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Movie Review: ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ Runs Slow and Dull

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Murder on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh can do Shakespeare, but he certainly can’t do Agatha Christie. In his treatment of a theatrical production of her classic Poirot novel, he seems to favor more of the text than the characters, under the impression that the plot is stirring enough to hold a film of overly shady characters and a dry atmosphere. Branagh’s approach makes the decadent cinematography, and a stellar cast feel vastly underused in a script that could use something to wake it from the doldrums of a somber and sleepy production.

The detective of Hercule Poirot is played by Branagh himself with unusual weariness, playing up the character’s traits stiffly as though he were in the third week of a stage production. Committed more to dialogue than actions, Poirot spends more

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Kenneth Branagh

time talking about himself than letting the audience deduct his character. He has an obsession with perfection that he confesses makes it difficult for him to live in a word of imperfections. There’s excellent use of this in his preference for breakfast and stepping through manure, but rarely do these frustration come about in the mystery at hand. His additional traits for the lost love of a woman and his current love for the works of Charles Dickens do little for this case as well.

Before the central train mystery begins, there’s an early case that signals a bad omen for this film. Poirot makes his grand reveal of who a thief is with a grand audience, but we’re stuck in the back watching him solve the case from the worst seats for the event. He reveals the clues calmly and coldly for what should be an invigorating mystery. And his foreshadowing for the culprit’s escape route comes off as amateurish and silly, somehow predicting that the escaping guilty party would somehow dash off at the precise angle to run into his cane lodged in a wall. This kind of direction suggests that things in this story will just happen less by the insightful buildup and more based on convenient occurrence.

Poirot is hoping for some rest and reading on the Orient Express, but no such luck. He’s approached by the questionable character of Ratchett (Johnny Depp), seeking protection from some wicked men coming for him. Poirot refuses as he’s not interested in dealing with criminals. He’ll have to, however, when Ratchett turns up dead in the morning with multiple stab wounds. Who could have committed such an act? It could be anyone on the train, considering we don’t learn much about them before the action. We know individual personalities and specific facts, but not much else. The suspects are discovered as Poirot interviews them, but the strict running time only allows for about one or two meetings each.

This is a shame considering the fantastic ensemble cast. We have Willem Dafoe as a deceptive German, Judi Dench as a snobby elite and Josh Gad as a nervous fellow. But they don’t have much to do and exclude little personality, refining themselves as if they were in more of a stuffy melodrama than one of the grandest mysteries of all time. This is most evident in the scenes where Branagh holds on his subjects for far too long, better showcasing how well the actors memorized their lines in one shot as opposed to exuding some level charisma. Everyone plays their role so straight and free of eccentricity or charm that their small bursts of emotion come off as little surprises akin to a firecracker going off in a rainstorm.

The film isn’t without its beauty. I love the way Branagh sets up certain shots, playing considerably with how to stage the train. When the suspects all sit in the restaurant car, we see them behind the prisms of the glass windows. When Ratchett’s body is first discovered, it is shot entirely from above, the camera aiming directly on top of all the actors and the train. Even the climactic solving of the case, weirdly staged as it is, present an unforgettable sequence with Poirot behind the glow of the train and all the suspects sitting in a row inside a tunnel as though it were the Last Supper.

Kenneth Branagh must’ve had a tremendous amount of respect for the written word to make sure no actor runs off with this film, including himself. But he must’ve known his production was in trouble of being too wary with such exciting additions of a chase beneath a bridge and a shootout inside the train. At least they should be exciting as opposed to being a momentary jolt to an otherwise dreary and dull film. Branagh certainly knows how to shoot a mystery, but he forgets to add in the sense of intensity and colorful characters that makes us give a damn about the journey of whodunit and the twisty reveal of the actual killer. This is a gorgeous but empty interpretation of Christie’s work, making the versions seen through Masterpiece Theater all the more fitting of that title.

[author title=”About the Author” image=”http://popstermedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/mark_mcpherson-300×221-150×150.jpg”]Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.[/author]


Box Office

“Ralph” and “Grinch” Steal Slow Box Office Weekend

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Aside from the re-release of Schindler’s List, there is nothing new in the box office for the weekend. Seriously, there’s nothing. And I thought last weekend was slow. With no new films in the running, it’s pretty much a repeat as the box office takes a snow day.

Once again, no surprise, Ralph Breaks The Internet is still on top. In its third weekend, the animated Disney adventure grossed $16 million for the weekend and $140 million for its domestic total. It still has a ways to go to top its $175 million but it should be closing in soon. Also no surprise following closely behind is Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, the computer-animated holiday comedy based on the book by Dr. Seuss. After five weekends, it’s still in the top 5, making another $15 million for the weekend and $223 million domestic total. Worth noting is that, despite this weekend being slow, the movie only took a 15% dip from last weekend. And you can bet it’ll be sticking around for the rest of December.

As for everything else, very few films moved from their spots with one exception. Green Book, the historical racial drama, is picking up steam and has moved up from #10 last weekend to #7 after being added to more than 100 more theaters. Good word of mouth is getting around about this film as its domestic total is now sitting at $19 million for being in less than 2,000 theaters after four weekends.

Check out the full box office results below:
Ralph Breaks The Internet ($16,141,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($15,175,000)
Creed II ($10,322,515)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($6,805,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($6,000,000)
Instant Family ($5,600,000)
The Possession of Hannah Grace ($3,935,000)
Robin Hood ($3,585,000)
Widows ($3,175,000)
Green Book ($3,100,000)

Next weekend, the break is over and genre movies will be in full swing. Mortal Engines, a CGI-heavy fantasy, will debut in 3,000 theaters. The Mule, a new drug-related drama directed and starring Clint Eastwood, will premiere in 2,400 theaters. And Sony’s new animated superhero film, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, will be hitting 3,400 theaters. It’s a pretty much a sure bet that Spider-Man will take that weekend, given its PG-rated superhero appeal and the big word-of-mouth it’s getting from critic circles.


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Box Office

“Ralph” Reigns Again on Slow Box Office Weekend

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We’re currently in the eye of the fall movie storm. All is fairly quiet this weekend. The only new release was that of a small horror film, The Possession of Hannah Grace. So small, in fact, that it only came in at #7 for the weekend with a gross of $6.5 million. As such, few films moved very far from their spots. Last weekend’s winner, the animated adventure Ralph Breaks The Internet, was once again on top, even though it wasn’t a very strong second weekend of $25 million, a 54% drop. Still, the film has made $119 million so far and is well on its way to covering its $175 million budget.

Surprisingly jumping up a spot is Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, the latest animated film Illumination Studios based on the classic Christmas book. The film jumped up from #3 to #2, making $17 million with the domestic gross now up to $203 million. Creed II, the sequel to the Rocky spinoff, took a step down for its second weekend, grossing $16 million with a domestic total of $81 million. It’s no surprise that the biggest drop of the weekend was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to the Harry Potter spinoff. Due to low critic ratings and poor fan reactions, the film tumbled 61% with its domestic gross sitting at $134 million.

Ivo Nandi stars as Moscow Referee and Florian Munteanu as Viktor Drago in CREED II,
a Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures film.
Credit: Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures / Warner Bros. Pictures
© 2018 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
All Rights Reserved.

View the full top 10 box office winner for the weekend below.

Ralph Breaks The Internet ($25,756,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($17,730,000)
Creed II ($16,832,863)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($11,200,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($8,100,000)
Instant Family ($7,150,000)
The Possession of Hannah Grace ($6,500,000)
Robin Hood ($4,700,000)
Widows ($4,400,000)
Green Book ($3,900,000)

Next weekend is so sparse with new content that the biggest release is going to be an anniversary screening of Schindler’s List, hitting 1,000 screens. It’s a good time to take in some smaller releases as Mary Queen of Scots, Ben is Back, and Vox Lux will be having limited releases. So it’s safe to expect a repeat of this weekend’s trends in the box office.


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Box Office

“Ralph” Breaks The Box Office, “Creed” Close Behind

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Thanksgiving week is a time for family and there were plenty out to the theater last week for an animated family picture. Ralph Breaks The Internet, the Disney-animated sequel to 2012’s video game adventure comedy Wreck-It Ralph, came in at #1 for the weekend with $55 million and $84 million since its debut on Wednesday. This puts it above the Disney studio’s previous Thanksgiving hit Moana, which had a 5-day total of $82 million.

Not too far behind is Creed II, the sequel to the Rocky spin-off starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone. The boxing sequel took in $35 million for the weekend and $55 million since Wednesday. This is a stronger opening than the first film which came in at $29 million for the weekend.

And it was slim leftovers for the two other debuts. Robin Hood, the latest action remake of the classic tale, came in at #7 with only $9 million for the weekend, $14 million since Wednesday. Green Book, a drama about a black singer in the racist south of America, came in at #9 for its expanded week to make $5 million for the weekend and $7 million for its domestic total.

The Crimes of Grindelwald is not fairing to well for its second weekend. The Harry Potter spin-off has dropped to #4 with a domestic weekend gross of $30 million, a 52% drop. The film still hasn’t cleared its $200 million budget with a domestic gross of $117 million and it looks like it may never cross that mark as we head into December with more genre titles. Beating it out for #3 is Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch, the theatrically animated adaptation by Illumination, that is proving to have great legs coming into the holiday season. Worth noting at #10 is A Star Is Born, its domestic total now having crossed $191 million to make it one of the most profitable films of the year.

View the full top 10 box office results for the weekend below:

Ralph Breaks The Internet ($55,672,000)
Creed II ($35,293,000)
Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch ($30,210,000)
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald ($29,650,000)
Bohemian Rhapsody ($13,855,000)
Instant Family ($12,500,000)
Robin Hood ($9,125,000)
Widows ($7,955,000)
Green Book ($5,443,000)
A Star is Born ($3,005,000)

Next weekend is, well, it’s pretty dead. So dead that a ghost movie is occupying the rather blank spot. Possession of Hannah Grace, a modest horror production, will be arriving in under 2,000 theaters. So it’s fair to say you can expect Ralph to breakthrough for another weekend of success.


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