Category Archives: Films

Movie Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

I watched this movie while I was in Tokyo. My sister, who lives there, wanted me to have a Japanese cinema experience.

According to this website, the general admission ticket price is Y1800, which is about AUD20, which is comparable to Australian movie ticket prices. According to this blog site, TOHO cinemas have discount prices on certain days:

Ticket prices start at 1,800 yen, but there are opportunities each month to watch movies at a discounted rate! The public can watch movies for 1,100 yen every first and fourteenth of each month. Women have additional benefits; every Wednesday is Lady’s Day for 1,100 yen.

We went on a Wednesday, so my sister paid the discounted price for the tickets.

The cinema itself was spacious, steep, and comfortable. Each row was wonderfully graded such that even vertically challenged people like me could have an absolutely clear view of the screen no matter who sat in front of them! Awesome!

Japanese cinema-goers observe strict etiquette of No Talking, No Noisy Eating, and No Kicking. And, the vast majority stay until all the end credits have finished rolling.

Anyway, on to the movie. The movie we watched was in English with Japanese subtitles. (Some films get dubbed into Japanese.)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) is based on the 1934 Agatha Christie novel of the same name. Over the 80 years plus since the book’s publication, there have been four movie adaptations (including this one). So, really, we have to ask, “Why? Was this necessary?”

First of all, I would highly recommend reading the book. It is indeed a classic and it should be on everyone’s Must Read list. The book is memorable for its startling and one-of-a-kind conclusion.

Whenever a movie is based on a book, especially a well-known one, there will always be the temptation to make notes and compare the two, and evaluate the adherence of the film’s script to the written word.

In case you couldn’t guess from the movie title, a passenger on the Orient Express has been murdered. The train is stopped by a snowdrift. And so, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot must use his little grey cells to solve this case and present his findings to the police upon arriving at their destination.

The bulk of the book involves  Poirot interviewing and interrogating each of the other passengers. The reader at home will naturally play along and try to solve the case.

While the film also has the detective questioning the passengers, there are also a couple of high-drama action scenes involving guns and chasing (Come on! You’re stuck in a snowdrift. Do you really think you can get away??) that are definitely not in the book. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that only having people sitting and talking didn’t make for very good entertainment? In any case, audiences who are not familiar with the book (like my sister!) can also play along and try to solve the case. Film-goers who have read the book (or have seen a previous movie version), already know the outcome, so their motivation is not to find out who committed the crime, but to see how good this adaptation is compared to the ones before.

Other than the guns and chasing, the movie is quite faithful to the book, and one should not expect otherwise. A film adaptation of such a classic novel is asking for trouble if it veers too far away from the original text.

In the book, Poirot arrives at his conclusion methodically, systematically and with complete professional detachment. This is the Poirot that staunch readers know and love. In the movie, Poirot struggles mightily between doing what the law — and his conscience — demands, and what grace, charity, and ultimately justice, demands. I think this is a nice touch because it casts a light on the deeply human and Catholic side to the otherwise cold and logical detective.

Recommended, but you don’t have to splash out big bucks to see it. See it at the budget theatre, or wait for it to come on TV.


Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

When the animated version of Beauty and the Beast came out in 1991, I was a young university student. Disney was going through its Renaissance period at that time and audiences were expecting great things after the success of The Little Mermaid. A group of us went to watch Beauty at the cinema and left absolutely thrilled. Disney delivered!

So many memorable and sing-a-longable songs. So many new and funny characters. And that ballroom dance scene was breathtakingly stunning. Computer generated imagery was in its infancy at that time and this was spectacularly rendered.

Well, that was 26 years ago and a new Beauty and the Beast has come out. My oldest is now slightly older than what I was when the animated version came out! This movie opened here a couple of weeks ago, but we decided to wait until school was back in session because I hate crowded cinemas, so we went on the first Friday of Term 2. The Little Athletics club gave our family a very generous gift of movie gift cards as a thank you for our years of service and we put that to good use!

In 2015, Disney did a remake of Cinderella (reviewed here). The remake was rather different from the original. In contrast, the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast is very faithful to the 1991 animated original. Everything that made the first movie so great is there. Fans of the original in all its glory will not be disappointed.

