Tag Archives: Daisy Ridley

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

“…if we’re judging Murder on the Orient Express upon pure entertainment value alone, it’s only fair to say that this Kenneth Branagh adaptation is something of a success.”

Wayward Wolf.

This 2017 version of the Agatha Christie classic, Murder on the Orient Express (MOTOE from hereon in), seems to have received a rather mixed bag of reviews since its release. Certainly having on board (literally in this case), such a who’s who of acting royalty, demonstrates a certain confidence by Twentieth Century Fox that this weighty cast of A-listers would be sufficiently alluring to transform this well known who dunnit from being merely potential TV fodder into something of a big screen epic.

And if we’re judging MOTOE upon pure entertainment value alone, it’s only fair to say that this Kenneth Branagh adaptation is something of a success.

Branagh himself heads the cast, portraying famous Belgian detective Hercules Poirot. Like many of Agatha Christie’s heroic lead characters, Poirot proves yet again to be something of a jinx; his very presence unsurprisingly coinciding with a murder. In this instance it occurs aboard the luxurious Orient Express train en route from Turkey to Paris.

Only a limited number of passengers are booked to travel on this particular journey, however, all of whom instantly become suspects in the murder of one Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), found dead in his sleeping quarters having been stabbed repeatedly.

Ratchett’s shady past is then slowly revealed by those that knew him, a past that more than justifies such a potentially retaliatory action; something that he had in fact made known to Poirot himself, that he was rather fearful of.

With Ratchett’s grave fears proven correct, and with all suspects aboard the train unable to flee the scene of the crime, it is once again down to Belgian’s famous bloodhound to sniff out the truth in this particularly gruesome case of murder.

When one thinks of Poirot, one probably thinks of David Suchet’s long running portrayal on the small screen. Whether that is to be considered the pinnacle of all things Poirot-related is of course open to debate, and there are many far better qualified than I to cast their judgement. Regardless of this, Branagh, it should be said, is excellent in his own portrayal, depicting Poirot as a fastidious stickler for both detail and equilibrium in all things; personal traits that will come to be severely tested in the course of time.

In support, Judi Dench plays the sour-faced Princess Dragomiroff, with Olivia Colman (Hildegarde Schmidt) – a lady of few words – her companion and dog carer.

Johnny Depp is decent enough as Ratchett, though his mumbled American drawl gets a little lost amidst the ambient din of a chugging steam train.

Derek Jacobi, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Michelle Pfeiffer more or less complete an all-star line-up of egos, something that Director Branagh will have been tasked with containing during the film’s shoot. Though given his admirable thespian credentials, there would arguably have been no-one better suited to that particular task.

Blessed with Haris Zambarloukos’s stunning cinematography, a quality cast, an overall keen eye for the small details, and a healthy dose of humour thrown in to boot, Branagh’s adaptation of MOTOE, whilst not necessarily adding anything particularly new or revolutionary in its vision, is nevertheless one worthy of both its place on the big screen and more importantly, of the Agatha Christie novel itself.

 

 

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STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

“It’s big, it’s bold, fairly nonsensical in places, but crucially pretty faithful to the requirements of the franchise.”

Wayward Wolf.

From informative wording rising up shakily over a star-speckled screen (you’d have thought they might have sorted all such text-related jitters by now considering today’s super slick digital technology), to the triumphant opening fanfare of John Williams’ seminal theme, it can only mean one thing, folks. That’s right, it’s time for another thinly-veiled religiously over-toned lesson in good and evil by way of everybody’s favourite intergalactic science fiction box-ticking franchise.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SW:TLJ from hereon in), is upon us, and receiving a considerable amount of thumbs-up activity it would appear.

But is this Rian Johnson-directed two-and-a-half-hour epic fully deserving of all such lavish praise being bestowed upon it?

First and foremost, it’s important to establish one simple truth: directing any Star Wars film is akin to wearing a strait jacket, such are the restrictions under which any director must surely operate. There is a certain level of expectancy amongst your typical Star Wars-viewing public, a formula away from which one can not veer significantly, and a check list containing  any number of core requirements that must be met before any level of personal influence and input can be injected into or stamped upon proceedings.

I’d imagine.

In fairness to Rian Johnson, his Star Wars directorial debut probably ticks enough boxes and sufficiently grooms enough executive egos to keep those that matter sufficiently happy.

There are return outings for the franchise’s two newest stars, Rey (Daisy Ridley) and  Finn (John Boyega), along with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who, in spite of his undoubtedly wonderful abilities as an actor, remains the worst piece of villainous casting in living memory. Just what were the Star Wars powers-that-be thinking?

We are also treated to a reclusive, grizzlier and somewhat wiser Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and an inexplicably large amount of computer generated Carrie Fisher (Princess Leia) imagery, including an amusing incident in which, following an attack on her ship – in scenes reminiscent of the opening credit sequence of the 1960’s science fiction classic, Lost In Space – she tumbles arse-over-tit out of a spaceship into the great black beyond before being fished back in once again like some sort of cosmic carp.

