Review : Murder on the Orient Express

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“A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.”

Murder on the Orient Express is based on the famous book of the same title and is directed by Kenneth Branagh, who also plays the title role here along side a laundry list of who’s who of great actors. The movie starts off by setting up our lead character of Hercule Poirot, and why he’s possibly the greatest detective in the world. We then are set off on a journey with only one ending for one of the trains passengers…murder. Branagh does play a very good Poirot here in all his moustached glory, there are some issues however, with the rest of the cast. My real issue with all of them, and its pretty much all of them, is that they’re all more caricatures than characters. Now, they do as caricatures kind of fit and work in the world that was created here because certain things are kind of over the top and they do work very well in that regard, but they never seem as deep and flushed out as Poirot. And thats probably the real story of this entire movie, in that it all seems like everything was created, done, and existed for sole purpose of making Poirot probably the greatest detective in the world. I can’t speak for the solving of the actual crime, compared to how its done in the book and the motivations and all that, but here there was an interesting twist with it, but one that made it much less impactful and much less satisfying to me, and possible to other people who aren’t super familiar with the material. Sidenote, this movie is definitely very very nice to look at, and they do set up some amazing set pieces as backdrops.

Review Score : 6.5 out of 10

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Wrap Up : Stranger Things 2

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Success sometimes, isn’t the best thing for movies and TV shows. Especially when that success, comes out of nowhere, and becomes huge, massive success. Thats what happened to season one of Stranger Things. That success means a few different things. One, it makes the expectations of season two that much more inflated. Two, many times more success means more people who want to able to claim some of that success and quality which adds more cooks to the kitchen. Three, everyone expects any sequel to be bigger and better than before. And four, you usually don’t have as much time to create as you did before. Most if not all of these things I’m sure were a part of the creation of Stranger Things season two, that  being said though, this season of Stranger Things definitely comes out swinging a nail filled bat of quality.

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Everything about ST2 that needed to be bumped up, has been, and everywhere that should have been kept smaller and more tight knit, has also been. Thats the real success of season two. Things pick up right where they left off, even though this takes places about year after the events of season one, it honestly feels like we never left these characters. The entire gangs back, plus some new faces that are expertly woven into this sci-fi, adventure tapestry. The story picks up like I said one year after season one, and meets our party trying to live a normal life after the life changing events of a year before. And at first, all does seem well, and we don’t have to wait long before we get our first look at fan favorite 11, as many fans were worried we might have to wait a long time to see her return.

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Then things start to get, well, strange. New comers Dacre Montgomery, Paul Reiser, Sean Astin, and Sadie Sink are all welcomed to the cast, and they all have sizable roles. Then just like season one, ST2 does an amazing job of setting up its narrative, and setting all of its characters on a collision course to its ultimate end. This all isn’t to say also that this season is safe, as it does make some bold decisions, and sticks to them for better or worse. One of the things that worked best about season one, was the team, and when the team was together on screen. ST2 takes a typical trope of team up movies, and breaks up the team for the majority of the narrative, only to bring them back for the finale. It actually takes many common tropes of the genre ( sci-fi, adventure, 80s, horror), and twists them around on themselves to allow for much more character development than would usually come from said tropes. Some of the best characters on the show are actually the ones that start out as much less likable, but that allows for them to have the most growth.

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ST2 also benefits from a clearly, and sizably increased budget, and it definitely shows on screen. From episode one straight on, we get to reap the fruits of that increased budget, and it just allows for the elevation of the material. I do have some minor gripes as with most things, but they really are mostly just personal issues, and they don’t at all pull down the material, or the show itself. After season one I had really high expectations for this season, and of the creators, the Duffer brothers, who write and direct most all of season one and two. I also was, and am continually impressed with the level acting from the entire cast here, especially the younger actors who prove again they are no one hit wonders. All in all, Stranger Things season 2 is a wonderful return to form for the Duffer brothers, the cast, the crew, and everyone involved. I think it reaches most of the heights of the season one, and it most definitely eclipses season one in terms of the spectacle here, and the quality of acting and directing doesn’t let off ever. It might not have made me cry like season one, but it had me on the edge of seat for sure, and its worth the watch and the binge (just clear 9 hours and get it out in a one).

Review : The Snowman


“Detective Harry Hole investigates the disappearance of a woman whose pink scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman.”

