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Murder on the Orient Express; take this thrilling train ride

English crime writer, Agatha Christie’s 1934 classic whodunit, Murder on the Orient Express, first filmed in 1974, returns to the big screen for the second time. In the 2017 film version of Murder on the Orient Express, Kenneth Branagh directs and leads an all-star cast including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr, and Josh Gad. Murder on the Orient Express is the story of 13, first class passengers traveling on a luxury train to London when one of the passengers is found dead in his cabin, the victim of multiple stab wounds.

Hercule Poirot (Branagh), the internationally known, fictional, detective happens to be on board and is coaxed into solving the brutal crime. The film takes viewers though Poirot’s painstakingly, thorough examination of the suspects and their possible motives.

Murder on the Orient Express is a fascinating, far-fetched, yet definitely entertaining film. And it’s a See It!

It has a Titanic feel to it. Wealthy passengers travel opulently to their destination. Like Titanic, the mode of transportation is damaged. In Titanic, it’s an iceberg; in Murder, it’s a snowy avalanche which derails the train.

While I was familiar with the story title, I was unaware of how the crime would be solved, which added additional intrigue to the mystery. And, the outcome is a truly a surprise.

Again, this is a star studded cast which enriches the production. Murder on the Orient Express gets an “A” for cast diversity. Among the 13 passengers, there is a black man, Leslie Odom, Jr., who starred in the Broadway musical, Hamilton, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is a Hispanic man. Further, there are many characters of color in background and small roles. Often movies set in time periods such as the '30s have all-white casts, as if people of color only came into the being in the '60s and '70s.

Additionally, the cinematography is creative and exceptional. With scenes shot from a multitude of angles and ranges.

Murder on the Orient Express is rated, PG-13, and is 116 minutes. And it’s a See It!

The Mountain Between Us is a bit bumpy but you should see it. [MOVIE REVIEW]

They don’t know each other but they are both desperate to reach their destinations. Dr. Ben Bass (Idris Elba) has a 10-year-old patient waiting for surgery. And photojournalist Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) has to get to her wedding. After the cancellation of their flight due to stormy weather, they hire a charter plane. The plane crashes midflight, the pilot dies, but they, along with pilot’s dog, survive the incident with injuries. They battle to survive the subzero weather in the Colorado mountains, trying to hang on until they are found.

The Mountain Between Us is often tedious, but ultimately, an entertaining film and gets a See It! rating.

The plot’s not new or unique; there are a number of films before The Mountain Between Us, which were popular with filmgoers including Cast Away and Alive. This movie like others of its type shares the survivors’ painstaking efforts to stay alive.

Also, like Hollywood films in general, it makes sure that dogs are unharmed. While Ben and Alex ration the food from the crash and what they are able to scavenge, while showing the effects of not having enough to eat, the dog somehow always seems well fed and full of energy.

The writers do their best to help viewers get to know Ben and Alex but with only modest success. Great writers develop individuals so rich and full that moviegoers could pass tests on the personalities of the characters in the film. However, Ben and Alex remain enigmas.

While not giving too much away, the story does develop in a way that ultimately works.

This is an interracial pairing, yet race is never an issue or even discussed in the film.

The Mountain Between Us gets an “A” for diversity. Obviously, there is a person of color in a leading role; however, there are others in supporting roles.

It’s rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, peril, injury images, and brief strong language. The Mountain Between Us is 103 minutes in length and is a film you should see.

 

American Made is Made Just Right [MOVIE REVIEW]

Barry Seal (Tom Cruise), an unassuming TWA pilot, is married with kids when the CIA comes a knocking. He’s got the right stuff to fly arms to support Ronald Reagan’s attempt to thwart a growing communist threat in Central America. Seal also gains the attention of what will become the Medellin drug cartel. They figure that while the pilot flies guns surreptitiously from the U.S. to Central America and back, he could add some cocaine to his cargo. Seal eventually agrees. However, as the Bible warns, you can’t serve two masters. Ultimately, Seal’s double-dealing comes crashing down around him.

