Murder on the Orient Express

Posted on November 9, 2017 at 5:54 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements
Profanity: Some mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking, smoking, drugs
Violence/ Scariness: Plot concerns a murder, references to kidnapping and murder of a child, suicide, miscarriage, gun, knife, scuffle
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters, racism is raised as an issue
Date Released to Theaters: November 10, 2017
Date Released to DVD: February 27, 2018
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2017

One of Agatha Christie’s most beloved mysteries has returned to the screen with another all-star remake of “Murder on the Orient Express,” this time starring Sir Kenneth Branagh, who also directed, as the brilliant Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. It does not have the lush glamour of the 1974 original, directed by Sidney Lumet, and the tone is uneven, but the tricky puzzle is still fun to try to solve, for those who have not read the book or seen the earlier film, and the international cast makes it entertaining.

We first see Poirot in Jerusalem by the Wailing Wall, one of the most sacred locations in the world. It is before WWII and Israel is not yet a state. A priceless relic has been stolen and the suspects, as Poirot notes, are right out of the set-up for a joke: a rabbi, an imam, and a priest. Poirot neatly solves the crime and even more neatly blocks the culprit’s attempt to flee. He explains that he is what decades later would be called obsessive-compulsive, so aware of patterns that he becomes deeply distressed when they are not symmetrical. He even refuses to eat two boiled eggs because they don’t match. But what causes him enormous anxiety in life turns out to be ideal for solving crime. “The imperfections stand out,” he explains. “It makes most of life unbearable but it is useful in the detection of crime.”

When he says he is going to take a nice long train ride and relax with a book by Dickens, we know he will soon be solving another mystery.  As his friend, a handsome but louche train company official, says, a train combines three things: boredom, anonymity, and a gentle rocking motion, and that can lead to all kinds of fascinating possibilities.

Of course, in order to have a mystery, we have to have suspects and clues, so much of the film is taken up with introducing us to the cast of characters, a very international group, as one might expect on a train from Istanbul to Paris. It includes a friendly governess (“Star Wars'” Daisy Ridley as Mary Debenham), a British doctor of African heritage (“Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot), a professor (Willem Dafoe), an elderly countess (Dame Judi Dench), an Italian-American car dealer (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a shy missionary (Penelope Cruz).

Some additions to the storyline are more distracting than illuminating. More seriously, they take away from our chance to get to know the very large cast of characters and that takes away from the sense of mystery and the stakes of the outcome.  Shifts in tone give the film a disquieting inconsistency and flashy camera moves, like an extended shot looking down at the characters’ heads, serve no purpose except to make us wonder what they are supposed to be doing.  Poirot is famously proud of his mustache, and so any depiction of the character must have some impressive facial hair.  Branagh’s is close to farcical, making us wonder whether it merited or required its own trailer on set. One thing we know about Christie and her famous creations — they always knew exactly where they wanted us to be. This movie does not.

Parents should know that this film contains peril and violence including murder, references to kidnapping and murder of a child, suicide, miscarriage, gun, knife, scuffle, drinking, smoking, drugs, sexual references including prostitute, some racist comments, and some mild language.

Family discussion: Did Poirot make the right choice? What were the most important clues? What can you learn from him about observing significant details?

If you like this try: the original version with Albert Finney and other movies based on Agatha Christie stories like “Death on the Nile”

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Based on a book Crime DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Mystery Remake

Dunkirk

Posted on July 20, 2017 at 1:16 pm

A-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense war experience and some language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Wartime violence, guns, bombs, some disturbing and graphic images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: July 21, 2017
Date Released to DVD: December 18, 2017
Copyright 2017 Warner Brothers

Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” inspires the most unexpected adjectives for the true story of one of the defining moments of World War II, the rescue operation that saved more than 300,000 men and that defined the resolve of the Allied forces and, even more, of the civilians they were fighting for. You do not expect a war movie to be elegant, intimate, spare in story and dialogue, but this one is. There is almost no exposition or technical talk. It is also spectacularly, heartbreakingly beautiful, with breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography by “Intersteller’s” Hoyte Van Hoytema. And Hans Zimmer’s score is stunning, with a ticking clock (Nolan’s own pocketwatch), propulsive, elegiac, magisterial. You expect a big movie to be packed with stars. But Nolan cast unknown young actors in central roles and major stars in smaller parts.

This is not the usual historical epic.  It is more poem than prose, more experience than narrative.

As the movie briefly reminds us, the German army had pushed the French and British Allies to the coast. It looked like defeat. Through the eyes of one very young soldier who looks almost indistinguishable from the 400,000 others, we see the chaos and terror, shots coming from nowhere (the sound department deserves an award for the visceral noise of the guns), no one in charge. Nolan makes it clear without overdoing it that war is not just hell; it is the chum of sending millions of boys into a meat grinder.

He makes it to the beach where we see the scope and scale, thousands of soldiers standing in line for ships that are not coming.

Nolan has a masterful control of the story in three different strands, operating over different time periods. The great miracle of Dunkirk was the more than 800 small private boats that crossed the English Channel to bring the soldiers home. They are represented here by the invaluable Mark Rylance, representing the essence of “Keep Calm and Carry On.” He sets off with his teenage son and a young friend. That happens over a day. Taking place in just hours, pilots take off to provide support, warned to be mindful of their fuel and make sure they leave enough to get home. And then there are those on the beach, the Army and Navy officers (James D’Arcy and Kenneth Branagh), who know too well the endless triage of war strategy, and the soldiers trying to stay alive. The details are beautifully precise, a nurse handing exhausted soldiers tea, the look in the eye of a soldier trying to decide whether to doom one man to save the lives of dozens, or in the eye of another watching helplessly as a fellow soldier, in despair, walks into the water.

History is written by the victors, according to Winston Churchill, the then brand-new British Prime Minister whose famously inspiring words of determination are read aloud by a soldier at the end of the film. An historian himself, he was of course right. From some perspectives, this story was a loss, not a victory. But ultimately, history is written by the survivors, decades, even centuries later. Nolan’s film could only have been made by a cinema master with the perspective of time and all the history since, and we are fortunate to be here when he did.

NOTE: Nolan, director of the “Dark Knight” films, cast two of his Batman villains in this film, Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy. Those who appreciate what he did with time here will also enjoy his films “Inception” and “Memento.”

Parents should know that this is a wartime story based on historic events with guns and bombs. Characters are injured and killed. A soldier commits suicide and another sacrifices himself to save others. There is some strong language.

Family discussion: Why were the soldiers surprised by the way their evacuation was seen by the British people? Who should decide who has to leave the ship?

If you like this, try: the 1958 film, also called “Dunkirk,” starring John Mills, Richard Attenborough, and Bernard Lee, 2017’s WWII drama “Their Finest,” which includes a depiction of a propaganda film about the Dunkirk rescue, and the upcoming “Churchill”

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Disney Is Making a New Live Action Cinderella Movie

Posted on September 24, 2013 at 8:00 am

cinderelladisney2013Walt Disney Studios, which made the classic animated version of “Cinderella” in 1950, is now filming a sumptuous new live-action Cinderella film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Lily James (“Downton Abbey,” “Wrath of the Titans”) in the title role, Richard Madden (“Game of Thrones,” “Birdsong”) as the Prince, Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”) as the evil stepmother Lady Tremaine, and Academy Award-nominee Helena Bonham Carter (“The King’s Speech,” “Alice in Wonderland”) as the Fairy Godmother. Holliday Grainger (“Great Expectations,” “Anna Karenina”) and Sophie McShera (“Downton Abbey,” “Waterloo Road”) play Ella’s stepsisters Anastasia and Drisella, respectively. Stellan Skarsgård  and Nonso Anozie  play the Arch Grand Duke and the Prince’s loyal friend, the Captain, and Derek Jacobi portrays the King.

The filmmaking team includes three-time Academy Award-winning production designer Dante Ferretti (“The Aviator,” “Hugo,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”), three-time Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell (“The Aviator,” “The Young Victoria,” “Shakespeare in Love”), director of photography Haris Zambarloukos (“Sleuth,” “Thor”) and Academy Award-winning editor Martin Walsh (“Chicago,” “Clash of the Titans”).

The timeless story of “Cinderella” dates back to 1697 when first created by Charles Perrault, although it truly came to life for millions all over the world in 1950 with Walt Disney’s celebrated animated feature.

