Sunday, November 26, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

My third theatrical film of the long holiday weekend, following COCO (2017) and THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017), was Kenneth Branagh's new version of MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017).

Reviews of the film, as well as reactions from friends, have been all over the map. I previously enjoyed a pair of films Branagh directed, JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014) and CINDERELLA (2015), feeling he did a lot with the material in each case, so I decided to give MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS a try.

Branagh directed, co-produced, and stars as Agatha Christie's legendary detective, Hercule Poirot. (I should perhaps add at this juncture that I have yet to see the 1974 version with Albert Finney as Poirot, nor have I seen any other Poirot films or TV productions.)

I quite enjoyed MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, which for me ranks with WIND RIVER (2017) and BABY DRIVER (2017) as one of the most visually appealing live-action films of the year. Admittedly, Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos put their camera in a couple odd places now and again, such as the discovery of the murder victim filmed as an overhead shot, but for the most part the film is beautiful to look at, and at times it's downright majestic.

In the interest of keeping the mystery spoiler free for those who haven't seen the earlier film or read Agatha Christie, I'll keep my plot description bare bones. Poirot is a last-minute passenger on the Orient Express thanks to the intervention of a friend (Tom Bateman) at the railway. During the course of the trip one of the passengers turns up dead, and it's up to Poirot to figure out whodunit.

The passengers are played by an all-star cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, and Josh Gad.

With such a large cast, it's perhaps not surprising that some characters have more of a chance to register than others. For instance, Dench has relatively little to do, simply adding some gravitas with her presence. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, has one of the largest roles and does an excellent job with it; that's also her singing the haunting song over the end credits.

Branagh is fun as Poirot although I think such a huge, unattractive mustache is an unnecessary distraction. In an interview he said he felt the mustache disarms the people Poirot deals with as they see it and don't take him seriously, "then suddenly he's got you by the throat." His obsessive-compulsive tendencies are an interesting touch as well.

Other than the splendid visuals which take the film to a higher level, this ORIENT EXPRESS isn't a classic, but it is a well-crafted, solid film which provides an enjoyable 114 minutes at the movies. I'm quite glad I decided to check it out, especially as I love "train movies." This was a good one.

As hinted at the end of the movie, a sequel with Branagh as Poirot in DEATH ON THE NILE is in development. A previous version of DEATH ON THE NILE was released in 1978.

Parental Advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for violence and "thematic elements." There's some blood on the corpse, and another story aspect may trouble young children, but I felt this was a pretty tame PG-13; I think PG would have been more appropriate. Whether this somewhat slow-moving yet elegant film, with its accented lead character, would appeal to children is another question.

A trailer is here. It's the best of the trailers I've seen for the film; if you enjoy the trailer you'll probably like the movie as well.

Finally, as part of my occasional commentary on moviegoing in 2017, our local Cinemark theater, where I saw two of this weekend's trio of movies, has switched to "luxury loungers" in every theater. While I'm still not a fan of the concept, at this theater the loungers at least allow me to choose to sit with my back against the seat and my feet on the floor, unlike the seats at a theater we visited last January.

On a more important note, I saw all three films this weekend using my new MoviePass. For a $9.95 per month subscription, MoviePass currently allows card holders to see one 2D theatrical film per day. (I say "currently" because I don't understand how the company can sustain that pricing over the long term!) MoviePass drew such big business after news coverage a few months ago that some people are apparently still having trouble receiving their cards promptly, but I figured a month-at-a-time subscription was a low-risk investment. I got my card right away, and it's been easy to use; it certainly paid off for me this weekend.

For those not yet familiar with MoviePass, you "check in" on a smartphone app when you're within 100 yards of the theater, easily selecting both the theater and then the movie showtime. After the App says "Success! Go Buy Your Ticket," you buy your ticket as usual, using a MoviePass Master Card.

