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.

 

 

 

 

Philomena

Philomena (Stephen Frears, 2013) 4/5

 

Stephen Frears follow up to the dismal failure ‘Lay the Favourite’ places him where he is philomena-posterfar more comfortable. A tale of an elderly woman, who is looking for her long lost son who was taken from her, is exactly the type of story Frears needed after a string of middling results. Having reunited with his ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ star Judi Dench and with added solid support Steve Coogan, the film was already off to a flyer before the opening credit sequence.

Inspired by the book ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’ this true story really hits all of the right notes. However, unlike many other films that spiral into senseless melodramatic waling, Frears film never forgets to have a laugh. This is one of the strengths of Steve Coogan’s and Jeff Pope’s adaptation is that you might be weeping one minute and be in a fit of laughter in the next. As such, even though the film deals with quite dark themes of religion, social injustice, inequality and – to a certain extent – gay rights, it never becomes a ‘lesson’ narrative where there is a specific political agenda lurking beneath, one simply has to make up their own mind.

The performances are nothing short of amazing here and Dench and Coogan are sure to get recognised by BAFTA and AMPAS (Dench’s Oscar nod all but assured). Indeed, this is a return to form for Frears who directs the film so seamlessly that you would never have known he was there. In sum this is excellent fare for a cold winters day or night where you sit, reflect and most importantly have a good giggle from time to time.

Skyfall

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012) 5/5Skyfall Classic Poster

Better late than never, that’s what I always say! Celebrating 50th Anniversary of James Bond meant that Sam Mendes had a pretty heavy burden on his shoulders to deliver as perfect an outing as possible. Luckily for us, he did just that. Armed with Roger Deakin’s masterful cinematography, bravura performances and a stonking great theme tune, Skyfall has to be considered one of the best Bond adventures yet. However, what made viewing this film even more exciting and gratifying was that it almost never came to be. Behind closed doors at MGM HQ, there were dire talks of liquidation and bankruptcy. As time went on and more and more people scratched their heads, the studio emerged with a plan and in December 2010, along with new co-chairs they were saved from the chop shop. Hooray, I hear you say, the lion can keep on roaring for many a year to come!

Anyway, back to the film. In a sense with the gap between the previous instalment Quantum of Solace being so great, one can look at this film as a reboot for the franchise. Not dissimilar to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, which breathed new life into the caped crusader. With a melding of both old and new, the narrative has allowed James to embrace classic generic conventions as well as fresh new faces. For example the opening chase sequence in Istanbul settles us in with a great bang, as Bond races on a motorbike on top of the Grand Bazaar after an unidentified villain. His supportive female agent Eve (Naomie Harris, more on her later) charges after him in a rather bullet ridden 4X4 throughout the Turkish countryside to a bridge. As Bond teeters on the edge of the train, he is accidentally shot by Eve and falls to his, supposed, death. After this electric and adrenaline pumping opener, out thumps Adele’s strong vocals, giving the audience enough time to catch their breath for the resuming adventure.

What startled me with this film are the performances. Generally speaking, not enough credit is given to the actors within these films and is always placed on the visual effects or sound. Judi Dench, Harris, Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Berenice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes to name but a few are all very strong throughout. Bardem’s turn as the film’s key antagonist is worth pointing out; only because of all of the controversy is evoked upon release. During a scene where Bond is tied up, there is a flirtatious conversation between him and Raoul Silva. Although the scene doesn’t last very long, it is comical and a little tongue in cheek, winking at gay villains of the past. Most notably Mr Wint and Mr Kidd in Diamonds are Forever.

The film’s climactic shoot out at the Bond family estate in Scotland, where booby-traps are constructed and helicopters explode. Albert Finney, the gamekeeper, holds off the ‘baddies’ and escapes with a wounded ‘M’ through a secret passage. What makes this film so good is that Mendes is mindful of both audiences watching it. Those that are avid fans and those that are new to the franchise and as the film reach a close, new characters are introduced and old ones are revived, most notably that of Moneypenny. As I walked out of the cinema after seeing this film, after a great year for the UK with the Olympics, Paralympics and Diamond Jubillee I couldn’t help but wonder whether this will be the beginning of a tighter, more polished Bond franchise. Hey, if Skyfall is anything to go by, I sincerely bloody hope so!

On another note, anyone got Mr Mendes’s mobile number for the next one?