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Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”

Based on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2017; starring Kenneth Branaugh; Johnny Depp; Derek Jacobi; Michelle Pfeiffer; Judi Dench

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama; mystery

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  When a murder occurs on the train he’s travelling on, celebrated detective Hercule Poirot is recruited to solve the case.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. 

When I first saw the promo trailer for this, my first instinct was: “No.  That’s not Poirot, and nobody can tell me it is.” How can anybody possibly play that character better than David Suchet?  But there have been so many times when I have tried something (usually movies) that I thought I would hate, and it turned out I liked it much, much better than I thought I would, or benefited by it in some way.  So I did break down and give this a try.

Did it surpass the previous Orient Express I love starring Suchet, Barbara Hershey, and Toby Jones?  No.  Did Branaugh embody Chritie’s Poirot?  No.  Was it a terribly rotten movie?  Surprisingly, no.  Here’s why.

Try to get it out of your head that this is a remake.  Try to get it out of your head that this was a book first with a detective that appeared in a whole series of books previously.  Forget what Poirot looks like, and that Suchet perfectly imitated his mincing steps and egg shaped head.  Now, sit down and take this film as it is.  Take Branaugh’s Poirot completely as Branaugh presents him.  And you get a good, suspense-filled movie with a  “closed room mystery” and a cast full of colorful characters that make you think about life and justice, while giving you chills in the middle of an avalanche and a cold blooded murder scene.  This is what …Orient Express actually is.  And the film does an excellent job of that.

I still like BBC’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot version, for all of the above reasons, and because it feels more realistic.  It has it’s own sense of atmosphere and it doesn’t come off feeling so exaggerated.  But.  Branaugh’s film is to be recognized as being a good drama, too.  It really does not fail.  In fact, I was better able to follow the plot in this one, the motives behind the murder, and the big reveal at the end was far more dramatic than a huddled group in a narrow dining car.  The newer version works to create different change of scenes on a limited stage.  Overall, it took on an artistic, creative flair that was very interesting.

I’ll warn you: if there’s going to be a murder, you might as well expect blood, and there is lots of it.  So, cover your eyes Sally and Johnny and Grandma, too.  In fact, this may not be for you.  In a nutshell: if you crave realism and darkness, choose BBC’s Murder…  If you wish something with a bit more flair and composition, go for Branaugh’s.  Both are recommended.

 
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Posted by on January 13, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Jamaica Inn”

Based on the book by Daphne du Maurier

Version: 2014; starring Jessica Brown-Findlay

Genre: classic; suspense; costume drama

Plot Summary: [from imdB.com:]  A young woman moves in with her aunt and uncle and soon discovers unsavory happenings in her new home.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. “Jamaica Inn” has been made into a movie at least three times (Alfred Hitchock- 1934; 1983, starring Jane Seymour; current review) and I have seen all three.  This is not because I especially love the story, but because I was usually bored with nothing else particularly appealing to watch.  The 2014 caught my attention because of Jessica Brown-Findlay playing the lead character.  I have to say that out of all three, this most recent version is my preferred version.

For those who may not be aware, the story is very dark and tense.  What I liked about this movie was the way it kept it tight and the viewer guessing; there is also a lot of texture, wind, and weather.  Watch it for the moody atmosphere if nothing else.  But the acting is pretty well done, and there is interesting cinematography, too.

Unfortunately, there is a pretty racy scene between Mary and love interest Jem.  There is some amount of foul language as well (lots of rough and rowdy fellows and drunken tavern scenes).  An attempted assault is made on Mary, but her uncle defends her.  There are several scenes of murder and some gore.  Obviously, this film is not for sensitive folks.

SPOILER: I often get weary of the church as being painted as the villains in movies.    However, if this storyline has started to lose its shock-and-awe value it is because we live in an age where #metoo has reared its ugly head within the church and the reality is that one mustn’t take even religious leaders for granted.  Even so, we have a pervading sense that this is not the way it is supposed to be—injust, mercy-less and hypocritical so-called “Christians.”  It is not supposed to be this way because Jesus Christ was not this way and deep down the world recognizes the contradiction.  The Bible says that the man who says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  (1 John 1:4-6)  Rev. Davy appeared to be living God’s commands, yet his life was full of darkness, control, and death.  Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.  But whoever is truly a Christ-follower lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.  END OF SPOILER. 

Is Jamaica Inn worth the watch?  I think it can be thoughtfully viewed and learned from.  Some themes to talk over include addiction, codependency, fear and control.   How does each character’s choices come back to haunt them in the end?  It makes for interesting dialogue.  But it’s certainly not a family movie.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: True Grit

Based on the book by Charles Portis.

Version: 2010; starring Jeff Bridges; Matt Damon; Domhnall Gleeson

Genre: adventure; classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:]  Mattie Ross, 14, from Dardanelle, Arkansas, narrates half a century later, her trip in the winter of 1870s, to avenge the murder of her father. She convinces one-eyed “Rooster” Cogburn, the meanest available U.S. Marshall, to tag along, while she outdickers and outmaneuvers the hard-bitten types in her path.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I’ve been wanting to watch this film for a while, but you should know by now I’ve never been up to speed on pop culture.  I have never seen the John Wayne movie made in 1969, so I cannot compare it to that or the book which (as stated) I have not read.

I could immediately see why this story is such a classic.  The plot sounds like one that could easily be written today.  One could also appreciate the detail and attention taken in the production of this movie.  Much of the story’s tone is cold and austere, the characters are often grungy and hardened.  This gave it a believable feel, taking place in a tough atmosphere and time period.

I was struck by such a quick-witted heroine only aged 14 years.  She is forced to grow up far too early and therefore she is mature and capable.  She doesn’t let any scoundrel monkey with her and isn’t shy in standing her ground.  She makes for a very admirable character!  The question isn’t whether she has true grit, but whether others are up to the task of staying faithful to their word even when the trail grows cold.

I wanted to give thought to the choice of background music.  Orchestrated by Carter Burwell, much of the theme delineates from the hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”  At first I wondered why this choice was made.  The sound fits well in the background, but what about that song connects it to the story?  After thinking about it, I realized that although the film is not overtly religious and many of the characters do not recognize God (except through swearing), our young heroine Mattie Ross does come from a God-fearing family.  Mattie is not after personal revenge per se, something the Lord commands us not to seek.  But she is after justice which is a major attribute of God.  After local officials refuse to take correct measures, Maddie pursues her case with a local bounty hunter.  She wisely chooses a man she believes will not be soft on the matter of holding a wrongdoer accountable… Rooster Cogburn.  He isn’t an easy character to deal with, but Mattie is not faint of heart.

It’s a good thing she isn’t timid because there are plenty of gorey scenes that aren’t so pretty.   This isn’t exactly a family-friendly flick, and also contains some amount of swearing.

But overall, I was glad to be able to watch this movie at last and counted it as a positive experience.  I would encourage fans of both the book and the previous film version to give this a try.  No, Bridges isn’t John Wayne, but I believe he made the character all his own.  I especially got a kick out of Matt Damon’s egotistical Mr. LaBoeuf.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “The Aviator”

Based on the book by Ernest K. Gann.

Version: 1985; starring Christopher Reeve; Tyne Daly

Genre: adventure; classic

Plot Summary: A physically and emotionally scarred US mail pilot is commissioned to escort a young teenager over the lonely Rocky Mountain wilderness during the 1920’s.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that work.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book. 

When I first came across this streaming for free online, I thought it was an early version of The Aviator that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett.  I thought it might be about Howard Hughes.  The story turned out to be quite different than I expected and was a pleasant surprise.

Though this movie may be lacking a lot of the frills and fancies of today’s world, the story was still interesting because of the well-developed characters.  Reeve plays a good pilot that is still suffering from a war incident and lives in isolation from those around him.  Tillie is a young teenage girl that on the surface seems spoiled and immature, but when put to the test proves she has courage to survive hardships.

Some beautiful cinematography from the air and accompanying filmscore is lovely.  Acting may not be A1, but there aren’t any scenes you wouldn’t want your parents to watch.  I believe there were a few ‘d’ words sprinkled throughout.  Tillie does confess that she was ‘banged up’ by a boy prior to her plane trip and declares that it ‘certainly wasn’t love.’  She begins to develop a bit of a crush on Edgar, but nothing inappropriate comes of it.  Rather, it was sweet and humorous and Edgar comes to realize that there may be something in him the right woman could love about him.

I believe that the character Tillie was made older in the movie than she was in the book, but I think this was actually in the story’s favor.  If you’re looking for something a little different, I believe you would enjoy this for entertainment.

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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A Post Full of Audio Dramas

I came across something entirely new to me– the ATC Seneca Awards, which recognizes the best in family audio dramas.  The Awards are according to the opinions of the Audio Theatre Central podcast which you can check out here.  I thought it would be fun to dredge up trailers for as many nominations as I could find and collect them all in one place on this post.  Audio dramas are a great source of favorite family memories and long car trip entertainment.  Have fun!

