Tag Archives: Kenneth Branagh

“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.

“Dunkirk”

LOUISA: 4 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The technical perfection of “Dunkirk” is astounding. The film will literally take your breath away. It’s handsomely shot and directed by Christopher Nolan, a bonafide auteur of the medium who has one of the greatest understandings of the cinematic language, period. This is an eye-popping WWII movie that effectively thrusts audiences right in the middle of a war, creating a shared experience of intense desperation, fear, determination, and heroism.

“Dunkirk” tells the true story of Allied troops and their planned evacuation from the French city. With Nazi forces quickly closing in, these brave men are quickly running out of time. The drama is told from the perspective of three different soldiers: a grunt on the ground (Fionn Whitehead), a steadfast pilot in the air (Tom Hardy), and a civilian villager sailing the seas (Mark Rylance) to help rescue some of the 400,000 trapped men.

The performances are moving and satisfying all around, including exceptional supporting turns from Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, and Jack Lowden. I’d like to tell you more about these characters and their motivations, but the visuals are crafted with such exactness that the story and character development take a backseat to Nolan’s showy IMAX cameras.

But maybe there’s a profound point to the stylish minimalism of both the visuals as well as the story (also written by Nolan). We never get the back story of the characters, and some we never even learn their names. These men are soldiers, just another number in just another war. There are long, elegant, and pensive shots of empty beaches, ocean foam, and the helmets of thousands of young men. Its quietly devastating beauty is as overwhelming as it is effective.

See this in 70mm if you can, because the richness of actual film is perfect partner to the cinematography and subject matter. The stunning aerial fight sequences really make you feel as if you are right there along with these British soldiers, and it’s sort of remarkable that Nolan is able to convey the horrors of war with a short run time and a PG-13 rating. “Dunkirk” somehow finds a balance between honoring the bravery of the military yet soundly condemning the act of war.

This is a smart historical WWII film, the antithesis of the big, dumb, loud, superhero summer blockbuster. But there’s a level of sophistication that effectively disguises what this movie really is: ambitious, manipulative Oscar bait.

This is the kind of movie that critics and awards voters love. Yes, the cinematography is stunning but overall, the film isn’t quite as epic as it wants you to believe. The ticking stopwatch in Hans Zimmer’s booming, overwrought score will beat you over the head even more so than Nolan’s overall desire to make an unconventional, almost experimental style war movie (even if you removed its sparse dialogue, I think this would’ve succeeded as a completely silent film). The ending is marred with a bit of hokey sentimentality which may succeed in eliciting tears from the audience, but it is also successful in lessening some of the emotional impact of what came before.

Overall, I highly recommend “Dunkirk” as it is one of the best and most memorable movies of the year. Was I simply mesmerized by the spectacle of it all? Maybe. But as a lover of the visual arts, this is one hell of a stunning war picture.