Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


Leave a comment

My Review of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express, rated PG-13
***

Murder on the Orient Express is an entertaining film with an all-star cast that will challenge viewers with moral issues around justice and vengeance. The film is directed by five-time Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh, and is a remake of the 1974 film version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 mystery novel. The 1974 film received six Oscar nominations, and Ingrid Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role. The screenplay is by Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, Logan) and the film features an all-star cast (Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., Tom Bateman, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Coleman, Willem Defoe, and Judi Dench).  Dench and Cruz are Oscar winners, while Branagh, DeFoe, Preiffer and Depp are Oscar nominees.
Branagh also stars in the film as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Poirot, who sports a large and distinctive mustache and has his own quirks around balance played for humor, is perhaps the most well-known detective in the world (well, at least according to him). The film is set in 1934. After an opening which is unconnected with the rest of the story, but serves to introduce us to Poirot’s detective skills and his quirky behavior, he realizes that he desperately needs a vacation. Unfortunately, he is needed in London for a case. Bouc (Tom Bateman), a friend and director of the famous Orient Express, books him on the luxury passenger train for what he promises will be three days of relaxation and time away from crime on a trip from Istanbul to Calais.
Early in the trip, the shady art and antiques dealer Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) approaches Poirot and asks that Poirot serve as his bodyguard since Ratchett has been receiving threatening letters he assumes are from Italians to whom he sold fake oriental rugs. Poirot refuses, indicating that he detects, not protects, criminals. That night, an avalanche stops the train atop a dangerous trestle, leaving everyone stranded until they can be rescued.
The next morning Poirot finds out that one of the passengers has been murdered in their bed, having been brutally stabbed a dozen times. Poirot is asked by Bouc to investigate the case. He reluctantly agrees, and asks Bouc to be his assistant. After confirming that none of the passengers have left the train, Poirot considers all of them as well as the conductor, to be suspects in the murder.
As Poirot investigates the murder he finds that none of the characters are really as they seem, as they regularly lie to him. A kidnapping and murder, based on the actual Lindbergh baby case, plays a role in the film. Flashbacks are used extensively to tell the story.
The film’s music score is by two-time Oscar nominee Patrick Doyle, and the cinematography, featuring some beautiful outdoor scenes is by Haris Zambarloukos, who worked with Branagh on Cinderella.  I enjoyed the unique camera work, including several uses of the camera looking down on the actors or through beveled glass, and the costumes and set designs depicting the 1930’s.
Content concerns include the bloody body of the victim, racial slurs and the abuse of God’s name a few times. There is not any adult language to speak of, nor any sexual content, both of which were refreshing.
Themes in the film are racism, vengeance, justice, deception and conscience. The film includes some Christian content and references (Penelope Cruz plays a Spanish missionary, there is talk of sin and judgement, etc.)
Having not seen the 1974 edition (though I plan to), I can’t compare this version to the Oscar winning film. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this film and thought that Branagh was excellent as detective Hercule Poirot.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

My Review of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, rated PG-13
***

Captain Jack Sparrow and the gang return in a pleasing fifth episode in the Pirates of the Caribbean series.
Six years after 2011’s On Stranger Tides, one of my favorite film series returns. Truth be told, Johnny Depp had me in from the very beginning as he cruised into shore, doing his best drunken Keith Richards’ impersonation in 2003’s The Curse of the Black Pearl, a role for which he received a “Best Actor” Oscar nomination.
The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is the twelfth highest grossing franchise ever, with more than $1 billion in sales in the U.S. alone and about $3.75 billion in ticket sales worldwide. Three-time Oscar nominee Johnny Depp returns as Captain Jack Sparrow, and leads an outstanding cast in this film directed by the Norwegian directing team of Joaquim Ronning and Espen Sandberg. The film was written by Jeffrey Nathanson (Catch Me If You Can).  The budget of the film has been estimated to be in excess of $350 million and is projected to gross about $80 million in the U.S. over the Memorial Day holiday.  The music is handled well by Geoff Zanelli.
Brenton Thwaites portrays Henry, the grown son of Will Turner (Orlando Bloom, Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit films) and Elizabeth Swann (two-time Oscar nominee Keira Knightley), who briefly return after missing episode four in the series.  Henry partners with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scoderlario, The Maze Runner), an orphan astronomer who is accused of being a witch. Henry has been seeking the Trident of Poseidon, a magical object that supposedly holds power over the seas, so that he can free his father from the curse of the Flying Dutchman.  While looking for Captain Jack Sparrow to get his help in finding the trident, Henry ends up in the Devil’s Triangle, where he encounters the zombified Spanish Captain Salazar, portrayed by Oscar winner Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men). Salazar has a history with Captain Jack and is seeking revenge.
Henry eventually finds the down on his luck Captain Jack and his magical compass; Jack agrees to help him find the trident, thinking it will lead to a great treasure.  Carina has a book that she received from her father that has clues as to the location of the trident.
Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech) again portrays Captain Hector Barbossa. Paul McCartney portrays Captain Jack’s Uncle Jack in a brief scene. Uncle Jack is heard singing “Maggie Mae”, which was included on the Beatles final album, 1970’s Let It Be.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. All of the main characters deliver and it is a good story. The film does include some intense (and scary for young children) violence. The dialogue was sometimes hard to hear, especially the drunken Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney throws everything but the kitchen sink into this film, and it was almost too much. The film features some excellent messages about the importance of fathers, and has the theme of sacrificial love.
DON’T FORGET TO WAIT UNTIL AFTER THE CREDITS FOR A SPECIAL SCENE!


