REVIEW: Murder on the Orient Express

As an Agatha Christie fan, I have to discuss this film in two parts: as a standalone work and as an adaptation of the book.

As a standalone film, Murder on the Orient Express was really good. The cinematography was beautiful, crystal clear with lush colors, elegant and enhancing the 1930s feel of the movie. I always appreciate it when a movie is well-lit: while darkness may add to the effect, I do prefer to be able to see what is happening onscreen. The use of light here was impeccable.

The acting was also very good, which is no surprise considering the film boasted quite a lineup of famed names: Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Leslie Odom Jr. were just a few names among the star-studded cast.

the plot of this film is dependent on each person in the cast making their character a strong one; although it is a mystery starring Poirot, he is not the main character. With Agatha Christie’s style of writing, he never is. What I’ve always liked about her books is that her plots are really not about the murder at all. She gets the murder out of the way at the beginning of the novel, and then spends the rest of her time studying the people who are involved in the murder, slowly unraveling each one of their characters so that really the end result is a deeper understanding of people. So with this film I didn’t really like the way it made Poirot a focal character. On one hand, he was the outsider to this situation, and to have a consistent thread in a plot it helps to have a narrator or protagonist, and so perhaps it couldn’t be helped. But I felt that the characterization of the other people in this movie was somewhat lacking.

I also didn’t care for Branagh’s portrayal of Poirot. It’s a hard character, as Poirot is comic sometimes, and deadly serious at others. My first question was, why couldn’t someone who is actually Belgian (or at least French, although Poirot himself would probably hate that) play the role? I don’t know of any adaptations where Poirot has been played by a native French speaker – even David Suchet, who is probably the most famous Hercule Poirot, is English. That aside, I am not sure Branagh quite decided whether Poirot was to be amusing or dramatic, leading to a result that was an odd mix of both. In dramatic scenes, I personally much prefer if the actors almost whisper their lines instead of shouting them, as I find that far more intimidating. In the books, Poirot, while he can get worked up and raise his voice, is not really the kind of person I would expect to yell about something really serious. I wish Branagh had done that – it would have made the scene seem less like Poirot was flying off the handle, and more like Poirot was just barely keeping his anger on a leash. I will say, though, that his mustache was excellent. If you’re not familiar with Christie’s character, this may not seem like very important a point, but one of Poirot’s identifying attributes is his huge mustache, which David Suchet never really had. Also, Branagh did manage to bring out Poirot’s fastidious nature, which is another essential aspect of his character.

All in all, the movie was a really good one, if you didn’t compare it to the book. For that reason, I was wary of seeing it, but the fact that Judi Dench was in it convinced me otherwise (she, incidentally, does a magnificent job of adding a softer side to her character, the Princess Dragomiroff, than I thought existed in Christie’s portrayal). And there were no really major details changed, as far as I remember, though it has been a while since I last read the book. But if you did compare it to the novel, I think the nuances of Christie’s characters are perhaps explored more fully in the book, though the actors – I’m thinking of Michelle Pfeiffer and Judi Dench here – did a fine job of bringing out those nuances in the limited time they were given to do so.

I think the most perfect part was the opening song in the end credits. Sung by Michelle Pfeiffer, who plays a pivotal role in the cast,  was a beautiful fit, both by style and by lyrics – as such, it was almost haunting. Full of love, loss, and sorrow, it ended the movie on a fittingly melancholy note.

PREVIEW: Princess Ida

The show that the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society (UMGASS) is putting on this semester is Princess Ida. If you haven’t heard of Gilbert and Sullivan, they were a duo (a librettist and composer respectively) who wrote comic operas in the late 1800s. While the 1800s were a long time ago, the humor in the operas is as fresh now as it ever was. And it doesn’t hurt that UMGASS does a beautiful job of adding even more exuberance to that humor.

Gilbert and Sullivan operas are so absurd that it’s hard to know where to begin giving a synopsis. In the most general sense, Ida is about women’s education. But for more details, I recommend you come to the show.

Showtimes are Thursday 12/7 – Saturday 12/9 at 8pm, and Saturday 12/9 – Sunday 12/10 at 2pm. Tickets are available at umgass.brownpapertickets.com, at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Joy, Despite

Despite having done some research and being really excited about attending a poetry event this semester, I went to “Joy, Despite: Poetry Night in Ann Arbor” not really knowing what to expect. I knew it featured Ann Arbor teens and I had researched the headliners Kyndall Flowers, Dylan Gilbert, and Zaphra Stupple, but that was all. It completely surpassed any expectations I wasn’t aware of having, to create a night of joy.

As Marty Roper said in the opening statements, this show was about “transforming pain into purpose”. The result of this transformation left me alternating between emphatic snaps and thoughtful contemplation of my own interlocking identities; it is my opinion that this is the sign of good, if not great, art- when I, as a viewer, become so invested in a work that I begin to internalize and apply it to my own life. This experience left me honored to be in a space with these wonderful artists and their families.

Pieces touched on topics of class, race, gender, anxiety, depression, access to clean water, and ethnicity. The bravery and vulnerability these teens harnessed in expressing their stories was humbling and inspirational. All these amazing works culminated in a final piece together that pulled phrases and topics from each work performed that night. They were woven together in one huge final spoken word piece about diversity and power. The result hung in the air and remains with me a day later.

