Movie Review ~ Asteroid City


The Facts:

Synopsis: World-changing events spectacularly disrupt the itinerary of a Junior Stargazer/Space Cadet convention in an American desert town circa 1955.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Liev Schreiber, Rupert Friend, Maya Hawke, Steve Carell, Matt Dillon, Willem Dafoe, Margot Robbie, Jeff Goldblum
Director: Wes Anderson
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 105 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: A few years ago, I was elbowing my way through an estate sale when I came across a pristine oversize coffee table book on the American West. If you’ve been to one of these sales before, you know that there’s often little time to consider your options, so after flipping through a few pages and seeing some exquisite photography, I decided on a purchase for the easy asking price of $10. Later that day, I lounged around casually looking at the fantastic pictures documenting the people, places, and things that were too vibrant to fade into the history of legend. I couldn’t believe what a find I found; clearly, this was something the owner had treasured, and I was shocked it was still around when I arrived. It was fate.

Then I looked closer at the text.

All the text in the book, all of it, was that nonsense typography that was used as a placeholder for the actual writing of the author. No captions, identifying descriptions, or illustrative prose took you to the same place the whimsical photographs had done so visually. It was a misprinted copy sold for cheap. Of course, the book was left for some chump like me, but at least I had the pictures to keep me company.

Watching Wes Anderson’s new film Asteroid City was like paging through this crisp tome. It’s a superb exercise in production design and a feast for the eyes (the nicest thing you can do for them, aside from sleep), but it makes absolutely no sense when it comes time to need to understand it. Sure, you can squint and try to force it to make sense, but you’re connecting the dots the filmmaker hasn’t bothered to put into any workable order in the first place. That makes for a mighty frustrating experience, especially for those equipped with an Anderson decoder ring already tuned to his frequency.

Legendary playwright Conrad Earp (Edward Norton, Glass Onion) wrote a play, Asteroid City, that is being broadcast on national television in the mid-1950s. As the black-and-white program progresses, it transitions to a full-fledged color presentation (or is it real life?) following the events that transpired in a small town over an increasingly strange few weeks. Centered around a Junior Stargazer convention and the kooky families and scientists that converge to celebrate, the arrival of an unexpected visitor throws things further out of whack. Now, as everyone is quarantined and forced to make do with a new normal, how will they adjust to the possibility of global change?

It’s not hard to decipher that Anderson has made a COVID-adjacent movie and wants to make a semi-statement about the bubble we’ve all been gradually emerging from. That’s all well and good, but even that message starts to get lost amid the falderol of its twee-ness run amuck. No one in Asteroid City (the place, the movie, or its “real” life interstitials) can have a straight conversation, preferring to talk in a broken code that even Alan Turing would have trouble deciphering. I longed for good actors like Jason Schwartzman (Saving Mr. Banks), as a widowed father denying himself his grief, and Scarlett Johansson (Under the Skin), playing a starlet so bored with her life she considers changing which shoulder she slumps onto be a highlight of her day, to get a chance for their characters to go somewhere, rather than be stuck in Anderson’s nonsensical dialogue.

Though Robert Yeoman’s (Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again) cinematography, Adam Stockhausen’s (West Side Story) production design, and Milena Canonero’s (Carnage) costume design guarantee you the kind of jaw-dropping visuals you’ve come to expect from a Wes Anderson flight of fancy (all should clear their award season schedules so they can attend every ceremony), they are the candy-colored icing on top of a russet potato of a script. Anderson attracts such extraordinary talent, and wow, this cast (Tom Hanks, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber, Hope Davis, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Steve Carrell, Margot Robie) is tops, but zowie, does this film crater out as one of the more oversized duds Anderson has been responsible for. 

Reaching his zenith with Moonrise Kingdom, still the best balance of the outlandish while balancing heart, Anderson almost touched Oscar glory with The Grand Budapest Hotel and has also found some success with animated projects The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs. His last film, The French Dispatch in 2021, was a costly fiasco, and even if Asteroid City is being embraced more by his critics, I can’t ever imagine revisiting it. Maybe on mute. Only on mute.

Tribeca 2022 – The Round-Up!



Director: Alex Thompson
Cast: Namir Smallwood, Sidney Flanigan, Michael Potts, Max Lipchitz, David Cromer, Cheryl Lynn Bruce
Synopsis: When a motivated resident doctor transfers to a rural hospital for a fresh start, his demons follow him as he becomes consumed with the case of a young asthma patient.
Thoughts: I was knocked out by writer/director Alex Thompson’s 2019 first feature Saint Frances (find it, watch it, you’re welcome), and eagerly put his follow-up Rounding on my shortlist as a must-see at Tribeca.  Curious to see how the director would pivot from the hazy comedic wit of his golden-tinged debut to Rounding’s darker edges, I wasn’t disappointed in this story of a young resident trying to make a difference but quickly losing his balance when faced with a series of challenging setbacks in his personal life and professional career.  Namir Smallwood (who I had the great fortune to see onstage when he acted locally in MN) is a captivating screen presence as doctor in training James, drawing you right into this demanding world of rapid decisions and necessary knee-jerk judgments.  Rising star Sidney Flanigan is his patient suffering from an unknown ailment, maybe at the hands of her mother or perhaps being mishandled by the care team assigned to her.  Either way, James is determined to prioritize her health but finds dead ends where there should be easy paths to transparent care.  Though it begins to lose some steam after a gripping opening stretch, the strength of Thompson’s sophomore film rests with Smallwood selling us on James having a commitment to care and not an already troubled mind careening out of control. It’s the outside forces that conspire against him (and his patient) where the absolute horror of Rounding finds its best angles. 