The Snowman is a strange movie. It’s directed by Tomas Alfredson, and stars Michael Fassbender as an alcoholic detective, who gets drawn into a murderuous, conspiracy plot. This movie has a surprisingly big name cast, but other than Rebecca Ferguson, none of those actors have much of a role here really. It’s listed under 5 genres, and it really does run the gamut here from crime, to mystery, and even horror and thriller. The real problem with this movie however, is that instead of happening to be all those things, it tries to be at least a little of each across the movies 2 hour run time. And that leads to a few different issues. For one, this movie dangles a few too many threads for us to pull on, because it never gets the opportunity to address all, or wrap up all, so many of them just come of as conspiracy fodder, and wasted sub plots. At least one third of this movie, consists of an entire kind of high power prostitution ring sub plot, that both went no where, and save for one tiny connector, would have been totally irrelevant to the movie on a whole. And that trend carries over in the movies pace and tone. It’s constantly up and down, and constantly trying to be a horror one minute, a thriller the next, a crime drama the next, and it just doesn’t work. Even the main plot here, comes across as convoluted, and like it constantly was trying to throw the viewer, but doing so with little regard to make sure it still made sense in the end. I mean Fassbender and Ferguson are fine here, I didnt really expect anything either ground breaking or terrible from them, and their supporting cast is also fine in the limited role they do have. All in all, The Snowman feels like a lot of wasted potential, much of which I think came down to the directing, and the adaptation of this film from its novel inspiration.

Review Score : 5 out of 10

Review : Mother!


“A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.”

So you might read that, and think you know what you’re getting yourself into, but boy would you be wrong. Mother is a metaphor, and I mean that in the most literal way possible, this movie is literally a metaphor, wrapped up in another metaphor, and a simile, and everything else literary and none literal. It stars Jennifer Lawrence as “Mother”, and Javier Bardem as her spouse, and in that, that’s as straight forward as this movie ever is or gets. Darren Aronofsky is known by now for his dream like storytelling and visuals, that he combines with very specific themes, that he almost always plays metaphorically, and leaves much to the audience to dissect and understand. This movie is no different, and is probably his most Aronofsky movie ever. To be fair, this movie isn’t for everyone, hell its probably not for most people, and it’s portrayal of certain ideas and concepts might really rub a lot of people the wrong way. This movie can come across as very voyeuristic, and almost pornographic in its presentation, and given the relationship between director and lead actress here, I think that makes sense. Mother requires a lot from Lawrence, and she gives it her all, and she is excellent in her role. A role however, that I think took a lot of trust and confidence in her director, and I think their personal relationship helped that. There is so much I can say about this movie, in breaking it down, dissecting and discussing it, but I’m never been one for spoilers, and I think a big part of this movie is seeing it, and being confronted by it, and then having to deal with that experience, and formulate an opinion from that. It also feels impossible to score this film, as for all of those that won’t appreciate what was attempted here, would probably laugh this movie off, so I feel like I have to score it based on those who are actually willing enough to try it. If all of this sounds a bit too out there for you, then maybe Mother isn’t for you, but if you like experimental, artistic, inventive, and out there stories and story telling, then give Mother a look.

Review Score : 8.5 out of 10

Review : Blade Runner 2049


“A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.”

1982 gave us one the most influential science fiction movies of all time in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. 35 years later, we have the combined vision of Scott, but this time helmed by Arrival’s Denis Villeneuve, with story by Hampton Fancher. It picks up 30 years after the events of the first movie, this time lead by Ryan Gosling as a LAPD Blade Runner charged with retiring older lost models of replicants. There is a lot more story here, but honestly, this movie is filled with so many unspoiled surprises, that I can’t really talk about much of it without giving a lot away. What I can say however, is that this movie is possibly the prettiest, most beautifully shot movie I maybe have ever seen, and that’s a real impressive feat given the general bleakness of this future landscape. That bleakness however, does allow the movie a kind of minimalist aesthetic that pairs brilliantly with the analog future design of everything here. It’s like they took what was done in the first movie, and instead of just going more into the future, they went into the future of what they had already created which allows 2049 to match perfectly with the original, but still feel new. That visual base is then stacked even higher by the acting here. Ryan Gosling, Ana de Armas, and the rest of the cast here are all spectacular. No one does understated like Gosling, and he plays this complex role to a Tee. He also cuts a great silhouette, and fits perfectly into this world. Even the more cameo roles here are so organic that you just believe these characters have been living and breathing in this world for years. Blade Runner 2049 is one of those movies, that might not be fully appreciated till years from now, for its contribution to the genre and film making. As slow of a burn as it is, it’s combination of cinematography, score, and subtle acting means you’re never wanting for more over this 2 + hour journey. Any fan of the original should be more than happy with this long awaited second outing, and even those who have never seen the original, should find a lot to like here.

