Commentaries

Thursday, November 16, 2017

JUSTICE LEAGUE



FIST OF FIORE WINNER

Film Review by FIORE

For the uninitiated, or those needing a refresher course, I award THE FIST OF FIORE to movies that exemplify excellence in film entertainment.  These are movies worth the price of admission.  They are films you will readily add to your home video collection, and they are films that merit repeat viewings.
In times past, I usually had little difficulty tagging ten films with this honor.  Recently, however, the number has dropped to five, or less.  I’m happy to report JUSTICE LEAGUE earns the honor for 2017.  I enjoyed this film immensely, and I think you will, too.

JUSTICE LEAGUE begins shortly after the events in BATMAN V. SUPERMAN.  The world is under siege from an alien warlord, and only the combined efforts of Earth’s known superheroes can stop the invasion.
Returning are Ben Affleck as Batman, Henry Cavill as Superman, Ezra Miller as Flash, Jason Momoa as Aquaman, Gal Godot as Wonder Woman, Jeremy Irons as Alfred, J.K. Simons as Commissioner Jim Gordon, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Dianne Lane as Martha Clark, and Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor.  Affleck and Cavill are great, especially Affleck’s portrayal of an older, middle-aged crime fighter.  Miller’s Flash is given a bit of a nerd twist, making him the plucky comic relief and aligning him more with Tom Holland’s interpretation of Spider-Man over in the Marvel Universe.

Momoa’s Aquaman is fun.  He is portrayed as a hard-fighting, hard-drinking rowdy rogue, pattered a bit after his character on FRONTIERE.  And, Ray Fisher is impressive as Cyborg.  This is a character I was unfamiliar with, as I stopped reading Justice League stories decades ago; but his character is presented in grand fashion and he fits seamlessly into the superhero storyline.  Finally, Ciaran Hinds plays Steppenwolf, the film’s heavy and agent of Darkside.  He is unrecognizable in villain’s make-up, but is certainly more menacing than David Thewlis as an antagonist.

Technical credit must go to Editor Richard Pearson, who also cut KONG: SKULL ISLAND for the Monsterverse series.  He paces JUSTICE LEAGUE at break-neck speed and never allows the audience to snooze.  Director of Photography Fabian Wagner is best known for his work on GAME OF THRONES.  He has a few scenes where the matting is obvious, but these are coupled with slow or stop motion, making them more palatable.  Finally, Patrick Tatopoulos, who is still trying to slip from under the shadow of Mathew Broderick’s GODZILLA, paints a grim Gotham, meticulous Metropolis and rustic Russia.  Danny Elfman scores JUSTICE LEAGUE and incorporates his original Batman theme from 1989.



While there are plenty of Easter eggs for fanboys, JUSTICE LEAGUE holds well for those not versed in comic book geekdom.  The characters are all solid and the action constant.  This is why you go to the movies; to be thoroughly entertained, and JUSTICE LEAGUE does it in marvelous fashion.

Monday, November 13, 2017

DEVIL'S WHISPER



ARE THE DEMONS REAL?

Film Review by FIORE

I am increasingly surprised by the horror films issued from the Indie market.  The latest, DEVIL’S WHISPER is a very pleasant revelation which bounces haphazardly between a psychological thriller and tale of possession.  The acting is solid, as are the SFX.  The strength of the film, however, is in the delivery of the script.  Director Adam Ripp wrote the screenplay, along with Paul Todisco and Oliver Robins.  If you enjoy horror films that entertain both the religious and scientific explanations of supernatural events, DEVIL’S WHISPER will regale you.

A young man, Alex, played by Luca Oriel, with aspirations of becoming a priest, is suddenly beset by a demon once he finds an heirloom from his grandfather.  The movie appears to be a psychological commentary masked as a horror film, as there is a dark, and sordid past between Alex and his grandfather.  Just when it appears Alex’s psychiatrist will dissipate his demon through modern scientific methods, it sprouts wings and begins a supernatural killing spree that affects his entire cache of family, friends and his priest mentor.
 
