MY TOP 10 EASTER MOVIES NOT USUALLY ON ANYONE ELSE’S LIST

AUDIO OPTION OF MY TOP 10 EASTER MOVIES NOT USUALLY ON ANYONE ELSE’S LIST

There are a number of traditional Easter movies we turn to every year – and rightly so.

The Passion of the Christ is at the top of that list. Directed by Mel Gibson and starring Jim Caviezel, this 2004 movie is based upon the Gospels as well as the writings of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of Our Savior’s walk to Calvary. The Passion is a difficult watch and not one I would recommend for children or even some adults. Accurate in its intensity, there can be no mistake of the suffering and degradation Our Lord went through as expiation for our sins. And because of that alone it is often difficult for anyone to watch, let alone believers who understand that even now, outside of time, our sins make us complicit in putting Jesus on the Cross.

If you CAN watch this remarkable film I strongly encourage you to do so. If not this year, then at some time in your life. It should be on most people’s bucket list.

There are other films, though, which help convey this message. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a beautiful but far more sanitized version of the life of Jesus. Covering His birth to His Resurrection, this old classic stars Max von Sydow and features an array of actors who would be familiar to anyone fond of old World War II or epic costume dramas of the 1950’s and 1960’s: Telly Savalas, David McCallum, Donald Pleasance, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, Martin Landau, Charlton Heston, and Roddy MacDowell, among others

1959’s Ben Hur, starring Charlton Heston, is an inspiring gem of a film, about two life shattering encounter-moments with Christ that re-inform the life of an unjustly punished man.

These, as well as many other traditional films, are magnificent and should be seen multiple times.

But I wanted to suggest a broader field of vision this year. I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to consider films which are either lesser known or whose Christ-like self-sacrificing moments are under appreciated.

Many movies today lionize the idea of revenge, following the motto of Bruce Willis’ John McClane, from Live Free or Die Hard. When asked what his plan was to save his daughter, McClane quips: “Find Lucy. Kill everybody else.” The cinemas are rife with vengeance porn bloodbaths: The John Wick franchise, the Taken series, the Kill Bills, Peppermint, Death Wish, True Grit

And I’m not saying all these movies are bad. Some are classics. And some, like Dark Knight, make it clear that the desire for revenge can corrupt and destroy you. Nor am I absolving myself from admitting to be a fan of these often cathartic films.

But – there is something inherently and far more satisfying, not to mention noble and Christ-like, in stories wherein one character sacrifices himself to save a stranger or even an enemy. So here is my list of 10 movies – some of which may surprise you – which include self-sacrifice on behalf of a stranger or enemy.

BEYOND HERE BE SPOILERS

While there are dozens of others I could have included on the following list, here is my top 10 (plus) from least to most notable of my personal favorite:

MOVIES DEMONSTRATING UNEXPECTED EXAMPLES OF CHRIST-LIKE SACRIFICE

SERIOUSLY – SPOILERS BELOW – AS IN – I GIVE AWAY ENDINGS AND/OR KEY PLOT POINTS TO  A BUNCH OF MOVIES. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!

10. Starting with an example for my fellow nerds – Avengers: Age of Ultron is about super heroes combating an evil super A.I. During the course of the movie, two characters who had been antagonists to our good guys, Scarlett Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) switch sides. During the course of one of the battles against Ultron’s AI bots, Quicksilver throws himself, as a shield, in front of Hawkeye, one of his former opponents, who is, in turn, shielding a child with his body. Quicksilver takes the brunt of the bullets and dies. Greater love hath no man…

9. In Armageddon, Bruce Willis, instead of killing everybody else, chooses to die in the place of his daughter’s fiancé, a man with whom he has had a love-hate relationship throughout the movie, in order to save the world.

8. X-Men: Days of Future Past, casts Magneto (Ian McKellen) as our unexpected hero. Magneto, who has been at lethal odds with Patrick Stewart’s Professor X and company throughout the course of three previous movies (four if you count The Wolverine) places himself between an overwhelming force of deadly mutant-hunting robots and his life long friend/nemesis Charles Xavier.

