Murder on the Orient Express: Movie Man Jackson

Everyone is a suspect…and connected by six degrees of separation. After a demanding case solved in Jerusalem, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)—the world’s greatest detective—is allowing himself some R&R in Istanbul. The best laid plans never go according to plan, as durign his time away from work, Poirot is called to London to investigate a case.

With no travel plans readily available, Hercule turns to his friend Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman), who helps run the Orient Express, a train on the path to London. While vacation is cut short, at least the detective can relax by reading some Dickens for a few days.

Again, the best laid plans never go according to plan, as the train is derailed from its course, and during this derail, someone on the train has killed a passenger. There’s a Murder on the Orient Express and said murderer is still on the train. Only one man can solve this.

Ahh, the whodunit mystery. It is a movie genre that can be pretty limiting when one thinks about it. Often, there isn’t a ton of depth under the initial mystery to make for anything unforgettable, whether the production is loosely defined as an “original” (à la Happy Death Day) or a remake adapted from an Agatha Christie novel, which Murder on the Orient Express happens to be. Summed up, this remake is probably unnecessary but is certainly impressive to look at, have a little fun with, and never think about again after an initial watch.

The first thing noticed about “MotOE” is the well-done cinematography, commitment to the respective time period via costumes/setting, lighting, and just the mostly strong direction from director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Cinderella) shot on 65mm. Very easy to feel transported into 1934. Along with a fitting score by composer Patrick Doyle, it all adds to the old-school feeling. Stylistically, this is a classic movie made in 2017. In ways, the last-generation video game LA Noire comes to mind, from style to execution. While this Orient Express is far from original, there is a small feeling of freshness, because this type of production isn’t that common. As a basic whodunit, those who have never been exposed to prior iterations (like yours truly) may be surprised at how everything shakes down. While the actual culprit reveal isn’t something I’m completely pleased with, it did keep me guessing for the bulk of the runtime, doing the job on that front.

While Murder on the Orient Express’ highest plus is that of the technical work behind the screen, it isn’t without a little fault. The murder scene in particular which the movie is built around is rather rushed and isn’t really treated with the gravitas one would be led to believe. The medium shots from outside the train peering into the glass in voyeuristic manner is nice to look at, but probably a bit overused as well after so many times without amounting to much. As inane as this may sound, the white subtitles were a little easy to miss at times with some of them being shown against backgrounds (walls, dress shirts) that also happen to be white. Small, but some of this dialogue is critical and easy to miss.

What isn’t easy to miss is that mustache Kenneth Branagh sports as the famed detective. It stands out among everything, like his performance among the rest of the cast. Call Murder on the Orient Express ‘The Kenneth Branagh Show’ as director, lead actor, and producer. He is an interesting character with some internal depth and Branagh does a great job with an intro scene that makes Poirot easy to buy into as the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective. Where Branagh (and screenplay writer Michael Green) struggles is with the repeated stabs at humor. A few are effective, most are not. Same can be said for the interrogation scenes. Half seize attention, but others can actually be dull.

A cast this beefy shouldn’t be predominantly forgettable though. Yet, that’s accurate for this film. Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo all blend into each other. Honestly, I can’t remember who was the countess and who was the cook! Others like Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer do make a little more of a lasting impression, but to call them fairly detailed would be a tad too generous. This is Branagh’s baby and his alone.

It is Branagh as the conductor, engineer, and bellhop who leads Murder on the Orient Express to a destination of Finesville. Choo-choo.


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Marshall: Movie Man Jackson

Justice isn’t guaranteed, it’s earned. Young Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman) makes his living fighting injustices. He’s a traveling lawman for the NAACP, defending people of color who have been wrongfully accused of crimes they never committed. His latest assignment brings him to Bridgeport, Connecticut to defend a Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown), a black chauffeur who’s been charged with the rape and attempted murder of his provider, Eleanor Strubing (Kate Hudson).

Things take a turn when Marshall isn’t allowed to take the lead. Rather, the defense lead is given to the man who briefed him on the situation, Jewish insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who is reluctant to take the responsibility for fear it’ll tarnish his business. With Friedman having no experience in the criminal realm, Marshall has to lead from the side while Sam takes point, navigating a slanted judge and jury while being the only hope an innocent man has in avoiding life behind bars.

The latest biographical movie, Marshall, follows the trend of late for Hollywood biographical movies and/or events. That trend being, to focus on a specific period and/or event instead of the overarching life and/or story. This approach does streamline things and allows a sometimes-staid genre to be less conventional. At the same time, there’s a little missing in the way of character building when going about a “biography” this way. Marshall sees both ends of this double-edged sword, but the good largely outweighs the bad.

There’s a reason “biography” was put in quotations, not because of loose facts, but what the idea of a biography conjures up; i.e. a relatively deep and possibly somber dive into a subject. Director Reginald Hudlin (The Great White Hype) and writers Michael (real life Bridgeport attorney) and Jacob Koskoff choose to place much of the focus not on the meat of the lead characters, but the trial that they are a part of. Marshall is great as a courtroom drama, which happens to be most of the movie’s runtime. To spoil bits of it would be a disservice, as the case being one of Marshall’s first ones makes it likely (at least for this viewer) that only the history nuts will know of the verdict and all the twists and turns. Watching this with a bit of uncertainty makes for a relatively gripping finale.

The case that the writers have selected from Marshall’s catalog is an intriguing one that places all attention on the legal proceedings, but in the process, does marginalize Marshall the man to an extent for a few reasons. This serves as a very surface level—almost Disney-like—look at Thurgood; those expecting great depths into the man’s everyday life and character will be very disappointed.

There’s a running joke going around many parts of the Internet that the film’s title should be Marshall & Friedman (aptly sounding), but it serves the point that Marshall is really a co-star and even a secondary player at times in a production named after him. The film itself takes on more of a buddy cop feel than foreseen, especially in tone, and the light one can be problematic. The levity is appreciated in spots, yet simultaneously undermines some serious moments, as does the mostly hokey score. Certain jokes simply do not need to be here. Whether delivery or timing, some dialogue is a bit odd-sounding and juxtaposes the noir-like recounts told by people on the stand.

After playing notable African-American individuals in Jackie Robinson and James Brown in 42 and Get on Up, it’s no surprise that Chadwick Boseman can carry the acting responsibility of portraying one of the greatest lawyers in history. The difference in his role, however, is that it seems to rely more on Boseman’s natural charisma and screen presence than those other two. He gets a lot of reign to show swagger and confidence that makes Marshall more of a dynamic watch than a history lesson. The dynamic he shares with Josh Gad is again an odd one in spots, but it works. Gad isn’t the strongest comedy guy turned serious actor, but he’s largely solid and better as the movie goes on. Rest of the cast is filled out by steady talent in Kate Hudson, Sterling K. Brown, Roger Guenveur Smith, Dan Stevens, and James Cromwell. A few characters can border on caricature, however; by and large the cast grounds them into enough realism.

The jury (of one) ruling on Marshall? Not a definitive introspective look at the man who would become the first African-American Supreme Court judge, but, a lighter-toned, relatively solid entertaining courtroom drama.


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The Angry Birds Movie: Movie Man Jackson


Fly like an eagle. No wings? Use a slingshot. On Bird Island, birds without the ability to fly reside. One of them, Red (Jason Sudeikis), perpetually lives in a mental state of irritability. He’s different from everyone else, as this is an island of perpetual happiness. Needless to say, he doesn’t fit in.

One particular outburst lands him in anger management with other Angry Birds Terence (Sean Penn), Chuck (Josh Gad), and Bomb (Danny McBride). As they attempt to manage their tempers, pigs from Piggy Island make themselves welcome as explorers, and most of the population is accepting. Except for Red, who believes the pigs aren’t as kosher as they appear to be.


It’s not so much a shock that The Angry Birds Movie is an actual thing (even if it is based on an application), it’s a shock that it has arrived in 2016 instead of striking while the iron was hot, like, say, in 2012 or something. Despite it being as lean as one could imagine a story-less smartphone game app to, Angry Birds the Movie is passable, every enjoyable here and there.

First-time directors Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly provide the movie with a vibrant and colorful palette. Sounds trivial, but sometimes a small part of an animated movie’s appeal is simply how well it looks, and the work the duo has done previously in works like Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs seems to aid them here. A highlight of their particular movie here is the climax, ripping right from the app, loaded with action and good fun.


Angry Birds‘ script makes clear references to its original intellectual property, from small bits of dialogue to the beats of its plot. It works a little better than anticipated, and even has sort of a message about friendship. The truly cynical type may see this movie leaning one way or the other on the political spectrum, but I look at it more of the inoffensive variety .

But, the film is stretched pretty thin, evidenced by more than a few musical montages and some flashback gags that are not all needed. And, Angry Birds is kind of relentlessly loud. Only few moments of quiet exist; otherwise, the mode is GO! GO! GO! like the bird Chuck. There is some amusing humor to be found, most is slapstick in nature. The crudeness of a few jokes is a little off-putting for a family-targeted flick, however.

The Angry Birds Movie does employ some sound voice work, some being better in an animated movie than others. Jason Sudeikis is reminiscent of his character in Horrible Bosses on a PG-level, with a good amount of quick wit, with the only real complaint being that he doesn’t come off as angry but rather detached and aloof. Gad, Keegan-Michael Key, Bill Hader, and Peter Dinklage are here and noticeable in that way that adds to a character but not to the point where their vocals stand out in a weird incongruence to their characters. On the other end, one could go throughout the entire film without knowing that Danny McBride, Jillian Hall, or Maya Rudolph contributed to the movie. “Easy-money-of the-year while-being-top-billed award” goes to Sean Penn, who grumbles for 98% of his screentime. Must already be working on his post-El Chapo career, not wanting to be seen or definitively identified via voice.


Not completely flightless, The Angry Birds Movie isn’t exactly flying high in the sky either. But technically as a video game movie, the quality isn’t bad. The real question is what is coming next. Sugar Smash, maybe?


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The Wedding Ringer: Movie Man Jackson


“People believe because they have no reason not to.”

Just how important is having a best man? Pretty important if you don’t want others to think something is off with you. The Wedding Ringer serves up Doug Harris (Josh Gad), a nice and seemingly well-off man whose hefty exterior and lack of friends basically makes him a wearer of the lovable loser status. If there is one thing Doug ain’t losing in, it is his romantic life. In 10 days, the man is scheduled to marry his gorgeous fiance Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). 

But of course there is one problem, because the situation is too perfect not to have one. Doug has but not one man to serve as his honorary best, let alone a stable of them to make up his groomsmen. Thankfully, people like Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart) exist and even run businesses for this very predicament. After groundwork is laid with the CEO of Best Man, Inc., Jimmy will not only become Doug’s best man as “Bic Callahan,”, but will also build a stable of accompanying ragtag groomsman. The “Golden Tux,” package, never pulled off before by Jimmy, is in full effect. Will it work?


Weddings are supposed to be a good time. The actual planning of said wedding? Perhaps not as much. The Wedding Ringer, from a viewing standpoint, feels much more in line with the tedious minutiae. Sure, if mass planning is a hobby, then it might not be so bad, and I’m sure that there are some fun aspects to it. The Wedding Ringer, just like how I imagine wedding planning will be, does possess some pleasant aspects but as a whole it isn’t enough to feel good about.

Honestly, there is a feeling had by yours truly that this could have been a grand disaster, and it is not. By that alone, it is a mild positive. This movie does bring a familiar but not completely worn premise that makes for some nice laughs. However, the intended big moments, the ones that surely the writers and director Jeremy Garelick banked on leaving guts sore, are more like an unprepared best man speech without direction that makes everyone look at the clock. There is one scene, featuring unanticipated cameos, that is unanticipated and truly entertaining, but the rest are beaten into the ground with how long they last, be it photo-taking, reception-dancing, or a wild bachelor party.


2015 may not be the Kevin Hart feature like 2014 felt like, but the man is clearly a big name in comedy that will likely continue to get work. He is supremely confident in himself, and that is unchanged here. It may not be the same character played, but the antics and delivery are consistent with past roles. Long story short, if you found him hilarious, unfunny, or somewhere in the between with his other stuff, that will likely be the same conclusion had here, with yours truly trending with the middling option. This time around, he tag-teams a film with Josh Gad, who works as the sort of non-assuming, dorky, and well-meaning guy.

Even with a mild script, comedic chemistry can elevate a terrible flick to bad, bad to average, so on and so forth. Gad and Hart do possess chemistry in TWR, but it may not be as strong as needed to overcome the try-too-hard moments/weak writing. In scenes where it is really just the two, which surprisingly isn’t a ton here, the jokes don’t always land but the percentage rate is higher.

Weddings usually have a lot of people in them, and so does this movie. Unfortunately, hardly any of these people are that noteworthy, starting with the groomsmen. Simply put, they are largely unfunny, which is a shame because there are funny guys like Affion Crockett, Corey Holcomb, and others who either appeared on Wild ‘N Out or look like they did. As the bride, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting plays a pretty standard role that is nothing more or less than what is asked. Her character eventually changes, but it comes pretty rapidly with little indication. When the first indication does come, because it is so obvious, it is like “So this is where the movie is going, huh?”


The Wedding Ringer could be a fun view to many people, and it isn’t downright awful. Hart fans should find more than enough in this R-rated comedy to enjoy. For others, it may be better to leave this one at the altar for the time being.

Grade: D

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