Mark Gordon

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Murder On The Orient Express Review

Very Good

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style entertainment. Director-star Kenneth Branagh lets the story unfold with attention to detail while filling the screen with eye-catching images, from the spectacular mountain settings to the opulent costumes. And while the story is too familiar to stir up too much suspense, it's played with a strong sense of emotional resonance. And the moral question is provocative.

 

The Orient Express sets off from 1934 Istanbul with a colourful collection of passengers. A last-minute addition is noted detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh), who has just solved a thorny mystery in Jerusalem and is now heading to London. Even though he shouldn't be working, he begins to weigh up the odd collection of passengers around him, including a gangster (Johnny Depp), countess (Judi Dench), widow (Michelle Pfeiffer), governess (Daisy Ridley), maid (Olivia Colman), salesman (Wille Dafoe), assistant (Josh Gad), butler (Derek Jacobi) and doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.). Then in the middle of the night, one of them is violently murdered. And when the train becomes lodged in a snowdrift, Poirot has the time to dig further into each person's clearly suspicious back-story.

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War Dogs Review

Good

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed a massive defence contract with the American government to sell arms for the War on Terror. The story is told with a heavy dose of macho swagger by The Hangover's Todd Phillips, which makes it entertaining even as it dodges the heavier themes the plot is raising. It's also set in a world where smugness is an asset and women are irrelevant.

It begins in 2005 Miami, where David (Miles Teller) is working as a masseur and living happily with his girlfriend Iz (Ana de Armas). Then he runs into his old school friend Efraim (Jonah Hill), who convinces him that there's money to be made selling weapons to the US military. Over the next few years, the business expands dramatically, bringing in a fortune as David and Efraim travel into Iraq to see their deals through. Then they land a massive new contract that involves working with a rather dodgy supplier (Bradley Cooper) and processing the arms in Albania. But as they start bending the law to maximise their profits, things start to fall apart.

Phillips tells this with a quick step and a twinkle in his eye, zipping through the events with masculine energy, filling scenes with black humour as the business gets murkier. Hill and Teller make a terrific team, using their impeccable comic timing to make every scene zing. They are also excellent at bringing out the contrasts between David and Efraim: David tries to do things right, Efraim has no moral compass. And their differing approaches to cross-cultural situations are telling as well. Many of their conflicts seem scripted for movie purposes, but they're so well-played that we don't mind too much. By comparison, the supporting cast kind of fades into the background. Cooper grabs attention in a seriously oddball role, while de Armas is completely sidelined as the only person with a conscience.

Continue reading: War Dogs Review

Steve Jobs Review

Extraordinary

Sidestepping arguments about accuracy, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle take an artistic, impressionistic approach to this biopic about the iconic Apple founder. Using a structure that would work perfectly on stage, the film tells his story through just three extended scenes. In the process, it reveals even more about human nature than it does about Steve Jobs or the tech business.

The first segment is set in 1984, as Steve (Michael Fassbender) is about to launch the game-changing Macintosh computer with cofounder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), marketing expert Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet) and developer Andy Hertsfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg). As he organises the launch event to within an inch of its life, he's interrupted by his ex-girlfriend Chrisann (Katherine Waterston), but Steve still refuses to accept that her 5-year-old daughter is his. He also has an important conversation with the Apple chairman John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) just before going on-stage. This same scenario is repeated two more times, at the 1988 launch of NeXT and at the 1998 launch of the iMac, tracing Steve's fierce business acumen, complex interaction with his colleagues, and his evolving connection with his daughter.

Fassbender bravely never hedges his bets as Jobs, finding a tricky balance in an innovator who changed the world but never quite made sense of his personal or professional relationships. This is a man who is likeable and cruel at the same time, eliciting both laughter and gasps of horror from the audience. Fassbender's kinetic energy is hugely engaging, matched cleverly by Winslet's Hoffman, the only person with whom Jobs speaks about his own flaws. With both Rogen's generous Wozniak and Stuhlbarg's determined Hertzfeld, Jobs is much more dismissive, although there's respect under the surface. And its the literate banter with Daniels' thoughtful Sculley that gives the film its brainy kick, especially as it's so inventively written and directed to weave conversations right into flashbacks.

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The To Do List Review


Very Good

Even as this comedy strains to be goofy and transgressive, it catches us by surprise simply because it dares to explore first-time sexual experiences through female eyes. And Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed) brings her usual sardonic wit to the lead role, merrily offending the more timid moviegoers while making more adventurous fans wish the film went even further.

Plaza plays Brandy, who graduated at the top of her Boise high school class. But with that goal achieved, she wonders if she neglected to prepare properly for university social life, so she makes a summer to-do list of sex-related tasks leading, hopefully, to losing her virginity to the hunky guitar-strumming lifeguard Rusty (Porter). She works with him at the local swimming pool along with her nice-guy best pal Cameron (Simmons), who's of course secretly in love with her. But as Brandy works through the list with the help of her friends (Shawkat and Steele) and her experienced big sister (Bilson), she starts to worry that her emotions are getting in the way.

Thankfully, writer-director Carey refuses to let this turn into a romantic slush-fest, keeping the encounters jagged and often very funny. The script is packed with hilariously squirm-inducing conversations about sex, many involving Brandy's far too helpful mother (Britton). Although her dad (Gregg) and her loser boss (Hader) understandably don't want to know. Meanwhile, when the local guys (Glover and Mintz-Plasse) find out about Brandy's list, they are sure to tick off a few items themselves, as does a visiting rock star (Samberg).

Continue reading: The To Do List Review

10,000 B.C. Review


Weak
You'd think that with mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and large, screeching birds you wouldn't need much more to deliver an entertaining romp through yester-epoch, but 10,000 B.C. proves that merely having an exotic setting as your premise won't get you over a mundane plot and more mundane characters.

The film begins with a blue-eyed girl coming to live with a clan of "manuk" (that's "mammoth" to you and me) hunters after her tribe is wiped out by what appear to be the bad guys from Conan the Barbarian. The tribe elder (Mona Hammond) declares that this girl is part of some prophecy while the son of the tribe's #1 hunter looks on.

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The Hoax Review


Very Good
Everybody loves a good con artist, a guy who can bluff his way into or out of anything. He's isn't violent, not a gangster, but a smooth-talking charmer whose poker face doesn't flinch no matter how dangerous or delicate the situation gets. Lasse Hallström's latest, The Hoax, offers a portrait of such a con artist, a real-life fabulist who makes James Frey (the disgraced "non-fiction" writer behind 2003's A Million Little Pieces) and his shenanigans look like chump change.

Richard Gere, perfectly cast, plays Clifford Irving, a down-and-out writer who in 1971 wrote (and nearly got published) a fake biography of Howard Hughes. Desperate to jump-start his career, Irving duped his editor Andrea Tate (Hope Davis) and the top dogs at McGraw-Hill into believing he was not only a friend of Hughes, the notorious recluse, but that the billionaire had tapped Irving to write his life story. Smelling a publishing sensation, McGraw-Hill offered Irving a then-record publishing deal, and the writer suddenly found himself the crown prince of the publishing world.

Continue reading: The Hoax Review

Speed Review


Extraordinary
Speed is to hostage thrillers as Psycho is to slasher flicks. Voted one of AFI's Top 100 Most Heart-Pounding Movies of all time, few hostage movies reach this level of tension and sustain it throughout the entire running time. Audiences may have experienced similar stories before, but they are seldom done this well and with this level of energy.

The movie begins when a deranged mad bomber, Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper), severs cables to an elevator inside a Los Angeles skyscraper. The bomber demands $3 million ransom or he'll blow the emergency cables. LA Bomb Squad members Jack (Keanu Reeves) and his partner, Harry (Jeff Daniels), must defuse the bomb before Payne blows the cables. This situation alone could provoke a feature length thriller, but it merely serves as the first act for Speed.

Continue reading: Speed Review

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Mark Gordon Movies

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

Murder on the Orient Express Movie Review

The latest adaptation of Agatha Christie's 83-year-old classic whodunit, this lavish, star-studded film is old-style...

War Dogs Movie Review

War Dogs Movie Review

Based on a rather astounding true story, this comedy-drama centres on two stoners who landed...

Steve Jobs Movie Review

Steve Jobs Movie Review

Sidestepping arguments about accuracy, writer Aaron Sorkin and director Danny Boyle take an artistic, impressionistic...

Advertisement
The To Do List Movie Review

The To Do List Movie Review

Even as this comedy strains to be goofy and transgressive, it catches us by surprise...

10,000 B.C. Movie Review

10,000 B.C. Movie Review

You'd think that with mammoths, saber-tooth tigers, and large, screeching birds you wouldn't need much...

The Hoax Movie Review

The Hoax Movie Review

Everybody loves a good con artist, a guy who can bluff his way into or...

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