Murder on the Orient Express (2017) movie review

For inSing

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (2017)

Director : Kenneth Branagh
Cast : Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin
Genre : Drama/Mystery
Run Time : 116 mins
Opens : 30 November 2017
Rating : PG

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-posterIn western literature, three characters vie for the title of ‘the world’s greatest detective’: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Batman (yes, comics are literature too). This film sees the return of the middle character to the big screen.

It is winter, 1934. Renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) has just solved a case in Israel, and is looking forward to a holiday in Istanbul. His break is abruptly cut short when he’s summoned back to London on assignment, and must board the Orient Express. Poirot is invited on the luxurious train as a guest of the train’s director Bouc (Tom Bateman), Poirot’s friend.

The train is derailed due to an avalanche, and a passenger, shady businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp) is found dead. Poirot gathers the other passengers, who are all suspects in the murder. They include: Ratchett’s butler Masterman (Derek Jacobi), Ratchett’s accountant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), Austrian professor Gerhard Hardman (Willem Dafoe), Russian Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), the Princess’ personal attendant Hildegarde Schmidt (Olivia Colman), missionary Pilar Estravados (Penélope Cruz), Dr. Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr.), governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), widow Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), car dealer Binamiano Marquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), Count Rudolph Andrenyi (Sergei Polunin) and his wife, Countess Helena Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton). As the passengers are trapped in a snowy mountain range, awaiting their rescue, Poirot faces what just might be his most difficult case yet.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-banner

Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel Murder on the Orient Express is one of the great whodunits, and has been adapted for film and TV several times. The best-known adaptation is Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version starring Albert Finney as Poirot. Making another big screen adaptation of the venerated novel seems like a tall order, and most of the negative reviews of this film have deemed it “unnecessary”. While it’s hard to say for certain that the world needed a new Murder on the Orient Express movie, this reviewer was mostly entertained.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Kenneth Branagh-2

There’s an old-fashioned charm and grandeur to the film, which is sumptuously, handsomely photographed in glorious 65 mm film by cinematographer Harris Zambarloukos – some of the cameras had just been used to shoot Dunkirk, in which Branagh had a supporting role. There’s a painterly quality to the computer-generated backgrounds, and everything looks luxe and inviting.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Kenneth Branagh-1

Branagh pulls double duty as director and star. This is a vanity project, and while it teeters on self-indulgence, Branagh is a delight as Poirot. Sporting that magnificent moustache, this looks like the most fun the thespian has had since playing Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter movies. He is always the centre of attention, relishing every moment he’s onscreen – of which there are many.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Johnny-Depp

The supporting cast is exceedingly impressive, stacked with an assortment of talented actors. They characters don’t come off as characters, so much as ornaments that Branagh arranges around himself. However, there is an art to said arrangement, and the casting is uniformly strong.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Michelle-Pfeiffer

Depp is appropriately sleazy and unlikeable, while many of the other actors play on popular perceptions of them based on most of their roles. Pfeiffer’s turn is deliciously witty, while Cruz is almost comically stern as a buttoned-down missionary. While Josh Gad tones down his usual comedic schtick, he still sticks out among the cast.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Daisy-Ridley

Ridley brings English proper-ness and a fresh-faced quality to the Mary role. Dench’s Russian accent is a mite too subtle, but it’s clear that she too is enjoying the affair. Odom, best known for originating the role of Aaron Burr in the hit musical Hamilton, is a serious and taciturn Dr. Arbuthnot, who is a composite of Col. Arbuthnot and Dr. Constantine in the source material. It’s super easy to be suspicious of Dafoe, because he is, well, Dafoe.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-Olivia-Colman-Judi-Dench

As far as celebrity cameos go, Polunin’s appearance as Count Andrenyi isn’t as out of place as it could’ve been. The renowned ballet dancer cuts a slim, severe figure as the haughty count. Lucy Boynton, breakout star of Sing Street, doesn’t get too much to do as the Countess.