Director Kenneth Branagh says: “It is impossible to think of Cinderella without thinking of Disney and the timeless images we’ve all grown up watching. And those classic moments are irresistible to a filmmaker. With Lily James we have found our perfect Cinderella. She combines knockout beauty with intelligence, wit, fun and physical grace. Her Prince is being played by Richard Madden, a young actor with incredible power and charisma. He is funny, smart and sexy and a great match for Cinderella.”

 

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Fantasy Remake
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My Week with Marilyn

Posted on December 1, 2011 at 6:00 pm

“Her skin does not reject the light.”

That was impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir’s answer when asked why he used one favorite model so many times.  And it describes the luminous beauty of Marilyn Monroe, who almost half a century since her death still stands as the ultimate screen goddess.  “I have an Aunt Minnie back in Vienna who would show up on time and know her lines, but who would pay to see my Aunt Minnie?”  That was what director Billy Wilder said to Monroe’s frustrated co-stars in “Some Like It Hot,” when he told them that they had to be perfect in every take because he was going to use whichever one happened to capture her getting it right. That was Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Mortenson, the daughter of a mentally unstable woman, raised in foster homes, married for the first time at age 16, later an international superstar, married to the biggest athlete in the country (baseball hero Joe DiMaggio) and then to one of the most distinguished literary figures in the world (playwright Arthur Miller), and dead by an overdose of pills at age 36.

Shortly after she married Miller, Monroe went to England to make a film called “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier, who also directed.  She was not only the movie’s star; in an effort to demonstrate her ability and depth she had formed her own production company and was studying method acting with Lee Strasberg.  Colin Clark, who was third assistant director (a gofer) on the film, wrote not one but two memoirs of his experience, including The Prince, the Showgirl, and Me: Six Months on the Set With Marilyn and Olivier, which inspired this film, with Michelle Williams as Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier.

Even the radiant Williams will never be able to match Monroe as a screen presence.  But her performance is thoughtful, nuanced, complex, and magnetically compelling, like Monroe herself.  While it is the slightest of stories — an inexperienced and insecure young man is dazzled by Monroe who briefly makes him think he can rescue her — it is an improvement over the typical biopic.  Williams captures Monroe’s mercurial, even prismatic nature, her strength and her vulnerability, and especially her understanding of her own appeal.  “Should I be her?” she asks almost mischievously, with a sense of fun in being able to demonstrate how Norma Jean can turn herself into Marilyn and back again.  But her reasons for letting a young gofer “accidentally” see her naked are more complicated.  She is under enormous pressure and desperate for the kind of respect no one is willing to give her.  Her third marriage is falling apart.  She has a pattern of asking men to save her and then testing them beyond their ability.  Like Rita Hayworth, who famously said that men went to bed with Gilda (her sultriest role) and woke up with her, Monroe is the victim of a kind of Catch-22.  She wants to be loved for herself but has spent too many years being “her” and is not willing to risk being less effective.  When she says (while skinny-dipping with Clark) that men in Hollywood are so old, it conveys a great deal about the price she paid for her absent father and need for fame.

Monroe had more than met the eye.  This movie has less, but what it does have is highly watchable for Williams’ performance and a juicy turn by Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike and for, I hope, inspiring watchers to return to the original, Monroe herself.

 

(more…)

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May MVP — Tom Hiddleston

Posted on May 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Tom Hiddleston is about to be a big star.  But I can’t say too much about why.

This month alone, he plays Loki, the super-villain in Thor and he has an important part in Woody Allen’s new film, “Midnight in Paris.”  Those of you who have seen “Thor” and stayed through the credits know how important Loki is.  For those who have not, I will just say that when you go, watch Hiddleston.  Director Kenneth Branagh made a savvy decision in casting the Cambridge-educated actor.  In the middle of a superhero special effects blockbuster, Hiddleston gives a performance of grace and complexity that is exactly serves the tone of the film.  I always say that superhero movies should be judged by their villains and he may be the best of all time.

I can’t give away any of the surprises of “Midnight in Paris” by even saying what part he plays.  I will just say that it is a daunting challenge — some in the audience will have strong feelings about the character and others may know nothing about him and there are some complexities of tone and tempo.  And Hiddleston is superb.  Next, he will appear in “The War Horse,” based on a huge box office hit play in London (recently opened on Broadway) and directed by Steven Spielberg.  I can’t wait to see it.

In this clip, he talks about the importance of compassion, even compassion for the characters he plays.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U94cuE4f77g&feature=related
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