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Beauty and the Beast

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***

And his name’s G-A-S-T… I believe there’s another T… It just occurred to me that I’m illiterate and I’ve never actually had to spell it out loud before…

I really need to start picking photos or quotes that line up better.

Emma Watson as Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Sometimes you want more than to watch live action (mixed with CGI) performances of classic cartoons. This was done well enough, but that is basically 98% of what we got. The cast was really good, with the trio of Emma Watson, Josh Gad, and Luke Evans shining particularly brightly. I enjoyed listening to Watson’s and Gad’s songs the most.

If you want to watch a live action (mixed with CGI) version of Beauty and the Beast, then you have literally found that. If you wanted Maleficent, then you are out of luck. This is probably worth watching, because who wouldn’t want to watch Beauty and the Beast again? Or see Josh Gad playing LeFou? This is a perfectly serviceable film, with a rather lame end scene. With the constraints Disney doubtless put on him, Bill Condon–Mr. Holmes–deserves credit for the quality of this film.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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****

Impressive. Every word in that sentence was wrong.

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This is the funniest Star Wars movie. Normally I review a film before watching it a second time, but in this instance I was torn. I felt like I needed to watch it again to get it. Should a film be penalized for not being instantaneously accessible? Obviously it should not, however I account for this by occasionally revisiting films and re-reviewing them. Thus in effect I have been doing just that for years. Just as any film that would fall apart under closer inspection might have a higher ranking than it deserved—like The Departed, which is ranked #41 on IMDb and won the Oscar for Best Picture, should not be a 5-star movie with the closing shot on a rat.

What had me concerned was the comedy. Going into it for a second showing I was ready to come down hard on it, but instead I found myself laughing more and more. Once I knew to expect it, Finn’s comedic timing was spot on, and did not jar me at all. This is a sign of good filmmaking because Rian Johnson knew this was not Brick, a film that would be lucky to be seen once, but this was a Star Wars picture, which is probably the most rewatched franchise of all-time. I know that one summer I considered memorizing the dialogue, probably from Return of the Jedi, but who can remember the 1990s that well.

I really liked the message behind the film—stand up and do the right thing, imperialist oppressors often come in the guise of businesspeople and do not be an idiot. There are so, so many brave choices here. From having Finn be a coward, to Poe’s coup, this answered so many questions about the Star Wars universe in surprising, yet consistent ways. I did not love Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo, but I never love know it all leaders who hide things from their troops. Whom I do love, are old Jedi like Luke Skywalker. I am disappointed that Rian Johnson will not be doing the final chapter, but at least we have this episode!

The LEGO Batman Movie

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***

I see. Sir, if you don’t mind my saying, I’m a little concerned. I’ve seen you go through similar phases in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 and 2005 and 1997 and 1995 and 1992 and 1989 and that weird one in 1966. Do you want to talk about how you’re feeling right now?

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Was this better than, worse than, or equal to the original Lego Movie? This is basically a movie that uses dumb to seem clever. Like when I use a bad joke intentionally to show that I understand what comedy is. Mel Brooks was the king of this skill. Director Chris McKay and writer Seth Grahame-Smith—plus four other men—are no Mel Brooks. The cast assembled for this movie is basically Will Arnett plus the guests on the SklarBro Country and Doug Loves Movies from the past seven years.

But is that a good thing? In my lifetime someone in Hollywood realized that they could pay stars less than their going rate to have them just do voice acting. In general I think this is a waste of money. “Oooh is that so-and-so!” is generally a novelty. Arnett does a really good job as this Batman though. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Doug Benson—he is the Doug who loves movies—and his Bane impression. I find it very interesting that they had voice actors who had portrayed characters who appeared in this film, but opted not to have them voice them here. For example, Ralph Fiennes is in this movie, but not as Lord Voldemort, but as Alfred. Or less famously Hector Elizondo who has voiced Bane before, does not do parody Bane. As a counterpoint Billy Dee Williams does Two-Face, who is the same character as DA Harvey Dent, whom he played in Batman.

The movie had a strong message, something like, Batman should stop being a loner jerk all the time. But to pedal this message he has to be such a dumb jerk. Using a kid (Robin) as a tool and sending him off to die at the Fortress of Solitude was dumb. Robin, after slight reservations, goes off to die, because he is dumb. The Dynamic Duo of Dummies made it hard to care about their growth, or not. Or maybe the movie got less funny because the humor was predicated on Batman not evolving. A genius crime fighter who is totally not self-aware. I am not mad at the movie, and it’s not bad, but I am disappointed.

Mudbound

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****½

Over there, I was a liberator. People lined up in the streets waiting for us. Throwing flowers and cheering. And here I’m just another n*gger pushing a plow.

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Garrett Hedlund’s Jamie had the self-destructive streak and seemingly effortless charm that Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday exuded in Tombstone. To learn that I had seen him in a film before, and that the film was Tron: Legacy, shocked me. I suppose that shows how much difference a director with a good script can make. Dee Rees not only directed this film, but co-wrote it as well. How he managed to procure funding for this is beyond me. IMDb provides this synopsis, “Two men return home from World War II to work on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and adjusting to life after war.” That does not scream dollar signs to me. But in its favor is how, much like Steven Spielberg manages to do, this story is extremely timely, despite being set in the past.

The actual plot of the film is setup as a flashback, first back a decent bit, and then the very recent past that leads to the opening scene where Jamie and his brother Henry—Jason Clarke, Public Enemies—have to bury their father in the mud and rain, and to ask a sharecropper who is leaving if he will help them. Just as there are two men returning to Mississippi there are two families, one Black and one White. Jamie and Henry are the sons of Pappy McAllan. Henry got lucky and married Carey Mulligan, who was oddly a young spinstress named Laura. On the scale of likability, it goes like this: Laura seems like a decent person, Jamie would be fun to hang out with if his PTSD hadn’t turned him into a huge lush, Henry is a racist piece of crap, and Pappy makes Henry seem like a decent person. The Black family is eminently more likable—the Jacksons. Their war hero is Ronsel and he got a glimpse of a far less racist society over in Europe and even had a relationship with a white European—this is important, sadly. Jason Mitchell crushed it in this role, at least giving a performance on par with Hedlund’s. Florence and Hap are his parents and they’re sharecroppers—they do not own the land they farm. I did not recognize Mary J. Blige as Florence, but she had a deep maternal air about her, and her midwife skills came in handy as she was hired to help out Laura and her kids. But Hap—Rob Morgan, Turk Barrett from Netflix’s Marvel shows—breaks his leg and their mule dies.

This movie is really freaking depressing. But it is also wonderful. It is horrific, but it will make you think and feel and argue with people. For me, Pappy’s death was not sufficiently satisfying. I don’t know if I’ve ever said that in one of my reviews. It is a credit to Jonathan Banks, whom I best knew as Professor Hickey on “Community”, that he could elicit such anger and hatred from me. One criticism I could level at this film would be that it is an ugly movie visually. But I think that is actually what Rees was going for.

Murder on the Orient Express

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****

There is right. There is wrong. There is no in-between.

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I have enjoyed every adaptation of this Agatha Christie classic. It’s not spoiler-proof, and that makes it hard to explain what makes it such a unique and interesting story, especially for our moral Christian detective, Hercule Poirot. Since this is his most famous story, the true challenge for him is difficult to get across and since I’m familiar with both the plot and his character, Kenneth Branagh’s crack at it is something I cannot truly evaluate like a novice. Maybe someday I will forget who done it and can enjoy this anew, but I doubt it. This is the fourth version I have seen. The 1974 classic starred Albert Finney and then David Suchet did two versions of it a few years apart. And all, even to a lesser extent the 2006ish episode, had wonderful casts.

The movie is beautifully shot and I really like Branagh’s Poirot. The cast is as wonderful as you might expect, and if you’ve read my reviews you know how excited I get about ensemble casts. I suppose I could just list their names, characters, and my favorite roles of theirs…
Poirot — Kenneth Branagh, should we look to his Oscar nominated Shakespeare? Of course not, his career highlight was crushing it as Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in HP and the Chamber of Secrets. I am not joking. He gets the righteous tone necessary for this character, as well as his lighthearted charm.
Mary Debenhem — Daisy Ridley, it took me a minute to recognize Rey from Star Wars 7. I am not joking, she did a great job.
Dr. Arbuthnot — Leslie Odom, Jr., I cannot spell Arbuthnot. Seen this how many times and I can never get this name right. I did not recognize him, but at least he wasn’t white like Sean Connery or David Morrissey. They were both excellent Arbuthnots, but some diversity is nice.
Marquez — Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, was someone in Magnificent 7.
Pilar Estravados — Penelope Cruz–Blow–is still a fantastic actress. But you knew that already.
McQueen — Josh Gad–Olaf the snowman–was a surprising choice here. But then again Anthony Perkins is a surprising casting choice for every role he had after Psycho.
Ratchett — Johnny Depp–Blow–was an even more surprising casting choice here, especially after Toby Jones really captured it in 2010. Depp was phenomenal in this role as the shady businessman whom Poirot refuses to protect. It is a very interesting alternative story if Poirot does try to protect him. The ethical questions in this story are great.
Edward Masterman — Derek Jacobi is one of my favorite actors, whom I forget about. To choose one role to put after his name right now seems impossible. He was Cadfael, but how many people watched that Mystery! show? Everyone saw him as Senator Gracchus in Gladiator—he is the one who gets arrested while feeding his chickens. As the servant Probert he was the most English servant of all-time in Gosford Park. For people of a certain age he will always be Claudius from “I, Claudius”. So yeah, he is great in this and I wish he got more screen time.
Count & Countess Andrenyi — Not Michael York and not Jacqueline Bisset, but they were solid.
Mrs. Hubbard — Michelle Pfeiffer–Catwoman–was excellent. She was on par with Lauren Bacall and Barbara Hershey. This was a type character I had not seen her play before, so I was impressed.
Princess Dragomiroff — Judi Dench–M–gets to use a Russian accent. How fun for her.
Her maid Hildegarde — Olivia Colman—Hot Fuzz’s DC Doris Thatcher—does a great job. She is so good with such a variety of acting styles, it was nice to see her in something serious, that was not cripplingly depressing like “Broadchurch”.
Prof. Hardman — Willem Dafoe–Green Goblin–is this far down on the cast list. I love it. I’m surprised to see that this character was not in the TV version of the story.

