Category Archives: movie reviews

Movie Thoughts: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

expressWhy is every property a candidate for film franchise these days?

For all the strengths and weaknesses of this new adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express may have, the biggest takeaway I had was the feeling that since Sherlock Holmes didn’t spawn a new franchise of films , why not try with Hercules Poirot now?

And if we are to have a Poirot series of films, I guess Orient Express is a good starting point. It’s arguably one of Agatha Christie’s best known stories featuring the Belgian detective and his mustache (more on that later).  But, it’s still a story that’s had multiple adaptions on the large and small screen.

I’ve never seen any of the previous adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express.  However, I have read the original novel, so I knew the solution to the mystery before I sat down to view the new version that hit theaters last year. Continue reading

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Movie Thoughts: Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond

jim&andyJim & Andy: The Great Beyond – Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton

For a couple of years in the late 90’s, actor Jim Carrey seemed to be moving beyond the screen persona he’d honed in the Ace Ventura movies and The Mask and was really challenging himself (and his audience) as an actor. This period led to some great movies by Carrey including The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the Andy Kaufman bio-picture Man on the Moon.

Carrey’s performance as Kaufman in Man on the Moon generated critical buzz and even had some speculating that he could get an Oscar nod for the year.  Carrey never got that Oscar nod (though he did joke about it on the Oscar broadcast that year) and, in many ways, those three films stand as some of the best work Carrey has done.

So, it’s interesting that twenty years after Man on the Moon hit theaters that a new documentary would reveal that maybe Carrey wasn’t so much acting in the film as channeling the spirit of Andy Kaufman.  Early in the documentary Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond, Carrey tells us that he spirit of Andy Kaufman came up to him, tapped him on the shoulder, and told him that he’d be taking over for the duration of filming.

Behind-the-scenes footage seems to support this with Carrey not breaking character as Kaufman or his alter-ego, Tony Clifton.  That footage, originally banned by Universal because it made Carrey look like an asshole, forms much of the documentary along with a new interview from Carrey, looking at not only his time on the picture but also his career as a whole.   

In many ways, Jim & Andy feels like a lost extra from the DVD release of Man on the Moon.  The footage will also make you want to immediately seek out the original Man on the Moon and visit it again.

But the more the movie goes along, the more I couldn’t help but wonder if Carrey was pulling a Kauffman-like prank on that has gone on for these twenty years. The footage seems to indicate this could be the case, but it’s never entirely clear one way or the other. (Which, on some level, would make Andy Kauffman proud, I suppose).  

Focusing on only on Carrey, the film never allows us to see reactions or reflections from the rest of the cast and crew, except in the footage taken during production.  Part of me can’t help but wonder what certain participants made of Carrey’s dedication to the role and the craft and how they feel about it today. (It’d be interesting to see what Jerry Lawler thought of things, for example).

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t come up with any answers but instead leaves it to you to decide.  

 

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Monday’s Movies: Catching Up

mondays-movie-jpg1

Thanks to my local library, I’m catching up on some movies I missed while they were in theaters.  Here are some (hopefully) short thoughts on some of what I’ve seen lately.

Terminator: Genisys

tgOne of the hallmarks of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.   So it’s interesting to see Smith join the Terminator franchise in an entry that has a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.

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Movie Thoughts: “Gildersleeve’s Ghost”

gildyghost“The Great Gildersleeve” is my favorite old time radio show, but I can’t necessarily say this big-screen version is the best example of what made the show work so well.

Running for police commissioner, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve is caught up in a whirlwind affair involving an escaped gorilla, an invisible woman and a mad scientist lurking in a mysterious mansion near Summerfield. The chain of events is set in motion by two ghosts from the Gildersleeve family tree (played by Harold Perry, in addition to his work as our favorite Uncle Mort). Of course, only Gildy sees the gorilla, the ghost girl and other mysterious goings-on, leading everyone to believe he’s probably going a bit mad.

Lots of the humor comes from misunderstanding or conveniently placed trap doors and invisible girls vanishing at just the right moment. Plot threads are brought up and then dropped just as quickly (once the ghosts vanish in the first reel, they’re not heard from again, despite claims they want to help our hero).

As a fan of the radio program, it’s fun to see various cast members from the show on screen, playing their familiar roles. Marjorie and Leroy are played by different actors (a necessity since both roles were played by older actors than the characters they played) however. Mr. Peavey and Judge Hooker are on hand, with Mr. Peavey playing the foil to Gildy throughout the film. (You may become weary of his famous line, “Well now, I wouldn’t say that” before the final reel).

