All A-bored!: A Review of “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017)

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The newest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s classic whodunit novel, Murder on the Orient Express, wishes it was a film from an older, simpler time, when a central mystery as lacking as the one it presents would have likely been enough to satisfy its viewers. But in 2017, with there being a large catalog of murder-mystery films that offer grander puzzles of suspense with far superior payoffs, this lavishly produced remake loses steam long before it arrives at its underwhelming destination. The film isn’t without any merit, as its graceful cinematography highlights gorgeous period-appropriate set and costume design, and the ensemble cast of both old and new A-listers (including Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, and Willem Dafoe) do formidable work, even with the lackluster material they’ve been handed. Ultimately, though, director Kenneth Branagh’s attempt at remaking this nearly century-old story is absent of any fresh additions or twists, leaving its savvier viewers with an unsatisfying mystery to solve.

Branagh also serves as the story’s mustached lead and famed hero detective, Hercule Poirot. In the winter of 1934, Poirot boards the Orient Express from Istanbul on his way home to help solve yet another case, hoping that the short train ride itself will provide some sort of relaxation. But, of course, it’s never that simple. Poirot becomes sidetracked when a particularly shady passenger aboard the train, Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), asks to buy his protection after receiving an increasingly alarming amount of threatening letters. Poirot refuses, and the following morning, awakens to find that Ratchett has been brutally murdered in his sleep only a few cabins down, with 12 erratic stab wounds and minimal evidence hampering his insight on who done it. Along with this, an avalanche has resulted in the train’s derailing, stranding its anxious passengers while they wait upon a rescue crew.

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Valhalla, I am Coming: A Review of “Thor: Ragnarok”

Looking at the ever-expanding list of main players within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear that my least favorite has always been Thor. At least, that’s what I thought before I saw the third and latest installment in the character’s solo film series, Thor: Ragnarok. Having skipped his previous two outings, I wasn’t particularly excited by Ragnarok’s announcement, especially with its release date stranded in between this summer’s awesome Spider-Man: Homecoming and next year’s potential-filled Black Panther.

However, given the spectacularly colorful and surprisingly humorous advertising, the film had gained my attention. Still, it was only upon learning that the film was being helmed by esteemed indie director Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) that I was definitely in. While Ragnarok is far from being the best that the MCU has ever delivered, it provides enough entertaining sequences and funny one-liners that it ultimately overcomes its underwhelming and somewhat boring plot.

While I had hoped that Ragnarok would’ve simply been a super big-budget version of a Waititi film, it’s more just a standard Marvel affair that’s merely afforded a helpful boost by the director’s unique charm. This will probably please the bulk of the superhero moviegoing audience, as Waititi’s quirky comedic style isn’t necessarily the mainstream norm, but it was also a sort of disappointing realization on my part. Still, Thor is in good hands here, and the character’s inclination on being the self-centered airhead within the ranks of the Avengers works. There’s a number of great supporting characters surrounding the hero as well, but I also found the film lacking a substantial driving force.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Audition”

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For my final review of October, Takashi Miike’s Audition (1999) is going “under the knife” to receive a proper dissection — this dissection being necessary to finalize our horror timeline, and to bring the intent to fruition. Audition is another psychological horror (akin to my previous review for Jacob’s Ladder), but with elements of a thriller and “sadistic horror.” The “sadistic horror” elements being the film’s most influential and most “revered” moments, although, they only occur in the latter half of the film.

In comparison to the other film’s I’ve written about this month, Audition‘s filmic elements are more subdued. The film emphasizes climactic horror, with a build-up in narrative that is far from anything else in the horror genre. In addition, this build-up is slow-paced with an atmosphere heavily dependent on the sets and the somber score, showing a difference of extremity between the first and second halves (romantic half/horror half). These two halves have versatility, having the ability to stand alone as separate entities and, I would argue, as separate films.

I believe this type of horror film is an embodiment of a Venn diagram, in my mind, with the  “halves” being one of most obvious contrasts within the film. Even so, I believe the Japanese film poster is indicating such, with the wire being in the shape of one and having Shigeharu Aoyama placed on one side of it.  

