“FEUD” Season One – “Bette and Joan” (2017) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the episodes from Season One (and the only season so far) of the F/X series called “FEUD”. Titled “Bette and Joan” and created by Ryan Murphy, the season starred Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon:

“FEUD” SEASON ONE – “BETTE AND JOAN” (2017) EPISODE RANKING

1. (1.05) “And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)” – The fallout from the Oscar nominations for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” leads to underhanded tactics from Joan Crawford, while co-star Bette Davis relishes the opportunity to break a record.

2. (1.02) “The Other Woman” – With production on “Baby Jane?” underway, Bette and Joan form an alliance, but outside forces in the form of Warner Brothers studio chief Jack Warner, director Robert Aldrich and an unsuspecting bit player conspire against them.

3. (1.07) “Abandoned!” – Following the beginning of production for “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, the feud between Bette and Joan intensifies. Meanwhile, Bette reveals her vulnerabilities to Aldrich during their affair.

4. (1.03) “Mommie Dearest” – The “Baby Jane” production reaches its climax, while Bette and Joan clash over every last detail. And both actresses face private struggles.

5. (1.01) “Pilot” – Cast aside by Hollywood and struggling to maintain their film careers, Bette and Joan sign up for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” before they commence upon a feud.

6. (1.06) “Hagsploitation” – Hungry for another hit after “Baby Jane?”, Jack Warner pressures Aldrich into bringing the original team back together for a second project – “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”. Meanwhile, Joan receives a surprising blackmail threat from her brother.

7. (1.08) “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” – In this finale, Joan accepts a leading role on a new film (her last one), despite her deteriorating health. Faced with a possible new rival, Bette reflects on her misplaced feud with Joan.

8. (1.04) “More or Less” – When “Baby Jane?” opens in movie theaters, Bette and Joan face uncertain prospects, Aldrich deals with his own personal and professional difficulties, and his assistant Pauline Jameson makes a surprising offer.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2001) Review

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2001) Review

There have been more adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel, “And Then There Were None” than any of her other novels. That is quite an achievement. The only other novel that comes close to producing this number of adaptations is her 1934 novel, ‘Murder on the Orient Express”.

Christie’s 1934 novel managed to produce four adaptations, as far as I know – two movie releases and two television movies. The least famous of this quartet of adaptations was the television movie that aired on CBS in 2001. This version is famous or infamous for one thing – it is the only one that is not a period drama and set in the present day. “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” made a few other changes to Christie’s narrative. The television movie’s beginning established a complicated romance between Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot and a sexy younger woman named Vera Rossakoff. The number of suspects was reduced from twelve to nine. And the Orient Express was stalled by a mudslide due to heavy rain and not a snowbank caused from an avalanche. Due to the film’s setting, some of the characters’ backgrounds and professions had been changed to reflect the late 20th century and early 21st century setting.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” begins in Istanbul, Turkey; where private detective Hercule Poirot had just solved the murder of a dancer at a local nightclub. After a brief quarrel with his lady love, Vera Rossakoff, Poirot sets out to fly back to London. But an encounter with his old friend Wolfgang Bouc, an executive with the the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, leads Poirot to return to London via the famed Orient Express train. During the eastbound train journey, an American millionaire named Samuel Ratchett tries to hire Poirot to protect him from a potential assassin who has sent him threatening letters. However, Poirot refuses the job due to his dislike of Ratchett. During the second night of the journey, heavy rain causes a landslide, blocking the train to continue its journey. And Rachett is found stabbed to death inside his compartment, the following morning. Bouc recruits Poirot to solve Rachett’s murder.

I have a confession to make. I had disliked “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” when I first saw it on television all those years ago. My main reason for disliking the television movie was the fact that it had a modern setting, instead of one set in the 1930s. It was not a period movie. And for a story like Christie’s 1934 novel, I resented it. However, I do believe the film’s modern setting provided one major flaw for its narrative. Since the late 20th century, passengers for the Simplon Orient Express have to book passage on the train long before the date of its departure – six months to a year, more or less. The idea of Poirot managing to get a compartment aboard the Orient Express at such short notice in 2001 strikes me as pretty implausible. And when one adds to the fact that the train travels to and from Istanbul at least once a year, makes this narrative in a modern setting even more implausible. Another problem I had with “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” was it made the same mistake as the 2010 adaptation from “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. They used the wrong rail cars. The 2010 television movie used the blue and cream Pullman cars for the journey from Istanbul to Calais. The 2001 movie used the brown and cream Pullman cars, usually reserved for the Orient Express from London to Folkstone, as the main train, as shown below:

Do I have any other problems with “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”? Well . . . yes, I have one further problem. But I will address it later. Aside from these problems, did I enjoyed this recent re-watch of the television movie? Yes, I did. More than I thought I would. Which is ironic, considering that I disliked the movie so much when I first saw all those years ago. I finally realized that I had automatically resented the film for not being a period drama. And over the years, I had erroneously believed that the movie was set aboard a modern train and not on a restored one from the past. It took my recent viewing of the television movie for me to realize I had been wrong. However, I did noticed that the sleeping compartments did look surprisingly bigger than usual. Despite some modern updating in the film’s visual look, the characters’ background and dialogue; “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” did a first-rate job of adapting Christie’s novel.

What many might find surprising is that screenwriter Stephen Harrigan and director Carl Schenkel did not inflict any drastic changes to Christie’s plot, unlike some recent Christie adaptations from the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” series and one or two miniseries produced by Sarah Phelps. Harrigan and Schenkel did not drastically change the movie’s narrative, aside from reducing the number of suspects and having the train delayed by a mud slide, instead of a snow drift. Yes, the backgrounds and professions of the characters were changed due to the modern setting. And characters also change nationalities – like Bob Arbuthnot, an American tech CEO (British Army colonel in Christie’s novel); Senora Alvarado, a widow of a South American dictator (a Russian princess in the novel); Phililp and Helena von Strauss, a German or Austrian couple traveling the world (the husband was a Hungarian diplomat in the novel); and even Wolfgang Bouc, the Franco-German Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits executive (who was solely French in the novel). This version of “Murder on the Orient Express” was not the first or last time when some of the characters’ backgrounds and nationalities were changed. All four adaptations (including the highly regarded 1974 version) were guilty of this. But despite these changes, Harrigan and Schenkel stuck to Christie’s narrative. And thanks to Harrigan’s direction, this version proved to be a lot better than I had originally surmised.

I certainly had no problems with most of the film’s performances. “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” provided solid performances from Amira Casar, Kai Wiesinger, Dylan Smith, Nicolas Chagrin, Adam James, Tasha de Vasconcelos, and Fritz Wepper, who managed to create an effective screen team with star Alfred Molina as the investigative pair of Poirot and Monsieur (or Herr) Bouc. I thought David Hunt did an excellent job of conveying the aggressive, overprotective and slightly arrogant traits of American CEO, Bob Arbuthnot. I enjoyed Leslie Caron’s colorful, yet autocratic portrayal of Senora Alvarado, the widow of a South American dictator. Meredith Baxter was equally colorful as an American character actress, traveling around Europe as a tourist. Her portrayal of Mrs. Hubbard reminded me of a younger version of a character she had portrayed in the 1980 miniseries, “BEULAH LAND” – but without the Southern accent. And I was really impressed by Natasha Wightman’s performance as British tutor Mary Debenham. What really impressed me about Wightman’s performance is that her portrayal of Miss Debenham was the closest to the literary character than any of the other versions. There was one performance that fell flat with me and it came from Peter Strauss, who portrayed the victim, Samuel Rachett. If I must be brutally honest, I found it rather hammy. Strauss, whom has always struck me as a first-rate actor in other productions, seemed to be screaming in nearly every scene. However, there is one scene in which I found his performance impressive. The scene involved Rachett’s attempt to hire Poirot as his bodyguard and with a performance that permeated with subtlety and menace, Strauss reminded audiences of the excellent actor that he had always been through most of his career.

I have never come across any real criticism of Alfred Molina’s portrayal of Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Well . . . I did come across one article that discussed Molina’s performance from Vulture magazine. But the critic seemed more focused on the movie’s modern setting and Poirot’s relationship with Vera Rossakoff, than Molina’s performance. Personally, I thought the British actor did a superb job in portraying the detective. He managed to capture all of Poirot’s intelligence, mild eccentricities, slight pomposity and talent for emotional manipulation. One thing I can say about Molina’s portrayal is that his performance as Poirot was probably the most subtle I have seen on a movie or television screen. Whether someone would regard this as good or bad, is in the eye of the beholder. But I feel that this subtle performance suited Molina’s style. Some have commented that Molina’s Poirot was more “youthful” than other portrayals. Hmmmm . . . how odd. Molina was in his late 40s when he shot the television movie (perhaps 47 or 48 years old). Yet, Albert Finney was a decade younger when he portrayed Poirot in the 1974 film and his Poirot came off as a middle-aged man. David Suchet was five or six years younger when he began his twenty-four years stint portraying the detective for ITV’s “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT”. And during those early years, his Poirot also seemed slightly middle-aged. Because of this, I find this observation of Molina’s Poirot as “youthful” rather questionable.

It is a pity that the “official” opinion of “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” is so negative. I used to share this opinion until I did a re-watch of the television film with a more open mind. Like others, I had been dismissive of the 2001 version, due to its modern setting. I now realize I had been rather narrow-minded and prejudiced. Despite its flaws – and it had a few – “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” proved to be a lot better than I had originally surmised, thanks to director Carl Schenkel, Stephen Harrigan’s teleplay and an excellent cast led by the superb Alfred Molina. I hope that one day, other Christie fans would dismiss their prejudices against the movie’s setting and appreciate it for the entertaining production it truly is.

“THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” (2010) Review

“THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” (2010) Review

One of the movies that struggled at the box office during the summer of 2010 was Disney’s 2010 live-action adaptation of its 1940 animated classic, “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the movie starred Nicholas Cage and Jay Baruchel.

“THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” is a fantasy-adventure about a long-living sorcerer named Balthazar Blake who is fighting against the forces of evil and his arch-nemesis Maxim Horvath in modern-day Manhattan. During this fight against evil, Balthazar searched for the person who will inherit the magical abilities of the powerful wizard, Merlin. This person turns out to be Dave Stutler, a physics student at New York University, whom Balthazar takes on as a reluctant protégé.

Did I have any problems with “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”? Well, I had a few. Although some of the movie’s scenes managed to capture shots of Manhattan in the daytime, most of the scenes were filmed at night. Manhattan makes a vibrant and colorful setting. I found it frustrating that I got to see most of it in night scenes, when it was not really necessary. The special effect of the flying gargoyle from the Chrysler Building really did nothing for me. And the movie criminally – in my opinion – underused actors and actresses such as Omar Benson Miller, who portrayed Dave’s roommate; Monica Bellucci, who played Balthazar’s fellow sorceress and secret love, Veronica; and Alice Kriege, who portrayed the evil Morgana le Fey from the King Arthur legend.

Despite all of this, I managed to enjoy “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”, much to my surprise. More than I thought I would. There were no cheesy lines. And there was plenty of sharp humor. Thanks to the screenplay written by Doug Miro, Carlo Bernard and Matt Lopez, the movie also proved to be a solid adventure story about how Dave Stutler who learned to achieve his full potential and a good deal of self-respect. Dave’s mentor, Balthazar, also learned a good deal about patience and overcoming one’s past regrets. With a great deal of humor, the pair not only taught valuable lessons to each other; but also formed a solid pair to take out Horvath, who had hoped to raise the evil Morgana le Fey, and stop them both from destroying the world.

Despite too many nighttime scenes, I must admit that I found Bojan Bazelli’s photography to be colorful and impressive. I also found the special effects supervised by John Fraizer very impressive – especially during the Chinatown sequence and the scene featuring Dave’s use of Tesla coils.

And despite the film’s failure to utilize performers such as Omar Benson Miller, Monica Bellucci and Alice Kriege; the “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” could boast a very entertaining cast. Nicholas Cage was perfectly cast as the intense and sometimes impatient sorcerer, Balthazar Blake. And he had excellent chemistry with the deliciously wry and sardonic Jay Baruchel, who portrayed physics student-turned sorcerer, Dave Stutler. Alfred Molina seemed to be in his element as the sarcastic and villainous sorcerer, Maxim Horvath. He also managed to produce a surprisingly effective screen chemistry with Toby Kebbell, who portrayed the young and self-absorbed celebrity magician, Drake Stone. And although I did not find Teresa Palmer’s portrayal of Dave’s lost interest, Becky Barners, particularly memorable; I must admit that she managed to prevent her character from becoming bland.

Looking back at “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE”, I cannot help but wonder if producer Jerry Bruckheimer had refrained from allotting a bigger budget to the movie. I think it had the potential to be a major crowd pleaser, but failed to do so with too many night scenes and an unwillingness to utilize the entire cast. But, the movie still had some dazzling special effects, a solid adventure story and a talented cast in Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel and Alfred Molina. In the end, “THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE” proved to be a pretty good movie.

 

Top Ten Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1950s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1950s

1 - A Nero Wolfe Mystery

1. “A Nero Wolfe Mystery” (2000-2002) – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred in this adaptation of novels and short stories about the New York City based private detective from Montenegro, Nero Wolfe.

2 - The Company

2. “The Company” (2007) – Robert Littell produced this three-part miniseries adaptation of his 2002 novel about the Cold War during the mid and late 20th century. Half of the series is set during the 1950s. Chris O’Donnell, Rory Cochrane, Alessandro Nivola, Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton starred.

3 - Agatha Christie Miss Marple

3. “Miss Marple” (1984-1992) – Joan Hickson starred in this adaptation of Agatha Christie murder mysteries featuring the elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. The series was produced by George Gallaccio.

4 - MASH

4. “M*A*S*H” (1972-1983) – Larry Gelbert developed this Award winning adaptation of the 1970 movie and Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel, “M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” about a U.S. Army field hospital during the Korean War. Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers and Mike Farrell starred.

5 - Agatha Christie Marple

5. “Agatha Christie’s Marple” (2004-2013) – Both Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie portrayed Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novels about the elderly sleuth.

6 - The Hour

6. “The Hour” (2011-2012) – Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw starred in this series about a BBC news show set in the mid-to-late 1950s. The series was created by Abi Morgan.

7 - Magic City

7. “Magic City” (2012-2013) – Mitch Glazer created this STARZ series about a Miami hotel owner during the late 1950s. The series starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Olga Kurylenko.

9 - Ill Fly Away

8. “I’ll Fly Away” (1991-1993) – Regina Taylor and Sam Waterston starred in this series about a Southern black housekeeper and her complicated relationship with her employer, a white attorney in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The series was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey.

10 - Grantchester

9. “Grantchester” (2014-Present) – James Norton and Robson Greene starred in this adaptation of “The Grantchester Mysteries”, James Runcie’s series of mystery stories that feature an unlikely partnership between a Church of England vicar and a police detective during the 1950s.

8 - Ordeal By Innocence

8. “Ordeal of Innocence” (2018) – Sarah Phelps wrote and produced this third adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1958 novel. The three-part miniseries starred Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor and Anthony Boyle.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) Review

 

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) Review

When news of Twentieth Century Fox releasing its own version of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel, “Murder on the Orient Express”, many people groaned. In a way, I could understand their reaction. This new movie would mark the fifth adaptation of the novel – the second theatrical version. However, being a major fan of Christie’s story about a murder aboard the famed trans-European train, I was among those who did not groan. 

Directed by Kenneth Branaugh, who also starred as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” begins in Jerusalem 1934, where Poirot has been asked to solve the theft of a valuable artifact from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. After achieving his goal, Poirot boards a boat that conveys him to Istanbul in Turkey. Among his fellow passengers is a British governess named Mary Debenham and a Afro-British former-Army soldier-turned-physician named Dr. John Abuthnot. Poirot plans to remain in Istanbul for a few days of rest. But he receives a telegram, summoning him to London to solve another case. Monsieur Bouc, a young friend of his who happens to serve as a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, manages to acquire a berth in one of the second-class compartments in the Calais coach of the Orient Express.

Both Poirot and Bouc are surprised to discover that the Calais coach is unusually full for the winter season. A day following the train’s departure from Istanbul, one of the passengers – an American “businessman” named Samuel Rachett – informs Poirot that he had received death threats and wants to hire the Belgian detective to serve as his bodyguard. Due to his instinctive dislike of Rachett, Poirot refuses the offer. During the second night of the train’s journey, the Orient Express becomes stranded somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, thanks to an avalanche. The following morning, Rachett’s dead body is discovered with a dozen stab wounds. Bouc asks Poirot to discover the killer’s identity. Since each train car was locked at night, Poirot has focused his suspicions on those who were inside the Calais coach:

*Mary Debenham
*Dr. John Abuthnot
*Hector McQueen, Rachett’s secretary
*Edward Masterman, Rachett’s English valet
*Mrs. Caroline Hubbard, a middle-aged American tourist
*Pilar Estravados, a Spanish-born missionary
*Princess Dragomiroff, an exiled Russian princess
*Hildegarde Schmidt, Princess Dragomiroff’s German maid
*Biniamino Marquez, a Spanish-born automobile salesman
*Count Rudolph Andrenyi, a Hungarian aristocrat/acclaimed dancer
*Countess Helena Andrenyi, Count Andrenyi’s German-born wife
*Gerhard Hardman, a German scholar
*Pierre Michel, the Calais coach’s car attendant

Not long after he begins his investigation, Poirot discovers Rachett’s true identity – a gangster named Lanfranco Cassetti, who had kidnapped a three year-old heiress named Daisy Armstrong two years earlier. After Daisy’s parents had paid the ransom, Cassetti killed young Daisy and fled the United States. It becomes up to Poirot to discover which Calais coach passengers have connections to the Armstrong kidnapping case and find the killer.

What can I say about this adaptation of Christie’s 1934 novel? Of the five versions of “Murder on the Orient Express”, I have only seen four. But I am not here to discuss the other three versions I have seen . . . only this new adaptation.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” was not a perfect movie. Well to be honest, I have yet to see a perfect adaptation of Christie’s novel. But there were a few aspects of this film that I did not like. Most of those aspects had a lot to do with camera shots. I did not like how Branaugh had allowed his passengers to board through the dining car at the end of the train. Honestly? I did not care for that tracking shot of Poirot making his way through the train . . . with the camera focused on him through the windows. I found it rather distracting and slightly confusing. Nor did I care for how Branaugh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos shot the scene featuring the discovery of Rachett’s body. From the moment when the victim’s valet discovered the body to Dr. Abuthnot examined it and conveyed his prognosis, Branaugh and Zambarloukos did the entire scene from a high angle shot from above in which I could barely, if at all, see the victim’s body. I found it very frustrating to watch. And rather unnecessary. I have one last complaint and it concerned a character. Namely . . . Count Rudolph Andrenyi. In Christie’s novel, Count Andrenyi was described as a hot-blooded Hungarian and a diplomat. In “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the Count remained a hot-blooded Hungarian. But for some reason, Branaugh and screenwriter Michael Green had decided to change his profession from a diplomat to a professional dancer. Why? Other than showing Count Andrenyi in a fight with two men at the Sirkeci train station, I saw no earthly reason to change the character’s profession. Worse, while being questioned by Poirot, the latter brought up the matter of a diplomatic passport. Why would Poirot bring up this matter to a man who was a professional dancer?

Thankfully, I managed to enjoy “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” a great deal, despite its flaws. Thanks to Branaugh and a first-rate crew, the movie radiated a sharp rich elegance that struck me as different as the previous adaptations. And I have to give credit to cinematographer Zambarloukos for this look. There were others who had contributed to the film’s look and style. I especially have to commend production designer Jim Clay for his re-creation of the Orient Express – along with the help of the art direction team led by Dominic Masters and set decorator Rebecca Alleway:

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I doubt that the film’s re-creation of the famous luxury train at Longcross Studios was completely accurate. But I must admit that I was more than impressed by how people like Clay, Masters and Alleway still managed to re-create the style and ambiance of the famous train. My admiration for their work at Longcross also extends to their re-creation of the famous Sirkeci railway station. I found it rich in detail and atmosphere . . . and if I must be honest, slightly mind blowing:

murder_on_the_orient_express_production_design_3_embed

I suspect that none of crewmen who worked on “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” will receive any recognition from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their work. Pity. As for Patrick Doyle’s score, I must be honest and admit that I did not find it particularly memorable. In fact, I found Doyle’s occasional use of 1930s tunes more memorable than his original work.

How did I feel about Branaugh and screenwriter Michael Green’s treatment of Christie’s novel? Aside from my nitpick about the Count Rudolph Andrenyi character, I had no problems with it. Yes, I realize that both Branaugh and Green had made some changes to Christie’s story. But you know what? So did the other versions I have seen. And there were no real changes to the plot, aside from allowing the Daisy Armstrong kidnapping to occur two years previously, instead of more. Most of the changes were made to some of the characters, instead of the plot. For instance:

*Although Hector McQueen had remained Rachett’s secretary, he was discovered to be embezzling from the latter.
*John Abuthnot is portrayed as an Afro-British doctor, who is also a former Army sniper, instead of a British Army colonel stationed in India
*Swedish-born missionary Greta Ohlsson becomes the Spanish-born missionary Pilar Estravados, whose name was borrowed from Christie’s 1938 novel, “Hercule Poirot’s Christmas”
*Italian-born car salesman Antonio Foscarelli becomes the Spanish-born salesman Biniamino Marquez
*Monsieur Bouc is portrayed as a much younger man, who profession is dependent upon family connections

As one can see, the changes in characterizations is based upon changes in ethnicity and nationality. Hell, I had more of a problem with the changes made by the Count Andrenyi character than I did with the above changes. And if I must be honest, I found the changes made to the John Abuthnot character rather impressive and interesting. Despite these changes, he remained intensely in love with Mary Debenham and protective of her. Another change I noticed is that Branaugh and Green had allowed Poirot to question the suspects in different parts of either the Calais coach, the dining car, the Pullman lounge car and various spots outside of the stranded train. I must admit that I found this variation in minor locations around the train rather refreshing. Watching Poirot question most of the suspects (with the exception of Princess Dragonmiroff and Hildegarde Schmidt) inside the Pullman coach had struck me as a bit repetitive in the 1974 and 2010 versions.

I would not be surprised if certain Christie fans and film critics had accused Branaugh of political correctness. Not only did the screenplay pointed out Dr. Abuthnot’s race via characters like Gerhard Hardman, but also Biniamino Marquez’s ethnicity via Hector McQueen. Considering that the movie is set in 1934, I did not mind. More importantly, it would have been odd if someone had not commented on Dr. Abuthnot’s race or Senor Marquez’s nationality. In fact, in Christie’s original novel, some characters made a big deal over the nationalities of the other suspects.

The important thing is that despite these changes, Michael Green’s screenplay more or less adhered to Christie’s novel. And he did so with style and a good deal of pathos in the film’s last half hour that I found more than satisfying. I was especially surprised by how the film treated Poirot’s character in the end. In the novel and previous adaptations, Poirot had remained on the train after solving the murder. Not in this adaptation. After exposing the crime and reporting his findings to the police in Brod, Poirot left the train. And I was thrilled. As I have stated numerous times, if I had been Poirot, I would have left that train myself.

I must admit that I had experienced a few qualms when I learned that Kenneth Branaugh had cast himself as the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The large moustache he had utilized for his performance did not comfort me, until I realized that it matched the description of the literary Poirot’s moustache. I have stated in the past that I believe that British actors with a Continental background – like Peter Ustinov, Alfred Molina and David Suchet – tend to give more believable portrayals of Poirot than English speaking actors. Branaugh ended up proving me wrong. He gave a very charming and energetic performance as Poirot, without wallowing in the occasional moments of hammy acting. I also enjoyed how he portrayed Poirot’s development in the story from a charming and intelligent man seeking a little peace before his next case to the slightly outraged man who found himself conflicted over how to handle the consequences of Rachett’s murder.

There were other performances that I found very interesting. One came from Johnny Depp, who gave an effectively slimy portrayal of the former kidnapper-turned-murder victim. His performance really impressed me, especially in one particular scene in which Rachett requested Poirot’s services as a bodyguard. Depp displayed his versatility as an actor by conveying his character’s attempt at friendliness and a sinister form of intimidation. I also appreciated Michelle Pfieffer’s portrayal of the extroverted Caroline Hubbard, which I found both humorous and sexy. And yet, Pfieffer’s finest moment came near the film’s end, when Poirot exposed her character’s deep secret. She gave a very emotional and effective performance. Leslie Odom Jr. and Daisy Ridley portrayed the two suspects that Poirot had first encountered – namely Dr. John Abuthnot and Mary Debenham. It is interesting that the literary versions of this pair proved to be more hostile (and bigoted) toward Poirot than the other passengers. In this version, both are more friendlier toward Poirot, yet both maintained a subtle wariness toward his presence. I also enjoyed how Odom and Ridley managed to convey more complexity into their performances, when confronted with their lies by Poirot and their willingness to fiercely protect each other.

