Tag Archives: Judi Dench

“Murder on the Orient Express”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

Stylish and incredibly well acted, Kenneth Branagh‘s retelling of “Murder on the Orient Express,” the famous 1934 novel written by world renowned author Agatha Christie, is a fine piece of solid storytelling. Branagh’s talky whodunit harkens back to the days of old fashioned Hollywood filmmaking when movie stars wore lavish costumes, the production design was rich with detail, and films had a visual richness because they were actually shot on 70mm film (as Branagh did here).

This well-made vanity project makes only slight changes to Christie’s original work, managing to make the familiar seem new. The well-known murder mystery takes place in the confined space of the Orient Express train, where thirteen strangers are stranded due to an avalanche. When one particularly sinister passenger (Johnny Depp) is murdered, mastermind detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) must piece together clues and solve the puzzle before the murderer strikes again.

The ensemble players are top notch in every respect and are all perfectly cast. There’s the talkative widow Mrs. Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), aristocrat Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench), personal accountant Hector MacQueen (Josh Gad), stern professor Gerhard (Willem Dafoe), proper governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), humble Spanish missionary Pilar (Penélope Cruz), the elegant Countess Andrenyi (Lucy Boynton), and a charming doctor (Leslie Odom Jr.), just for starters.

The role call is large, which means we only briefly get to meet and attempt to dissect the characters and their likely motivations. Branagh makes a point of boosting his own ego by making his Poirot the real star and relegates his top-shelf supporting cast to brief snippets of screen time. This results in a sometimes frustrating exercise because these are complex characters that you’ll want to get to know better, yet you’re constantly pushed away.

Although the audience is kept at a distance, the film is simply gorgeous and it’s hard not to appreciate its handsome cinematography and opulent direction. It’s very orderly and neat, rich in a refined elegance; a stylish and suspenseful thriller and integrity tale of the moral gray zone of seeking justice through revenge. The riddle will keep you engaged and the filmmaking style is grand. If you’re seeking old Hollywood glamour, you’ll find it here.

“Tulip Fever”

LOUISA: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I have learned more about the tulip craze in 17th Century Amsterdam than I ever care to hear about ever again thanks to “Tulip Fever,” a lifeless, insipid mess of a movie. Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz may headline this ill-advised project and while they are proficient, their performances aren’t enough to recommend suffering through this mess.

The film is based on the novel by Deborah Moggach and as is usually the case with intricate books turned into movies, there are just far too many storylines competing for attention within the entrapments of a 90 minute run time. It’s such a convoluted jumble of confusion that at times the plot doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, and it doesn’t help that almost all of the characters feel paper thin.

Vikander is adept as Sophia, an orphaned girl who is forced into an arranged marriage to a wealthy merchant (Waltz). Unhappy in her emotional prison and unable to conceive an heir for her husband, she finds a confidant in her housemaid Maria (Holliday Grainger). When the lady of the house starts to have a passionate affair with a portrait painter (Dane DeHaan), all hell breaks loose.

There are way too many subplots that throw far too much information at the viewer, from an inept attempt to explain the underground tulip bulb market that ran rampant in the early 1600s, an unconvincing romance storyline with the local fishmonger (Jack O’Connell), scenes of a humorless nun (Judi Dench) tending to her flower garden, a drunk screw-up (Zach Galifianakis) ruining an epic plan after he intervenes to stop someone from beating a donkey, and a slightly pervy underground wannabe gynecologist.

Perhaps if this film had been crafted as a screwball comedy it would’ve been more effective.

The truly unsexy sex scenes notwithstanding, the filmmaking is at least skilled, and plot-wise there’s just enough to keep audiences barely hanging on to discover where the story ultimately goes. “Tulip Fever” is thankfully interspersed with some gorgeous shots of the most lovely flowers and the lavish costume design is an additional feast for the eyes. The movie isn’t bad to look at it, it’s just dull, hollow and ultimately confusing.