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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]

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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