7. Dramatically moving is the moment in 1982’s Blade Runner wherein Harrison Ford’s Deckard has a final confrontation with Rutger Hauer’s Roy Batty. Batty is an android who Deckard has been chasing throughout most of the movie. By showdown time Deckard has killed most of Batty’s friends and pursued the android to a rooftop where Batty gets the literal upper hand over the bounty hunter. Batty grabs Deckard just as Deckard loses his grip on a slick rain soaked pipe from which he would have plummeted to his death. But instead of gloating over his pursuer’s brutal demise, Batty lifts Deckard, his tormentor and would be executioner, in an act of mercy, to safety minutes before his own time is up and his predetermined android life span ends.

6. A little known movie worth the watch in this theme is Baby Boom. Baby Boom stars Diane Keaton, a darling of the late 1970’s through early 1990’s cinema, (most particularly from Annie Hall, the Godfather saga and the Father of the Bride movies). Keaton plays JP Wiatt, a wealthy and successful advertising executive who inherits a young toddler from a deceased cousin. The key turning point in the movie comes early when JP has the opportunity to “dump” this child on a willing foster family. But, knowing in her heart of hearts what she will ultimately have to give up, she just can’t bring herself to do it and turns her life upside down, inside out and leaves everything she values behind, in order to start over as a mother. With a supporting cast of Harold Ramis (actor in Ghostbusters, director/writer of Groundhog Day), James Spader (Ultron as well as “Red” Reddington from Blacklist), Sam Shepard (actor in The Right Stuff and prolific stage and screenplay writer), it is a shame this charming and warm hearted movie did not get more positive attention.

5. The end of the 1935 version of Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities sees Ronald Coleman’s dissipate Sydney Carlton dying on the guillotine for another man’s happy ending: “Tis a far far better thing that I do than I have ever done …” He takes the place of the noble Darnay, the husband of the woman, Lucie, he loves but who Carlton knows does not love him. Carlton subjects himself to a shameful and terrifying death for the love of someone he could have claimed but was not truly his.

4. Rain Man a brilliantly acted and beautifully quiet film, stars American cinematic icon and chameleon Dustin Hoffman and the ever ebullient and watchable Tom Cruise. Cruise plays Charlie, a selfish and cynically manipulative man. When Charlie’s father dies, Charlie takes custody of his autistic brother, Raymond, solely to get access to the three million dollars left to Raymond’s trust fund. But during the course of a cross country trek Charlie develops a genuine and completely altruistic love for this man, even knowing Raymond will never be capable of returning or even acknowledging the bond.

3. Molokai: The Story of Father Damien stars David Wenham (Lord of the Rings). The movie is based on the true story of Father Damien who feels inexorably pulled to offer up the prime of his life to a leper colony, knowing he will eventually catch and succumb to the disease that ravages the inhabitants. Also starring Peter O’Toole (Lord Jim, Lion in Winter among a plethora of famous performances), Derek Jacobi (the great Shakespearean actor who has worked with Kenneth Branagh on many films from Hamlet to Murder on the Orient Express), Kris Kristofferson (country singer turned actor), Alice Krige (Star Trek: First Contact), and Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) this film is a moving portrait of a truly Christ-like example of loving another as oneself. This one could be watched by mid-teens and up with parental supervision.

2. After The Passion, the most difficult to watch is Calvary, a story about Father James, portrayed by Brendan Gleeson, a flawed man but good priest, who spends his life in caring for a difficult flock, and takes upon himself the punishment for another man’s sins. With a supporting cast which includes Gleeson’s son Domhnall, the usually jaunty Chris O’Dowd who takes on a very different role this time, and the familiar face of M. Emmett Walsh, this is a movie that you will not easily forget. Language, violence, and extreme topics of serial killers, arson, murder and child sex abuse make this one movie STRICTLY for adults, and only those who are well formed in their faith, as well as with a sturdy emotional constitution.

