Review – Red Sparrow


There are movies for adult audiences and then there are movies for Adult Audiences.  In every way imaginable, Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow is a movie for Adult Audiences and, after a delay, it has finally made its way into theaters.  Originally scheduled to open in November of 2017, Fox delayed the film in an effort to keep it and Murder on the Orient Express from cannibalizing each other.  Both films are adult-oriented, sophisticated entertainment and it’s hard enough for one film of that ilk to succeed on its own, these days, much less two from the same studio at approximately the same time.  Orient Express did rather well for itself and now it’s time for Red Sparrow to give it a go in what is an unusually crowded February/March release slate.

All her life, Dominika Egorova (Jennifer Lawrence) worked towards her dream of becoming a Russian Bolshoi ballerina.  After having achieved that dream, the life she loves is taken away from her through an unfortunate mishap.  With no other options for Dominika, her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) wrangles her into his Russian spy program, where she is trained to be a Red Sparrow operative whose primary tactic is using manipulation techniques to attain information.  When she is put in the path of American C.I.A. agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton), the loyalties of everyone come into question, not only by others, but also by themselves.


The cinematic marketplace has been a little lacking in the mature adult-themed entertainment department recently, as the prestige Oscar nominees have begun to trickle out of theaters.  Red Sparrow is a solution to that problem on all possible fronts.  No matter what adult theme one has been craving, it’s at least touched on by this film and, in some cases, the themes are addressed in great detail.  To say too much would be spoiling, but the difference between “adult audiences” and “Adult Audiences” is singular: maturity.  Red Sparrow is a film that targets mature adults, not simply anyone who is physically over the age of seventeen.

If one recoils at the sight of the undressed human body – whether it be male or female – they are not mature enough for this movie.  If one condemns every vile action that occurs in every film ever produced because they are under the impression that the filmmakers are condoning such actions, they are not mature enough for this movie.  If one has little patience for dialogue and the laying of a narrative foundation in the pursuit of building to a worthwhile payoff, they are not mature enough for this movie.


Director Lawrence presents this story (based upon the book by Jason Matthews) with the assumption that the audience can handle it.  It isn’t a pleasant story.  It teases the audience with suggestions of pleasantness and then yanks it all away, just like Dominika’s career as a ballerina.  Something that Dominika learns during her training is how to find what people are wanting and be the one who offers it to them.  But she understands that to give it to them without a catch results in the mark being fulfilled and losing interest.  Francis Lawrence understands the same about his audience.  You want sex?  Here it is.  But none of it is sexy.  You want violence?  You got it.  But it’s realistic, brutal, and painful – unrelenting in its refusal to shield the viewer from the very palpable consequences of such actions.

Francis Lawrence entices the audience with what they believe they came for and then delivers on what they actually did: a gripping, unpredictable story.  We’ve seen traces and elements of this film elsewhere.  Dominika’s origins are remarkably similar to those of Marvel’s Black Widow.  And there will undoubtedly be comparisons to last year’s fantastic Atomic Blonde.  After all, both are unapologetic, female-driven, international spy thrillers with a penchant for pulling no punches and going for the jugular.  But Blonde steered itself more towards pure entertainment while Sparrow opts to throw in additional subtext and narrative layers.  Neither approach is wrong; they just set the films apart from each other.


For me, the true fun in the film is in the complexity of the characters and their motivations.  It’s impossible to determine at any given time who is telling the truth, who is lying, who is playing who, what anyone’s true endgame is, or what piece of the puzzle will be provided next.  This is not an action film, though there are action scenes when the story requires them.  But the mindgames being played by all of the major players make the film just as exciting as an action film and significantly more surprising than most.  The cast handles this challenge with seemingly effortless dexterity – particularly Lawrence, who is so good that she might receive another Razzie nomination for her performance.  After all, that’s apparently what happens when those who have accomplished little become jealous of those who are the top of their field.  And Lawrence is at the top of hers and she continues to remind us why with another stellar effort in this film as she plays a character who finds her true calling where she not only least expects it, but also where she least desires it.  The adage that states that life is what happens when we’re making other plans is exactly what Dominika comes to understand.

I suppose Red Sparrow isn’t for everyone.  It’s only for audiences who don’t just say they want original, sophisticated moviegoing experiences, but also actually mean it.  After subjecting myself to The 15:17 to Paris, almost anything would be enjoyable, but I feel confident that Red Sparrow is an objectively excellent choice for anyone who wants an engrossing tale that won’t sugarcoat the story or handhold the viewer.  Red Sparrow tells it like it is, not how we want it, and that’s exactly the way it should be in adult entertainment.

