Friday, November 17, 2017

Justice League review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
(From left to right) The Flash, Superman, Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Batman, and Aquaman in DC’s Justice League

            After a series of blunders and the unexpected critical success of Wonder Woman earlier on this year, we finally reach the movie the DC Extended Universe was building up to, Justice League. Marvel has already proved that superhero team-ups can be done well with their Avengers movies so it makes sense for DC to try and do the same since they own some of the most beloved and iconic superhero characters of all time.
            Now I really, REALLY wanted to give this movie a chance because I love most of these characters. I may not have read all their comics but through other movies, cartoons, and even live-action TV shows every member of the Justice League have their own special places in my heart.
            Wonder Woman gave me a glimmer of hope that the DC Extended Universe was starting to get on the right track and I was open to see the Justice League movie despite Cyborg, Aquaman, and Flash movies not yet existing. Unfortunately, director, Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead (2004), 300, Watchmen) didn’t take notes while watching Wonder Woman and we have yet another disjointed and awkward installment of the franchise.
            I understand Snyder was having rough times with this film due to family issues that interfered and hopefully this doesn’t stop him from making movies. Fortunately, this movie is better than most of the other DC films in the franchise, has a much lighter tone compared to Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, and there are attempts at being silly and funny which makes sense because they brought in Avengers director, Joss Whedon to finish the movie while Snyder was out (What a friend?) but because they both have different directing styles it feels cluttered in its execution.
            After the “Death of Superman” we find Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck-The Town, Argo, Gone Girl) enlisting the help of his new friend and ally, Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot-Fast & Furious franchise, Date Night, Triple 9) to face an even greater enemy. An alien military officer known as Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds-Excalibur, Road to Perdition, There Will Be Blood) has been unleashed and plots to conquer and rebuild the world with the combined powers of the Mother Boxes (Think of them as 3 Tesseracts or Allsparks) for his lord and master, Darkseid.
            Bruce and Diana recruit a team of heroes consisting of Barry Allen/The Flash (Ezra Miller-Royal Pains, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa-Baywatch: Hawaii, Game of Thrones, Wolves), and Victor Stone/Cyborg (Ray Fisher-The Astronaut Wives Club) to combat Steppenwolf’s wrath, however they might need to resurrect their fallen hero, Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill-The Tudors, Stardust, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) to even stand a chance in this battle (PS that’s not a spoiler because they already ruined it in the marketing and in Batman v. Superman).
            The film also stars Amy Adams (Enchanted, The Fighter, American Hustle) as Lois Lane, Jeremy Irons (The Lion King, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Margin Call) as Alfred Pennywise, Diane Lane (Chaplin, Inside Out, Trumbo) as Martha Kent, Connie Nielsen (Rushmore, Gladiator, The Good Wife) as Hippolyta, and J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man trilogy, Whiplash, Zootopia) as Commissioner James Gordon.
            Overall, Justice League is a mixed-bag of a superhero movie, while it has plenty of good things in it like the cast, a good chunk of the humor, much more color compared to Snyder’s other work, and plenty of chaotic action, the pacing and different directing styles of Snyder and Whedon really make the film go downhill. Don’t worry this isn’t even close to being one of the worst comic book films of all time, trust me this is Christopher Nolan Dark Knight compared to Batman & Robin or Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
            However as much as I enjoyed a good chunk of this film there was a lot that left me disappointed. For starters, the character development sucks hard with the exceptions of Batman and Wonder Woman because they already had a movie that established their characters (or in Wonder Woman’s case two) and since we haven’t seen a Flash, Aquaman, or Cyborg movie yet, that leaves two hurdles the film needs to jump over, establish the new characters so the audience can grow attached to them and give all the heroes screen-time, and because of the awkward set-up of the DC Extended Universe and mediocre directing, I don’t think Justice League does that very well.
            Also, the villain is extremely forgettable which adds more to the problems with the DC Extended Universe timeline, Steppenwolf has never appeared in an earlier DC film and it feels like he just got shoehorned into the movie with very little explanation outside of a backstory told by Wonder Woman at the beginning of the film. The villain in the first Avengers movie was Loki who was already established in the Marvel franchise and unlike DC’s franchise they gave the characters and worlds time to develop before their big team-up film, I’ll remember Loki far more than Steppenwolf, Hell, I’ll go on record and say I’ll probably forget about Steppenwolf in a few days he left so little impact, never thought I’d say this but Jesse Eisenberg Lex Luthor actually would have been an improvement here because at least he was already established in the universe.

