Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express


The new movie “Murder on the Orient Express” is a remake of the original made in 1974. I always ask myself, when there is a remake of a movie like this, why a remake? Was the movie important enough or memorable enough to make another one? Very often and including this time, the answer to that question is no. Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most famous of all the Agatha Christie novels, but in my opinion the ending of this story is too unbelievable and convoluted to really believe possible and for that reason, and for the reason that the entire movie was quite boring, I cannot recommend this movie.

There are many known actors in this film, including Johnny Depp and
Michelle Pfeiffer, but their appearances are not enough to have any reason to recommend this film.

Movie Review: Roman J. Israel, ESQ.


First off, I was pretty disgusted and shocked by the middle of the road estimates on Rotten Tomatoes for this very good movie. When I read some of the reviews, I wondered if some of these reviewers were in the wrong movie theater. Right from the start, I can state that Roman J. Isreal, ESQ. is one of the best movies of 2017.

“Roman J. Israel, ESQ. , played extremely well by Denzel Washington is about the conflict between idealism as a young lawyer starts out his career, and the desire and need for financial security that becomes more necessary as you get older.

As this movie explains very well, within the legal system today, prosecutors throw very severe maximum penalties at the accused in the hopes that they will accept a plea bargain, because if they fight the system and lose, their entire reason for living goes down the drain with their prison term. The only thing worse than going to prison is going to prison for something you didn’t do, or living through a prison term that is completely out of proportion to the one time mistake you made as a young kid. Your choice is to fight prosecution, lose all your savings and if you lose, getting the worst case scenario prison term. If your found innocent because of a mistake by a prosecutor or a lying witness, you don’t get a refund from the legal firm that charges you 500 dollars an hour to save your life. Your financially ruined for life and you did nothing wrong. These are the harsh realities of how the broken legal system in this country works for so many unfortunate people.

For me the most significant scene in this movie is towards the beginning, where Roman meets with a young 17 year old terrified kid, who is in prison waiting trial and while trying to negotiate a fair plea for this young man, who made a small mistake and to save his own life, wore a gang t-shirt. The female prosecutor made it very clear that she could care less about the life of this unfortunate poor 17 year old. She only cared about about her perfect batting average as a prosecutor as Roman desperately tried to plead for his life. This is what is wrong with the legal system in this country, humanity, common sense and decency takes a back seat to a batting average. Underlying all the complex and unfair laws are young human lives who either because being poor or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, face a horrible existence that is barely worth living, in prison, and far too often for something they didn’t even do.

Fighting for the innocent and not being about the money is what Roman Israel is all about. Mainly due to his idealism, he has been living alone in a run down apartment for the last 35 years. Israel is a legal savant with a photographic memory but unfortunately is slightly autistic, with perhaps a mild case of Asperger’s syndrome and because of that, just does legal research for a small firm that is very deeply in debt and then the owner of the firm has a heart attack, which is where this movie begins. Roman cares about helping the less fortunate so much that he has been preparing a huge legal brief for many years, in the hopes of cleaning up a system that just does not work and is grossly unfair to the less fortunate who get pushed through a system with plea bargains and sentences that are outrageously unfair.

I thought that Colin Farrell’s performance as a rich lawyer who hires Roman was one of the best performances of his career. Colin plays a lawyer who is the opposite of Roman, and mostly cares about money and almost never about helping people. This film has a great story, great back stories, and transitions as the main characters find themselves through mistakes and by learning from others. There are some scenes as Roman attends a meeting of young civil rights advocates that I thought was also outstanding and inspiring.

I thought that Roman J. Israel, ESQ. is one of the best films of 2017 and it receives my highest recommendation. Tragically, Denzel Washington should receive another Academy Award nomination, but probably will not because of the average reviews for this very good movie.

Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Aside from having one of the longest titles for a movie I have seen in a long time, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, is a story about grief and the loss of a child told in one of the most unusual ways I have ever seen. In order to make a movie today, considering just about every idea has been tried or tested, coming up with an idea this unusual is almost mandatory.

