Murder on the Orient Express

Critics didn’t care for Kenneth Branagh’s star-studded take on Murder on the Orient Express (it’s sitting at a “Rotten” 58% on Rotten Tomatoes), but I…liked it? Branagh’s film doesn’t break new ground, and it often goes to goofy heights, but gosh darn it, this is an entertaining, old-school mystery.

Yes, Branagh hams it up big time as master detective Hercule Poirot, but that’s part of the fun. Murder strands Poirot on the Orient Express with a cast of suspicious individuals, including Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Johnny Depp. When Depp’s character turns up murdered, everyone is a suspect, and only Poirot can crack the case.

Full of big, sweeping sequences and long, detailed tracking shots, Murder on the Orient Express feels like an anomaly – a film out of time, completely out of step with 21st-century filmmaking. But again, that’s part of the fun. Most critics may have disliked this film, but I’ll admit it: I was on board, and I’m more than ready for more movies featuring Branagh’s obsessive-compulsive Poirot.

Special Features to Note:

“Agatha Christie: An Intimate Portrait” examines Orient Express author and Poirot creator Agatha Christie; there’s even archival audio of Christie herself, talking about her career. It’s an interesting featurette, but there’s also a prevailing sense that it exists solely to sell a new batch of Poirot books written by author Sophie Hannah.

“Let’s Talk About Hercule Poirot” provides background into the master detective, and reveals Christie thought she was inventing the character for one book, but that turned into a “whole lifetime” writing about the character.

Beyond this, there are featurettes about the making of the film, including the casting, the music, and the overall design of it all. During a featurette that goes into the many characters and cast, Branagh says he wanted the interior lives of the characters to come out through the performances.

My favorite tidbit learned from these featurettes: Branagh’s shocking confession that it took six months to design the over-the-top mustache he sports as Poirot.

Special Features Include:

  • Agatha Christie: An Intimate Portrait
  • Let’s Talk About Hercule Poirot
  • Unusual Suspects (Part One, Two and Three)
  • The Art of Murder
  • All Aboard: Filming Murder on the Orient Express
  • Music of Murder
  • Deleted Scenes (with and without Commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Michael Green)
    • Alternate Opening
    • Newsreel (Extended)
    • Breakfast
    • Hotel Check-In
    • Arasta Bazaar (Extended)
    • Train Montage
    • Departure
    • Poirot Bedtime Rituals (with two alternates)
    • Pierre Michel Interview
    • Luggage
    • Dreamscape
  • Director commentary by Kenneth Branagh and Michael Green
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Gallery

 

Darkest Hour

While Darkest Hour succumbs to some predictable biopic trappings, this tale of Winston Churchill’s early days as Prime Minister is undeniably watchable. Most of that is due to director Joe Wright’s considerable skill at crafting entertaining scenes, and also Gary Oldman’s uncanny (albeit a bit heavy-handed) portrayal of Churchill.

Unrecognizable buried under pounds of makeup, Oldman pretty much becomes Churchill, and will likely land himself an Oscar for his troubles. Yes, the actor does chew the scenery here and there, but it’s fitting for the larger-than-life character he’s playing. The simple fact of the matter is, without Oldman, Darkest Hour wouldn’t be much. But the film does have Oldman, and is inherently watchable as a result.

As I wrote in my theatrical review of the film, “Overall though, the power in Darkest Hour rests on Gary Oldman and how he uses Churchill’s words. There’s plenty to dislike about Churchill’s politics, but the man was a great orator, and Darkest Hour stresses the power of Churchill’s words, and words in general, through several key moments. But anyone can go in front of a crowd and deliver words – it’s whether or not the speaker believes the words that gives them their power. Oldman understands that, and brings it to his performance.”

Darkest Hour became the third film from 2017 to feature a plot revolving around Dunkirk, and while it’s nowhere near the best of those films, it does show a side of the story the other two movies – Their Finest and Dunkirk – do not. In a sense, you could watch all three films back-to-back and get one complete story.

Special Features to Note:

There are two featurettes here, both about the making of the film. “Into the Darkest Hour” digs into the historical elements of the film, and how Joe Wright and company recreated them. It’s a brief, by-the-book featurette that nonetheless provides insight into the process of the film.

“Becoming Churchill” is all about Oldman’s performance and his transformation into the character. Oldman says he wanted to “Get behind the icon and find the man,” and speaks about reading books and looking at archival footage to prepare for the role. Makeup designer Kazuhiro Tsuji is also on hand to discuss Oldman’s surprising physical transformation.

Special Features Include:

  • Into Darkest Hour – A comprehensive overview of all that went into making this epic wartime drama, including how they maintained authenticity in depicting 1940’s London.
  • Gary Oldman: Becoming Churchill – Filmmakers, cast, and crew marvel at Gary Oldman’s layered, transformative performance. Oldman himself weighs in on the greatest challenges of portraying a man as iconic and complicated as Winston Churchill.
  • Feature commentary with Director Joe Wright

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