            Do I regret seeing it? No, I’m glad I saw it, Justice League isn’t a terrible movie or even that bad of a movie but there is something about it that gets on my nerves. This was supposed to be DC’s big Avengers-like team-up movie which should have been amazing and if you can’t get it right the first time and the finished product comes off as “Meh!” then clearly something is wrong.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Everyone is a suspect in the Murder on the Orient Express

            Do not be fooled by the trailers, this is not a film adaptation of the board game, Clue…we already had that back in the 80s. Anyway, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Cinderella (2015), Dunkirk) comes a remake of the 1974 classic mystery film, Murder on the Orient Express based on the novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.
            I’m not familiar with the original book but I have seen the 1974 film adaptation before that starred Albert Finney and was directed by Sidney Lumet. It was considered a classic by many, both a financial and critical success, and even nabbed six Oscar nominations with Ingrid Bergman winning for Best Supporting Actress.
            We’re all familiar with the traditional reaction that occurs every time a beloved film gets a remake, I’M LOOKING AT YOU HAUNTING 1999! However once in a while a remake will come along that ends up being decent in its own way and sometimes even better than the original like the Coen Brothers’ True Grit, so where does Murder on the Orient Express fit in? Eh.
            This movie probably didn’t need to exist and doesn’t come close to topping the original or even being as good as it. But like the 1974 film it has a star-studded cast, gorgeous production design, and a mystery that keeps you on your toes which results in a perfectly serviceable remake.
            The film follows Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot (Branagh) boarding the Orient Express train for a vacation from his detective work. He makes the acquaintance of twelve other strangers on the train and it starts off as a relaxing ride.
            That is until one of the passengers in murdered and the train gets stuck in an avalanche thus delaying their arrival. Upon realizing a passenger was killed in the middle of the night Hercule must find out who the suspect is before that person strikes again, however he’s trapped on a train with twelve other people it could be anyone and he might discover a dark truth behind the murder.
            The film also stars Tom Bateman (Da Vinci’s Demons, Jekyll and Hyde, Snatched) as Bouc, Penélope Cruz (Volver, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) as Pilar Estravados, Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Spider-Man, John Wick) as Gerhard, Judi Dench (James Bond franchise, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Philomena) as Princess Dragomiroff, Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) as Samuel Ratchett, Josh Gad (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast (2017), Marshall) as Hector MacQueen, Derek Jacobi (Gosford Park, The King’s Speech, Cinderella (2015)) as Edward Henry Masterman, Leslie Odom Jr. (CSI: Miami, Big Day, Red Tails) as Dr. Arbuthnot, Michelle Pfeiffer (The Witches of Eastwick, Batman Returns, Mother!) as Caroline Hubbard, Daisy Ridley (Scrawl, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Only Yesterday) as Mary Debenham, Marwan Kenzari (Collide, Ben-Hur (2016), The Mummy (2017)) as Pierre Michel, Olivia Colman (Peep Show, Hot Fuzz, The Lobster) as Hildegarde Schmidt, Lucy Boynton (Miss Potter, Sing Street, Gypsy) as Countess Elena Andrenyi, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (One for the Road, From Dusk till Dawn: The Series, The Magnificent Seven (2016)) as Biniamino Marquez, dancer, Sergei Polunin as Count Rudolph Andrenyi, and Miranda Raison (Doctor Who, Plus One, My Week with Marilyn) as Sonia Armstrong.
            Overall, Murder on the Orient Express is a decently made remake even if it doesn’t quite capture the chills of the original or add much new to the story. If you’ve seen the 1974 film then you know exactly how it’s going to end and what’s going to happen which is both a strength and a huge flaw of the movie, it’s great if you’ve never seen the original and hopefully you’ll be shocked but outside of the production design (which is absolutely beautiful) and some of the performances this one doesn’t amount to much for people who are already familiar with the source material.
            It’s a Kenneth Branagh production after all so of course the cinematography and production design would be epic and gorgeous to look at. And damn does this guy know how to shoot winter? He manages to make the season both beautiful and creepy at the same time and I’m shocked this movie wasn’t released in IMAX because a film like this should be on a bigger screen.
            Besides the cinematography most of the performances by the film’s star-studded cast are spot on despite many of them being supporting roles especially Branagh, Depp, Pfeiffer, and Dench, they own every scene in the movie whenever they’re on-screen. It’s hard to say whether or not Kenneth Branagh surpassed Albert Finney in the role of Hercule but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t as good.

            If you’re looking for a movie that has a sense of mystery and suspense as well as impressive production design and a star-studded cast this might be worth a viewing in the cinema. However, if you’re expecting a remake of the original that expands on the source material and gives a fresh new take on the story then this might be a train to miss.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** ½ out of 4
(From left to right) Heimdall, Valkyrie, Hela, Thor, the Hulk, Loki, Grandmaster, and Odin in Thor: Ragnarok

            I’m convinced Marvel can take the campy space adventure tone that made Guardians of the Galaxy an unexpected hit and make it work with all their heroes. That’s where Thor: Ragnarok comes in, the third film starring Chris Hemsworth (Star Trek, The Cabin in the Woods, Rush) as the mighty God of Thunder, Thor, seventeenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the first Thor movie to not feature Natalie Portman, Stellen Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings.
            In the director’s chair this time is Taika Waititi (Boy, What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) who manages to take a world originally brought to life massively by Kenneth Branagh in the first film and adds a sci-fi space adventure tone to it resulting in quite possibly the best Thor movie ever…and also the best Hulk movie we’ve had so far. Who would have thought a director of mostly independent films could outshine Kenneth Branagh and Alan Taylor with the world of the Gods?
            After the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor (Hemsworth) has been imprisoned on the other side of the universe and his mighty hammer was destroyed by the ruthless Hela (Cate Blanchett-The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Aviator, Cinderella (2015)) out for vengeance on the realm of Asgard. Thor must race against time to get back to Asgard before Hela unleashes Ragnarok, the destruction of his home world and end of Asgardian civilization.
            Along the way he ends up in a gladiatorial battle and is pitted against his old Avenger friend, Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk (Mark Ruffalo-13 Going on 30, Zodiac, Spotlight) and encounters the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum-The Fly, Jurassic Park, Independence Day), one of the Elders of the Universe who rules the planet Sakaar where Thor battles the Hulk, and forms yet another partnership with his adopted brother and nemesis, Loki (Tom Hiddleston-War Horse, Crimson Peak, Kong: Skull Island) in hopes to save his home from Hela’s wrath.
            The film also stars Tessa Thompson (Veronica Mars, Creed, Westworld) as Valkyrie, Karl Urban (The Chronicles of Riddick, Star Trek, Dredd) as Skurge, Anthony Hopkins (The Silence of the Lambs, Hitchcock, Transformers: The Last Knight) as Odin, Idris Elba (Prometheus, Pacific Rim, The Jungle Book (2016)) as Heimdall, Tadanobu Asano (Parasyte, Harmonium, Silence) as Hogun, Ray Stevenson (Punisher: War Zone, The Book of Eli, The Divergent Series) as Volstagg, and Zachary Levi (Chuck, Tangled, Tangled: The Series) as Fandral, Rachel House (Boy, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Moana) as Topaz, and Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock, The Hobbit trilogy, The Imitation Game) as Doctor Strange.
            Overall, Thor: Ragnarok is a rare time where the third installment of a trilogy ends up being the best, much like last year’s Captain America: Civil War. It’s a refreshing change of pace and tone with the 80s-metal cover art design/sci-fi campy space tone mixed with Norse mythology and it surprisingly works really well, in fact I’m shocked there wasn’t a single Guardians of the Galaxy reference thrown in there because if there was any movie to perfectly connect them into the Infinity War, it would have been this film.
            The action is exhilarating and in your face even when you’re not watching on IMAX or 3D and the way it’s balanced with humor is what I consider near perfection. I’m talking as fun as the Guardians of the Galaxy movies and easily the best treatment of Thor I’ve seen in terms of film.
            Chris Hemsworth despite being Natalie Portman-less in this film still keeps the charm going as Thor, Tom Hiddleston still makes the bad girls scream in the theater as Loki, and this movie has quite possibly given me the best Jeff Goldblum performance I’ve ever seen. Cate Blanchett dominates as Hela and not only does she want to destroy Asgard but she steals every minute whenever she’s on-screen and it’s clear Blanchett was having the time of her life as the character, one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s best villains and if Aku from Samurai Jack and Rita Repulsa from Power Rangers had a baby, this is what you'd get.
            I also appreciate how the movie doesn’t take itself that seriously, it feels very self-aware of how ridiculous and over-the-top it is, the jokes range from goofy to legitimately funny, and the production design is so colorful and neon it really gives Guardians of the Galaxy a run for their money, not every superhero movie needs to be like The Dark Knight, you don’t need to be edgy and dark, sometimes you can make something corny and fun and make it work just as much.

            This could quite possibly fit in my Top 10 Marvel Movies, maybe even Top 5, Thor: Ragnarok is a blast of high-octane space fun with no “I Am Groots” required. Forget Thor: The Dark World, Ragnarok is the true Thor sequel and it’d be very “shocking” if it ends up flopping financially.