Family Dinner

Director: Peter Hengl
Cast: Pia Hierzegger, Nina Katlein, Michael Pink, Alexander Sladek
Synopsis: Overweight and insecure, Simi spends Easter weekend with her famous nutritionist aunt. The hope is that it’ll help her get on a healthier track, but as the aunt’s family’s icy dynamics and an increasingly malevolent atmosphere leave Simi feeling uneasy, weight isn’t the only thing she’s about to lose.
Thoughts: Looking over the calendar, the most widely celebrated holidays have some horror films to coincide with the festivities.  The one that doesn’t always get its fair due is Easter, and while we wait for the inevitable evil Easter Bunny creature feature, why not try out this Austrian entry from writer/director Peter Hengl? It’s often hopping good and a nice treat for those starved to get their fill of creepy psychological dread.  In Family Dinner, teenager Simi has made the surprising choice to spend the holiday away from her immediate family and opted to travel to the country home of her aunt, uncle, and cousin.  She does have an ulterior motive, though.  Hoping to ask her aunt Claudia, a famous health guru, to coach her on how to lose weight, when she finally musters the courage up, her aunt begrudgingly agrees with the caveat that she follows her strict rules.  What the rules are, and the punishment for breaking them makes Hengl’s nervy nail-biter suspenseful and entertaining.  I loved the performance of Pia Hierzegger as Simi’s aunt, applying the needed layers to give Claudia a daring depth. It isn’t hard to squint your eyes and see what’s being served up in Family Dinner, but it’s so filling and just the right temperature for its genre that you are more than eager to wolf it down. 

Employee of the Month (L’Employée du mois)

Director: Véronique Jadin
Cast: Jasmina Douieb, Laetitia Mampaka, Alex Vizorek, Peter Van Den Begin, Laurence Bibot
Synopsis: In this mischievous dark comedy, an employee at a cleaning products company accidentally commits a messily bloody crime – and must figure out how to cover her tracks with the help of her young trainee.
Thoughts: As far as ludicrous black comedies go, Employee of the Month is one of the more markedly silly and unbelievable but is saved by the committed performances and peppy direction. It’s not destined to be an unheralded classic, but for 78 fast-moving minutes, it manages to get the job done.  As Inès, star Jasmina Douieb earns high marks for making it through the melee that transpires after her mild-mannered corporate flunky inadvertently offs her dunderhead boss while attempting to ask for her first raise. It’s one of those situations that could be fixed with a simple phone call to the police.  However, a desperate panic causes supposedly sane people to act crazy and cover up their crimes, creating a domino effect that ropes others in. It’s all absurd, but Douieb and Laetitia Mampaka, as the new trainee dragged into the chaos, wring out a few sizable laughs from Véronique Jadin (who also directed) and Nina Vanspranghe’s screenplay. It’s fun for a bit but can’t sustain its premise.

Butterfly in the Sky

Director: Bradford Thomason, Brett Whitcomb
Cast: LeVar Burton, Twila C. Liggett, Larry Lancit, Cecily Lancit, Dean Parisot
Synopsis: For over 25 years, Reading Rainbow set the standard for literary children’s television. Thanks to its uncondescending approach, plus its immersive documentary-style adventures, LeVar Burton and the Reading Rainbow creative team instilled a love of reading in millions of children.
Thoughts: Did I spend most of this joyful documentary about the creation and lasting legacy of Reading Rainbow with tears welling up in my eyes?  You bet your butterfly I did.  As any child of the ’80s will attest, this television show produced for PBS between 1983 and 2006 had a massive impact on their daily lives growing up, not just on fostering their early interest in reading but in expanding their view of diversity and the world around them.  Revisiting the genesis of the show (of which I was previously unfamiliar) as an adult and seeing how it came to be was fascinating.  I especially enjoyed learning more about host LeVar Burton and how his casting helped to steer the show in the direction we all remember.  During his lengthy interview segments, Burton is candid about his feedback to producers; we see how he grew as a contributor over time.  Directors Bradford Thomason & Brett Whitcomb don’t fill Butterfly in the Sky with a tremendous amount of flash but keep the content, creators, and other interviews the central focus throughout. 

Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids

Director: Andrew Jenks
Synopsis: This is the unbelievable, but true story of the kids who stole America’s heart…the Cabbage Patch Kids and how they set the wheels in motion for modern-day Black Friday. Before Cabbage Patch Kids no one left a K-Mart with a bloody nose, nor could we have imagined a world where police would need to be called in to break up fights over dolls.
Thoughts: I know it’s probably very wrong, but I love watching the old footage of suburban moms breaking down the barricades of K·B Toys in a clamor for the newest batch of Cabbage Patch Kids. There’s just something so out of whack watching people buying toys for children acting like complete maniacs that I can’t help but be amused.  The desire to see more of this footage was just a tiny reason why I knew that I had to get a look at Billion Dollar Babies: The True Story of the Cabbage Patch Kids, but it represents a fraction of the complete story being told by director Andrew Jenks.  The actual stuffing of the work is discovering more about creator Xavier Roberts and how he turned a fledgling business of handmade dolls into the multi-billion-dollar consumer mayhem it became. Always sounding like he’s on the verge of laughing with us, narrator Neil Patrick Harris walks the viewer through the early days of Roberts’s business and even tangents into the claims that he stole the idea from a neighboring folk artist.  Worthy of the exploration, the film doesn’t seem to pass judgment significantly either way, but it’s hard to deny the similarities between the two products.  Through interviews with distributors, employees, and famous faces, we get an idea of the dolls’ impact, so if you weren’t there, you feel like you can understand the zeal of the hype.  The only person not included is Roberts, who notoriously shirks the public eye.  Like the dolls themselves, this doc is pretty soft stuff but fairly cozy all the same.

A Wounded Fawn

Director: Travis Stevens
Cast: Josh Ruben, Sarah Lind, Malin Barr, Katie Kuang, Laksmi Hedemark, Tanya Everett, Marshall Taylor Thurman, Leandro Taub, Neal Mayer
Synopsis: It’s the perfect plan: A serial killer brings an unsuspecting new victim on a weekend getaway to add another body to his ever-growing count. She’s buying into his faux charms, and he’s eagerly lusting for blood. What could possibly go wrong?
Thoughts: I need to tread extremely lightly with A Wounded Fawn because the set-up is devilishly devious.  Revealing too much about what director Travis Stevens has in store for the viewer would spoil the clever effort that has gone into its creation, and these are the types of forward-momentum horror we should be demanding more of.  Does it all work or even add up to perfect logic by the end?  No.  Well, I’m not sure, actually.  I need to think about it some more.  I just knew that by the time the credits were rolling, I was impressed with what Stevens could pull off.  The briefest bit I can tell you is that a very bad man (Josh Ruben) lures women to his remote house as part of a loftier master plan.  So far, he’s gotten away with the perfect crimes, but he’s brought home the wrong woman this time.  A woman that isn’t content to merely turn the tables on her tormentor.  Ok… that’s enough.  No more.  Buckle up for a wild ride because once Stevens has wound up the action in A Wounded Fawn and the last act gets underway, there’s no stopping it.  It may not be for everyone, but it will please the genre fans begging for rarities like this.

All Man: The International Male Story

Director: Bryan Darling, Jesse Finley Reed
Synopsis: A nostalgic and colorful peek behind the pages and personalities of International Male, one of the most ubiquitous and sought-after mail-order catalogs of the ’80s and ’90s.
Thoughts: I came into All Man: The International Male Story expecting a bit of a naughty documentary that would feed into the cheeky charms for which its subject came to be known.  The International Male catalog began as an easy way for men to shop for trendy clothes without being close to one of the major markets.  You could peruse the pages to find hot new looks or pick out garments you would have been embarrassed to buy in a brick-and-mortar store.  Those articles of clothing would be their vast array of underwear, and it was based on these pages the catalog started earning a reputation for its models that would put it at the center of gay culture.  Subscriptions to the catalog peaked when the publishers got wise about what people wanted to see, so advertising clothing specifically often became secondary (and, in some cases, optional).  As fun as it was to peek back at what was perking people’s interests 40 years ago, I’m not sure there was enough content provided by directors Bryan Darling & Jesse Finley Reed to complete a full-feature documentary.  While there are attempts to tie the catalog to cultural touchstones of the era, the alignment doesn’t always ring true.  Ultimately, it serves its purpose as titillating content, but you won’t be watching this one to learn anything new.

Attachment (Natten Har Øjne)

Director: Gabriel Bier Gislason
Cast: Josephine Park, Ellie Kendrick, Sofie Gråbøl, David Dencik
Synopsis: Maja and Leah’s new relationship is interrupted when mysterious things start happening in their London flat. It seems that Leah’s disapproving mother, who lives downstairs, is using Jewish folklore to come between them.
Thoughts: One of the best titles I’ve seen at Tribeca this year is Attachment, a supremely spooky horror film that whips up a dynamite concoction of Jewish folklore, paranoia, and possession.  Directed by Gabriel Bier Gislason, the film constantly changes shape and form to keep the audience on their toes and the hairs on the back of the neck adequately raised.  Studying abroad in Denmark, Londoner Leah (Ellie Kendrick) falls for Maja (Josephine Park), a former actress now doing crummy gigs to pay the rent.  The women become inseparable, and when the day comes for Leah to head home, the parting is truly sweet sorrow…until a medical ailment keeps Leah in Denmark and delays her return home long enough for Maja to decide long distance won’t do. She’s coming to London with her girlfriend. That’s great for the two of them but not for Leah’s ultra-Orthodox mother (Sofie Gråbøl), who lives in the downstairs flat of their shared home.  A period of adjustment is difficult as both women vie to care for Leah, who remains strangely unwell.  Trying to understand Leah’s faith more, Maja ventures into the community to learn more and realizes it’s her mother (or something conjured by her mother) keeping Leah sick.  Trapped in a home where danger could come from any nook or cranny, how can Maja fight back against a power she doesn’t understand?  The performances from Park and Gråbøl are excellent, and I appreciated that Gislason’s script is more intricate than making sparring partners out of women. There’s more to the entire film than meets the eye, making Attachment an excellent film to latch onto.

A Love Song

Director: Max Walker-Silverman
Cast: Dale Dickey, Wes Studi, Michelle Wilson, Benja K. Thomas, Marty Grace Dennis, John Way
Synopsis: An unconventional romance set against a timeless Colorado landscape, this tender heartbreaker of a directorial debut packs decades of memories, longing, and nostalgia into a fateful campsite reunion between two could-be lovers.
Thoughts: If we lived in a perfect world, a performance like the one Dale Dickey gives in A Love Song would get express train-ed right to the Best Actress race at the Oscars. It’s so deeply felt and expertly delivered that it deserves the kind of wide recognition this prestigious honor can bestow, winner or not.  Now, A Love Song is undeniably too small of a movie to climb up this great hill to Oscar glory (sad but true), so you’ll have to take my word that if you are a fan of salt-of-the-earth acting that is free from any artifice or guile, then you need to check this one out pronto.   Chances are, you already have because A Love Song is targeted at a specific audience that longs for the same peaceful ambiance Dickey’s solemn character has come to an empty campsite near a body of water in the Colorado Mountains to find. She’s arrived with a small trailer and settled in…but for what? We’re not sure, and writer/director Max Walker-Silverman isn’t going to tell us. So much of A Love Song is just observing daily life – and it’s often rapturously engaging.  The beautiful cinematography and score complement the sublime performances (the film also features Wes Studi and Michelle Wilson). Still, it’s Dickey’s show to pull the final curtain on in a breathtaking bit of natural wonder. 

The Wild One

Director: Tessa Louise-Salomé
Cast: Jack Garfein, Willem Dafoe, Peter Bogdanovich, Irène Jacob, Boby Sotto, Dick Guttman, Blanche Baker, Patricia Bosworth, Foster Hirsch, Geoffrey Horne, Kate Rennebohm
Synopsis: Jack Garfein — Holocaust survivor, theater and film director, key figure in the formation of the Actors Studio — vividly, animatedly, passionately recalls a life where historical tragedy and personal art formed a unique, driving, uncompromising vision.
Thoughts: In director Tessa Louise-Salomé’s documentary on Jack Garfein, viewers can open up a new chapter of Hollywood history they likely had never known about.  I shamefully didn’t know Garfein’s name before starting this well-made and beautifully told doc.  Still, I’m so grateful to have works like this that serve as important reminders about the pivotal contributors to the industry.  More than just filling essential gaps in the timeline of Hollywood and dropping fancy names of celebrities, The Wild One illustrates Garefin’s life from his birth in Czechoslovakia to his survival in the concentration camps during World War II.  After moving to New York, he created his own theater company and eventually joined the Actors Studio, where he taught many legendary names.  Giving James Dean his first acting role and collaborating with Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg, Garfein directed for the stage and screen, married Carroll Baker, and was vigilant in his advocacy for minority rights.  This was a man before his time that flew in the face of toeing the line in his business.  How wonderful that Louise-Salomé was able to interview him and make him such an integral part of The Wild One before his passing in 2019 at 89.  An essential documentary for film fans.

