Tag Archives: Josh Gad

“Murder on the Orient Express”



Stylish and incredibly well acted, Kenneth Branagh‘s retelling of “Murder on the Orient Express,” the famous 1934 novel written by world renowned author Agatha Christie, is a fine piece of solid storytelling. Branagh’s talky whodunit harkens back to the days of old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking when movie stars wore lavish costumes, the production design was rich with detail, and films had a visual richness because they were actually shot on 70mm film (as Branagh did here).

This well-made vanity project makes only slight changes to Christie’s original work, managing to make the familiar seem new. The well-known murder mystery takes place in the confined space of the Orient Express train, where thirteen strangers are stranded due to an avalanche. When one particularly sinister passenger (Johnny Depp) is murdered, mastermind detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) must piece together clues and solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The ensemble players are top notch in every respect and are all perfectly cast. There’s the talkative widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), aristocrat Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), personal accountant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), stern professor Gerhard (Willem Dafoe), proper governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), humble Spanish missionary Pilar (Penélope Cruz), the elegant Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), and a charming doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), just for starters.

The role call is large, which means we only briefly get to meet and attempt to dissect the characters and their likely motivations. Branagh makes a point of boosting his own ego by making his Poirot the real star and relegates his top-shelf supporting cast to brief snippets of screen time. This results in a sometimes frustrating exercise because these are complex characters that you’ll want to get to know better, yet you’re constantly pushed away.

Although the audience is kept at a distance, the film is simply gorgeous and it’s hard not to appreciate its handsome cinematography and opulent direction. It’s very orderly and neat, rich in a refined elegance; a stylish and suspenseful thriller and integrity tale of the moral gray zone of seeking justice through revenge. The riddle will keep you engaged and the filmmaking style is grand. If you’re seeking old Hollywood glamour, you’ll find it here.




The story of Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall’s early career is the focus of “Marshall,” a conventional biopic that’s mixed with a straightforward court procedural about a 1941 rape trial. The sensational case pitted Connecticut socialite Ellie Strubing (Kate Hudson) against her black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown).

The driver was represented by Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), a young NAACP attorney who later became a monumental figure in the civil rights era. During the trial, Marshall partnered with inexperienced Jewish lawyer Samuel Friedman (Josh Gad) and the pair faced bigotry from their opposing counsel (Dan Stevens) as well as disgust from the general public.

Boseman and Gad are a likeable enough pair, playing off each other like a cinematic odd couple, yet their ultimately forgettable performances rival Reginald Hudlin‘s uninspired direction. This is a traditional, by-the-numbers story that feels more like a stage play than a film; a movie that seems slightly undeserving of a theatrical release.

Not much about this project is exciting or compelling, but the best parts come when a couple of strong scenes convey what a naturally talented lawyer Marshall was, including an effective jury selection bit where the young lawyer’s ability to read people comes as a second nature. Although based on a true legal case, it doesn’t provide the most compelling introduction to Marshall (and the abrupt, cheerful conclusion is off-putting). The story only glosses over the surface of this man’s amazing life and his legal contributions to our country, which is briefly summed up in an all too tidy, tacked-on ending.

The elephant in the room here is the wildly inappropriate music choices and original score. It’s so out of place that it continuously detracts from the story. It starts with the odd opening with period swing music accompanying grim themes, and it goes downhill from there with repeatedly cheerful tunes or upbeat harmonies paired with heavy subject matter like scenes of rape and bigotry. The musical cues tell the audience to feel the exact opposite way of how they should, and I see no artistic reason for it. Thankfully the music makes much more sense in the second half of the film, where we get a deliberate piano score.

Comparisons to our current political climate regarding race relations are inevitable, and the film touches on how African-Americans have been disenfranchised by our legal system for decades. Still, it’s a bit of a joy to see a black history movie that’s not about the horrors of slavery and one where the stereotypical “white savior” doesn’t swoop in to save the day. Heck, it’s enjoyable if solely for the chance to see the legal system not fail a black man. Instead, the film is empowering and positive, with beautiful quotes like “the only way to get through a bigot’s door is to break it down.” I didn’t love the movie, but I certainly respect that message.

“Beauty and the Beast”



I understand that it’s next to impossible to avoid letting your nostalgia for the original 1991 animated Disney film “Beauty and the Beast” fool you into thinking this live action remake is fantastic. I get it. It is arguably one of the greatest animated films of all time with iconic characters, scenes and songs. So iconic, in fact, that I wish the Disney machine would’ve just left it well enough alone. This nearly shot-by-shot retelling may have its moments, but they are few and far between. The film amounts to little more than a mediocre cash grab that putters along, fueled by the good will from its audience.

The film is surprisingly poorly directed by Bill Condon. The big CGI animated scenes that should be true show stoppers (like the classic “Be Our Guest” dinner performance) are choppily edited and packed with so much visual noise that they are ugly and at times ungainly. The entire project reeks of desperation as everything in the movie looks and feels overdressed and hollow, from the choreography to the mediocre costumes. The animated Beast (Dan Stevens) looks fake and terrible in the way he talks and moves, and don’t get me started on the ghastly singing all around.

The cast is so perfect (I’ve been excited for months after the accomplished list of actors was announced) and I can’t believe they actually blew it. Something feels completely “off” about many of the performances here, especially from Kevin Kline (Maurice), Josh Gad (Lefou), and at times, Emma Watson (Belle). They look uncomfortable and confused, awkwardly delivering lines and sometimes even changing acting styles throughout the film. Watson and Stevens lack even an ounce of chemistry, which sorely hurts the entire project.

There’s the typical overacting from voice talent Emma Thompson (Mrs. Potts) and Stanley Tucci (Maestro Cadenza), and a really bad vocal turn from Ewan McGregor as everyone’s favorite candelabra, Lumiere. It’s not all rotten, thanks to Ian McKellen as Cogsworth the clock (he turns in an inspired voice performance) and a very funny, boisterous, and cartoonish Luke Evans who gives Gaston his due.

The film exhibits such loyalty to the source material that it often reeks of desperation in its blind insistence to mimic the original. Scenes are set up shot-by-shot and reenacted, and the love story now feels a bit dated for today’s sensibilities. With the new Disney trend of writing tough, I-don’t-need-a-man strong female characters (“Frozen,” “Moana“), this movie feels like someone is rewinding the time clock back to the early 90s, regressing to what now feels like an old-timey attitude towards men (those filthy beasts!) and women (if I stay long enough, maybe I’ll learn to love him!).

The runtime is over two hours and there is just far too much going on in this overstuffed, bloated, and disappointing film. It may remain true to the source material, but that alone doesn’t make it a good movie.

“The Angry Birds Movie”



Adding to the cinematic animated clutter based on once popular games, “The Angry Birds Movie” is one that I was dreading to watch. Was anybody really clamoring for a movie based on this game? Apparently so, according to the film’s $40 million opening weekend.

I’ve never played the game on which this film is based so I’m not sure if avid fans of the app would find more to like, but I can tell you that as a casual observer, this isn’t a very good film. The animation and the voice talent isn’t the problem: it’s the paper thin story that ultimately leads to the movie’s failure.

The film is set on bird island, a beautiful sanctuary in the middle of a crystal clear ocean. Red (Jason Sudeikis) is a lonely bird with some serious anger management issues. When his temper lands him in a relaxation class with fellow angries Chuck (Josh Gad) and Bomb (Danny McBride), the outsiders form an offbeat friendship. When a couple of mysterious pirate ships arrive with green pigs at the helm (pigs who want to steal and eat all of the baby bird eggs), our feathered heroes have to swoop in and save the day from the evil piggies. And that, my friends, is the entire plot.

Most of the second half of the film is stuffed with situations and scenes taken from the popular game. I didn’t know for sure at first, but quickly figured it out because everything in the final action sequences felt out of place and tacked on. There are obvious inclusions that make zero sense to the story (slingshots, bombs, flying birds, etc.). It’s a shame because the characters are, dare I say it, likeable and actually a little bit lovable! Evil head pig Leonard (Bill Hader), Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key) and Matilda (Maya Rudolph) are pretty good characters. Of course most of this success lies with the actors who lend their voices to bring these birds to life. They are undoubtedly talented and they give it their all, but so much more could’ve been done with the story. They, and these characters, deserved more.

There’s a lot of modern-day sass talking and groan-inducing bird related puns (“what the flock?” / “pluck my life“) for the adults, and most attempts at humor fall flatter than a pancake. A majority of the film’s first 30 minutes feels like nothing more than an advertisement for the soundtrack (there are several weird musical interludes that are “written” into the story, making the songs the centerpiece of the action) while the last part of the film is nothing more than an ad for the game. There just isn’t much going on to keep anyone engaged.

It’s not all awful: the biggest surprise here is the skillful animation! You’d expect a kid’s movie like this to be slapped together with the usual Hollywood half-assery in the visual department but it’s not: the animation is vibrant, polished and beautifully textured. Say what you will about the film but it’s really, really gorgeous to look at. What a shame that it’s wasted on such drivel.

I’m awarding it two stars solely for the skillful animation and the proficient voice talent. Bottom line: this movie makes no damn sense but it sure is pretty.


Okay, so I understand that you are contractually obligated (it’s part of the parent-child contract) to take your kids to see “The Angry Birds Movie.” So the question you should be asking me is not whether it’s any good, but whether alcohol or other substances will significantly improve your viewing experience.

Sadly, the answer is a resounding “no.” This movie sucks. It’s yet another example of a kid movie that is made with very little consideration given to the parents that are being dragged to see it. Yes, in the tradition of every such movie made since “Shrek,” there are a couple of throwaway “adult” jokes, but they are relatively few and far between — and they aren’t funny.

Okay, you might say, but I love playing Angry Birds. Is it possible I might enjoy it, as an aficionado of the game?

Again, the answer is “no.” Yes, the theme song is used from time-to-time. Yes, many of the birds you love are in the movie, exhibiting the characteristics that make the game so fun. Yes, the Bad Piggies are here, and there is even an extended scene of the birds destroying the Piggies’ structures (just like in the game!!!). But that doesn’t make the film any good.

“The Angry Birds Movie” starts out kinda okay, with some decent jokes interspersed between the plot exposition… aaaand then, it starts to suck. It gets stupid, and boring. Nothing much happens for about an hour. You get Josh Gad trying (unsuccessfully) to do a voice that isn’t Olaf. There are multiple unfunny sight gags that don’t reward the attentive viewer. The head honchos at Rovio (the company that made the game) get satiated by multiple references to their app, and then it’s over. That’s about it.

Not even a generous helping of wine (Adaptation Petite Sirah 2013 — it’s amazing, you should try it) could make this movie more enjoyable. If you can get away with sending your kids with their friends’ parents so that you don’t have to go, it will be a significant victory for you.