Saturday, November 18, 2017

Movie Review: "Murder on the Orient Express" (2017)

Director: Kenneth Branagh
Year: 2017
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 54 minutes

In need of a last minute ride, detective Hercule Poirot hops aboard the Orient Express. One evening, a person is murdered aboard the train. Now, it's up to Poirot to solve the case when every passenger is a suspect.

Remakes are an age-old tradition in Hollywood. If a movie or title is even the slightest bit notable, there's a good chance a remake will eventually be greenlit. Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Orient Express" is one of the latest films to be remade, this time with Kenneth Branagh at the helm as director. Branagh also fills the lead role of detective Hercule Poirot, though the real star of the show is his fabulous, outrageous mustache. Joining Branagh and his mustache is an all-star cast including the likes of Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Josh Gad, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, just to name a few. The film has a rather self-explanatory title as there has been a "Murder of the Orient Express" and now, it is up to the world's greatest detective Hercule Poirot to find the culprit.

We weren't too familiar with the original 1974 version of this film or the book on which it is based. We had seen the '74 version once many, many years ago, but had all but forgotten it. For us, this story and its mystery are relatively new. We didn't know the ending before watching this new incarnation, so we had that going for us. Overall, this is a gorgeous period piece with beautiful scenery, sets, and lavish costumes. It's a very glossy, sharp looking feature. We also think the acting is mostly excellent, and with a cast like this one, how could it not be? A couple of the characters don't get lots of screen time, but the ones who do (Ridley, Pfeiffer, Gad) are great. Being an old school story, it does have a bit of a stuffy feel to it, but the pristine look and some new humorous elements give it a bit more accessibility. There's a lot of really interesting camera work and a few truly beautiful shots that help keep it visually engaging. Kenneth Branagh's "Murder on the Orient Express" is a fine adaptation. That being said, it does feel like there is something missing, especially in the ending which was underwhelming for BigJ, though that may have been the fault of the Agatha Christie and her source material rather than Branagh's rendition itself. In the end, we enjoyed this movie overall and think it is certainly worth a watch.

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My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~58%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Movie Review: "The Stanford Prison Experiment" (2015)

Image Source
Movie"The Stanford Prison Experiment"
Director: Kyle Patrick Alvarez
Year: 2015
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Dr. Philip Zimbardo creates an experiment to study the psychological effects of the prison system by splitting 24 Stanford University students into two groups of guards and prisoners. 

Based on true events, "The Stanford Prison Experiment" is about a study that was conducted at the prestigious Stanford University. It was created in an effort to learn about the psychological effects of imprisonment and empowerment on the average person. It is a case often covered in entry-level college psychology classes to this day as the results were much better than Zimbardo could have ever expected, though his methods were less than proper. This film offers an interesting look at the pack mentality of man, how far some are willing to go when given total authority over others, and how many people will simply and quickly fall in line like sheep.

People scratch their heads and wonder how soldiers execute innocent people just like Hitler's Schutzstaffel (SS) did. People question how the guards at Abu Ghraib were able to psychologically torture and humiliate their prisoners with such zeal. Though heavily criticized, "The Stanford Prison Experiment" itself shed some light on how quickly mob mentality takes over in a person's brain. It shows how seemingly normal college students were able to fall into sadistic tendencies and/or have psychological breakdowns within the span of just a few days. The movie is interesting because the experiment was interesting, and it's shocking because the reality of the experiment was shocking. When it comes to the movie version of these events, the technical aspects are all sort of average. The camerawork, dialogue, and cinematography are all competent, but nothing truly stands out as being incredible to us. Michael Angarano, Billy Crudup, and Tye Sheridan put on standout performances, but the rest of the acting is decent, not overly exceptional.

Outside of what is borrowed from the original experiment, there isn't anything that's going to really wow you, so "The Stanford Prison Experiment" works best if you have no idea what's coming. That being said, there is nothing particularly disappointing about this film even if you've already heard of the study because it is so fascinating. The movie itself boasts some excellent, often shocking moments and a premise you're not going to forget. It is definitely worth checking out for the insane drama of it all.


My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 83%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Movie Review: "The Price" (2017)

Director: Anthony Onah
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 31 minutes

A young stock broker's life starts to get drastically out of control when his ambition starts to outweigh his integrity. Meanwhile, his family and personal relationships hang in the balance.