At just over an hour, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s not necessarily anything to write home about either. If you’re a big fan of the radio show, give it a try. If you’ve not heard of Gildersleeve, find some of the radio programs first to get a better feel of why the show was so popular.   The plot and characterizations used in the movie isn’t necessarily reflective of what exactly the radio show was all about (Birdie, the family cook isn’t well served here) and part of the fun of the radio show was hearing Gildy square off with  Judge Hooker and other denizens of Summerfield as well as keeping track of his increasingly complicated love life and his lack of competence as water commissioner.    There is little to no time for any of that here and the movie suffers as a whole for it.

There are some fun aspects to it.  Seeing Perry play multiple generations of the Gildersleeve family is fun and seeing the facial expressions that go with some of Gildy’s signature catch phrases work well.  And it is nice to see how similar and how different the real versions of these characters are as opposed to the mental pictures I’ve created of them while listening to the show.

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Movie Thoughts: Without Reservations, The Shop Around the Corner

withoutreservationsOdds are that 1946’s Without Reservations isn’t on many cinema-philes list as a must see movie.

But any movie that features two of my favorite personalities of the “golden age of Hollywood” in Jack Benny and John Wayne is going to be put onto this cinema fan’s “must see” list.    Sure, Benny’s role is really nothing more than an uncredited cameo (Cary Grant gets one as well), but it’s still Benny and Wayne in a movie together (even though they don’t share any time on screen together!)

Without Reservations is not your typical John Wayne film.  Wayne has a firmly established on-screen persona and a lot of his roles are different shadings of the rugged, all-American alpha male figure.   And while I think Wayne is a better actor than others give him credit for,  Without Reservations isn’t exactly a showcase that is going to convince anyone to change their assessment of him.

Without Reservations is a romantic comedy with Wayne in the lead role, fully playing off his screen persona.  In many ways, it’s similar to what Arnold Schwartzenegger did in his roles in Twins and Kindergarten Cop.

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Movie Thoughts: The Horn Blows At Midnight

The Horn Blows at Midnight 

the-horn-blows-at-midnight-movie-poster-1945-1020197451Jack Benny got a lot of mileage out of this perceived cinematic failure on his radio and television series.  Listen to just about any episode after this movie was released and you’ll likely hear Benny or one of his ensemble quip about its failure (or perceived failure).  It’s referenced enough in the shows to make me curious to want to seek it out and see if it’s really as bad as everyone says it is.    I have vague memories of seeing it on VHS years ago and thinking it wasn’t nearly as terrible as Benny and his cast made it out to be.   But I couldn’t be sure so when it recently came in TCM’s rotation of films, I decided to give The Horn Blows at Midnight a second look.

And while it’s certainly no cinematic masterpiece, I think it’s a movie that isn’t nearly as terrible as it was made out to be on Benny’s programs.  But it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece either.  I feel like it’s in a similar vein as It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie that audiences weren’t quite ready to embrace in its initial release.

Like The Wizard of Oz, it’s a frame story with Benny’s character dreaming most of the movie’s main story.  The framing device is that Benny is a trumpet player in a late night orchestra who is lulled to sleep by the announcer’s soothing voice and text about how a certain brand of coffee can lull you off to sleep.  In the framing device, we see all the players who will come into the story during Benny’s dream sequence.    In his dream, Benny is a junior grade angel named Athanael who plays a trumpet in the heavenly orchestra.   His girlfriend pulls a few strings to get Benny the assignment to come to Earth and blow his horn at midnight, signaling the end of the world.   Benny has to meet the deadline or else risk becoming a fallen angel and spending all of eternity somewhere less pleasant. Continue reading

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Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

20140319151353!The_Amazing_Spiderman_2_posterCan a movie that runs close to two and a half hours be rushed?

If it’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, you can certainly make the argument.

The second installment of the rebooted web slinger is jam packed full of spectacular action sequences and comic book continuity galore.   It’s also got three classic era Spidey foes taking on our favorite web-slinger on the silver screen, though all three don’t necessarily battle Spidey at the same time.   The film also sets the table for several other classic foes to make their way to the big-screen — either in the next two installments that are slated to come our way in the next four years or in the spin-off films.

And yet there were times throughout the movie that it all felt like all of these action sequences were disconnected that lacked the emotional core that set (at least) the first two Sam Raimi movies apart.

Part of it could also be that the film opens with a spectacular Spider-Man chase sequences, full of high flying antics, stunning visual effects and a Spider-Man movie finally getting the essentially quipiness of the character as close to perfect as you could want and it’s all (pretty much) downhill from there.    Director Mark Webb sets the bar so high in the first ten minutes of the movie that it feels like the rest of the movie is struggling to keep up.

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