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: Blade Runner 2049

Movie reviews

Hello!

The long-awaited (by some) sequel to another 1980s hit – Blade Runner 2049 – has reached theaters, so, let’s see whether it was worth the wait and all the hype.

IMDb summary: A young blade runner’s discovery of a long-buried secret leads him to track down former blade runner Rick Deckard, who’s been missing for thirty years.

The original Blade Runner has been a cult classic for years but I’ve never expected it to get a sequel 3 decades later because of the lack of mainstream success. Undoubtedly, it has aged well: the story is still solid and is open to as many different interpretations as there are versions of the film. The pacing is a bit slow but that can be seen as a feature of the time. The effects are great too even if you can tell that they have that particular 1980s futuristic style. Even though I did like the original film, I wouldn’t have been as excited about its sequel if they hadn’t gotten Dennis Villeneuve to direct it. His attachment to the project was the factor that immensely increased my interest the movie! Besides, the marketing shorts, which filled in the 30-year-old gap between the two feature films – the anime Black Out 2022, and the live action shorts 2036: Nexus Dawn and 2048: Nowhere to Run – have acted as great tasters for the sequel and doubled the hype as well!

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

Blade Runner 2049 was written by Hampton Fancher (the writer of the original) and Michael Green (the writer of Logan, Alien: Covenant, and the upcoming Murder on the Orient Express, the co-creator of American Gods). This duo of scriptwriters did an amazing job: they paid homage to the original (both the plot and the thematic concepts) and expanded upon it/them extremely successfully.

The first two acts of the sequel were structured as a mystery: a smart yet straightforward one man’s quest for answers. The third act upped the complexity: it had a tonne of exciting reveals and a bunch of sidelines converging with the main one. The writing for the lead character was just brilliant too. Every act of the film had some kind of twist relating to him: either the fact that he was a replicant at the beginning, a potential offspring of a replicant in the second act and just a decoy for the actual child in the end. It was amazing to see a character go from not knowing who he was to finding actual answers but quickly realizing that he was asking the wrong questions in the first place. He both found and lost an identity before our eyes in the time span of two hours. It was such a great and different character arc.

Two huge thematic concepts that 2049 introduced were the virtual/holographic humans and the procreation ability of the replicants. These two ideas pushed the question of ‘what is humanity ?’ so much farther than I ever dream it could go. I still can’t wrap my head around these two concepts.

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, who has quickly become one of the most critically acclaimed directors of our time with films like Prisoners, Sicario, and especially last year’s Arrival, directed the Blade Runner sequel and did a spectacular job. To begin with, he stayed faithful to the original with the pacing and the style of the visuals. Having said that, Villeneuve also built upon what was already there. 2049 was a really long and quite a slow film, however, it never dragged. It was always intense, intriguing, and exciting – way more than the original ever was.

When it comes to visuals, they were just breathtaking. The set design (by Alessandra Querzola + production design by Dennis Gassner), the costume design (by Renée April), the lighting and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) – all these different departments just brought their A-game and created such a cohesive masterpiece. The scope was epic and awe-inspiring. The shots were composed so beautifully, you could just freeze them and frame every single image. The colors were so vibrant and just popped off the screen. The shots also lingered a lot (that’s why the movie was so long) but the combination of the visuals and the amazing score made them so impactful, powerful, and effective. In general, the soundtrack (by Benjamin Wallfisch and none other than Hans Zimmer) was so cool and that new instrumental theme was so heart wrenching.

A lot of films have tried to emulate a similar style but none of them have come close to Blade Runner 2049 (Ghost in the Shell looked good but wasted the visuals on an awful story). A few of noteworthy sequences in this picture were: 1. the interplay between the shadows and the light in the pyramid; 2. the memory-construction scene – such a brilliant example of storytelling within a bigger story; 3. the zoom/enhance effect carried over from the first film; 4. a very unique sex scene (not an adjective I’ve ever thought I’d use to describe a sex scene; and 5. an impeccable looking de-aging moment – that technology has never looked better.