This experience and the feeling of having witnessed something genuine and unique, from people at most 4 years younger than myself, lead me to do more research on The Neutral Zone- the program that worked with all these artists to bring this show about. Here is a brief history of the group from their website:

 

“In 1998, a group of Ann Arbor teens gathered to discuss the need for a place where teens could congregate after school and on weekends. From the very beginning, they felt this place should be more than just a hangout; that is could be a safe place to make new friends, mix with youth from different backgrounds, explore new ideas, learn new skills and do it all in a setting that was teen friendly and teen driven. Teens wrote the mission statement and the first grant proposal to the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and, with seed money in hand, enlisted parents and friends to turn an old brick and timber warehouse into a teen center.”

Visit their website to learn more about ways to get involved and upcoming events!

 

PREVIEW: Joy, Despite

Poetry Night in Ann Arbor has been an event for 18 years now. But in my four years of living in Ann Arbor, I had never heard of it until I happened to open (and actually read) one of the all too frequent “upcoming event” emails that find their way into my saturated inbox. For some reason this one I didn’t immediately delete and now, I’m so excited to share a few details about the upcoming Poetry Night in Ann Arbor that I’m going to attend!

The title for this year’s performance is “Joy, Despite”. Their Facebook event describes this idea as: “The despite is obvious- despite hate, despite division, despite racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia. Despite natural disasters and man-made disasters. How do we love ourselves and each other?”.

The performance will feature local artists Kyndall Flowers, Dylan Gilbert and Zaphra Stupple. All of whom have won recognition within the community as excellent artists of their craft. In addition, 10 youth poets will be showcased in performances of spoken word and music. Located in the Keene Theater in East Quad, this event is sure to have something for college students and Ann Arbor residents alike.

Basic Info:
When: Saturday 11/11, 7-9pm
Where: Keene Theater
Tickets info

PREVIEW: Ragamala Dance Company

The Ragamala Dance Company is a group that performs the South Indian classical dance bharatanatyam. This performance will be based around the game Paramapadam (from which Snakes and Ladders originated) as well as the 12th-century Persian epic The Conference of the Birds. The board game will be represented by paintings projected on the floor, done by Chennai-based visual artist Keshav. “The live music for Written in Water is composed and performed by Amir ElSaffar, interwoven with original South Indian Carnatic compositions by Prema Ramamurthy” (UMS).

I have never been to a bharatanatyam performance with live music before, and ElSaffar’s music is a really beautiful blend of different styles. Furthermore, the fact that they are blending visual arts, music, and dance is so exciting. I can’t wait to see how they blend those types of art into the Hindu and Sufi traditions that form the context of the performance. The performance is Friday, October 20, at 8pm in the Power Center. Tickets are available at ums.org.

(Photo credit: Bruce Palmer/UMS)

REVIEW: L’etat de Siege (State of Siege)

I want to say I was mindblown. But I left the theater mostly confused and somewhat annoyed.  Some comments:

I liked the metaphors: “Black horses of love.” “Summer is here.”” Winter is coming. (wink wink) ” My brain wore new clothes each time a supertitle spat out a line of beautiful poetic imagery. Each of these metaphors added new dimension to my understanding of different concepts. I can taste the salt of the sea when I hold “freedom” in my mouth, for example. Whenever I hear “repression” in my polsci class, I’m reminded of the claustrophobia created by Plague’s rule over the people. “Love”, to me, clings like the primeval, earthy smell of manure.

I liked the setup: The black garbage bag-like material that was spread across the stage created an eery sense of suspense: its supposed to CONCEAL something in or under the floor. And yes, Death and Plague showed up from underneath. The weirdly detached voice recording of a man in the beginning of the performance was a pleasant “addition” to the performance. He didn’t seem to show up after the first few seconds but it was entertaining for a while. The videos shown above the stage complemented the themes of the play. When the governor was speaking and the screens showed his silently screaming face, it gave a Big Brother-esque vibe to the play.

This is “Death” talking.

But I just didn’t enjoy the performance:

 (a) Maybe it’s just the times. I wasn’t able to enjoy it because it was not relevant to me. I don’t “see” the problems that the performance seemed to be harping about. But maybe that’s just because the play was written during World War 2 when totalitarian and fascist governments really did make cities feel more like coffins.

(b) Maybe it was just too “romantic” for me. I don’t know. One of the messages I got from the play was that one must be able to forget the fear of death to initiate regime change. Hm. It seems to particularly glorify this romantic martyr mentality instead of, I would say, the more important pragmatic coordination needed to create a successful revolution (it’s almost polsci midterms, so I’m reviewing my notes simultaneously). I know the play is not a handbook, but I’m also questioning its appropriateness in our time, when populists who appeal to emotion are starting to take the reins and terrorists are able to convince people to die for their cause by painting visions of heaven.

Diego can run away with Victoria, giving the city to Plague. Or he can die for Victoria to live.

(c) I didn’t understand the “jokes”. It made me salty.