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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

murderOne of my big complaints when it comes to humans and movies that are based on books is that invariably most humans I know will say, “It isn’t as good as the book.”   I have many problems with this statement not the least of which is that it is impossible to turn a 400+ page book, or whatever sized book, into an enjoyable 2 hour movie.  The biggest example of this for me is I remember when the Lord of The Rings Trilogy was released I had people telling how much was left out.  But when they decided to turn The Hobbit into three movies, I heard bitching that there was barely enough material for two movies let alone three.  So my suggestion to you all who have read or enjoying reading books and then worry whether or not the movie will be just as good I say STOP.  Just enjoy the movie for what it is and keep it separate from whatever book it is based off of because chances are if you are still reading books you are going to it more than the movie.

Now I know what you are asking, “What does any of this have to do with your review of Murder on the Orient Express?”  Well my dear readers, all two of you, I mention this because I know that this movie is based on a book by the famous author Agatha Christie.  It is also a book I have never read so this was a blank slate for me.  What amazes me about this story is that it is entertaining but the ending left me with an almost overwhelming feeling of sadness.  Justice was served but it left me with an empty feeling and I just don’t know how to feel about that because I wasn’t expecting it.  But it doesn’t make it a bad, quite the contrary I did enjoy the film and hope that director/lead actor Kenneth Branagh does another of these films because I would definitely go to see another one.

World famous detective Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh (Peter’s Friends) has found himself aboard the passenger train The Orient Express travelling from Istanbul to Paris with an eclectic group of fellow passengers.  The train runs in to issues in the mountains when an avalanche blocks the tracks and strands the train and its passengers for a few days until it can be cleared.  The morning after the avalanche one of the passengers is found murdered and Poirot is hired by the manager of the train to solve the murder before the train makes its next stop.

murder2The strength of the movie is the cast as almost all of them do an excellent job of portraying their characters.  I believe the best of the good group was Branagh as Poirot. For being a Brit he was able to pull off French quite well.  He also was quite entertaining bringing emotion to the character both with the humor in the beginning and the sadness /anger at the end of the film.  While Branagh set the pace of all the cast I felt the next closest was Josh Gad (Pixels) as Hector MacQueen who was the assistant to the murdered passenger and the first suspect.  I felt uncomfortable as he felt uncomfortable during his interrogation.  I also want to make special note to actress Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens,) who is Mrs. Mary Debenham.  While her performance is fine but not spectacular there is something about her that I find oddly attractive.  I mean she is a lovely woman and she can definitely act but there is just something about her that just stokes the fire.  If I were to rank her in forms of sweets I like and Olivia Munn is my Easter Peeps, Daisy would be a DQ Reese’s peanut butter cup blizzard.  If there is one actor whose performance I can’t quite figure out if it was excellent or horrible it would surprisingly be Johnny Depp (Mortdecai.)  He plays an obviously crooked art dealer name Edward Ratchett.  Depp plays Ratchett in such a way that I actually hate him and I can’t tell if it’s an awesome performance played perfectly or he hated being in this film and it showed.  The reason I have for this is that at the beginning of the film he played his character just as sleazy and as horrible as any human could be which didn’t make sense to me not knowing the story.  But as the movie went along and followed the story it turns out that Ratchett is a horrible human so it made the performance brilliant…I think.  Don’t get me wrong, I think Depp is amazing and I believe his Jack Sparrow performance in Pirates of the Caribbean is tied for the best character performance in movie that I have seen (tied with Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday in Tombstone.)  The last performance I would like to mention is that of one of my crushes in the 80’s and early 90’s Michelle Pfeiffer (Hairspray.) While her performance as Caroline Hubbard was uninspiring it always makes me happy to see her.  I still have fond memories of her in Batman Returns in that Catwoman uniform and she is downright Goddess like in the movie Wolf. murder3

I know I wasted a bunch of paper earlier talking about not knowing the story of the book.  I decided to do the online Cliffnotes version i.e. Wikipedia and looked up the story of the book and it appears that the basic story of both match.  Which I must admit is interesting idea (If you haven’t figured it out I am purposely being vague as to not spoil the ending if you, like me, had not seen the 1974 film or read the book.)  I will say that the beginning seemed to be a little slow and it did appear somewhat obvious who was going to be murdered as we were introduced to the characters. That being said the mystery kept me interested and the ending was surprising and as I have already mentioned somewhat unhappy in the final result.

