Murder on the Orient Express (***1/2) – It’s never about whodonit

MOTOE

Murder on the Orient Express – 2017

Director Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay Michael Green based on the novel by Agatha Christie
Starring Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman

“Lies – and again lies. It amazes me, the amount of lies we had told to us this morning.” (said Bouc)

“There are more still to discover,” said Poirot cheerfully.

“You think so?”

“I shall be very disappointed if it is not so.”

The Poirot of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on The Orient Express is much more tired than the Albert Finney version of my extreme youth. Finney seemed ready to jump into the fray, whereas Branagh’s version always seems to remind people he’s on his way to retirement. On his way, but not quite yet.

This time, after solving the case of the missing religious artifact with the prime suspects being a priest, a rabbi and a cleric, he is asked to head to London for an impending case. The quickest route has to be the train line of the title, taking off from Istanbul the next morning. He gets on.

The mystery of the title happens the second night on the train. Someone is murdered. Then the train is stopped by landslide. The director of the train line, Bouc (Bateman) presses his friend, Poirot to solve the case quickly before the train gets moving again and gets to the next stop.

From this point, the interviews are fast and furious. If you think you’ve solved it or if you have seen or read previous incarnations, this train is still worth the ride. The point of Branagh’s take is not really to show a neat collection of clues and piecing the puzzle together. That said, it should be easy enough to surmise that there is more than one motive and suspect.

Where Branagh succeeds in this take of the story is in his realization that there must be a reason to watch a film more than once. The things going against that in any mystery is once you’ve seen it, the mystery is solved. It also doesn’t help to have such exaggerated vamp performances.

For these reasons, Branagh has included some carefully laden clues, gorgeous scenery, a humble soundtrack and some more subtle acting to reward repeat viewing. In short, he’s made a movie that draws you in while it pulls you down the track.

First of all there are very few scenes that come across as cheesy. Everyone is playing straight with no chaser. Even Derek Jacobi, who seems the very essence of a flaunt, has a muffle on it for once. In fact, only Poirot comes across as any sort of flamboyant, and like I said, he’s pretty subdued. And he’s rather polite, too. We just know that he has a big mustache and can’t turn down a good mystery.

The shots of the train and the environment it ambles through are excellent, for the most part. There are a couple of CGI moments, but those are forgivable in an age where a warm den with a computer outweighs any shot in inclement weather. We can definitely tell, in scenes like Poirot’s interrogation of Debenham (Ridley) and the final reveal, these people are not comfortable and for more reasons than their guilt or innocence.

Of the passengers, all of the performances are good, and a few of them great. Pfeiffer hasn’t chewed this much scenery since Dangerous Liaisons. Ridley’s counter to Poirot’s inquiries is fun, as she gives no quarter, nor does she expect any. My favorite is Bateman’s Bouc, in what should have been a throwaway role. His frank honesty adds an innocence that is required to give Poirot a sounding board off which to bounce his findings.

Most interesting is the scenery that Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos use for many of the shots. There are many shots from differing vantages and through angled windows and mirrors that add another dimension to what could have been a boring and repetitive venture of questions and answers.

This is not necessary viewing, to be sure. It’s a matter of preference and whether or not you have a Sunday afternoon with nothing planned. It’s not necessarily the kind of film that will leave one puzzled. In truth, one would hold little chance to fully resolve the film based on the fact that evidence mostly comes to light for us in an orderly fashion throughout the last two acts.

It’s a good film though,. And it deserves a space for those who like to see a good story told well. Not well enough for awards, but definitely well enough for someone with nothing much to do.

(***1/2 out of *****)

 

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The Rules of The Counselor

the-counselor-movie-poster

The Counselor – 2013

Director Ridley Scott
Starring Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, Dean Norris, John Leguizamo
Written by Cormac McCarthy

Rule 13: A spec script, or non-commissioned screenplay, is not solicited by anybody.  It must be sold.

Rule 25: A good opening scene, with remarkable visuals and as a bonus incredible sound, gives the viewer hope that they have not taken the first step down the wrong path.

Rule 32: No one in a movie who asks “Are you up?” ever lets the person sleep.

Rule 33: A demonstrative love scene in the first few minutes is pretty much a guarantee the couple is doomed.

Rule 34: White sheets indicate a love that hasn’t been tainted.

Rule 232: Guy watching a girl on a horse prancing with a cheetah is undoubtedly a sign that the grimy stuff being packed at the factory is not girl scout cookies.

Rule 237: Go ahead.  Have the cheetah chase down a rabbit.  It’s never been done before.

Rule 238: With that hair, its doubtful that you remind her of someone else.

Rule 242: Cute chick with the monotone voice saying she doesn’t miss things is a sure sign that she’s not a soccer mom.

Rule 245: It is possible to define women wearing huge diamonds as courageous.

Rule 327: Of course the diamond dealer wants you to understand the flaw in the diamond makes it perfect.

Rule 328: The more one talks about jewelry, the more one realizes they are being sold.  Kind of like a spec script.

Rule 354: Happy sinister couples often make happiness by the misery of others.

Rule 429: “The truth about women is that you can do anything to them except bore them.”  May just mean that you don’t understand the idea of nurture.

Rule 443: When casual conversation becomes more complicated than the end of Matrix Reloaded, then you are losing everyone.

Rule 445: If it’s “a one time deal,” then there is no movie.

Rule 446: It’s usually not a good film if you use the phrase “One time deal.”

Rule 448: When the conversation turns to how your head will be removed from your body, it’s a good idea to move away from the deal.

Rule 450: The guy peeing for no reason in the desert is usually going to be fodder.

Rule 492: It’s not wise to propose to her if she doesn’t notice the cheetah at the restaurant next to the Piano player.

Rule 659: You are a glory qualifies as a wonderful compliment.

Rule 670: Never trust a woman who can tell you how much your engagement ring is worth.

Rule 671: Conversations about confessing your dirty nasty sins to a priest is not a great sign either.

Rule 698: “You don’t know someone until you know what they want.”  Is redundant.

Rule 699: Long hair brings out the monotone voice in Brad Pitt.

Rule 845: If you want a good convict, choose someone who hasn’t been seen for years.  Like Rosie Perez.

Rule 866: It is possible to take Michael Fassbender’s personality away and replace it with the name “The Counselor.”

Rule 877: It’s kind of an axiom that opening a dance club is synonymous with being involved in the trade of another kind.

Rule 890: If one can be implicated in a bad plot, they will be.

Rule 934: Don’t ever go overboard when trying to intimidate a minor player in the plot, unless you want to use that minor player as your lawyer.

Rule 936:: When making a movie about the drug trade featuring a humorless lawyer, it’s a good idea to not have the guy who played Hank in the series that featured Better Call Saul.

Rule 947: If they show a guy who’s heading out-of-town more than 2 times, the guy will not make it to his destination.

Rule 982: They won’t show the signs of all the disappeared until someone’s disappeared.

Rule 1059: Most will finish watching a film just to see the horribly clever death scene.

(*** out of *****)

 

 

 

 

To Rome with Love – Rented by mistake

kinopoisk.ru\To Rome with Love – 2012

Written and Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Alec Baldwin, Penélope Cruz, Woody Allen, Roberto Begnini, Judy Davis, Greta Gerwig, Allison Pill, Flavio Parenti, Alessandro Tiberi, Alessandra Mastronardi

When my wife told me she rented To Rome with Love, she seemed kind of curious.  She no doubt had seen the cover that gave no sign who wrote, directed and placed himself on the camera.  Instead, she saw Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Penelope Cruz and that delightful Ellen Page.

“Did you want to see that?” she asked, thinking I might.

“You know, it’s a Woody Allen film.” I replied dryly.

Her smile turned to a tortured frown.  That’s how Woody rolls in our house.

The plot can be boiled down to pretty much everything you usually see in a Woody Allen film.

1) Dissatisfaction with current significant other.  Alec Baldwin just walks off from his wife at the beginning and into the life of Jesse Eisenberg, and then acts as his muse when Eisenberg meets his girlfriend’s friend.  The impression is that Eisenberg is Baldwin in younger form and now, older, he is calling the game as he sees it with the benefit of hindsight.  This is the most interesting storyline.

2) Conservative parents meet daughter’s union loving “communist” fiancé.  Allen gives himself the “ironic” pleasure of mocking conservatism in the broad strokes he understands.  This belies the fact that he still acts like a neurotic liberal New York Hebrew.  Not exactly method acting.  Judy Davis is just there to give Allen a wife that is in the ball park of his own age.  That’s acting, too.  The singing in the shower bit would be a good Saturday Night Live bit.

3) A young married couple who gets separated and, invariably through wacky hi-jinks, hook up with other people.  You know, prostitutes, world-famous actors.  The kind of stuff that usually happens on honeymoons.  One has spent more than a few minutes wondering whether Cruz couldn’t act because English was not her first language.  It’s safe to say she can’t act in a bunch of languages.

4) Then there is Roberto Benigni, who plays a humble citizen inexplicably turned into an overnight sensation, you know, like real life.  He finds that his life is difficult whether everyone wants to hear your voice, or if no one wants to hear it.  Perhaps this is based on his journey from Life is Beautiful to Pinocchio.  The only acting here is when he pretends that he is surprised by the cameras, instead of real life where he seeks them out.

The movie plays like a series of ideas sketched out though not fully developed.  It’s a flight of fancy that allows a guy to take a bunch of his friends on a trip to Rome, paid for by the production company.  Rome lends itself to cinema, and Allen has found some nice ways to frame it.  There are memorable lines, mostly by Baldwin, but the rest  is underdeveloped, fragmented and disconnected.  My wife has another word for it :

“Gross.”

If you are a fan of Woody Allen, it’s time to start questioning your wish to see his new material.  Just re-watch the older stuff.

(**1/2 out of *****)