"The Price" is a movie about family drama, a son and father learning to forgive, and a mother learning to stand up for herself. No wait, it's a "Wall Street"-style finance thriller about white-collar crime. No wait, it's a romantic drama about commitment and honesty and an interracial relationship. No, actually, this is a movie about how personal drive leads to prescription drug addiction which leads to illegal drug use in an effort to stay awake and alert in an attempt gain an edge over one's competition. No, wait, that's not right...what the hell is this movie about? "The Price," originally titled "Dara Ju," is written and directed by Anthony Onah in his feature-length film debut. The story centers around a young stockbroker named Seyi Ogunde, played by Aml Ameen, whose ambitions eventually outweigh his integrity. As he works nonstop to gain money and power at his job, he has to deal with ongoing family and relationship drama outside of work.

The main thing Anthony Onah should take away from the experience of making "The Price" is that sometimes, less is more. It's better to have a movie that focuses on one fully fleshed out idea instead a bunch of little ideas combined into one project because too many plot points will make it seem messy. The character of Seyi Ogunde is all over the place. He has a contentious father/son bond where there is a big secret they refuse to talk about clouding their relationship. Seyi is also at the center of an insider trading scandal that is being investigated by the SEC. On top of that, he starts dating a woman he really likes who was already in a relationship. Because of his job and what he does to stay alert, he keeps secrets from her and is unfaithful, which leads to a bit of a hypocrisy later on. Plus, he has a pill-popping problem as he takes illegally obtained prescription stimulants before moving on to full-blown narcotics. All of this happens while his family is pushing him to visit Nigeria to reconnect with his roots. The storyline is so muddled, so unfocused, and so all over the place that the film as a whole starts to drag to a screeching halt. Instead of adding more intrigue, which we are sure was the intention, the material becomes pretty boring and overly melodramatic. We wound up not really being pulled into the story and felt that "The Price" is an ultimately forgettable piece of cinema despite a solid performance by Aml Ameen.

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My Rating: 5/10
BigJ's Rating: 4/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~70%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Movie Review: "Call Me by Your Name" (2017)

Director: Luca Guadagnino
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 12 minutes

A 17-year-old young man falls for the graduate student staying with his family for a few weeks as he studies abroad.

Love stories are a dime a dozen. Most are wholly unrealistic, and others, well, others are so painfully realistic that it hurts. "Call Me by Your Name" is a coming-of-age tale about a young man's sexual awakening as he experiences his first true love. The film is directed by Luca Guadagnino, who is known for his other projects like "I Am Love" and "A Bigger Splash." It is written by James Ivory and is based on the novel of the same name by André Aciman. It stars Timothée Chalamet as Elio Perlman, a 17-year-old living in Italy with his parents, played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar. Elio is highly educated, open-minded, adored by his parents, and seems to enjoy a fairly privileged life. Joining him is Armie Hammer who plays Oliver, a charming, suave, handsome 24-year-old American graduate student who has come to stay at the Perlman estate for six weeks to study under the guidance of Elio's father, who is a university professor. Once he arrives, Elio seems to slowly become infatuated with Oliver, and it would appear Oliver has an affinity for Elio as well. Over the course of the next few weeks, the two of them become quite close and begin a love affair, the first of Elio's young life.

On the outside, "Call Me by Your Name" is a fairly standard, dramatic coming-of-age romance. We have seen many different movies with a similar premise. What sets this one apart from others in its genre is that it features a gay relationship. The movie focuses Elio and his sexual, sensual, and emotional awakening. This is not a movie about a 17-year-old being seduced by a 24-year-old as many misinformed troglodytes would have you believe. Instead, it is about a 17-year-old person-of-age exploring his desire and sexuality as he opens himself up to the possibility of love. Oliver is not Elio's first sexual encounter. Despite the fact that Elio has a young woman named Marzia, played by Esther Garrel, who likes him very much, he cannot escape his feelings, desire, and yearn for Oliver. The crux of the story is about the slow, sensitive, passionate development of their connection. It does not hurt that the film is set in Italy, which contains a lot of gorgeous scenery and allows for exquisitely beautiful cinematography juxtaposed with the narrative of this blossoming romance. Elio has the added blessing of having a very enlightened and open-minded family. It also helps that he has many advantages and opportunities which have given him the time he needs to explore who he is as a person.

The acting is effortless and extraordinary. While Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer are brilliant together, it is Chalamet who is truly the standout. He is able to convey such maturity, emotion, and finesse for a relatively new actor. There are no less than four scenes where Chalamet as Elio displays such raw passion that I struggled to fight back tears, only to eventually lose the battle. Michael Stuhlbarg, who we think is one of the best character actors working in Hollywood today, gets to deliver the performance of his career as Elio's father. We sat watching his performance, taking it all in until he starts giving a very specific speech, one that left me crying one of those cries you can feel all the way in the back of your throat. Stuhlbarg manages to make an in-depth, multi-layered supporting performance look easy, and his monologue is easily one of the best scenes in the film.

We saw this movie over a month ago at the San Diego International Film Festival, and I have thought about it every single day since then. BigJ was not as emotionally affected by this film as he had hoped he would have been, though that may change if we see it again. "Call Me by Your Name" is one of my favorite movies of the year. We both agree it is brilliantly acted and has a splendid, fitting, intimate musical score. It is impeccably and beautifully shot. It is moving and romantic but is also painful and heartbreaking as hell. It is about one of those loves you feel so deeply in your bones that it will shatter and crush you to think of it ending. Take a chance on the romance, the lust, the hurt, and the sorrow of "Call Me by Your Name."


My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 7.5/10
IMDB's Rating: ~8.4/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Movie Review: "Cocolors" (2017)

Director: Toshihisa Yokoshima
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 45 minutes

In a post-apocalyptic future where humans live underground, a group of friends dreams of what life is like above ground.

Beautiful yet bleak may be the best way to describe director Toshihisa Yokoshima's animated featurette "Cocolors." In what appears to be a post-apocalyptic world, humans have moved underground. They spend their lives shuttered away in special suits out of fear of the toxic air and the ash that fills the atmosphere that trickles down like falling snow. A group of young friends, including Fuyu and Aki, dreams of what it was once like in the world above ground, in particular, what the sky looked like before darkness and ash blanketed the atmosphere. They draw pictures of what they imagine the world above to be like. As they get older, the reality of their world becomes more apparent as they do what they can to keep hope alive even though all around them people are dying.

"Cocolors" is animated in a breathtakingly gorgeous, insanely detailed way with an industrial yet somewhat fantastical appearance. We really enjoy the concept and its themes of friendship and hope, though it may seem to lack these traits on the surface. Overall, this is a sad tale about a dystopic future and the kids who grow up never really knowing what the world looks like outside of their imagination. It is interesting that one can find hope in such a sorrowful story, but this group of friends finds reason for joy in an otherwise depressing, cold, mechanical looking world. The style of animation and the design of the characters can only be described as dystopian steampunk. The characters dress in what appear to be bulky astronaut suits. This is our one and only complaint. It took us a little while to be able to tell all of the individual characters apart from one another and to figure out who each character was based on the differences in their outfits.

"Cocolors" is a somber animated movie that skirts the line between feature-length and short film. It is cold on the outside as it deals with pain, sickness, death, and longing, but it is also extremely intimate as friends rely on each other for happiness, joy, and imagination despite imminent death. With stellar animation, interesting relationships, and a unique premise, it is definitely worth checking out wherever and whenever it is available.

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My Rating: 8/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: ---/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

Movie Review: "Conor McGregor: Notorious" (2017)

Director: Gavin Fitzgerald
Year: 2017
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

A documentary chronicling the rise of mixed martial arts superstar "Notorious" Conor McGregor.


Even if you don't follow the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA), chances are, you've heard the name 'Conor McGregor.' He is one of the biggest names in MMA. Hell, he's probably one of the all-time biggest names in combat sports period, but that wasn't always the case. Director Gavin Fitzgerald began filming his documentary, "Conor McGregor: Notorious," back in 2012 before Conor was signed by the UFC, the premier, cream of the crop organization in the sport of MMA. When filming began, Conor was fighting for a regional European promotion called Cage Warriors. Back then, he and his girlfriend Dee Devlin were steeped in bills and living with Conor's mother with only a dream of stardom. After winning the Cage Warriors lightweight championship, Conor finally got the call to fight in the UFC. He made his debut in the UFC on the preliminary card of the "UFC on FUEL TV 9: Mousasi vs. Latifi" event in 2013, making the league minimum of about $8,000 to show and $8,000 to win. He knocked out his opponent Marcus Brimage in just over one minute. From there, "Mystic Mac" began his meteoric rise to the top and quickly became the biggest money earner in UFC and in all of MMA history.

