“Murder on the Orient Express” remake: Why are all these specific diverse characters on the same train?

A couple Sundays after president Clinton took office in 1993 (as the debate over gays in the military heated up) I drove 30 miles East to Annapolis to attend a regular church service at the Naval Academy. The pastor was a female (who at the time was by definition supposed to be straight) and her sermon had an interesting title: “Come and see.  Why are you here?”

The second question was one that Chris Hansen would pose to hapless visitors caught in his TV sting about a decade later (“To Catch a Predator”).

But the star and rich-people assemblage in the remake of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” posed the same kind of question.  Why were they on this particular train?  How probable is it, really, that every single passenger could be a reasonable suspect (or “person of interest”, at least) and possibly wind up complicit in the murder of an organized crime figure Edward Ratchett (Johnny Depp), after the train is stalled by an avalanche in the Carpathian mountains, or maybe it is the Alps.  (The word “orient” seems overused).  All this is in 1934, at the end of the Great Depression, before a lot of people see the Winds of War.

Kenneth Branagh, so proud of his work on Shakespeare in the past (along with the Mahler-ish score by Patrick Doyle) plays himself, so to speak, as the self-indulgent detective Hercule Poirot, who opens the movie obsessed with the symmetry of two boiled eggs at a continental breakfast. He politely refuses Ratchett’s job offer, and then that evening, after the train is derailed and stopped, we actually see a clown (Stephen King style, out of everybody’s sight line) racing away from Ratchett’s cabin.

There are better films set on trains.  First of all, how about Hitchcock’s own “Strangers on a Train” (1951).  I’ve seen Trans-Siberian, The Cassandra Crossing (1977, where a plague has to be contained on a train), Silver Streak, The Great Locomotive Chase (Disney, 1955), and, particularly, Snowpiercer (which was very political).

I remember one train ride a little like one of these movies. In the spring of 1999, I took a night train East from Berlin to Krakow, to visit Auschwitz the next day.  My novel “Angel’s Brother” starts with a meeting of two young men at the site, who had seen each other on the train, and wonder why they are both there.

I saw the 1974 film by Sidney Lumet shortly after I had moved into New York City.

Vinkovci, Croatia station (in the book), wiki.

Name:  “Murder on the Orient Express”
Director, writer:  Kenneth Branagh
Released:  2017/11/10
Format:  2.35:1   some backstories are in black and white
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, afternoon 2017/11/10, good crowd
Length:  115
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  20th Century Fox
Link:  Fox

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 10, 2017 at 10:30 PM EST)

“Flatliners”: no, this doesn’t tell us what happens after death

I do vaguely remember the 1990 version of “Flatiners”, but I was curious enough to see the 2017 remake by Niles Arden Oplev based on Peter Fliardi’s short story.

I could say Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Courtney can do better than that. As a pesky medical resident, she concocts the idea of breaking into a mysterious equipment room in the basement of a Toronto hospital with her colleagues, doing death penalty drugs (including popofol) to create a near death experience, then recording the brain wave hologram to make a movie of the NDE. She gets gullible colleagues to go along, including the Brit-looking Jamie (James Norton) and Marlo (Nina Dobrev). The dashing Ray (Diego Luna) refuses at first but comes down to save them, and joins the group.

It’s pretty predictable.  The NDE’s are typical enough, but then ghosts from each doctor’s life comes back to haunt each one, based one each one’s karma.  Marlo especially has a problem with falsifying the record of a patient who had died because of her mistake.

The basement reminds me of the secret dorm cellar room at William and Mary in 1961 where freshman tribunal hazings were held.  I skipped out on them, which may have contributed to the anti-gay rumors and my expulsion. In the rituals, supposedly “they” shaved the boys legs in order to convey the idea of sacrificing individuality to join the group (“take one for the team”).  That idea may be more relevant to the afterlife than what happens in this film.

Kiefer Sutherland is strict enough as Dr. Wolfson, who harasses the residents with their daily oral exams. Maybe he can ask them what a Weiss Ring is.  I don’t think Jack Andraka’s medical school will be anything like this.  I’d like to see a movie of “Breakthrough”.

Toronto at night doesn’t seem as effective a backdrop as NYC.

Nathan Barr’s chamber music score is effective, but the piano playing of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” by a ghost is a little trite. A Danzi quartet is also quoted.

Toronto Wiki of “Annex” houses similar to movie.

Name:  “Flatliners”
Director, writer:  Niles Arden Oplev (DGC), Peter Filardi
Released:  2017 (remake of 1990)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter 2017/9/30, fair crowd
Length:  104
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Sony Columbia Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017 at 7:45 PM EDT)

New Line Cinema’s remake of Stephen King’s “IT”: Clarabelle isn’t nice


I do remember the 1990 TV movie, two episodes, by Tommie Lee Wallace of Stephen King’s “It”, so I wasn’t in that much hurry for the bombastic remake by New Line Cinema and DGC director Andy Muschietti.

The setting is Stephen King’s fictional town of Derry, Maine;  the outdoor town seems were filmed apparently in Bangor (which I visited once in 1974, on the way to Katahdin) or in Ontario.  Apparently, there is some kind of curse that erupts every 27 years that causes middle school kids to see demons, centered around a particular clown, whom I could call Clarabelle from the Howdy Doody Show. But the demon may become real and do real harm

The film opens as Pernnywise (a maturing Bill Skarsgaard) watches his younger brother make a toy boat which he will float in the drains in a thunderstorm.  The kid loses the boat to a sewer, and when he tries to recover it, the clown appears and bites off an arm, before hauling him away.

Kids go missing, but then when more bad stuff happens, it seems as though some of it depends on the viewer.  There’s a scene with a kitchen sink emitting blood that I recall from the TV movie. There is a swimming hole scene, where not all the teens are as lean as Pennywise;  one looks grotesquely obese. There is a town bully, played by Logan Thompson; one wants to see him in a nicer role.

Downtown Bangor, Maine (looks like the movie site), wiki.

I think I heard some piano music by French composer Erik Satie in the score, but I didn’t see it credited.

The 1990 TV film, as I recall, told the base story in flashbacks, as the friends meet again later in life. I think the book is set up that way, as are some of King’s other novels (or other books in the 1970s and 80s like Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story“).

I vaguely remember the 1993 TV film “The Tommyknockers” directed by John Power, on ABC, where a buried UFO turns a whole town into “grays” digging for dolls.

New Line plans a sequel for “It”. The pronoun is gender neutral.

Name:  “It
Director, writer:  Andy Muschietti, Stephen King
Released:  2017 (remake of 1990)
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Ballston Quarter Regal, 2017/9/22, afternoon, fair audience
Length:  135
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  New Line Cinema, Ratpac
Link:  official 

(Posted: Friday, September 22, 2017 at 7:30 PM EDT)