Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

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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MOUNTAIN

“…the film boasts some impressive height-perspective shots of wide-eyed lunatics free-climbing their way up hundreds of metres of sheer rock face.”

Wayward Wolf.

Director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary, Mountain, is an impressive piece. An unassuming film embellished with only a very sparse smattering of voice-over supplied through the husky tones of one Willem Dafoe.

That said, to label Mountain a documentary is perhaps stretching the truth somewhat. A ‘meditation’ or ‘appreciation’ would perhaps be more appropriate.

It’s a fine combination of sweeping footage of various mountainous vistas taken from all over the globe, set to the stunning music of Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, a masterfully curated selection of some of history’s most powerful orchestral music is used to great effect here, culminating most fittingly with the Adagio movement from Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto.

Beautifully shot throughout, it’s hard not to be in total awe and reverence of the sheer scale and imposing nature of these sprawling ranges – the results of millions of years of plate tectonic and volcanic activity.

Peedom’s film, whilst never preachy or particularly intrusive, touches upon the affect that these colossal masses of rock have had upon the human psyche over time. Initially believed to be the domain of either Gods or Monsters, life at the foot of these gigantic monoliths was considered hard enough without people ever feeling any need to tempt fate by exploring their giddy, perilous heights.

The confirmation of Mount Everest as being the world’s highest peak, however, lay down the gauntlet to many an intrepid explorer, and once finally ‘conquered’ by Hillary and Norgay in 1953, the floodgates positively ruptured with regard to man pitting his wits against not only nature’s highest challenge, but indeed against every mountain range the world over.

Mountaineering suddenly became something of an obsession, no longer to be considered the past-time of the foolhardy or clinically insane.

Talking of insane, the film boasts some impressive height-perspective shots of wide-eyed lunatics free-climbing their way up hundreds of metres of sheer rock face – footage that left me frozen to my seat in terror, questioning just exactly how much has really changed with regards to the perceived mental state of the climbing fraternity.

Perhaps most sweaty palm-inducing of all though was a section devoted to extreme sports, following a variety of thrill-seeking wack jobs in their assorted attempts to free dive / parachute / bike or off-piste ski themselves into certain oblivion, often simultaneously outrunning avalanches in the process.

Madness! Yet utterly enthralling.

Whilst those of us that have had any sort of fascination with mountains and mountaineering over the years may not necessarily learn anything new from Jennifer Peedom’s film, Mountain is however a stunning, heart felt ode to their breathtaking majestic beauty, and a stark reminder of humanity’s sheer insignificance; dwarfed in their very presence.

 

 

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

“Bewitching, hugely rewarding, and far more Minnie masterpiece than Mickey Mouse…”

Wayward Wolf.

It’s hard to impress upon you just how mesmerising a piece Sean Baker’s The Florida Project truly is.

With a fairly free and easy approach to scripted dialogue, it’s shot in a quasi-documentary style predominantly from the perspective of a six-year-old girl and her mischievous young scallywag friends, observing the various ins, outs and general goings-on at a budget motel during one hot Florida summer.

Just a short hop from Disney’s Magic Kingdom stands the Magic Castle motel. Inexplicably purple in colour and clearly cashing in on its neighbouring Disney namesake – as one unfortunate honeymooning couple will discover, much to the bride’s horror – this motel, partially suited to folk who are just passing through and priced out of staying in the main Disney resort area itself, but more pertinently, offering no-frills temporary housing to some of the very poorest families in the Kissimmee area.

One such ‘family’ is single mother, Halley (Bria Vinaite), and her precocious, ‘smart-mouthed’ daughter, Moonee (Brooklynn Prince).

Financially-speaking, neither Halley nor any of the kids’ parents are able to even contemplate caving in to the considerable allure of nearby Disney World. Instead, the children swap Magic Kingdom for Magic Castle and the plethora of garish, vulgar eateries and stores that constitute its immediate surrounds, creating whole worlds of adventure for themselves in the process – the way kids do.

Very much left to their own devices each day by parents that are either unable or too busy to spend time with them, the kids have become cocky and a little feral, roaming about at will, causing havoc with the locals with their own line in bare-faced, yet rather endearing cheek. And if they’re not antagonising the locals, they’re bothering Bobby (Willem Dafoe), whose job it is to perform the daily fire-fighting act that is managing The Magic Castle motel.

A real little madam she may be, but Moonee is really the least of Bobby’s daily problems. From illegal soliciting, theft and violent altercations to predatory paedophiles, The Magic Castle is something of a magnet for society’s wrong ‘uns and their unsavoury behaviour. And though his guests may not always be fully aware of it, Bobby ensures all such potential crimes and misdemeanours are dealt with, but more importantly, that the little tearaway terrors – so often the bain of his life – are kept safe from harm; a fact that guests are quick to forget amidst the yelling and general ‘ball-busting’ that inevitably ensues when Bobby comes a-knockin’ on rent payment day.

The Florida Project illustrates not only the stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots, but also between the hardships experienced by parents living on the breadline, and the carefree innocence of their offspring. Most crushing of all, however, are the moments when these two disparate states of being unavoidably collide; when fantasy must make way for harsh reality. Such predicaments are sadly never far away.

With Willem Dafoe as good as he’s been in years, and young Brooklynn Prince producing a performance of such joyful natural exuberance, Baker’s film positively brims with life-affirming goodness.

Bewitching, hugely rewarding, and far more Minnie masterpiece than Mickey Mouse, The Florida Project is as poignant and wonderful an observational slice-of-life tale as you’re ever likely to see.

Unmissable.