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CINEMA TOAST: ‘Columbus,’ ‘Daddy’s Home 2,’ and ‘Murder on the Orient Express.’

COLUMBUS (PG-13) 

Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Michelle Forbes

Directed by: Kogonada

This is a film to watch in the early afternoon, so you can spend some time afterwards appreciating what you have just experienced. The story involves what happens when a world-class Korean architect, slated to give a talk about the celebrated modernist buildings of Columbus, Indiana, is hospitalized. His grown son is stuck in the Midwestern city, but finds companionship with a young librarian as they both try to cope with what life has dealt them. But this film is so much more than that: a poignantly beautiful piece of conversational filmmaking where buildings become part of the cast.

4 pieces of ‘just when you thought you had seen everything’ toast

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (PG-13)

Starring: Kenneth Branagh Tom Bateman, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Marwen Kenzari, Olivia Coleman, Lucy Boynton, Daisy Ridley

Directed by: Kenneth Branagh

Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective Hercule Poirot boards the elegant “wagon lit” sleeping cars on the Orient Express for a relaxing train journey. But a mysterious murder in the middle of the night tasks his “little grey cells” with too many clues - and a baker’s-dozen suspects. Those of us who recall Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version with fondness, may wonder why there needed to be a remake. What Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Vanessa Redgrave added to that version was a sense of lightness, a balance to the often quite talky goings-on. In contrast, the new version bogs down as soon as the train is stopped by a snow storm, and we are stuck watching A-list actors try their best to figure out what tone their director (and the movie’s mustachioed star) wants them to project. 

2-and-1/2 pieces of ‘another movie star unwisely directing himself’ toast 

THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (R)

Starring:  Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell, Sunny Sujian, Raffey Cassidy, Barry Koeghan, Alicia Silverstone

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

The Greek director and screenwriter has uber-stylishly coalesced his homeland’s mythology with Freudian and Jungian archetypes in a bleak, and coldly sadistic manner that could make audiences leave the theater feeling soiled and in need of a swim in the ocean and a long, hot shower. Ostensibly, this is the story of a neatness-freak family where the dad is a heart surgeon and the mother an ophthalmologist with two perfect-kids who rebel by ignoring their chores, and what happens when dad invites the son of a former patient to live with them. We all know that the newcomer will change the family dynamic, and most of us can predict what his impact will be, but this film goes beyond our most morbid expectations down a rabbit hole of truly unsettling events.

1-and-1/2 pieces of ‘artistry or exploitation?’ toast 

120 BEATS PER MINUTE (NR)

Starring: Nahuel Perez Bicayart, Adele Haenel, Arnaud Valois

Directed by: Robin Campillo

The AIDS epidemic of the 1990’s sparked ACT UP groups in communities across the globe, and this film focuses on the activists involved with the Paris, France branch. It is a docudrama based largely on the life and times of the film’s writer/director, and spends a great deal of screen time inside the astoundingly realistic weekly therapy sessions where infected people react to their impending ends in dramatic (and often quite angry) fashion. Winner of the Palme de’ Or at Cannes, and nominated by France as their entry to the this year’s Oscar’s this is obviously not an American film. In one scene, a hospice-bound man asks a person who he clashed with at the meetings, “Why are you here?” The revealing answer is, “We don’t like each other.  But we’re friends.” 

3-and-1/2 pieces of ‘there’s nothin’ else out there like’ this toast 

DADDY’S HOME 2 (PG-13) 

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Whalberg, Linda Cardellini, John Cena, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson

Directed by: Sean Anders

Imagine ultra-machismo Mel Gibson and emotionally expressive John Lithgow as the granddads with completely different ideas about what will make a “perfect” family Christmas, and you’ve got a handle on the concept behind this sequel to the 2015 smash hit comedy. But nothing works. Gibson is woefully miscast and has the comic timing of a jelly donut. Will Farrell tries to spice thing up with pratfalls and funny faces, but the script, the direction, the over-peppy music and the cast’s obvious discomfort combine to let the audience add-up how much money (and time) they wasted on this so-called “fun-for-all.”

1 piece of ‘truly unfunny’ toast (Contact Gil at gilmansergh@comcast.net)