Movie review: Murder on the Orient Express 

Movie reviews

Hello!

A glamorous whodunit has landed in theatres. This is Murder on the Orient Express.

IMDb summary: A lavish train ride unfolds into a stylish & suspenseful mystery. From the novel by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express tells of thirteen stranded strangers & one man’s race to solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

Prior to seeing the film, I had some knowledge about Hercule Poirot: I and my aunt used to play a Poirot video game, where you had to either assist the detective in solving a mystery or you were playing as the detective. In addition, while I haven’t seen any of the previous adaptations of this book, I did go straight to the source and read an original novel by Agatha Christie. I would love to read more of her writings about Poirot but that extensive list is a bit overwhelming.

Writing

Agatha Christie’s detective novel Murder on the Orient Express was adapted to the screenplay format by Michael Green (the writer of 3 (not counting this one) big movies of 2017: Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Blade Runner 2049). I thought that he did a fairly competent job. Since I have read the book only recently, I noticed a few changes in the story, mostly in the set-up, the locations, and the character traits. Other than these small details, the narrative stayed the same and the ending, which I was a bit disappointed by while reading the book, also stayed the same. In the film form, I did not mind the ending that much. I’m just wondering whether that complex reveal and its various tie-ins were explained well enough for a viewer, who wasn’t familiar with the story in the first place, to grasp.

I quite enjoyed the character development that Poirot received. I don’t think these particular details of his past were in the original book but I’m sure they were taken from one of the other Christie’s books of the same series. The emotional vulnerability that the character exhibited in the film made me believe his final decision (the one that came from the heart) more believable. The other characters did not receive much character development unless it was directly related to the case. Since the plot also involved a lot of performative elements, even the character development that was given could not be fully trusted.

Last few points on the script: I feel like it had a more overtly political tone than the book had, or at least elements relating to race, nationality, and governance, were more noticeable in the film. Murder on the Orient Express also had a fair few of chucklesome moments and a surprisingly big amount of sexual innuendos.

Directing

Murder on the Orient Express was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who has quite a lot of experience directing adaptations of classical books (mostly Shakespeare). He has also worked with the fantasy, action, and fairytale genres with Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and Cinderella. Overall, I thought he did a great job with this movie. I believe that the glamour of the setting was well realized, while the limits of it were used for the benefit of the film. The picture had quite a few impressive looking long tracking shots and also a couple of very unique looking straight-overhead/from the top shots. A couple of scenes of more obvious action-y nature were added to keep up the pace of the film, while the extensive interviews of the book were placed in various inventive locations around the train to make them more interesting. The black and white flashback sequences were a nice touch. My only gripe with the visuals of the film was the fact that some wide exterior shots looked really fake and too obviously CGI.

Acting

Kenneth Branagh was quite spectacular as Hercule Poirot. When a director plays the lead in his own film, I always get a bit worried, but I think Branagh handled the challenge well. I think he portrayed the character eccentrically enough but didn’t go into the cartoon territory (which was my worry). Poirot actually seemed like a serious and real person with some unique quirks.

The supporting cast of the film was quite extensive and full of big-name talent. The actors all delivered good enough performances with their limited screen time. Johnny Depp (Pirates 5, Fantastic Beasts, Black Mass, Alice 2) had his most ‘normal’ performance, so maybe the audience members, who have been turning away from him and his over the top roles, will come back? It was also really nice to see Daisy Ridley in a non-Star Wars role and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Pixels) in another live-action rather than voice role. It was also interesting to spot Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench (Tulip Fever, Spectre) doing something more mainstream after mother! and Victoria&Abdul, respectively.

Penélope CruzWillem Dafoe (Death Note, What Happened To Monday, The Great Wall, TFIOS), Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.Derek JacobiMarwan Kenzari (The Mummy, The Promise, Ben-Hur), Olivia Colman (The Lobster + she is taking over the role of the queen on The Crown), Lucy Boynton (Sing Street), Manuel Garcia-Rulfo (The Magnificent Seven), Sergei Polunin (he is a ballet dancer, so the count’s jumping kicks were legit), and Tom Bateman all starred in the roles, ranging from small to tiny, but the limited size of their roles did not limit the quality of their performances.

In short, Murder on the Orient Express was quite an enjoyable old-school thriller.

Rate: 3.75/5

Trailer: Murder on the Orient Express trailer

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Movie review: Moana

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long awaited and newest Disney Princess movie – Moana – has reached theaters, so, let’s talk about it!

IMDb summary: In Ancient Polynesia, when a terrible curse incurred by Maui reaches an impetuous Chieftain’s daughter’s island, she answers the Ocean’s call to seek out the demigod to set things right.

Moana is, technically, a 13th Disney Princess film. It has been truly amazing to see how this brand evolved in the past 80 years. I feel that the biggest changes started with 2010’s Tangled and all the films following it have been adapting their stories and characters to fit the contemporary world and I’m excited to see what will Disney do next.

Moana is also Disney’s return to musicals, since Frozen 3 years ago. Can Moana’s soundtrack replicate the success of Frozen’s soundtrack? It is gonna be a bit harder for Moana, as this year, we already had one fairly successful animated musical – Trolls – and we also have another one coming up – Sing.