Whilst it’s a nice homage to the late Carrie Fisher’s memory, quite what such an excessive amount of this CGi wizardry actually adds to the film as a whole, is debatable to say the least.

There are very limited and fairly forgettable roles for Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, and a predictable smattering of bizarre mechanical and other worldly entities and critters – both new and old, including an unexpected cameo from Yoda himself – to keep everyone happy.

Certainly no expense has been spared in fully furnishing this latest instalment with a wide variety and excellent quality of characters, yet once again I arrive at the conclusion that there is still yet to be a Star Wars movie that succeeds in creating and developing characters of any sufficient depth or substance, and certainly none that one can fully engage or empathise with – perhaps with the exception of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo character. Talking of which, Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of pilot Poe Dameron evokes welcome memories of Solo, and it’s no surprise therefore that Poe is easily the most convincing character in SW:TLJ.

As for the plot, it’s a fairly simple affair. Aren’t they all? Essentially it’s a tale of rebels on the run. “Tom & Jerry in Space” is one particularly harsh summary that I’ve heard, which, give or take a side story or two, is actually probably a fair assessment.

It’s big, it’s bold, fairly nonsensical in places, but crucially pretty faithful to the requirements of the franchise, and if the blue light sabre-wielding fella sat behind me – hyper-ventilating with joy like an over excited spaniel on glimpsing its favourite squeaky toy – is the measuring stick here, then it’s fair to say that SW:TLJ is nothing short of a triumph. Then again, listening to the opinions of those attending a screening on Star Wars opening night probably doesn’t guarantee the most impartial of reviews.

Balance this against my own predictable apathy towards all things Star Wars and subsequent conservative assessment of them, and the true measure of Rian Johnson’s big budget blockbuster almost certainly lies somewhere in-between.

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

 

 

Wallowing in a sea of four and five star reviews more or less right across the board, The Force Awakens certainly appears to have caught the imagination of critics and the film going public alike.

In fairness, it didn’t have much of an act to live up to when you consider the three most recent outings of this long running franchise.

My particular screening was ‘enhanced’ somewhat – if indeed that is the correct term – by a three year old kid sat behind me along with his Dad, inquiring every couple of minutes as to what everything and everyone was and what it all meant.

Irritating? Surprisingly not.

How much of his Dad’s impressive Star Wars knowledge actually stuck with the kid is hard to say, but it’s also fairly irrelevant, for this little lad’s excited innocence reminded me that The Force Awakens‘ director J.J. Abrams here had the potentially precarious job of making a much loved film concept tick enough boxes to not only appeal to its traditional core fan base, but simultaneously appeal to a whole new audience, and in fairness, Abrams has made a decent fist of it.

The introduction of new characters that don’t physically enrage the general public is always a good sign and in Rey (the excellent Daisy Ridley), Finn (the equally excellent John Boyega) and BB-8 (a bleeping R2-D2 for a new generation), Abrams has got it spot on. Rey is clearly going to develop into the next great hope for the resistance and the concept of Finn’s storm trooper character developing a conscience, reneging upon his dark duties in favour of joining the good guys, is a particularly nice touch. It’s also good to see Oscar Isaac landing a plum role as ace pilot Poe Dameron; just desserts for what has been an exceptional recent past for this most adaptable of actors following excellent work in Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year.

Han Solo, Princess Leia, C3-PO, R2-D2 and latterly Luke Skywalker all also join the party, as do a number of familiar looking ‘creatures’ that if I was a more committed anorak, I could probably name for you, but I’m not, so I can’t – and I’m actually quite relieved about that.

The effects are predictably dazzling but whereas previous Star Wars outings were rather too reliant upon these at the expense of proper character development and narrative, The Force Awakens feels like an altogether different beast; a film that’s altogether more in touch with its human side. It’s grittier and far more engaging than any of its three most recent predecessors, combining a strong sense of characterisation with its obligatory CGi elements reassuringly well.

If there is a criticism, the portrayal of the ‘dark side’ is on balance a little underwhelming, jumping from the convincing: Significant Third Reich-inspired imagery and Storm Trooper death squads, to the less so: the rather pale and unconvincing Darth Vader-lite – Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, who, as far as I could tell, possessed little of the ominous presence and intimidating nature of his be-masked predecessor.

Perhaps that’s the point though? Kylo Ren’s an emotionally torn character, wrestling with his conscience and his heart’s not properly in it? But then again, wasn’t Vader similarly conflicted?

I’m probably reading too much into all of this. We’ll move on…

Much like the original Star Wars – and I could well be hunted down and dispatched accordingly for suggesting this – The Force Awakens is not perfect, but far from considering this as just a  bit of throw-away sci-fi nonsense, it’s actually left me looking forward to watching the new trilogy develop, and with a little luck that will be with Abrams at the helm for its entirety.

He deserves that chance and the opportunity, like George Lucas before him, to build his own Star Wars dynasty.

The building blocks with which to do so, certainly appear to be in place.