Murder on the Orient Express: Movie Man Jackson

Everyone is a suspect…and connected by six degrees of separation. After a demanding case solved in Jerusalem, Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh)—the world’s greatest detective—is allowing himself some R&R in Istanbul. The best laid plans never go according to plan, as durign his time away from work, Poirot is called to London to investigate a case.

With no travel plans readily available, Hercule turns to his friend Mr. Bouc (Tom Bateman), who helps run the Orient Express, a train on the path to London. While vacation is cut short, at least the detective can relax by reading some Dickens for a few days.

Again, the best laid plans never go according to plan, as the train is derailed from its course, and during this derail, someone on the train has killed a passenger. There’s a Murder on the Orient Express and said murderer is still on the train. Only one man can solve this.

Ahh, the whodunit mystery. It is a movie genre that can be pretty limiting when one thinks about it. Often, there isn’t a ton of depth under the initial mystery to make for anything unforgettable, whether the production is loosely defined as an “original” (à la Happy Death Day) or a remake adapted from an Agatha Christie novel, which Murder on the Orient Express happens to be. Summed up, this remake is probably unnecessary but is certainly impressive to look at, have a little fun with, and never think about again after an initial watch.

The first thing noticed about “MotOE” is the well-done cinematography, commitment to the respective time period via costumes/setting, lighting, and just the mostly strong direction from director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Cinderella) shot on 65mm. Very easy to feel transported into 1934. Along with a fitting score by composer Patrick Doyle, it all adds to the old-school feeling. Stylistically, this is a classic movie made in 2017. In ways, the last-generation video game LA Noire comes to mind, from style to execution. While this Orient Express is far from original, there is a small feeling of freshness, because this type of production isn’t that common. As a basic whodunit, those who have never been exposed to prior iterations (like yours truly) may be surprised at how everything shakes down. While the actual culprit reveal isn’t something I’m completely pleased with, it did keep me guessing for the bulk of the runtime, doing the job on that front.

While Murder on the Orient Express’ highest plus is that of the technical work behind the screen, it isn’t without a little fault. The murder scene in particular which the movie is built around is rather rushed and isn’t really treated with the gravitas one would be led to believe. The medium shots from outside the train peering into the glass in voyeuristic manner is nice to look at, but probably a bit overused as well after so many times without amounting to much. As inane as this may sound, the white subtitles were a little easy to miss at times with some of them being shown against backgrounds (walls, dress shirts) that also happen to be white. Small, but some of this dialogue is critical and easy to miss.

What isn’t easy to miss is that mustache Kenneth Branagh sports as the famed detective. It stands out among everything, like his performance among the rest of the cast. Call Murder on the Orient Express ‘The Kenneth Branagh Show’ as director, lead actor, and producer. He is an interesting character with some internal depth and Branagh does a great job with an intro scene that makes Poirot easy to buy into as the self-proclaimed world’s greatest detective. Where Branagh (and screenplay writer Michael Green) struggles is with the repeated stabs at humor. A few are effective, most are not. Same can be said for the interrogation scenes. Half seize attention, but others can actually be dull.

A cast this beefy shouldn’t be predominantly forgettable though. Yet, that’s accurate for this film. Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, and Manuel Garcia-Rulfo all blend into each other. Honestly, I can’t remember who was the countess and who was the cook! Others like Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer do make a little more of a lasting impression, but to call them fairly detailed would be a tad too generous. This is Branagh’s baby and his alone.

It is Branagh as the conductor, engineer, and bellhop who leads Murder on the Orient Express to a destination of Finesville. Choo-choo.

C+

Photo credits go to cinemablend.com, highsnobiety.com, and filmandtvnow.com.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

 

Advertisements

The Magnificent Seven (2016): Movie Man Jackson

themagseven

Sometimes it takes an army. Other times, it takes only seven people. Some time in the 1870’s, the town of Rose Creek is under hostile takeover. Industrial businessman Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) is interesting in mining the town for gold. He gives the residents two choices: Either accept his payment of $20 per acre, or die trying to defend it.

The townspeople want to defend, but few know how. After losing her husband to Bogue and his henchman, widow Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) looks to hire some assistance, starting with Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), supreme bounty hunter. From there, Chisolm treks the Old Frontier for help, settling on gambler Josh Farraday (Chris Pratt), Confederate deadeye Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), his partner and assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), Native-American warrior drifter Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), and Mexican wanted outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo). Together, The Magnificent Seven provides a fighting chance for residents to keep their town.

 sarsgaard

The season of fall officially began Thursday, September 22nd for the northern hemisphere. The season of fall began for Hollywood a couple of weeks ago. However, at least out here in Columbus, Ohio, summer doesn’t feel like it has left yet, weather-wise. And for a little over two hours, The Magnificent Seven makes one feel like we’re still in blockbuster season. In a point almost certain to be made in a lot of positive reviews, The Magnificent Seven is one of the movies summer 2016 needed.

Doesn’t mean it is flawless, but darn entertaining. I didn’t expect anything less from director Antoine Fuqua (The Equalizer, Olympus Has Fallen). His movies, sans Training Day, may lack substantial substance but he’s always had a great eye and hand behind the camera. That doesn’t change here. The Western setting is fully realized, from the garb to the firearms to the alcohol. And when the quick draw action and prolonged gunfights goes down, it is thrilling, with the high point being a PG-13 limit-pushing climax where no one is safe. The Magnificent Seven 2016 absolutely benefits with today’s camerawork.

standoff

This isn’t a shot-for-shot remake (thankfully), and even calling it a remake is somewhat misleading. But this is the retelling of a story that will probably always be retold every 40-50 years. That is to say that the story written by True Detective showrunner Nic Pizzolatto and Richard Wenk follows the same beats as the 1960 and 1954 version, with a little more lightness and surprisingly good humor during the quieter moments. Putting it under a modern comparison, Fast Five (especially with the diversity aspect) and The Avengers come to mind, without the lore those movies afforded themselves as franchises.

Don’t go expecting to be blown away by any characters. A few have some interesting backstories that are briefly hit on, but by and large the actors are being seen and not the characters they portray. It’s not a bad thing, if only because everyone is having such a great time. Each member of the seven gets time to shine, some brighter than others. Denzel is a great lead as Chisolm, believable as the one guy who could get this group to work cohesively. He’s got some connection to the film’s main villain, played well by Sarsgaard. I think the finale could have had more emotional punch if their connection and why Chisolm is driven to take down Bogue was revealed earlier, however.

Hawke is good, even if his character’s struggles are only briefly touched upon. Though this is obviously a different movie, there’s something awesome about seeing him in scenes again with Washington 15 years later. D’Onofrio is easily the oddest of the bunch, yet lays a claim for being the most memorable as well. This film could be the vehicle to launch lesser stars like Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, and Byung-hun Lee into more prominent positions in Hollywood. Chris Pratt’s already in a prominent position, and he’s just a engaging personality here.

 chisolm

Is the Western making a comeback? That remains to be seen, but The Magnificent Seven certainly could be an ignition starter. Anyone hankering for a traditional and explosive jaunt into the Old Frontier will find it here.

B+

Photo credits go to pgr.com and filmandtvnow.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson