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Tag Archive: Kenneth Branagh


 

Review by C.J. Bunce

This month Marvel is celebrating the first ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a look back at the first three phases of the films in a new hardcover book, Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years With the March 2019 release of Captain Marvel the official fourth phase of the MCU will begin.  With that shift to a new era quickly approaching, as well as an uncertain future thanks to the imminent completion of the acquisition of the X-Men characters, and the 10-year benchmark, it’s a good time to assess all Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige was able to pull together beginning way back when we first saw Robert Downey, Jr. don the Iron Man armor for the first time.  This nostalgic trip back over the past decade will be published by Titan in conjunction with Marvel.

Readers will find interviews with Feige, co-president Louis D’Esposito, Stan Lee, Jon Favreau, Kenneth Branagh, Anthony and Joe Russo, James Gunn, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jeremy Renner, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, Chadwick Boseman, Evangeline Lilly, Karen Gillan, Don Cheadle, Sebastian Stan, Gwyneth Paltrow, William Hurt, and Josh Brolin.  Multi-page sections focus on each of the 22 films in the series.  High-quality color photographs accompany the discussion of each film in chronological order, most with behind-the-scenes images, like a great image of all the parts to Ant-Man’s helmet laid out on a table.

Fascinating discussion points include D’Esposito pointing out how the produces intentionally made each new film a different genre, not just a superhero movie.  He also indicates that casting Robert Downey, Jr. was the most important casting decision of the franchise.  Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn talks about using the soundtracks on set for everyone to get the feel of the two Guardians movies.  The book even provides some preview information for next year’s Captain Marvel movie.  And there are several Easter eggs that most fans will have never read about anywhere else, often 10 or more for each film (the Collector and the Grandmaster are brothers?).  Here are a few pages from Marvel Studios: The First Ten Years:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Something about a film created contemporary to the World War II years automatically lends itself to a greater level of authenticity than the modern attempt at an epic war film.  Dunkirk is one of those modern large-scale productions, falling in line behind the likes of 1998’s Saving Private Ryan and 2001’s Pearl Harbor.  Dunkirk is better than both, and although it doesn’t have the gravitas of 1993’s Schindler’s List and is not as nail-biting as something like 1981’s Das Boot, Dunkirk still provides some good nuggets of emotion as we hone in on a dozen soldiers, sailors, and civilians attempting to get to the end of a week during the Battle of France–May 26 to June 4, 1940.  Dunkirk doesn’t tell a story full of intrigue like 2008’s Valkyrie, but its reflection of the war seems all the more reality-based despite not using film methods like that of Steven Spielberg, who tends to film historical settings with filters that make audiences feel more like “we were there.”  The most important lessons of history can be found in the study of World War II so any World War II film is a success if it can tell a story of brave leadership, brave soldiering, and accountability of the citizenry as Dunkirk does.

Dunkirk comes closest to Saving Private Ryan, presenting a believable wide-scope, giant battlefield, then bringing viewers into the brief encounters and interactions of a few.  Compelling roles are shared evenly in the three stories by actors young and old–most importantly is newcomer Fionn Whitehead playing a soldier who barely makes it to the battlefield and then seems to have nothing but bad luck as he must make life-and-death choices at every step to try to get closer to home.  From the older set, Mark Rylance (Wolf Hall, The BFG, Ready Player One) is a stoic Brit civilian who has his own reasons to try to bring some soldiers home.  And Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises) plays the key fighter pilot, whose fuel gauge is broken and his assistance from other squadrons is nil.  The aerial dogfights aren’t the exciting stuff of war movies of the past, but the story doesn’t really call for that.  The theme is in the numbers:  Can any individual beat the odds with the German fighter aircraft returning for further attacks on the beach, on the escort and attack vessels, and against the three British airplanes?  Who will make it home, and who will not?

Director Christopher Nolan engages a unique story device, telling three stories simultaneously.  The first begins a week before the finale that follows the fate of 400,000 British ground forces (with a few French soldiers) waiting to be picked up on the beach in Dunkirk for transport back to England after the failure to secure France (or picked off by enemy strafing).  The second story begins one day before the finale, as a man, his son, and a friend answer the call in England for civilian boats to head across the channel to Dunkirk to transport troops home.  The third story begins one hour prior to the end, and follows three British pilots trying to stave off a German aerial assault on the beachhead.  Despite the spliced intersections of three clocks, Nolan makes it work.  Astonishingly the audience is reeled into the story even if we learn almost nothing about the backstory of any character in the film.  The best takeaway?  The relative value in war of one man in a single fighter plane vs. 400,000 ground troops.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Many have asked:  Why make another Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express?  You could just as easily ask: Why adapt another Shakespeare play?  Or Why make another Sherlock Holmes series?  When your story is great, and becomes as classic as Agatha Christie’s famous, timeless 1934 novel, it’s sort of the point of cinema, isn’t it?  From an actor standpoint, being in one of the film versions of Murder on the Orient Express, and portraying such iconic roles, is something like being cast as King Lear.  And who better than Kenneth Branagh to inject his own vision of the story into a new snapshot of acting greats for a new era of audience members?  Of Branagh’s twenty directorial pursuits, you must go back to the early era of Dead Again and Peter’s Friends to find Branagh not serving as puppetmaster of someone else’s well-known world, whether it’s Shakespeare in Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet (and the list goes on), or adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Marvel Comics’ Thor, Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Branagh is the king of directing adaptations and remakes.  Add Murder on the Orient Express to that list, a faithful adaptation of the book, stylishly filmed with lavish, sweeping sets and landscapes courtesy of cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos, Branagh’s choice cameraman on four of his past films.

The year’s casting award goes to Lucy Bevan for bring filmgoers back to the age of the all-star cast, where you’d look to 1970s disaster movies (Airport ’76, Towering Inferno, Earthquake) or the odd comedy (think It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) for a pantheon of stars like that found in Orient Express.  Branagh as Hercule Poirot sports that classic era moustache with confidence (Christie herself called Poirot’s moustache “magnificent” and “immense”) and he adds his own quirks and humor to Christie’s legendary greatest detective, providing a new twist on the Holmes/Monk/House, M.D. frustrated genius detective archetype.  So many of the cast members appear every bit like Golden Age film stars here, including Branagh, Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and Leslie Odom, Jr., with a particularly engaging performance by Tom Bateman as Poirot’s friend Bouc, in what will no doubt be seen as a great breakout role for the actor.

The film will be best for those unfamiliar with the story.  A famous detective receives a message requiring him to squeeze onto a full train at the last minute with a little more than a dozen passengers aboard.  When one passenger who fears for his life and requests assistance from the detective winds up dead in a brutal, bloody murder, the whodunit begins.  Once a snowy avalanche blocks the path of the train, the game is afoot as the delay provides enough time for Detective Poirot to begin interviewing the passengers.  The mystery is laid out with several clues, including just enough to allow the viewer to figure out who killed the victim if he/she is paying close attention.  And Branagh stages the investigation like a game of Clue/Cluedo–including overhead angles that at times make the viewer feel like Murder on the Orient Express is indeed a virtual reality version of the board game.  We know the murder weapons and the location, but who is responsible for the death and why?

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So long as you have a compelling story to tell, sometimes having all the right people on the big screen is enough of a reason to sit through a movie.  But Agathie Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is like watching a play by Shakespeare.  You already know the story is excellent, and the challenge is how creatively the latest director will manipulate the strings and how deftly the actors will portray the characters.

The latest adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express has all the right components for a movie-lover’s two hours of bliss.  How will Kenneth Branagh orchestrate his next opus?  Like the magnificent Henry V or Much Ado About Nothing?  We can hope.  How will this room full of master thespians of the British and American schools play off each other?  Aren’t you inkling to find out?

This latest trailer for the film (see the first here if you missed it) expands the reach of the first, giving us a good look at Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, and Branagh directing Branagh as Inspector Poirot.  Other stars include Derek Jacobi, Judi Dench, Leslie Odom, Jr., Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Josh Gad, and Olivia Colman.  And don’t forget, publicity for the film has indicated that the clues of the crime are everywhere, including in posters and the trailers for the film.

Here is the second trailer for Murder on the Orient Express:

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Everyone is a suspect.  The clues are everywhere.  For mystery lovers, it’s a staple.  It’s Agatha Christie’s most well-known 1934 novel come to life, Murder on the Orient Express, the fourth major production for film or television of the classic whodunit in the English language–the 1974 Academy Award winning Sidney Lumet film being the best known.  For the older generation the story is known, but for a new generation the stage is set for a big screen version of Clue/Cluedo.  As with the 1974 version, the cast of the 2017 version is extraordinary.

So how do you cast a film against the last generation of film greats?  Leading a bevy of thespian knights and dames, Sir Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars as master detective Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, played previously by Albert Finney (who refused a knighthood in the year 2000).  Sir Derek Jacobi plays the butler Edward Henry Masterman in a role played by Sir John Gielgud in the earlier version.  Dame Judi Dench plays Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, formerly played by Dame Wendy Hiller.  In an update for the new version, American actor Leslie Odom, Jr. (Supernatural, Gotham) takes on the role of Doctor (formerly Colonel) Arbuthnott, played previously by Sir Sean Connery.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley as governess Mary Debenham, formerly played by Dame Vanessa Redgrave.

The list of American actors includes a fascinating mix of genre favorites old and new.  Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp takes on the role played before by Richard Widmark as the debonair businessman Edward Ratchett.  Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer is widow Harriet Hubbard, a role played in the 1974 film by Lauren Bacall.  Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe is Professor Gerhard Hardman, played earlier by Colin Blakely.  Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz plays a newly named character, Pilar Estravados, a missionary, in the part played before by Ingrid Bergman.  Rounding out the cast is Josh Gad (Frozen) as Ratchett’s assistant Hector McQueen (played before by Anthony Perkins), and British TV regular Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, The Night Manager) plays the maid Hildegarde Schmidt (previously played by Rachel Roberts).

Take a look at this first trailer for the new Murder on the Orient Express:

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Fassbender Macbeth

Henry V is probably the best of William Shakespeare’s dramas adapted for film, garnering for director and lead actor Kenneth Branagh two Oscar nominations.  For the bloodiest of Shakespeare’s plays, Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds, X-Men franchise, Prometheus, Jonah Hex) will take the crown as the title character in this year’s Studiocanal production of Macbeth.  Oscar winner Marion Cotillard (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception) will take on the prized role of Lady Macbeth.

From the first trailer released for the latest Macbeth, we can see plenty that may indicate this film is in the same league as Branagh’s film.  Plenty of artistry in the cinematography and costumes, and indications that some real effort went into the battle scenes.  And isn’t Fassbender a dead ringer for Richard Harris in Camelot?

macbeth movie poster fassbender

Other familiar actors featured in the film include David Thewlis (Timeline, the Harry Potter franchise, RED 2, DragonHeart), Paddy Considine (Hot Fuzz, The Bourne Ultimatum, The World’s End), Elizabeth Debicki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and David Hayman (Shetland, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit).

Here’s the first trailer for director Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth:

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Keira Knightley in Shadow Recruit

Whether or not Keira Knightley wins the Academy Award this year for her role as a World War II codebreaker opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game (which we reviewed previously at borg.com here) we’re confident she will have one or more Oscars on the shelf years from now.  She was one of our picks in our Best of 2014 review.  A lead actress who could pull off any role, she seems to opt for more quirky and challenging roles.  These include her role as a bounty hunter in Domino, but also classic costume drama parts, like Lara in the remake of Doctor Zhivago, Elizabeth Bennet in Pride & Prejudice, and an against-type Guinevere in King Arthur, genre roles like Padme’s double in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, a withering-away clone in the disturbing sci-fi drama Never Let Me Go, or Disney franchise star in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Last year Knightley also co-starred in a major studio release, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, as the future Mrs. Jack Ryan opposite Chris Pine, holding her own with the likes of Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh.  The first expansion film of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan stories, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is now out on DVD, Blu-ray and On Demand.

Jack Ryan Chris Pine

As Cathy Muller, a role previously played by Gates McFadden, Anne Archer, and Bridget Moynihan, she’s the first actress to take the part beyond emotional support stalwart for Jack.  In a franchise full of large, in your-face-drama: a nuclear sub about to explode in The Hunt for Red October, battling terrorists in Patriot Games or drug kingpins in Clear and Present Danger, and a dirty bomb smuggled into the country taking out an entire city in Sum of All Fears, it’s a big surprise that Shadow Recruit’s big event is tied to a discovery in forensic accounting by Ryan, leading to a potential economic crisis and small scale bombing.  Yet unlike A Good Day to Die Hard, a sequel using a similar plot (proving that once popular franchise is too tired to continue), the prospect of a young couple working together within Ryan’s secret CIA world in Clancy’s universe of global espionage is a bit refreshing.  And Knightley is probably the highlight of the film.

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Star Wars Episode VII photo

We’ve just wound down another year of big movies–from Captain America: The Winter Soldier to X-Men: Days of Future Past to Guardians of the Galaxy to The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. So what’s on the radar at borg.com for 2015? We think you’ll want to see several of these big sci-fi, fantasy, superhero, and action flicks coming to a screen near you next year.

Vice movie poster Bruce Willis

Vice – Jan. 16 – The next in a long line of Bruce Willis action flicks.  This time it’s a sci-fi story about a future resort where humans freely pursue their vices–with artificial humans.

Wild Card movie poster

Wild Card – Jan. 30 – A story based on a novel by Academy Award winning writer William Goldman, starring Jason Statham as a gambler.

Kingsman movie poster

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Feb. 13 – This Colin Firth as spy action flick will tell us once and for all whether Firth would be a good choice to play James Bond.  With an all-star cast including Mark Hamill, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, and Samuel L. Jackson.

Chappie movie poster A

Chappie – March 6 – Neill Blomkamp’s latest science fiction entry.  A Pinocchio story where a robot learns to live among humans.

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borg-label hall-of-fame-label

After climbing over our 1,000th daily post at borg.com this week, it’s time to update the borg.com Hall of Fame, with borg in genre fiction from past, present, and future, and from all media.  Click here for our “About” page if you need a refresher on what makes a borg a borg.

Some of these more than two dozen borg inductees were overlooked in our initial list.  A few may or may not be borg, depending on your point of view.  Robots or androids that look perfectly human, for example, that have organic looking material but may not have actual living tissue are not technically cyborgs.  But if Cylons are borg, we think most of the characters below should be considered borg, too.

So here is Round 2, the 2014 borg.com Hall of Fame honorees, in no particular order:

harrycobra photo on flickriver of Mike Power

Mike Power, the Atomic Man from the 1970s.  We hope he shows up again in this year’s The Six Million Dollar Man, Season 6, from Dynamite Comics.

Borg HOF TMNT Slayer becomes Rat King in 2003 animated series

In the 2003 animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was revealed the Rat King was once the Slayer, a bio-mechanical super soldier prototype.

Borg HOF Vandroid

From Dark Horse Comics’ 2014 comic book series, we have Vandroid.  Chuck Carducci is a mechanic.  Chuck is also an android created by Chuck, but does he have any humanity?  This one is just out so we’ll know for sure soon whether Vandroid is a borg or not.

Borg HOF Manborg

From the low-budget sci-fi B-movie, we reviewed Manborg here at borg.com back in 2013.

Skektek

From the classic fantasy movie The Dark Crystal, it’s SkekTek the Skeksis scientist who had multiple bionic parts.

Borg HOF Almost Human Kennex and Dorian

From 2013’s new TV series Almost Human, Karl Urban’s detective John Kennex (who has a cybernetic leg) is a borg, but is his partner, Michael Ealy’s out-dated android Dorian?  The newer model police officers appear to be androids only, but is there any organic part, any living tissue, in Dorian?

Borg HOF Almost Human cyborg prostitute

Almost Human features a society full of androids (including the prostitute, above)–some with illegally-trafficked actual human skin–real skin, which, of course, makes them borg.  We don’t know if Dorian has any organic material yet.

Borg HOF cybernetic Gunslinger from A Town Called Mercy Doctor Who

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jack ryan shadow recruit poster

After Tom Clancy’s passing this week, fans of his biggest character, Jack Ryan, have been introduced to a new phase of the movie incarnations of his geopolitical thriller novels with this weekend’s release of the first trailer for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.  Last December we at borg.com listed Jack Ryan as one of the ten characters to watch in 2013, and we included Jack Ryan, the movie, as one of the 24 films we predicted would be worth seeing in 2013.

Since last year’s announcement of Chris Pine taking on the lead, the title was changed to add the subtitle Shadow Recruit, replacing the prior subtitle Shadow One (we think Hollywood really needs to work on their subtitles).  The role of Jack Ryan was, of course, first played by Alec Baldwin in The Hunt for Red October in 1990, followed by Harrison Ford in Patriot Games in 1992 and Clear and Present Danger in 1994.  Ben Affleck then played a younger Jack in the 2002 prequel film The Sum of All Fears.  All four of these movies were based on bestselling Clancy novels, The Hunt for Red October often being listed as one of the best thrillers of all time.  Likewise, The Hunt for Red October is one of the best, and most exciting, movies of all time, with Alec Baldwin’s performance still the standard for future Ryans to be measured against.

Costner and Pine in Jack Ryan

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