Nothing Compares

Director: Kathryn Ferguson
Synopsis: Over the course of just six years, Sinead O’Connor went from an international superstar to a pariah. Nothing Compares tells the story of O’Connor’s life as a musician, mother, and iconoclast in her own words.
Thoughts: When I hear the name Sinead O’Connor two images pop into my brain, and I’m sure it’s the same two that are in yours.  The first is her iconic look from her video for her cover of the Prince track ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ from 1990, and the second is of her appearance in a 1992 episode of Saturday Night Live where she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II live on the air.  Both cemented O’Connor in the history books but for very different reasons.  Kathryn Ferguson’s documentary Nothing Compares (which will debut on Showtime later this year) is a robust and transparent look at O’Connor’s life. While it details her upbringing in some scope, the work focuses on her dramatic career ascent in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Through the documentary, audiences are exposed to the full strength of O’Connor’s talent and how her emotions (unbridled at times) made her such a creative force of nature.  She refused to be put into a box long before it was fashionable to go against the grain, so most of the world used her SNL appearance to write her off completely, silencing a rising voice before it could be fully developed. O’Connor’s career never fully recovered, and though she’s continued to release music over the ensuing years, her reputation of erratic behavior has followed her.  Ferguson keeps the lens trained in a non-judgmental space, letting O’Connor’s voice do most of the reflection on her time in the spotlight. It’s a raw look at her life and career and well worth the time spent.

Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying

Director: Parker Seaman
Cast: Devin Das, Parker Seaman, Wes Schlagenhauf, Aparna Nancherla, D’Arcy Carden, Mark Duplass
Synopsis: An irreverent and eccentric road trip comedy that celebrates DIY filmmaking and bromances, Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying follows two filmmakers who set out to make their masterpiece while on a journey toward an estranged, purportedly languishing friend.
Thoughts: “Meta” doesn’t even begin to describe what’s going on in Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.  Turning not just the COVID-19 movie on its ear but flipping the buddy-road-trip-comedy while they’re at it, Devin Das, Parker Seaman, and Wes Schlagenhauf play fictionalized versions of themselves that aren’t quite what they seem.  In the film, as in real life, the trio are commercial directors finalizing their latest project.  As the pandemic hits, production has halted, and Wes has returned home while Parker and Devin stay in Los Angeles.  Then Wes calls to break the bad news. He’s contracted COVID-19 and is dying…or at least he thinks he is.  Instead of feeding into their friend’s obvious hypochondria, they (somewhat insultingly) bypass his feelings and decide to visit him.  Ever the filmmakers, and encouraged by Mark Duplass of all people (see, just like I said, meta), they plan to kill two birds with one road trip and film their adventure cross-country to see their friend.  What follows is primarily silly stuff involving bro humor and occasional on-the-nose life observance.  The apparent genuine chemistry shared by the friends and their understanding of film from a directorial standpoint helps to keep this one from feeling like an inside joke caught on home video and fashioned into a full-length feature. 

The Year Between

Director: Alex Heller
Cast: Alex Heller, J. Smith-Cameron, Steve Buscemi, Waltrudis Buck, Wyatt Oleff, Emily Robinson, Kyanna Simone, Rajeev Jacob
Synopsis: Forced to return home from college after her erratic behavior alienates everyone around her, Clemence begrudgingly begins a new chapter in the suburbs, hell-bent on defying her mom, dad, younger siblings, therapist—and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Thoughts: The Year Between represents a successful film that could quickly have gone in the other direction. That’s because it’s exceedingly hard to get behind a leading role that’s completely insufferable.  It takes no small amount of talent to change how an audience sees that character and actively change the narrative.  Yet that’s exactly what Alex Heller has done as Clemence in her feature film debut, a semi-autobiographical look at family through a breakdown, the build-up, and all the mess in between.  Of course, it helps that Heller writes, directs, and stars in the piece so she has some control over how Clemence comes across, but as the film opens and for much of its run time, she’s making it hard to side with as she acts like a bowling ball knocking down the pins of the lives in anyone she encounters.  That includes her parents (the well-cast J. Smith-Cameron, and Steve Buscemi), sister (Emily Robinson), and brother (Wyatt Oleff), who do what they can to ease her transition back from college into finding a stable life.  The Year Between is simple but observant, strong-willed but sensitive to those showing up to lend support because that’s all they are equipped to give.  I don’t know the extent to which this piece is autobiographical for Heller, but its stark sincerity is a refreshing change of pace to brutal honesty – and yes, there is a difference.

The Courtroom

Director: Lee Sunday Evans
Cast: Marsha Stephanie Blake, Michael Braun, Kathleen Chalfant, Hannah Cheek, Michael Chernus, Michael Bryan French, Mick Hilgers, Linda Powell, Kristin Villanueva, BD Wong
Synopsis: After mistakenly registering to vote, a Filipina immigrant faces deportation and permanent separation from her American husband and newborn child. Using actual transcripts from the court hearing, The Courtroom is a dramatic reenactment of one woman’s harrowing experience with the US legal system.
Thoughts: For full disclosure, I started The Courtroom three times before I could truly get into its unique structure.  You must be ready to sit down and pay attention to this film because its format and intention are just as important as the message it is trying to send about our country’s broken justice system.  To help you out a bit, and what I wish I knew before, is that while The Courtroom is taken exactly from court transcripts from a case that made its way through the legal system (the actors were even required to properly place “uh” and “um” if they appeared), the characters are not always played by actors of the same race, age, or gender as those that initially said it. Aside from Kristin Villanueva as Elizabeth Keathley, a Filipina woman living with her American husband and newborn in the US, faced with deportation for mistakenly registering to vote even though she received mail requesting her to do so, you may have a black woman (Linda Powell) playing a white attorney or another black woman (Marsha Stephanie Blake) playing a white district court judge.  This keeps Arian Moayed’s screenplay (originating as a stage play consistently performed across the country) elegant and symbolic of all Americans speaking as one, in a way.  Director Lee Sunday Evans maintains a firm grip on the film, even in showing its theatricality by immediately revealing the actors entering the set on a soundstage.  Your blood will boil appropriately at one of the best films available at Tribeca this year.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Northman

Synopsis: A young Viking prince embarks on a quest to avenge his father’s murder.

Release Date:  April 22, 2022

Thoughts: If you are wondering why the spike in previews for upcoming 2022 films, attribute it to my being won over by a nagging curiosity to take a quick peek at several titles coming down the pike with intriguing premises, interesting casts, or a mixture of both. Take The Northman, for a prime example.  Viking prince and hard-scrabble armies in bloody battles? Uh, yeah!  Cast roster that reads like a MN Movie Man must-see list? You better believe it. Director known for visceral projects that aren’t aiming to please the masses but firmly establish a sense of reality even in circumstances that lean toward fantasy? Bingo! Led by Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan) and featuring Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night in Soho), Ethan Hawke (Zeros and Ones), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man: No Way Home) and featuring a rare appearance by singer/sometimes actress Björk, The Northman, directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch) is already a much-anticipated title for many and you can add me to that list as well.

Movie Review ~ Nightmare Alley (2021)

The Facts:  

Synopsis: An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is. 

Stars: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Rooney Mara, Ron Perlman, Mary Steenburgen, David Strathairn, Holt McCallany 

Director: Guillermo del Toro 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 150 minutes 

TMMM Score: (8.5/10) 

Review:  ‘Tis the season for directors that just ‘get’ movies to be coming back to theaters with a vengeance.  Filmmakers that simply understand the language of cinema and the power of the medium have had some time to either tweak their projects that were delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown or have been continuing to work through the pandemic to finish their anticipated flicks on schedule.  And it’s so good to have them back because as much as we like to believe that moviemaking is more and more like a collaborative process, when all is said and done the buck stops with the director because it’s their vision that dictates what the tone of the film is going to be.  That’s why you can spot a Steven Spielberg (West Side Story) movie from a mile away or recognize the latest from Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza) as it draws near, not to mention waffling around an Adam McKay satire (Don’t Look Up) and deciding if it’s for you or not.

Another director that has become instantly recognizable is Guillermo del Toro and maybe more than anyone I’ve already mentioned the Oscar-winner for The Shape of Water has a signature style that couldn’t possibly be anything else but him.  The early trailers for Nightmare Alley were classic del Toro, with the noir-ish period setting that we know was set in the past but how far in the past was anyone’s guess, well, if you hadn’t already read the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham that inspired it.  Not just a well-respected filmmaker but a celebrated film fan as well, del Toro engineered those trailers and even the marketing of Nightmare Alley to be as mysterious as can be, keeping hidden the true plot of the film and it’s worked out wonderfully in creating interest to see just what is down this Alley of del Toro’s creation.

While you won’t get any spoilers out of me, I will say that like many of the foreboding places that frightened us when we were young, Nightmare Alley is a movie that gets less intriguing as more light leaks onto the shadowy plot, but for a time it does it’s work considerably well.  It also gives some already strong actors even more rich moments to add to their lifetime achievement reels.  If only the plot could be as finely etched as the performances that are floating through the piece, then we might have had something as grand as del Toro wanted to give us. 

Joining a traveling circus to escape a past we learn in doled out fragments, Stanton “Stan” Carlisle (Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born) remains a silent mystery for most of the first hour of Nightmare Alley.  Observing the carnies and hucksters who entice onlookers into the cheap freak show, he eventually moves onto working with Pete (David Strathairn, Nomadland) and Zeena (Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding) on their clairvoyant act.  Learning the secrets of their success becomes an opportunity for Stan and before you know it, events occur which send Stan out into a world removed from the carnival folk where he puts the “powers” he has gained to use as a way of reinventing his life.

Years later, he’s working with fellow former performer and girlfriend Molly (Roony Mara, Side Effects) in a sophisticated act for high-paying customers when an elegant but hard-edged woman (Cate Blanchett, Where’d You Go, Bernadette) tries to trip him up and expose him as a fraud.  How this woman plays into Stan’s life and what is means for his future is where the real story of Nightmare Alley begins…and where this part of the review has to end because I wouldn’t dare reveal the twists which begin to entangle with deadly results anyone that gets too close to Stan.

An overly hesitant first act/hour is mere set-up for Blanchett to swoop into del Toro’s grandly staged Nightmare Alley and remind us all how much she loves her job. In a cast of VPs, she’s ready for noir, elevating each scene to its chilling maximum potential.  The centerpiece scene between Blanchett and Cooper is a considerable crown jewel of filmmaking for 2021 and is rightfully being shown ad nauseum in clips for the film and in campaigns for both actors for awards consideration.  I don’t know if the movie will make it across that line but if anyone has the potential to get there, it’s Blanchett for her gorgeously mysterious and dangerous efforts here.

As expected, del Toro provides visuals that are impressive without being needlessly flashy. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen, The Possession, a long-time collaborator with del Toro, clearly speaks the director’s language and their work in tandem gives the film its flawless period look, along with Tamara Deverell’s beautiful production design. Though overly episodic at times and more simplistically predictable than I would have anticipated, it’s also stunningly rendered by its creative team. Expect to leave Nightmare Alley wishing to have had just one more scene for a few characters left dangling. The 150 never-boring minutes you spend in your seat with Cooper and company does fly by, though.

Movie Review ~ Spider-Man: No Way Home

The Facts:

Synopsis: With Spider-Man’s identity now revealed, Peter asks Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.

Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx ,Willem Dafoe, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong, Paula Newsome

Director: Jon Watts

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 148 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: At a recent gathering of friends, the talk turned to movies (I only keep the best company, naturally) and we got to discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Aside from a heated debate comparing the movies made within the MCU with those that come from the realm of DC Comics, a few well-rounded film fans expressed a feeling of exhaustion when it came to these extravaganzas, and I can’t say I didn’t agree. Look, I’m plopping my tush into a theater seat as fast as the next person when the newest chapter in the seemingly endless series of interconnected superhero adventures is released but a feeling of sameness has seeped in for a while now. The bright spots are fewer and farther between, so when you look far ahead on the Marvel slate and see films scheduled out literally years in advance there’s less to get wowed about.

That was a discussion I had the Saturday night before I saw Spider-Man: No Way Home.  Three nights later I was leaving the screening fighting the urge to skip a little bit back to my car because Sony and Marvel have jointly delivered one of the collective franchise highlights to date.  It’s essentially an entertainment package aiming to please without coming off like it’s building a bridge to “what’s next”.  Though it certainly is a gateway to…something…it wastes little time with one foot out the door or an eye on the exit sign.  Instead, director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers keep the focus on hyper-immediacy which makes this third film featuring Tom Holland (Cherry) as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man the absolute best one yet.

While plot points are discussed below, rest assured there are no spoilers included (anywhere on this page) that have not been already revealed through marketing.

At the end of the previous film, for his final act of treachery Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed to the world that Peter Parker was Spider-Man.  Framed for Beck’s murder, Peter is hauled in with his family and friends by a shadow government agency before being released back to public scrutiny.  Assimilating to daily life under the eye of a cruel society based on unfounded judgement is easier said than done, however. Hatching a plan to make the world forget they ever found out his truth, Peter calls on Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Mauritanian) for his assistance, but the spell he orders gets complicated and winds up opening the multiverse, bringing forth everyone that ever knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man.  With the multiverse cracked, it allows villains from previous Spider-Man films not starring Holland to enter this realm…Big Baddies Spider-Man will have to track down and send back to where they came from.

It’s always odd when a different actor starts playing a role in an established franchise.  The first Spider-Man reboot saw Andrew Garfield take over for Tobey Maguire and I remember thinking at the time how weird it would be to see another actor in the role.  It was even more discombobulating when Holland stepped in so rapidly when the Garfield era came quickly to a close.  To have elements from the Maguire and Garfield films cross over into this third Holland one was a big risk but it comes off so well, it’s got to have other studios wondering how it could work in their own franchise tentpoles. 

What great possibilities this made into reality. Seeing Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, The Water Man) from Spider-Man 2 appear to greet Holland is one of those movie moments you can really get excited for.  I felt the same about O.G. villain Willem Dafoe (Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin acting the heck out of his role. Actually, it’s kind of incredible to see all of these legendary foes back together sharing the screen.  Even if the two Garfield villains are sort of lame (sorry Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans, but thank goodness Paul Giamatti didn’t show up), it’s more than a little thrilling when they’re all standing in the same room.

Most notable in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a true devotion to hitting as many emotional beats as action-heavy ones.  For as many spectacular scenes as there are, Watts and his team are willing to give Holland (who has never been better) and equally aces co-stars Zendaya (Malcom & Marie), Marisa Tomei (Frankie), Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Jacob Batalon (Banana Split) the space they need to deal with some major events that happen during the extended run time.  I don’t know if you’ll have a similar experience but darn it if I didn’t get a little misty on a least two separate occasions.  Fans that have waited a while for this will be more than pleased with the developments that take place and movie-goers in general who have held back from entering a theater will be sufficiently satiated by the feature. 

Movie Review ~ Love, Antosha

The Facts

Synopsis: A portrait of the extraordinary life and career of actor Anton Yelchin.

Stars: Irina Yelchin, Viktor Yelchin, Anton Yelchin, Drake Doremus, J.J. Abrams, Sofia Boutella, John Cho, Willem Dafoe, Jennifer Lawrence, Jodie Foster, Chris Pine

Director: Garrett Price

Rated: R

Running Length: 92 minutes

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: Love, Antosha starts out like many documentaries about a life cut short often do.  A young child is being filmed by his dad showing off his imagination in creating a world of his own.  Even in this brief moment, we see the light of interest in the boy, a spark of undeniable joy of life and you can just imagine what the parent on the other end of the camera was feeling in watching their son.   The boy would grow up to be a loving son, a trusted friend, a gifted artist, a curious man, a photographer, a movie star, and the victim of tragic accident that took his life at 27.

Born in Leningrad to parents famous in their own right as figure skaters in the Ice Ballet and qualifiers in the 1972 Olympics, Anton Yelchin and his family came to America in 1989 with the hopes of starting a new life away from the oppression of the Soviet regime.  Barely six months old when he arrived in the United States, Anton grew up in California and, nurtured by parents that supported their only child, found his way into acting, first in commercials and eventually in small movies that lead to bigger roles.  Early co-stars included Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Diane Lane, and Robin Williams. An engaging lead or a scene-stealing supporting player, Yelchin was equally at home in bold indies or big blockbusters.

Director Garrett Price has amassed a healthy collection of archival footage of Yelchin (Green Room, Only Lovers Left Alive, Star Trek) from personal videos to press interviews and he intersperses those with memories from his family, friends and co-workers that clearly held him in high regard.  Not surprisingly, there isn’t anyone that has a bad thing to say about the young man and with good reason.  From the hand-written letters to his parents to videos with friends, he seems like the thoughtful and considerate life-of-the-party.  If he couldn’t speak it, he would put it to music and sing it.  And any note to his mother always ended with the two words in the movie title.

What gives Love, Antosha an extra boost is that while Yelchin was a familiar face from his numerous film and television credits, he wasn’t much in the public eye during his time in Hollywood.  Most of his closest friends weren’t in the business and if they were, they too kept a low profile.  That allows Price an opportunity to spend more time showcasing the Yelchin we didn’t get to see, and it gives the interview subjects a moment to shine a light on their fallen friend and collaborator.  We also learn some surprising facts about Yelchin related to his health only released after his death that show how much the actor overcame to get where he was, which weirdly winds up giving greater irony to his fatal accident.  Yelchin may already have been playing on borrowed time, so his zest for life wasn’t entirely without preparation.

Considering how many productions Yelchin was involved with, it’s amazing Price was able to get small slices of time with a host of A-List talent and ask them to reflect on their time with the actor.  Directors like Jodie Foster and J.J. Abrams speak of an intellectual actor able to make even the smallest moment matter in unexpected ways, co-stars Chris Pine and Willem Dafoe remark on Yelchin’s extra-curricular activities as a photographer interested in the seedier side of things, and friends Jennifer Lawrence and John Cho offer additional insights into what made Yelchin such a dynamic presence to be around.  Special mention for Kristen Stewart who speaks with a mixture of youthful embarrassment but adult graciousness on how Yelchin was her first heartbreak. Most poignant are the moments spent with his parents who came to this country searching for a better life and now spend each day visiting their son’s grave.

The bits and pieces of a life could never be summed up in 90 minutes but Price has done wonderful work sketching out the trajectory of how Yelchin came to make his way up through Hollywood.  At the same time, it miraculously doesn’t dwell in the melancholy of his tragic death, either.  Though obviously still grieving the loss of their only child, his parents have a matter-of-factness to the way they speak of their son.  They clearly still have that image of the boy working through new make believe in front of the camera in their heads…and now they have Love, Antosha to remind them how much he meant to others as well.

Movie Review ~ Aquaman


The Facts

Synopsis: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

Stars: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Dolph Lundgren, Ludi Lin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Temuera Morrison, Randall Park

Director: James Wan

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 143 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: In some ways, you have to have a little sympathy for the folks running the show over at DC Studios/Warner Brothers. Despite a strong run with their original Batman franchise and then Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, they’ve struggled mightily with finding their footing in future films. Man of Steel was a complex origin story that was ultimately too cool to the touch, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was savaged by critics even though it wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone remembers it to be, and Suicide Squad was just outright garbage. Then a minor miracle happened in the excellent Wonder Woman and it seemed like the beleaguered studio had learned their lesson and turned a corner…only to have those hopes dashed a few months later with the release of the box office turd Justice League.

Well, it’s been a year and another DC stand-alone superhero movie has come swimming along in the hopes it can make some waves in what has up until now been a fairly shallow pond. While Aquaman has its regrettable missteps and its fair share of groan-worthy dialogue, it’s not enough to sink it to the bottom of the DC ocean thanks to a director that brings a unique style and an eclectic cast willing to go the distance for some overly fishy material.

Though we’ve met Arthur Curry/Aquaman (Jason Momoa) briefly in BvS and Justice League, this is his first time taking center stage which means part of the film mandates that this is his origin story. When his father (Temuera Morrison) rescues a mysterious woman (Nicole Kidman, Stoker) from the sea, he doesn’t know she’s a sea princess from Atlantis on the run from an arranged marriage to a rival king. The two fall in love and have a son before Atlanna is forced to abandon her family and return to the sea in order to protect them. Flash forward twenty-some years and Atlanna’s son has grown into a man of rippling muscles and tribal tattoos that can communicate with sea creatures and swim faster than a speeding torpedo. He’s also invincible to most mortal weapons, as evidenced in an opening battle between pirates aboard a hijacked submarine. The events that take place here will create the genesis of Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, The Greatest Showman), an enemy for Aquaman who will haunt him throughout the film.

Meanwhile, fathoms below the sea a plot is being hatched by Aquaman’s half-brother Orm (Patrick Wilson, The Nun) who seeks to become the all-powerful Ocean Master by joining forces with King Nereus (Dolph Lundgren, The Expendables 2) and dominating the underwater kingdoms by any means necessary. When Mera (Amber Heard, The Danish Girl), Nereus’s daughter gets wind of the plan she reaches out to Aquaman for his help in returning to Atlantis, defeating his brother, and claiming the throne that is rightfully his. After a lifetime of turning his back on the undersea nation he feels took his mother away from him, helping out his people isn’t high on Aquaman’s list of priorities.

At 143 minutes and with multiple storylines to follow, Aquaman is certainly ambitious in his first time going it alone. Even if the script from David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick and Will Beall doesn’t contain the same type of rousing origin story executed so well in Wonder Woman, there’s a nice flow to the first and third acts of the film. It’s the second act where Aquaman and Mera start to globe-trot in search of a lost trident and are pursued by Manta where things start to get a little choppy. I get why the Manta storyline was included (stay through the credits to find out why) but it just felt extraneous to everything else going on in the film. Chucking all that and focusing on the contained story about Aquman’s conflict with his brother would have been enough to fuel the movie just fine.

Like Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, the movie succeeds largely on the screen magnetism of Momoa as Aquaman. While he relies too often on his hair and an over the shoulder glance to do most of the work for him, by the time he’s donned the famous orange and green Aquaman suit he had more than convinced me that he’s a born action star. Sadly, Heard is a bit of a dud as his leading lady as is Wilson who literally treads water for most of his scenes. There’s some unfortunate de-aging scenes with Morrison and especially Willem Dafoe (The Florida Project) as an emissary of Atlantis playing both sides which actually make both men look like they’re motion captured holograms instead of flesh and blood actors. Kidman is really the one that makes the biggest impression in her short amount of screen time. The Oscar winning actress is at the point in her career where she can take whatever role she wants and this one seems like it was a choice made out of pure moviemaking fun. She strikes the right tone and never falls prey (like many of her costars) to take things to a heightened sense of camp even during moments like when she has a goldfish tail sticking out of her mouth.

Bringing in director James Wan (The Conjuring) was a smart move on the part of Warner Brothers. The director has a recognizable filmmaking calling card and it’s clear from the beginning of the movie that this picture is being overseen by a director interested in doing something different. Odd camera angles, carefully designed long-shots, and sequences that seem to jump over impossible obstacles in one smooth tracking shot are all Wan staples and they’re used to great effect here. Add to that some awesome visual effect work (see the film in 3D if possible…and I don’t say that lightly) and a retro-feeling synth-heavy score from Rupert Gregson-Williams (Blended) and you get a DC picture that actively tries to separate itself from the pack. Even if it doesn’t always work, it at least fails while trying hard and not by comparison to the films that came before it.

Now that this first Aquaman film is out of the way and with no other Justice League movies in the pipeline, I’m hoping that DC/Warner Brothers gets to work on a sequel and quickly. Feel free to take your time like Wonder Woman 1984 (due in 2020) is doing but now that Wan and company have established the world of Arthur Curry/Aquaman, they have a whole ocean of possibilities on where to take the next chapter.

Movie Review ~ Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


The Facts:

Synopsis: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Olivia Coleman, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom Jr., Tom Bateman, Lucy Boynton, Sir Derek Jacobi, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Sergei Polunin, Willem Dafoe

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 114 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: In my limited experience with Amtrak, I’ve come to the conclusion travel by train through the Midwest can be the most exciting way to be bored. There’s a rush of fun and thrill to board, find your seat, and sit back as the chugging engine moves you past the fields of wheat and country roads. Then that first half hour is over and you realize you have seven more to go until you reach your destination. I’ll admit that there were times when I wish there was something more exciting to do aside from looking forward to your time in the dining car. Not saying that murder would be a welcome addition to riding the rails but…it could spice things up a bit.

Maybe that’s why I was always such a fan of Agatha Christie’s sparkling 1934 novel, Murder on the Orient Express and its various incarnations on film and television over the years. I have a particular fondness for Sidney Lumet’s star-studded 1974 film that featured Albert Finney as Christie’s famed moustachioed detective, Hercule Poirot. Though too young for the role and padded enough to make him look like a Belgian Humpty Dumpty, Finney won me over (even if Christie didn’t care for him) and the ensemble cast of A-listers made solving the mystery Christie cooked up that much more fun. Poirot has ridden the Orient Express again in two more adaptations for television but he’s back onscreen under the guidance of director/star Kenneth Branagh (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and the results are similarly old-fashioned and quite fun.

Many are going to have a problem with the relative cool tone of the film and it’s aloof star player. This is a movie that unspools slowly and with precision, taking care to present grand elegance instead of common luxury and nuanced performances in place of star cameos. I’m not saying it all works but, for me, it was the ride I was hoping for.

On his way back to London to help with a case, Poirot finds himself on the famed Orient Express on a three day journey back from Istanbul. The train is unusually crowded at this late winter date so all compartments are occupied. En route, Poirot’s careful eye sees an unusual familiarity between two supposed strangers (Daisy Ridley, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.) and a sadness in a deeply religious missionary (Penelope Cruz, Zoolander 2).  He spots a divide in the working relationship between an art dealer (Johnny Depp, Tusk) and his two employees (Derek Jacobi, Cinderella, and Josh Gad, Beauty & the Beast) and observes a brusque chill from a Russian Princess (Judi Dench, Skyfall) traveling with her maid (Olivia Colman, Hyde Park on Hudson).  There’s also a strange German doctor (Willem Dafoe, The Florida Project) and a brash man-eater (Michelle Pfeiffer, mother!) keeping him occupied and, at the very least, entertained.

It’s when the train derails in the middle of the night and one of the passengers ends up dead that Poirot’s brief bid for rest gets interrupted. There’s a killer onboard and the longer Poirot interrogates each passenger the more he begins to realize there are multiple suspects with the same motivation.  Can he detect who done the deed before the rescue crews arrive and the train makes its way to its final stop?  The solution to this one is a corker and those who know it won’t be surprised but Branagh and company want you to remember it’s the journey, not the destination, that matters.

This is a handsome looking film and Branagh has captured it nicely in 65mm, preserving the lushness of the setting and maintaining the classic grain of a celluloid experience while keeping things crisp. The landscapes are almost entirely CGI (didn’t think Dench was going to get snowbound in the middle of nowhere did you?) but the period details are all practical and perfect.  Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos (Thor)works with Branagh to find interesting angles, such as the discovery of the body filmed from above which makes the audience feel like we’re watching rats in a maze.  There are nice long takes as the camera moves throughout the train and everyone is framed to look their absolute best.

Branagh will likely catch some heat for making the thrust of the film rely a bit too much on him. The magic of the previous movie was how well balanced Finney was with the rest of the actors; Ingrid Bergman even won an Oscar for her small role which is played here by Cruz.  The interrogation scenes felt more intimate and personal there whereas under Branagh’s watch the interviews are brief and blunt.  There’s a crime from the past that mysteriously links everyone on board and because it weighs so heavily into the solution there could have been better steps taken by screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) to lay the groundwork throughout the first ¾ of the film.

I didn’t mind Branagh’s screen time, nor did I think twice about his crazy facial hair or thick Belgian accent. I liked his persnickety ways and it plays nicely off the rest of the cast who are allowed to be a bit more broad.  The film ends with a hint that we might get more Poirot (Death on the Nile, from the sound of it) and I’d be up for another adventure with Branagh.  Dench, as always, makes the most out of her role, easily nailing all of her character’s grand snooty comebacks.  Gad and Depp are usually pain points for me but they play a good game here, both actors are restrained without feeling constrained.  Ridely, Odom Jr., and Cruz might be far less memorable than previous actors that have played these roles but they acquit themselves nicely the more we get to know them.  Lovely Pfeiffer is having a grand time playing a loudmouth widow, she looks gorgeous and Branagh even got her to sing a lullaby over the closing credits.  Pfeiffer has a sweet, if thin, voice but it works for the song and the character.

I always enjoyed watching the original film during the winter months on a cold day. It’s good timing this new version is coming out just as the temperature is dropping and snow is on the horizon.  It’s a perfect film for a lazy day or sophisticated night out.  The deliberate pace and overall conservation of energy might bore audiences that just paid to see the brain smashing Thor: Ragnorok last weekend, but I’d encourage you to book passage on Murder on the Orient Express for another type of adventure.

The Silver Bullet ~ Justice League

Synopsis: Fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy.

Release Date: November 17, 2017

Thoughts: With Wonder Woman becoming the top-earning movie at the summer box office, the producers behind the DC Comics franchise are riding a wave of positivity right now.  Let’s hope they can keep that goodwill going strong as the November release of Justice League draws near.  I didn’t mind Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice nearly as much as my colleagues did but the unrelenting darkness of this franchise has kept it from truly taking off. Wonder Woman was a nice reminder of what these films could be while director Zac Snyder deals with a family tragedy, Avengers mastermind Joss Whedon was brought in to oversee postproduction so I’m hoping Whedon can bring a little Marvel spark to the DC Universe.  This extended look at Justice League gives a few more clues for audiences to decipher and one cliffhanger that already has the internet abuzz.

The Silver Bullet ~ Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Synopsis: A lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into the thrilling mystery of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Release Date: November 10, 2017

Thoughts: Oh boy does this one look fun.  Based on Agatha Christie’s twist-filled 1934 novel, audiences have traveled on the Orient Express already in a BBC adaptation and the 1974 star-studded spectacle which remains one of my all time favorite films.  I admit I grimaced a bit when I heard a new version was in the works but as the cast came together for director/star Kenneth Branagh’s remake I began to soften a little.  This first trailer hints at the high level of class the filmmakers are employing for this murder mystery and though I’m guessing movie-goers may chuckle a bit at Branagh’s grandiose Poirot mustache I’d be willing to bet they’ll be intrigued enough to hop on board when it’s released in November. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer (Grease 2), Judi Dench (Skyfall), Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows), Penelope Cruz (Zoolander 2), Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Willem Dafoe (The Grand Budapest Hotel), and, regrettably, Josh Gad (Frozen)