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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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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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Short Movie Thoughts

All the President’s Men

Based on the true story of the journalist duo that pursued the truth behind what happened at the Watergate hotel, All the President’s Men is like catnip to aspiring journalists.

But this one feels more like a police procedural than that of crusading journalists relentlessly pursuing the truth along the lines of Walter and Hildy from His Girl Friday. This one shows Woodward and Bernstein pursuing leads, getting doors shut in their faces and going down blind alleys in the quest for a story. It also gives a hint of the frustration of waiting for things to come in, all while the ticking clock of deadline looms above.

And yet for all of that, the film is never dull. A lot of the credit goes to director Alan J. Pakula and the script by William Goldman. Even knowing how it all ends, it’s still compelling to watch how it all unfolds.

My high school journalism teacher showed this to us in class over the course of several days. Back then, we came away shocked that she’d be allowed to show us a movie that used the f-word this much. This time around, I’m impressed by the acting, writing and directing. Continue reading

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Comic Book Friday: Avengers: Age of UltronReview

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterTopping the first cinematic assembling of The Avengers is a tall order.    The first installment (and culmination of Marvel Studios’ Phase One) had just about everything you could want in a superhero movie and built on the elaborate foundation and expectations put in place by the first half dozen or so Marvel Studios projects.

Three years later, the Avengers assemble again with even higher expectations and a couple more movies and a TV show laying the foundation for it.

The result in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, a movie that comes close to the dizzying heights of the first but doesn’t quite achieve the same feeling of geek nirvana the first one did.    Well, at least not upon first viewing.  I have a feeling this is one that will be viewed and dissected by many (including yours truly) multiple times when it hits home-theater later this year.

If the original was about bringing the group together, Age of Ultron is about tearing down the group.  The second installment is heavier on plot and introduced several new characters to the Marvel Studios universe.   The biggest plus of Age of Ultron is that Joss Whedon is able to find time for each character to get a moment or two to shine — even some of the more secondary characters who you have felt got the short end of the stick in the last film.  The biggest beneficiary is Hawkeye, who we find out more about his character and has more shining moments in this film than his last two Marvel Studios appearances combined.

It’s hard to discuss the film too much without SPOILERs.  So, if you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend you stop reading now and come back when you have…. Continue reading

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Comic Book Friday: Kingsman: The Secret Service

kingsmanThere’s a scene mid-way though Kingsman: The Secret Service where one of our heroes and the movies baddie are discussing their mutual love of spy movies and lamenting they just aren’t as much fun as they used to be.

In many ways, Kingsman seems a response to that, upping the fun quotient for spy movies even as it ups the violence quotient as well.  Make no mistake — this movie isn’t one for the faint of spirit or those who don’t like gratuitous  swearing and violence.   (It earns every bit of its R-rating).  But if you’re willing to turn your brain off for the long running time of the film and just enjoy the world that director Matthew Vaughn is creating, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

The movie centers on a super secret spy organization run out of a UK gentleman’s clothing store.    When one of the agents is killed in the line of duty, the group (who goes by code names from the Arthurian legend) a new group of initiates is sought out and put through a series of test to see if they are what it takes to the be the next Kingsman.   The current Gallahad (played with considerable panache and charm by Colin Firth) chooses the son of a Kingsman killed in the line of duty years  before.  Unconventional and streetwise, Eggsy is probably the furthest thing from a gentleman but it’s his blend of street smarts and a willingness to try and better himself that helps him in his training. Continue reading

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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 Review: Ender’s Game

enders_game_2013_movie-wideOrson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game is an entry point for many to the realm of science-fiction.   The acclaimed novel won the Hugo award when it was published in 1985 and many fans wondered for years when and if we’d ever get a movie version.

It took close to thirty years, but Hollywood has finally found a way to adapt Ender’s Game for the silver screen.

Part of the wait was allowing technology to catch up with Card’s imagination (and that of his readers) to fully render the universe of Ender Wiggin on the silver screen.  Another part was finding young actors who could help bring the characters to life on the silver screen.

That day has finally arrived as Ender’s Game hits theater this week.  And to answer the biggest burning question in many fans’ minds – yes, the movie was worth the wait.

Director and script writer Gavin Hood distills the novel down to its essential narrative points and hits all the high (and necessary) points.

Fifty years after humanity drove back a potential invasion at the hands of the Formics, Earth is still living in fear that the aliens may return for a second attempt.  The military is training children in the hopes of finding and grooming the ultimate tactician who can not only fend off another attack but also prevent any future invasion attempts.  Enter Ender Wiggin, the third child born into his family (population restrictions only allow for two) who just may be the long-awaited hope for Earth.

At least that’s what Colonel Hyrum Graff hopes when Ender is enlisted to the orbiting Battle School.  Young recruits are immersed in the history of the epic battle as well as put through intense competition in the Battle Room.  Ender is moved from team to team within the school, winning various battles and showing off his tactical skills as a leader and strategist.

The cast for the film is well chosen, from Harrison Ford’s work as Hyram Graff to Asa Butterfield’s work as Ender. Butterfield ably carries the film as Ender and proves to be an ideal choice for the iconic role.  Of course, it’s helped that he has an Oscar-nominated young actress in Hailee Stanfield as Petra to work with.  The rest of the young cast rises to the occasion as well and does solid work in the film.

Hill’s script wisely distills down a lot of what happens in the book into its essential narrative points.  The film charts Ender’s rise through the school as well as introducing us to most of the supporting character who will help Ender is his quest to defeat the Formics.   Fan favorites (and later expanded into their own novels) Petra and Bean are well served by the script, with Petra getting a solid amount of screen time and development.    (Bean isn’t so fortunate).

Visually stunning, Ender’s Game is one of those movies that demands to be seen on the big screen with a Dolby surround system backing it.   For the preview, the film was shown on an IMAX screen with the state-of-the-art sound system rumbling and enhancing every epic space battle and moments to its fullest, making you feel like you were immersed in the universe of Ender Wiggin.

And while there are a lot of epic battles and superbly rendered effects sequences, the film doesn’t forget some of the philosophical core of the original source material.  The film isn’t afraid to address some of the bigger questions raised by the original source material (I won’t say more because it would ruin several of the twists from the final hour or so of the film).  However, the movie does diminish the roles of Ender’s siblings Valentine and Peter a good deal as well as removing an entire subplot featuring these two characters.   (Maybe that’s something for the special features on the inevitable DVD and Blu-Ray release).

As a fan of the original source novel, I was pleased to see how well the big-screen version of Ender’s Game worked.  The film is not a perfect one, but it does a solid job of translating the main plotline of the novel to the screen.  My hope is that movie-goers seeing the movie may be intriguing enough to pick and up read the original source material and then want to move on to the (even better) sequel, Speaker for the Dead.

It took close to thirty years to get Ender’s Game on our screens.  And this adaptation proves to have been worth the wait.

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