I never thought I would say this, but I thought Josh Gad gave the most complex performance as Rachett’s secretary, Hector McQueen I have ever seen on screen. Thanks to Gad’s first-rate performance, his McQueen literally oozed with moral ambiguity – especially in the film’s second half. Another interesting performance came from Derek Jacobi, who portrayed Rachett’s English valet, Edward Masterman. I was particularly impressed at how Jacobi conveyed his character’s nervousness in being caught in a slip of character by Poirot. And there was Penelope Cruz’s performance as the Spanish missionary, Pilar Estravados. Cruz’s portrayal of the missionary was a far cry from the literary character by portraying her not only as intensely religious, but also intense and slightly intimidating. I found her performance very interesting. Judi Dench gave a very imperious and entertaining performance as the elderly Princess Dragonmiroff. The movie also featured first-rate performances from the rest of the cast that included Olivia Colman, Tom Bateman, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Willem Dafoe, Marwan Kenzari, Lucy Boynton and yes, Sergei Polunin. I may not have liked the change made to the Count Andrenyi character, but I cannot deny that Poluin gave an effective performance.

I recently learned that 20th Century Fox given approval for a sequel to “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”. It may not have been a major box office hit, but it was financially successful. Personally, I am glad. I really enjoyed this new take on Christie’s 1934 novel. And I was not only impressed by the cast’s excellent performances in this film, but also by Kenneth Branaugh’s direction and his superb portrayal of the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. If a sequel is being planned, I cannot wait to see him reprise his portrayal of the famous literary sleuth.

 

Favorite Moments in MARVEL Movies and Television

Below is a list of my favorite moments featured in Marvel movies and television: 

FAVORITE MOMENTS IN MARVEL MOVIES AND TELEVISION

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1. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – After a brutal fight with Doc Ock on top of a Manhattan El Train and saving the train’s passengers, an exhausted Spider-Man aka Peter Parker is unmasked by the latter in what I regard as the most poignant moment in any Marvel production.
 
 
 

 

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2. “The Avengers” (2012) – During its fight against invading Chitauri troops, director Joss Whedon gave audiences an iconic shot of the newly formed Avengers, before they continued the battle.
 
 
 

 

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3. “Iron-Man 3” (2013) – Iron Man aka Tony Stark saves the surviving passengers and crew of Air Force One in this breathtaking sequence, using aerodynamics, one of his Iron Man bots and his brains.
 
 
 

 

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4. “The Wolverine” (2013) – In this exciting sequence, the Wolverine aka Logan battles members of the Yakuza on top of a Tokyo bullet train, as he tries to prevent them from kidnapping the granddaughter of a recently deceased businessman that he had briefly met at the end of World War II.
 
 
 
 

 

 

5. “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D” (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Agent Phil Coulson rescues his kidnapped subordinate Skye aka Daisy Johnson from HYDRA agents, who had hijacked the fallen agency’s C-17 plane, known as “the Bus”, with his sports car called “L.O.L.A.”.
 
 
 

 

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6. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – While staving off rogue HYDRA agents in Washington D.C., Captain America aka Steve Rogers has a brutal hand-to-hand fight with the assassin known as “the Winter Soldier”. Best fight scene in any Marvel production … at least for me.
 
 
 

 

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7. “Iron Man 3” (2013) – In this hilarious scene, Tony Stark finally comes face-to-face with the “terrorist” known as “the Mandarin”, who proves not to be what many had assumed.
 
 
 

 

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8. “The Hulk” (2003) – The opening credits of the 2003 movie featured the chilling efforts of Dr. David Banner to create super soldiers by introducing modified DNA sequences extracted from various animals to strengthen the human cellular response. This sequence gives me the chills whenever I watch the movie.
 
 
 

 

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9. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – The second movie in the “X-MEN” franchise featured an exciting attack by a brainwashed Nightcrawler aka Kurt Wagner on the White House, in an attempt to assassinate the U.S. President.
 
 
 

 

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10. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) – S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury is attacked by HYDRA agents and the assassin known as “the Winter Soldier” on the streets of Washington D.C.
 
 
 

 

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11. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Natasha Romanoff aka the Black Widow fights off security guards at Justin Hammer’s factory in order to prevent Ivan Venko from using James Rhodes in the War Machine suit from killing Tony Stark aka Iron Man.
 
 
 

 

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12. “Ant-Man” (2015) – Scott Laing aka Ant-Man attempts to infiltrate the new Avengers headquarters for a particular device, and has an unexpected encounter with Avenger Sam Wilson aka the Falcon.
 
