a reason to care about them. This is especially troubling when a film with a muddled narrative such as this one needs to be carried by the main character in order to make it a better film. That feeling doesn’t arise until the conclusion, and you’re more likely to react by saying “I told you so” rather than be sympathetic.

Roman J. Israel Esq. isn’t a total misfire, but rather a missed opportunity. The film boasts a capable cast around its star, and features Denzel Washington in yet another tremendous performance. Had the film been more focused, less heavy-handed, and featured a more likeable lead, Roman J. Israel Esq. could’ve been a nice little redemption story. Instead, what we get from Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a tour de force lead performance that can’t quite makeup for its jumbled narrative.

Rating: 2.5 Stars out of 4. Pay Low Matinée Price.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. stars Denzel Washington, Colin Farrell, Carmen Ejogo, Nazneen Contractor, Joseph David-Jones, Andrew T. Lee, and Shelley Hennig. It is in theaters November 17th.

 

 

 

Bro-Reviews: Justice League

Injustice for all.

The DC Extended Universe, or DCEU, has never quite found its footing. Man of Steel experienced mixed results at best, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice was an unmitigated disaster, and Suicide Squad was a dumpster fire. The only one of the DCEU’s films to be legitimately good is Wonder Woman, which is universally regarded as one of the top films in the comic book movie genre and a potential awards contender. Many had hopes with the success of Wonder Woman, the DCEU could be salvaged with the arrival of Justice League, which promised to be the epic universe building film DC fans were waiting for. The only question remains, does Justice League deliver justice for the wrongs of its previous failures?

Justice League sees Bruce Wayne/ Batman (Ben Affleck) discovering an other worldly enemy arriving after the demise of Superman (Henry Cavill). This other worldly presence reveals itself to be Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), who along with his Parademons seeks the three Mother Boxes in order to unleash an even more powerful cosmic figure to destroy the world and rule it. To stop Steppenwolf, Bruce calls upon the help of Diana Prince/ Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Barry Allen/ The Flash (Ezra Miller), Victor Stone/ Cyborg (Ray Fisher), and Arthur Curry/ Aquaman (Jason Momoa), to help defeat Steppenwolf and deliver justice to the world.

It’s hard not to hold the wrongs of previous DCEU entries against Justice League, but Justice League doesn’t do itself any favors by having many of the same flaws that plagued the universe’s previous films. Most of those flaws point to the director and architect of what now most be classified a failed universe, Zack Synder. The man continues to use slow motion ad nauseam, even for insignificant happenings such as an angry man knocking over fruit baskets outside of a corner liquor store. Synder does have an eye for visual effects and action sequences, but most of those end up looking cheap despite its big budget and hard to follow due to the studio going into full blown panic mode after the film that was supposed to kick everything off wet the bed.

Other trademark Synderism include setting up scenes with no background at all, using exposition to explain away whatever confusion you may have had with those scenes that weren’t set up properly, and a total lack of characterization for most, if not all the characters involved. Why does Steppenwolf want to take over the world? Why does Synder insist on Amy Adam’s Lois Lane being the emotional crux of this universe just to give her something to do even though she’s terrible? Why did Joss Whedon of Marvel fame decide to get involved in this mess and change the already awfully dark color pallet to an even more off-putting colorful one?

We learn next to nothing regarding the new characters introduced to the universe, particularly Ezra Miller’s Flash and Jason Momoa’s Aquaman. Miller’s Flash is an encapsulation of millennial stereotypes, and is unfunny and annoying throughout. Despite his impressive physique and stature, Jason Momoa lacks any sort of screen presence, and Aquaman’s rebellious surfer-dude demeanor feels out of place entirely. Henry Cavill somewhat suffers the same fate as Momoa’s Aquaman, and it’s clear Synder and the filmmakers don’t have a clear understanding of the Superman mythos. Even Ben Affleck, whose older and battle-worn Batman/ Bruce Wayne is a welcome change for the character, seems disinterested, and turning him and Jeremy Iron’s Alfred into wise crackers feels out of sync.

It’s only Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg who get anything out of what clearly was a heavily re-edited script to fit everything into one film instead of making a two part film and to ensure a run time of under two hours. Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to be the only beacon of hope in an otherwise lost universe, but even she can’t save the movie. Ray Fisher definitely commands the screen whenever he’s on and his brooding makes for an interesting backstory, but it’s all cut short instead of being explored further so we can get back to a hacked to the bone film that lacks any sort of substance.