Despite the sadness of the ending of the movie I was moved by it and that is due to how Branagh shot the final scenes as well as the music put to it by Patrick Doyle, who is used in most if not all of Branagh’s movies.  The ending stuck with me as I walked out of the theater, in and out of the bathroom, and through the traffic on the way home.  As for the rest of the production I thought visually it was quite nice with lovely wide shots of Jerusalem and Istanbul in the beginning of the film which are greatly contrasted with the close quarters of the train and the choices Branagh made in showing the murder scene and other areas of the distressed train.

I do enjoy the film and like I said I hope we do see a follow up with Branagh as Poirot as the ending of the film has him leaving for Egypt for yet another murder.  This film has quite a few well-known actors that I did not talk about but not for nefarious reasons as their performances were fine.  The list includes but not limited to Penelope Cruz (Zoolander 2,) Willem Defoe (Clear and Present Danger,) and Judi Dench (Spectre.) If you like mysteries and are unfamiliar with the story I believe you will enjoy it and if you are familiar with it I hope you do.  With the many bad movies that are out there I do not believe you will be disappointed by this film.  Unless you are my friend Reed who doesn’t like any movie made after 1980 and thinks the 1974 version of this film is better without even seeing this one.  But he is a tool so don’t worry about him.

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the Raven

When I saw the trailers for this movie I was excited because as a teenager I was an Edgar Allan Poe fan and I have always like John Cusack. At this time Cusack had been on a roll starring in the disaster movie 2012 and the ridiculous comedy Hot Tub Time Machine.  So I was excited to see this film but work kept me from seeing it opening weekend.  By the time I had time to see the film it was gone and I was like WTF?  So The Raven had disappeared and I with the attention span of a 6 month old had forgotten about the movie.   Fortunately there is the HBO network and it was on the other night and I was able to watch it finally.  While I liked the film I can see why it failed at the box office and most of the critics as well.

During the last days of his life Edgar Allan Poe, played by John Cusack (Hot Tub Time Machine,) is broke and trying to survive day to day life, his alcoholism, and the father of his love Emily, played by Alice Eve (Star Trek Into Darkness.)  Poe is given a new reason to live when his poems become the inspiration of a serial killer in Baltimore.  Poe teams up with Detective Fields, played by Luke Evans (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smog,) to try and capture the man who not only is killing people but has kidnapped Emily and will leave her to die if Poe doesn’t solve the riddle of the killer.

Being a fan of detective type mysteries is one of the reasons why I like this film.  It is by no means a difficult mystery to solve but it is fascinating to watch it unfold.  But I like how Poe and Fields work together to solve the riddles one by one.  It would be easily described as a poor man’s Holmes and Watson.   I also enjoy the look and feel of the film.  I love the look of 1840’s Baltimore and how many times I had to remember that this wasn’t 1800’s London.  I don’t know what it is about the time that I like so much about it.  Maybe it’s the use of horses and gas lamps and the Victorian dresses the ladies wear.  We rarely see films of this time in US history that take place in the eastern part of the States.  Most of the 1800’s films are westerns or Civil War era and I would like to think that there are many stories to be told from 1800 to 1850 New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Anyway I liked that the time and location of the story because my lack of knowledge of the period helped in the overall story telling.

I mentioned earlier this entire film is basically a poor man’s Sherlock Holmes.  This is what I feel is the death of this movie.  Anyone who has seen the Robert Downey Jr films will look at this film and see the Holmes movies as the better film and not think much about telling people to see this one.  I don’t know if that is completely fair considering Holmes is a fictional detective and Poe is a writer of dark stories turned fictional detective.  But that is the direction the writer took and so that is the path that is logical to follow when watching this film.  I think the writer could have bailed himself out if he had made the story more about the Poe poems with detail.  Instead we only see them used as a rough outline with the exception of The Pit and the Pendulum.  The other murders have pieces of other of Poe’s works but did not dig deep into them.  I would have liked to see the movie story wrap itself around the Poe films similar to the way the movie Seven had the seven deadly sins so interwoven in the film.  The Raven doesn’t do this and I feel that this is the biggest failure in the film.  Not that this is a bad story, it just could have gone to a wonderful place if written properly and it wasn’t and instead we get an average film.

I do not know if I will own this movie on Blu-Ray or not.  Maybe if I can get it dirt cheap at a used store.  I like the movie enough to own but I if I get it I don’t know how many times I will watch the film.  This movie also appears to be somewhat of a career killer for John Cusack.  Mind you this would be the second time that happened to him.  Since this film I haven’t seen a single film of his that made it to the big screen and the two that did were both small films.  I worry that Cusack may be disappearing again and that would suck because I find him to be an enjoyable to watch.  Anyway, I say watch the film it is entertaining but should leave you wanting more.

 

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mortdecaiI was very hesitant in watching this film because I have yet to find a single positive review on it and both Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow were nominated for Razzies for their performances. I only had heard about this film recently as I have developed my obsession with Olivia Munn and saw a YouTube video of her and Conan O’Brien talk about it as she is there to plug the show which also explains why I watched this movie.  I went in with zero expectations with only a desire to see Olivia in the film and overall my expectations were met but I believe it is better than the reviews I have read and nowhere near the worst movie you see.

Mortdecai, played by Johnny Depp (Corpse Bride,) is a British art dealer sometimes art smuggler who has managed to get himself 8 million pounds (British for dollars) in debt.  Because of his shady connections he is asked by current MI-5 agent and old college rival Martland, played by Ewan McGregor (The Island,) to find an expensive piece of art that was stolen while it was being repaired.   On the hunt for the same piece of art is terrorist Emil, played by Jonny Pasvolsky (Macbeth,) Russian mobster Romanov, played by Ulrich Thomsen (The Thing,) fellow British dealer Sir Graham, played by Michael Culkin (The Iron Lady,) and American father daughter team of Krampf, played by Jeff Goldblum (Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,) and Georgina, played by Olivia Munn (Ride Along 2.)  Helping to try and keep Mortdecai out of danger is his man servant Jock, played by Paul Bettany (The Avengers: Age of Ultron,) and his lovely wife Johanna played by Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man 2.)

So the first problem I can see is that I know that these are British characters but who decided that both Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow should have English accents?  Yeah I know British characters but the accents were horrible to the point that it was distracting.  Depp played his character as a wimpy vocal Mr. Bean and I’m not sure what Paltrow was doing but it didn’t work.  My curiosity is why cast these two when we have a whole Kingdom full of wonderful British actors and actresses who could have done that better.  I mean being Depp and Paltrow didn’t add anything to the rolls that was special so other than name recognition there was no need to have them in the movie.

It could be the writer to blame for the fact that large parts of the movie were unfunny.  Bits and pieces inspired me to smile and giggle but for the most part it was dry.  Although the story of the missing painting and the pursuit of that was fun and the scenes involving Bettany and his fights were entertaining.  I also like the whole Russian bit with Mortdecai, but those kinds of laughs were few and far between.  The movie did have one of my qualifiers for a good action movie in that the action took place in Europe even if it was mostly in doors.  There was a lot of comedy involved with the action so that made up for the lack of actual violence or car chase scenes, but not enough to make this a good movie.

My obligatory Olivia Munn report doesn’t have a whole lot to it.  She doesn’t show up until act 3 and there is absolutely nothing to character as written.  She has a hot but totally awkward dance scene with Johnny Depp that ends with his hand on her breast which made me jealous.  She ran around with a gun a couple of time so that added to her hot factor but there was just nothing to show whether or not she can act or not so I will continue to give her the benefit of the doubt.oliviamunnmortdecai

So as much as I have bagged on this movie, it’s not the worst movie you will ever see.  If it happens to be on HBO or you have a free rental at Redbox or Netflix gives you a freebee and you like any of these actors then get it.  I wouldn’t pay actual money for this movie like I did but it’s what I am will to do for my reviewing public.

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ProofI have never been a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow because as an actress I have always thought she was over-rated. I felt that she did an average job in every movie she was in.  I did not think she was worthy of the Academy Award she received for her role in the movie Shakespeare in Love.  However, after watching Proof, I certainly hope that she gets another nomination for an Academy Award because she deserves it for doing a fantastic job of portraying an unstable woman.

Proof is about Catherine, played by Gwyneth Paltrow (Sylvia,) who has taken care of her father until he dies of heart failure.  Her father, Robert, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins (Amistad,) was a mathematician who created many mathematical proofs before he was 22 years old, but started to lose his mind at the age of 27.  Catherine is concerned that she not only inherited her father’s genius for math, but that she has inherited his madness and is uncertain of her future as she buries her father on her 27 birthday.

This movie was incredible from beginning to end.  Every one acted well, especially Paltrow.  From the opening scene, Paltrow portrayed a troubled woman.  Her movements, expressions, and speech, were all magnificently delivered by Paltrow and at no time did you know for sure if she was beginning to go insane or if it was her own paranoia creating her self doubt.

Actress Hope Davis (American Splendor) did a great job as Claire, Catherine’s no non-sense sister who believes that her younger sister has inherited her father’s sickness.  She was perfect in her role in that every time Catherine was fighting the belief that she was sick, Claire was right there enforcing the belief that she was sick.  It was clear also that Claire was offering to “help” Catherine more for Claire sake than Catherine’s.  She had a life to her own and did not want to have to come back out to Chicago, where Catherine and her father lived, every time her little sister had an episode. Davis did a wonderful job.

Both of the male actors in the movie, Hopkins, and Jake Gyllenhaal (The Day After Tomorrow,) did a fine job acting. Hopkins did his standard impressive performance as a man who goes insane.  As I said Gyllenhaal did a fine job, but I felt that any decent actor could have done his part.  I will say that his character was written the weakest of the four and yet he still pulled it off quite well.

The movie was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Auburn, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Rebecca Miller, and is amazing.  The story is engaging from beginning to end and I love how they introduce the character of Robert in the beginning of the movie, talking to Catherine, as if he is alive, and then he answers one of Catherine’s questions by telling her he has been dead for a week.  There are many scenes between father and daughter that are powerful.  My favorite scene is when Catherine has come home from Northwestern University because she has not been able to get a hold of Robert she discovers that he is outside in the snow, working on math.

One scene I did not like is during the party after the funeral, Hal (Gyllenhaal) ended up having sex with Catherine, earning her trust and essentially the lynch pin of the movie and I don’t know if I buy if that would happen.  Catherine had been so emotional with the death of her father, especially at the services, I don’t know if she would succumb to her passion.   However, that is the only glitch on a brilliant movie.

Director John Madden, who also directed Paltrow in Shakespeare in Love, did a great job with her in the movie.  She kept her intensity in the movie and I am sure Madden had something to do with it.  I also love the way he shot  my favorite scene in the movie.  It was dark and the lights was in the background so you could not see their expressions, but the silhouette of the their faces was wonderful.  I also liked how Madden was able to keep the movie from getting confusing with all of the flashback scenes explaining what had happen to the characters.

This is a great movie and I recommend every one to watch it.  This movie could be the sleeper at the big dance come February so if you can get to the theaters, skip all of the garbage that is coming out and watch Paltrow kick some butt and hopefully earn another nomination, this time she has earned it.

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unfriendedI stumbled across this film late at night on the HBO network and since I didn’t have anything else to do because I was in a hotel room on a work trip I decided to watch it. I wasn’t sure what to expect because I wasn’t really paying attention to what it was about when it was in the theaters.  So I start to watch the movie and as it goes I begin to think things like ok…huh…that’s different…well…sure I guess that works like that.  The vantage point of this film is fascinating and at the same time agonizing and it wasn’t all that scary but I will give it an A for some originality but it’s not really very good.

Unfriended is a story about a young woman named Blaire , played by Shelly Hennig (Ouija,) and her four friends that are either online through Skype or summoned online on the one year anniversary of the suicide of their friend Laura, who is played in YouTube video by Heather Sossaman (Bunch of TV Guest appearances.)  Laura committed suicide after a video of her surfaces on YouTube called “Laura Barnes kill yourself,” that showed Laura at a party and losing control of her bodily functions while passed out drunk.  The five friends discover that a mysterious person has summoned them all online using Laura’s old Skype account and things begin to turn sinister as the person uses the account forces the five to answer questions online or be murdered.

The reason why I feel this movie is original and fascinating as well as agonizing and at some points aggravating is that the entire movie is shot in the first person as if you were Blaire sitting in front of your computer monitor on Skype and every other social media outlet.  At no point does the film pan out or show wide shots or anything else.  You are witness drama, death, and mayhem all as if you are skyping with your friends.  I thought this was an interesting idea for a horror film or any film really and it sort of works in that it does really look like you are on skype the entire time.  So kudos for making a unique film and making it work.  This film reminds me of the film The Blair Witch Project in that it is really the first film that was shot in a “found footage,” hand held camera style.  To my knowledge this the first major film shot like this.

However, because the film was shot like this the beginning of the film was incredibly boring.  I would say that the beginning would be ok since we get to see Blaire and her boyfriend Mitch, played by Moses Storm (more TV guest appearances,) almost have online sex which would be cool except Blaire looks like she is 16 and that’s just creepy for anyone over 18 to be into that, it wasn’t ok.  Anyway, the build up to the “scary” stuff is slow with a bunch of kids trying to figure out who is using Laura’s Skype and who is emailing them in Laura’s email etc., etc.  The build is slow because we are staring at a computer monitor for 30+ minutes.  It doesn’t become mildly interesting until another kid, who was invited after the chat started, ends up dead and the kids get freaked out.  Up to that point the movie goes from fascinating to boring really quickly.

I also question the character development for the film in that there is no one to root for out of any of the characters except for Laura’s unseen ghost.  All five of these friends of Laura are the main cause or had a hand in posting the video of her at the party which caused her to commit suicide.  I can’t remember but one of them may even be responsible for the video of her suicide being online.  The most exciting part of the film is when the ghost is making them all play the game “Never have I ever” and here you find out that all of them are basically fucking each other over figuratively and literally.  We even discover through this game and other things that our sweet Blaire not only cheated on Mitch with his best friend Adam, played by Will Peltz (Paranoia,) Twice, but she was heavily involved in the YouTube video of Laura.  And she is a child hood friend of her.  All of these people disserve their comeuppance.  So how good can a movie be when you are cheering on the ghost?  I mean sure some of us cheer on Freddy, or Jason, or Michael Myers, but there is history and their victims of over the top stupidity.  These five kids are just mean, and cruel.  I suppose that is the point of the film, don’t bully or the ghost of the bullied person may come back to not only haunt you but possess you and kill you in a way will make it look like suicide, but the delivery was not there for me.

As I sum up I will say that the film stars a whole bunch of young actors and actresses that are either in small films, have guest appearances on regular TV shows, or daytime Soap Opera, and its cool that they all got to star in a major motion picture.  And maybe that is the reason why you should watch the film because we know that Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Aniston got their starts in horror films so why not one or two of these kids get their large career started with this film.  It’s not horrible and the view point is original but it is weak on the delivery.

 

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This review was a challenge from Benn to Brian.

jacobs ladderI love liberal hippies and their conspiracy theories. It allows them to blame the government, or some other entity, for their actions instead of taking responsibility. Which is what this movie is all about, government conspiracy in the Vietnam War, wow, how original. Oh, and the ending doesn’t make since and should have been re-written.

Tim Robbins (Mystic River) stars as Jacob Singer, postal worker who is a Vietnam War veteran who is seeing demons and aliens in his world as they try to capture him. He is also having nightmares about the battle in which he was wounded in Vietnam, as well as talking to his son who was killed in an accident before the War. Kind a confusing, isn’t it?

The beginning of the story is quite engaging. Obviously this guy has war issues and seeing the demons that he does would suggest a connection. For the first half of the movie, before the conspiracy theory comes to light, I found the movie very enjoyable because of this conflict. It appeared to be a man who saw something that has caused him to lose sight on reality when forced into a pressure situation, which working for the post office, would seem to be a 24 hour stressful job.

Tim Robbins performance is very steady. I guess it is easier to say that it was a very Tim Robbins performance, good but not great, conservative in his approach. Does the man know how to take a risk? I am not bagging on him, because he is a good actor, but has his performance ever changed? From Bull Durham to Shawshank Redemption his performance never changes.

The real problem is that the story just plain sucks. After the halfway point we discover that there is a possible government/army cover-up that involved his unit and the night he was wounded. This is the point where the story starts to unravel. If there is a cover-up, why did they rescue the injured men? Why not leave them to die in the jungle, dead man can tell no tales. However, writer Bruce Joel Rubin, leaves the best for the last. After Jacob learns all of these horror’s of evil government involvement, he goes back home, walks with his dead child upstairs and the movie fades into brilliant light. From the light we are moved back to Vietnam, where Jacob is lying on the table and he dies. The doctors covered him up and leave, the end. Let me be the first to say what the f*ck? He dies on the operating table in Vietnam and everything since that time is some kind of pot induced hallucination while his body fades away? Doesn’t that nullify everything that Jacob discovered? Why does he discover it when there is nothing he can do about it? This is all just very bad writing to try to prove a point that isn’t necessary.

I am sure that there are/were a lot of messed up men that came home from the war. The combination of the horror of war, and the drugs that some of them used probably made for a bad after war life. But dreaming up of conspiracy theories to justify the use of drugs or the mindless waste of men demeans the loss of men and what they died for. You are a bad man Mr. Rubin, and by the looks of your career since this movie it looks like you have been and will continue to be punished for your writing. Avoid this movie unless you like Michael Moore, then you will probably love it.

Brian – the Naked Gun

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InterpreterSo after the first hour of the movie I kept asking myself why Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn are in this suspenseful, detective, who done it. However, 15 hours later when the movie FINALLY ended, I realized that this movie was a political drama and both Kidman and Penn were perfect for this yawner.

Ok, Nicole Kidman (Batman Forever) stars as Silvia, an interpreter at the United Nations who overhears a conversation between two people talking about the assassination of an African President who is accused of genocide. Tobin Keller, played by Sean Penn (21 Grams), is a Secret Service agent assigned to protect foreign dignitaries, and gets to investigate Silvia. Blah, blah, blah! The plot and outline description can go on for another four hours, but I don’t want to torture myself again, so I will just get to the complaints.

All of the trailers show Sean Penn’s character basically saying he thinks Kidman’s character is lying to him. Well, if there was a twist and maybe she was telling the truth but it was hard to prove, that would be worth investigating, but she was lying from the beginning and everybody in the audience new it or should have known it. There was no suspense to Kidman’s character, you knew she was hiding something all of the time. Now, there was suspense when you were trying to figure out what lie she was going to tell Keller. But the movie took way to long to figure out the obvious.

Nicole Kidman was poorly cast for this movie. It’s not her fault since supposedly she did not read the script before signing on. Her character kills a small kid years before the time that this movie takes place, Kidman can’t pull that kind of character off. There was picture of her holding a gun and it just was wrong, and then the final scene with her holding the gun to the bad guys head, um, no. She is a great actress and wonderfully beautiful, but some other actress should have been cast, not Kidman.

I thought Sean Penn did a good job, but I couldn’t figure out why he was in this movie after the first hour. He doesn’t do action movies, at least not now. But once the movie switched to the whole politics is best served by talking and not the gun, then it made perfect since why he was in this movie. This was his subtle anti-Iraqi war movie statement. He did a good job but if I knew what this movie was REALLY about, I would have gone in with a completely different mind set.

I would also like to bitch about Sydney Pollack and his directing. Every scene seemed to last 5 minutes longer than necessary. It was like he was making a statement, putting it in bold, and italics, and then underlines it. I know the writing has something to do with it but still a director should know when to edit out the pointless staring that the characters do. Ten seconds of staring is ok, what seemed like 45 years of staring in the same scene, too much.

Overall, I can’t recommend this movie, it is painfully long, Kidman is miscast, and it is not a suspenseful thriller but a political drama. So if you like long-winded political statements in a movie, have fun, and bring your hemorrhoid crème.

Brian – the Naked Gun

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