Tag Archives: Michelle Pfeiffer

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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MOTHER

“…Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses…”

Wayward Wolf.

Someone said to me recently that they no longer went to the cinema because everything had been done already, and no-one was bringing anything particularly new to the table.

There’s certainly a partial argument in there, and there’s no doubt that we’re all on the receiving end of more than our fair share of formulaic drivel that comes spewing forth from ‘the machine’ with depressing regularity.

But that’s why it’s such a joy when films as original and utterly enthralling as Mother, hit the big screen, and by all accounts this one has been dividing audiences the length and breadth of the country.

Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky, it tells the tale of a couple. Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) and Him (Javier Bardem), live in a huge house in the middle of the countryside. Impressively, Mother has taken it upon herself to completely refurbish this previously fire-damaged property, and her considerable handiwork – of which she is rightly very proud – is now nearing the point of completion.

Him is a renowned poet and author and much older than his beautiful partner. Much to his frustration he is suffering from writer’s block. Mother is nothing if not wonderfully empathetic to his plight and supportive to the last, ensuring that she attends to his every need. Despite the occasionally aloof, slightly distracted nature of her man, the couple nonetheless seem well enough matched and in love.

Events, however, start to get a little interesting following an unexpected visit one night from a doctor, (Ed Harris), and a little later, from his wife, (Michelle Pfeiffer); two apparent strangers, whose erratic behaviour begins to ring alarm bells in Mother’s head.

But they are merely the tip of the iceberg for what is to come.

A catalogue of progressively bizarre happenings is set to break apart – with increasing regularity – the carefully assembled pieces of the home that Mother has built, throwing her well ordered life into almost unimaginable turmoil.

From fairly innocuous beginnings, Aronofsky is unafraid to completely change the film’s trajectory, something that he implements skilfully, ramping up the intensity as he goes. And like the curve on a hockey stick, the impending madness of the couple’s situation increases exponentially until such a point that you’d swear that you were in fact watching something totally different by the film’s end. Yet, everything is very closely and cleverly connected throughout, with the smallest, most subtle of clues dropped strategically here and there throughout the piece, hinting at the hellish events that await.

Mother is enormously entertaining. A film that positively whisks its viewer along, wide-eyed and slack jawed, to its crazy conclusion, challenging one’s perceptions of what constitutes unacceptably bad taste, in the process. One hell of a ‘marmite movie’, if ever there was one.

In much the same way that László Nemes chose to almost exclusively use medium close-up shots of his chief protagonist’s face in the superb, Son of SaulAronofsky here, elects to employ a similar, if slightly less relentless and claustrophobic technique, on his leading lady, Jennifer Lawrence. Her facial expressions convey the anguish of Mother quite brilliantly, as she is dragged mercilessly through the wringer, experiencing the entire gamut of emotions in the process. Her initial expression of sweetness and innocence quickly switches to one of troubled confusion, then disdain, exasperation and ultimately outright unadulterated fear. By all accounts Lawrence was prone to hyperventilating during the making of this film, and it’s certainly easy to see why.

Javier Bardem is mesmerising as Mother’s apparently caring partner whose penchant for generosity, helping others and sharing everything is gradually exposed for what it really is. Harris and Pfeiffer, amongst others, are wonderful in their wholly sinister cameo roles, flagrantly disrespecting both Mother and the home that she has so lovingly created. And all the while, Him insists upon Mother’s patience and trust in the unfolding melee, as things go rapidly from bad to worse.

In much the same way that Damien Chazelle‘s marvellous Whiplash generated such complete and utter emotional engagement from its audience, Darren Aronofsky’s film demands and very much receives a similar response.

Engaging, seductive, confusing, shocking and at times terrifying, Mother is a veritable whirlwind that grows relentlessly in intensity, launching a devilishly wicked assault on the senses in the process.

See it.