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There’s nothing quite like a good whodunit. And the absolute O.G. of the whodunit is Agatha Christie, who wrote scores of novels and short story collections, all devoted to laying out literary mysteries for us to solve … or at least, for us to enjoy being solved.

One of Christie’s iconic characters – Detective Hercule Poirot – is currently in the midst of a big-screen renaissance, courtesy of the efforts of one Sir Kenneth Branagh, who is devoted to bringing the character back into the popular consciousness by working both in front of and behind the camera.

Indeed, “Death on the Nile” marks the second outing for Branagh as both director and star – he plays the iconic Belgian crime-solving genius (mustache and all) even as he steers the ship. It’s not quite as engaging as 2017’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” for a variety of reasons – the level of ensemble talent isn’t quite as high and there’s a pasted-on feel to most of the exterior shots, making the whole thing feel just a touch low-rent – ironic, since this is a story that revolves around the rich.

Even taking those issues into account, however, it is a perfectly pleasant piece of pop cinema, a throwback of sorts (though one could certainly argue that “Death on the Nile” is no less IP-reliant than any superhero movie) that mostly works despite a fair share of flaws.

Published in Movies

Sometimes, all you want is a big dumb action movie. You’re not interested in IP-driven blockbusters or massive franchises or any of that. You don’t want to worry about how this movie is impacted by what you’ve seen and/or how it will impact what you’re going to see. You just want explosions and movie stars and gunfights and quips and car chases and general big-budget tomfoolery.

That said … be careful what you wish for.

See, “Red Notice” – currently streaming on Netflix – has all of those things. It’s got an A-list trio at the top of the call sheet – The Rock, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot. It has a huge budget – reportedly coming in at $200 million. It is an original idea, from a script penned by Rawson Marshall Thurber, who also directs the movie. Things blow up. There’s a heist AND a prison break. The Rock is strong and Ryan Reynolds is snarky and Gal Gadot is sexy. Fistfights and gunfire and explosions, double- and triple-crosses. It’s all in there.

It just doesn’t really work.

“Red Notice” is made up of a lot of pieces that should fit together, but don’t. There’s a flatness to it all that is prevalent to the point of distraction, with a vague feeling of disconnect permeating the entire film. The performances come off as a bit shoulder-shruggy, with everyone coasting on their preexisting personae; it feels surprisingly phoned-in in a lot of spots. The action sequences are so-so, with a couple of solid ones surrounded by some duds. The twists are telegraphed and characterizations are thin to the point of nonexistence. Rarely has such a big-time action film felt so sedentary.

Published in Movies

Justice for the Justice League!

Specifically, for director Zack Snyder’s vision of the team – a vision that was undeniably disrupted by the circumstances surrounding 2017’s “Justice League.” When personal issues led to Snyder’s walking away from the project during post-production, replacement director Joss Whedon wound up putting his own very distinct stamp on the proceedings … for better or worse.

Mostly worse, as it turns out.

But now, in what is a first in the vast and varied world of big-budget superhero cinema, we’ve been given a chance to experience something far closer to Snyder’s original intent – a do-over. Thanks in no small part to massive internet outcry from fans, the powers that be at HBO gave the keys back to Snyder (as well as a hefty budget, around $70 million) to turn the film back toward his original intent, retrofitting and reshooting and ultimately restoring Snyder’s vision.

The end result is “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” a four-hour extravaganza that far outshines the film that came before it. It’s better. A lot better. Now, if you want to argue that it’s bloated and unnecessary, I won’t fight you. Think a dangerous precedent has been sent regarding the power potential of dedicated fandoms, no matter how potentially toxic? Could be. None of that changes the fact that this new film, as overwrought and overproduced as it may be, is a significant improvement.

It’s got many of the usual issues that dog Snyder’s work – the washed-out color palette, the ubiquitous slo-mo, the jittery, hard-to-follow battle scenes – but even those concerns are lesser here than they’ve been in previous films. And the storytelling gains – particularly when it comes to certain character arcs – more than offset all of that.

For me, it boils down to this. I basically shrugged my shoulders at “Justice League” in 2017. I genuinely enjoyed “Zack Snyder’s Justice League” … and I really wasn’t sure that I would.

Published in Movies

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, superhero movies have defined the industry for well over a decade and show no signs of slowing. If anything, we’re just going to keep getting more and more of them – they’re appointment films in a business that is dying for anything that will ensure big box office receipts. Considering the faltering movie theater model, expect studios to keep pushing this kind of franchise-friendly fare.

Me? I love superhero movies. Do I recognize the more cynical motives behind them? Sure! Do I care? Not in the least!

So I was thrilled to finally see “Wonder Woman 1984.” As someone who, despite my job, is still steering clear of movie theaters, having the opportunity to see this movie in my own home via HBO Max was fantastic. Given the extended drought of superhero cinema, I was primed to dig this movie even though Marvel > DC, in my opinion.

And guess what? I dug it!

Directed by Patty Jenkins – who returned to the franchise after helming 2017’s excellent “Wonder Woman” – from a script she co-wrote with Geoff Johns and Dave Callaham, “Wonder Woman 1984” is engaging enough, though it doesn’t quite capture the same lightning in a bottle energy of the previous film. There are some great set pieces, solidly charismatic lead performances and a couple of really going-for-it supporting turns – enough to make for a flawed-but-satisfying moviegoing experience.

Published in Movies
Wednesday, 22 November 2017 14:01

A ‘League’ of their own

DC’s top team arrives onscreen with “Justice League”

Published in Movies
Saturday, 03 June 2017 11:53

‘Wonder Woman’ lives up to its name

Superhero film the best yet in DC’s cinematic universe

Published in Movies
Sunday, 23 October 2016 12:14

'Keeping Up with the Joneses' can't keep up

Talented cast can't quite overcome action comedy's flaws

Published in Movies

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