Captain Bayley’s Heir – (Heirloom Audio Productions; John Fornof (writer/director); starring John Rhys Davies, Finty Williams)

The Trials of St. Patrick – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); Philip Glassborow (producer); starring John Rhys Davies)

Ode to Saint Cecelia – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); starring Derek Jacobi, Hayley Atwell)

The Giant Killer – (Lamplighter Theatre; John Fornof)

Wulf the Saxon (couldn’t find a trailer) – (Heirloom Audio Productions; Todd Busteed (writer/director); John Campbell (score))

*You can find reviews of all of these audio dramas and more on the ATC podcast.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

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Movie Review: In the Heart of the Sea

0bba4907568246579cbeaea9a220b52fBased on the book Nathaniel Philbrick.

Version: 2015; starring Chris Hemsworth; directed by Ron Howard

Genre: adventure; drama; based on true story

Plot Summary: Herman Melville is looking for his next greatest story in order to make ends meet and thinks he make have a lead.  An aged seaman has a story to tell, if only he can glean the truth from him.

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not by comparing it to that novel.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I make no apology for my puns. I was hooked from the first glimpse of the trailer.  I only wish I could have seen it on the big screen!  Oh, the drama!  It seemed to promise to do big scale justice of the story behind the world’s most famous whale.

And it delivered! What a riveting tale told through great acting, costumes, props, the works!  Best of all, a story that kept me glued throughout.  This was right up my alley of love for seafaring adventures.

Parts are a little hard to stomach, such as how the whalers went about harvesting whale oil. But it seemed historically accurate, and similar to the book “Moby Dick” in many ways (capturing the factual details of the whalers’ chores).  Also, a group of men adrift at sea are forced into some difficult decisions, SPOILER ALERT: namely cannibalism.  But we are not shown graphic details. END OF SPOILER.

I think one of my favorite aspects of it was the psychology behind the different characters. When you have an extreme situation with different people coming from different backgrounds, with different values and beliefs, what will each person choose and why?

It was apparent to me that this film was made with somewhat of an agenda [ie, whaling was ALL bad], and not one I would entirely agree with. But it did make for an exciting story and one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend for an older audience.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movie Review: “Lincoln”

 

3dead818f8bb0491dba54bfac1dd62b2Based on the book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Version: 2012; Daniel Day-Lewis; Tommy Lee Jones; Sally Fields; David Strathairn; Lee Pace; Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Genre: historical drama

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] As the Civil War continues to rage, America’s president struggles with continuing carnage on the battlefield as he fights with many inside his own cabinet on the decision to emancipate the slaves.”

My Review: Disclaimer*: I have not read the original book, so this review will not be comparing it to that work.  Only as a story in and of itself, totally unrelated to the book.  

I remember reading high praise for this movie when it first came out. Actually, I believe I had my eye on it when it was first announced it was in the making, and Daniel Day-Lewis was cast in the role of Abraham Lincoln.  The similarities between their looks are amazing, but would the movie do history and the man himself justice?

Oh wow. I can’t begin to tell you about the amount of research that went into the creating of this film.  I would love to know more about the ‘making of’ it.  I do know that the actors and actresses really gave this one their all and went into full-depth character to accurately portray these historical people.  Day-Lewis in particular researched Lincoln’s mannerisms, way of walking, speech, and voice in order to become him.

I am not so steeped in Civil War history as to know how many facts in this movie are correct, but I do know that it was inspired by the thoroughly researched book, “Team of Rivals,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The author worked closely on the making of the film as well.

LINCOLNActing is top-notch. I really felt as though I were viewing a fragment of my country’s history, and that felt exciting.  Even though I knew how history played out, this movie caused me to doubt for a little bit what would happen.  The behind-the-scenes politics of history made for a tense plot and kept me on the edge of my seat.  In fact, it was so identifiable in this day and age and maybe that’s why I felt nervous for what would happen.

One drawback of the film is that many of the historical facts presented escaped me in one viewing. I will definitely need to rewatch it to glean more from it.  Because of this, I felt somewhat confused and didn’t understand some of the plot structure.

However, I did learn a lot about the genius of Abraham Lincoln. I’ve always had the impression that he was so morally simple as to be sort of uninteresting.  Not so!  This man had a talent given to him by God that he used in the time and position he was placed in.  He was an absolute chess-master at politics, but had a core of integrity that kept him straight and true.  I believe watching this shed some light for me in deciding how to vote this past presidential election.  It also caused me to love a person I’ve never met, and left to wonder why God would allow such a man who did so much good and suffered greatly for it, to die at the hands of an assassin so soon after victory was achieved.

My favorite scene is near the end, with the singing of “Battle Cry of Freedom.” It was so inspiring, and caused me to be grateful to God for His working in our country’s history.  When’s the last time you felt excited about history?

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2018 in Movie Reviews

 

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