Starring with Oriel are:  Tessie Santiago; Rick Ravanello; Alison Fernandez; Jasper Polish; Coy Steward; Justin Tinucci; and Benjamin A. Hoyt.  While not A-listers, the cast performs credibly and helps the story flow.

The SFX, especially the demon, are acceptable, given the usually low budget level for these items in Indie films.  Independent moving shadows, like BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, sped film creature movements, like JU-ON: THE GRUDGE, and bat-wings like JEEPERS CREEPERS, all combine to give credence to the creature.



I enjoyed DEVIL’S WHISPER, and liked the non-commitment of Ripp not to side with one or the other interpretation until the end.  Some of the folks I saw the film with did not appreciate the ambiguity; but personally, I think it’s the only way the conclusion works.  If you like endings open to interpretation, and key dialogue set ups, I believe you will enjoy DEVIL’S WHISPER.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS



BRANAGH REBOOTS CLASSIC

By Fiore


Of all the Hercule Poirot mysteries to make, or remake, it’s rather ambitious for Kenneth Branagh to select MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS.  The Agatha Christie story is a literary icon, and only the culturally retarded would not know of the detective or his most famous case.  Retelling a murder mystery when nearly everyone already knows who the killer is, is a monumental task.  Branagh is a master filmmaker, but even he cannot accomplish the undertaking.  Instead, this version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS appears more of an opportunity for him to play a role he has always coveted, and nothing more.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS features extremely compelling cinematography.  Credit Haris Zambarloukos for the spectacular visuals.  Many of the train scenes seem to be purloined from Disney’s THE POLAR EXPRESS.  The film was shot on 65mm film, a rarity in this digital age; but for Branagh, who both stars and directs, it was his medium of choice.

"In our digital age, it's increasingly rare for films to be shot on celluloid, and mostly when they are, it's 35mm,” said Branagh.  “We are shooting on 65mm.  So, in crude terms, it's twice the size of the 35mm negative.  It essentially means, in layman's terms, that it looks sharper, richer, more colorful, and it feels like you're inside it.  That's what 65mm does for me, and I wanted to take the audience onto the train.  That's why we chose that format." 

Additional tinkering with the story is detrimental to its telling.  Screenwriter Michael Green has adapted Christie’s original tale to infuse elements of race, war and politics.  These themes are unnecessary and only serve to detract from the story, and provide characters the opportunity to make biting comments on America.  Definitely, unnecessary.  

Green’s script also suffers at the hands of Editor Mick Audsley.  During the second act, the interrogation of the suspects, while vital, drags mercilessly.  This should be a cat and mouse sequence, but plays like sleep-ease.

Famed detective Hercule Poirot has just completed solving a robbery in Jerusalem when he is called back to London.  He boards the famed Orient Express passenger train for transport, but a murder is committed on the train before it reaches its destination.  Poirot is asked to solve the mystery before the train reaches the station, and the local authorities are called.

Starring with Branagh are:  Johnny Depp; Michelle Pfeiffer; Josh Gad; Penelope Cruz; Derek Jacobi; Willem Dafoe; Lucy Boynton; Sergei Polunin; Judi Dench; Olivia Colman; Leslie Odom, Jr.; Tom Bateman; and Daisy Ridley.  Of all these fine actors, Branagh seems to be having the most fun.

Fans of the Agatha Christie novels balked with Branagh’s interpretation of Poirot’s mustache.  In the books, it is described as a fine, thin handle-bar mustache; but Branagh’s version looks like something Kurt Russell would sport while playing a Western.  Fans are always hard to please, but this film has more problems than the style of mustache. 



MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, made in the 70’s, holds up better than this latest offing.  The only actor who seems to be plying his full talents is Branagh.  The rest are doing yeoman’s duty.  The script updates are unnecessary and distracting.  Sometimes, usually most, the agendas do not fit.  This version of the mystery classic will only satisfy those ignorant of a literary giant, like Hercule Poirot.