IT: CHAPTER TWO – BETTER THAN THE BOOK & MORE THAN I EXPECTED BUT PLEASE DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN

SHORT TAKE:

Surprisingly thoughtful, intricately plotted, well acted and very effective but terrifying finale to the film version of Stephen King’s mammoth-sized book IT.

WHO SHOULD GO:

I would like to make one thing clear: STEPHEN KING STORIES ARE NOT CHILD FRIENDLY!!!

There is a warning at the beginning of the movie which declares flashing lights could trigger epileptic seizures in the photosensitive. But that is the LEAST of the problems. There is also sexually discussed content, a profound amount of gratuitous profanity, some of it blasphemous, a lot of lethal violence and gore with child victims in close up, homicide, patricide, people being burned alive, grotesque deformities, slit throats, an explicit scene of suicide, overt physical and implied sexual abuse, and brief but conspicuous demonstrations of alternative sexuality. The violence and bloodshed would have alarmed the Grimm Brothers, though this is to be expected in any movie about a child-eating monster.

I do not know what the parents in the audience were thinking but there was a group of under-chaperoned young teens in the audience next to me for whom I cringed, given the film’s content as well as the visuals in some of the trailers. An R-rated movie will attract R-rated trailers, which R-rated “coming soon” offerings will not be R-rated “ONLY” for gore. One of the movies previewed at the afternoon showing of IT: C2, which was viewed by these kids, included scantily clad pole dancers! Even more inexplicable was the presence of young children who, predictably, begin to cry almost from the outset. Bringing kids to an R-rated movie of any kind, much less a horror fest, is a face-palming level of stupidity, bordering on child neglect, if not abuse.

Let me repeat KING IS NOT CHILD FRIENDLY. DO NOT TAKE CHILDREN.

FOR MATURE ADULT AGE TEENS AND UP ONLY!!!

LONG TAKE:

I walked into IT: Chapter Two fully expecting not to like it. I can hardly be blame. I didn’t like the book and although the TV version had a – dare I say it – certain charm due to the talents of Tim Curry as Pennywise the sinister, extraterrestrial psycho killer clown, and the recent Part 1, IT, wasn’t bad, I still did not hold out much for Part 2, having read the book.  My youngest, now 21, pointed out an element that had not occurred to me about Part 1 – that instead of a straight up horror story it could be seen as an analogy for overcoming one’s childhood traumas and deepest wounds.

Although I thought this idea had merit I still dreaded what they would do with the second installment. After all it was based upon an excessively long, often deeply disturbing novel which catered to our darkest impulses and often relied heavily on caricature-level biases against small town citizens, authority figures, and parents.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. While it is, by no means, a great movie, it is far better than I thought it would be. IT: Chapter Two is the second half of Stephen King’s elephantine book IT about 7 children, outcasts in different ways, who bond as The Losers’ Club to fight an other worldly monster, and their adult selves who return 27 years later to kill IT. My review of the filmed version of the first half of the book – IT – is HERE and covers the child actor versions of the characters. The kids return in clips and flashbacks.

SPOILERS – BIG, CASUAL SPOILERS – SO BE FORWARNED

The adults include: James McAvoy (whose incredibly varied resume includes: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Split, Atomic Blonde, and the entire X-Men reboot series) is Bill, the stuttering leader of the group. Jessica Chastain (Molly’s Game, Interstellar) is Beverly the grown up abused child who marries another abusive man. Bill Hader (who has done a lot of voice over acting) is Richie the comedian who as a child seems physically incapable of keeping his smart aleck bully-antagonizing comments to himself. Isaiah Mufasa is Mike, as a child one of the only black people in Derry and an orphan whose parents burned to death in a tragedy he witnessed, and as an adult is the librarian and self appointed guardian of Derry who stays to watch for the monster’s re-appearance. The significantly sleeker and athletic grown up Ben is played by born-Kiwi (native New Zealander) now Aussie Jay Ryan (who, in a note of incredible irony, before becoming established as an actor, used to perform in local supermarkets entertaining young children as —– a clown). Andy Bean is the adult Stan whose Jewish faith, when a child in Derry, made him the target of abuse by the town bullies. Finally, fatherless, hypochondriacal, mother-dominated Eddie has grown up to be played by James Ransone.

Bill Skarsgård (a worthy addition to the Skarsgard acting family which includes both brother Alexander from Melancholia, Battleship, and Tarzan, as well as his father Stellan from the Marvel movies) reprises his role as Pennywise. One might hate his performance as the psycho clown or be fascinated by his interpretation of King’s murderous mountebank, but no one can deny that Skarsgard puts his all into the character, going full out to invest Pennywise with as much horror as a harlequin can hold.

While Gary Dauberman, the scriptwriter, REALLY needs to learn the meaning of “less is more” (and yes, I know, people who live in glass houses….), he, with director Andy Muschietti, (whose only big credit up to now was another horror movie – Mama), made some VERY VERY good plot choices.

There were a number of circumstances in the source material they decided to leave out. Among the sensible deletions were, among a number of other smaller but improvement tweaks: Tom, Beverly’s abusive husband doesn’t pursue them into Pennywise’s lair in a last minute late third act conflict. They do NOT use a parody-level, laughable, King-invented creation myth of a turtle who vomits up the universe to defeat Pennywise. Derry did not blow up when the monster died, resulting in the group being heroes who save a town leaving hope in their wake instead of monster hunters who leave nothing but destruction behind them. Bill’s wife, Audra, did not show up needing to be saved which would have further padded an already excessively long run time. And they explicitly do NOT again lose their memories of Derry after the monster is vanquished, which retention implies they have learned to conquer their own inner demons as well as the extraterrestrial who externalized those fears. (NOT to mention the extremely wise excision in the first movie of the truly disturbed scene in the book where the boys “tag team” Beverly in a bonding ritual of intimacy.)

These cuts indicated a well considered re-evaluation of King’s original book. Dauberman and Muschietti kept what made a good horror story from King’s book IT and replaced the book’s failings with plot and character structures that provided IT with a deeper, layered and even subtle meaning over which King’s far more negative paper prose had steam rollered. Thankfully, and in a rarity, the filmmakers had a bit more sense and gentler hand than did the initiating author.

Dauberman also chose to craft the story around a continuation of the first film’s theme of conquering childhood fears. Each adult, who had formerly been a member of The Losers’ Club, contributes to the defeat of the fear-eating monster by facing and debriding some wound which fundamentally shaped their personalities. Bev once and for all denies her abusive father’s hold over her by embracing Ben’s unconditional genuine love for her. Ben, at one point, is trapped in their childhood underground clubhouse with its walls closing in on him, physicalizing how he was trapped in the fat of his own prepubescent body, but vanquishes this self-killing insecurity by declaring his love for Beverly in acknowledgment that he is not alone and is worthy of loving and being loved. Bill almost drowns in the same sewer water in which his brother Georgie died, then kills a younger self-accusatory version of himself, finally putting his misplaced guilt over his brother’s death behind him. Eddie uncovers Pennywise’s fatal weakness when he throws off his germophobia long enough to successfully wrestle a leperous manifestation of the evil clown.

And so it goes. As each member adds to the pot the Losers get stronger.

To defeat Pennywise they must all reduce him to a killable size. Metaphorically this makes perfect sense. One’s childhood fears can seem to increase proportionately as one gets older, towering over us unchecked and unconfronted to destroy us. But in the light of mature perspective, trauma can be reduced to manageable size from which one can learn, grow, and even benefit. This is a philosophy worth considering and manifests in a monstrously (if you’ll excuse the pun) dramatic way in Pennywise.

There are also a couple of fun cameos – Stephen King, himself, as an opportunistic second-hand shop owner, and Peter Bogdanovich (real life director of Noises Off, Paper Moon, and What’s Up Doc?) playing to type as a film director.

BUT for all of its successes as a horror film – IT is WAY too long – by about a third. Just having to accommodate a large ensemble cast will make for an inherently long story. Accommodating TWO ensemble groups – with present-time adults and childhood dove-tailing flashbacks – is one of the reasons this movie is almost a full 3 hours long. Its padding is mostly due to not trusting the average ticket buyers. Dauberman, et al, needn’t have worried that audience members would RANDOMLY wander into a movie house showing a movie titled IT: Chapter Two. We really did not need all the backtracking, and re-covering old childhood ground with “new” adult eyes to understand what was going on.

In addition, I do not think they understood the difference between pausing long enough for tension to build and holding on to the “punch line” so long you start checking your watch. There are a LOT of jump scares in IT. This movie practically parkours its way through the entire plot on jump scares. And every SINGLE jump scare endures a prolonged preview. For example, Rich and Eddie encounter a cute Pomeranian dog – probably because Rich had jokingly stated a wish that he hoped the monster’s true form would be in this shape. We all know the dog is going to jump scare into a monster-size zombie dog but far too many beats go by as Rich and Eddie comment about how cute it is before this happens. So, yeah, about an hour could have been chopped just by jumping, instead of dragging, their way to the jump scares.

The language is ridiculously and unnecessarily crude, using the “F” word like a baker does flour. Granted all of them subtly reverted back to elements of their childhood during the course of the movie – Bill’s stutter and Eddie’s psychosomatic asthma for examples. Childhood Richie had a marked dependence on profanity as a defense mechanism against his own insecurities, so adult Richie’s profane filled vocabulary should not surprise us, but even so, the repetition became gratuitous.

Benjamin Wallfisch returns to create yet another creepy musical backdrop which functions as a character in its own right. Heavy, and effectively random use of oppressive jarring percussions and wandering dissonant acrobatics on flute and violin provide a disjointed, otherworldly, off balanced and forcefully unsettling soundtrack for most of the movie accompanying Pennywise, which music occasionally, like brief moments of sunshine during a terrible storm, give way to lovely, lyrical, and melancholic passages representing the children and their adult dopplegangers.

IT: C2 is a solid horror movie with an intelligent sub-text but certainly appropriate only for older teens and up given the language, the extreme violence, and multiple scenes of physical, emotional, verbal and implied sexual abuse.

And as I have already mentioned – more horrifying than Pennywise’s presence on screen was the attendance by a number of early teens and even YOUNGER audience members, some of whom were with parents who REALLY should have known better. As if the movie IT: C2 was not inappropriate enough for these children, the previews certainly were, including stories which featured real world violence and pole-dancing strippers. If a movie is “R” rated, as IT is, then authority figures should realize previews are going to be “R” rated as well and often not just for gore and jump scares.

So if you liked Chapter ONE IT then you’ll find IT: Chapter Two very satisfying, with creatively gross monsters and an interesting underlying analogy about learning to heal from childhood trauma.

But PLEASE avoiding traumatizing your own child with this movie and leave the kids at home.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – DEAD RINGER FOR THE REAL THING

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

A classically Tarentino revisionist history of a terrible event during the 1960’s seen through the prism of a fading TV star and his stunt double in an intricately detailed and brain shockingly familiar re-creation of the 1960’s.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ADULTS! ONLY ADULTS! And only adults who have fairly strong constitutions. While there really are no sex scenes, the language is frequently raw and occasionally vulgar topics are discussed in crude ways, but there are a few fight scenes and one long scene of extremely gory and prolonged violence.

LONG TAKE:

Allow me to begin this review by quoting GK Chesterton:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Reviewing this movie puts me in an awkward position for a number of reasons. For one, it is a typically Tarentino violent and sexually charged film but one I thought extremely well done and worth viewing. For another I don’t want to unduly spoil anything in the movie but need to set the stage for one of the most vile moments in American history without either scaring off prospective appropriate film goers or giving away too much.

So keeping all this in mind:

SPOILERS FOR OUATIH AS WELL AS IRON MAN, WONDER WOMAN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, AND X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

There’s a YouTube show called How it Should Have Ended, a PG if not G-rated comedy, which points out inconsistencies, crosses universe franchise storylines, and evaluates any plot flaws in movies which rely on nonsensical stupidity to set up the premise or move the story along. They animate scenes and do very credible voice impersonations showing, for better or worse, what is likely to have really happened had common sense prevailed in a given situation.

For examples, they: point out how a man as smart as Doctor Strange would not have texted on a winding road, going super fast, in the dark, but would have hung up the phone and planned to call later; demonstrate how Iron Man’s quicker, lighter and faster suit, along with his flying experience would have easily defeated Obadiah Stane at the end of Iron Man; introduced Wolverine to assist  Wonder Woman; clearly showed in a spoof of the theme song from Beauty and the Beast that Belle was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome; and exhibit how Mr. Incredible probably would have loved Syndrome’s childhood inventions instead of shunning him with far more positive results.

Similarly, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is aptly named, for it is a fairy tale, if you consider, as Joe Harper did in Kenneth Branagh’s A Midwinter’s Tale that “most fairy tales turn out to be nightmares”, which explores the alternate possibilities in life.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the fictitious fading star Rick Dalton, a composite of every little known ’60’s TV show one trick pony and Brad Pitt is his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (based loosely on Burt Reynold’s stunt double Hal Needham). Where Rick is a fragile bag of regrets and insecurities off camera, Rick exudes a tough cowboy presence 24/7.

Likely the best acting job of either DiCaprio or Pitt, and almost the only two people who do not play historically documentable figures, they avoid what easily could have been caricatures to create two very different but vulnerable men who are survivors at their core. Despite the background story, their downwardly spiraling respective careers and the omnipresent spectre of the looming profoundly malevolent event on the horizon, dreadful to anticipate for anyone familiar with this year, these two archetype examples of crank-’em-out TV show stars from the ’60’s manage to be likeable, interesting, relatable, appealing and, like yeast in a barrel of flour, lighten the mood of every scene they are in.

This is a very “META” concept outing – with actors portraying real people who portrayed characters in movies and TV shows similar to the ones being filmed withIN the confines of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Whew.

The acting of the supporting cast, most of whom do play real people, is terrific. Among a large cast: Margot Robbie is the sweet and gentle but vacuous Sharon Tate. Dakota Fanning does a gut clenching quietly evil rendition of Manson follower Squeaky Fromme. And Mike Moh has all the mannerisms down for what can only be described as a Bruce Lee caricature (for which his surviving daughter, Shannon Lee, has taken exception). But one of the most impressive was Damien Lewis’ Steve MacQueen (The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair). With just his voice and gestures he brings this cinema icon back to life for just a few wonderful movie moments.

In addition, there are some wonderful cameos from Al Pacino (1972’s The Godfather), Kurt Russell (from Disney’s 1969’s Computer Wore Tennis Shoes to Snake Plissken in Escape From New York) who has a small part as stunt coordinator Randy and provides some V.O. narration, and Bruce Dern (1972’s eco-warning sci fi Silent Running), actors whose careers were pretty much “born” during this period of time.

And then there are little Easter Eggs that you might miss unless you look closely, like Mama Cass from the Mamas and the Papas who greets Tate at the Playboy Mansion, and someone who can only be Twiggy talking to Steve MacQueen. NOT to mention the resurrection of the old TV show Lancer, including Wayne Maunder (portrayed by Luke Perry) and cigarette commercials which are startlingly accurate dopplegangers to the ones we watched on TV as kids.

The songs are beautifully handpicked for the right moments like bouquets placed around a professionally decorated room featuring the likes of: “Good Thing” from Paul Revere and the Raiders, Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”, and “California Dreamin'” by Jose Feliciano.

And the sets, pacing of interviews, acting styles of the actors as they performed the shows within the movie, costumes, blunt and awkward dialogue all open a portal into a world I have not experienced in more than half a century. It was jarringly realistic. Tarantino even cleverly placed throughout the movie the awkward and jerky edits often experienced in watching a show from my youth, as the more humble equipment just did not produce the smoother transitions we all demand today, subtly evoking that era, as well as reminding us this is all just a fantasy, a wishful thinking creation of a cinematic mind.

If he has done nothing else, Tarantino has done a stunning job of disabusing me of any temptations to nostalgia for the era in his pinpoint accurate recreation of the world in which I grew up – the ’60’s with its emphasis on: the constant generation of cigarette smoke, plastic furniture, ridiculously high miniskirts, obnoxious self-aggrandizing hippies, sparse air conditioning, unchallenged snake oil salesmen, terrible TV shows, black and white monitors with Vietnam in the background, and condescending talking heads masquerading as newscasters (OK we still have those).

Don’t get me wrong. I loved it while I was living it but in the stark light of a Tarantino day – let’s just say that walks down Memory Lane should be taken sparingly.

And then there is the specific history of that particular “moment” in time.

In order to appreciate the pervasive sense of suspense and anxiety that hangs over the entire movie, you have to understand the backdrop in which the story plays out. The movie takes place during the year preceding the slaughter of Sharon Tate, her baby and guests on the night of August 9th 1969. On that terrible night, a cult leader name Charles Manson sent his followers out to kill everyone in the house on Cielo Drive. The people there were not just murdered they were savaged. A pregnant Sharon Tate, two weeks from delivery, was hung up and butchered like cattle. The rest were bludgeoned, shot, and stabbed dozens of times. Anyone old enough or well read enough to be familiar with this event knows it is coming — and protagonist Rick lives next door.

The next day, before their capture, Manson and his hippies did the same to a couple named LaBianca. It is hard to appreciate how this atmosphere of evil informed those days unless you lived through it…or watched this movie.

It was largely thought that the 1960’s “died” that day, (ignoring the fact that, well yes, 4-1/2months later it would be 19–SEVENTY, but I get the drift), replacing the open door “love is in the air” perception of the flower child with the reality that these people engaged in highly dysfunctional and destructive behaviors, who were predominantly a danger to themselves and those around them.

In OUATIH we get the true face of the hippie, free-love, Flower Power movement:  promiscuous, selfish, manipulative, filthy, violent, arrogant, condescending, narcissistic, slothful, parasitic, hypocritical, self-adoring, drug addicted anarchists with a sense of entitlement to other people’s property. The greatest horror to those who stylistically aligned themselves with these pet anti-establishment philosophies (while living otherwise) was that the Manson cult demonstrated to the world merely the logical extrapolation of the hippie mantras which included calling police names and advocating their destruction, extreme hostility to capitalism while living off the work of others,  and engagement in sexual debauchery without accepting consequences.

The aftermath of Woodstock alone demonstrates it takes a lot of someone else’s effort and money for one to appear to be living a life of freedom and independence from the drudgery of actually having to work for a living. (Of course, unfortunately, that is now the Democrat National Party goal – to be living off the hard work of other people, responsibility free – not surprising since many in their leadership fermented out of that intellectual cesspool —— but that’s a post for another day.)

Without any real job they lived, if you can call it that, on the largesse of family,  friends and community, that is when they weren’t begging, prostituting themselves or outright stealing.

As this is a Tarantino film one expects an extreme amount of violence and gore and OUATIH is no exception…..but not the way you might expect, or cringe fearfully. I am delighted to say that, through the magic of Tarantino pixie dust, I was inspired to clap and cheer during the last scenes.

Tarantino likes to play with “What if’s”. Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained being his most telling examples. I had actually never seen an entire Tarantino movie before but only clips from the likes of Kill Bill, Hateful Eight and Pulp Fiction. Sudden and ferocious bloodshed tend to jump out like ghouls from a haunted house, but OUAPIH is quite gentle for most of the movie in comparison, as the director manifests more suspense and extreme apprehension than actual violence…until the end.

Also stick around for a funny ending credits scene with a brilliantly on point faux cigarette commercial.

So if you want a head first dive into the deep end of nostalgia, and if you have the stomach for it, this is Tarantino at his best, if for no other reason than his masterful re-invention of a time gone by and for the cathartic satisfaction of seeing justice served in a Tarantino-flavored version of How it Should Have Ended.

God bless and R.I.P. Sharon Tate, baby Paul Polanski,  Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno LaBianca, and Rosemary LaBianca.

 

JOHN WICK (THE FIRST CHAPTER) – A VIOLENT REVENGE MOVIE WHICH TAKES ITSELF WAY TOO SERIOUSLY

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF THE REVIEW OF JOHN WICK (THE FIRST CHAPTER)

SHORT TAKE:

Ultra-violent movie which skates on a thin excuse for revenge to create large piles of dead bodies.

WHO SHOULD WATCH:

Adults only, and then only those with a stomach for violence: intense weapon and martial-art combat lethal force, and  extreme language. Its only “virtues” are a minimal amount of sexuality, mostly limited to bikini clad escorts, and the fact that the protagonist is a devoted and faithful, albeit grieving, husband.

LONG TAKE:

I know I’m probably the last one on the train here with John Wick (2014) as it has been out so long there is now a third installment. Having just seen the first one and with the John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum in theaters now, I felt compelled to make some comments about the “origin” story.

SPOILERS FOR JOHN WICK, TURNER AND HOOCH, A DOG’S PURPOSE, AND MARLEY AND ME

The premise, in case you have been on a prolonged abstinence from movies, is that a retired assassin goes on a massive killing spree after someone shoots his dog.

Now there is more to it but that is what it boils down to. John Wick verges on, if is not steeped in, what one might label as violence “porn” ( by which I mean senseless and gratuitous violence for the purpose of cathartic schadenfreude* brutality), though of a certain attractive elegance, which takes itself way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong , I am sympathetic to Wick’s righteous anger over the unnecessary killing of a puppy. As I have mentioned before in other posts, while I can tolerate an awful lot of violence in an action movie, I cringe at the thought of something happening to a dog. That point has actually prevented me from ever watching a couple of movies, including:

SPOILERS

Turner and Hooch, and Marley and Me. I have even been putting off watching A Dog’s Purpose even though the dog gets reincarnated multiple times, because I know the viewing will require a couple boxes of kleenex.

My point being, from a cinematic point of view, I am quite sympatico with a lead whose motivation, which propels the entire running time, is the death of his dog.

However, even by my rather indulgent parameters of an average action movie, wherein the protagonist is given nothing to lose, I could not help but yell at the screen occasionally, wondering why his opponents did not handle the situation quite differently.

The mutt murderer was, Iosef, (Alfie Allen best known as Theon Greyjoy in Game of Thrones), the son of John’s previous employer, Viggo, a Russian mafia Don,  (Michael Nyqvist from Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and the Naomi Rapace version of the Dragon Tattoo girl). Iosef had come to steal John’s hot car – and the dog just got in the way.

As Viggo, the Slavic Vito Corleone points out, it was bad luck that brought them back together in this way. But a little common sense and a teensy bit of courtesy could have mitigated the situation, if not established an easy detente.

The dog was the last gift from John’s dying wife. From the reaction of wiser heads than the aforementioned Iosef, the dog dispatcher, everyone knew about this and what the legendary assassin, John’s, response was likely to be. A hitman with nothing to lose and a lot of grief anger to expend, is a recipe for a bloodbath.

Therefore, I thought, had I been Viggo, (and keep in mind I am stepping into the shoes of a Mafia Don), I would have arrived with a new car, a new dog, a profuse apology, a chastised son with a black eye, and an offer to set up an entire charity Animal Hospital in the name of his deceased wife.

Instead, Viggo, knowing his son was stupidly in the wrong, as evidenced by the beating he gave Iosef after the fact, puts a contract out on the man to whom he refers as the best of the best, the one who was called Baba Yaga, not because he was The Boogeyman but because he was the one you sent out to kill The Boogeyman. This is a guaranteed plan for failure and Viggo’s downfall hereafter is from criminal (if you’ll excuse the pun) stupidity. I couldn’t help but think of Hawkeye in Thor. Watching Thor dispatch agent after agent in Thor’s path towards Mjolnir, Hawkeye quips to Coulson: “Do you want me to take him down, or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up?” Because, that is what Viggo does – he sends in squad after squad to kill this unkillable killing machine. Viggo’s men are about as effective as Storm Troopers and were this a video game John would have the High Score. But WHY???!!!

Viggo is an intelligent man or wouldn’t have been able to create and keep his empire. He MUST have seen the results of his decreasing returns. And no explanation is given as to why he would commit his entire army in a fruitless and hopeless effort to take out the one man he knows he can not defeat, especially when it seemed obvious to me there were alternatives. It’s not even that he is so committed to the protection of his son. Viggo doesn’t like or love his son and Viggo ultimately gives Iosef up to Wick as bait to save his own skin.

90% of the movie is John’s body count which quickly exceeds the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan.

I get the use of the MacGuffin. I even get stories where you put the protagonist in a corner with nothing to lose and watch them fight their way out. Movie franchises like Taken, Die Hard, Jack Reacher and even a few of the James Bonds are good examples of a protagonist who resolved knotty conundrums with fists and firefights. And I am the first to admit they are guilty pleasures. But the motivations are usually more compelling, as in: protection of a vulnerable family member, a national danger, or the righting of a grave injustice. AND the protagonist usually is witty, relieving the unremitting gore and violence a bit with dry one liners.

But, despite the fact I have often maintained that Keanu Reeves has missed his calling as a comedian, Reeves’ Wick parkours his way through the movie on the backs of dead bodies with the somber deadpan of a mini-Lurch from The Addams Family. Don’t get me wrong, I like Keanu Reeves. I just wish someone would DO something with him which entails more EXPRESSION!!!

When I refer to Keanu Reeves’ comedies, I’m not talking about the unintentionally – so bad they are funny – like Constantine, and his insult to the classic Day the Earth Stood Still. Nor am I referring to his well done stint as the singular dry villain in Branagh’s Shakespearean comedy Much Ado About Nothing.  I’m talking about Reeves roles in legitimate comedies. If unfamiliar with Keanu Reeves’ comedies, I recommend the slapstick ridiculous Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and the wryly observant ensemble piece Parenthood. Both are for an older crowd though.

Reeves can be really amusing and cute with good timing. And while I’m not suggesting that a former assassin who has just lost his wife to cancer and his dog to a home invasion should be light-hearted, John Wick is unrelentingly grim where it perhaps did not have to be. I mean, Wick is SUPPOSED to be human, right?

I have often maintained that the best loved action films often have a sense of their own humor. Good examples are Jaws, Aliens (but only the second as the first and third are even grimmer than John Wick and the fourth is best simply ignored) and all the Die Hard movies. Tongue is planted occasionally but firmly in cheek and there is an awareness in the script of its own cliched vulnerability.

But Wick‘s level of constant violence with no emotional offsetting balance is just exhausting.

The cinematic atmosphere is dark and poetically sympathetic, as most of the movie takes place in dark interiors, at night, or in conjunction with bad weather.

There is an interesting juxtaposition with another film I have previously reviewed, which DOES have a sense of humor, called  Hotel Artemis. Much of the third act of John Wick takes place in the Continental, a hotel renowned as a high-class refuge for people in John Wick’s line of work. Like the Artemis, a hospital for the underworld with questionable aesthetics, the Continental has a primary rule: you are not supposed to kill any of the other guests. A certain neutrality is supposed to be enforced there amongst society’s lethal predators. These two – the titular Hotel Artemis and the Continental in John Wick – exist in a consistent universe where you could put them on a double bill or even together in the same movie. But Hotel Artemis, unlike John Wick, has a heart and knows when to recognize the grin in even the darkest human comedy, and is a far better movie for that.

Small parts and cameos from the action-adventure pool abound in Wick from both TV and film. Ian McShane, who has added his talents to everything from westerns to British and American cop shows to Pirates of the Caribbean, plays the owner of the Continental. Willem Dafoe who has appeared in movies as divergent as Platoon and Spider-Man 3 is a mysterious colleague / competitor. Adrianne Palicki, most notably the indominable Agent Bobby Hunter in Agents of Shield and Kelly Grayson in The Orville, is Perkins, a female assassin. Lance Reddick from Fringe and Blacklist is Charon, the concierge of the Continental. John Leguizamo, from Executive Decision and Baz Lurhmann’s ultra-violent version of Romeo and Juliet, is Aurelio, the chop shop owner to whom Iosef brings Wick’s stolen car and who is the first to clue Iosef in to his mistake with a punch in the mouth. There were so many cameos from the action adventure genre that I would not have been surprised to see Samuel L Jackson show up. Sadly, that was not to be.

The acting is good and the shoot-‘em-up-bang-bang with combined martial arts is well-choreographed and interesting as Wick dispatches his targets with precision and no innocent bystanders to the count.

Wick is obviously an anti-hero with a ledger redder than Black Widow’s. As action adventures go it was brainless fun and emotionally cathartic to watch a bunch of bad guys being blown away with incredible efficiency and expertise by another, but sympathetic, bad guy. It is always a pleasure of sorts to see anyone do their job with such skill and excellence whether they are a pastry chef, a ghost hunter, or a paid assassin. But still I couldn’t help perseverate on the plot point of the missing opportunity to mitigate. Had Viggo tried to placate Wick but been rebuffed I would have found the scenario far more believable at least within the universe of that genre.

But what I truly do not understand is how the film makers can justify one sequel much less two. I mean, in this first one John killed …….. EVERYBODY. And I wonder about the movie’s core world-view. Iosef, for all his being a completely cruel jerk, was not responsible for the death of John’s wife nor did he attempt to kill John. Therefore, John’s reaction to the theft of his car and slaughter of his puppy without at least an attempt at peaceful and equivocal recompense, to me seemed over the top even for this kind of movie, making it hard for me to empathize with a protagonist who creates this much mayhem.

Compared to similarly set up movies like the aforementioned Die Hard, Taken, or from a HUGE variety of styles where the protagonist goes on a mission to avenge a terrible wrong with extreme prejudice, like: True Grit, Death Wish, The Count of Monte Cristo, or Dirty Harry – even for me, even for this genre of movie – John’s reaction was too extreme and with insufficient reasonable motivation, making this a (if you’ll excuse the pun) fatally flawed story.

  •  schadenfreude – a German word for which there is no English equivalent, meaning: pleasure derived from someone else’s misfortune.

GOSNELL: THE TRIAL OF AMERICA’S BIGGEST SERIAL KILLER

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF GOSNELL REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

Documentary-style bio pic about Kermit Gosnell, an abortionist who violated even Pennsylvania’s liberally permissive abortion laws, extending his convictions to include manslaughter of a mother and murder of three full term infants, and the people who brought him to justice.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Adults only – for the topics and many of the visuals of the abortion mill. But of those adults who seek truth or justice, a MUST SEE.

LONG TAKE:

In the movie Jacob’s Ladder, Tim Robbins plays a military veteran suffering from such extreme PTSD that he has visions of hell. One of those manifestations is of a hospital of filth and gore staffed by demons indifferent to his suffering. While watching that 1990 surreal film, I never dreamed I would one day see real-life footage of the actual place. But footage of a real place, just like Jacob’s visions, were included in Gosnell, the movie about the exposure and trial of Kermit Gosnell, (portrayed by Earl Billings, a familiar face from many TV shows all the way back to the 1970’s), the perpetrator of the cold blooded killings-for-hire of full-term infants and the casual death of one of his “patients,” who was, to quote Bernard Hughes’ character in the dark satire The Hospital, “neglected to death”.

The film, Gosnell, tracks the investigative and legal activities that stopped Gosnell’s Eichmann-like casual killing business. If you see Operation Finale, (to read my blog on Operation Finale click here), you will note the similarities between Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of Eichmann and Earl Billings’ Gosnell. Both men had an affluent, family-oriented life.

While Eichmann’s personal obsessions wandered into the fastidious, Gosnell wandered onto the other end of the bell curve with profound levels of filth. While Eichmann behaves like Lady Macbeth, figuratively (and sometimes literally) trying to wash the guilty stains from his hands, Gosnell wallowed gleefully in the depravity, denying its existence. Both men swam in the blood of others to achieve their goals of career security in an environment and culture which protected their activities for years regardless of the heinousness of the crimes they committed.

The acting in both cases was amazing. Kingsley will likely, and deservedly, be up for awards for his portrayal as the cold, tunnel vision author of the deaths of millions, who wore blinders and chose to see himself as merely a clerk or cog in a machine convenient to his advancement. Billings, despite his equally subtle rendition, because of the politically protected nature of Gosnell’s occupation as abortionist, will likely be ignored for his cine-magic contribution. Billings plays a man who, in other surroundings, could be mistaken for a genial, grandfatherly, old-fashioned doctor. It is only the subtle body language, quirks, facial tics and tiny contradictory gestures which visualize Gosnell’s fundamentally broken, corrupted and rotted moral view.

Were the director creating this monster out of whole cloth, he might have been lauded for the extremely effective, visually poetic symmetry of the man’s life. Gosnell lived in a beautiful suburban home, in a Biblical sense the outside of the vase. But the house’s rooms reflected Gosnell’s inner corruption in the piles of trash, the chaotic disorder, Gosnell’s personal hygiene, and the dead animal rotting in a cellar of aggressively flea infested debris. Gosnell’s clinic, while purportedly there to serve the poor, gave preference to white customers, regularly employed underage untrained teenagers to administer dangerous levels of anesthesia, and  housed garbage bags full of decomposing infant parts, casually discarded in hallways, up stairwells, and in so-called operating rooms.

Likely the only reason this abattoir was not over run with four legged rats was because there was a plethora of irregularly cared for cats who roamed at will using the entire clinic as their kitty box.

Like the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs, Gosnell kept trophies in small jars of body parts. So insulated was Gosnell from the rest of the world, humanity, or his own culpability, that he did not understand he was actually displaying evidence against himself.

None of this was manufactured by the filmmakers. The stomach-churning images were re-created, and in some cases simply copied directly onto the film, from actual footage made by the investigating police officers, there initially to pursue probable cause of the death of one of Gosnell’s victims/patients. The police entered planning a drug bust. They left with evidence of a serial killer whose murders had been covered up for over two decades by a corrupt Pennsylvania Department of Heath, the steaming environment of political correctness, and the permissive Pennsylvania abortion laws.

Despite the heinousness of Gosnell’s activities, the repeated complaints, and the obvious incompetence and flagrant disregard for even the most basic sanitation much less safety of his patients Gosnell was left alone to continue his habits for decades.

It came up in trial that the health department of the state was for at least 17 consecutive years forbidden from pursuing even the most serious of complaints against him because of his status as a black abortionist in a poor neighborhood. But there was no protection for the unwary, vulnerable, scared and defenseless inhabitants that served as Gosnell’s prey.

Gosnell had no respect for the mostly poor minority women who came to see him, nor the tenants of basic common sense medical sanitation, nor even the law which had closed its eyes to his behavior for so long. Given his protected status it is perversely understandable why he legitimately believed he could get away with murder with impunity. He admitted as much to his attorney when he laughed at his solicitor’s concerns about his legal vulnerability, saying that he was certain no one would question his personal determination of what constituted a human life regardless of the law which forbade abortion passed 24 weeks.

The director, Nick Searcy, who also plays the defense counsel, Mike Cohan, creates a calm, even somewhat sterile atmosphere for the investigations and courtroom. This makes for a relieving counterpoint to the simple video walk-throughs of the “clinic” which view like the abandoned labyrinth of a series of dystopian torture chambers. The supporting characters, from the initially reluctant Asst. D.A. Lexy McGuire (Sarah Jane Morris) to the immediately invested and likeable lead detective James Wood (Dean Cain) to the computer geek/blogger Molly Mullaney (Cyrian Fiallo) do wonderful jobs in solid performances. And the screenwriters, Andrew Klavan, Ann McElhinney, and Phelim McAleer, used composites of real people to flesh and round out the cast. But Billings, as I said, is a standout in the lead with his restrained but utterly creepy portrayal of a man who would fit in a horror movie about a grandfather who hands out razor filled apples and cyanide laced candy on Halloween night.

Evidence showed Gosnell murdered seven born alive infants. He was convicted of three with an unknown tally of death on his belt over the previous two decades. Gosnell was convicted of one count of manslaughter in the death of a “patient” but who knows how many others died directly from his hands or indirectly from his gross negligence and malpractice. There was evidence of 21 late term abortions, even illegal in Pennsylvania. But who knows how many he committed? And he was convicted of hundreds, out of the likely thousands, of violations of the rules concerning 24 hour informed consent, which are, themselves, but pathetically thin attempts at some common sense to this horrific practice. And all this doesn’t even touch the thousands of babies in the womb he murdered under the auspices of “legal abortion”.

While Gosnell was held to account for his crimes, he was, in truth, merely a symptom of the greater evil of the governmentally, not just allowed, but protected, murder of millions of unborn children.

While this is a difficult movie to watch, we must all stand, like the Jews who survived the Holocaust and their descendants, as witnesses to atrocities which should not be happening now and, once defeated, must never happen again. It is our duty to testify against the laws and institutions which allow monsters like Gosnell to exist and thrive, for those already lost and those at risk and yet to be born.

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE – A DELIGHTFUL COMEDY OF TERRORS AT OUR OWN LAKE CHARLES, LA ACTS THEATRE

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The Addams Family was an endearing bunch of creepy oddballs. Appearing like zombies, witches and vampires they were actually a loving Mom, Dad, kids and extended family of rich and philanthropic homeschoolers.

The family of Queen Eleanor and King Henry II, in the classic Lion in Winter were not so companionable, and battled continuously with each other throughout the play. Different members bond with, then betray, each other, jockeying for power, land, revenge, attention, or love. At the end of a particularly vicious argument with her husband, Eleanor, left sitting on the floor in the doorway, gathers herself together and to self-console muses: "Well, what family doesn’t have its ups and downs?"

The Guardians of the Galaxy is a band of violent and ethically questionable outlaws and vigilantes who come together as a family unit in part to (re)raise Groot, who is a sentient tree. (See my review on that one here .)

NONE of them have anything on the Brewsters.

The premise of Arsenic and Old Lace is that Mortimer, a once cynical-of-romance theater critic, now totally smitten and freshly engaged to Elaine, the girl next door, goes to his sweet, loving, maiden aunts’ home for a visit and to break the good news.