RUNNER UP

Before revealing my number one pic, I can not neglect a favorite moment from the Cumberbatch/Freeman Sherlock films. (Yes, I know they are technically TV shows, but at 90 minutes each and with a quality of acting and writing that outshines the vast majority of what hits the big screen, these qualify as movies.) In The Final Problem Holmes (Benedict Cumberbatch), Watson (Martin Freeman) and Mycroft (Sherlock’s estranged brother, played by Mark Gatiss) are trapped by a psychopath into a sadistic game where Holmes must choose to kill either his best and arguably only friend, Watson, or his brother. Mycroft then proceeds to explain very coldly and succinctly why Sherlock should kill Watson, putting forth a rather compelling argument why Watson is the weak link in their predicament. But it is a ruse. Mycroft knows that Sherlock would eventually be able to forgive himself for killing his own brother but it would destroy him to kill Watson. So Mycroft attempts reverse psychology to goad Sherlock into sparing Watson, effectively offering himself up in Watson’s place.  Sherlock understands Mycroft is trying to make this sacrifice so INSTEAD Sherlock, in an act to save BOTH Watson and Mycroft chooses…to shoot himself. (What happens next I’ll leave to you to watch and find out. But you MUST see this stunningly creative, intelligent, witty and masterfully acted show in order of production.)

1. Saving the best for last is the original Gene Wilder led 1971 Willie Wonka  and the Chocolate Factory. This quirky and whimsical musical features Wilder as the eponymous and very eccentric sweets inventor Wonka, who leads a group of ticket-winning children through his mysterious Oompa Loompa-run candy factory.

At the start of the tour all are given an “Everlasting Gobstopper” and cautioned to give it to no one else as the recipe is coveted. All but one have been co-opted into stealing secrets from Wonka by a competitor.

Charlie (Jack Ostrum) is a gentle and honorable child who only wishes to obtain the life time chocolate supply, promised as part of the prize, for his desperately poor family. The rest of the group are indulged, selfish, and one by one fall away from the group as they succumb to their particular vices – gluttony, pride, avarice, and obsession with TV. Charlie and his Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson), are guilty of having snuck a sip of Fizzy Lifting Drink, an infraction for which they are almost immediately repentant and, as they are allowed to continue with the tour, we assume is a minor piccadillo.

However, at the end of the day, Wonka, who up to now had been especially kind to Charlie, turns nasty and informs them that they, too, have forfeited the prize chocolate, then abruptly and rudely dismissed them. A livid Grandpa Joe tells Wonka off then pulls Charlie aside and advises him to sell the souvenir Gobstopper to Slugworth, the corporate spy.

Instead, believing Wonka unaware of the competition’s espionage attempts, Charlie meekly places the candy on Wonka’s desk, thereby protecting Wonka’s secret but foregoing the promised fortune he could have obtained from Slugworth. Charlie sacrifices his future to save someone who has betrayed and deeply hurt him.

Wonka then quietly says one of the most touching lines in cinematic history: “So shines a good deed in a weary world.”  It had all been a test to judge Charlie’s mettle as, and after apologizing to Charlie and Grandpa Joe, a positively effervescent Wonka reveals to Charlie the real prize was the entire factory. Charlie is to be Wonka’s heir.

The Christian imagery is unmistakable and no doubt the reason for this telling’s decades old endurance as a family favorite: Wonka allows all the children to be tempted. In a perspicuous, albeit child-like and abbreviated tracking of Pilgrim’s Progress, most fall away, but not Charlie. Charlie turns down a lifetime of worldly goods to save his betrayer, an offering which results in Charlie being taken up as an heir to the confectionary paradise and ends with a literal rise to the Heavens in a floating elevator.

Unlike the other films mentioned here, this one is accessible to children as well as entertaining for adults.

So there you have my Easter gift of what I hope is a new perspective on films which offer unusual gateways into the examples offered by Jesus of forgiveness, mercy, and love.

By acceptance of His own horrific death for the expiation of our sins, Jesus gave us the template to follow in our own infinitely smaller ways. These movies, famous and obscure, old and recent, from a variety of genres, I think, demonstrate some of the many many movies which bear witness to the many many ways we can find opportunity to die to ourselves for the sake of another. And I hope you find LOTS more.

Love charitably those around you and have a Blessed, Christ-like, Happy … and self-giving … Easter.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD – DEAD RINGER FOR THE REAL THING

AUDIO PODCAST OPTION OF ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD REVIEW

SHORT TAKE:

A classically Tarentino revisionist history of a terrible event during the 1960’s seen through the prism of a fading TV star and his stunt double in an intricately detailed and brain shockingly familiar re-creation of the 1960’s.

WHO SHOULD GO:

ADULTS! ONLY ADULTS! And only adults who have fairly strong constitutions. While there really are no sex scenes, the language is frequently raw and occasionally vulgar topics are discussed in crude ways, but there are a few fight scenes and one long scene of extremely gory and prolonged violence.

LONG TAKE:

Allow me to begin this review by quoting GK Chesterton:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Reviewing this movie puts me in an awkward position for a number of reasons. For one, it is a typically Tarentino violent and sexually charged film but one I thought extremely well done and worth viewing. For another I don’t want to unduly spoil anything in the movie but need to set the stage for one of the most vile moments in American history without either scaring off prospective appropriate film goers or giving away too much.

So keeping all this in mind:

SPOILERS FOR OUATIH AS WELL AS IRON MAN, WONDER WOMAN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, AND X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE

There’s a YouTube show called How it Should Have Ended, a PG if not G-rated comedy, which points out inconsistencies, crosses universe franchise storylines, and evaluates any plot flaws in movies which rely on nonsensical stupidity to set up the premise or move the story along. They animate scenes and do very credible voice impersonations showing, for better or worse, what is likely to have really happened had common sense prevailed in a given situation.

For examples, they: point out how a man as smart as Doctor Strange would not have texted on a winding road, going super fast, in the dark, but would have hung up the phone and planned to call later; demonstrate how Iron Man’s quicker, lighter and faster suit, along with his flying experience would have easily defeated Obadiah Stane at the end of Iron Man; introduced Wolverine to assist  Wonder Woman; clearly showed in a spoof of the theme song from Beauty and the Beast that Belle was a victim of Stockholm Syndrome; and exhibit how Mr. Incredible probably would have loved Syndrome’s childhood inventions instead of shunning him with far more positive results.

Similarly, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is aptly named, for it is a fairy tale, if you consider, as Joe Harper did in Kenneth Branagh’s A Midwinter’s Tale that “most fairy tales turn out to be nightmares”, which explores the alternate possibilities in life.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays the fictitious fading star Rick Dalton, a composite of every little known ’60’s TV show one trick pony and Brad Pitt is his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (based loosely on Burt Reynold’s stunt double Hal Needham). Where Rick is a fragile bag of regrets and insecurities off camera, Rick exudes a tough cowboy presence 24/7.

Likely the best acting job of either DiCaprio or Pitt, and almost the only two people who do not play historically documentable figures, they avoid what easily could have been caricatures to create two very different but vulnerable men who are survivors at their core. Despite the background story, their downwardly spiraling respective careers and the omnipresent spectre of the looming profoundly malevolent event on the horizon, dreadful to anticipate for anyone familiar with this year, these two archetype examples of crank-’em-out TV show stars from the ’60’s manage to be likeable, interesting, relatable, appealing and, like yeast in a barrel of flour, lighten the mood of every scene they are in.

This is a very “META” concept outing – with actors portraying real people who portrayed characters in movies and TV shows similar to the ones being filmed withIN the confines of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Whew.

The acting of the supporting cast, most of whom do play real people, is terrific. Among a large cast: Margot Robbie is the sweet and gentle but vacuous Sharon Tate. Dakota Fanning does a gut clenching quietly evil rendition of Manson follower Squeaky Fromme. And Mike Moh has all the mannerisms down for what can only be described as a Bruce Lee caricature (for which his surviving daughter, Shannon Lee, has taken exception). But one of the most impressive was Damien Lewis’ Steve MacQueen (The Great Escape, The Thomas Crown Affair). With just his voice and gestures he brings this cinema icon back to life for just a few wonderful movie moments.

In addition, there are some wonderful cameos from Al Pacino (1972’s The Godfather), Kurt Russell (from Disney’s 1969’s Computer Wore Tennis Shoes to Snake Plissken in Escape From New York) who has a small part as stunt coordinator Randy and provides some V.O. narration, and Bruce Dern (1972’s eco-warning sci fi Silent Running), actors whose careers were pretty much “born” during this period of time.

And then there are little Easter Eggs that you might miss unless you look closely, like Mama Cass from the Mamas and the Papas who greets Tate at the Playboy Mansion, and someone who can only be Twiggy talking to Steve MacQueen. NOT to mention the resurrection of the old TV show Lancer, including Wayne Maunder (portrayed by Luke Perry) and cigarette commercials which are startlingly accurate dopplegangers to the ones we watched on TV as kids.

The songs are beautifully handpicked for the right moments like bouquets placed around a professionally decorated room featuring the likes of: “Good Thing” from Paul Revere and the Raiders, Neil Diamond’s “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show”, and “California Dreamin'” by Jose Feliciano.

And the sets, pacing of interviews, acting styles of the actors as they performed the shows within the movie, costumes, blunt and awkward dialogue all open a portal into a world I have not experienced in more than half a century. It was jarringly realistic. Tarantino even cleverly placed throughout the movie the awkward and jerky edits often experienced in watching a show from my youth, as the more humble equipment just did not produce the smoother transitions we all demand today, subtly evoking that era, as well as reminding us this is all just a fantasy, a wishful thinking creation of a cinematic mind.

If he has done nothing else, Tarantino has done a stunning job of disabusing me of any temptations to nostalgia for the era in his pinpoint accurate recreation of the world in which I grew up – the ’60’s with its emphasis on: the constant generation of cigarette smoke, plastic furniture, ridiculously high miniskirts, obnoxious self-aggrandizing hippies, sparse air conditioning, unchallenged snake oil salesmen, terrible TV shows, black and white monitors with Vietnam in the background, and condescending talking heads masquerading as newscasters (OK we still have those).

Don’t get me wrong. I loved it while I was living it but in the stark light of a Tarantino day – let’s just say that walks down Memory Lane should be taken sparingly.

And then there is the specific history of that particular “moment” in time.

In order to appreciate the pervasive sense of suspense and anxiety that hangs over the entire movie, you have to understand the backdrop in which the story plays out. The movie takes place during the year preceding the slaughter of Sharon Tate, her baby and guests on the night of August 9th 1969. On that terrible night, a cult leader name Charles Manson sent his followers out to kill everyone in the house on Cielo Drive. The people there were not just murdered they were savaged. A pregnant Sharon Tate, two weeks from delivery, was hung up and butchered like cattle. The rest were bludgeoned, shot, and stabbed dozens of times. Anyone old enough or well read enough to be familiar with this event knows it is coming — and protagonist Rick lives next door.

The next day, before their capture, Manson and his hippies did the same to a couple named LaBianca. It is hard to appreciate how this atmosphere of evil informed those days unless you lived through it…or watched this movie.

It was largely thought that the 1960’s “died” that day, (ignoring the fact that, well yes, 4-1/2months later it would be 19–SEVENTY, but I get the drift), replacing the open door “love is in the air” perception of the flower child with the reality that these people engaged in highly dysfunctional and destructive behaviors, who were predominantly a danger to themselves and those around them.

