Monday, November 13, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express

Having been fan of Sidney Lumet’s 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, I was a bit leery of seeing Producer/Director/Actor Kenneth Branagh’s remake.  But finding that Writer Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049) was involved, I decided to take a chance.

That turned out to be a good decision as I was happily rewarded with the innovations and humor Branagh has brought to this Agatha Christie tale, especially his opening and closing scenes, plus the fact Michelle Pfeiffer sings over the end credits.

Pfieffer also brings spirit to the amazing cast that includes Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe and Miranda Raison.

This is a film that needs to be seen on a big screen, which is interesting given the fact most of the action takes place in the narrow confines of a train.   

But that is the magic of Cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, who uses the space that Production Designer Jim Clay has richly appointed. It also helps that the train is stalled by an avalanche on an enormously high trestle bridge. 

If you’re tired of or just need a break from all the modern day or future super heroes, Murder on the Orient Express is a good bet.  I give it a 4.2 out of 5.

I, Tonya

Director Craig Gillespie’s I, Tonya is an interestingly constructed film thanks in great part to Screenwriter Steven Rogers.  It is a well-done drama mixed with documentary footage and touches of reality TV, when the characters speak directly to the viewer.
The story is based on the real-life figure skater Tonya Harding, fabulously played by Margot Robbie, and her tumultuous upbringing by her tyrannical mother, award-winningly played by Allison Janney.

The climax is, of course, the 1994 Olympic trials, when Harding’s husband (Sebastian Stan) and his friend (Paul Walter Hauser) engineered the assault on her main competitor Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). 

Other than the truly excellent performances by the cast, one can’t walk away without an appreciation for the trials of Harding and a much-deserved compassion for the way she was vilified.  

It’s sometimes hard to watch, but well worth your time.  I give I, Tonya a 4.1 out of 5.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Writer/Director Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an exciting excursion into Trump Country where tragedy is either self-created or a roll of the dice.
McDonagh’s excellent directing is aptly aided by an outstanding cast headed by Frances McDormand and including Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Sandy Martin, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Kathryn Newton and other fine performers.  

However, it is Cinematographer Ben Davis’s images and Carter Burwell’s music track that brings this simple story of anger up to the level of being one of the finer movies of the year.

None of the characters are without blemishes.  There is no real hero.  They are what in Shakespearean terms are called lower status individuals.  Yet, they are worthy of attention.

The feel of Ebbing reminded me of a visit down South where I overheard two locals deciding what to do for the evening and opting for the local funeral party so they could look at the bodies of recent accident victims.  

I give Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a 4.6 out of 5.