All the great songs are there and I believe the actors do their own singing, which makes it just a tad more delightful, in my opinion. There are also a couple of new songs thrown in.

The backstory of how the Beast and his household end up in their cursed state is expanded upon. We also learn how Belle and her father end up in the “poor, provincial town” without a mother and wife. These added scenes make the film 45 minutes longer than the original. Whereas the original was just under 90 minutes long, this remake is over two hours. Too much? I don’t think so. Your mileage might vary.

The story is set in France with English-speaking (English-English, not American-English) characters.

There is a more multi-racial cast, featuring both Black and White characters. I didn’t see any Asians, though, but I suppose there weren’t any Asians in 18th-century France. Then again, there probably weren’t any Blacks in France at that time, either. So….?

Belle’s father, Maurice, played by Kevin Kline is little more toned down in this version — not so eccentric —  and we see more of his relationship with Belle.

The “inanimate objects” characters have more speaking parts in this version and sometimes it can feel like it detracts from the main focus of the movie. I suppose it is a way to showcase the special effects.

What about that “exclusively gay moment”?
When producer Bill Condon announced — with some pride — that the movie would feature an exclusively gay scene with LeFou (Gaston’s sidekick), he managed to ruffle a lot of feathers. Some called for a boycott of the film.

Malaysia first considered banning the film entirely, and then softened its stance to “merely” deleting the “gay” scene. Disney said, “No deal. Show the film in its entirety or not at all.” After some more thought, Malaysia decided to show the film without any cuts.

The so-called “gay scene” occurs when LeFou is singing his praises to Gaston. It’s not overt at all — only hinted at —  and if Condon hadn’t made any announcement, the moment would have passed over me and I would have been none the wiser. Then again, I really am not the sharpest knife in the block….

LeFou is depicted as a gay character because Howard Ashman, the lyricist for the original Beauty and the Beast was a homosexual. He died in 1991 from AIDS-related complications. Bill Condon wanted to honour his memory.

What I find really amusing about the whole situation is that Luke Evans, the actor who plays Gaston, is openly gay in real life!

So, go watch it, and remember Howard Ashman.

What about “Beauty-and-the-Beast Syndrome”? Isn’t that a dangerous message?
Many people have voiced their concern that Beauty and the Beast glorifies Stockholm Syndrome, whereby hostages sympathise with their captors and even go so far as to defend them or refuse to charge them with wrongdoing. Others, including Emma Watson who plays Belle, have come out and said that Belle does not show the classic symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome at all. Still others have said that Stockholm Syndrome is a complex issue and there is no one-size-fits-all scenario.

Years ago, I read something called Beauty-and-the-Beast Syndrome, ie,  where one party (typically a woman) stays with an abusive partner (typically a male) not out of fear and helplessness or religious conviction, but because she believes that underneath all that ugliness lies a prince waiting to be released. All the “beast” needs is someone to see past all his rage and anger and to love him unconditionally and she is the person to do that. Sadly, many stay in abusive relationships because they are still waiting for the prince to emerge when, in fact, there isn’t one.

In my opinion, the Beast’s bad temper is worse in this version than the original. Far worse. Maybe it’s because live action makes it seem more real. Maybe it’s because I’m older and more experienced and no longer a naive university student.

Spotting Unhealthy Behaviors in Beauty and the Beast

Perhaps use this as an opportunity to talk with your kids about what is healthy and what is not, what is realistic and what is not.

Finally, because this film is live action, certain scenes may seem more intense and scary especially for younger viewers. In particular the wolves scene and the mob scene may be frightening for very young viewers. Mine are older (youngest is ten) and don’t scare easily, so they coped just fine.


Movie Review: Inside Out (2015)

We don’t often watch movies at the cinema because there are a lot of us and tickets are expensive, especially at the regular-priced cinemas. Also, we don’t mind waiting until the DVD comes out and borrowing it from the library when we can watch it with subtitles and the Special Features.

That said, when I saw the trailer for Inside Out, I thought it might be nice to watch it at the cinema. I’m still reluctant to fork out big bucks, though, so we watched it at the budget cinema — half the price of ticket prices at the regular cinemas, but no 3D option.