Surviving grief because of the loss of a child requires therapy, anti-depressant drugs and massive rationalization. Losing a child, especially one who was raped and murdered is just about impossible for anyone to ever recover from. The divorce rate for people who lose a child is understandably extremely high. Some people turn to drugs to cope with their grief and the constant reminders of what could have been, the opportunity lost, high school graduations, weddings, the birth of the first grandchild. But in this case of the story in this movie, some people get very angry, like the main character, played extremely well by Francis McDormand. Due to her frustration over the police never solving her daughters murder after 7 months, she decides to put put up 3 billboards to humiliate the police chief, played by Woody Harrelson. The billboards ask the police chief why nobody has been arrested for the crime of murdering her daughter after so many months. I thought that the 3 billboard idea in this story is not only very unusual and extreme but very believable when you get to know the main character played by Mcdormand who is tough, strong and takes no disrespect from anybody. There are very good side stories with the police officers in the town of Ebbing that include racial bigotry and the harsh reactions of the towns people towards this grieving mother because of her billboards, even despite her tragic loss that I thought was very well done.

The acting in this movie is outstanding enough to create several Academy Award nominations, starting with Francis Mcdormand with her best role since winning the Academy Award in 1996 for Fargo. I also think that this movie might also receive a nomination for best picture and it is one of the best films of 2017.

Movie Review: Justice League


One can only wonder or try and estimate when this incredible flood of Marvel movies over the last 15 years will finally get old. We all know from the comic books that there are many super heroes but at some point, they all blend together and seem like the same movie. This is true of “Justice League” and is backed up by the low ratings of 40% on rottentomatoes. Perhaps the pendulum has started to swing the other way because these movies all seem to use the same formula every time. Some massive super villain is trying to destroy the world, and a few or several super heroes step in to save the world. The end of the movie has a huge amount of special effects and then a climatic battle that we have all seen many times before. In the end, most of us will never be able to remember what was unique or different with any one of these movies.

Justice League stars Ben Afleck as Batman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane,Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and some new super heroes making their Marvel movie debut. Jason Momoa as Aqua-man, Ezra Miller as the Flash and Ray Fischer as Cyborg, admittedly a super hero I have never heard of before. When this film was over, I felt like I have seen the same movie 10 in the past few years, and in fact I probably had. My advice to the producers is to hire a great screenwriter and come up with some new ideas we have not seen before. In my opinion, all of these Marvel movies have already reached their saturation point.

I thought that Justice League was too run of the mill to recommend.

Movie Review: Lady Bird


This is one of the few movies I have seen in many years that is all about one of the most difficult times in anyone’s life; “You’re about to leave high school, you have to choose a college and decide what to do and you are only 18 years old”. Very often we all accept the way things are, even if the way things are is insane, like having to make a life decision so early in life. Some of us are able to figure out what we want to do when we are 18 years old, but what about the rest of us, who have no clue? The new movie, “Lady Bird” takes an unusual take on this adolescent dilemma and starts with the fact that the lead character wants to change her name from Christine to Lady Bird, but screenwriter never tells the audience why she wants to change her name to Lady Bird.

The reviews of Lady Bird are extremely high, reaching a very rare 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.4 on IMDB and I mostly agree with these high marks. The start of this story is a conversation in the car with Lady Bird played by Saoirse Ronan and her mother played by Laurie Metlcalf that could be called a summary of the whole movie based on one conversation. At the end of this argument Lady Bird actually jumps out of the car, because of her anger of what her mother is saying is so extreme. Given the fact that Lady Bird is so confused about what to do with her life and her very identity, her mother’s constant criticism and at times cruel berating is hard to hear at times during this film. Lady Bird goes through a few friendships and two boyfriends during the time she is desperately trying to get into an East Coast college, mainly so she can escape her boring Sacramento California life and her mother. Unfortunately, as her guidance counselor in her Catholic Girls high school laughingly reminds her, her grades are not good enough to get into most colleges. There are some very good laughs in this film along with the realities of an 18 year old not nearly ready to take the next step in her life. I thought all of this was very well done.

The screenwriter and director for this film is 34 year old Greta Gerwig, and due to the acclaim this movie has received so far she just might get a few Academy Award nominations.