Here's more info on MoviePass from Variety and Wired.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Very interested to read your review of this new version, Laura, as I had been wondering whether it was for me or not. I have read quite a lot of Christie in the past and have enjoyed SOME of the screen adaptations.
There is a big 'however' though as it would be nigh impossible, for me, to improve on the TV adaptations with David Suchet absolutely perfect as Christie's description of the Belgian detective. Suchet set out to film every single Poirot story and he achieved this amazing feat over a 20+ year period, including of course "ORIENT EXPRESS". Thoroughly recommend you check some of the Suchet films out.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Haven't seen this new version, but I hope,Laura, you'll catch up with the 70s version and also Death on the Nile ( I love Peter Ustinov as Poirot.) Both of these have amazing casts as you probably know.

12:47 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Seconding the recommendation for the Suchet Poirots, haven't seen them all but they're super. Also I'll recommend Branagh's DEAD AGAIN. I read Fox will be making at least another Poirot movie, so it's the Christie Cinematic Universe!

Moviepass sounds like a great deal but like you, I wonder how it makes $ unless they limit how many movies you can see per week/month (not to give them any ideas).

6:58 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for your valuable feedback! It's funny, I've seen very little Agatha Christie, and if I've read anything by her it's so far back I'm not recalling it -- my first exposure to Christie was probably seeing THE MOUSETRAP in London back when I was on a college trip.

I'm not familiar at all with David Suchet! I do have a TCM recording of the '78 DEATH ON THE NILE -- will have to hunt down the '74 ORIENT EXPRESS along with the David Suchet performances.

Thanks also for the review of DEAD AGAIN, Kristina, I'm not familiar with it. I LOL re the Christie Cinematic Universe!

It's going to be very interesting to see the future unfold for MoviePass. I figure every month I get my money back (or better!) I'm doing well, and if they either raise prices or it goes bust, I don't have much at stake and will be pretty sanguine since I'm not expecting the current situation to last. Maybe I'll be surprised!

Thank you all again for sharing your Poirot/Christie knowledge not only with me but other readers!

Best wishes,

4:32 PM  
Blogger Seth said...

I saw Branagh‘s MURDER last week and had mixed feelings about it. I’ll echo suggestions for you to see the 1974 version, the Ustinov films (NILE and EVIL UNDER THE SUN), and any Suchet adaptations.

And as long as we’re talking Christie’s characters, I also enjoy the Miss Marple movies starring Margaret Rutherford: MURDER SHE SAID, MURDER AT THE GALLOP, MURDER AHOY, and MURDER MOST FOUL. They’re much looser adaptations, but still well made and fun, and the theme music is particularly catchy.

I love “train movies,” too; if you haven’t already, maybe you’d consider a specific post about some of your favorites?

5:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and recommendations, Seth, it's appreciated! I've never seen a Miss Marple movie.

That's a good idea about a post on train movies, I might do that at some future point. Have to work up a list first...

Best wishes,

11:00 PM  
Blogger Beth Ann Gallagher said...

I've not seen this version yet, but out of all the Poirots, I've seen so far, David Suchet has been my favorite. I heartily recommend the TV version. It's a lot of fun, and besides the regular episodes, they adapted MOTOE and DOTN into TV movies.

Suchet's mustache was much smaller, and I like it better than Branagh's, but the latter's is more accurate to the page. Christie described Hercule's mustache as being enormous and flamboyant.

Fun to see that movie pass has been contributing toward your blogging!

11:45 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Beth Ann! Thanks so much for sharing your recommendation, I hope to delve into more Christie! In fact I have picked up the '72 MOTOE which will be fun to compare to this version.

Fun also to hear about Christie's description!

MoviePass has definitely worked great for me, making seeing more new movies budget friendly; thanks also to more releases than usual which interest me, I could easily end up seeing 10 movies in my first 2 months of use, which started Thanksgiving weekend. I hope you enjoy yours!!

Best wishes,

11:49 PM  

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