Review Score : 9.5 out of 10

TTFF 17 Review


Moko Jumbie (Trinidad 2017)

“Asha flies in from England to visit her old family home. But there’s trouble in paradise. Her aunt Mary doesn’t like her associating with their Afro-Trinidadian neighbours. Then Asha begins to realise this abandoned seaside coconut estate is not as tranquil as it looks. Trinidadian-American director Anderson’s striking imagery mingles memory and imagining, the mundane and the supernatural, in examining family, race, class, and the quest for home.”

Written and directed by Vashti Anderson, Moko Jumbie stars Vanna Girod in the title role of Asha. Those are the things I know for sure about this movie, the rest is a bit of speculation. I say that because, honestly, I’m not 100% sure what happened in this movie. It plays out very Terrence Malick esk, where it’s extremely visual, and they are good visuals, but sometimes those visuals, and the narrative don’t over lap. This movie is also about decision making, especially on the part of the film makers here, as many of the creative decisions, didn’t fit what I was seeing. A large component of this film is folk lore, and the myths and legends that came over to Trinidad and Tobago on boasts so long ago. Vanna does a great job of doing what I imagine she was directed to do, and she manages to keep a level a nuance to her performance, especially in the more quiet moments of the film. The problem is when things happen in this movie, they seem to happen almost inexplicably. One moment we have this going on, the next minute there is literally a coup. This decision making, this maybe resolution of style over substance can be a bit jarring, and makes things feel very disjointed. And while this could simply be labeled as more “experimental”, that alone can’t be a crutch to lean on. I feel like Moko Jumbie, as a script or as an idea, was something subtle, something nuanced, but the execution and final product, is muddied and murky. Moko Jumbie stands tallest on the performed of its lead and its visuals, but is let down by its creative decision making, and lack of coherence.

Review Score : 5 out of 10

Visibly Me (Short/Trinidad 2017)

“Visibly me tells the story of a 47 year old woman with no partner and no children who finds herself invisible and feels she has no choice but to find the antidote.”

Visibly Me is listed as a documentary short, but it plays out like a narrative, and I feel like a narrative is what this short really wants to be. It uses mostly voice over to tell the authors story, and to give meaning to what we see on screen. The idea of being invisible is a real big theme here, and it’s shown in the visuals, and the way this short is shot. Most of the angles and compositions have to do with the idea of being right there, but still not being scene, and it that regard they are successful. Where I think there are issues are when these concepts conflict, which I why I say this should have been an actual story, something we could identify with. If this short was made only to appeal to a very specific audience then that’s fine, but I feel like it’s meant to spread a message, over being a closed loop. Even at 13 minutes long, this short feels much longer, as it often seemed to wander seemingly aimlessly very often. All in all I think what we have here is a clash, a clash of styles, a clash of ideas, and a clash of methodology.

Review Score : 4 out of 10

Review : Shot Caller

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“A newly released prison gangster is forced by the leaders of his gang to orchestrate a major crime with a brutal rival gang on the streets of Southern California.”

Shot Caller is written and directed by Ricin’s Roman Waugh, and stars the one and only Jamie Lannister himself (Nikolaj CosterWaldau) in the title role here as Jacob aka Money. What Shot Caller really is though, is a character study, and its in that aspect that the movie shines brightest. The movie itself is filled with a surprising cast list, with actors like Coster-Waldau, Lake Bell, Jon Bernthal, Benjamin Bratt, and more This is actually the strongest aspect of this movie as it does serve up some great moments for these actors to really give some good performances. Bernthal and Coster-Waldau are by far the best, but they also have two of the biggest roles here, and this movie really does allow for a great character arch for Nikolaj’s Jacob. The way he’s able to change his character from mild mannered business man, to gang leading Money, not just in his language and actions, but in his physicality and mannerisms is extremely well done. Where the movie falls apart a bit is in the writing, and in some of the characters who just aren’t brought to life as well by the actors portraying them. For a movie that deals with certain things in a very subtle and nuanced way, its strange at times to see some really over written and thus over acted moments that pull you out of the drama at points. The real meat of this movie, is most of the cast being able to stretch their acting legs and give some great performances, even amidst some bad acting and some some bad writing. All in all, Shot Caller is a movie worth seeing, especially since it can be seen streamed at home, and would be a great solid choice for a good night home movie.

Review Score : 7 out of 10