Tag Archives: Judi Dench

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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FILM REVIEW (2015): Spectre

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that Sam Mendes is a big Bond fan.
Of course, the fact that he’s directed the last two Bond outings is the big give away, but it’s how he’s done it which is the most telling thing.
Mendes’ first outing, Skyfall, was arguably the best Bond film for many a long year and although his latest attempt possibly lacks the depth and subtext of its predecessor, as a pure, two hour slice of vintage James Bond, Spectre possibly even tops that.
Although it’s now become increasingly difficult to sum up Bond without coming over all Alan Partridge, Spectre is slick, chic, cheeky, sultry, amusing, dynamic, sexy, global, ridiculous and effortlessly cool.
There are tips of the hat to historical James Bond everywhere in Mendes’ casting. From the Dr No-esque instigator of all of the world’s evils (Christopher Wlatz playing Blofeld), to a vocally-stumped ape of a baddie (Dave Bautista plays Mr. Hinx), to not one, but two Bond love interests in the ever so shapely shape of Monica Bellucci – playing Lucia Sciarra – and Lea Seydoux of the very excellent Blue is the warmest colour fame, portraying Dr. Madeleine Swann.
The plot, bizarrely, comes from beyond the grave. A video message left by M (Judi Dench) prior to her demise in Skyfall, instructs Bond to track down and eliminate an assassin, Marco Sciarra, in Mexico, and to then follow up on this by attending his funeral in Rome. The trail and course of action will apparently become obvious from there…
As ever, Bond jets off around the globe in search of the links and connections that will ultimately lead him to the source of much evil-doing – in this case, a mass conspiracy by way of orchestrated ‘terrorist’ events, to install and control global surveillance of a nature and scale beyond the imagination.
The difference on this occasion is that Bond’s solo mission to track down Sciarra is unauthorised and these antics, combined with an overhaul of MI6 has left both he and M’s replacement, Ralph Fiennes (also M) surplus to requirements. In M’s place enters the slippery new head of security, C (Andrew Scott).
Is C just an eminently unlikable character or is there more to his devious nature? It’s all larger than life and very tongue in cheek. Just the way Bond should be.
From exhilarating helicopter and plane stunts to high octane car chases through the streets of Rome, pitting Aston Martin against Ferrari, the action set pieces certainly come thick and fast as Bond races around the globe from Mexico to England and Rome to Austria, in his bid to out-fox and see and end to the wrong-doings of an assortment of villainous types.
Sam Smith’s voice is excellent and deserving of better material, for what is in all honesty a fairly weak title song – it’s a shame that the relatively recent trend for poor Bond songs has not also been addressed – and Thomas Newman’s soundtrack borders on being over-the-top at times, but given the film’s content, probably just gets away with it, adding greatly to the film’s relentless velocity.
It’s hard to know where to go next for Mendes, if indeed he is at the helm for the next one? Given that he’s made such a good fist of these last two, I sincerely hope that he is.
Great fun, and a reverential approach from Mendes in the continued revival of the long running James Bond story.