“I can only see the world as it should be.” Murder On The Orient Express (2017) AND Daddy’s Home 2

Hollywood gets a lot of flak, much of it deserved, but the crime perpetrated by Tinseltown that may bother me the most is when a talented cast is completely squandered in servitude to a lame script and lousy direction.

The Thanksgiving movie offerings this year all have left something to be desired, but we were misfortunate enough to see two of the worst offenders back to back last night. Murder on the Orient Express and Daddy’s Home 2. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. We paid money to see these two movies in sequence. Maybe the problem is with us.

The first is an unnecessary remake of a far superior Sydney Lumet film, based on the original Hercule Poirot mystery by Agatha Christie. It is yet another self-serious, self-satisfied confectionery indulgence from director/star Kenneth Branagh, who fancies himself the poor man’s Laurence Olivier, when he, in reality, may be the poor man’s Benny Hill.

The second is an unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary broad farce, holding a far too indulgent and yuppified mirror to the mixed up sociopolitical and familial dynamics in modern middle-class America. It stars Mark Wahlberg and Will Ferrell as an ex-husband/father and new husband/stepfather, respectively, whose own fathers John Lithgow and Mel Gibson, also respectively, crash Christmas and demonstrate that they are as boneheaded and as consumed with unflattering male ego as their sires.

NOTE: the movie isn’t smart enough to actually do anything with that premise, and it’s too frightened of its Trump-triggered audience demographic to actually skewer these idiotic men.

Both films favor set decoration and bleak whimsy over script and character development. Orient Express pursues arch tedium over anything resembling flesh and blood characterization, fetishizing starched linens and glistening martini glasses and anthropomorphizing its titular train to the point one wonders if Branagh is simply trying to capture the imaginations of too many young adults weened on the also creepy and tedious Polar Express.

Daddy’s Home conversely, is the kind of film that seems to hold National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation as a kind of high art that could only be improved if the “Nancy Meyers’ school of filmmaking” (middle-class characters living amidst-Better Homes and Gardens residential-porn they couldn’t actually afford in real life) had installed a Sub Zero fridge in Randy Quaid’s “the-sh*tter’s-full” Winnebago. Daddy’s Home is the kind of movie where a character cuts down a cell phone tower, thinking it is a Christmas tree, and gets charged $20,000, and everyone just laughs and shrugs and says, “Now, who is going to pay for that?” This inane, unrelatable incident occurs after the cast has engaged in an interminable sequence where they decorate – top-to-bottom, inside-and-out – a vacation home they are RENTING for the holidays. Who does that? In real life, this family would be trying to figure out how to pay the credit card bills they ran up to buy presents nobody actually wants and would end up in both divorce and bankruptcy courts when slapped with a $20,000 bill for destruction of public property. Or maybe they would be in jail. Fa la la la.

Orient Express is the kind of film where all of the characters have less depth than those found in a Clue board game, but lounge around all casual-cool-dramatic in beautifully appointed train cars (which seem much larger than humanly possible) as if they are posing for a Vanity Fair cover. It is the kind of film where people spout portentous philosophy (“I can only see the world as it should be.” – Poirot) and glower at each other across petits fours. Whodunnit? Who cares?

When one film (Orient Express) offers the best Johnny Depp performance in years (not saying much … and, by the way, spoiler alert, he is the titular murder) and the other (Daddy’s Home) makes John Cena as its final act complication seem practically Oscar-worthy, something ain’t right in the mix.

NOTE: Kenneth, a mustache that covers half your face and renders your speech incomprehensible is not character development. You are no Wes Anderson. And I don’t like Wes Anderson.

NOTE: Mel, swaggering around like an aging muscle man whose tummy has become a beach ball and who believes FOXNews offers great lessons in parenting and social graces is not character development. That is just you. And we don’t like you.

To the rest of the luminaries who collected a paycheck to appear in these movies – John Lithgow, Linda Cardellini, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem DaFoe, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, I’m looking at you – you all know better. Next time an easy payday comes along, please just say no.