Murder-on-the-Orient-Express-group-2

It’s difficult to put a fresh spin on a story as established as Murder on the Orient Express, and there are times when Branagh’s struggle in assembling the film is evident: there is little genuine suspense to be generated, and some moments, especially during the big reveal, are unintentionally funny. However, there is so much talent involved, with said talent looking to be having great fun, and the film looks so splendid that one can readily overlook some of the bumpiness experienced on this ride.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

The Brothers Grimsby

For F*** Magazine

THE BROTHERS GRIMSBY

Director : Louis Letterier
Cast : Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher, Penélope Cruz, Ian McShane, Scott Adkins, Annabelle Wallis, Gabourey Sidibe
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 82 mins
Opens : 10 March 2016
Rating : R21 (Sexual Humour)

Sacha Baron Cohen asks the question: “what if James Bond had an idiot brother who kept getting in his way?” Baron Cohen plays Norman “Nobby” Butcher, a ne’er-do-well football hooligan from the English town of Grimsby with a wife (Wilson) and 11 children. Nobby has spent 28 years searching for his long-lost brother Sebastian (Strong); they were separated as children when Sebastian was adopted by a wealthy family. Sebastian is now an elite secret agent with the Tiger’s Tail, an offshoot of MI6. The brothers finally reunite, but it’s under less-than-ideal circumstances as Nobby bungles Sebastian’s latest mission. When Sebastian is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and branded a rogue agent, he can only count on analyst Jodie (Fisher) and is forced to trust his irresponsible, dim-witted brother Nobby. The crime syndicate Maelstrom is out to assassinate philanthropist Rhonda George (Cruz) and it’s up to the super-spy and his not-so-super brother to foil the plot.

            The film is released in the U.S. as The Brothers Grimsby but is originally titled Grimsby. There’s a cultural specificity to a lot of the humour and there are broad stereotypes of working-class English folk aplenty. Baron Cohen, never known for playing it safe, also revels in exceptionally crass gross-out humour, several comedic set-pieces boasting jaw-dropping levels of wince-inducing crudeness. Baron Cohen’s subversive brand of comedy can often come off as mean, and the “gotcha!” humour of Borat or Brüno often comes at the expense of well-meaning bystanders.

Weirdly enough, The Brothers Grimsby doesn’t feel as mean-spirited as other Baron Cohen works. It’s an assault on good taste in general, more than any demographic in particular. That said, the residents of the real-life Grimsby have understandably taken umbrage with the film’s portrayal of their town as violent and litter-strewn. The jokes about sexual assault, AIDS and gun violence might be uncomfortable to more sensitive viewers, but it’s a Sacha Baron Cohen enterprise after all and he’s all about dancing on toes. The sentimental through-line of a brotherly bond is meant to be sappy on purpose, but it works as a fine counterpoint to the over-the-top jokes and a tiny bit of genuine sweetness does come through.

 Louis Letterier, a graduate of Luc Besson’s stable of directors, has mostly helmed also-rans action flicks such as The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk and Clash of the Titans (2010). He brings a Hollywood slickness to The Brothers Grimsby and there’s even some globe-trotting involved, with our heroes travelling to South Africa and Chile. Letterier employs the gimmick of having the action scenes be viewed from a first person perspective, by way of footage captured by Agent Sebastian Graives’ high-tech contact lens. Unfortunately, a lot of the fight sequences are choppy, with an excessive use of shaky-cam and quick cutting.
Baron Cohen might be front and centre, and he’s believable as a dumb, uncouth football hooligan who really has a heart of gold, but the casting coup here is Strong. With his intimidating stature, intimidating voice, intimidating face, intimidating everything really, Strong is not typically known for his comedic chops. He very gamely throws himself into the role, which allows him to kick ass but also frequently requires that he doff all dignity and just let the humiliation wash over him. The main issue with the casting is that Sebastian is supposed to be Nobby’s younger brother – Strong is 52 and Baron Cohen is 44.

            This already looks like a vanity project, so it’s a good move on Baron Cohen’s part to not have his real-life wife Fisher portray his onscreen wife; Fisher instead plays the helpful MI6 analyst who updates Sebastian over his earpiece. Wilson audibly struggles with the accent, but then again Baron Cohen isn’t even aiming for the right accent, putting on a Yorkshire dialect instead of a North East Lincolnshire one. Cruz contributes a dash of class and Adkins busts a martial arts move or two as the lead henchman.



            The Brothers Grimsby goes for all-out shock value, but it trades in tropes seen in numerous comedies in which unlikely, under-qualified regular guys are suddenly thrust into duty as secret agents. It’s not as charming or even as funny as last year’s Spy, and it’s certainly a whole lot more self-indulgent. There are multiple times when the film disappears up its own ass, so to speak, getting too carried away with the filthy jokes. However, it clocks in at a very brisk 83 minutes and zips along with an irreverent energy that this reviewer found difficult to resist. If “Johnny English, but absolutely not for kids. At all” is what you’re after, The Brothers Grimsby does fit the bill.