I Lady Bird is a very good movie and I do recommend it.

Movie Review: Wonder


Its been very rare in my experience that a movie hits on every single aspect of what a great screenplay and film is all about. The new movie “Wonder” does all of this and challenges the harsh realities of peer pressure, bullying, empathy, compassion, abandonment, betrayal and friendship all in one story. This great movie also hits the marks with excellent acting and remarkably has significant sub stories about the peripheral people around the main character who has a facial deformity; at a level that I cannot remember ever seeing. The sub stories around the main character I found to be profound enough to create completely new movies around them.

The main character of Auggie is played by Jason Tremblay who at only 11 years old has proven himself to be a great actor, previously in the highly acclaimed movie “Room”. This movie is not a true story, but is very loosely based on another child who was born with a very rare DNA combination that causes facial deformity. From the beginning you cannot help to have empathy for this child, not only for what he has already gone through at age 10 but what he will be facing for the rest of this life. People stare, people are cruel, most especially young children in school and for that reason, up to the 5th grade Auggie was home schooled by his mother played by Julia Roberts and his father, played by Owen Wilson.

I was most impressed with the real life depictions of bullying that Auggie faces from his first days at school. There seemed no limit to the rude staring and cruel remarks this young boy had to face from so many of his classmates. A great deal of this kind of cruelty is because of peer pressure and this even happens with the only friend Auggie is able to make that creates a significant moment in this movie. For me, equally as important as Auggie’s plight is the difficult life his older sister, played very well by Izabela Vidovic has to face as her mother seems to completely ignore her, because she is so obsessed with protecting her son. The message here is that with a problem this challenging in the life of a young child, this would also greatly affect the lives of everyone around him.

It takes a special person to step out of themselves despite peer pressure and other fears and befriend a 10 year old boy in school with a facial deformity and this act of courage did happen twice during this story. There are several acts of extreme cruelty, most especially with one young boy who passed several horrible notes in class to Auggie. There are also moments of great transition as people, as they sometimes do, recognize their own evil and realize they have to change to be able to live with themselves.

This movie has all the ingredients of a film that should be nominated for an Academy Award, but perhaps because of the subject matter it might not get a nomination, but in my opinion, it definitely should.

I highly recommend Wonder that is one of the best movies of 2017.

Movie Review: Daddy’s Home Two


Its very rare in movie history that an very average or below average movie like Daddy’s home makes enough money to give producers confidence to make a sequel. “Daddy’s Home 2” is one of those rare times. On par with the previous version, this new film takes some chances by casting Mel Gibson who 10 years ago, seemed to have no reasonable path back from the career abyss he was in. But since directing the great war movie “Hacksaw Ridge” last year he seems to have done the impossible and is once again accepted as a bankable actor.

As far this movie, it misses the mark of a comedy because in the theater I was in, there were almost no laughs at all. Most of the physical comedy and sight gags all involved Will Farrell, or John Lithgow getting hit with something or falling off of a house or just generally falling down. This can be funny maybe once or twice in a film, but this one does this too many times and its just not that funny.

The premise of this movie is about the same as the first, but this time to two main characters played by Mark Wahlberg and Will Farrell are close friends having gotten over all of their differences from the first film. Farrell is married to Wahlberg’s x-wife and Wahlberg is now remarried with and has a daughter with his new wife. There are many kids involved in this story and for too long of a time, unless you just saw the first version, its not obvious who’s kid belongs to which parent.

Will Farrell is a natural comedic talent and for that matter, so is John Lithgow and there is virtually nothing he has to do to be funny, unlike Wahlberg who is not funny but despite this there is not enough funny moments to recommend this below average comedy.

Movie Review: The Florida Project


Sitting through this film was like passing by what you know is going to be the scene of a very bad car accident. As as you roll by and look to your right, you don’t want to look because you know what you might see. You look anyway, because this is life, a possible pathway, perhaps the end of someone’s life and in the back of your mind, you wonder if this might happen to you one day and this scares you, but you keep looking anyway. “There but for the grace of God go I”.

