Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Kenneth Brannagh, 2017) 3/5

It’s becoming abundantly clear that this film isn’t just a big budget one-off adaptation of Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-New-Film-Poster.jpgan Agatha Christie classic. Hollywood rarely decides to produce a film unless it has legs, or in this case, a firm set of wheels. This is the fourth incarnation of the Hercule Poirot mystery whodunnit and it has been given a serious upgrade. Not only does it all look beautiful but there is a whacking great big cast here of well-known European and American actors. Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Kenneth Branagh in the title role all stand out in their respective parts. As such, in an age where Marvel and DC are fighting for superhero supremacy, are we now looking at the resurgence of another franchise: The Agatha Christie whodunnits?!

I guess, what is lacking here is just sheer originality. I have to admit that I couldn’t actually remember this particular story (I’m more of a Marple fan really), but as the narrative progressed it did all become very familiar. Michael Green’s script lends most of its strength to previous adaptations from the BBC and others to fill the screen. His relationship with Ridley Scott is palpable as he wrote Alien: Covenant and Blade Runner 2049, both of which were produced under the Scott Free production banner. It just all seems like this project at times was phoning itself in, bringing in the new crowds as well as Christie devotees. At times, it lacked the pace of previous versions and the ‘twist’ just isn’t climactic enough. That being said, there are some amazingly beautiful set pieces here.

Jim Clay’s (Woman in Gold, Children of Men) production design is faultless as is Haris Zambarloukos’ (Thor, Cinderella (2015)) cinematography. Both of which, create a great sense of time and space and focus on the most important character, that of the train itself. Indeed, these are actually some of the films strong points as within the close quarters of the cabins is precisely how the tension increases and the murderer is revealed.

In sum, this adaptation of the Murder on the Orient Express breathes new life into the literary classic. However, by adding new stars into the mix and increased technology, the actual story becomes stilted and a bit turgid.





Chocolate Through Film

We all like sweet things. Whether it is big or small, the general consensus is that if we taste something we like we want more of it. Chocolate surely is at the epicentre of this as when it is displayed on a cinema screen our eyes become big saucers taking all of the velveteen goodness in. Very few are aware of this but the representation of chocolate within film has always been important in the telling of a particular story. For example it can be used as a romantic gift like in Love Actually or utilised for comical antics in Bridesmaids it has an enduring function. Two of the most important films to express this are Chocolat (Lasse Hallstrom, 2000) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005). The reason I have chosen these two films specifically is twofold. One, they both have chocolate in their titles and two; they use it in an extremely imaginative and inventive way. Alas, before I get a barrage of abuse for not using the original Willy Wonka as an example, let me say that Burton’s remake highlights the darker side of the sweet stuff and is an all-round masterpiece of confectionary delight. That being said, I have nothing against the original!

Let’s begin with Chocolat, this film centres on Vianne Rocher, an unmarried wanderer who stumbles into the quiet town French town with her daughter Anouk. As she becomes acquainted with the strict moral values of the community it becomes clear that when she opens a small chocolate shop during lent sparks are gonna fly! Thus, right from the beginning chocolate is at the forefront, tackling social morality and pushing the boundaries of what is deemed suitable for the town folk. Indeed, it offers the viewer a way into several strands of the narrative. For example, it livens up the sexually stale relationship of a married couple, investigates Armande Voizin’s (played by the timeless Judi Dench) diabetes, the violent relationship between Josephine and Serge Muscat (Lena Olin and Peter Stormare) and the depression of the main antagonist Comte de Reynaud (Alfred Molina). Considering its importance within the narrative Hallstrom never forces it down the viewer’s throats, but lets the cinematography merely observe the power that it has over people and, indeed the social taboo that it creates.

The interiors of the shop also explore its origins, as brown counter tops and South American pottery allude to the discovery of the cocoa bean. The cinematography aids in this as there are several close-up and establishing shots of the shop window where the delicious treats are viewable to the public from the main square. As the narrative develops, chocolate becomes more than just a treat, it becomes a life-line as characters begin to embrace its hypnotic and healing properties. This culminates in the smoothing out of social prejudices against undesirables like boat travellers, in particular Vianne’s love interest Roux (Johnny Depp) and the challenging of staunch Christian values.

Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on the other hand utilises garish colours and imaginative art direction to highlight the quirky role of the chocolate. As many will know, the narrative follows a little boy named Charlie who gets a golden ticket to go to the magical factory where all manner of Willy Wonka’s sweets are made. What makes the chocolate in this version so interesting is that it is represented as both a threat and a reward. The factory is like a Garden of Eden where temptation and the consumption of chocolate can lead you in pretty hot water! For example the eternally rotund Augustus Gloop falls into the chocolate river and gets sucked into the fountain. It is as if the film is utilising sweets as a teaching tool, educating children that greed is never good.

Johnny Depp as the off-the-wall Willy Wonka is priceless as are the oompa loompa’s, who churn out priceless songs after child after child meets their unsavoury end. Similar to Chocolat, Burton refuses to exploit the chocolate but its presence is always felt through the character’s own feelings towards it. For example, by getting the golden ticket that was in a chocolate wrapper, Charlie has the ability to get his family out of poverty.  It is this motivation that drives the narrative and as such when it reaches its conclusion, the audience is uplifted.

All in all, chocolate has always been a narrative device used to forward a characters journey in film. Both Chocolat and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may be extreme examples, however throughout the history of cinema this sweet confectionary has graced many a scene on the big screen.