In residence is his adorable Uncle Teddy, who thinks he is President Theodore Roosevelt, periodically charging up the stairs he knows as San Juan Hill and digging grave sized locks in the basement, which he thinks is the Panama Canal. Hovering in the background is the ominous, but so far absent, other brother, Jonathan. And so the stage is literally set for this very black and very funny slapstick comedy about a family which would put the Guardians on alert, make the Addams Family startle, and have both Henry and Eleanor running for cover. Bodies pile up and are switched like the plates of tuna in Noises Off or the suitcases from What’s Up Doc, identities are hidden and a good time is ultimately had by all…except for the corpses…in Arsenic and Old Lace.

I hesitate to say more for the benefit of those readers who have not seen either the play or the brilliant 1944 movie directed by Frank Capra and starring Cary Grant. If you don’t know the story it is just too delightful to spoil. If you do know some of the details then it will be like going back for seconds of your favorite ice cream.

Clay Hebert, the director and Officer Klein, is a familiar and welcome face from every stage Lake Charles offers. He has a resume which spans from McNeese's Theater to ACTS, and from Lake Charles Little Theatre to the Bayou Players and independent film productions all over Lake Charles. Clay artfully guides this fairly large cast through the quick draw and fast paced humor of Arsenic, which is to comedy what very dark and deliciously bitter semi-sweet morsels are to chocolate chip cookies, skillfully leading his troupe over that tightrope between horror and humor.

Louis Barrilleaux, another talented veteran of ACTS, LCLT and McNeese for over 20 years, is Mortimer, the eye around which this storm circulates.

Kelly Rowland and Sarah Broussard, respectively as Martha and Abbey Brewster, age themselves convincingly 50 years to play Mortimer’s adorably naive and unassuming aunts whose home is the site for some rather….unexpected events. Both ladies have degrees in performance, Kelly in music and Sarah in theater, with a wide and diverse range of acting credits.

Rebecca Harris, an actress with an impressive resume, is Mortimer’s confused but stalwart fiancee.

Aaron Webster, a self-described reluctant actor, is eminently creepy as Jonathan, the ne'er-do-well prodigal brother.

Brahnsen Lopez, another stage veteran, plays Jonathan’s would-be repentant colleague, Dr. Einstein (not Albert).

Matt Dye, local radio personality and frequently cast in small but scene stealing roles, does it again as Teddy.

Mark Hebert, Dusty Duffy, Dylan Conley and Kathy Heath round out the cast with memorable supporting characters.

 

The set is terrific, creating the authentically homey, gentle parlor of two elderly aunts, making the sinister events all the funnier for the contrast, complete with two sets of stairs and a landing up and through which Teddy has the freedom to charge with abandon, a window seat which can house…various and sundry… and French doors through which the characters are free to pop in and out.

I was privileged to interview Diki Jines, master electrician on the set and will have his interview clips up shortly below, talking about the set, its design and a little background.

Timing and blocking are very key, especially in this comedy of terrors and Clay has the tempo and coordinated actions and responses wound like a Swiss Cuckoo clockwork.

It’s a joy to watch a stage full of such talented veterans work smoothly together, and the fact most are old friends and/or fellow thespians, who have trod the boards often together, helps catalyze the chemistry that makes this play full of intimately connected characters work. These performers know each others’ rhythms and make the most of their considerable pool of experience to bring us a delightful evening of fun and fright, chills and chuckles, comedy and carnage, shocks and snickers, jocularity and jump scares.

So go warm up — or chill out — in anticipation of Halloween at ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. But be sure to BYOW. (Bring your own wine.)

BUY TICKETS HERE, OR CALL (337) 433-2287

CHAPPAQUIDDICK – THOSE WHO DO NOT LEARN FROM HISTORY…..

SHORT TAKE:

Historic drama based upon the information in public knowledge surrounding the murder of Mary Jo Kopechne by Teddy Kennedy.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Only adults. The language is raw, the topics unsavory and the behavior of the main characters despiccable.

However, it is an expose of the disreputable goings on by the Kennedy pseudo-Mafia Clan during the 1960's so worth a look for the corruption, hypocricy and disgusting activities into which the Kennedys dove head first. Apparently the people involved took the aphorism to heart: If you can't be a good example, be a horrible warning.

LONG TAKE:

Before getting into Chappaquiddick…. figuratively as I have no intention of taking a swim, I thought I might make two points: the first is a reference to another movie and the second describes a thousand year old family dynamic.

In the 1987 drama Broadcast News, about TV journalism, Aaron played by Albert Brooks is concerned about the trustworthiness of William Hurt's character Tom. Knowing Jane, his best friend, played by Holly Hunter, is falling in love with Tom, Aaron gives Jane a warning. In an interview, Tom is filmed breaking down in tears while interviewing a young woman who had been the victim of a date rape. The young woman's recollection of the event cuts back and forth to Tom's emotional but dignified reaction. Knowing Jane would refuse to question Tom's sincerity, Aaron asks her to consider one simple fact: Tom only had one camera.

In 1199, John, son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, was coronated King of England. The youngest of five sons, John was never expected to rule. His oldest brother, William, died of a seizure at three. Henry III died of the flux (dysentery) on rebellious campaign against Henry II. Richard died on the Crusades. Geoffrey died in a tournament accident leaving one son, Arthur who was imprisoned and left to die. John, both spoiled as a prince and ignored as unimportant – called Lackland as it was never thought he would own land – was not trained to rule, but only shooed off to manage some lands in Ireland – which he did badly, and was arguably the most corrupt, debauched, incompetent, ill prepared and venal ruler England ever had. But, nonetheless, the crown was placed upon his head because, refusing to consider any but the immediate male descendant of Henry II, John was assumed to be the rightful heir – irrespective of his lack of character or training or fitness for the position.

Teddy Kennedy was the youngest of four brothers. It was never thought he would be a candidate for President. Joe, Jr. died in action during World War II. John and Robert were both assassinated. Teddy had five Sisters, but at that time, much like in King Henry's era, it would have been unthinkable to place a crown on a daughter's head when a male heir was available, no matter who that heir might be.

The movie suggests that Teddy Kennedy himself recognized that he was the spare, the "also ran", the leftover, the one who no one thought would be put in a position of power, but who had been instead, like John with Ireland, given the political position of Senator in Massachusetts as a token gift by his extraordinarily powerful family. Debauched, spoiled, incompetent, unprepared, one almost feels sorry for him being thrust into the position of having to run for the presidency, the position even he knew he was not qualified to hold, except that he flagrantly used his position to abuse others and ultimately to murder.

The night of Mary Jo Kopechne's death, Kennedy, by his own admission, and according to the movie, had been drinking and driving and ran off a bridge with Mary Jo in the car. According to his testimony, he does not remember how he got out of the car. But he did ultimately confess to walking away without notifying any authorities of the accident, leaving Mary Jo to suffocate in the overturned car without hope of rescue. Had he notified the authorities promptly, it is very likely she would have survived……That is assuming the story told in the movie is complete and accurate.

Make no mistake, the movie does not whitewash any of the behavior of Teddy, his legal staff and advisors, his father Joe, or his drunken friends and co-workers.

Teddy and his colleagues had spent the night drinking and carousing with those they nicknamed The Boiler Room Girls.

Supposedly working as secretaries and campaign assistants, it seems as though the Boiler Room Girls also had other duties to perform that night for these powerful and influential men, duties in which they quite voluntarily participated.

At some point following Mary Jo's death, Teddy, supposedly in a sudden attack of conscience, decides to confess his complicity in the incident despite available alibis willingly provided by others and anxiously swallowed by their fawning media. Of course, he also takes the opportunity to attempt to make himself the victim and affects an unneeded neck brace that even the media found ridiculous. Completely out of character, if this is to be believed on face value, the confession is at least a small point in Teddy's favor. A very very small point.

Given a suspended sentence, the only real penalty for him was the hit to his political career.

However, as his confession DID seem completely out of character, one must ponder if there was more to the story than even this expose movie tells. Does the movie come clean as to just one of the dirty secrets of the Kennedy Clan or is it but yet just a further complicit hiding of what really happened on the night Mary Jo Kopechne died?

The movie, in and of itself, is fascinating, well performed and well done. Shot with care to the details of ‘60's style, clothes, music, architecture, and attitudes – all carefully reconstructed, all harken back to a time that I remember as a child.

Jason Clarke, who cut his teeth in American television through a very rough show called Brotherhood, has used that platform to launch himself into bigger and better things, including the

Planet of the Apes franchise, White House Down, and the

Terminator movies. Australian by birth, Clarke's restrained and convincing Boston accent is reminsicent of his time as Tommy Caffee in Brotherhood.

Kate Mara, previously in Fantastic Four and The Martian, as the ill fated Ms. Kopechne, is sympathetic.

Bruce Dern, a Hollywood constant in everything from comedies like The Burbs to sci fis like

Silent Running to dramas like

The Hateful Eight, plays Papa Joe, the patriarch of the Kennedys who, despite being almost immoble from strokes, still controls the dynasty.

Ed Helms, mostly known for comedies like The Office and The Hangover, takes a serious turn as the adopted Kennedy who acts as both trusted confidante and inadequate conscience-keeper of Teddy.

Clancy Brown, all 6 foot 3-1/2 inches of him, plays yet another in a long line of sinister characters, as Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense under JFK who spearheaded the cover up and managed the fall out from the exposure of the Chappaquiddick murder.

The events leading up to Miss Mary Jo Kopechne's death took place the same weekend as the Moon Landing. This was either incredibly coincidental, collateral damage from the celebrations going on in connection with the landing, or very well planned, depending upon which view you take of the story this movie tells – whether you believe it is accurate or just another cover up for the benefit of what political functionaries believe is a willing audience.

Chappaquiddick feels like a murder mystery but without the denouement of a Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot.

There are too many holes in the plot to be completely satisfying and one longs for a super detective to walk in, gather the suspects together and point unerringly at the guilty party or parties. But one question floats quite readily up to the surface of this cesspool.

If career politicians and their family and friends in places like Massachusetts or Arkansas, who feel they are routinely entitled, by birthright and political position, to exoneration from crimes like rape, murder, insider trading, selling access to the White House, opening our borders to foreign national criminals and terrorists, and incompetence bordering on treason by allowing an Ambassador to be slaughtered while ignoring pleas for help – then what ELSE are they lying about in order to further their careers?!? And shouldn't they go to jail as the rest of us peasants would? Will we, as voters, learn from history or be doomed to repeat it over and over and over again?

But MAYBE, perhaps, just possibly, it did all occur as the movie lays out. Pretty pitiful apology for a woman who was so unceremoniously dispatched and discarded by a powerful member of a political party which defines itself as protector of the little people. Extraordinarily meager payback for a young woman who was literally forgotten to death. Or is there a worse crime for which Teddy was guilty, for which the conviction of manslaughter was a slap on the wrist in comparison?

Let me leave you with a couple of final thoughts.

If you are still puzzling over the import of the single camera in Broadcast News, consider this: If Tom only had one camera, there is no way he could have cut back and forth between himself and the young lady. Therefore, Tom's quiet moving tears had to have been done at a later time and edited in. In short, they were faked after the fact. And despite Tom’s protestations that he really DID cry at the time but had to "recreate" them for the video, Jane was devastated and their relationship was over. If he was willing to lie to her about that to advance his career, then what else was he faking to proceed up the ladder?

Similarly, there is a question begging to be asked which is imperatively relevant to Chappaquiddick.

Mary Jo could not get out of the car. Evidence suggests she suffocated and did not drown. Is it possible that Mary Jo was already dead, already suffocated, when the car hit the water and Teddy was never in it when it was pushed or driven into the water? There was no way to definitively determine that immediately ex post facto because there was also no autopsy, despite the unusual and mysterious circumstances of her death, before a hastily organized and executed embalming and funeral.

But, admittedly, all that is speculation and circumstantial evidence.

So that is not the question I want to leave you to ponder.

But DO consider THIS: Just as Aaron had to point out Tom’s perfidity by asking Jane to reflect on one simple fact, I leave you with a riddle.

The divers had to pry open the car to get at Mary Jo’s body. There was no open window, no propped open door, no broken windshield. The car was flipped over on its hood and sealed up tighter than a drum when it was found.

So how did Teddy get out?

RED SPARROW – A GOOD MOVIE MOST PEOPLE SHOULD NOT SEE

SHORT TAKE:

Well written, well acted espionage movie which is unwatchable for most audience members because of the extreme nudity and violence.

WHO COULD WATCH IT:

Were this movie edited to remove some of the most graphic moments I might have a cautionary recommendation for young adults and up. As it is, I would advise only mature married couples who have a strong stomach and fairly tough sensibilities.

LONG TAKE:

Back in the day when movies would come on TV after a thorough scrubbing of content inappropriate for family viewing I might have been able to recommend you wait to see Red Sparrow when it comes on your local viewing station. Now that that is no longer a viable option I am hard pressed to advise what demographic this movie might be suitable for. It’s a shame too because it is well done. A fast paced, cohesive spy thriller with a flaw-free plot, worthy of a Mission Impossible scenario with excellent acting, good believable character and relationship developments and a pacing and editing that keep you guessing to the very end.

The problem is they show too much. I don’t mean that pedantically they talk down to the audience. I mean they SHOW — TOO — MUCH!!

The premise is that a young Russian woman, Dominika, (Jennifer Lawrence – Hunger Games and Passengers), just at the end of the Cold War is extorted, by her highly placed uncle, (Matthias Schoenaerts) into selling herself to a wealthy Russian businessman in exchange for medical assistance for her desperately ill mother (Joely Richardson – Return to Me and Liam Neeson's sister-in-law). But the job is far more than she was led to believe and at its conclusion is told she can either be considered a loose thread to cut or "volunteer" to be a "Sparrow" – a spy who learns how to elicit, through seduction, any target – as Dominika, herself, later describes it "whore school". This is where the movie begins its elevator-like descent into scenes which made me glad my husband and I went to this movie without friends or family.

Upon her "graduation" she is sent on assignment by her superiors (Jeremy Irons – Scar from Lion King, the new Batman Alfred, and Ciarán Hinds – Aberforth Dumbledore from Harry Potter and Claudius in Benedict Cumberbatch' Hamlet) to become "acquainted" with an American agent (Joel Edgerton – Bright, The Great Gatsby and The Thing). Given the nature of espionage movies one can guess that the motives of each of the many characters involved is not always what you expect and the plot will take some precipitous twists and turns – which this movie artfully does.

Red Sparrow is Kingsman without the humor or any comicbook filter, Black Widow's origin story without the PG rating, Mission Impossible with the violence ratcheted up several notches, James Bond without the gentility or leaving anything to the imagination.

There are scenes of complete frontal nudity of men and women. There is sexual, emotional, psychological and physical torture, shocking and bloody graphic violence. Not that any of it is, really, gratuitous. This, I suspect, is the nature of espionage at its basest level, especially the brutality, dehumanization and and the stripping away of individuality that defines Communist Russia. It is even likely that what the filmmakers here have shown IS filtered compared to what really goes on in the liberals' dangerously ill-informed idea of Utopia. But we, the audience, don't really need to see every — single — detail. The viewing audience does have an imagination, which, arguably could have been put to better use.

Sharks eat people. We know that. But Spielberg didn't even SHOW Bruce the shark in Jaws until way late in the movie knowing that what you do not see is often far worse than what you do. (That and the fact the mechanical shark didn't work but hey – chicken feathers into chicken salad…) The audience in Jaws did not need to see ever single bite, chew, and serrated incision the shark made on every one of its victims – though the scene with Robert Shaw was pretty grotesque and possibly the least effective because of it.

The story itself is intriguing but the episodes of violence, nudity and sexuality are enough to disturb the suspension of disbelief — and I've seen A Clockwork Orange and am a Monty Python fan!!! Screenit.com the review website which provides a detailed analysis of movies allowing parents to determine whether this movie is appropriate for their children REDLINED on every category that counts.

It doesn't happen often but this is a good movie which I just can not recommend.

LOVING VINCENT – AN ANIMATED BIOGRAPHY IN VAN GOGH’S PAINTINGS

SHORT TAKE: Astonishing and beautiful, one of a kind film in which a reluctant messenger plays detective in an attempt to parse out the circumstances of Van Gogh's death, animated in the style of Van Gogh's paintings!

WHO SHOULD WATCH:  Anyone interested in classic art, though younger audience members might get bored. Adult themes of mental illness, prostitution, alcoholism and, of course, the death of Vincent Van Gogh – the main topic of the film – are points of discussion, though there is no graphic content of either a sexual or violent nature, and little or no prafane language.

UNFORTUNATELY, SCREENIT.COM HAS NO DETAILED CONTENT STATISTICS ON LOVING VINCENT YET.

LONG TAKE:

The word "unique" is too often blithely thrown around. If you go online you'll find "unique" hair styles and "unique" ice cream stores. "Unique," in fact means "being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else". And there are really only so many ways you can manipulate your hair before redundancy becomes an issue and I'm afraid a truly "unique" ice cream might not be edible. Even so, there are still a few things that genuinely qualify as "unique": Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, each and every individual human soul, Shakespeare's Hamlet, the Mona Lisa and….Loving Vincent.

Loving Vincent is a movie of which there is only one of its kind. Not just different or unusual, though it is that, but actually unique. Loving Vincent was animated by over 100 professional artists using 853 backdrops and over 66,000 paintings which, if laid out like a carpet would cover both the entire United Kingdom and the Island of Manhattan. 80 of the artists were chosen for their professional technique, facility with computers and ability to accurately recreate Van Gogh's style.

This technique has never before been used. The effect is mesmerizing, like watching one of Van Gogh's paintings come to life before your eyes.

The plot follows Armand Roulin, the son of Joseph Roulin, a postmaster who had been a friend of Vincent's. Armand is portrayed and captured as a facile youth who matures during the course of the movie by Douglas Booth who was Romeo in the 2013 Shakespeare film, Shem in Noah and Titus in Jupiter Rising. Booth carries the water of the narrative beautifully as we see the story unfold through his eyes like the petals of the irises featured in one of Van Gogh's paintings.

Joseph is captured using  Chris O'Dowd, a charming and gentle British comedian who has appeared in roles as varied as Thor: Dark World, the dark and theologically intriguing murder mystery Calvary, the most recent space oriented sci fi installment of the Cloverfield franchise called Cloverfield Paradox, and was in a quirky British comedy about time travel called FAQ About Time Travel.

Joseph tasks his drunken aimless son with transporting the last letter Vincent wrote to his brother Theo. This begins a journey for Armand which will change his perception of the world and himself for the better. Vincent has been dead for two years by the time Armand starts out and during the course of his travels Armand's adventures transform from a simple delivery to an inquiry into the master painter's life and mysterious circumstances surrounding his death. Armand finds out as much about himself as about those who knew Vincent well as he tries to uncover what truths he can concerning the premature demise of this, at that time, unappreciated genius.

This film would have been an achievement in storytelling had it been done live action and would have rivaled Immortal Beloved whose main protagonist sought the identity of the Immortal Beloved to whom he wished to deliver Beethoven's remaining post mortem letter. Or even the curiosity piquing Citizen Kane as one journalist interviews everyone who knew Kane to try to determine the identity of Rosebud. The script is written with sensitivity and three dimensional prose to tweak out the tangles of conflicting evidence amidst the testimonies of those whose only connection was their acquaintance with or love for Vincent. This, as a tale, would have been a great story by itself.  But to use the UNIQUE and brilliantly appropriate, though massively ambitious, technique of animating it with Van Gogh style paintings was itself, if you will excuse the intentional pun, a masterstroke by the writers/directors Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. This is as different in its own way as the one take-one unbroken shot that Russian Ark was (see a previuos blog).

Armand seeks out and questions a number of others. Pere Tanguy (John Sessions) was a friend of Vincent's.   Dr. Gachet (played by Jerome Flynn), who appears in Portrait of Dr. Gachet, had cared for Vincent in his last few months and during the gunshot and subsequent infection that killed Vincent. Louise Chevalier, housekeeper to Dr. Gachet (Helen "Narcissa Malfoy" McCrory), who had no use for Vincent and his odd ways. Adeline Ravoux (played by Eleanor Tomlinson) was an innkeeper's daughter who ran the hotel Vincent last stayed in. Adeline was featured in Van Gogh's Portrait of Adeline Ravoux. Saoirse Ronan (Ladybird) portrays Marguerite. Marguerite Gachet was the daughter of Dr. Gachet, and is the girl in Van Gogh's painting Margueite Gachet at Piano. And Robert Gulaczyk, a Polish theater actor, plays Vincent himself and bears a more than passing resemblance to the shy, kind, sensitive and tormented painter. All the actors were chosen, not just for their acting (for the capture) and voice talents but for their resemblance to characters in the actual paintings by Van Gogh.

Even the title is creative, evocative and chosen with care. Your "Loving Vincent" is the way Vincent would sign his letters to his brother, Theo. Loving Vincent could refer to the way the painters are expressing their respect and affection for this great artist, as in – this is how we are "loving Vincent", by creating this beautiful movie about him. Or it could be a command to the audience as a demonstration of the way we could appreciate the man and his work – as in, if you watch this movie with the appreciation it deserves you will be "loving Vincent". Or it could simply be a description of the man himself. Loving –  as an adjective to describe the great, generous and open heartedness of the man who was the genius master craftsman of the easel – as in – he was a great, a creative, a brilliant but also a loving Vincent.

It is unfortunate and shortsighted by the Oscar committee that Loving Vincent has been selected to compete in the Oscars as "only" in the animated feature film category. There is precedent to allow animated features to compete in the "Best Picture" category – Beauty and the Beast, Up and Toy Story 3 all were accorded that respect. Loving Vincent MORE than deserves the acknowledgement to be included in the Best Picture category.   This is a serious film about the creative life and mysterious death of one of the world's most beloved master painters. It also only HAPPENS to also be an animated movie. We learn not just about the circumstances of his death but of the complex man whose life was cut far too short from those who knew him best and in conversations that appear deceptive or misleading at first, as in the style of an Agatha Christie novel, and all come together like some lovingly sculpted three dimensional puzzle.

Not only is this movie made WITH beautiful paintings, it IS one big gorgeous animated painting. This is a remarkable work of startlingly pure love – a love letter from these hundreds of artists and actors and seamstresses and animators, caterers and drivers, electricians and sound technicians, not to mention the writers and directors …… to Vincent Van Gogh

Watching this movie gave me a new appreciation for Van Gogh's paintings and has inspired me to seek out and learn more about this great man's work.

It also couldn't help but remind me of two other lovingly created items which focused on Vincent Van Gogh. The first is one of the most moving three and a half minutes of cinema I have ever seen.

It is near the end of the Dr. Who episode – Vincent. Dr Who and his companion Amy have traveled back in time to meet Vincent Van Gogh. They befriend him and come face to face with the mental and personal struggles of this gentle soul and decide to bring him forward in time to show him the Van Gogh exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay. Tony Curran, as Vincent, does a magnificent job as Van Gogh and the scene is touching, funny and deeply moving. .  Dr Who excerpt – Vincent at the Musee d'Orsay.

The other bit of Van Gogh fandom which occurred to me was Don McLean's song Vincent. McLean is probably best known for American Pie. The song Vincent came out in the same year, 1971, when I was twelve: "Starry Starry Night, paint your palette blue and gray…how you suffered for your sanity…flaming flowers that brightly blaze, swirling clouds in violet haze…and when no hope was left in sight on that starry starry night you took your life as lovers often do…." The melancholic and beautiful tune sums up the feel of this visually, emotionally, narratively and lyrically moving film. LISTEN TO VINCENT HERE: VINCENT by Don McLean

WARNING: I really have none except that the topic of suicide may upset the very young.

This film is a gorgeous masterpiece which I like to think that Van Gogh, himself, would have appreciated.

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AMAZING MOVIE AND ITS CREATION HERE: LOVING VINCENT WEBSITE

SEE IT ON AMAZON HERE: LOVING VINCENT

THE POST – SELF-AGGRANDIZING TREASON

SHORT TAKE:

 The Post is a lionization of the treasonous leaking of government secrets by members of the media in 1971.

LONG TAKE:

There are two ways to review this movie. One to just view it AS a movie – an entertainment and consider its conveyance of a story. The other is to examine the purpose behind its creation.

You judge a comedy by how much it makes you laugh. A drama by, perhaps, how much it makes you think. You see Mel Brooks, you don’t expect a serious analysis but broadly painted parody. And Star Wars is Star Wars. BUT when a movie holds itself out as HISTORY, then it is fair to assess its authenticity, consistency, and credibility. The Post has …. NONE.

As a movie, The Post is – OK. It’s an interesting view of life during the 1970's as seen through the eyes of wealthy aristocrats and their journalist syncophants who spend their days socializing with men of power, finding ways to insult conservatives under the guise of news, and holding exorbitantly expensive parties to pat themselves on the back for being protectors of the "little people."

Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks who play Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee respectively, are accomplished actors and make their characters convincing and "nuanced," as they like to say.

But the going is very very slow in the beginning, pedantic even, as Streep's Graham stands around and does a lot of hand wringing and the writers try to set the mood and hammer the audience with 1970's references – from clothing to posters to hairstyles, "sit-ins," and street protests – dating themselves with hippies and posters of The Blob. BUT much is left out that is salient both historically and morally. The film makers positively assail us with reminders of the era. BUT for all that they do not include "inconvenient truths".

A minor example – smoking is ubiquitous but only shown to represent hard industrious work by "brave" dedicated people. For a movie promoting itself as a slice of history there is no realistic or accurate portrayal of the coughing, burn marks on furniture, the stink, the dirty ashtrays, the obnoxious breath. It’s a small detail but exemplifies the kind of disingenuousness of the entire movie.

In a VERY poor writing ploy we were are bludgeoned again and again and again with how "courageous" Katherine Graham is for planning to publish these confidential papers. If I were writing a romance and repeated over and over in the voice of no less than 4 or 5 different characters at no less than 10 times throughout the movie blatantly stating how much the protagonist was "in love," wouldn’t you not only tire of the assertion but begin to wonder if the "lady" doth protest too much? I suspect the writers knew d*** well that what Graham and Bradlee did was not courageous but perfidious, sleazy and traitorous. I wondered by the end of the movie if they were trying to convince me of the lie or themselves.

The entire film is shown as an idealistic portrayal of newspaper people bucking up against a "repressive" government. In fact, they revealed confidential information about an ongoing firefight against a hostile country in a way which ultimately encouraged the ENEMY to persevere against what was advertised globally as the weak will of the United States to win the battle.

There are many complaints about the tenacity of the Vietcong. Why SHOULDN’T they have carried on – KNOWING, thanks to our witless gutless Communist sympathizing press, that our government had concerns about America’s ability to win against them?

During World War TWO there were GRAVE doubts about either our or England’s ability to stand up to the Nazis. Does ANYONE think it would have been a good idea to ADVERTISE THAT??!!

In addition there is a disgusting pile of hypocrises and a blanket wrongness of plot and characters that are, in a quote from Hamlet – "rank…and smells to Heaven".

Just a few examples:

1. DID YOU KNOW (because it certainly wasn’t brought out in the movie) Bradlee committed perjury in 1964 to hide a document because it had "TRUTH" in it about Bradlee’s bosom buddy JFK? 

In one scene Bradlee and his then wife, Antoinette, wax nostalgic over a photo of them with Jacqueline and John Kennedy. What does not come up in the course of this movie, however, is that Bradlee was instrumental in the hiding of a diary belonging to his sister-in-law, Mary Pinchot Meyer. Her murder took place 10 days after the Warren Commission released its findings on the assassination of JFK. Meyer was murdered in a "random" act of street violence which has gone unsolved to this day. Bradlee found the diary soon after her murder, which implicated his buddy JFK in a prolonged affair with Meyer. The existence of and information in this diary was revealed years later. The prosecuting attorney, Alfred Hantman, for the only suspect they ever had – Ray Crump, a black man who had been fishing nearby – was horrified and stated that knowledge of this diary would "have changed everything". Bradlee committed perjury, LIED UNDER OATH, during the trial of the man accused of murdering his wife’s sister, about a diary which had material evidence to the case JUST TO PROTECT HIS GOVERNMENT FRIEND. He eventually admitted as much in a tell all biography years later in order to net himself more money and notoriety at the expense of our country. But he hid this relevant information during the investigation of his wife's sister's brutal murder.

So the people’s "right to know" about government scandals apparently stops at the door of anyone who is a Friend of Bradlee.

2. Bradlee and Graham committed treason during a time of hostilities with a foreign government.

He admits to his boss, Katherine Graham, that he can not be sure that revelations from the Pentagon Papers will not jeopardize the lives of soldiers in the field or our country’s safety.

Well I can guarantee you that it did. What Bradlee and Graham did was commit treason of the most heinous nature. They gave aid and comfort to the enemy in a time of open armed and hot confrontation. They assured the North Vietnamese – and BY EXTENSION the Russian Communist superpower with which we were a red button away from moving our cold war to a nuclear one – that our government was dispirited and convinced it could not win. Bradlee and Graham, as well as people of their ilk who carry on today with liberal journalism, single-handedly helped to assure our defeat at the cost of not only our soldiers lives but the lives of the citizens of Vietnam. Had Bradlee and Graham and others of their elitist inclinations sought to support our fight against Communism, Vietnam might be a democracy today and the war might have ended years before it did. Instead these high rolling socialites cozied up to the propaganda hype of the utopian society they think can be accomplished if only THEY were holding the reins of Communist power. In short, they helped Communist Russia’s puppet subjugate Vietnam under the crushing weight of Communism.

Instead of plaudits Graham and Bradlee should have been tried for treason and spent the rest of their lives in jail.

3. The movie is blatantly prejudiced against the Republican party.

The Pentagon Papers spell out that Truman covertly funded opposition to the Vietnam Communists. Eisenhower continued the support. Johnson committed troops to fight actively despite declaring he would never do this to the American public and expanded the war’s fronts. Nixon was the one who ended the war – which was what Bradlee and Graham were trumpeting needed to be done. But who gets the vast majority of opprobrium, distaste, comments and hate from these high minded "fair" journalists constantly and often gratuitously every 15 minutes of the movie? Nixon. The man who actually did what they said needed to be done.

Unless you like to be hammered with slanted inaccurate propaganda, give The Post a miss.

BRANAGH’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – The Perfect Movie

I have seen a lot of filmed murder mysteries from drama to slapstick: Thin Man series, China Town, Minority Report, The Usual Suspects, The Maltese Falcon, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Clue, Rear Window, Scoop, Murder by Death, even the occasional Dr Who and the TV shows Columbo, Grimm and Perry Mason. There’s something truly satisfying about solving a puzzle with the end result the protecting of the innocent and the meting out of justice. But my favorite has always been Murder on the Orient Express. A group of strangers stuck on a snow bound train with a murdered man and a famous detective and one of them a murderer. A bit like Christie's Ten Little Indians but, to me, Orient Express has more pinache.

I’ve seen the 1974 version many times. Knowing the ending does nothing to undermine the enjoyment of watching the mystery unfold like a beautifully formed rose bud – all the parts slowly falling into place. Who wouldn’t like it?! With the star studded cast including the likes of     Albert (Bourne franchise) Finney, Sean (James Bond) Connery, Lauren (Humphrey Bogart’s wife) Bacall, Ingrid (Casablanca) Bergman, SIR John Gielgud, Anthony (Psycho) Perkins. The list goes on – it is a BIG cast.

But as good as the 1974 version was, it is only the amusing movie hors d’oeuvre to the cinematic banquet that is Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 Murder on the Orient Express. Not only is this the best rendition of a murder mystery I have ever seen, it is one of those rarest of birds – a perfect movie. Branagh brings brilliance to anything he undertakes – from Thor to Cinderella to    Hamlet* (ALL of which he directed). He is one of those auteurs, like Orson Welles and Woody Allen who can both star and direct in the same movie and create masterpieces.

Prudence, by defintiion, is the virtue of knowing the right thing to do at any given time. When you are someone who sees the subtle imperfections of the world this virtue becomes an obsession. In a detective this can be a superpower…and a curse. Such is the struggle of Branagh's Hercule Poirot. This kind of complex personality overlay onto an already brilliant screenplay is an example of what makes Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express special. It could have been refilmed as another lovely remake with modern celebrities. The last theatrical version was in 1974, as I have said, so it is due for a remake. But true to his genius and his respect for his audience, Branagh is not content with merely revamping an already rich treasure of a story but like Gershwin's ability to create a timeless song from a simple catchy line of music, Branagh takes a classically fun tale and reworks it into a presentation worthy of a Shakespearean telling.

As in the original, the premise is that a murder takes place on a train, which locomotive is almost immediately and Providentially caught in an avalanche of snow. The manager of the train, a good friend of Poirot's, implores Poirot to solve the mystery for him before the train is freed and the killer has an opportunity to escape. As well as catching a killer, he also (by the way) wishes to avoid the shame of scandal to the Orient Express from an unresolved atrocity committed aboard this regal moving institution.

Of all the movies I have ever reviewed this is the one about which I would be most loathe to commit a spoiler ……. so will not.

But I will say there are a few minor tweaks to the story, re-imagined by Michael Green from, obviously, the Agatha Chtistie novel of the same name. These changes work well, and add depth of character and intrigue to even Christie's fascinating creation. One such contribution is Branagh's Poirot which, while I will not go into detail, is a brilliantly satisfying choice which makes the usually taciturn and ascerbic character more approachable and likeable, aware of his own shortcomings and has a character arc which dovetails beautifully with the theme and complexities of the story.

If you have not read the book or seen the 1974 movie, which  by the way is very good, and are then fortunate enough to be able to see this 2017 version with virgin eyes, do NOT watch any trailers, see any interviews, read any opinions but go straight to the movie with childlike delight. If you ARE familiar with the story then go to revel in the brilliant directing. Branagh stages the film like a fairy tale with all the exotic detail that was Stamboul (Old Istanbul) in 1934 and the extreme elegance of the Orient Express which in its day was host to Princesses and Counts. The colors are bright, the costumes splendid reflections of the complex suspects. And enjoy the sheer artistry of Branagh direction as he shoots with elegance equal to the time and place. He uses mirrors, windows and framing to fracture images hinting at characterizations; overhead shots to both reveal and hide clues at the same time. Dramatic events are bold and large as life; intimate scenes feel almost intrusive into private tensions and personal conflicts.   At turns I laughed out loud and was brought to tears.

And Branagh knows how to work an ensemble cast. From the musical rendition of Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost to the light comedy A Midwinter's Tale to Hamlet with its massive star studded cast, he knows when to shine and when to hold back and always gives every member of his cast ample opportunity to be memorably in the forefront.

Every one of the actors does a superlative job. Not suprising as any director who could inspire a good Shakesepearean performance out of Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing could get a good perfromance out of even a dust mop. But most of these guys do not need such inspiration as they are already accomplished actors.

It is my honor and delight to mention each of the main performers:

Kenneth Branagh, director and lead, plays Poirot himself. I have seen enough Branagh to know that if he thought someone else could have done a better job he would have hired him. I'll tell you this is the best Poirot or classic detective of this genre I have seen anywhere.

Johnny (Jack Sparrow) Depp plays Edward Ratchett, American gangster and suspicious ne'er-do-well who brings a frightening intensity to what otherwise could have been a cookie cutter stereotype.

Sir Derek Jacobi – friend and collaborator of Branagh in a number of previous outings from the aforementioned Hamlet to Henry V to Cinderella, plays Edward Henry Masterman, British manservant to Ratchett. Jacobi is a knighted Shakespearean thespian who lends a graceful sympathy to Masterman.

Josh (Beauty and the Beast) Gad plays Hector MacQueen, Ratchett's assistant, lends a surprisingly effective though odd combination of Bogart and Peter Lorre from Casablanca into this character of questionable motives.

Daisy (Rey from Star Wars) Ridley plays Mary Debenham, stepping away from her interstellar Jedi to bring a singular classy elegance to her role as governess.

Leslie Odom portrays Dr. Arbuthnot, a man of many surprsing talents with skill and credibility.

 Dame Judy Densch – M, Shakespearean actress of tremendous dignity and comportment – continues to demonstrate her command of her art in even one of the smaller roles as the elderly Princess Dragomiroff.

Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin from Spiderman, Platoon, Odd Thomas, voice of Gill in Finding Nemo) equally at home in comedy or drama, as villain or hero, brings his many talents to bare for  the German professor Gerhard Hardman.

 Olivia Coleman is solid as Princess  Dragomiroff's personal maid.

Manuel Garcia (Magnificent 7) Rulfo is charming as Biniamino Marquez the Italian born newly Americanized citizen car salesman.

Marwan Kenzari is Pierre Michel, the ubiquitous conductor.

Michele Pfeiffer redeems herself from her awful participation in the terrible Mother! as the wealthy manhunting widow, commanding and entertaining in every scene she's in.

Luc Boynton portrays the fragile ephermeal Countess.

Sergei Polunin is almost comic relief in his intensity as the tightly wound Count, protective and attentive husband of the Countess.

Tom Bateman plays Bouc, playboy, friend of Poirot and ultimately responsible representative of the owners of the Express with style and contagious enthusiasm.

Penelope (Pirates of the Caribbean, Nine) Cruz, in a surprising turn plays Pilar Estravados, the intense missionary with an unexpected tough streak.

So go see this masterpiece of film making. Whether you have never heard of Agatha Christie before or if you've got the story memorized from a previously favorite version, you will more than be rewarded for your time in viewing this crown jewel retelling of the ultimate murder mystery.

* Branagh's Hamlet is the most spectacularly filmed Hamlet ever to grace the screen and the ONLY filmed theatrical unabridged Hamlet so far in existence.