Summary: Gloriously, unabashedly crass and gross, The Brothers Grimsby is sufficiently fast-paced and funny, with Mark Strong delivering one of his best performances yet.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Zoolander 2

For F*** Magazine

ZOOLANDER 2

Director : Ben Stiller
Cast : Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Cyrus Arnold, Sting, Christine Taylor, Olivia Munn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billy Zane
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual References)

It’s been 15 years since we last saw Derek Zoolander (Stiller) strut his male supermodel stuff. Does that Blue Steel still offer the same structural support? Personal tragedy has driven Zoolander into hiding. A terrible accident that claimed the life of Zoolander’s wife Matilda (Taylor) also damaged the face of Zoolander’s friend and fellow model Hansel McDonald (Wilson), additionally damaging the pair’s friendship. Interpol Fashion agent Valencia Valentina (Cruz) is investigating a string of assassinations in which the pop star victims snap pre-death selfies that match Zoolander’s trademark “Blue Steel” expression. In Rome, she ropes in Derek and Hansel to assist her. The duo is in Italy as the guests of avant garde designer Alexanya Atoz (Wiig) and are hoping to make a comeback on the runway. Zoolander discovers that his estranged son Derek Jr. (Arnold), residing at an orphanage in Rome, is the target of an ancient conspiracy and that Zoolander’s long-time nemesis Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell), now locked away in maximum security fashion prison, has a hand in this evil plot.


            2001’s Zoolanderhas attained semi-cult status in that it’s too widely known among mainstream filmgoers to be an actual cult movie, but is still sufficiently oddball in its sensibilities. People still quote the catchphrases and attempt the Blue Steel pout. There has been demand for a sequel, but not “tear down the studio gates” levels of demand. As unlikely a comparison it may be, Zoolander 2 reminds this reviewer of 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. To put things in perspective, the DVD of Zoolander has Stiller in character narrating how an interactive DVD menu works. With Zoolander 2, it’s more of the same, but ends up being too little too late. Most involved seem to be committed to the silliness, but the vibe that Stiller has switched on “autopilot” mode is hard to shake. It turns out that the flashy production values and a veritable conga line of celebrities making guest appearances serve to distract from the lack of any real invention or comic energy, which is a little sad to realise.

            We have nothing against stupidity in general and if a comedy wants to go all-out, full-tilt dumb in the name of entertainment, we’re all for it. However, it’s been repeatedly proven that one gets more mileage with wit, rather than witlessness, as fuel in the comedy gas tank. Zoolander 2 is not completely unfunny and there are attempts, however half-hearted, at satire – a “completely biodegradable” boutique hotel boasting “farm to table wi-fi” pokes fun at hipster sensibilities. Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo as the androgynous, unclassifiable modelling sensation known as “All” dares to step on a few toes and laugh in the face of political correctness, but it lacks the same impact that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface had in Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder had something to say about Hollywood’s excesses while being outrageous and funny. With Zoolander 2, it seems like “when unable to write joke, default to cameo” was the mandate carved on the production office wall.

            Director/star/co-writer/co-producer Stiller has repeatedly made us wonder “is it still a vanity project if the person whose vanity it serves repeatedly makes a fool of himself?” Short answer: yes. Those who were charmed by Zoolander’s profound lack of intelligence the first go-round will likely be fine with Stiller’s reprisal of the role, seeing how he snaps back into it with such ease. Wilson’s performance lacks energy, but perhaps that can be explained away as Hansel’s more laid-back demeanour. The Oscar-winning Cruz is not exactly known for her slapstick comedy chops, but she gamely tackles the part of the eye candy cop on a mission, displaying sexy confidence in spades as she embraces the silliness. Ferrell has to share scenery-chewing duties with Wiig, who devises an unintelligible, non-specifically European accent for her character.

            If you’re up for a game of “name the cameo” with a group of pals, Zoolander 2 will be a rewarding experience. Otherwise, it’s close enough to the original but too engineered and lacking in spontaneity to reach any heights of humour. When the jokes (zoo)land, they land, but when they don’t, they flop out of the screen with a deafening, awkward thud. This time, the Magnum’s chamber is half empty, and a couple of the remaining rounds are blanks. Still, when it comes to comedies running on unadulterated stupidity, we’ll take this over those painful Friedberg and Seltzer ‘parody’ movies (Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie et al) any day of the week.




Summary: If it’s wanton shenanigans and famous faces you’re after, Zoolander 2 has got you covered. But when it comes to actually inspired humour, this sequel comes up disappointingly short.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong