Murder on the Orient Express

Year: 2017
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Johnny Depp, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Leslie Odom Jr.

Written by Jo Craig

A packed Friday night screening jostling with curiosity from a varied audience sees Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Agatha Christie’s ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ as an impressive turnout for the classic enigma’s opening night, prompting a relentless interest we as a nation have in a good whodunit with an itch to solve the crime before the protagonist. Furrowed brows, swift chuckles and an envy for lavish conduct awaits on this expedition, but instead of partaking in the detective work more is to be gained from kicking off Jessica Fletcher’s slippers and settling for spectator as a sedative to preclude headache.

Previously made for the big screen in 1974 by Sidney Lumet and Albert Finney, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ joins Hercule Poirot, the greatest detective in the world on his most puzzling case, becoming the sole investigator of a murder on-board the long-distance passenger train while travelling on its isolating journey from Istanbul across Europe. Transporting an opulent array of passengers, it’s Poirot’s duty to catch the killer before arrival and keep his head above its surrounding secrecy.

Humour is not a common factor when it comes to productions in the crime genre of late, however Poirot’s resume equips us for a level of tongue-in-cheek quips that colour his meticulous problem solving and is a component that’s used to the advantage of Kenneth Branagh’s retelling. Performing on and off camera validates the skippers acting flair and stability with directing, not to mention his dazzling blue eyes that looked as if the universe existed within them against the niveous scenery. Comic timing contrived on both sides of the 65mm camera remained impeccably placed from the outset and operated as the features redeeming asset when the plot bottle necked but ultimately became a distant memory during the last quarter. Branagh’s emphasis on Poirot’s obsessive trait towards “unbearable” imperfections addressed an insecurity that stuck, despite being labelled unshakeable and supplied a quirk to the police work.

Daisy Ridley and Josh Gad kept the 1930’s current for modern day viewing and worked a vital freshness into the timeless mystery that was threatened with regenerated humdrum. Ridley’s Mary Debenham teases with a bubbly demeanour but is frequently deprived of independence, while Gad’s theatrical background sufficiently peddles his engagement as the shady MacQueen. Pfeiffer and Depp remain sturdy as the backbone to a polished cast while maintaining the progressive gravitas alongside Branagh, unlike Dame Judi Dench who became outclassed by her servant Olivia Coleman, whose fleeting but expressive role surpassed Dench’s few humorous lines. Performances from a dreary Cruz, and doctor on-board Leslie Odom Jr. are forgotten amongst larger personalities, adding extra baggage to an already crowded compartment that demanded extra scrutiny.

A long-winded introduction presenting the movie as a character piece rather than a wholesome thriller emerged as wasted time when arriving at the films core, presenting the crime’s foundation as a careless interjection into the narrative which ultimately caused a detachment from Poirot’s deliberating, abandoning all hope of solving the puzzle with him. This late addition of a critical layer to the plot, combined with a plethora of identities and jigsaw pieces caused major brain cramps when tasked to juggle them all at once, all the while trying to decipher Branagh’s often incomprehensible speech that muddled a decent French accent every time Hercule got excited. A retrospective scene delved into a fitting noir-scope which brought punch to the denouement and bound any loose ends, but stretched into a dragging conclusion that begged for the inspector’s no-nonsense psyche to halt its runaway manner.

Hair-raising scenery of snowy mountains and vertigo-summoning drops were efficient in contrast to a packed locomotive interior, with credible cinematography from Haris Zambarloukos (‘Thor’) and Rebecca Alleway’s (‘The Duchess’) convincing set decoration that brought the allure of the era and a rather majestic looking choo choo. Branagh’s clever trick in the director’s chair pinned our stellar actors to the background as much as the foreground, encouraging the viewers to look beyond the spotlight for evidence like the cunning detective.

As it stands, no vehicular journey is without shoogling as ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ plays to its strengths as a kitsch conundrum with Hollywood’s most glamorous, almost excusing its accelerated second act pace and a platter of redundant clues that lend no hand to budding crime aficionados who haven’t read or watched the original material. Viewers young and matured will certainly get a thrill from Branagh’s version as an alternative to family Cluedo night and ‘CSI’ re-runs, with the exception of Branagh’s quality act hiding behind a two-layered, preposterous moustache.

Jo’s Rating: 6.0 out of 10            
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All Aboard! New Trailer For ‘Murder On The Orient Express’ Rolls In

“What starts out as a lavish train ride through Europe quickly unfolds into one of the most stylish, suspenseful and thrilling mysteries ever told. From the novel by best selling author Agatha Christie, “Murder on the Orient Express” tells the tale of thirteen strangers stranded on a train, where everyone’s a suspect. One man must race against time to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.”

Directed By: Kenneth Branagh
Cast: Tom Bateman, Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom, Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Marwan Kenzari, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin
Release Date: November 4th 2017

Death Note

Year: 2017
Director: Adam Wingard
Starring: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Margaret Qualley, Willem Dafoe, Jason Liles

Written by Sasha Hornby

When Adam Wingard’s live-action US-set reimagining of ‘Death Note‘ was announced, I had mixed feelings.  Excitement at the prospect of another film from one of my favourite genre directors (The Guest is in my top 10 of all time, a criminally underseen B-movie flick).  But also trepidation.  The incredible source manga of the same name, written by Tsugumi Obha and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, is 2,400 pages long, and was my gateway into manga over 10 years ago.  The best adaptation (and there have been many) thus far, is the wildly popular 37-episode anime series, which is often touted as one of the best anime series, period.  The big question forming in my mind was ‘how on earth do you fit such a rich mythos into 100 minutes?’

And let me tell you now, the answer is, you don’t.  With a simplified plot, Death Note tells the tale of high school student Light Turner (Nat Wolff) who is handed a supernatural notebook, the Death Note, that belongs to Ryuk (voiced by Willem Defoe), a bored Shinigami (God of death).  As owner of the Death Note, Light has the power to kill any person whose name he writes in it.  With his girlfriend, Mia Sutton (Margaret Qualley), he begins a vigilante quest to rid the world of evil, ending the lives of those they deem unworthy of life – criminals, mostly.  As the death toll exceeds 400, he attracts the attention of the mysterious master detective known only as L (Lakeith Stanfield), and a deadly game of cat-and-mouse ensues.

The cast for the most part are adequate, with two stand-outs, who are both, unfortunately, underused: Lekeith Stanfield as L and Willem Defoe as the voice of Ryuk.  L is a curious man, preferring to crouch on chairs rather than sit and eating copious amounts of candy for nutrition.  Stanfield plays the character note-perfectly, never making his quirks a comedic crutch, but rather giving insight to an incredibly intelligent man most likely on the autism spectrum.  L is the voice of reason.  Comparatively, Ryuk is the voice of chaos.  Even though all Defoe lends is his voice to the character, he is at his menacing best.  In an interview with IGN, Defoe describes Ryuk as “half-mentor, half-tormentor”, and Defoe taps into that with ease.  Ryuk’s laugh in this film will stick with me for the rest of my natural-born life.

As a person knocking on 30’s door, my empathy for whiney-ass teenagers has all but gone.  And I think this is why I struggled with the central couple.  Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley do what they can with the roles they given, but somehow they felt predictable and one-dimensional.  Almost stereotypical.  He, a supposedly intelligent nerd boy, and her, a sassy cheerleader turned bad girl.  There’s a bit of a Bonnie and Clyde vibe, that is never fully realised.

The new setting of Seattle feels grounded, whilst allowing for the more fantastical elements of the story.  Pier 57 on Elliott Bay, adorned with the Seattle Great Wheel, features in two pivotal moments: a moment of love under the bright sunshine, and a moment of despair in deepest night.  It forms a iconic backdrop to the film – much the same as the Coney Island ferris wheel does in The Warriors (1978).

Director Adam Wingard has such a destinctive style that is painted all over Death Note.  From the synth-dreanched 80s-inspired soundtrack (which I absolutely loved – hurry up onto vinyl already), to the pulpy neon colours, to the ultra-violence, to the electric final act, this screams “I am a Wingard movie!”  Unfortunately, none of the elements I adore in Wingard’s work could save the film from it’s own pacing issues.  Plot point after plot point after plot point are fired in such quick succession, it is both jarring and discombobulating.  It took me a solid 40 minutes to aclimatise to the unrelenting speed – I just really wish it had been given a bit of space to breathe.

Death Note could have been a truly great American adaptation of the famous Japanese property, and more to the point, I really wanted it to be.  If given an extra 30 minutes, and stronger leads, perhaps it would have been.  My advice to fans of the source material (I count myself in this group) is to approach the film as though you know nothing, and it is still serviceable.  For everyone else, its an enjoyable, if hurried, mystical thriller.

Sasha’s rating: 5.5 out of 10

 

Touching First Trailer For ‘The Florida Project’ Released

“Set on a stretch of highway just outside the imagined utopia of Disney World, The Florida Project follows six-year-old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince in a stunning breakout turn) and her rebellious mother Halley (Bria Vinaite, another major discovery) over the course of a single summer. The two live week to week at “The Magic Castle,” a budget motel managed by Bobby (a career-best Willem Dafoe), whose stern exterior hides a deep reservoir of kindness and compassion. 

Despite her harsh surroundings, the precocious and ebullient Moonee has no trouble making each day a celebration of life, her endless afternoons overflowing with mischief and grand adventure as she and her ragtag playmates—including Jancey, a new arrival to the area who quickly becomes Moonee’s best friend—fearlessly explore the utterly unique world into which they’ve been thrown. Unbeknownst to Moonee, however, her delicate fantasy is supported by the toil and sacrifice of Halley, who is forced to explore increasingly dangerous possibilities in order to provide for her daughter. “

Directed By: Sean Baker
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Brooklynn Prince, Bria Vinaite, Caleb Landry Jones
Release Date: 12th January 2018

 

Netflix Highlights: January

As we say goodbye to January, we welcome in February with a look back at all the best films added to Netflix at the start of this year. Our Netflix expert, Mark Blakeway, has put together this handy list so you can binge and chill.


TWOWS

The Wolf Of Wall Street

“HOW DID HE NOT WIN AN OSCAR!?”

In what will surely go down as one of the biggest injustices of the Academy Awards, Leo DiCaprio gives arguably a career-best performance, starring as Jordan Belfort.

“HOW DID THIS FILM NOT WIN ANY OSCARS?”

That’s a tougher question, but the fact it was up for five Oscars is a clear indication as to just how good this movie is. DiCaprio plays a stockbroker on Wall Street, swimming in money but with a career based on fraud, his life is completely unpredictable. With Martin Scorcese at the reins, this story of a man we should probably hate, becomes one of the most entertaining and dare I say it, hilarious, films to ever grace our screens.

All Is Lost

If too much happened in ‘Captain Phillips’ for you, and you thought, “I wish there was a film where it was just a man on a boat”, then look no further. ‘All Is Lost’ showcases a powerful performance by Robert Redford, by quite literally being the only person in the entire film, as a man who utters only a few sentences throughout. He is faced with adversity and daunting isolation and the film is incredibly bleak. I think the only words he says once the film gets going is “fuck” and “help”… that says it all. For all the bleakness, this is one not to be missed.

CITY OF GOD

City Of God

Most people have seen this film, but if you haven’t, now presents a great time to watch it. Set within the slums of Rio De Janeiro, this is a shocking look at what life is like for those growing up with nothing but crime around them. As far as world cinema goes, this is a very accessible film and one that has gone down as a crime classic. Filled with unflinching violence and raw emotion, but always captivating, ‘City of God’ is an incredible example of expert storytelling.

Haywire

It’s quite rare that you find a film capable of building up a female action-hero to be such a bad-ass, without succumbing to all the typical, sexist traits. ‘Haywire’ allows MMA fighter Gina Carano – in her first ever acting role – to exploit her physical dominance in a role that sees her take on those who she used to work for. Previously a special government contract killer, now she is the one who needs to be killed? We’ve seen it before, but few have done it this well as of late.

The Hunter

A slow, but brooding drama, where Willem Dafoe treks about in beautiful scenery with a gun waiting to kill a tiger. He’s a bit of a loner, until he befriends a local family who are also on the hunt for one of their family members who has gone missing, and his simple mission to retrieve the animal becomes a little more complicated. For some, this may be a bit boring, but if you’re a fan of minimalist drama and nice landscape views, then you can’t go far wrong.

WNTTAK

We Need To Talk About Kevin

A mortifying thriller, which leans more towards a horror than your typical drama-with-an-edge. Based on the novel of the same name, and presumably based on any number of high-school massacres in the US, this is an important and intriguing look at what the mindset is of someone compelled to commit such atrocities. It’s a little sensationalised, but it needs to be in order to carry the more important message. A truly chilling film with fantastic performances all around, including a star turn from Ezra Miller (the guy set to play The Flash in the DCEU).

Battle Royale

Netflix keep removing and then adding this title for some reason (maybe it’s to keep putting it at the top of the new additions list). While the concept may sound a bit stale, what with all the “sole-survivor” styled films out there in recent years, but ‘Battle Royale’ was arguably the first one to hit our screens with such originality and ferocity. Based on the novel of the same name, this controversial and bloody thriller is not easy to stomach. Those looking for an intense viewing experience need look no further.

Timbuktu

A slow-paced film, made up of many individual stories that come together with one overriding and timely theme, and that is the theme of oppression in the name of religion. Sickening, infuriating and above all else, haunting, this depiction of Muslims under the rule of other Muslims is a message that cannot be taken lightly. Perhaps too quiet and slow for some, but one that is worth sticking with until the end.

Uncle Buck

Drugs? Fraud? Death? Religion? Those topics are a bit bleak! Lets lighten the mood. ‘Uncle Buck’ anyone? An easy-going comedy from the late 80’s starring John Candy, as a haphazard, unemployed babysitter for his brothers kids. Seemingly incapable of being the responsible adult, with your typical irresponsible kids, it’s a recipe for disaster. But still, it’s a happy, heartwarming comedy too. One to watch if you are completely bummed out by the other suggestions.