There are moments where Justice League does deliver, particularly when you can actually see the action clearly. The final sequences continues the DC tradition of CGI infested climaxes, but I’d be lying if I said my inner 10 year-old didn’t admire all of the classic DC heroes posing in their action shots while doing battle with the insignificant flies that were the Perademons. But for a film that was so supposed to be an epic team-up and a response to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Justice League felt like a throwaway obligation instead of an epic, universe building answer to The Avengers. If anything, the film is a processed version of that superior film, and tries to mimic Marvel to the point that it’s during and after the credits scenes feel like cheap imitators threatening us with more bad movies rather than significant, anticipated reveals.

Justice League is yet another chore in the DC Extended Universe that seems to be our punishment for enjoying the gluttony of great comic book movies Marvel has released for nearly the last decade or so. It’s a soulless bore that could’ve been something great had it not been altered due to its predecessor’s failures and to resemble an already far better product. In the end, Justice League not only fails to do its source material and universe justice, it should be categorized as something no fan would want its beloved source material to be: an injustice.

Rating: 2/4 Stars. Rent it.

Justice League stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, Billy Crudup, and Ciarán Hinds. It is in theaters November 17th.

Bro-Reviews: Murder on the Orient Express

Well-groomed but not the smoothest ride.

As I’ve stated before, adapting treasured literature into a film is always a tall order. The studio and filmmakers want to make a movie that will not only satisfy fans of the work, but will also appeal to mainstream audiences. This seems nearly impossible for the works of Agatha Christie, as Christie purists are notoriously snobbish in regards to adapting her work. If there were ever a person who could do it, however, it would be celebrated actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh. Surely a knighted man could faithfully adapt one of Christie’s most famous novels and remake the classic 1974 critically acclaimed film, Murder on the Orient Express, right?

Murder on the Orient Express sees famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) traveling from Israel after for his upcoming holiday after expertly solving another case. He does so aboard the Orient Express, a luxurious but overcrowded train holding a wide array of passengers. One night after the train is derailed due to a snow storm, a passenger is discovered dead. Believed to be murdered, Poirot takes the case to solve the murder on the Orient Express.

The first quality of the film that must be noted is its grand settings and slick look. Shots of the city of Israel, the main train station, the snowy mountains, and the sets of the train cabins are nothing short of award worthy. They transport you to the film’s setting in the 1930s, and Branagh’s excellent staging makes you too feel as if you are a passenger aboard this claustrophobic train. There’s not doubt the film is beautiful to look at, and is the epitome of stylish to say the very least.

The all star ensemble cast delivers when necessary, but it’s Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer as Mary Debenham and Caroline Hubbard respectively who make the most of their limited screen time. Ridley proves there’s a future for her beyond Star Wars, and Pfeiffer continues her career renaissance with her performance. Though the film’s advertising highlights Johnny Depp as one of the main characters in the film, he’s hardly in it. But he too shines as the gangster Samuel Ratchett in the film, showing that somewhere buried deep within him there is still a man who can deliver an excellent performance.

Of course, the main star of the film other than his trademark mustache is Branagh as Poirot. Branagh is one of our finest actors living today, and does a splendid job as the famed detective. He is able to deliver scenes of intensity and scenes highlighting Poirot’s unique intricacies with ease, showcasing both his dramatic and comedic range. Branagh is also able to put the audience in Poirort’s shoes as he tries to uncover the mystery, and you too have as difficult a time piecing all of the evidence together, which also shows Poirot as vulnerable for the first time in his life despite his reputation.

While I stated earlier that the ensemble cast does their job, some members of the cast do feel underused. Penélope Cruz seems to fall victim the most to this as a missionary aboard the train, and feels as if she was cast to sell the movie despite not putting her academy award winning talent to much use. Dame Judi Dench also feels under utilized in the film, as her role as a snobbish Princess doesn’t quite resonate the way Judi Dench should resonate as we have grown accustomed to.

Having never read the book nor seen the 1974 Sidney Lumet directed version, I cannot necessarily say Agatha Christie fans will be pleased with every aspect of the film, but that is to be expected whenever adapting famed literature into a mainstream film. However, I would love to ask readers of the novel and Christie purists if the twists and reveal of who committed the crime pay off better in the book, as those reveals don’t payoff as much as they should upon being revealed. I felt I should’ve been shocked or at the very least felt a gut punch in the film’s climatic discoveries, but that unfortunately did not happen.

Overall, Murder on the Orient Express is a solid re-make and adaptation. It’s a glossy, well-groomed whodunit that doesn’t have the climax one anticipates after watching the film. Murder on the Orient Express may not be the smoothest ride, but its solid ensemble cast, terrific lead performance, and elaborate visuals and sets more than make up for its underwhelming final outcome.

Rating: 2.5/4 Stars. Pay Matinée Price.