Finally, I want to correct the statement with which I began this piece. The worst crime Hollywood commits is hypocrisy. Women are not disposable commodities. Violence is not comedy. Respect for each other, for our individuality, for our unique spirit is essential.

Daddy’s Home 2 is by far the bigger offender because jokes about kissing/spanking little girls or about men “just being men” in Las Vegas or about fathers hitting on the mothers of their sons’ classmates are not funny. They are gross.

Hollywood, if you want us to buy the rhetoric that you are rejecting the worst offenders in your midst, make better movies. More responsible movies. Movies that don’t joke out of both sides of their mouths where animal rights or gun control or human equality are concerned. Stop trying to cater to every demographic. That lack of moral compass is the antithesis of what these holidays are truly about.

Rant over.

Reel Roy Reviews is now TWO books! You can purchase your copies by clicking here (print and digital).

In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the first book is currently is being carried by BookboundCommon Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan and by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan.

My mom Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series is also available on Amazon and at Bookbound and Common Language.

Countdown: Jack Reacher

From my wonderful publisher Open Books

Just 16 days until the official launch of ReelRoyReviews, a book of film, music, and theatre reviews, by Roy Sexton! The book is now (for however long THAT will last 😉 !) on Amazon’s list of top-selling “Guides and Reviews”!!

“Tom Cruise’s latest Jack Reacher is the cinematic equivalent of fast food, albeit slightly nicer fast food…like Subway.”

Learn more about REEL ROY REVIEWS, VOL 1: KEEPIN’ IT REAL by Roy Sexton at http://www.open-bks.com/library/moderns/reel-roy-reviews/about-book.html. Book can also be ordered at Amazon here.

Runs and jumps and leaps and squints: Jack Reacher

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[Image Source: Wikipedia]

Tom Cruise’s latest Jack Reacher is the cinematic equivalent of fast food, albeit slightly nicer fast food…like Subway. It is pleasant, even rather enjoyable and with a touch of nutritional value…but imminently forgettable.

Apparently, this movie is an adaptation of a book series, with which I admit I have zero familiarity. It is clunkily episodic, like one of those goony Janet Evanovich novels…though blessedly without the audience having to suffer through Katherine Heigl this time. (See: One for the Money…no, wait, please DON’T see One for the Money…it was godawful). It also has a fun Sherlock Holmesian procedural-featuring-a-quirkily-flawed-antihero vibe.

Tom Cruise is actually a delight as the titular character. I have to admit since his Oprah couch-jumping episode I have enjoyed his subsequent movie output’s steady parade of unhinged, tightly wound, micro men. He has a niche, and he does it well.

(As an aside, I also started liking Britney Spears a lot more after her umbrella-wielding, head-shaving meltdown. Not sure what that says about me.)

The rest of the film doesn’t fare as well. It is entertaining throughout…but just don’t think about any of it too hard. The movie’s tone is ALL over the map, veering wildly from gritty thriller to methodical potboiler to camp action-fest. Robert Duvall pops up unnecessarily in the final act in his typical grizzled, cranky old wise man with a heart of gold role. Richard Jenkins is wasted as a dubiously motivated D.A., and Rosamund Pike is just surprisingly bad, in fact stultifyingly stiff, as Reacher’s defense attorney sidekick.

The plot is fairly conventional as Reacher runs and jumps and leaps and squints to find the real killer in a too-close-to-current-headlines sniper shooting. The motivation when finally revealed is like something from an episode of 70s-era Dallas, and Werner Herzog’s villain even worse, like J.R. Ewing if he was raised in Das Boot.

The film lurches toward some interesting commentary about how our military/industrial complex can churn out and abandon broken souls for whom violence and gunfire are the only language they know. But just as quickly as the film touches on an intriguing socioeconomic critique about America’s preoccupation with firearms, it flies into a well-paced, lovingly-edited chase scene, and the insightful moment is gone.

There was potential here for a fun yet intelligent popcorn flick, a la Skyfall. In fact, Tom Cruise seems like he was primed and ready to be in such a movie. It’s a shame that director Christopher McQuarrie, so good with The Usual Suspects and Valkyrie, showed up ready to direct a very special episode of CH*Ps.