Leave a comment

My Review of ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’

fantastic-beastsFantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, rated PG-13
*** ½

Five years after the final Harry Potter film (Deathly Hallows: Part 2), comes this film that is adapted by J.K. Rowling, in her first turn at writing the screenplay for a film, adapted from her 128 page 2001 book.  This is the first of five planned films to be based on Rowling’s short book, which is now available in a new screenplay edition.  Rowling has stated that the film is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was published in 1927, became a massive bestseller as well as an approved textbook at Hogwarts, Harry Potter’s school of witchcraft and wizardry.

The film is directed by David Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films, and has an estimated budget of $180 million. Oscar nominee Steve Kloves returns form the Potter films as producer.

The film takes place in New York in 1926. Shy and quirky British magizoologist Newt Scamander is played by two time Oscar nominee and Best Actor winner for The Theory of Everything, Eddie Redmayne, who had auditioned for the role of Tom Riddle in 2002’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, but was turned down after reading one line.  Newt travels the world collecting endangered magical creatures and arrives in the city looking for new additions. He has all kinds of these creatures in his worn brown leather suitcase.

There are witches and wizards in the city, but they mostly stay out of sight of the No-Majs, short for no magic, as humans are called in America (as opposed to Muggles in Britain).  There is a Magical Congress of the United States (MACUSA), the American version of the British Ministry of Magic.  When Newt accidently exchanges his suitcase with a No-Maj baker named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) the effect is that a number of the creatures in the suitcase are unleashed into the streets of the city, leading to a frantic search to find  them. When Newt is spotted by Porpentina “Tina” Goldstein, (Katherine Waterston), an investigator who for some reason is on thin ice in her job with MACUSA, she hauls him in for questioning.

We see something evil and dangerous in the city. It has been occasionally destroying buildings, throwing vehicles, etc. It is referred to as Obscurus, a massive magical force that swirls around in a destructive black cloud.

The film also shows us magic-fearing protesters, led by Mary Lou Barebone (Samantha Morton) who takes children from the magic families she exposes. One of those, the bullied and abused Credence Barebone (Ezra Miler), has secret meetings with the powerful and power-hungry Percival Graves (Golden Globe winner Colin Farrell) who works for Madame President Seraphina Picquery (Carmen Ejogo from Selma).

Tina and Newt will eventually become good friends, and with Jacob and Tina’s sister, the mind-reading Queenie (Alison Sudol), will work together to try to prevent Mary Lou and Percival from exposing the magical world to the No-Majs.

We are told of a powerful dark wizard named Gellert Grindelwald, who has gone missing. Readers of the Harry Potter books will recall Grindelwald (here played by Johnny Depp) as an older man. Grindelwald will play a major role in the future films in this series.

Parents who were concerned with the magic and wizards in the Harry Potter books and films will have the same concerns here. The film also contains some violence, primarily as a result of the mysterious Obscurus.

What did I like about the film? A lot! The cast was excellent, especially Redmayne as Newt Scamander and Fogler as Jacob Kowalski. They had great chemistry, and I enjoyed their partnership with Waterston’s Tina. The 1926 New York City sets and costumes were excellent and the beasts were, dare I say, fantastic? In addition, the magical effects were at times incredible.

What could have been better? Some of the dialogue could have been better. At times the film moved slowly. Although there is really a lot going on in this first film, perhaps the film could have been edited down from its 133 minutes. In addition, the destruction caused by Obscurus goes on too long, as it does in some Marvel films.

Note: Some critics have written of Rowling using the film as an anti-fascist political allegory (Fascism definition: a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government). Perhaps that is in here if you are looking for it. I saw it more as the wizarding world trying to stay out of sight from the No-Majs.


Leave a comment

My Movie Review ~ Black Mass

Black MassBlack Mass, rated R
***

This film is based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. It is directed by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace), and written by Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth (Spectre, Edge of Tomorrow). The film tells the true story of Jimmy “Whitey” Bulger, played by a heavily made up Johnny Depp, who has been nominated for Best Actor for his performance by the Screen Actors Guild.

The film begins in 1975; in South Boston, Jimmy’s empire includes drugs, prostitution and racketeering. His chief rival is Jerry Angiulo, who heads the Italian mafia, a prime target of the FBI. Jimmy Connolly, well played by Joel Edgerton, who wrote, directed and starred as Gordo in 2015’s excellent The Gift, is an FBI agent and childhood friend of Whitey. He owes Whitey for protecting him when they were kids. He proposes a secret arrangement that will benefit Whitey by allowing him to serve as an FBI informant on the Italian mafia, while they look the other way on his illegal activities. As Connolly gets in deeper and deeper with Whitey, we see him begin to dress, act and even walk differently, and have relationship difficulties with his boss (Kevin Bacon) and wife Marianne (Julianne Nicholson). Fellow-agent John Morris (David Harbour) works with Connelly on this arrangement for several years until he can take it no longer. Lead Prosecutor Fred Wyshak (Corey Stoll from House of Cards) can’t figure out why Bulger and his group continue to rule Boston right under the nose of the FBI.

The film is told in flashbacks as Bulger’s inner circle Kevin Weeks (Jesse Plemons), Steve Flemmi (Rory Cochrane) and John Martorano (W. Earl Brown), to lessen their sentences, years later provide the FBI with information about Whitey. Bulger is portrayed as a brutal monster, showing kindness only to his card-cheating mother, girlfriend (Dakota Johnson), his young son (Luke Ryan), and Massachusetts State Senator and University President brother Billy (Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, Imitation Game). This is an amazing true story.

Bulger would become number two (behind only Osama bin Laden) on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list during the 16 years he was in hiding before his capture in California in 2011.

The film is “R” for a significant amount of adult language (including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names and lots of f-bombs), and brutal violence (beatings and murders). It features a strong cast, led by Depp, who continues to show his versatility as an actor, and the multi-talented Edgerton, who builds on his critically acclaimed work in The Gift.