 
 

 

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13. “Iron Man 3” (2015) – An Extremis enhanced Pepper Potts saves Tony Stark from villain Aldrich Killian by killing the latter.
 
 
 

 

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14. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – The recently enhanced Steve Rogers is recruited by a U.S. senator for a war bonds tour in this colorful montage, after the former is rejected by Colonel Chester Phillips when the super soldier formula is lost.
 
 
 

 

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15. “Thor” (2011) – Recently cast out from Asgaard by his father Odin, a now mortal Thor struggles to free himself from a hospital’s personnel before he is eventually drugged in this very funny scene.
 
 
 

 

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16. “Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) – A group of extraterrestrial misfits uses one of the Infinity stones to defeat Kree supervillain Ronan the Accuser, who is bent upon destroying the Nova Empire’s capital city, Xandar.
 
 
 

 

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17. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – In this emotionally sad scene, S.S.R. Agent Peggy Carter gives in to tears, when communication with Captain America aka Steve Rogers is cut short, after he forces a HYDRA plane with deadly weapons into the Atlantic Ocean.
 
 
 

 

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18. “Spider-Man 3” (2007) – Another sad scene features Spider-Man aka Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson grieving over the dead body of their friend, Harry Osborn aka New Goblin, after the latter is skewered by villain Venom aka Eddie Brock.
 
 
 

 

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19. “Agent Carter” (1.07) “Snafu” – S.S.R. Chief Roger Dooley jumps to his death in order to save the lives of his subordinates from the bomb device that had been strapped to his body.
 
 
 

 

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20. “The Hulk” (2003) – Ang Lee directed this bizarre scene featuring the death of former military officer Glenn Talbot, after the Hulk aka Bruce Banner escapes from a military base.
 
 
 

 

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Honorable Mention: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014) – Director Marc Webb directed this heartbreaking sequence in which Gwen Stacy falls to her death, after Spider-Man aka Peter Parker fails to save her from Harry Osborn aka the Green Goblin.

Top Favorite Movies of 2017

Below is a list of my favorite movies of 2017( List subject to change):

 

 

TOP FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2017

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1. “Dunkirk” – Christopher Nolan wrote and directed this acclaimed look at the British Expeditionary Force’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France in 1940. Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance starred.

 

 
 
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2. “Wonder Woman” – Gal Gadot starred in this movie about the D.C. Comics’ heroine Wonder Woman and her experiences during World War I. Patty Jenkins directed.

 

 
 
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3. “Murder on the Orient Express” – Kenneth Branaugh directed and starred in this fifth adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel about a murder aboard the famed Orient Express. Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfieffer co-starred.

 

 
 
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4. “I, Tonya” – Margot Robbie starred in this deliciously bizarre biopic about the controversial Olympic ice skater, Tonya Harding. Directed by David Gillespie, the movie co-starred Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney.

 

 
 
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5. “Marshall” – Chadwick Boseman starred in this interesting biopic about an early case of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Directed by Reginald Hudlin, Josh Gad and Sterling K. Brown co-starred.

 

 
 
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6. “The Post” – Steven Spielberg directed this fascinating look about The Washington Post’s efforts to publish “The Pentagon Papers”, the controversial Department of Defense documents about the Vietnam War. Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks starred.

 

 
 
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7. “Detroit” – Kathryn Biegelow directed this harrowing look at the Algiers Motel incident during Detroit’s 1967 12th Street Riot. John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith and Anthony Mackie starred.

 

 
 
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8. “Justice League” – Zack Snyder directed (most of it) this entertaining, yet flawed tale about the formation of the Justice League of America and its battle against the alien villain known as Steppenwolf. Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Jason Momoa and Henry Cavill starred.

 

 
 
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9. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” – Johnny Depp returned as Jack Sparrow in this funny, yet slightly poignant fifth entry in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film franchise. Directed by Espen Sanberg and Joachim Rønning, the movie co-starred Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario.

 

 
 
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10. “Logan” – Hugh Jackman and director James Manigold reunited for this haunting adaptation of the 2008 Marvel Comics tale, “Old Man Logan”. Patrick Stewart co-stars as Charles Xavier aka “Professor X”.

 

 
 
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Honorable Mention: “Baby Driver” – Edgar Wright wrote and directed this tale about a young Atlanta getaway driver and music lover who is forced to work for a kingpin in order to settle a debt. Ansel Elgort, Lily James and Kevin Spacey starred.