American Made is a convoluted but never boring film. And it works because Tom Cruise single-handedly makes it work. Barry Seals is actually a sleazy guy but Tom Cruise makes him an appealing character that viewers root for. On the other hand, Tom Cruise’s wife, Lucy, played by Sarah Wright, is supposed to be a small town girl who worked at the KFC when they met, the 5’9” blond, comes across just like what she actually is: a former model.

The movie shows just how government agencies are often at odds with each other. Here the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Agency are in constant conflict.

American Made gets an “A” for cast diversity. The film has a large number of Hispanic actors, as it should, with other performers of color included as well.

American Made is rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity including Tom Cruise mooning his family. It’s 115 minutes in length and Cruise makes American Made a See It!

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is Roundly Entertaining. [MOVIE REVIEW]

In 2014, Kingsman: The Secret Service introduced filmgoers to the international intelligence agency operating at the highest levels of diplomatic, scholarly, and gentlemanly behavior with the ultimate goal of keeping the world safe.

In the 2017 version, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, the heroes from the first film (Taron Egerton as Eggsy; Colin Firth is Harry Hart; Michael Strong plays Merlin) face a new challenge with a drug kingpin (Julianne Moore) set on not only manufacturing and selling her products, she wants them as socially acceptable as alcohol. She gets the Kingsman’s attention by destroying their headquarters and targeting their leadership. To bring the villain down, the Kingsman team up with a previously unknown to them American operation called the Statesman, an old, well respected whisky making organization with Jeff Bridges, Channing Tatum, and Halle Berry playing operatives. They have their own agenda but agree with the Kingsman that the dealer must be dealt with quickly and severely.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle thoroughly entertains and it’s a See It!

It follows some of the tried and true techniques for action films, like beginning with an intense, theatrical battle. Despite a vicious fight with multiple, likely bone crushing blows landing to his body and face, Eggsy goes unmarked and his perfectly fitting suit, untarnished.

Also, there’s plenty of split-second lifesaving events and, technology, like vicious mechanical dogs.

The film also raises such questions as: would ground up human beings look like ground beef? Would America have a dishonest man as president?

As to the cast, the performances are fittingly appropriate. None of the roles require any great acting range.

When the Kingsman travels to Kentucky to meet the Statesman, the background music is Take Me Home Country Roads which is actually about West Virginia. But I guess to the British - Kentucky, West Virginia – what’s the difference?

Kingsman: The Golden Circle, cast diversity wise, gets a “B+”. This is a movie set in the cloak and dagger world of the United Kingdom and U.S. which is primarily a white male environment. However, Halle Berry has a major supporting role as the character, Ginger, in the Statesman’s organization. And there are other people of color in smaller roles.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is rated R for sequences of strong violence, drug content, language throughout and some sexual material. And my common complaint about films: too long. At 2 hours and 21 minutes, its 21 minutes too long.

However, Kingsman: The Golden Circle gets our highest rating, See It!, because it’s powerfully entertaining!

A Young Mother! Didn’t Do Her Job [MOVIE REVIEW]

A woman (Jennifer Lawrence) and her middle-aged, successful writer, husband (Javier Bardem) celebrate moving into their large, newly renovated, remotely located, early 20th century home. That evening – unexpectedly - there’s a knock at the door. A physician (Ed Harris) has been told that the couple’s home is a bed and breakfast. The doctor recognizes the writer whose work he deeply admires. The two bond over drinks. The doctor accepts the writer’s invitation to stay over. His wife not exactly thrilled about a stranger staying the night. The next day the doctor’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives with the intent of staying for a while. Things go from strange to outright bizarre when the couples’ adult sons show up to confront their parents over the terms of their father’s will.

This is the start of an invasion of the household by a series of strangers with the husband comfortable with the arrivals.

Mother! is a bad film! And, it is Dead on Arrival! It starts with the all-too-common big, old, isolated house as the setting. I guess scary things just can’t happen in a big city high-rise. The early scenes feature Ms. Lawrence in teasingly revealing nightwear. And for some reason, and maybe the symbolism escapes me, but she’s barefoot in every scene; even when she’s walking around a dirty basement.

The cinematography scheme shoots the actors very closely, possibly to create a sense of intimacy between them and the audience.

The film develops where the viewer, like the wife, try to figure out the abnormal goings on which don’t bother the husband. Is he naïve or just overly generous, or insensitive or clueless in accepting an increasingly large number of “guests” into their house? As more people arrive the more bizarre events become.

Ultimately, all of these highly perplexing happenings have to be explained. And in the end, they are not. This failure results in this film’s failure.

The performances are adequate; except for Michelle Pfeiffer who is outstanding as the catty, doctor’s wife. However, in horror films, it’s the story itself which is the star.

As to the diversity rating, the film gets an “A”. The story is such that the cast is as diverse as could be expected in light of the remote, rural setting.

But by not tying up its loose ends and not giving the viewers the satisfactory explanation of what they just saw, Mother! you failed! And you are Dead on Arrival!

Mother! is two hours and one minute in length and is rated R.

Patti Cake$ is a tasty dessert [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s not only hard out here for a pimp, it’s also tough for a young struggling would-be rapper named Patti (Danielle MacDonald). She’s the primary breadwinner in her household which includes her grandmother whose respiratory system is ravaged by decades of smoking and her mother who also has dreams of singing stardom. Between working a series of low-end jobs, Patti does everything she can to advance her career. And she’s not alone in her visions of fame; there’s Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), an East Indian pharmacy tech who’s just as fascinated with rap as she is.

So you have a chubby blonde girl and her Indian sidekick in hot pursuit of becoming part of rap royalty. They can write and rhyme but their team becomes complete when they come across a black kid, Anti-Christ (Mamoudou Athie) who has a functional recording studio in the remote shack where he lives. They create a demo tape which gives them a product to promote.

Patti Cake$ is a production that has a lot to overcome to make it work. And it does overcome. Patti Cake$ is a See it!

It starts with the film’s writer/director, Geremy Jasper. Patti’s lyrics had to be solid, credible rhymes - with rhythm. They are. There’s a saying: write what you know. Geremy is a video music director. He knows and understands this genre. Next, Danielle MacDonald, a native of Australia, had to master the craft. She does. Her rapping is smooth, natural, and authentic. Her ability and familiarity with rap reflect the universal appeal of black America’s music. Rebel Wilson of the Pitch Perfect film series, who is also Australian, said her favorite song growing up was Jump! by Kris Kross, which reached No. 1 in the land down under. And you should “Believe dat”.

The film features the necessary debate as to Patti’s right to rap. While working as a server at a private party hosted by a rap legend, she bursts into a performance as he sits alone waiting for his guests to arrive. He is thoroughly unimpressed and accuses her of abducting a culture that is not hers. She also gets fired.

Another part of Patti Cake$’s successful recipe is the quirky but perfect performances of costars, Siddharth Dhananjay and Mamoudou Athie. However, Athie’s character keeps very expensive recording equipment in his shack where it could easily be stolen. Coupled with the fact that much equipment requires at least a 440 electrical system, unlikely wiring for that hovel, makes that part of the storyline dubious at best.

This film gets an “A” for cast diversity. The cast reflects both the working class white community Patti lives in and the rap world which has a primarily black following with a substantial number of fans of other races.

Ultimately, Patti Cake$ works because it combines an interesting story, strong acting and absolutely, necessary credibility from a white girl effectively performing what is considered a black art form.

Patti Cake$ is 108 minutes and rated R for strong language throughout, crude sexual references, some drug use and a brief nude image. And it gets our highest rating, See It!

Detroit – See it now or visit later. [MOVIE REVIEW]

In 1967 Detroit, an illegal “party” which includes drinking and gambling leads to the mass arrest of the attendees and sets off five days of rioting in Motown. The police raid the riot area. When they hear shots originating from a nearby hotel, they believe the shots are directed at them, so they converge on the lodge with dire consequences for the young black men and the two white women staying there.

