REVIEW: “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) 20th Century Fox

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CHOO CHOO!! ALL ABOARD..ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS! Murder! Mayham! Suspense!

Yes..If you’ve read Dame Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” or have seen the 1974 version you know the storyline. If not, or like me, couldn’t remember all of it – what’s left to deal with then, is how well this one is done and of course the big ‘whodunnit’ reveal at the end.

The story of master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is hoping for a break after numerous years of solving cases, jumps onboard The Orient Express thanks to friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who was able to secure him this spot. While onboard, Poirot ends up having to solve a murder committed while traveling with 12 other passengers on The Orient Ecpress – a train that made traveling in style from West-East axis and back again, very popular.

Director and lead actor Branagh takes on the popular story, with a nod to nostalgia in three ways. First, the flair of the train travel at that time, which was associated with adventure, pleasure and discovery, must be brought back to life. Second, the charm of the detective-witty inquiry that the character is closely linked to that era. And thirdly, a remake must also pay homage to the original film and the book itself, because Agatha Christie stories are still hugely popular and it’s 1974 version brought much critical and acting acclaim. Thus, Branagh with his well-known cast, recognizes this and with a good but alas not perfect effort, tries to retain that feel. Its highlights include dazzling production design, period costumes and of course I would be remiss to not mention the highly distracting signature moustache! The opening portion of the train journey is spent as you would expect – introducing us the characters on the train. But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film where the detective really gets into why each character is there and what part they play in the film which make that the most interesting part of the film.

Branagh as Poirot, does a fine job mixing in the brilliant detective with the comedic, witty sarcasm the character is known for. It’s always a kick to see Dame Judi Dench, here as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, and the wonderful Olivia Coleman (one of my personal favourites) as her besieged maid, Hildegarde Schmidt. But they have literally nothing to do and are almost shamefully underused. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot is the racial switch in the casting – as Sean Connery had the role in the 1974 film – shows welcome daring for a remake that plays things stodgily by the book.
Michelle Pfeiffer shines in perhaps the meatiest – certainly the cheekiest – role as Caroline Hubbard, but those such as Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham shows that even her secret relationship with another passenger can’t give Ridley’s character enough boost to make it stand out as much as Pfeiffer does with her role – though both of these characters have a bigger chunk of the many supporting roles. Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman & Willem Dafoe as ‘Austrian scientist’ Gerhard Hardman, both have secrets but can’t help but appear simply there for the ride. There’s a decent dramatic turn from Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, though it might be because you only know his work as a comedian so his drama performance get a tick of notice. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin as Count & Countess Andrenyi who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never really do anything else. Johnny Depp plays that typical smarmy-charmy type crook here which completely works for his character Edward Ratchett. Penelope Cruz on the other hand, has it worse as the religious introvert Pilar Estravados. It hard as I always find her work to be sub-par in English movies as she excels so well in the Spanish ones, I end up feeling a bit of a let down by them and here she is barely a blip on the Orient Express. So for all the resplendence of this cast, it’s hard not to feel that Branagh isn’t really pushing any of them to work.

Conclusion: Branagh’s staging of this famous crime thriller tries to do justice to the charm and the time-frame of the original with visual charms, a well-known cast and a little humor. However, this succeeds less convincingly than hoped.

Grade: C+
@pegsatthemovies

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REVIEW: “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Disney Pictures

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32 years after the original Star Wars exploded on our movie screens, the saga is set to continue here in The Force Awakens. Take note that this review is strictly a point of view and won’t contain to much storyline as you should see it for yourself, and definitely no spoilers. One thing before I continue on..Chewie..YOU ARE MY HERO!!!
As the opening log comes on the screen, we are immmediately taken back in time which has to be one of the happiest moments of the film. With that I will just spit it out that first and foremost, this is a good movie, though far far from a great one (It’s no Mad Max) And yes, I just said that.. So all the Star Wars fan-boys can step up now and sue me.. 😀

I’m as big a Star Wars fan as any though after Return of the Jedi, The Phantom Menace couldn’t even come close to comparing. Attack of the Clones was forgettable..Revenge of the Sith – didn’t even bother to see it at a theatre and actually waited for it to be on cable. And I won’t lie..I have a few issues with this film, though not all of them are bad.
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The opening 30 minutes are less than satisfying and to be completely honest was quite ‘lulz’. Here we are introduced to some new main characters Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac – who is terribly underused here). Finn is actually a stormtrooper, but get this..a stormtrooper with feelings?? no ..stormtroopers are not allowed those. But hey they are taking a risk here by doing that right – which is okay by me. Then Poe, who is head of the resistance pilots, gets captured and Finn helps him escape for which when Poe asks why, gets the answer of “Because it’s the right thing to do” what?? that’s just weak.. sorry but it is. It doesn’t fit in a Star Wars film. So as predicted they crash and it seems only Finn survives. But you also know that there is no way Poe is dead & gone, but this goes unexplained for some time, until he magically shows up later with barely a plausable explantion.

While she is no Furiosa, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has somewhat the same inplausability factor when we meet as her as she & Finn are all about saving each other within minutes of meeting. But then again, I like the risk-taking factor of appointing a strong female lead.
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Along with that part of the main cast, we are introduced to the mostly all Britsh/Irish (I guess a galaxy ‘far far away’ is now the U.K. ha!) cast of the Dark Side, notably General Hux (Domhnall Gleason), Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) and Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie – also terribly underused) to name just a few.

As expected, the robots especially BB8 (Bill Hader/Ben Schwartz – voice consultants), along with Chewbaca (Peter Mayhew) & Hans Solo (Harrison Ford) steal and deliver the best comedic one takes. While the new characters try, they fail quite miserably at trying to deliver cutesy one-liners that aren’t funny.
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While I loved the flashbacks to the Star Wars of old, including the graveyard of old spaceships, Hans Solo getting back onboard with his old ship is nothing less than classic. And who doesn’t want to see Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Solo reunite after years of separation?!! All these scenes and storylines are simply wonderful.

Another big risk and a sad heartbreaking one at that, is saying good-bye to one of the most iconic characters ever concieved in this galaxy or any other for that matter. Did it have to be done? Maybe so because it seems J.J. Abrams had to basically make us try to forget those three intermediate bad storylines and get us back on track to what is important. Though I found Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) to be one of my least favourite characters (and actors) as it just seems to simple to say Skywalker was good out of Vader’s bad, but yet Ren is bad out of Solo & Leia’s good.
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Last note: I’m not the biggest 3D fan, but this film is so enhanced by it, it’s worth it. The final scene of the movie is by far what makes it all worth-while to see this film – as it gives us something to look forward to in Episode VIII and it tells us it will be so much better.

Grade: B-
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