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

 

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John Wick: Movie Man Jackson

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“That f*****g nobody is John Wick.”

Take out a man’s best friend and suffer the consequences. Mr. John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is the titular character of John Wick, a man with a lot of personal and emotional baggage. Once a hitman for hire, Wick has left that profession behind and started anew with a loving wife. With her by his side, he has been able to experience a much more conventional life.

Sadly, his partner passes away and he is left with nothing until a dog comes at his doorstep, a last gift from his dying wife. The new friend immediately takes a liking to him providing support and a memento of sorts of his wife. Unfortunately, this is short-lived, and through a random encounter with gangsters, Wick’s life is pretty much reduced to nothing. With absolutely nothing left, exacting vengeance is the only thing fueling Wick to live.

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And with that is the setup to John Wick. Odd as it may be with its setup, it works OK enough. Why? Because this is nothing more than a revenge-action flick, and whether it is a dog, a loved one, or something else being lost, all that really matters is if whom the avenger lost is believable enough in the scope of things to explain said avenger’s thirst for revenge. And really, many feel more connection to “man’s best friend” than they do with humans! With that being the case, Wick’s case for revenge is understood, which gives way to a really awesome-looking and action packed film.

Revenge is usually a basic concept, and most movies utilizing it heavily are pretty straightforward. Such is the case here. For most of it, it has a point A to point B way about itself. Nothing more is needed, and the movie does a great job of making the antagonists unlikable and the protagonist someone to get behind. Much like Wick himself who is described as a man of intense focus, the plot too has focus by and large, realizing entirely what it is.

The only time where it loses it somewhat occurs near the end. Character turns, talk of “violating codes,” and a dash of “Why didn’t he just…” carried a feeling of being muddled just enough to mar the movie for yours truly. Not a deal-breaker, but seeing the script move along so efficiently for most of the runtine and them misfiring is a bit of an unfortunate occurrence.

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But the reason you’re probably thinking about checking out John Wick has nothing to do with its story and whether it is even all that good (which it is as a whole) or not. The movie is an action through and through, and it connects in every way possible. Two first time directors in David Leitch and Chad Stahelski get to take what they have learned as stunt doubles in Hollywood and apply it to a feature. Immediately, it is apparent that they have a feel for capturing action, and in an eye-popping way nonetheless. Once Mr. Wick goes all in on his mission, so do the directors in giving the audience unrelenting and expertly choreographed action cinematography.

Everything that Wick does is shown in full, not in shaky cam, not off in the distance, or filmed in a way to hide the shortcomings of someone or something. It is all done really well, but the set pieces really stand out from the rest. Particularly, a scene in the middle taking place in a nightclub is one of the better scenes in not just an action movie this year, but of the whole year regardless of genre. It is kinetic, free-flowing, pulsating, and infectious. With the dubstep-ish/electronic-infused soundtrack and cool color palette, John Wick feels slightly futuristic mixed in with 80’s action and an old-school Western.

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As the title character, Keanu Reeves has a role that perfectly accentuates his strengths and downplays his weaknesses. He is not asked to carry on scenes of long dialogue or show a complete spectrum of emotion. However, what he is asked to show though is shown well. He completely sells his character’s internal pain, anger, and suffering. His delivery, which doesn’t work always in specific films, fits like a glove here. It’s sort of detached and just barely audible enough, but it matches the character. Even his personal look for the film with the beard and matted-down stringy hair all comes together to make John Wick a character you’re immediately drawn to, especially since he isn’t invulnerable. After seeing this, it isn’t hard to imagine Reeves going down the Liam Neeson path and getting most of his work in the action genre, because he certainly looks capable here in movement and persona.

Once again, Russians are getting painted as villains in a movie. Here, the head honcho is played by Michael Nyqvist, who offers a solid  person for Wick to do battle with. The real person of note is Alfie Allen of Game of Thrones fame as the honcho’s son. His character the type of entitled, spoiled, and irredeemable douchebag that deserves to be offed in the most miserable of ways. Both performances aren’t amazing, but do what is needed for the audience to completely side with Wick. Offering support are Willem Dafoe and Adrianne Palicki as people who are also on John’s tail as soon as he becomes a marked man. They too are fine for what is asked of them, but this is Reeves’ vehicle in and of itself.

With a almost ridiculous setup in addition to being armed with a man who lacks the star quality he once possessed, John Wick could have easily shot a blank and no one would have bat an eye. Thankfully, with a stylish presentation and a very solid performance by Keanu Reeves, it is a highly enjoyable romp of pure action. It may be too early to declare Keanu Reeves back, but this is a large step in the right direction.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to collider.com, kdramastars.com, and beyondhollywood.com

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson