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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5 ideas about a movie: Victoria & Abdul

Movie reviews

Hello!

The British awards contender for this year – Victoria & Abdul – has premiered in its motherland/fatherland, so, let’s review it!

IMDb summary: Queen Victoria strikes up an unlikely friendship with a young Indian clerk named Abdul Karim.

  1. Victoria & Abdul was written by a playwright and a screenwriter Lee Hall, who based the script on a book by Shrabani Basu. Halls’s last produced film was 2011’s War Horse (one of Spielberg’s recent and lesser films). Victoria & Abdul tells a true-ish story of Queen Victoria and her Indian servant Abdul Karim. I’m calling this narrative ‘true-ish’ because the movie itself stated that the events depicted happened only ‘mostly’. The plot was written as a comedy and to me, as an anthropologist-to-be, this raised a question/a problem: should the British make fun of colonialism? Are they right to depict a sort of nice side of the whole affair, while leaving out a lot of uncomfortable details? In the case of this picture, should they be allowed to make light of colonialism because they also poke fun at the ridiculousness of the British royal culture? I don’t really have answers to these questions, but they certainly sprung up in my mind while watching the movie.
  2. A few specific details that were of note in the film were: 1. the commentary on the Western civilization as being one of immense caste difference (the first thing the arrivers see – beggars) and 2. the showcasing of the artificial creation of the Oriental, specifically Indian, culture to be more exciting to the Westerners (the garments and their fake authenticity). In addition, a lot of the comedy in the movie arose from the cultural differences and the way the characters reacted to them. If not digging deeper (basically not thinking about the question I raised in point 1), on a surface level, the humor was working and the jokes were funny.
  3. The last and most important part of the film was the portrayal of friendship between the queen and her servant. I thought that the screenwriter added a lot of neat details for the two individuals to bond over, like the stories from India, the learning of the language, and etc. The friendship was very believably portrayed by Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Their performances made the movie heartwarming and very enjoyable and almost quieted the nagging issues in my mind.
  4. Stephen Frears has directed Victoria & Abdul to follow in the footsteps of his other similar films like Philomena and Florence Foster Jenkins. He has also already made a movie about a queen, be it a more current one, in 2006, called The Queen. I thought that he did a good job with this picture: the visuals were stunning and the pacing okay too.
  5. Judi Dench has already played Victoria in Mrs. Brown as well as other royal/aristocratic/historical figures in Shakespeare in LovePride & Prejudice, and even the recent Tulip Fever. She is also the current M in the 007 films (one of the best parts about them too). Her speech in the movie about being many things but insane was phenomenal. Ali Fazal has not appeared in many English-language films but I do hope that his appearance in this one will lead to more roles for him. Tim Pigott-Smith also appeared in the movie, in the last role of his career. Lastly, The Big Sick’s Adeel Akhtar played my favorite character in the film, who was both the comic relief and the voice of reason/truth in the movie. 

In short, Victoria & Abdul is a light-hearted and heartwarming true-ish tale that is both funny/entertaining and disturbing if you just think a bit more about it.

Rate: 3.25/5

Trailer: Victoria & Abdul trailer

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Movie review: Tulip Fever

Movie reviews

Hello!

After being pushed back a few years, Tulip Fever has finally reached theaters! Does it have any Oscar potential as its cast list suggests?

IMDb summary: An artist falls for a young married woman while he’s commissioned to paint her portrait during the Tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam.

Writing

Tulip Fever was written by a playwright and occasional screenwriter Tom Stoppard. His most recent previous film script was the one for 2012’s Anna Karenina. The film’s story and the writing, in general, started out promising but quickly wasted all the said promise. The opening, which set the context of the tulip market and the 17th Amsterdam, as well as the initial details of the actual plot, was quite interesting. However, the more the narrative unraveled, the more unbelievable it became. The ending was especially unsatisfying because the movie didn’t commit to going the full on fantasy route and having a fairytale ending but also wasn’t grounded enough for a realistic conclusion, so it just had one that landed somewhere in the middle. All the characters in the picture were way too interconnected and the twists and turns in the story were mostly lucky coincidences. The drama and the emotional core felt really fake and manufactured as well. Basically, Tulip Fever felt as an old school literary adaptation, which it was exactly: a contemporary yet classical historical romance novel (by Deborah Moggach) with typical yet modernized characters that was turned into a film.

While the final product did not turn out well, as I have said, the promise was there in the details. It was really interesting to see the love and the lack of love juxtaposed through sex scenes. I also liked the exploration of the women’s roles in a patriarchal system and how cunning they had to be to survive, and yet, how they also felt bounded by their duty (Vikander’s character was never entirely sure about her actions) I also appreciated the portrayal of Christoph Waltz’s character – a clueless man, living in privilege, and not even understanding his privilege yet not being malevolent about it. I also liked the hints at the concept of friendship and the hardships it has to endure when spanning multiple caste levels. Lastly, I was really glad to see a historical drama focusing not on The British Empire but on the player that preceded it in the world domination – Holland/The Netherlands.

Directing

Justin Chadwick, who has received some recognition a few years back for Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, directed Tulip Fever and did a fabulous job with a flawed script. While he went along with the over the top dramatization of the story, nothing bad can be said about his visuals. Tulip Fever was a gorgeous looking movie, with beautiful and rich shots, full of textures and colors. The costume department should also get a raise because their spectacular collars contributed a lot to the magnificence of the look and helped prove the point that Holland was a powerful country. The artistic close-ups of Vikander reminded me of a fashion film or a high-end makeup ad too. If a movie career doesn’t work out for Chadwick, he should check out the advertising business.

Acting

Tulip Fever had a stellar cast, full of Academy favorites, old (Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz) and new (Alicia Vikander). Vikander (The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Danish Girl, Jason Bourne, The Testament of Youth, Anna Karenina) did a fabulous job and she and Waltz (Spectre, Tarzan) made an interesting pair. Their more formal scenes had a feeling of warmness and respect, while their more intimate scenes felt very uncomfortable (which was the goal). In turn, Vikander’s and Dane Deehan’s (Valerian) scenes felt realistically intimate (sexier than Fifty Shades, though, that’s a low bar to be aiming for). BTW, I bought Deehan much more as a struggling lovesick artist than an action hero.

Judi Dench had a fun, although highly fictional role, in the film. Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, Money Monster)and Holiday Grainger (Cinderella, The Finest Hours) delivered neat and likable performances (Grainger’s voice fit the role of the narrator very well). Glee’s Matthew Morrison, Tom Hollander (MI5, The Promise), and model-turned-actress Cara Delevigne (Paper Towns, Suicide Squad, Valerian) also appeared. Lastly, Zach Galifianakis (The Lego Batman) played his typical role, that wasn’t necessary for the movie at all.

In short, Tulip Fever was a beautiful looking but a poorly written picture that had some stellar and wasted acting performances too.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Tulip Fever trailer

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Movie review: Spectre + a look back

Movie reviews

Hello!!!

The latest (24th!) James Bond film – Spectre – has finally hit theaters in its native UK and this is going to be my review!!

To begin with, as some of you may know, James Bond franchise is one of 2 spy/agent/espionage film series that I adore (other being Mission Impossible). And while MI films only had one interpretation of Ethan Hunt, James Bond has been played by a huge variety of actors and all fans have their favorite one. Mine is Daniel Craig’s Bond, just because it is the one that I’m most familiar with and that I actually grew up watching. In truth, I have seen one or two Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films on TV as a child, but they weren’t that good while Craig’s first outing as Bond in 2006’s Casino Royale was amazing. I would also love to check out the earliest editions of Bond and read the original novels by Ian Fleming someday.

Let’s go over the 3 previous films in a franchise, before moving on to talking about Spectre!

SPOILER WARNING

Casino Royale (2006)

Casino Royale is one of my favorite movies ever made. I still cannot believe that Martin Campbell directed it and did such an amazing job and then moved on to making Green Lantern. Casino Royale was the origin story of 007 and it had amazing action (the parkour chase) and wonderful suspense (the best poker scene ever put to film – made me want to learn poker). It also had amazing callbacks to the lore of Bond: the ordering of Martini, the iconic line to end the film and so forth. It was also the film that pushed the boundaries of violence – the torture/whipping scene was something that I have never seen before. It was really uncomfortable to watch but you could not take your eyes off the screen at the same time. This film also had the best Bond girl  – Vesper played by Eva Green. Vesper was resourceful and strong female character, who also had femininity and softness to her. She was just an overall great, well-developed character. It sad that she had to die for 007 to become the real Bond.

Quantum of Solace (2008)

This sequel to the majority of fans was a bit of a disappointment and I have to agree with them. While I really liked how this film based its story on the things that happened in the first film, it wasn’t up to par with its predecessor on any level.The plot was really messy and hard to follow. Quantum was directed by Marc Forster, who later made World War Z, which a lot of people hated while I kinda liked it.

Skyfall (2012)

Skyfall was the big comeback of this series as well as the commemorative film of Bond’s 50th anniversary. While Casino Royale was the origins of Bond and the Quantum of Solace was the Bond-y Bond, Skyfall was all about the broken Bond. It was great seeing a different side of the character as well as being able to glimpse into his past and his family – a theme which will be very important in Spectre. In addition, this film allowed us to spend more time with Judi Dench’s M and introduced 2 great new characters: Ralph Fiennes’s Mallory and Ben Whishaw’s Q. Lastly, as a new inhabitant of Scotland, I really appreciated the setting of the last part of the film, when I’ve re-watched it only recently: Welcome to Scotland!

Overall, this franchise has great acting and really good villains – in the first and third films to be precise. It also is an internationally set franchise which is always a plus for me. It also has a great soundtrack: my favorite theme song (not counting the original James Bond theme song) is still Adele’s Skyfall, but I do like Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall as well. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name and Jack White’s and Alicia Keys’s Another Way to Die are also great songs, worth the listen.

SPOILER WARNING FOR SPECTRE

IMDb summary: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

Overall, I’ve definitely enjoyed Spectre but not as much as I thought I would. Casino Royale is still the best Bond movie, to my mind, and, sadly, Spectre is not as enjoyable as Skyfall. Quantum of Solace, not surprisingly, takes the last place on the list.

Opening credits

Spectre had my favorite opening credits of the last 4 Bond films. Skyfall had amazing opening as well, but this one had even a better one. I loved how they started with the theme of fire and then played off of the Spectre’s logo – the octopus. I also really enjoyed the references to the previous films (or at least to 1st and 3rd films – everybody wants to forget Quantum): images of Vesper, M, Le Chiffre and Silva appeared in a breaking glass.

Tone

Spectre was probably the funniest Craig’s Bond film. It had a lot of laugh out loud moments and these were set up not only by dialogue punch lines but by action scenes. For example, I loved how Bond fell onto the sofa after that building crashed at the beginning of the film. At the same time, this movie was really dark and conveyed emotions like hopelessness and loneliness perfectly.

Story

The film’s script was written by a group of people: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. All of them, except Butterworth, have previously worked on other Bond films. Logan has been nominated for an Oscar for writing Gladiator, The Aviator, and Hugo. Purvis and Wade have worked on other films together and Butterworth wrote Edge of Tomorrow and this year’s Black Mass. All of these accomplished writers did an okay job, however, I believe that they could have refined the story a bit more. A few supporting characters could have fared better with some more development and the plot could have made more sense: at times it felt that Bond was going from point A to B to C for no reason. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the dialogue of the film, which was brought to life by amazing performances from the whole cast. The way Spectre’s story tied the whole series together is also worth praising. The theme of modernity versus tradition was an interesting idea to introduce into the Bond franchise as well. Lastly, I do not know about you, but I would definitely not feel safe if I am constantly being watched.

Directing

Skyfall’s Sam Mendes returned as a director for Spectre. He did an amazing job in 2012 and did not disappoint this year as well. I loved the opening crowd chase scene in Mexico as well as the car chase in Rome. I also liked how the ending of the film was set in Bond’s home – London. It was nice seeing the old MI6 base. Speaking about Mendes’s other films, I really want to watch American Beauty, which earned him an Academy Award for best director.

In addition, not only the action scenes were exciting, but the whole film was visually appealing, glamorous, luxurious and elegant. Praises for this go to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

Acting

  • Daniel Craig as James Bond, agent 007. This was Craig’s 4th time playing Bond and it was yet again a different side of Bond. If Skyfall showed us a physically broken Bond, Spectre gave us an emotionally damaged one. It also showed that even though he is a stone cold assassin, he would like to change his way and find his ‘happy ending’. I’m sure that that ‘ happy ending’ won’t last long since Craig’s contract states that he has one more movie left (at least according to the Internet). However, there has been some rumors that Craig will refuse to play Bond moving forward, so I guess we will see what happens.
  • Christoph Waltz as Ernst Stavro Blofeld was a good villain, who could have been great if we just have spent more time with him. I believe that it was a wasted opportunity not to put more of C. Waltz in the film because he is amazing in villainous roles. Just watch Inglorious Basterds if you don’t believe me. Check out Django Unchained as well if you want to marvel at how great of an actor Waltz is.
  • Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann. Finally, a Bond girl (well, not really) who challenges Bond and who was actually as good as Vesper! I loved her character and would have wanted to spend more time with her as well. Seydoux is an accomplished French actress with films like the aforementioned Inglorious Basterds, Midnight in Paris, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Blue is the Warmest Color and The Grand Budapest Hotel on her resume.
  • Ben Whishaw as Q. I loved how Q’s abilities were crucial to the plot of Spectre and I, once again, wish that we could have spent more time with him. I have talked more about him in my Suffragette review.
  • Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny. I quite liked the brother-sister relationship that she and Bond have. However, her character was kinda wasted in this film – it is a shame that they didn’t give more things for her to do.
  • Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra. I have always been skeptical about Bellucci as an actress and never really paid any attention to her. However, she was perfectly fine in this film as the sex toy-Bond Girl. You see there are different types of Bond girls and she played the most stereotypical one.
  • Ralph Fiennes as Gareth Mallory aka the new M. As much as I like Fiennes as an actor, my favorite M will always be Judi Dench. Having said that, Fiennes did a nice job in the role and I did love his serious facial expression.
  • Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh – C. He was a really unlikable character even before it was revealed that he was working for Spectre. You could sense his douchebagness from miles away, so the twist was not that surprising.
  • Jesper Christensen came back as Mr. White and I really liked the fact that his comeback was meaningful and not just a random cameo to please the fans.
  • Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx – the assassin of Spectre. He was not really developed as a character but, not surprisingly, did an amazing job in the fight/action scenes as in Guardians of the Galaxy.
  • Lastly, it turns out that a Lithuanian actor (I’m Lithuanian also) Gediminas Adomaitis, who I have never heard before, was one of Oberhauser’s Right Hand Man, according to IMDb. That’s pretty cool.

All in all, Spectre was definitely an enjoyable film, however, it could have been and should have been so much better. I don’t know whether my expectations were too high and that’s why I am so harsh on this film. Still, I firmly believe that the film’s script was its weakest part. While I loved the tone and the dialogue, the plot could have used another revision. Nevertheless, the acting and the visuals, both in the opening and in the actual film, were splendid.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Spectre trailer

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