It must have been a serendipitous stroke of luck that Gavin Fitzgerald started making "Notorious" back before Conor McGregor was the Conor McGregor. This is a rather uplifting rags-to-riches story, and by far the most compelling part of the film is the deep dive into McGregor's early years when he was a struggling fighter with only an aspiration to be the best. The hope, the determination, and the drive Conor had to make it in MMA is inspiring. Everything McGregor said he was going to do he eventually accomplished, and he did it with his loving, loyal girlfriend Dee by his side, pushing him and supporting him every step of the way. Fitzgerald traveled all over the world to chronicle Conor's rise to the top from countless training sessions to endless weight cutting, from his humbling defeats to his record-breaking wins. To see McGregor go from being on the dole and living with his mom to being able to provide for himself, his friends, and his family is absolutely insane and awe-inspiring. His life now is a lavish one as he owns multiple homes in the United States and Ireland, has a car for every day of the week, and now even has his own production company. One would think that a young man in his mid-20's would blow through that money as fast as he got it, but McGregor just keeps making more and more dough, and if you know anything about Conor, you know he has expensive taste. The big drawback to "Notorious" is once Conor enters the UFC, the rest of the story is mostly common knowledge if you're an MMA fan (the target demographic). The only thing we weren't aware of is that Conor fought with a partial ACL tear when he faced Chad "Money" Mendes in July 2015, something only his training partners and family were aware of at the time. That being said, this documentary is still quite entertaining, mainly because Conor McGregor himself is so damn charismatic. He is a flashy, magnetic personality, and we had a good time watching this because of that showiness.

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My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~6.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ~55%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Movie Review: "Life Hack" (2017)

Director: Sloan Copeland
Year: 2017
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

A man is being blackmailed by a hacker who secretly took video of him masturbating. He turns to his friends who work in cybersecurity to help him resolve the issue.

We all have worries about identity theft and have concerns that our privacy is being compromised by unscrupulous people in our internet-obsessed age. This is what the film "Life Hack" deals with, though it does so in a very comedic way. The film is written and directed by Sloan Copeland, who has a few other directorial credits to his name including the independent films "Synapse" and "Wet Behind the Ears," both of which have run the festival circuit in the last few years. The film stars Derek Wilson as Charlie, a former hacker who now works in cybersecurity. When his friend Bobby, played by Dylan Pinter, is blackmailed after being recorded masturbating by a hacker, Bobby turns to Charlie and their friend Jack, played by Michael Giese, to help uncover the computer criminal. Meanwhile, an aspiring actress named Carolyn, played by Jessica Copeland, has an altercation with a man named Alex, played by Doug Roland, over a parking space. This leads to her being hacked, but it doesn't stop there. Her life savings is entirely drained from her bank account as well, and she is desperate to get the money back. Carolyn and Charlie eventually cross paths, and he decides to help her.

As we mentioned above, cybersecurity is a big concern in our modern culture. With the click of a button or with a couple lines of changed code, your life may be altered forever. You never know who is watching or listening to whatever you do online via your internet-connected device. Digital privacy is not guaranteed anymore, and "Life Hack" does an excellent job dealing with this topic in a layman, non-hokey way. Writer/director Sloan Copeland manages to make a very entertaining and humorous movie in the process, one with a lot of funny dialogue and situationally comedic moments. We appreciate that this film doesn't handle hacking as we have seen it portrayed in most big-budget Hollywood pictures where a person simply sits in front of a keyboard clack-clack-clacking away rapidly and shouting computer jargon at the camera with a ticking time clock behind them. Here, someone actually runs a program through a command line, sends a nefarious link through social media, and runs other phishing programs that do all the work. They trace IPs to proxies and do real world investigating when they find out who is involved, though we are surprised how many people in the characters' inner circle know of some random online hacker pulling the strings. We guess it comes with the job territory.

We remained engaged by the story told in "Life Hack" and laughed a lot. There's a great balance of computer-related tech talk and relevant, cautionary warnings about digital privacy. There are interesting shakedowns of potential suspects and lessons about karma. It's got a little bit of everything. It isn't a perfect film, but it is certainly an entertaining indie movie watch.

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My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: ~9.2/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: ---%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?