In OUATIH we get the true face of the hippie, free-love, Flower Power movement:  promiscuous, selfish, manipulative, filthy, violent, arrogant, condescending, narcissistic, slothful, parasitic, hypocritical, self-adoring, drug addicted anarchists with a sense of entitlement to other people’s property. The greatest horror to those who stylistically aligned themselves with these pet anti-establishment philosophies (while living otherwise) was that the Manson cult demonstrated to the world merely the logical extrapolation of the hippie mantras which included calling police names and advocating their destruction, extreme hostility to capitalism while living off the work of others,  and engagement in sexual debauchery without accepting consequences.

The aftermath of Woodstock alone demonstrates it takes a lot of someone else’s effort and money for one to appear to be living a life of freedom and independence from the drudgery of actually having to work for a living. (Of course, unfortunately, that is now the Democrat National Party goal – to be living off the hard work of other people, responsibility free – not surprising since many in their leadership fermented out of that intellectual cesspool —— but that’s a post for another day.)

Without any real job they lived, if you can call it that, on the largesse of family,  friends and community, that is when they weren’t begging, prostituting themselves or outright stealing.

As this is a Tarantino film one expects an extreme amount of violence and gore and OUATIH is no exception…..but not the way you might expect, or cringe fearfully. I am delighted to say that, through the magic of Tarantino pixie dust, I was inspired to clap and cheer during the last scenes.

Tarantino likes to play with “What if’s”. Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained being his most telling examples. I had actually never seen an entire Tarantino movie before but only clips from the likes of Kill Bill, Hateful Eight and Pulp Fiction. Sudden and ferocious bloodshed tend to jump out like ghouls from a haunted house, but OUAPIH is quite gentle for most of the movie in comparison, as the director manifests more suspense and extreme apprehension than actual violence…until the end.

Also stick around for a funny ending credits scene with a brilliantly on point faux cigarette commercial.

So if you want a head first dive into the deep end of nostalgia, and if you have the stomach for it, this is Tarantino at his best, if for no other reason than his masterful re-invention of a time gone by and for the cathartic satisfaction of seeing justice served in a Tarantino-flavored version of How it Should Have Ended.

God bless and R.I.P. Sharon Tate, baby Paul Polanski,  Wojciech Frykowski, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Steven Parent, Leno LaBianca, and Rosemary LaBianca.

 

BRANAGH’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS – The Perfect Movie

I have seen a lot of filmed murder mysteries from drama to slapstick: Thin Man series, China Town, Minority Report, The Usual Suspects, The Maltese Falcon, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Clue, Rear Window, Scoop, Murder by Death, even the occasional Dr Who and the TV shows Columbo, Grimm and Perry Mason. There’s something truly satisfying about solving a puzzle with the end result the protecting of the innocent and the meting out of justice. But my favorite has always been Murder on the Orient Express. A group of strangers stuck on a snow bound train with a murdered man and a famous detective and one of them a murderer. A bit like Christie's Ten Little Indians but, to me, Orient Express has more pinache.

I’ve seen the 1974 version many times. Knowing the ending does nothing to undermine the enjoyment of watching the mystery unfold like a beautifully formed rose bud – all the parts slowly falling into place. Who wouldn’t like it?! With the star studded cast including the likes of     Albert (Bourne franchise) Finney, Sean (James Bond) Connery, Lauren (Humphrey Bogart’s wife) Bacall, Ingrid (Casablanca) Bergman, SIR John Gielgud, Anthony (Psycho) Perkins. The list goes on – it is a BIG cast.

But as good as the 1974 version was, it is only the amusing movie hors d’oeuvre to the cinematic banquet that is Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 Murder on the Orient Express. Not only is this the best rendition of a murder mystery I have ever seen, it is one of those rarest of birds – a perfect movie. Branagh brings brilliance to anything he undertakes – from Thor to Cinderella to    Hamlet* (ALL of which he directed). He is one of those auteurs, like Orson Welles and Woody Allen who can both star and direct in the same movie and create masterpieces.

