Murder on the Orient Express (2017), (♦♦♦♦): A shady businessman is murdered during the night aboard a closed, packed wagon of the opulent Orient Express. The director of the train asks famed detective Hercule Poirot, a passenger on holiday, to conduct an investigation before they reach their next stop.
This 2017 adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel, is a lavish production directed by Kenneth Brannagh, who also stars as the famed detective Hercule Poirot. Brannagh has a star-studded supporting cast with some of the best actors/actresses in the business whom somehow are given so little room to shine individually that it seems almost as criminal as the killing that takes place aboard the train.
Nonetheless, don't underestimate the spell of this movie. If well it is true that we don't care much about the fate of the victim, once the case gets going it is an enthralling and complex mystery. The audience gets the information along with the detective. The winter scenes—accentuated by the avalanche that has pinned the train in a mountain pass—, the claustrophobia of the train wagon in which the crime and the slow-moving investigation unfold, as well as the uncertainty of whether the killer may strike again, are all masterly exploited. It does help quite a bit that the musical score enhances the tension, as do the multiple red herrings in the case.
While I can't say I developed an emotional connection with the characters, I found the motive shocking and heartbreaking. It was impacting on the first viewing; it didn't hold as well on the second. Despite some of the above criticisms, I was riveted the first time I watched this film. You watch it and be the judge.
Thank You for Your Service (2017), (♦♦♦♦): a group of American soldiers are excited to return home after their deployments in Iraq, only to find that they bear more emotional scars than are initially apparent.
Thank You for Your Service, an adaptation of award-winning journalist David Finkel's nonfiction book, follows the lives of four soldier friends who fought together in Iraq and are suffering from various debilitating symptoms of PTSD after they come back home from the war. If you are expecting a conventional war movie, this is not it. It is, however, an outstanding drama, with a loud, "in-your-face" message—not condemning war or the officials who make those decisions as so many movies do; Last Flag Flying from last year springs to mind— about the invisible scars of war and how ill equipped we are as society to comprehend the horrors they have seen and lived through.
Thank You for Your Service does have a few battle scenes that perfectly put these soldiers' traumas in context. They succeed, as do the scenes in which one of them, on separate occasions, is reminded that, to obtain their benefits, veterans have to accept the workings of the VA bureaucratic machine, and that there are not enough facilities in the country to treat the thousands of soldiers that have come back from the two most recent wars bearing physical and psychological scars. This film is also masterfully and convincingly acted. It doesn't get better than this.
Blade Runner, Final Cut (2007), (♦♦♦): At the start of the 21st century, the Tyrrell Corporation had mass produced robots virtually identical to humans, known as Replicants. They were used as slave labor in the colonization of space, but after a deadly mutiny in one of the off-world colonies, they were outlawed on Earth under penalty of death. Blade Runners were the police squads tasked with "retiring" the Replicants they encountered.
Los Angeles, November 2019... Two weeks ago, a team of six Replicants escaped from an off-world colony, killing 23 people and stealing a ship. After they tried to access the Tyrell Corporation, two of them got killed. Now the remaining four are meticulously being hunted throughout Los Angeles by Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the best Blade Runner in the business, brought back from retirement expressly for that task.
Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott, is a noir mystery/thriller adapted from Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? While the film has an intriguing premise, I cannot help but lament that such a precise date was attached to it, because of how wildly off the mark the predictions were: space colonization, robot labor, androids at least equally intelligent to humans, flying cars and landing pads for them atop skyscrapers...all by 2019!
While the predictions were off target, they nonetheless make for great entertainment as we get to enjoy the best that man has dreamed of and that someday may be possible. Blade Runner thus present us with an amazing world populated by flying police cars as well as conventional futuristic-looking ones in which car doors open upwards (Batmobile style), Asia-fied society filled with neon lights and Times Square-esque lit ads.
Blade Runner is a good detective story that, in my opinion, lacks emotionally engaging characters, perhaps because we know who the replicants are, and because we know they have an expiration date.
The musical score, by Vangelis, punctuate the story from beginning to end, making the watching of this film an otherworldly experience. It consists of xylophone notes, slow saxophone jazz notes, and electronic synthesizer. The final scenes, a showdown between man and machine, are punctuated by falling rain, doves desperately flying inside a dark apartment occasionally illuminated by flashes of a light beam coming from the street, howling, thunder, vocalizations that contribute to heighten the tension and the atmosphere of a cat and mouse game in which is hard to discern who is outsmarting whom.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Thirty years after the event in the first film, the Tyrrell Corporation has gone bankrupt because violent rebellions in the off-world colonies forced the stopping of mass production of Replicants. Industrialist Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has acquired the remains of the Tyrell Corporation and renewed the production of Replicants. These new models obey. Some older models with open-ended life spans exist but are on the run and still being hunted by Blade Runners.
Los Angeles, 2049... Officer K (Ryan Gosling) is one of the new model Replicants who works as a Blade Runner at LAPD. On a ‘retirement’ mission, K’s drone unearths a military issued box containing the clean bones and hair of a female. Forensic analysis determines that she has been dead for thirty years, as well as something else: a secret Madam Joshi (Robin Wright) orders Officer K to take care of because it has the potential to throw what is left of society into chaos.
In his investigation, Officer K crosses path with Luv (Sylvia Hoeks), a ruthless female Replicant whom Mister Wallace calls his ‘favorite Angel’. He tracks down former Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) who has been missing for thirty years and may hold the key to the deceased’s identity and be privy to her secret.
Blade Runner 2049, directed by Denis Villeneuve and executive produced by Ridley Scott, who also co-wrote the script, is a thriller that takes the original story in a new direction without losing track of its roots. The elements that made Blade Runner groundbreaking, such as the references to space colonization, androids stronger and at least equally intelligent to humans, and flying cars have been kept very much intact, as have been the Asia-fied society filled with neon lights, the appearances of Harrison Ford and Sean Young (cameo) reprising their characters of old, and the spirit of the final scenes in which another epic showdown takes place. Even the otherworldly ‘Blade Runner’ theme by Vangelis underscores the action scenes.
More modern elements are the flat screen computers, 3D advertisement holograms in the streets, and a nod to the way of life that has been lost. Frank Sinatra’s, Elvis Presley’s and Marilyn Monroe’s holograms make cameo appearances. Another enhancement over the original is showing what remains of life outside Los Angeles; San Diego is a waste processing district full of detritus and society’s outliers while Las Vegas Strip, ‘previously full with casinos and people who exchanged money like it was candy’, now has been reclaimed by the sands and orange glow of the desert. A character emphasizes how lucky K is to own an object made of real wood.
While I thought that the original Blade Runner was a good detective story that lacked emotionally depth, the secret at the core of Blade Runner 2049 has, in my opinion, humanized this installment; that, and the hefty characterization of Officer K by Ryan Gosling, who has permeated his character with doubts, hope, love and even chivalry, all very human emotions played to a T.