Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Everyone has their pop culture blind spots. Some people have never seen Star Wars or read Harry Potter or watched an episode of Seinfeld. (All of those are unforgivable and if they apply to you I demand that you take immediate steps to rectify the situation!… Just kidding… sort of.) One of mine is Agatha Christie. I have never read any of her books nor seen any of the film or TV adaptations of her works in their entirety (I have seen part of Witness for the Prosecution). In fact, the most exposure I’ve had to Agatha Christie is that episode of Doctor Who in which the Doctor and Donna Noble solve a mystery with Christie’s help and end up fighting a giant wasp. But her legacy of tightly-constructed mysteries, brilliant detectives, compelling characters, and her sprawling influence on books, film, and TV for the last hundred years or so is simply inescapable, and I know that some of my very favorite works owe her a huge debt. So it was that I went into the new version of Murder on the Orient Express without any Christie-related baggage, lacking any devotion to a previous adaptation of the story or to the original source novel. In the end I found it to be fully enjoyable, with a compelling mystery highlighted by a fantastic cast who are clearly having a great time, set against a sumptuous and lavish backdrop, all solidly anchored by director and leading man Kenneth Branagh.

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4 Things I liked, and 1 Thing I didn’t, about Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is a blast. It’s Thor’s best solo outing thus far, and one of the most fun Marvel movies yet. It may not be the most emotional movie in the MCU, nor does it pack the biggest punch despite the two heavy hitters Thor and Hulk leading the way, but it’s stylish, hilarious, and unique. Ragnarok may have been one of the Marvel “Phase 3” films I was looking forward to the least, but it has rapidly become one of my favorites and I can’t wait to see it again. Overall, I’d give it a solid A-, but instead of writing a normal review I’m instead going to give you 5 Things from Thor: Ragnarok that made a difference to me, good or bad. I might work this format into future reviews, or try to use it to take care of some of my review backlog. In this case, I’ve got 4 Things I liked about Thor: Ragnarok and 1 Thing I didn’t like. Read on, and let me know if you agree with any of my picks, or what you liked or disliked about the God of Thunder’s latest adventure.

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So, about the ending to Baby Driver…

I really enjoyed Baby Driver. Edgar Wright delivered a tightly crafted, exquisitely choreographed thrill ride of a movie, with a killer soundtrack and some of the best action sequences of the year. I loved the eccentric characters, the chemistry between Ansel Elgort’s Baby and Lily James’ Debora in particular, although at times it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be a Tarantino film, particularly with bits of the dialogue. I’m still amazed by the intricacy of the filming and post production work required to make each moment of the film move in rhythm with whatever song happens to be playing on Baby’s iPod. Baby Driver was a solid A film for me, and I look forward to seeing it again as I know I’ll pick up on many details I missed the first time.

However, I find myself still hung up on Baby Driver’s ending. (Spoilers below, obviously!) Continue reading

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

It’s been a long time since we had a good Spider-Man movie, 13 long years in fact. Since Spider-Man 2 back in 2004, a masterpiece of the superhero genre that still stands up as one of the best of all time, we’ve had several attempts to keep the web-slinger going. Spider-Man 3 was a complete mess, overloaded with villains and led by a far-too-old Tobey Maguire, not to mention the horrific emo dance sequence, while the Amazing Spider-Man pair of films tried too hard to update the series for “modern sensibilities” (whatever that means) and the results were uninspired and extremely dull. I’d come to believe that as long as Sony still held the rights to the wall-crawler, one of my favorite comic book heroes, we’d be doomed to mediocre reboot after mediocre reboot, never again having a Spider-Man movie worthy of the name.

So imagine my surprise when a deal was reached between Sony and Marvel/Disney and Spider-Man wound up being one of the best parts of Captain America: Civil War. And now here we are, with Tom Holland’s first full outing in the famous red and blue spider suit, and the results are pretty impressive. Spider-Man: Homecoming is naturally the best Spider-Man movie in 13 years, although that’s really not saying much. It’s a lot of fun, one of the funniest movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it gets a lot of things right. It’s not perhaps the home run one might be hoping for, but it’s solidly in the top half of MCU films, getting a lot about the character of Peter Parker right, while managing to tie in cleverly with the larger universe of films. Oh, and Tony Stark is in it, getting a little redemption after his last outing in Civil War.

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Review: Wonder Woman

I almost never root for a movie to fail with critics or at the box office. Hundreds of people work on movies, and regardless of my personal tastes or filmmaking trends I would like to see come to an end I wouldn’t wish failure on all of the artists involved in creating a film. On the other hand, I occasionally find myself rooting for a film to succeed, sometimes even in spite of my own feelings about the film itself, because that film’s success might have a positive impact on the film industry or the world as a whole. And so, I find myself absolutely thrilled with Wonder Woman’s reception, both its strong showing at the box office and it’s nearly universal praise among critics and audiences. The feminist in me knows what it means for a studio to release a big budget superhero film with a female director and have it be such a smash hit, and the film fan in me loves that the DC Universe has finally found some heart and joy after their recent misfires. Having said all of that, while I may be wholeheartedly cheering for Wonder Woman, and while I think it is an excellent film, it didn’t resonate with me as fully as I had hoped.

Some Mild Spoilers Below

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Review: Gravity

Gravity, despite pulling aspects from a variety of familiar film styles, is a movie that feels unique, which is something with great appeal to me these days. It has much in common with Open Water, the 2003 film about a couple who are left behind while scuba diving, but it also borrows heavily from a variety of disaster movies where people are trapped or stranded and have to improvise a way to survive. And of course, it has a lot in common with Apollo 13, including the use of Ed Harris as the voice of mission control. (It even blatantly steals and idea from WALL-E and contains obvious references to Star Wars and Alien.) But its tone is drastically different from all of those films. Where those movies have a frantic aspect to them, with every moment devoted to the heroes solving the next problem or overcoming the next obstacle, Gravity has a peacefulness to it that sets it apart. And while there are moments of terror and suspense, the calm peaceful moments are what will stick with you after you’ve left the theater. Continue reading