Murder on the Orient Express Review

Based on the beloved Agatha Christie novel by the same name, Murder on the Orient Express follows world-renowned detective Hercule Poirot (played Kenneth Branagh, who also directed the film) on a trip from Istanbul to London. What was supposed to be a relaxing break from his rigorous investigative work turns out to be one of his most difficult cases yet, as one of the passengers on the train is mysteriously murdered. It is now up to Poirot interrogate all passengers and gather clues so that he may uncover the murderer before the train arrives to its destination.

Going in with very little previous knowledge on the subject, I had high hopes for Murder on the Orient Express, which were quickly dashed within the first twenty minutes of the movie. What I hoped would be an exciting, engaging mystery with great performances turned out to be almost the exact opposite.

Most of the characters felt very flat and intensely boring, all except for our main protagonist Poirot. Though restricted by some melodramatic and tedious dialogue, Kenneth Branagh gave a mighty strong performance. His compulsions and extreme orderliness gave this drab film some much needed levity. Even some of his more serious moments, when not bogged down by overly emotional dialogue, were very convincing and entertaining.

As for our line-up of potential suspects, I was shockingly surprised by the lack of charisma put into the performances. So many big, talented names were tied to this production (such as Willem Dafoe, Daisey Ridley, and Johnny Depp), yet it was acted and filmed so unimaginatively. Take Johnny Depp for example, who is known for playing many extravagant, wild characters. He is reduced to playing a mundane, uninteresting fellow that made me tired just watching him.

I was quite a fan of the set pieces and costume designs, which fit the overall look of the 1930’s very well. The soundtrack was also quite fitting, fusing whimsical, adventurous composition with melodic music that fit the times.

Unfortunately where the film finally lost me was in the semi-climactic end, where an already convoluted mystery wrapped up into an ultimately inconsequential resolve. I do respect the angle that they attempted to go at with the ending, but the hole was already dug too deep.

The real issue at the heart of Murder on the Orient Express is in the mystery itself. More specifically, the actual murder that is the central focus of the film takes place in the past. This kind of a setup is fine in a book, where the reader can be described, in detail, the murder through flashbacks. In the film however, the viewer is only dished out vague, out of order pieces of information as Poirot continues in his investigation. This makes the mystery incredibly inconvenient to follow along with, especially when most of the actors are about as compelling as a piece of burnt toast. Even after having just watched the film, I can’t remember a single character’s name, aside from Poirot.

Those with a love of Poirot and a patience for this kind of mystery may get their money’s worth, so long as they’re willing to look past the somewhat poor filmmaking and dreadful characters.

The Verdict: D+

-Zachary Flint

Thor: Ragnarok Review

Thankfully taking a rather lighthearted look at this dark and drab series, Thor: Ragnarok is a satisfyingly fun and adventurous film.

Imprisoned in a gladiator contest on the furthest side of the universe, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is pitted against his old Avengers ally the Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). With time working against him, Thor must escape his captures in order to stop Ragnarok, the prophesized destruction of his home world and Asgardian civilization. Full of unique and entertaining characters, Thor embarks on one of his biggest journeys yet, literally across the universe.

Visually, Thor: Ragnarok was noticeably more bright, colorful, and vibrant than previous Thor movies. Perhaps the stylistic successes of Guardians of the Galaxy inspired the Thor creators to take a more imaginative route. Whatever the case may be, the beautiful color palette and crafty costumes and character designs give Ragnarok the kind of sci-fi look that I love.

Also nicely designed was Cate Blanchett’s character the evil goddess Hela, who reminded me a lot of Rita Repulsa from the underwhelming Power Rangers remake. Only she didn’t chew the scenery so much (and is in a much better film). I think the writing of the character was a bit bland and not really that menacing. A lot of her dialogue, while communicated terrifically by Blanchett, was very inconsequential and insignificant. Hela said and did a lot of things any typical supervillain would do, and I sadly think her character is the least memorable of the bunch.

This is especially true when it comes to the colorful group of individuals we meet on the planet of Sakaar (where the film predominantly takes place). These entertaining, yet very quirky characters are a pivotal part of Thor: Ragnarok‘s identity, and help make the film as fun and lighthearted as it is. My favorite of these characters would have to be that of Jeff Goldblum, who is hilariously charming every second he’s on-screen.

The humor in Ragnarok was particularly well written, with the comedic timing almost always right on the money. Witty jokes at the perfect times kept the audience laughing throughout a good portion of the film.

Scenes attempting to tie Ragnarok into the Marvel Cinematic Universe were the weakest features of the film, as they usually are for these flicks. Take the Doctor Strange cameo for example. It was funny and well written, except it felt entirely too forced and tonally out of place. As if the studio big wigs told director Taika Waititi that he had to somehow shoehorn this scene in, so Waititi did the best he could.

Thor: Ragnarok isn’t the greatest thing since sliced bread, as many critics would have you believe. It is however, a solid, colorful, and stylish film that often felt less like a superhero movie and more like a straight sci-fi adventure.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint

Jigsaw Review

If there exists a film series that I understand the appeal for the least, it would probably have to be Saw. Known for their grisly, morbid content, the film series has sparked numerous controversies. Often beloved by many fans but consistently panned by critics.

I’m sure most if not everyone is now familiar with the Saw film formula. A serial murderer named John Kramer (played by Tobin Bell) kidnaps individuals and makes them play a very real game of life and death. Forcing them to compete in psychological games of torture to atone for their crimes of the past.

Except this time around in Jigsaw, the gimmick (Did I say gimmick? I meant catch!) is that John Kramer has been dead for ten years. Yet, someone is going around killing off new people. Is John back from the dead, or is there a copycat killer on the loose? Will the police be able to find this mysterious individual before it’s too late, or will they get away with their cruel crimes?

I’ve personally never cared for this genre of horror, often crudely labeled as “torture porn”. Where as many slasher films have novelty, uniqueness or even political/social commentary aspects that make them entertaining, the only feature of Saw meant to be fun is watching individuals be tortured and maimed. This isn’t my cup of tea, nor will it ever be.

But if I were to take a second to look at it from a Saw fan’s perspective, I’d still loathe this film with a passion. For the simple reason that, none of the kills (or traps) were that crafty. I distinctly remember some of the other films having creative torture devices, where Jigsaw feels oddly void of any interesting traps or obstacles.

Saw also attempts to throw red herring after red herring at the viewer, attempting to distract from the obvious end bad guy. When all but one main character has been accused of being the villain before the runtime hits the hour mark, it quickly becomes clear who’s in on it. So when we get the obligatory Scooby-Doo style explanation of who the villain is, it’s all the more excruciating to sit through.

A clever moment here and there doesn’t nearly make up for the sloppy, downright incoherent product that we’re given. It’s cardboard characters and sorry excuse for a mystery are the most horrifying, vomit-inducing parts of the film. After a whopping eight installments, its abundantly clear that the Saw franchise is completely out of ideas, leaving the audience with a jumbled puzzle that no one should be forced to put together.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

A Clockwork Orange Review

Today I’ve decided to pick apart and review the 1971 Stanley Kubrick masterpiece A Clockwork Orange. Based on the dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess, the film depicts recurring disturbing images to comment on society and our many differing views of human nature.

We are first introduced to the young, unhinged character of Alex DeLarge, excellently played by Malcolm McDowell. Alex, with the help of his trusty “Droogs”, commits acts of rape and ultra-violence for the thrill of it. One day, after allowing his ego and his brutal acts to escalate too far, Alex is caught and imprisoned for his crimes. There, he is selected to participate in an accelerated program that cures prisoners of their incorrect behaviors via aversion therapy. What ensues is a film that shocks, unsettles, and perplexes the viewer until the fatalistic conclusion.

The presentation of society, people, and fashion is all designed with an avant-garde perfectionism seen in the vast majority of Stanley Kubrick films. Every scene, prop, and line of dialogue was meticulously placed by an idealistic filmmaker on the threshold of insanity. You can take any scene in the film, break it down into every nitty-gritty detail, and know with certainty that everything was placed where it was with a purpose. Seemingly simple scenes, like one where Alex is spat on by a another, took over thirty takes to get correct. Another famous scene, where the Droogs rape a woman as Alex dances to the tune of “Singin’ in the Rain”, took around five days to shoot.

This disturbing, ultra-violent content woven into the story highlights the frequent themes of the nature of evil. With these powerful visuals, Kubrick successfully leaves the audience feeling completely vulnerable and defenseless to its imagery. Even after repeated viewings, I still succumb to feelings of horror every time I watch it.

The blatant, stony-hearted depiction of rape and violence is shockingly exploitative, yet somehow satirical and entrancing. This is mostly attributable to the remarkable directing style and the orchestral soundtrack, which fit the tone of A Clockwork Orange like bread and butter.

From the eerie, synthetic vibrato soundtrack that begins the film, to the sex indulgent fantasy that closes it, most viewers will either be left disgusted by the resolve or left pondering the deeper meaning of it all. Analysis after analysis after breakdown have attempted to comprehend the true nature of A Clockwork Orange, which further demonstrates the artistic significance of the film.

The philosophy of A Clockwork Orange remains one of my favorite films to discuss, and I consider it to be one of the greatest films ever directed. It’s a sadistic satire that serves as the ultimate antithesis to the behaviorism branch of psychology. It clashes with the idea of conditioning an individual to the rules of society, robbing them of the freedom of choice that makes a human a human. You can try to make something natural (like a human, or perhaps an orange) work like clockwork, but ultimately some (like Alex) are just evil by nature.

The Verdict: A

-Zachary Flint

Inside Job Review (2016 Short Film)

Today I’ve been asked to review the 2016 independent film titled Inside Job.

Inside Job is a dark comedy about an intern named Josh, who is recruited to work for an obscure company led by Mr. G (played by writer and director Matt Nagin). Mr. G is the epitome of a scumbag employer, who takes advantage of women, frequently uses drugs, and is feared by all his employees. The intern is about to get an experience of a lifetime, as his new boss may have something secretly in store for him.

The frequent antics of Mr. G are quite absurd and, at times, very humorous. His drug use is darkly comedic, and his outlandish belief that a rubber chicken is actually his wife makes me laugh from just how off the wall it is. Unfortunately, somewhere down the line, Inside Job went from “dark comedy” to just plain dark.

I believe the overall message that the film tried to communicate got lost in translation. The motivations of the characters were somewhat backwards and confusing, with an ending that didn’t feel fully developed.

 

The greatest moments of Inside Job are the more physical bits of comedy, that aren’t quite as bombastic as the dialogue. The mannerisms and actions of Mr. G are delightful to watch, as his character really does steal the show in the best way.

So while I think the end takes too many twists in turns in its final act, Inside Job is worth watching for those into independent films with wacky concepts.

The Verdict: C+

-Zachary Flint

Blade Runner 2049 Review

As a lifelong follower of the science fiction genre, Blade Runner has always been revered as a classic. Pioneering many awe-inspiring visuals that films today look to for guidance. While I respect Blade Runner for its visual achievements, emotionally the film has done very little for me. I find it a bit mundane and heavy-handed, with little going for it other than the artistic style.

In many aspects, Blade Runner 2049 is very similar.

The film takes place about thirty years after the events of the original Blade Runner. Since then, the world has fallen into somewhat of a dystopian mess. With a new era of blade runners (hitmen, essentially) hunting down replicants (a term for bioengineered humans) of the past.

Blade Runner 2049 follows Officer K (Ryan Gosling), a particularly skilled blade runner on a mission with enough significance to throw what’s left of the world into complete chaos.

Beautifully crafted sets, enticing visuals, and monumental sound design all blend together to make Blade Runner 2049 artistically stand out. Concepts and knowledge only briefly mentioned in the previous film are expanded here tenfold. Scenes are shot and crafted with such delicate precision that viewers like myself will be left completely spellbound. The level of imagination in its design is on par with the Star Wars trilogy, and the perfectionism in the lighting and set pieces is reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey.

However, it is here where I’d argue the film does too much expanding, to the point where it exhausts itself. Dramatic scenes that, overall, carry very little weight last for ten to fifteen minutes, when they could be summed up with two simple lines of dialogue. Instead, the film goes for this melodramatic, philosophical dialogue so that it may beat its themes and messages into the viewers head.

And unfortunately, the themes are all recycled from the first Blade Runner. “What does it mean to be human?” Boiled down, that’s the question Blade Runner 2049 poses to the audience. Only it takes them three hours and way too many dialogue pauses to say it.

With so many needlessly lengthy scenes, the conclusion of Blade Runner 2049 felt all too rushed by comparison. Plot lines that needed more depth and discussion get no such thing, which leaves the audience with just as many questions as answers.

So, while most of Blade Runner 2049 was still entertaining to watch (mostly due to the visuals and Goslings straight-faced performance), I think the story and themes have very little to offer viewers.

The Verdict: B-

-Zachary Flint

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Review

In the same vein as its predecessor, Kingsman: The Gloden Circle is an outlandish spy movie full of plot twists and zany gadgets.

Taking place about a year after the events of the first film, Kingsman follows the English Secret Service agent Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as he, once again, must save the world from complete destruction. This time around, Eggsy must team up with an American spy organization known as the Statesman, led by Champagne (Jeff Bridges) and Jack Daniels (Pedro Pascal). Together, they must work to stop the new supervillain of the week Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a criminal mastermind that specializes in illicit drugs.

Kingsman is one of those movies that thinks it needs to be two and a half hours long. So, in a feeble attempt to buffer its runtime, the film overcompensates and tacks on too many subplots. The ensemble of characters, sets, and plot devices felt very long-winded, and a bit overwhelming. It would’ve served the audience much better if the filmmakers cut the fat away and focused on creating a more condensed movie.

Even the action scenes, which were used somewhat sparingly in the first Kingsman, felt unnecessarily bloated here. The opening scene cuts right into a ten-minute car chase sequence that I believe jumped the gun. The action was highly stylized, with very fluid camerawork and choreography that made the fight scenes mesmerizing to watch. It was only when they dragged these parts out that they became tedious and mundane.

The entire cast, old and new, had so much fun with this film that I couldn’t help but do the same. The energy and excitement in the performances elevated some possibly underwritten characters to new heights.

The humorous nature of Kingsman is still alive and well here in the sequel. With situations and moments that are so unusual that you wouldn’t expect them from other more reasonably grounded films. One of the more comical aspects of Kingsman was the inclusion of Elton John (a rather peculiar celebrity cameo) as a minor character, who takes part in the action-packed climatic showdown.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is most enjoyable when you cease to take the film seriously. It teeters between nonsensical and extravagantly excessive, in this little unique world of spies that it has built itself. Kingsman isn’t high art, nor is it trying to be. It knows its core audience, and will deliver plenty of enjoyment to those who liked Kingsman: The Secret Service.

The Verdict: B+

-Zachary Flint