This film plays more like a documentary than a movie and has only one named celebrity as the star, William Defoe who plays the manager of this run down Motel in Florida, ironically named “The Magic Castle Motel”. For 38 dollars a night you can live almost like a caged animal in one room squalor surrounded by lavender and pink paint. The tenants of this massive hell hole are who you would expect; poor people down on their luck, but what you would never expect are happy, dancing and running young children who are oblivious to their reality and are not yet old enough to realize that they have no chance. No future. No hope. No way out. These young children have to go along for the ride only because of who their parents are. For me the happy oblivious young children in this story were ultimately the most depressing part because they just don’t understand about money and what its like to be on the outer fringe of homelessness. As an adult your brain has to rationalize a life like this somehow, because if you can’t, you die. But when your a child your just still a child and you don’t know anything other than your bleak existence.

This movie has remarkable acting and the best actor of them all is 6 year old Brooklynn Prince, who plays Moonie and is the only child of her single mother, played by Bria Vinaite, a drug addict hooker and complete disaster of a human being who was stupid enough to give birth to and then keep a child. So many scenes in this movie are very hard to watch, because you know that there are real people like this in this country who live lives like this and like passing a car accident, this is something that none of us want to think about or ever see.

This low-budget movie has received many high reviews on both IMDB and Rottentomatoes and I agree with these high ratings as this movie while being quite depressing is also and outstanding depiction of the harsh reality of being poor in this country. The Florida Project gets my highest recommendation.

Movie Review: LBJ


At first glance I was rather surprised at the relatively low ratings for the new docudrama LBJ, directed by Rob Reiner, only 5.8 on IMDB and 51% on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought this was a very solid and well done history lesson about the political life of Lyndon Baines Johnson, with some of the story told using flashbacks. Much of what happens in this movie is well known but just as much is not known including how difficult Johnson’s life as Vice President to John F. Kennedy was, due to the Kennedy brothers disrespecting and shutting him out of the important decisions of the Kennedy administration. From the perspective of Bobby and John Kennedy, Johnson was an outsider from the South who was made Vice President for political reasons to get Kennedy elected in 1960. On top of this, as was made very clear in this story, Bobby Kennedy was in some ways using Johnson for his own Presidential ambitions for the election of 1968.

To this day its amazing how long it took this country to pass basic human rights legislation, including the Civil Rights act of 1964 that was started by Kennedy and finalized by Johnson after Kennedy was assassinated. What were we thinking for so many years in this country, suppressing the basic rights of millions of people for so many years? So much of this backward thinking was because too many of the wrong people were in charge, including a major character in this movie Senator Richard Russell, played very well by actor Richard Jenkins, who was both a very powerful Senator as well as a bigot who did everything in his power to prevent the Civil Rights act because of his racism and stupidity.

I was impressed with this movie for several reasons, starting with the acting of Woody Harrelson as LBJ, in one of the best roles of his career and Jennifer Jason Leigh who was unrecognizable as Lady Bird Johnson. The makeup and the sets in this movie were all outstanding and I thought Rob Reiner’s direction was also outstanding.

Despite the average ratings for this movie, I thought it was very good and I recommend it.

Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarock


I found the definition of Ragnarock on Wikipedia and before seeing the new movie “Thor: Ragnarock” today I never heard of the word Ragnarock before. The reviews for this movie are quite high, 93% on rottentomatoes and 8.2 on IMDB and I agree with the high ratings for the special effects that are very impressive, but not for the story which is all over the place, at times hard to follow and is lacking in continuity. This story jumps from one scene to another scene and more than a few times during these 2 hours you have no idea what is happening or who a new character is; case in point the character played by Idris Elba. I wondered if the producers of this movie assumed that the audience read the comic book before seeing this movie.

This movie stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor for the 3rd time in this franchise, not including the Avenger series. Cate Blanchette plays Thor’s sister and Jeff Goldblum as the leader of this strange planet that looks like a garbage dump for the universe. There are very good special effects and some fights including even the HULK character played once again by Mark Ruffalo. The most impressive performance in this movie was by Tessa Thompson who just may have had her breakthrough role with this movie.

Unfortunately, there is not much more to say about this film that I thought was average, at times boring and offered nothing that we have not seen many times before.