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Murder On The Orient Express

Thor: Ragnarok

November 9, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (** ½) PG-13

The latest adaptation of the celebrated Agatha Christie mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, doesn’t exactly succeed on all levels but at least it does have one thing going for it—star power. You can imagine the studio bean counters at 20th Century Fox, the film’s distributor, salivating at the opportunity to squeeze so much talent into one film. And make no mistake, this film is truly bursting at the seams with talent that stretches across multiple generations of cinema.

Unfortunately, talent alone can’t save a film from its own shortcomings and Murder on the Orient Express is a prime example of the pitfalls of assembling great actors and saddling them with characters that are one-dimensional at best.    

Kenneth Branagh not only directs but also takes the lead role of Agatha Christie’s celebrated detective, Hercule Poirot. The film establishes in a prologue, set in the year 1931, just how clever Poirot is by having him solve a theft that may or may not have been carried out by three religious leaders of varying faiths. The detective, however, can’t be bothered with solving a case before he knows for certain that the boiled eggs he is being served are in perfect symmetry.  It’s unnecessary details like this that don’t do the film any favors but nevermind.     

The action finally switches to the locomotive of the film’s title nearly thirty minutes into the proceedings after Poirot’s services are requested in an unrelated case in London.

A few ‘Murder’ stars: Dench, Jack Black, Dafoe, Ridley

Before he can arrive, however, one of the passengers is found stabbed to death and Poirot must determine which of the other twelve passengers is responsible for committing an act of murder.  

The other passengers are represented by the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Judy Dench, Josh Gad, Willem Dafoe, Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruise, to name a few.    As I mentioned, one of the central problems here is that there is a lack of dimensionality to the characters. Everyone seems to be hitting their marks and not much else. It’s a bit of a wasted opportunity to see these fine actors having so little of interest to do with the exception of just going through the regular paces. It doesn’t help that the film tends be a tad on the slow side at times as well. A little more humor and subtext would have gone a long way but there’s not much there except what’s on the surface.  

The production design is excellent and the look of the film is marvelous to behold. It’s just too bad that Branagh and writer Michael Green didn’t concentrate a bit more on the people that inhabit this world and a bit less on the appearance of things.

Thor: Ragnarok (** ½) PG-13

The character of Thor has always been­—for my money, anyway­—one of the least interesting in the Marvel Comics pantheon. The third installment to focus solely on the hammer wielding ‘God of Thunder’ is another effort that, like the other Thor films, represents the lower watermarks of the series. This one, thanks to some healthy doses of humor, is a bit of an improvement over the first two films but that isn’t saying much since the bar was set so low.

The first hour of the film is a hodgepodge of trite fantasy film nonsense that honestly required a—pardon the pun—Herculean effort on my part in order to stay engaged. Thankfully, at roughly the one hour mark, the Hulk shows up and enlivens things just enough to glide the film decently to the finish line. His appearance is just what the film needs at the point it becomes dangerously close to going completely off the rails.

The plot, such as it is, involves Thor (Chris Hemsworth, again) being pitted against a sister named Hela (Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett, doing the best she can with what she’s given to work with) he didn’t know that he had, who has plans to destroy Thor’s home turf.

Thor: Ragnarok: Karl Urban & Cate Blanchett

That plan is incidentally called Ragnarok, which gives the film its title. Unfortunately, the fiendish plot is so convoluted that most of it will be forgotten five minutes after it’s explained.

Thor eventually finds himself on another planet where the leader (Jeff Goldblum, doing what he usually does) informs him that if he wants to leave he must engage in battle with some sort of warrior in a gladiatorial competition. His opponent turns out to be the Hulk, which leads to a third act in which Hulk and Thor team up to rid the universe of Hela and her plans along with Thor’s brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Director Taika Waititi and writer Eric Pearson must be commended for at least giving Thor: Ragnarok a sense of humor. This is a film that seems to know how preposterous and ludicrous it is even for a Marvel film. The acknowledgement that things shouldn’t be taken too seriously carries the film a long way and there are a few solid belly laughs here and there. It may be instantly forgettable but at least it’s not the most unpleasant experience you’re likely to have at the movies this fall. 

Both of these movies are playing at the Hickory AMC theater.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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