*Spoilers ahead*   

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Student Feature: The Cycle of Violence in “City of God”

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Below is a notable perspective on the 2002 film City of God, written by Lewis University student Sarah Simar. Spoilers ahead.

Guns, gangs, crime, drugs, power, wealth, survival — these are the most obvious themes in City of God (Cidade de Deus, 2002), directed by Fernando Meirelles and Kátia Lund. There is no way out, no safe place to hide in the City of God. If you are not in a gang, you are forced into one at a very young age.

One of the main characters and narrator of the story, Rocket (Alexandre Rodrigues), dreams of being a photographer and getting out of this violent world. The other main character, Ze Pequeno (Leandro Firmino), wants to rule the city from a young age with his partner Benny (Phellipe Haagensen), and accomplishes just that through a series of malicious acts. Rocket and Ze are so radically different, but their paths cross more than once throughout the movie. These moments reiterate the theme that there is no way out, even for Rocket, who wants nothing to do with any gang.

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The Most Dangerous Game: A Review of “Gerald’s Game”

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It almost seems that Netflix was well aware that the new film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT would be the massive success that it has come to be, amassing over $600 million worldwide and becoming the second-most successful horror film ever made. With Gerald’s Game and 1922, Netflix has adapted two lesser-known King stories on modest budgets, releasing them both in the aftermath of IT’s box-office reign, likely in hopes to cash in on the writer’s name when it’s especially hot (that’s as if it is ever cold, mind you). While I cannot yet speak for 1922, Mike Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game is mostly a great success, presenting a horrifying scenario and highlighting tremendous output from its veteran stars.

Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood co-star as an aging couple seeking the needle to stitch the love that’s been slowly slipping, before they become another forgotten percentage added into the U.S. Census Bureau’s rising divorce statistics. Gugino plays Jess, who’s a handful of years younger than Greenwood’s titular Gerald — although not technically “young” herself — and is particularly unenthused about their blatantly failing marriage and unsure whether they can recover. Gerald, on the other hand, gets the idea to bring the two of them out to a secluded lake house for a weekend getaway; a sort of last-ditch effort to hopefully turn things back to how they were at the beginning. The beautiful house is stocked with expensive wines, no-joke Kobe beef steaks, and two legit pairs of handcuffs.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Jacob’s Ladder”

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Next up on the horror docket are the sub-genres of psychological and surrealist horror. These are some of my personal favorites in horror, which made them inevitable for dissection this month. With that said, I had to choose a film that incorporated both of these two sub-genres to discuss them. So I searched through my memory and had an immediate revelation that Jacob’s Ladder (1990), directed by Adrian Lyne and starring Tim Robbins, was the film to display such genres. The reason was simple: I had a fond memory of this film and was stricken by its elements the moment I saw it. So this made me not only want to review it, but I wanted to understand the film. I wanted to understand why the film had such a powerful effect on me and the average viewer in general.

To define these genres briefly: psychological horror is a film that deals with the psyche of characters in order to horrify (ex. A person devolving into madness). Surrealism is a genre that relies more on imagery or experiences that are out of this world (ex. Creature being cared for as if an ordinary child).   

*Spoilers ahead*

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The Weirdest Horror Film Ever Made: A Review of Nobuhiko Obayashi’s “House”

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I honestly dare you to try and find a film more bizarre than Nobuhiko Obayashi’s 1977 haunted-house horror-comedy — and adequately titled Japanese production — House. While the synopsis of the plot is rather straight-forward, what transpires in this absolutely bonkers 88-minute roller coaster of gores and goofs is anything but ordinary, and barely even comprehensible. However, this is what makes House such a one-of-a-kind experience that deserves to be seen and (hopefully) adored by a larger audience. Merely describing the overview of House does it no favors, nor would it necessarily make you want to watch it. It’s a fairly simple set-up, after all. What makes House so watchable, so unique, and ultimately so great, is its unbelievably kooky execution and intentional surrealism.

I truly have never seen a film as weird as this one.

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