Based on a true story, Detroit attempts to tell a sad segment of Motown’s history. Unfortunately, the filmmakers fail to deliver a product worthy of this important event.

First, the screenwriter, Mark Boal, neglected to lay a foundation of the conditions in Detroit that set off the riots. The story begins with the police raid of a party, which is led by a black detective with the support of a black informant. The uniformed cops, who were mainly white, are generally restrained in their dealings with those arrested.

To any filmgoer unaware of the conditions of the City’s black residents in the 1960s, they might reasonably believe that what they saw didn’t merit five days of rioting. Detroit doesn’t fully address the root causes of the riot: high unemployment, governmental neglect of communities of color and the overall sense of hopelessness that many in America’s urban areas felt at the time.

The film does go into painful, exacting details of the brutality – and killing – which the police committed against the hotel guests.

Another flaw is that Boal, and director Kathryn Bigelow, did not authenticate the characters’ dialogue with 60’s lingo. Phrases like the “The Man” which referred to authority figures – white men - who maintained the corporate, legal and political status quo was widely used during the 1960s, even on TV, was not uttered in this film. “Ticked Off” which can still be heard today meaning angry didn’t make the cut. These and other rich and popular 60’s slang were not included in the film, which took away from Detroit’s authenticity.

However, one exchange was amusing. When a white cop asked one of the white women what she was doing in a hotel room with a black guy, she responds: “Wake up Man! It’s 1967!”

The cast, diversity-wise, reflects Detroit in the 1960s when almost 100% of the city was black and white.

Ultimately, you should see Detroit. I’ll leave it to you to decide to See It now or Rent It later.

Detroit is two hours and 23 minutes – which is much too long, particularly when the film doesn’t take the time to describe the socio-economic-political climate of Detroit in the 1960s and provide nuance through language.

Detroit is rated R for extreme violence.

Kidnap will grab you and not let you go. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) tries to make the best of a difficult day. She’s working as a waitress in a coffee shop dealing with rude and other times, confused customers, while her son, Frankie (Sage Correa) waits for her to take him to a carnival. On the ride over, she talks to Frankie about his father, who is her estranged husband, and his new girlfriend. They arrive at their destination and while watching some of the activities, Karla gets a call from her lawyer and learns that her husband seeks full custody of Frankie. So she can talk more freely, Karla moves to a quieter location leaving Frankie alone to continue viewing the performances. When Karla comes back, her son is missing. As she looks for son, she sees a woman dragging him into a Ford Mustang. The car drives away. Karla gets into her van and takes off in hot pursuit and her valiant efforts to save her son begins.

Kidnap is a thrilling, nerve wrecking, and cinematic adventure. It is unpredictable while also being highly implausible with a TV drama feel about it. Nevertheless, Halle Berry is amazing. She’s strong, but not in an inauthentic way that Hollywood often portrays its heroes. Although Berry’s character, Karla has a lot of self-doubt, she remains laser-focused on getting her son back.

Kidnap’s casting is excellent. Chris McGinn and Lew Temple, who play the husband and wife backwoods kidnappers, are beyond despicable. I have always said you cannot have a truly great hero, without a truly evil villain, and they are evil.

However, much of the film stretches credibility. For example, when Karla goes to speak to her lawyer and leaves Frankie seated watching the show. Frankie’s surrounded by people but amazingly no one sees where he went. And, the scene where Karla wrestles with the kidnappers in the carnival parking lot full of cars, but there are no people or no law enforcement around.

Without giving away too much of the story, there are just too many events in Kidnap that seem highly unlikely.

Set in Louisiana, the cast of Kidnap reflects the makeup of that state which is primarily black and white, but with a growing Hispanic population. So, Kidnap gets an “A” for cast diversity.

Kidnap is 90 minutes and rated R, for violence and peril. You won’t be bored with the story but there’s no compelling reason to see it during its opening weekend. Kidnap gets a Rent It rating.

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