Friday being the last day of the school term, I thought it wise to grab the opportunity to go before the crowds flock to the cinemas during the Term Break. We went for the 1.45 p.m. showing and there were so few people, we had free seating! (LOVE Free Seating, but only if we get in early.)

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Movie Review: Cinderella (2015)

I was a bit apprehensive when I heard that Disney had plans to make a Cinderella movie using real, live actors. After all, the original Cinderella is a classic and why mess with a classic? And why use real-life actors?

Still, I was intrigued and curious. And since it is the school holidays, I decided we’d go.

I thought it being the school holidays that the place would be packed. I called and made reservations an hour before the movie started and hoped we would get good seats. As it turned out, most people probably watched it when it first came out a couple of weeks before and the theatre was not busy at all. We even got to sit anywhere we liked!

The pre-movie entertainment was a seven-minute short film Frozen Fever featuring Elsa, Anna, Kristoff and Olaf. It’s Anna’s birthday and Elsa and the others are busy arranging a surprise party. Elsa is not feeling 100% but, by George, she’s going to throw Anna a party – complete with singing and dancing – even if every sneeze droplet transforms into a miniature snowman. The short was entertaining enough featuring already-familiar characters in a new situation with new songs and it fulfilled its intention of preparing the audience for what they really came for.

Who doesn’t know the story of Cinderella? Tale as old as time, true as it can be….No, wait, that’s Beauty and the Beast, which, incidentally, Disney also has plans to remake using real live actors, with Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) playing the title roles. Mmmm, yes please! Anyway, I digress.

Where were we? Oh, right. Cinderella.

Everyone in the developed world above the age of five and who hasn’t lived a cloistered life should be familiar with the story of Cinderella (various versions, even!) so I won’t bore you by retelling the story here. Suffice to say, all the key characters are there: Cinderella, Prince (not called Charming), the stepmother, the two stepsisters, the fairy godmother, the animal friends, the pumpkin, the glass slipper etc.

This Cinderella does a wonderful job of showing us Ella when she was young, her relationship with her parents, and her affinity with animals. Her mother does not pooh-pooh Ella’s ability to understand animal talk and encourages her to believe in things magical such as fairy godmothers. At her deathbed, she reminds Ella of the secret that will help one see through life’s trials: Have courage and be kind. This becomes Ella’s life motto and it does indeed see her through many, many trying situations.

Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy watching Lily James (Rose in Downton) and Sophie McShera (Daisy) play Cinderella and Drisella respectively. Cate Blanchett as the stepmother is deliciously cruel; a bit overdone, but hey, it’s a fairy tale.

Very enjoyable. Beautiful remake. Is it a must-see at the cinema? Not really. Watch it at the discount cinema (we did), or wait for it to come out on DVD.

Movie Review: Philomena (2013)

Philomena (2013) PosterPhilomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee who, as an unwed teen in the 1950s, fell pregnant and whose widowed father sent her to spend the rest of her pregnancy in a Catholic convent. After giving birth to a baby boy, Philomena was forced to work for the convent to repay the costs of her stay. During this time, her son was adopted out. Fifty years later, with the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith, Philomena goes on a search for the son she was forced to give up. This movie is about that search.

The nuns at the abbey are apologetic and claim that all adoption records were destroyed in a fire. Curiously, however, they are able to present her with a document which she signed promising never to attempt to seek contact with her son. Martin and Philomena learn from the locals that the convent adopted out children to American couples and they go to the US to learn more.

First off, anything with Dame Judi Dench in it has to be good. Her portrayal of a Philomena, a simple woman from small town in Ireland, has the right amount of innocence and naivete and delight when experiencing the Greater World, and the compassion and sophistication when dealing with Real World Issues.

I’ve only seen Steve Coogan in comedic roles (Around the World in Eighty Days and the Night at the Museum movies), so to see him in a dramatic role was a change.

When Philomena learns of the career her son (Michael) had in the US, she realises that she could never have given him that kind of life and perhaps things were better off that way. Still, she wonders whether he ever thought about her. Martin and Philomena track down her son’s partner and learn that he did indeed try to look for her by going to the convent where he was born but was turned away from the nuns.

The search for Philomena’s son started at the convent where he was born, and ends at the same convent where he chose to be buried.