Feel free to leave your ranking of the best casts of the Murders on the Orients Express. Or feel free to weigh in on the morality. Is Poirot going to hell? Will he go to hell for his Last Case? How do you rate the Poirot mustaches? This one really grew on me, although David Suchet’s is the most comforting.

Lastly, I have wonderful news! While reading the IMDb page for this review I saw that next year Branagh is doing Death on the Nile! What a time to be alive.

Deadpool 2

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****

You’re so dark. Are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?

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I loved Cable in this movie. I assumed that they would screw him up, but Josh Brolin nailed it and the special effects made him look great. His gravitas worked really well against Deadpool’s constant stream of jokes. It really felt like a comic book up to the big screen. That is all I ever want from a comic book movie, really.

There were other good performances too. Ryan Reynolds was as good as he was in the first one. Morena Baccarin is sadly in this less than in film one. But Domino–Zazie Beetz–gets added to the mix and she is great. She is a perfect foil for Deadpool’s BS. TJ Miller and and Karan Soni are back, and both are similarly good—but boo TJ Miller the person. Soni’s Dopinder gets a little silly though. Colossus is equally wonderful. I usually really like Eddie Marsan but his accent was quite odd, as was casting a non-powered mutant-hater who runs an orphanage for mutants as the villain. Still, he is fine and it is interesting to get to root for him to not die in a certain way.

Before my conclusion, I have a few random thoughts:

  • Why did Celine Dion do the theme song? Does she have a sense of humor? Who convinced her that this would be a good career move? Will she really get nominated for an Oscar for it? I DON’T KNOW.
  • I really like the inside jokes for nerds. They toned it down from the first movie, but the Rob Liefeld mocking is wonderful. He co-created Cable, for those who didn’t know. Oh, and Deadpool!
  • I went crazy when Rob Delaney–Peter–showed up in the trailer. I was so afraid they would cut him from being on X-Force for having no abilities.
  • Cable’s fighting style was awesome. The special effects in this were much better than in 1.
  • Speaking of Cable, how do we feel about Josh Brolin being both him and Thanos? I know I was strongly against Chris Evans–Human Torch–becoming Captain America, but that worked out fine. But this is simultaneous casting. Josh Brolin is a great actor though and I have accepted a movie that had Jet Li fighting himself, so, I guess I am okay with this.

Deadpool calls this a family movie, in his 4th wall breaking style, and he is right. If it were not for everything that made this an R-rated movie I would watch it with my parents. My wife had us watch the first one with her parents and good for her to be okay with that, because there are some moments in both of these films where you do not want to watch this with relatives of any relation. Pan’s Labyrinth was a kids movie for the whole family, except children should not watch that level of horror and torture. Deadpool 2 is a family movie, except most families should not watch it together. Or talk about it together. Enjoy!

Black Panther

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****

If you say one more word, I’ll feed you to my children! … I’m kidding. We’re vegetarians.

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This is a kick ass action movie that rejects toxic masculinity as the only option and showcases only two white men in the whole movie. As a white guy, I will focus my review solely on them. Just kidding, but how awful would that be? That’s basically (statistically) the mentality of 20th century American filmmakers, by the way.

Ryan Coogler—Creed—did a great job with this movie. It looks great. The story is interesting without being an origin story. It managed to strike a great balance between drama and comedy. It also had a tone that was not the traditional morality tale that shows good versus evil, warning against our weaknesses and how to overcome evil. Instead it posed the question of isolated success, while others suffer, versus risking losing that success by offering aid to those who are suffering. Offering aid is the end of the movie, but this end is not presented as a rosy future.

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The response that surprised me the most was just how many people liked Killmonger. Michael B. Jordan was great in the role and looked amazing, but I did not find his side to be at all enticing. I thought he was clearly, sadly, in the wrong. His character is a tragic villain, but he is a villain through and through. His side offers no future, save for himself, for instance, he orders the destruction of the magical flower that imparts the power of the Black Panther after using it himself. The traitor he pulls onto his side, W’Kabi—Daniel Kaluuya—really disappointed me. His journey is under-explained and not emotionally strong enough for my tastes. How many Wakandans did he kill while fighting for a false king? How many of his brethren did he force his Wakandan sisters to kill? Earlier I lauded this film for not pretending to have all the answers, so maybe this is a product of that mentality.

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