Lastly, Moana is Disney’s attempt at presenting an indigenous – Polynesian culture – to the global market. Thier last attempt at this with Pocahontas wasn’t the most successful, but I think that Disney learned from their mistakes. They went an extra mile to cast voice actors from appropriate backgrounds and also employed anthropologists to help portray Polynesian culture as accurately as possible. As a student of anthropology and a lover of films, I found that fascinating – maybe this can be my job in the future?

Moana’s story also appealed to me on two personal levels. First of all, I, as a longtime professional(-ish) swimmer, sometimes do feel better in the water than on land, so I loved seeing Moana’s connection to the ocean. Secondly, Moana reminded me of two different books that I read as a kid that both revolved around islands and island culture. One of them was Whale Rider (1987) by Witi Ihimaera about a Maori girl and her journey to becoming her clan’s chief. The other was called Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960) by Scott O’Dell about a Native American girl who gets stranded on an island near California. Both books have been turned into movies, in 2002 and 1964 respectively.

Writing and Story

Jared Bush, who has previously worked on Big Hero 6 and also co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia, wrote the screenplay of Moana but a lot of people got the credits for the story, including the directors of this film Ron Clements and John MuskerBig Hero 6’s directors Chris Williams and Don HallWreck-It Ralph 2’s writer Pamela Ribon, and twin Hawaiian screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell.

For the most part, I really enjoyed the writing for Moana. I loved that the movie opened with a lesson in Polynesian mythology. In general, I thought that this specific culture was represented with respect but it was still made fun. The writing for the two main characters was also great. Where the movie’s magic kinda broke down was in the actual narrative of the film. The first act felt a bit drawn out – I wanted to get onto the adventure part quicker. I felt that the movie was just basically checking things off a list in during the set-up: Moana had Disney staples such as the dead relative/teacher, the overprotective parents, and the idea that everyone should stay in their place. The ending was also a bit predictable and I wish they would have done without the cliches like failing at first try and leaving and coming back in the heat of the battle. Nevertheless, a few narrative ideas that I thought were great was the fact that Moana didn’t have or need a love interest. Also, the final confrontation was female-centric, similarly to Frozen, and I would have had a problem with that if Moana didn’t have strong and cool male character – Maui – as well.

Directing and Animation

Ron Clements and John Musker, who have made such Disney classic as The Little MermaidAlladinHercules, and Princess and the Frog, directed the film and did a wonderful job. The pacing of the film could have been better but I absolutely adored the visuals and the animation. All the environment, especially the ocean, were brought to life just magnificently – the water looked both realistic and magical – so much better than another recent water based animation Finding Dory. The character design was also super cool. Moana actually looked like a real person, with realistic body proportions! Maui looked super cool too – I liked that his tattoos were not only a visual prop but a part of the plot. Moana’s sidekicks were good too. The chicken was mostly used for comic relief which was neither a hit or a miss for me. I wish, however, that they would have brought the piggy along for the ride, as he was super cute. The baby Moana was also so adorable. You couldn’t not fall in love with her. Lastly, one of my favorite parts of the film was the good old training montage for both Moana and Maui.

Music

Tarzan’s composer Mark MancinaHamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, and a member of Oceanic music group Te Vaka – Opetaia Foa’i – all worked on the soundtrack and did an amazing job. To being with, I loved hearing some of the songs in Tokelauan language – it added more authenticity to the film’s atmosphere. The more mainstream pop-songy numbers were also great. I see a lot of potential in one song especially in finally making the world let go of Let it Go – I’m talking about the main song of MoanaHow Far I’ll Go. I liked the version sung by Cravalho much more than Alessia Cara’s credits version. Even though I love Cara and her lyrics, I felt that Cravalho voice just had more emotion and fit the song better. But I can see why Disney wanted a more well-known singer to record a version of the song. Let it Go was also recorded by Idina Menzel and a more mainstream choice Demi Lovato.

Other two songs that I’d like to name are You’re Welcome by Dwayne Johnson. I was super impressed with Johnson’s voice – is there anything he can’t do? The song itself kinda reminded me of another Disney tune whose name I don’t remember, but it just sounded so familiar. The last song I’m gonna mention was the one sung by the crab – that was the only part of the score that I didn’t feel on board with.

Voice cast

  • Auli’i Cravalho was amazing as Moana. Her voice just had so much emotion and fit the character perfectly. I think she has a long career ahead of her, at least I hope so.
  • Dwayne Johnson as Maui was great too. He just had so much charisma in his voice alone. This was only his second voice role. Next year, he has 3 big movies coming up – Fast 8Baywatch, and Jumanji.

In short, Moana was another great picture from Disney. It had spectacular characters, nice thematical ideas and gorgeous animated visuals. I only wish they would have made the story a bit more original.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Moana trailer

P.S. Before Moana, a new Disney short called, Inner Workings, was screened. It was kinda the Inside Out of the body rather than the mind. It was both funny and cute as well as sad and depressing (like Pixar levels sad). Loved the main message – treat yourself, escape the routine and enjoy life!

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