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Review – Red Sparrow

#ThrowbackThursday – Lady in the Water


Original US release date: July 21, 2006
Production budget: $70,000,000
Worldwide gross: $72,785,169

M. Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water was one cog in the wheel of Shyamalan’s original fall from grace – not because of him or anything he did or said in his personal life, but simply because audiences and critics alike agreed that he had lost a step creatively, both as a writer and as a director.  After three very successful and well-received outings in the form of The Sixth SenseUnbreakable, and Signs, Shyamalan’s films began to see diminishing returns and fan backlash.

Beginning with The Village (which I featured in a previous #ThrowbackThursday column here), audiences decided they had had enough and rejected anything he put out, whether it was deserved or not.  (You can click the link to see if I agreed with the majority regarding The Village.)  But did he deserve it for Lady in the Water, his follow-up to that film?  Or should it have been a success, rather than the financial flop that it ultimately became?


Marketed as “a bedtime story”, Lady in the Water was somewhat of a departure from Shyamalan’s typical fare.  While supernatural in its essence, the narrative largely (though not completely) breaks away from Shyamalan’s action-horror storytelling approach and adapts a softer, more lowkey tone and atmosphere.  When a mythological sea nymph (narf) by the name of Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) mysteriously appears in the swimming pool of general manager Cleveland Heep’s (Paul Giamatti) apartment complex’s swimming pool, he must determine what to do with her, why she has arrived, and even what to believe about her origins and very nature.

Many have criticized Shyamalan’s story for any of a various number of reasons, but they have almost always done so with the full knowledge that they, themselves, could never have come up with something so intricate and imaginative if they’d been given ten million dollars and thirty years to do so.  Whether one actively enjoys the story or not, it’s absurd to suggest that it’s fundamentally flawed in its nature.  There is a lot going on, both on the surface and underneath, and as is typical with a Shyamalan tale, there is plenty to discover upon subsequent viewings.  He leaves his breadcrumbs as his trail – his trademark style back in his early days – and it’s up to the audience to follow them or not.


Unfortunately, Shyamalan also injects a lot of needless silliness into the proceedings, perhaps in an effort to theoretically add some extra entertainment value to his sleepy little story (it is supposed to be told at bedtime, after all).  Heep’s tenants are almost all zany nutballs to the point that Shyamalan really goes overboard with it.  Even in the most unrealistic fantasy, science-fiction, and horror movies, if a filmmaker wants the audience to relate and become invested in the journey, the characters need to be believable in the ways that they behave and speak.  Yes, there are some weird people out in the world.  I can see one or two of them taking up residence in Heep’s complex.  But having this many at once just plays as inauthentic and removes the viewer from the story with one eyeball-roll-inducing moment after the next.  Shyamalan also gets distracted by shoehorning in some attack at movie critics, who were not his real problem.  Maybe it made him feel better to attack people who were just honestly doing their job, but it does nothing to narrow the narrative focus of the film.

Perhaps even worse than that is Giamatti’s performance as Heep.  Not every aspect of his turn is awful, but Heep stutters and Giamatti’s attempts to do so are a huge distraction and overshadow all other components of his work.  I have known several people who stutter.  That is not what stutterers sound like.  It’s not even close.  Giamatti is over-the-top and cartoony in a way that isn’t funny (and should it be funny, anyway?) and isn’t entertaining.  It’s just annoying and frustrating because it’s just so hard to believe that the typically-reliable Giamatti isn’t capable of better than this.  The performance very well could have been Shyamalan’s fault.  Perhaps Giamatti knew very well how an authentic stutter should sound, but Shyamalan requested he do something more notable.  No matter whose fault it was, it was an awful choice for so many reasons.


Bryce Dallas Howard, on the other hand, does what she can to inject some grace and elegance into the film through her portrayal of Story.  She can only do so much on her own and, in actuality, not much is required of her compared to that of which she is capable, but she’s still far and away the best part of the film and has nothing to be ashamed of, here.  The other tenants (mostly lesser-known actors, but most notably Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, and Bill Irwin) do what’s asked of them without fault but don’t carry enough weight to overcome the deficiencies in their characters’ presentations.

