Monday, November 27, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

On Tuesday, I saw Murder on the Orient Express, starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer.

A story that has survived since Agatha Christie's book of the same name was published in 1934, this Murder may have been better off left in the past. With an all-star cast and a star director (Kenneth Branagh), it was almost doomed to fail. And unfortunately, fail it did.

The mystique and character of a Christie novel is admittedly hard to bring to life, but you'd think with such a talented bunch it would happen. It didn't.

Instead of truly "wondering" who committed this heinous act on a glamorous train filled with people of status, the audience spends time hoping something—the train, the plot, the dialogue—will speed up. The quiet, slow pace isn't suspense-building (as it may have been intended); instead it's nerve-wracking.

The cinematography is beautiful, and the actors do their parts well, of course. It just wasn't enough to save it (or the victim) in the end.


Monday, November 20, 2017

The Man Who Invented Christmas

On Wednesday, I saw The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer.

Based on a script that was based on a non-fiction work, this film tells a dramatized version of the weeks leading up to the publication of Charles Dickens' masterpiece, A Christmas Carol. As a Dickens freak myself (first stop on my first trip to London was a visit to his historical house), I couldn't have been more excited when I heard this was coming out, with Downton Abbey's Stevens in the lead role. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the outcome.

The film attempts to tell, in an overtly manic way, how chaotic Dickens' life was when he was dreaming up this story. People constantly coming in and out of the house, more children than they knew what to do with and a father that just kept "taking" from his famous son. It can't have been easy to concentrate on writing, and if that was the goal of the movie, then it was well achieved.

The problem is, it's rather annoying. Most importantly, the narrative is devoid of the magic expected in a presentation about a work of literature that changed the way the British (and later the world, it could be argued) celebrated Christmas.

Christopher Plummer isn't in it enough as Scrooge, and the minor characters are perhaps too minor to care out.

A shame, because the topic is such a rich one.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Tonight I screened Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, starring Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

Mildred (McDormand) seeks justice for the rape and murder of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) in the small town of (fictional) Ebbing, Missouri, where the police—in her view—spend more time hassling minorities than they do solving crimes.

Because the case has gone dormant, she pays to post three billboards asking the police chief (Woody Harrelson) why. This upsets the tight community and she gets grief from the local priest and other townspeople.

The chief is truly on her side, but after suffering another tragedy, she feels she has nowhere to turn and seeks revenge instead of justice. A series of bloody, scary, hilarious (yes, it's all those things) events follows and McDormand pretty much seals up her Oscar nomination.

But she's not the only great player here. Harrelson is tough, yet sincere as the chief whose hands are tied by circumstance; Sam Rockwell as the dim-witted Officer Dixon keeps his character from becoming a caricature by adding dimension through emotion, and Peter Dinklage is the welcome town oddity as the "midget" who is hot for Mildred.

I'd say the stereotypes are a bit much, but I did live in Missouri for five years, and for better or worse, I encountered people who resembled every last one of these folks.

In addition to addressing the horrific themes of sexual assault, racism and domestic violence—so timely considering our current national conversation—it reminds us that not every good person makes smart choices and not every bad apple is without a conscience.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh was inspired to write the film after driving past similar billboards in real life. I shudder to think what prompted their placement. The movie based on them isn't easy to watch, but you won't be able to take your eyes off of it.


Saturday, November 04, 2017

A Bad Moms Christmas

Last night I saw A Bad Moms Christmas, starring Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn.

Amy (Kunis) is determined to have a normal Christmas without interference from her mother Ruth (Christine Baranski), who is visiting for the holiday. Simultaneously, her friends Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Kristen Bell) are having issues with their own mothers, also in town.

The film, a sequel to last year's Bad Moms, focuses not on the drama of other parents, but solely on the complicated family ties that bind or break during the Christmas season. I'd love to say this was complete fluff and nonsense, but the story actually touches on some very real issues for women.

From one mother who has no boundaries to another who is a financial mess, to the seriousness of a mom who doesn't think anything her daughter does is good enough, the film is bound to touch a nerve with many.

That aside, it's also laugh-out-loud funny throughout.

Kathryn Hahn is a national treasure. I feel the need to say that, though it's probably already been said. Her timing, her physical comedy, her impeccable delivery—all hysterical, especially when she falls for exotic dancer Ty (Justin Hartley). 

The laughs are plenty, the situations (while intentionally inflated) are relatable and at the core of the movie is a lot of heart.

You could do worse at the theater this holiday season.