Although some things could be said about the Catholic Church and Michael’s lifestyle choices, the film does not focus on that. Instead, the film is more about the search for a ‘lost’ son and finding closure to a sad chapter in one’s life.

Rating: 4.5/5

Movie Review: Penguins of Madagascar

Penguins of Madagascar

Listen out for puns
Using famous actors’ names.
Stay for end credits!

Rating: 3/5

This appeared when I clicked the “Publish” button:

No writing errors

Movie Review: God’s Not Dead

God's not deadThis movie came out almost a year ago. I did not watch it then, and really had no intention of watching it at all. Christian movies, generally speaking, are poorly made and/or are too preachy. There is one film in particular that many have lauded, but I have yet to be Courageous enough to watch.

When my church said that it was going to show God’s Not Dead at the evening service a couple of weeks ago, I wrestled with whether I should go along to watch it or not. I was somewhat disturbed that the pastor would ‘allow’ this. After the morning service, I went up to him and asked him if he had seen it. He said that he had not (!) but that he’s heard good things about it. (For one thing, a fellow parishioner had gone up to the pulpit some time last year to encourage everyone to go see it.) I told the pastor that the movie has had mixed reviews.

“Well, I don’t expect non-Christians to give positive feedback,” he replied.

“Actually, the negative reviews came from Christians.”

*Raises eyebrows.*

So, to go or not to go? On the plus side, it wasn’t going to cost anything money-wise. On the other hand, the movie is nearly two hours long, and that is two hours I would never get back. In the end, the plus side won and, armed with notebook and pen, oldest son and I went.

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Movie Review: Night at the Museum 3

night at the museum 3We went to watch this movie because we enjoyed the earlier two in the series and thought it would be nice to round it off.

The plot is on wikipedia, so I won’t rehash it here.

I found it enjoyable enough, although some parts were over-the-top. Then again, it is about museum exhibits coming to life, so exaggerated elements are to be expected. Do not hope for intellectually stimulating conversation — there is toilet humour, corny jokes, far-out situations, and outlandish characters. Simply put, it is a Cartoon played by real-life actors.

A very bittersweet moment for me was seeing Theodore Roosevelt (played by Robin Williams) come to life. Mickey Rooney also had a small role in the movie, but it was Robin Williams’ performance that moved me more. It was somewhat surreal seeing him so full of life on screen and knowing that he is no longer with us.  When the time came for the exhibits to resume their positions and cease movement, I felt like he had died all over again.

We always stay to watch the end credits and it was touching to see the film dedicated to Mickey Rooney and Robin Williams with the words “Magic never dies.”

Stop. Haiku time:

Secret of the tomb
Solved at British Museum
All in a night’s work

Rating: 3.5/5

Movie Review: Paddington

Paddington came to Australia on November 11, 2014, but we didn’t see it until couple of weeks later.

As with any book-to-film endeavour, the producers have taken liberties with several things, but judging from the reaction from audiences, it does not seem to be too off-putting.

The film is true to the overall thrust of the series written by Michael Bond and the main characters are all there, albeit with a contemporary look and feel. True aficionados of the books may balk at the introduction of a baddie in the shape of Millicent Clyde (played by Nicole Kidman), while others may not be too bothered by it.

When I was watching it, the words that kept coming to mind were “Absolutely delightful!” and I will admit that when Paddington donned his signature blue duffel coat with the toggle buttons, my heart warmed and I teared up a bit.

Onto the haiku:

From Darkest Peru
A bear who likes marmalade
Can only mean FUN!

Rating: 4/5

Movie Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

This film had some publicity before it came to the screens. When you have Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Helen Mirren and Om Puri involved, that is not unexpected.

The film deals with an Indian family that settles in France and tries to run an Indian restaurant — directly opposite a one Michelin-starred French restaurant — and the resulting feud between the two establishments.

I loved this movie and many aspects resonated with me: a family of pilgrims, wandering and settling, but never really belonging in any one place; letting go of pride and embracing new things; cross-cultural cuisines; love and friendship. Of course, the colourful display of food helps tremendously.

Family, food, love
Hold the old, embrace the new
A happy ending

Rating: 4/5


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