Category Archives: Movie Review

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Sometimes, old little mystery book “who-dun-it” novels of escapisms should remain exactly that. As novels. I have not cared for the two (one movie, one television movie) iterations of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS before this one, and guess what? I didn’t care for this one either. But be warned. I have read the novel. Love the novel. Love Agatha Christie. Love both this and And Then There Were None. There is something delightful about reading a murder investigation in a book that doesn’t translate so well on screen. You get inside the characters/investigators head and are holding their hands into that great journey. In a movie, they are just speaking and telling you what is going on. Not as engaging. I know inner dialogue in films is usually considered taboo now but I think something like that could’ve made this movie a little better. I don’t know. Except for the last 20 minutes of the film, I didn’t care for this iteration of the classic novel, and will probably not be taking changes on it (or if they do the God awful idea of turning And Then There Were None into a remake) in the future.

The last 20 minutes, where you know all loose ends are tied up and the killer is revealed, is spectacular. Especially the musical score. The acting, direction, cinematography, all incredible. The perfect combination of showing and telling that any iteration of the novel has done. Why couldn’t the other hour and a half been like that as well? The other hour and a half is just two people sitting (with one tiny action beat) talking and telling the audience who these people are and what they have done. I think the movie could’ve benefited with more flashbacks instead of just staring at Kenneth Branagh mustache moving. I’ve said in reviews before, it is all about showing, not just telling the audience, and if you can get that perfect match made in heaven between the two, you’ve mastered the technique. And while the last 20 minutes are beautiful, the rest completely drags and is quite boring, a good lesson in what just telling does to a motion picture.

The story, without giving anything away, is that one passenger on a train is brutally stabbed 12 times during the night. The train is then caught from getting into a tunnel by an avalanche, and a quick witted and OCD investigator, Hercule Poirot, has to solve who did it, and hopefully before they are rescued and the train hits the next station. That’s all I’ll give away because the ending is quite unique and endearing if you haven’t read the novel. At least the movie keeps all the cards in the same deck. It’s just that the deck was scattered into a 52 pick up game, and was just laid to waste on the floor until someone started to pick the cards up at the end of the movie.

The marketing for this movie is also a bit misleading even though I’ve read the novel and know that it was just the quick cutting techniques of a trailer maker. Be warned, this is not an action movie, there is a tiny action beat near the middle of the film, but that is it, it is mostly investigation. And while the novel makes the investigation fun, endearing, and makes you think critically, here, it is just someone talking to you on the Discovery channel, but without pictures and films of moving animals to back it up. The acting is great, the focus of it being on Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Phiffer, and Daisy Ridley. Ridley again shows that after Star Wars, she is going to be a force to be reckoned with…in better movies that this. It’s Branagh and Phiffer that steal the show, and Branagh is the best Poirot I’ve seen thus far, I just wish it was in a better film.

So, being a fan of the novel, I didn’t like the movie. If you haven’t read it though? I don’t know how you’ll feel. I do suggest that if you have no idea what happens you pick up a book and entertain your mind rather than this be the first iteration of the story that you actually see. Would it hurt you to pick up a book? In this culture? Probably. But I tell you it is worth it. The novel is a masterpiece of mystery fiction. This movie is not even close. In fact, it never moves at all, the engine is running, but it never leaves the station.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews: LAST FLAG FLYING

LAST FLAG FLYING is a pretty good film that drags in a couple of spots and goes on a little too long, preventing it from being a great film. The premise is good, and I also liked the fact that the film wasn’t anti-war or pro-war but about honor, doing what you feel is right, and how to cope. Cranston, Carrell, and Fishbourne are still three some of the best actors working today, and they shine in this too, keeping the film watchable even in the parts that drag. And just like Thank You For Your Service, it comes with a message that we really do need to start treating our troops better, maybe even a little more subtle than Service, but still with an emotional impact.

If you haven’t seen any trailers, the film is about three Vietnam vets in 2003 who haven’t seen each other in a long time and one of which (Carrell) just lost a son in Afganistan, and he asked the other two to accompany him to the funeral. The film plays like a somber, but with some humor, road trip film, as the three reminisce about the past, present, future, and the lies and mistakes in between. The conversations in this movie feel a little bit more real than normal. There is no giant speech or confrontation at the end where one gets mad at the other and the other has to make it up to him or apologize. There are some heated arguments, but quick and peaceful resolutions. It felt a little more real than most films dealing with that subject matter and I appreciate the way Director Richard Linklater didn’t try to Hollywood ham it up.

Steve Carrell’s sad yet poignant performance is being treated as an Academy Award contender, and while it is good, I happen to disagree on the contender part (if you want his best performance that got the nomination it deserved see: Foxcatcher). His role is a little more down key than usual, and he doesn’t have that many lines as well, and to me it doesn’t take a lot of effort to sit there and look sad. The moments he speaks are the better parts, and I wish there were more of those. It is Cranston and Fishbourne that steal every scene they are in. Cranston’s character is a wise cracking vet that almost has no filter and Fishbourne is a priest trying to forget his former dark life. When these two have scenes together, and there are many, they both steal the show. Especially when Cranston’s character gets cell phones for all of them for the first time.

The movie is a little over two hours, and I think that if the movie was trimmed by about 15 minutes, it could’ve been much tighter. Some parts seemed really unnecessary and made the film drag at little intervals, although still completely watchable. I appreciated Richard Linklater’s direction here too as he always gets good performances from his actors. In this case, if the performances weren’t there, this film wouldn’t have worked at all. Even though it does drag, the movie certainly sticks the landing very well, and I completely recommend this film to any veterans or active military out there. There is something in it for everyone, even though it is Rated R (just for language to be sure).

So I do recommend Last Flag Flying, even though there is a tighter film that doesn’t drag at all somewhere in there. If I had to describe it, it is a more depressing Plains, Trains, and Automobiles with a good message, but still retaining some of the humor to get it out of it completely being bleak. Good job to all those involved with this film.

Zach’s Zany Movie Reviews – THOR: RAGNAROK

THOR: RAGNAROK is easily the best Thor film out of the three, no question. Let’s get my rank of them out of the way: 3, 1, 2. Let’s also call out the elephant in the room: Thor The Dark World Sucks, in fact, I can’t decide whether that or Iron Man 2 is the worst Marvel MCU film. But that doesn’t mean that Thor Ragnorak even ranks close to that low. It’s wonderful. Wonderfully fun, and is in the top tier of Marvel movies such as the first Avengers, the first Iron Man, Winter Soldier, Civil War, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s the funniest MCU film since Guardians of the Galaxy. It is just an ingenious soft reboot of a character that even Chris Hemsworth admitted was starting to get scale. In this film, Hemsworth finally gets to release his inner charm and comedian, and it works wonders.

Here’s the thing we all know about MCU movies, they usually all fall under a consistent formula, I mean, why stop what is working? And they still have a minor villain problem. The villains this year, including Michael Keaton, the secret villain in Guardians 2, and Cate Blanchett are a step in the right direction. Since we have those two minor faults with MCU movies, it is the journey and execution that MUST matter. With Thor: Ragnorak, the journey is so incredible that you forget the formula and the fact that Cate Blanchett (has she aged in the past 15 years? I don’t think so, she still looks incredible) should’ve been in the movie much more than she actually is. Everybody in this movie looked like they had a lot of fun, and that probably had to do with the director.

You don’t know him, or if you are a film geek like me, you might actually know him quite a bit, with this, he is going to be thrust in to the big leagues. Taika Waititi, he has done movies such as The Hunt For The Wilderpeople and What We Do In The Shadows, brings his unique weirdness, quirkiness, and charm to Thor, and boy did it need it. The Thor movies were taking themselves too seriously. The first movie was colorful if really stale in terms of plot. The second movie was dark and super stale, but with this third film, everything is bright, energetic, a giant needle filled with adrenaline kicked up to the max. The jokes, action, story beats, are a mile a minute, and it doesn’t even stop until the end credits roll. The movie basically takes Thor versus his sister Hela who is trying to take over Asgard and then starting to rule everything in the universe that she doesn’t. Pretty simple.

But then we add multiple worlds, some great A-lister cameos (including some that aren’t just other Avengers), Jeff Goldblum going ultimate Jeff Goldblum, a cool trash world, some excellent action, great soundtrack and really great special effects. Chris Hemsworth has completely, I guess you can say retooled Thor, where he isn’t all serious and brooding the whole time, he has some, pun intended, major spark, and charismatically comes into the forefront of Marvel superheroes. Hulk is awesome here too. Tessa Thompson steals every scene she is in as Valkyrie, Tom Hiddleston does his thing to melt women’s hearts everywhere, and Jeff Goldblum was basically told by the director to just be himself. If you love Jeff Goldblum going bull Jeff Goldblum, look no further. I think he was having the most fun with this film. Anthony Hopkins is the only person in this that screams paycheck. And Cate Blanchett is a great villain in this, unfortunately a little halfway into the films she disappears for a little too long. Would’ve liked to see more of her, because she was menacing in this. Karl Urban is almost unrecognizable and Idris Elba, while not in this much, makes his presence known.

If there is one thing I didn’t like is that the movie does kill off several minor characters we have seen before like it is no thing, and I didn’t really appreciate that much. Granted those characters were not too much in the other MCU movies, but  it’s like the writer of this film was just trying to find a way to never have to worry about them again. You’ll know it when you see it. Just a little disheartening.

Anyway, you know you are going to see it. Especially if you are a Marvel MCU completist. If you are on the fence…I can see why. You didn’t care for the first two. This one will completely change your mind, I promise you. Everything about it is great, and so much fun that this is one of the Marvel films you could watch over and over again without ever getting tired of it. Thor: Ragnarok rocks. ‘Nuff said.

Zach’s Zany TV Binge Watching Reviews: STRANGER THINGS SEASON 2 (NO SPOILERS!)

I love STRANGER THINGS. I love the fact that I binged watch all 8 episodes of the first season the day it came out, and discovered it before it got really big. I could explain how I love it a million different ways, but the plain and simple truth is that this series is magic. Magical. Magically perfect. Magically beautiful. Magically acted. It just gives off that aroma that it is something special when you are watching it, because you are completely engrossed is what is happening, and when the episode ends, you just want more. You could watch it for hours, even if it overstays its welcome (which thankfully it doesn’t). And you think I’m just talking about Season 1. Oh no no my friends, I’m talking about all the episodes released thus far. I think Season 2 is on par and in some ways I like it even more than season one, and it made me fall in love with the entire series even more than I already am.

Why? Because it doesn’t have that sophomore slump that we normally associate with television series. Don’t know exactly what a sophomore slump is? Try watching Heroes Season 2, Mr. Robot Season 2, Lost Season 2, The Walking Dead Season 2, etc, etc, etc and you’ll get what I am saying. Not only does Stranger Things Season 2 up the ante, it does so in a way that fixes whatever problems the first season had, without getting too big for its britches a la (Star Wars Episode 1). What exact problems did the first season had? It really only had one, in that it relied wayyyy too much on nostalgia for not only the time period, but copied a lot of film/television/pop culture beats of the 80s. I mean if you didn’t think of E.T. when Eleven was on the bike with Mike escaping from the government, I don’t know where your head was at.

Now, while there is some nostalgia this season, such as the the Pollywog reminding me of Gremlins a little bit, this season doesn’t hit you over the frying pan with it. Stranger Things did something a little strange, it has now become its own thing with homages to things that inspired it instead of completely ripping them off. It also vastly improved on characterization, even though the characterization was one of the reasons why the first season is so magical. Let’s be clear, the child acting in this as a whole is incredible. But that acting can go to waste if you don’t have characters that you come to know and care about. And the characters have to grow. In this season, they very much do. All of them. In fact, if you felt spurned by season one and felt that some of the kids (mostly Mike’s friends) got the short stick when it came to characterization/storytelling, it is completely fixed here.

I don’t know how they did it in 9 episode, but everyone gets their own full rounded, well developed storyline and equal screentime. I can’t believe they juggled all that but they did. You get Caleb and newcomer Max, you get Dustin with his Pollywog, you get Mike and his longing for Eleven and trying to reestablish his friendship with Will, you get Will trying to wrestle with the Upside Down demons still living inside of him. You get Hopper wrestling with secrets (those exact secrets are spoilerific) and you get Joyce with a new love in her life, Bob. And hell, you get Jonathan and Nancy trying to get Justice for Barb! All with equal screen time, it was incredible.

In fact, the only person that you could argue gets the short stick of storytelling this time is shockingly Eleven herself. Even though her journey gets its own episode (#7), most of the time, even though she is onscreen an equal amount just like everyone else, she mostly isn’t doing anything. But thankfully, episode 5 changes all that and even though we don’t get much, I have a feeling it is setting something up even bigger for season 3. Plus, I liked the fact that they didn’t forcefully just shove her into the action. They tried a slower organic way to do it, and even though it takes its time and its a little frustrating, it works. Another character, who plays newcomers Max (a girl) older stepbrother seems to not get much development, there is a big scene near the ends that plants something that could be truly cool yet sinister in season 3, we will see how and if that plays out.

The truly great episodes in this are 6, 8, and 9.  The pretty good episodes are 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, with episode 7 being sort of the weakest link. HOWEVER, episode 7, just like Max’s step brother, sets up several seeds that could pay off in a later season, so we’ll just have to see if episode 7 gets more attention and love the farther into the series that we do get. But everything here is magical. I even think Winona Ryder managed to get better this time around. There is this one scene she has with Will that almost had me teary eyed, so again, I say give her a nomination this year please. And give David Harbour and Millie Bobbie Brown another nomination while you are at it. Even though Eleven didn’t really have all that much to do, Brown still knocked it out of the park.

And I loved the way the season uped the ante a little bit without going overboard. Yes, the upside down is back, but it is expanded upon and really is given great context in episodes 6, 8, and 9. And I loved the fact that the CGI in this was so, so, so, so, so much better than Season 1. I guess since their success they got a bigger budget? But yeah, great visuals that actually had a story to go with them.

But yeah, in conclusion, if you loved Stranger Things Season 1, you are more than likely to love Season 2 the same if not more in some areas. It still has its magic, and certainly is not fading at all from what I can see. I love the fact that there are only 8 or 9 episodes each season, keeping everything tight and not bloated at all. Hopefully they continue this trend and not add any more episodes to each order. It might’ve been a strange thing, seeing about 90% of the country binge watch Stranger Things Season 2 this weekend, but if you are part of the 10% that didn’t, or has never even seen a single episode of this series, well, that might actually be stranger.