Murder on the Orient Express stars Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, and Daisy Ridley. It is in theaters November 10th.

 

 

Bro-Reviews: Thor: Ragnarok

Ragnarok Rocks.

Ever since the release of 2008’s Iron Man from Marvel Studios, the Marvel movie making machine has not slowed down. The output of Marvel movies increased further when Marvel Studios was purchased by Walt Disney, as there have been at least 2 Marvel Cinematic Universe films released every year with the exceptions of 2010 and 2012. While most if not all of those films have been successful, the mighty Thor has somewhat struggled with critical acclaim. 2011’s Thor received mixed to positive reactions, and it’s sequel, Thor: The Dark World, is often regarded as one of the weakest entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With the arrival of Thor: Ragnarok finally here, can the God of Thunder finally lay claim to his own great solo outing?

Thor: Ragnarok sees Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleson), discovering a secret buried deep within their family history involving Hela (Cate Blanchett), the goddess of death. Hela disposed of them quickly, and Thor finds himself on the planet Sakaar. There, he must recruit his former Avengers teammate and now celebrated gladiator, the Incredible Hulk/ Bruce Banner (voiced by Lou Ferrigno, portrayed by Mark Ruffalo), and a former Asgardian warrior, Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), to battle Hela before she takes over Asgard and the cosmos.

While Thor is indeed an Avenger, he’s always felt like one of the B-level members of the team, and his solo outings don’t quite compare favorably to his teammates, Captain America chief among them. Thor: Ragnarok, however, finally delivers everything we’ve ever wanted in a Thor movie. Thor: Ragnarok is the most colorful, and quite possibly the funniest, Marvel Cinematic Universe film to date.

Chris Hemsworth may be exploited mainly for his chiseled abs and chest, but he’s always done an excellent job as the God of Thunder. He oozes charisma and has excellent comedic timing this time around, making his third outing as Thor his finest yet. Tom Hiddleson is as sleazy as ever as the God of Mischief Loki, making him an excellent counter to Hemsworth’s Thor. The combination of Lou Ferrigno and Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk brings the most laughs we’ve ever seen from the character, and it’s good to finally see Marvel take a more light-hearted approach while still delivering enough emotional baggage with the big guy.

Cate Blanchett may seem like she’s above material such as this, but she brings her Oscar caliber chops to the table as Hela. Sure, she suffers from the same issue seemingly all Marvel villains have, i.e. “I want to be the ruler of them all” syndrome, but she’s one of the more memorable villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tessa Thompson also gives a knockout performance as Valkyrie, proving she’s an actress to be reckoned with. While Jeff Goldblum is essentially playing the new internet parody version of himself as the Grandmaster of Sakaar, he’s equally funny as he is odd. Other supporting cast members including Idris Elba returning as Heimdall and Anthony Hopkins reappearing as Odin do their jobs as well, and even the Thing knockoff Korg played by director Taika Waititi is a comic delight. Even Karl Urban is able to add to the film in his small role as Skurge, proving that director Taika Waititi can get the most out of what is a stellar ensemble cast.

The real star of Thor Ragnarok, however, are the special effects and environments. Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s creation come to life in Thor: Ragnarok, as one of the most vibrant and lively comic book settings are fully realized like never before. Asgard is as breathtaking as ever, and remains of the key staples to Marvel’s other worldly universe. The latest addition that takes the cake in terms of new environments is the planet Sakaar. Sure, on the surface it looks like a glorified landfill in space, but within the city and the palace of the Grandmaster is a colorful setting that transports you to another universe that is nothing short of breathtaking.

The action sequences also deliver in a big way. The battle between Thor and Hulk on Sakaar is one of the best fights Marvel has ever choreographed, and the final battle on Asgard is as compelling of a climatic battle as you’ll see on film. Director Taika Waititi delivers the most vivid and lively Marvel film yet, and that’s no easy feat considering it’s the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s clear he and Marvel decided to go all in on the visuals and effects for Thor’s third outing, a welcome move considering Thor is Marvel’s most creative and vivacious comic book. One must take full advantage by viewing the film in IMAX 3D to get the full scope of the landscape.

Thor: Ragnarok is gem. It’s got great performances, tremendous action, and vibrant visuals. Just when you think comic book movie fatigue may be setting in for moviegoers, Marvel delivers another must-see comic book movie. Thor: Ragnarok should rank towards the top of Marvel’s best films, as it is the perfect Marvel movie, and it may one day be widely considered one of the best comic book movies of all time. Make no mistake about it, Thor: Ragnarok rocks.

Rating: 4/4 Stars. Pay Full Price.

Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleson, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, and Anthony Hopkins. It is in theaters November 3rd.