While far from his worst film, Lady in the Water is, in my opinion, where Shyamalan truly started to lose his touch.  The idea for the film isn’t bad (there are no bad ideas) and the story had potential, but the execution lost its focus in an effort to try (and fail) to be funny and kooky instead of finding ways to make the narrative more eventful and engaging.  Bryce Dallas Howard fans have at least something to cling to, here.  But nobody else really does.  I always got the sense that Shyamalan felt pressured to deliver on a regular basis after his initial burst of incredible success, so he started trying to put content out too quickly without taking the necessary time to ensure that the work was appealing and entertaining.  He worried too much about his reputation and not enough about his output.  Things have seemingly turned around in recent years with The Visit and last year’s Split.  But in 2006, Shyamalan was still maturing both as a writer and a director and the growing pains were quite evident here.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Lady in the Water

Review – Game Night


Though I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film, it was not my first choice for tonight.  My plan was to see Alex Garland’s Annihilation, but my local theater didn’t get it and I didn’t want to go way out of town for it on a weeknight.  I have a busy weekend ahead, so it will probably be next weekend before I get a chance to see that one, now.  That made Game Night my Plan B, though not one that I was upset about.  And, hey, at least it’s not The 15:17 to Paris, again, right?

Game Night seems like such a simple and obvious idea that I’m shocked it hasn’t been done, in some form, before now.  A friendly game night gone wrong is just ripe with possibilities and co-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein along with screenwriter Mark Perez take full advantage of many of them.  Combined with an invigorated cast, the end result is a blast of a movie that succeeds in its efforts to be pure, joyful, escapist entertainment.


Often, filmmakers behind comedies such as Game Night – in which there is an easy and appealing narrative hook – rely on the premise to carry them through and forget that comedies are truly made up of the little moments.  One of the keys to humor is surprise.  That can refer to an unexpected line or a twist in the story or potentially many other things but the truth remains that a gag isn’t funny if the audience can see it coming.  Once the initial set-up was complete, I saw very little of the rest of Game Night coming, both in terms of the big moments and, even more importantly, the small ones.

Once I had involuntarily laughed out loud approximately five or six times before the end of the opening scene, I felt confident that I was in for a good time.  Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams have excellent comedic chemistry together, which I’m not entirely sure I expected, though I have no good reason as to why that would be.  I suppose I’m just not accustomed to seeing McAdams in comedic roles (it’s been a while since Mean Girls), so I was subconsciously prepared for her to play more of a straight role while Bateman got all of the laughs.  Happily, that wasn’t the case, at all.  And as great as they are bouncing off of each other, they’re each just as good on their own, as well.  We knew that about Bateman, as he’s still the king of dry delivery (and, yes, he’s the same basic character in this film as he almost always is, but so what?  He’s the best there is at playing the exasperated, sarcastic, underachieving guy next door.), but McAdams’s timing and delivery is spot on, too, and they both look like they’re having a lot of fun.  And when an audience can pick up on that, it’s contagious.


The entire cast does a great job, but it’s a good thing for McAdams and Bateman that they’re both so great because, were they even slightly lesser performers, they would have been in great danger of being overshadowed every time they shared the screen with Jesse Plemons’s neighbor cop, Gary.  Gary is as weird as any character I can recall from recent memory but he’s also charismatic and unequivocally entertaining.  Gary gets the most interesting character arc in the film, as well (yes, there are character arcs), and one never really knows what to expect from him, which makes him even more fun.  If the film hits it even moderately big, Gary will likely be the breakout character and it wouldn’t even surprise me to see a plethora of Gary memes popping up on all of our social media platforms.

As far as the rest of the film goes, it’s definitely a mix of action, suspense, and comedy, but I’d break it down as approximately twenty-five percent action and suspense and seventy-five percent comedy.  The funny stuff takes brief pauses here and there to allow for some plot advancement as well as so the very real stakes can breathe and set in.  But the film never forgets that it’s a comedy and, unlike so many movies that are marketed as comedies, it’s genuinely and consistently funny.  There’s a scene between Bateman and Adams that takes place in a parking lot, if I remember correctly, that is pure gold (I’ll just say it involves an impromptu medical procedure) and that is probably the highlight for me, personally.  But the entire film shines.  Whenever the cast shoots for comedy, it scores.  That’s rare and immeasurably refreshing.


Game Night is everything that audiences love.  It’s a film that lives up to expectations and delivers what it promises.  The characters are relatable and just within the realm of believability, which allows for the humor in their situation and reactions to truly click.  I can tell you that I wasn’t the only one in my screening who was enjoying themselves; the rest of the audience was laughing constantly and one of the big reveals even got an emotional burst of excitement from the guy sitting two seats to my left, which was way too close to me considering the number of people that was there.  That last bit may have been irrelevant to you but what isn’t irrelevant is that Game Night is a winner in every aspect, so if it looks like something you think you might enjoy, I feel confident in saying that you will.

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Review – Game Night

Review – Paddington 2


I had absolutely no interest in seeing Paddington 2.  None.  I saw the first film, just a week or two ago, and didn’t love it.  It wasn’t poorly made, or anything.  It just wasn’t made for me.  The humor and presentation were squarely aimed at kids, with little for adults to enjoy.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it didn’t exactly fill me with excitement for seeing another installment by the same filmmakers, including director Paul King who returns to helm this sequel.  To be fair, though, most critics and audiences, alike, enjoyed that first film, so I decided that I could be willing to give the series another chance and check out the new one – especially after its crazy reviews.

Oh, right – the reviews for Paddington 2 . . ..  For those who are unaware, Paddington 2 is officially the highest rated film in Rotten Tomatoes history (though, as I illustrate here, you’re probably using Rotten Tomatoes incorrectly).  It is one of only a handful of films to ever earn a 100% score on the review aggregation site and it’s done so with more reviews than any of the others that managed to achieve that milestone.  So, really . . . I kind of had to see it, right?  Even if I’m a couple of weeks behind, I just had to see it.  In spite of those reviews, I still expected to dislike it at worst and be bored at best.  I was straight up wrong.


In the film, Paddington (voiced by Ben Whishaw) sets his sights on a rare and expensive birthday present for the aunt who raised him and he left behind in the woods, so long ago.  As he assumes the responsibility of earning the money for it all on his own by taking odd jobs, the intended gift is stolen and things quickly spiral out of control for Paddington and his adoptive family, the Browns.

The first item I want to touch on is what I mostly disliked about the first film: the humor.  It’s definitely better in the sequel, with subtlety and a traditional British dryness about it that, while not uproarious, certainly works.  The humor sneaks in there without feeling the need to announce itself as humor.  You either catch it or you don’t.  And, thankfully, there are enough instances of comedy aimed at adults – through sophistication, not any sort of inappropriateness – that parents (or film geeks who just want to see what all the fuss is about) will be amused.


But what surprised me the most was how many elements of other films and shows – films and shows that wouldn’t be expected – I found in Paddington 2.  For example, part of the film takes place in a prison and while that on its own isn’t enough to draw any sort of insightful comparison to “Orange is the New Black”, Brendan Gleeson’s Knuckle McGinty character is.  His arc is evocative of one of the Netflix series’s more memorable character arcs.

Also, as Hugh Grant’s Phoenix Buchanan searches for his own treasure, his path is reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code.  Buchanan is also an actor in the twilight of his career, being relegated to doing dog food commercials.  I couldn’t help but think of Birdman but, more than that, Grant’s own star isn’t what it once was and, similar to Buchanan’s reputation taking a hit for appearing in a dog food commercial (which is one of the highlights of the film), Grant took some flak in certain circles for appearing in this very film.  That adds another more meta aspect to his role and performance and it certainly seems like Grant is getting the last laugh, right about now.


But there was one other comparison I kept making and it had to do with Paddington’s characterization.  Paddington is irresistibly lovable and, as I watched, I made a concerted effort to put my finger on why.  Yes, he’s a cuddly little bear with an English accent, but so is James Corden, and he can be divisive.  No, it’s something beyond that.  And then it hit me.  Paddington is likeable for the exact same reason that Deadpool was likeable in his 2016 film: authenticity.  It was here (in one of my more popular columns) where I pointed out that people love Deadpool not because he’s violent, not because he’s funny, and not because of the foul mouth that the film version has and the comic version usually doesn’t, but because he’s earnest.

In that way, Paddington is the same.  When Paddington is funny, it’s not because he’s trying to be funny; it’s because he’s just being himself.  When Paddington is helpful, it’s not because he’s looking to get something in return; he’s just being himself.  When Paddington is angry, he’s not worried about how the target of his anger will react or feel; he’s just being himself.  And when Paddington is being loving towards his family and friends, it’s not because he’s trying to selfishly retain them to satisfy his own needs; it’s because he genuinely loves them.


This idea is the cornerstone of the film.  Ultimately, the message of Paddington 2 is that love and kindness have ripple effects that make life better for both the giver and the receiver, first in little ways and then compounding into more significant, long-term aftereffects that can change a person’s life for the better.  The word that keeps coming up in reference to Paddington 2 is “charming” and I’m going to have to use it, too.  Because, amidst its charismatic characters, heartwarming story, downplayed humor, creative shot framing, and majestic English setting, the film has an undeniable charm that is missing from most movies, these days.  Paddington 2 is a throwback to the days when simplicity was king and high ethics and morals as well as family values were considered boons, not banes.

Maybe I’ll give the first film another chance, once I get through watching some other movies and shows I have on deck at home.  Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood for it, the first time around.  Regardless, I’m glad I took my own advice, listened to the critics, and saw Paddington 2.  Maybe, just maybe, I’ll try marmalade soon, too.

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Review – Paddington 2

Review – Insidious: The Last Key


Insidious: The Last Key is hitting at a poor time for me as I’m trying to catch all of the prestige films that are swamping theaters and also balancing work and family.  It’s tough and this film, though I liked the earlier installments well enough, hasn’t exactly been the top priority on my list.  Nonetheless, I made the time to catch it, this evening, and this is officially my first review of a 2018 film.  So, yay, I guess?

I only somewhat remembered the events of the previous films heading into this one.  As successful as the films in this franchise have been, they haven’t left much of an impression upon me.  This series certainly has never been The Conjuring, that’s for sure.  Still, it’s tough to argue with success and the Insidious franchise has unquestionably been successful, earning a total worldwide cume of just under $372 million on a combined three-film budget of approximately $16.5 million.  That’s impressive, no matter how you slice it, and this fourth installment has already easily made a profit and the film isn’t even a week old, yet.


The newest chapter in the Insidious franchise continues to follow the adventures (which may be too light of a term) of Elise Rainier, portrayed by Lin Shaye. The Last Key delves into Elise’s past, partially serving a prequel, yet mostly keeping its feet planted in the present and adding to the overall mythology. The film takes some narrative risks and is surprisingly unpredictable but it never quite reaches true greatness.

I would definitely be doing director Adam Robitel and screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also reprises his role as Specs alongside his on-screen business partner and friend Tucker, once again portrayed by Angus Sampson) a disservice if I neglected to commend their efforts to add a few extra layers of subtext and depth to their film. While The Last Key is a reasonably effective horror film, it also functions as a soft social commentary on the struggle of women to find their collective societal voice.


Not only is young Elise (played by the amazing Ava Kolker. Keep an eye on her in the future, folks.) ignored and abused when she first manifests and communicates her new abilities to see otherworldly entities, but some of those very same entities literally and physically silence female characters using their supernatural abilities. The point is not belabored but anyone watching with their brain fully engaged will pick up on it. Not that Insidious: The Last Key will have any sort of profound impact upon the continued efforts of women to attain true equality, but the message is still appreciated.

Getting some additional insight into Elise is also a nice touch. She was already one of the more likable and endearing horror movie protagonists in recent memory and seeing some of her relevant history only compounds that. In actuality, the film is as much a dramatic character study as it is a horror film. Perhaps that will turn some viewers off, to a degree, but the expected horror elements are still present, though maybe to a (slightly) lesser degree than the previous installments. In any event, no one who is paying attention can legitimately accuse the film of being one-dimensional.

Beautiful Hana Hayes HD Image In Insidious The Last Key

That doesn’t mean it’s flawless, however.  For instance, there’s a silly metaphorical connection between the town in which Elise grows up and the primary demon in the film.  There’s no underlying meaning to the connection; it’s just there.  Though there are some narrative surprises, the scares are more of the same. Some of the jump scares work, but others are horrendously telegraphed. The atmosphere is consistently and appropriately unsettling, though I found the creature designs to be rather uninspired. Still, things were proceeding rather nicely until the climactic final confrontation, when – in a single timespan of approximately sixty seconds or less – one established rule after another is just shredded to bits and tossed out with the trash. Believable character motivations? Gone. Much of the supporting groundwork that had been so painstakingly laid was simply sacrificed for the sake of an exciting battle that in reality was only moderately thrilling. It wasn’t worth it.

Still, as with most movies, one must take the good with the bad. There’s some of both in Insidious: The Last Key, but it’s ultimately an entertaining entry that falls in line with its predecessors as a solid and above-average, but unspectacular B-minus horror movie. Fans will like it. Non-fans won’t be converted. No matter which you are, there’s almost certainly another installment coming, though. And I’ll be there for it, even if I don’t remember much of this one.