Acting

Blade Runner 2049 had quite an extensive cast, full of fan-favorite actors in roles of varying sizes. At the centre of it was Ryan Gosling, who has lent his talents to a variety of genres throughout his career, including but not limited to musicals (La La Land), art films (Only God Forgives), indies with mainstream appeal (Drive), mainstream romantic dramas (The Notebook), arty romantic dramas (Blue Valentine), comedies (Crazy,Stupid,Love), political dramas (The Ides of March), action comedies (The Nice Guys), biopics (The Big Short), and crime dramas (Gangster Squad). Finally, he has added sci-fi to this extensive list with the lead role in Blade Runner 2049, which he was just absolutely brilliant in: powerful, vulnerable, dramatic, emotional. Totally marvelous.

Harrison Ford has come back to another role from his younger days. He has already retired Han Solo and will be back as Indiana Jones in 2020. In Blade Runner 2049, he only appeared in the third act but that was enough to make an impression.

The film also had quite a few female characters. Ana de Armas (War Dogs) was amazing as the virtual girlfriend, Sylvia Hoeks (Renegades) was wonderful as the warrior replicant, Robin Wright (Wonder Woman) was a badass police chief,
Mackenzie Davis (Black Mirror’s ‘San Junipero’ episode) had a fun appearance and, lastly, Carla Juri had a surprisingly important role. Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista appeared in a short but the most dramatically challenging role of his career so far, while Captain Phillips’s and Eye in the Sky’s Barkhad Abdi also had a cameo (wish he got more roles). Lastly, Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) played the main antagonist and, although his role was unsettling and quite creepy, it seemed quite normal by Leto’s standards. He was great in it, though.

In short, Blade Runner 2049 was one of those wow pictures that stays with you, long after you are done watching it. Gorgeously looking, carefully written, brilliantly acted sequel that is *gasp* better than the original.

Rate: 4.8/5

Trailer: Blade Runner 2049

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Movie review: Alien: Covenant

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Alien: Covenant – an apology for Prometheus or its continuation?

IMDb summary: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination and must attempt a harrowing escape.

Writing

Alien: Covenant was written by John Logan (The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Hugo, Spectre, Genius) and Dante Harper (a production manager), based on a story by Jack Paglen (Transendence) and Michael Green (Logan and Green Lantern – what a combo). Similarly to how the previous filmography of these screenwriters is a mixed bag, Covenant is also a movie of mixed quality. It just mostly rehashes the plot of the original Alien and throws in some Prometheus themes. I, personally, liked the ideas of the film Prometheus but didn’t feel like they were executed particularly well. Same happens in Covenant – the potential is there but the attempt at the backstory of the xenomorphs just convolutes the plot too much (how many unpredictable experiments have to happen for their final version to appear?). The idea to have a crew/cast of 10+ people also means that none of them receive any development. We do find out some traits of a few characters, but I am not even sure what roles did the majority of the crew members had on a ship. They all could have been scientists or sheep herders. The couples idea is also just plain stupid. Why would you have a bunch of couples on a dangerous space mission? Wouldnt’ they judgement in a difficult situation be impacted by the fact that their significant other is also on board?

Having bashed the plot, I would now like to praise a few good moments of the film. The discussion about creation was an interesting and promising concept. The faith and rationality divide was also a good idea to introduce. The decision to include another character played by Fassbender was the best judgment that the filmmakers made. While I am not sure when did David turn so purely evil, I liked seeing the David v Walter interactions, even if they were quite creepy.

Directing

Ridley Scott has made some amazing (Blade Runner, original Alien, and Gladiator) and less than amazing (Prometheus, Exodus) films throughout his career. His last picture – 2015’s The Martian – was one of my favorite movies of that year. Alien: Covenant falls somewhere in the middle on a quality scale. Visually, the film was gorgeous: the landscapes, the scope, and the scale were just breathtaking. (Prometheus was also visually stunning – I actually visited the filming location of the opening sequence – Isle of Skye). However, I felt that the action scenes could have been better – more suspenseful and intense. There also could have been more of them to replace some of the creepy dialogue sequences. And yet, at least Covenant was way grittier, gruesome, and more stylistically in line with the original two films than the squeaky clean Prometheus.

Acting

The cast of the film was quite big but not a lot of the actors delivered memorable performances (which was partially the blame on the script). Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Assasin’s Creed, Steve Jobs), not surprisingly, was the standout in his double role, while Fantastic Beast’s Katherine Waterston was also quite good. Billy Crudup (Spotlight, Jackie) and Danny McBride (Sausage Party) were the only two other actors from the cast who I remember as doing something of significance in the film. James Franco was probably featured more in the extra promo materials than in the actual film, while Noomi Rapace had a picture cameo only.

In short, Alien: Covenant was mostly disappointing. It had some good elements, but, ultimately, everything was ruined by the awful script full of laughable but not funny moments. If you want to watch a straight-up sci-fi horror, check out Life instead (even though it is just a knock-off of the original Alien), or if you want a more PG space movie, Passengers should do.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Alien: Covenant trailer

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Movie review: Logan

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last (supposedly) Hugh Jackman-lead X-Men movie – Logan – has hit theaters, so, let’s review it! The review is spoiler-free, for the most part. I have written down 8 points, full of spoilers, at the very end and included an additional warning.

IMDb summary: In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are up-ended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.

The X-Men franchise has had its fair share of hits and misses. While the original movie and its sequel X2 were mostly well-accepted, everyone would rather forget X3. Looking at the newer prequel franchise, once again, the first two pictures were really good, especially, Days of Future Past, while the third one – X-Men: Apocalypse – was just kinda meh. The most successful X-Men film to date is the spinoff Deadpool, which came out just last year. Now, Logan is following the formula set by Deadpool – the R-rating + the faithfulness to the source material – and is hoping for a win. The previous two Wolverine movies didn’t impress anyone, and that’s putting it mildly. Maybe, third time’s a charm? Both this being the 3rd sub-trilogy within the X-Men series and the 3rd movie of it.

Writing

Logan was written by Scott Frank, the director James Mangold, and a TV writer Michael Green. Frank has written 2013’s The Wolverine and 2002’s Minority Report, while Green is the writer behind Green Lantern (that sounds worrying, however, Green is also listed as the screenwriter for a lot of big upcoming films, like Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049and Murder on the Orient Express, so maybe his writing for Green Lantern was just an unfortunate accident that will never, hopefully, be repeated again?

Even though I had some worries about the writing for this film, I should not have, cause the narrative of Logan was just spectacular – cohesive yet varied and complex. I’m gonna go over all the different story points in the spoiler part, so here I’m just gonna mention some of the general stuff. To begin with, Logan had clever dialogue which provided the viewers with snippets of the overarching story, rather than explaining it through narration. Even the one explanatory scene was done in an interesting and modern way – through a video on a phone.

I also loved all the character moments that were written into the script: Caliban actually had some important stuff to do instead of just being an accessory, like in X-Men:Apocalypse; Professor X, even though he was old, has not lost his nurturing nature; X-23 was animalistic but intelligent (loved the moment when she sucked the bullets out of her hand): she did not say a word until the end of the second hour of the movie, and when she finally spoke, she did that in both Spanish and English, making her an even more of an authentic character; and, lastly, Logan himself has a variety of stunning moments that drove home the idea that he is not the Wolverine that we were used to seeing: this time around, he needed glasses and his claws did not pop out as easily as they used to. The moment from the trailer, where he holds up the comics was also great – it was so fun seeing a comic book character whining about the comics.

Thematically, Logan continued the tradition of all the X-Men films and looked at the staple topics of family and belonging, but not in any other movie have these two topics felt more relevant and emotional.

Directing

James Mangold is best known for directing The Wolverine and the awards’ nominated western remake 3:10 to Yuma (Logan was a kind of western too – set in a similar location but modernized). Mangold did an absolutely spectacular job directing the movie. The opening sequence was just wonderful – it set the tone for the film and explained the characters psychological and physical state with a single, quite short, action sequence. I also have to praise the director for using the various visual storytelling techniques – showing instead of telling. The overall action of Logan was also magnificent. If you thought that Deadpool was violent, then I can tell you that you haven’t seen nothing yet. Logan was 100 times bloodier and way more brutal – it was sometimes hard to watch. And yet, even though the picture’s themes and visuals were dark and brutal, the color pallet was not, meaning that one could actually see the action, instead of guessing what’s happening in the shadows.

Acting

Hugh Jackman was just absolutely wonderful. I’m so happy that he got a chance to finally play the type of Wolverine that he always wanted to play. I really am gonna miss him in this role. Jackman’s next project is a musical The Greatest Showman, which he is going to produce and star in. Patrick Stewart’s last outing as Professor Xavier was also excellent. I wasn’t expecting this many casual humor moments to come from him. His next gig is voicing the poop emoji in The Emoji Movie. Yup, this is the world we live in.

Richard E. Grant was amazing as Zander Rice. I loved his character’s look as well as behavior. Boyd Holbrook was good as Donald Pierce too. His character wasn’t the most interesting but I guess the movie had to have the ‘big bad’ – a mad scientist running things from above. Stephen Merchant replaced Tómas Lemarquis in the role of Caliban and did a much better job. Some of its due to better writing, but I also felt that Merchant delivered a more nuanced performance. Lastly, I have to mention how amazing was Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23. I really hope that this young lady has a bright future ahead of her, be it as the new lead of this franchise or working on other projects.

In short, Logan is a magnificent movie that pushes the boundaries of the comic book genre. It is well acted, has an emotional and interesting story, and spectacular action to top it off.

Rate: 4.7/5

Trailer: Logan trailer

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SPOILER PART

  1. I loved how Logan subverted the action genre tropes. For example, during their first escape, their car actually got stuck in the fence and couldn’t go through it, which usually happens in films. Also, when the bad guy was beginning to give his monolog, I loved that Logan just shot him and cut his speech short. Not only was this a great subversion of a classical action movie cliche, but this action left some gaps in the story, which the villain hadn’t had time to explain
  2. Namely, the biggest gap is the question of what has happened to the mutants that they basically went extinct? The character of Pierce seemed to be the one who was responsible, but Professor X also remembered something related to that incident. Was Xavier somehow responsible too or was he just feeling guilty for not being able to save them?
  3. Speaking about Professor X, while a lot of us predicted his death, it was still an emotional moment. I did shed a tear during his funeral when Logan was at a loss for words and X-23 just took his hand. I loved the scenes of Xavier’s seizures, though, they had such an interesting special effect.
  4. The X-23’s backstory was interesting and pretty faithful to the comics. We also got a bunch of others genetically conceived mutant kids, which I wish we knew more about, cause I wanted to care more for them during the final act. We did get a taste of their powers and I wonder whether they will be the ones to continue this franchise.
  5. Touching upon the third act, it was probably my least favorite part of the movie. I felt that the beginning of it dragged a bit and slowed down the movie too much. It also made the final product feel too long.
  6. The inclusion of the X-24 – an almost perfect killing machine and a double of Wolverine – was an interesting choice. At times, it felt like an afterthought, but I cannot fully argue against its inclusion, cause Hugh Jackman vs Hugh Jackman fights were astonishing.
  7. I have already mentioned how Wolverine was complaining about the comics, but I would also like to draw attention to the fact that the said comics weren’t just there to be an Easter Egg but acted as a driving force for the plot. This idea just blew my mind completely.
  8. And to finish off this spoiler-y part, we, of course, have to talk about the ending and the final send-off of the character. I absolutely loved Logan’s final arc and the mutual saving part of his relationship with X-23. Not only did he actually save her from the Transigen company but she also saved him from suicide. I thought that his death was worth the character’s life and his last moment with Laura, when she utters ‘Daddy’, was a complete tearjerker. The turning of the cross into an X was just a heartbreaking icing on a cake made of tears. I wasn’t completely surprised that they decided to allow this character to die. Hugh Jackman does not really want to do these movies anymore and what a better way to end one’s career as a specific character than to give him the ultimate send-off. It just adds to the legacy of Hugh Jackman as Wolverine.