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Review – Insidious: The Last Key

Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer


I have had one heck of a time getting to a theater to catch The Killing of a Sacred Deer.  I featured it in my Ten Fourth-Quarter 2017 Films to be Excited About! column, but it took a while before it finally arrived within driving distance of my house.  And then I was out of town or otherwise predisposed during the weekends and couldn’t get to the nearest theater (an hour away) to catch it.  But I finally managed to do it, taking advantage of a rare Thursday off.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is another film from A24 Studios, one of the two most consistent and reliable movie studios in the business today (along with Marvel Studios.  Pixar has fallen to a clear third, even taking the brilliant Coco into account.). This is the second film for A24 that has been written and directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, after 2016’s The Lobster. After seeing The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it is becoming clear that Lanthimos has a distinct and recognizable style all his own. What I’m not yet sure about is whether or not it’s deliberate.

Like The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is a quirky science-fiction drama starting Colin Farrell. This is one of those films that’s rather difficult to discuss without spoilers, so I’ll sum it up by saying that Farrell plays cardiologist Steven Murphy, who makes a critical mistake for which he is forced to either atone or face dire consequences. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes longer than it should to get to the hook, but it’s a gripping, fascinating hook, once it arrives. Hang in there.

Consequences and atonement are unquestionably the themes of the film. In addition to working side by side with the always-great Nicole Kidman, Farrell plays opposite Barry Keoghan, who plays Martin, Murphy’s young protege. Keoghan gives a chilling performance as Martin morphs and shifts throughout the course of the narrative and more is revealed about his history and motivations. Farrell does well as he plays off of Keoghan and, in turn, Kidman performs admirably, as well, as her character of Anna reacts to her husband’s choice of actions. But, ultimately, everyone except for Keoghan is hampered by Lanthimos’s stubborn insistence upon leaving his own style in place, rather than allowing the film to grow naturally.

I say that because there are more similarities between this film and The Lobster than what I mentioned above. Like that film, the dialogue is stilted and often downright bizarre, with characters saying unimaginable things to each other given the natures of their relationships and/or the circumstances under which a given conversation is occurring. This is not the mistake of an inexperienced writer, either. It’s an artistic choice seemingly designed to unsettle the audience from the beginning of the film and set the tone (which the long, steady opening shot also accomplishes. I’ll allow you to discover that on your own.). To compound matters, when any particular character utters something too forward or unusual or even a total non-sequitur, the opposing character just rolls with it, as if it’s a typical conversation on the porch swing at Grandma’s house.

It doesn’t end there. Throughout the majority of the film, Lanthimos directs his cast to perform with as little emotion as possible. It’s not just in the dialogue that characters are unfazed by the disquieting behavior of the others, but in the performances, as well. In the back half of the movie, Farrell and Kidman get to emote to a degree, but it’s still far too restrained considering what is playing out on-screen. Keoghan is fortunate in the sense that this approach is logical for Martin, but the others in the cast aren’t so lucky.

So, if all of this was also the case in The Lobster, why didn’t it bother me it that film? Simple: it made sense for The Lobster. The Lobster was about a bunch of people who spent their lives having difficulty forming connections with other people. If they’re awkward, unsociable, or just don’t understand how to properly interact with others, those traits gel with their current spot in life. In Sacred Deer, we’re looking at a fully-formed, longstanding family unit with two very successful (on all fronts) adults at the helm. Those same traits just don’t work for these people.

If this is Lanthimos’s attempt to craft a cinematic image for himself, it will end up being a misguided one. His ideas for film premises are already distinctive enough. Sabotaging his own films by making all of his characters feel robotic and inhuman will do no favors for his own future. I was interested in this story from a broader perspective of caring about people in general but I felt no personal connection to it, at all.

I’m reminded of Wes Anderson. I have a hard time with his films because of the way he handles his characters and dialogue, presenting them in a distinctly non-realistic way. I tend to tune out quickly because I don’t believe a thing I see or hear. I know a lot of people love him (he’s my best friend’s favorite), but I just can’t connect. Lanthimos will be the same way if he’s not careful, with the difference being that, while his weird stories are good for me, unlike Anderson’s, they’re probably too over the top for many general audiences. And that will cause a problem if he can’t connect with them through narrative or character and dialogue. If he wants a long, successful career, he should focus on the work and not his own reputation.

I don’t love or hate The Killing of a Sacred Deer. I love the concept and the story. I’m mixed (at best) on the execution. This isn’t a film that will appeal to the typical moviegoer, but those who like strange and quirky storytelling may still want to give it a look, depending on how much my own personal issues with the film would bother them. Still, A24 has put out another film that’s an easy conversation piece and certainly unforgettable. As long as they keep doing that, I’ll keep showing up.

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Review – The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


I’ve mentioned it before, but I love myself an old-fashioned locked-room mystery.  I love them enough that I’m staying up late to see Murder on the Orient Express and then write this post, even though I have to get up early in the morning in order to catch a flight to Rhode Island.  I’ve never read Agatha Christie’s original novel, nor have I seen any other adaptation of this particular story.  So, I went in fresh, having no idea who the killer was, or even if the killer was the same as in the previous versions (though, having now seen it, I suspect that the film uses Christie’s original ending.  I have a friend who is a big fan of Christie’s work – you know who you are and thanks for clicking – and I’m sure he’ll tell me after he sees the film).  This is the kind of filmgoing experience I really look forward to.

I doubt anyone out there needs much of an explanation as to what Murder on the Orient Express is about, but I’ll give a quick synopsis of the premise, anyway.  Spectacularly mustachioed director Kenneth Branagh (ThorCinderella) also stars as the world’s greatest detective (sorry, Batman.  No computers needed, here.), Hercule Poirot.  While traveling aboard the extravagant passenger train, the Orient Express, with a baker’s dozen of strangers, one of them is . . . well . . . murdered, of course.  It is then up to Poirot to identify and apprehend the killer and set the minds of the other innocent passengers at ease.


For those who haven’t been exposed to the marketing for this film, the cast is to die for.  Besides Branagh, himself, the passengers consist of characters played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odum, Jr., and Judi Dench.  (I suppose I could have simply directed you to the poster above for that list, but this made it easier, didn’t it?)  That’s an impressive cast by anyone’s standards.  With a cast that large, naturally the screen time must be divided up amongst them.  Yet, none of them are wasted and each shines when given the opportunity.

Branagh brought all of these people together for a reason: to make each character stand out and be memorable amongst a sea of names and potential motivations.  If the audience can’t keep them straight, then the movie dies.  And if the audience can’t believe in each character’s motives, the movie also dies.  Neither of those issues manifest at any point throughout Murder on the Orient Express.  A nice job is done by all.


The narrative is at once simple to follow and complex in its structure.  There are many possibilities for the explanation behind the murder, yet the story has to be composed in such a way that all but one of them almost work.  That is much easier said than done.  Equally difficult is communicating all of that nimble storytelling in a way that the audience doesn’t get bogged down in the details.  Branagh pulls this off and makes it look easy.  If there’s a weakness to the film, the dialogue can be a little dull in parts, sapping some of the energy and momentum from the film.  However, the performances and beautiful visuals help carry the film through its more difficult moments, which are thankfully relatively few in number.  If you find yourself getting a little restless in the middle, hang in there.  The payoff is worth it, in my opinion.

And the payoff is what makes writing this review especially tricky.  I loved the ending.  I was having trouble reconciling certain components of the story but the ending explained it all.  Even better, the climax provided far more emotional weight and context than I expected.  I expected narrative complexity.  I did not expect emotional complexity.  There are some specific cast members that truly stand out with regards to the finale, but I’m unable to single them out for fear of tipping the film’s hand and ruining it for you, my audience.  I won’t do that.  But, for me, this sort of movie almost lives and dies by its resolution.  This one lives and will have the attentive viewer thinking and feeling things they did not expect to be thinking or feeling.


Murder on the Orient Express provided me with everything I was looking for from a classic murder mystery.  Throughout the majority of the film, it met my expectations.  Toward the end, it somewhat exceeded them.  While the film doesn’t quite have the emotional resonance of other films from this year such as Wonder Woman or Wind River it packs a surprisingly powerful punch, turning itself into more of a complete package than it would have been by simply remaining a more straightforward crime story.  The cast steps up and elevates the film and the visuals are always beautiful and often stunning.  I look forward to getting a chance to watch this one again and catch some of the little details that I may have missed upon this initial viewing.  If Murder on the Orient Express seems like your cup of tea, it probably will be.

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Review – Murder on the Orient Express (2017)