Prudence, by defintiion, is the virtue of knowing the right thing to do at any given time. When you are someone who sees the subtle imperfections of the world this virtue becomes an obsession. In a detective this can be a superpower…and a curse. Such is the struggle of Branagh's Hercule Poirot. This kind of complex personality overlay onto an already brilliant screenplay is an example of what makes Branagh's Murder on the Orient Express special. It could have been refilmed as another lovely remake with modern celebrities. The last theatrical version was in 1974, as I have said, so it is due for a remake. But true to his genius and his respect for his audience, Branagh is not content with merely revamping an already rich treasure of a story but like Gershwin's ability to create a timeless song from a simple catchy line of music, Branagh takes a classically fun tale and reworks it into a presentation worthy of a Shakespearean telling.

As in the original, the premise is that a murder takes place on a train, which locomotive is almost immediately and Providentially caught in an avalanche of snow. The manager of the train, a good friend of Poirot's, implores Poirot to solve the mystery for him before the train is freed and the killer has an opportunity to escape. As well as catching a killer, he also (by the way) wishes to avoid the shame of scandal to the Orient Express from an unresolved atrocity committed aboard this regal moving institution.

Of all the movies I have ever reviewed this is the one about which I would be most loathe to commit a spoiler ……. so will not.

But I will say there are a few minor tweaks to the story, re-imagined by Michael Green from, obviously, the Agatha Chtistie novel of the same name. These changes work well, and add depth of character and intrigue to even Christie's fascinating creation. One such contribution is Branagh's Poirot which, while I will not go into detail, is a brilliantly satisfying choice which makes the usually taciturn and ascerbic character more approachable and likeable, aware of his own shortcomings and has a character arc which dovetails beautifully with the theme and complexities of the story.

If you have not read the book or seen the 1974 movie, which  by the way is very good, and are then fortunate enough to be able to see this 2017 version with virgin eyes, do NOT watch any trailers, see any interviews, read any opinions but go straight to the movie with childlike delight. If you ARE familiar with the story then go to revel in the brilliant directing. Branagh stages the film like a fairy tale with all the exotic detail that was Stamboul (Old Istanbul) in 1934 and the extreme elegance of the Orient Express which in its day was host to Princesses and Counts. The colors are bright, the costumes splendid reflections of the complex suspects. And enjoy the sheer artistry of Branagh direction as he shoots with elegance equal to the time and place. He uses mirrors, windows and framing to fracture images hinting at characterizations; overhead shots to both reveal and hide clues at the same time. Dramatic events are bold and large as life; intimate scenes feel almost intrusive into private tensions and personal conflicts.   At turns I laughed out loud and was brought to tears.

And Branagh knows how to work an ensemble cast. From the musical rendition of Shakespeare's Love's Labours Lost to the light comedy A Midwinter's Tale to Hamlet with its massive star studded cast, he knows when to shine and when to hold back and always gives every member of his cast ample opportunity to be memorably in the forefront.

Every one of the actors does a superlative job. Not suprising as any director who could inspire a good Shakesepearean performance out of Keanu Reeves in Much Ado About Nothing could get a good perfromance out of even a dust mop. But most of these guys do not need such inspiration as they are already accomplished actors.

It is my honor and delight to mention each of the main performers:

Kenneth Branagh, director and lead, plays Poirot himself. I have seen enough Branagh to know that if he thought someone else could have done a better job he would have hired him. I'll tell you this is the best Poirot or classic detective of this genre I have seen anywhere.

Johnny (Jack Sparrow) Depp plays Edward Ratchett, American gangster and suspicious ne'er-do-well who brings a frightening intensity to what otherwise could have been a cookie cutter stereotype.

Sir Derek Jacobi – friend and collaborator of Branagh in a number of previous outings from the aforementioned Hamlet to Henry V to Cinderella, plays Edward Henry Masterman, British manservant to Ratchett. Jacobi is a knighted Shakespearean thespian who lends a graceful sympathy to Masterman.

Josh (Beauty and the Beast) Gad plays Hector MacQueen, Ratchett's assistant, lends a surprisingly effective though odd combination of Bogart and Peter Lorre from Casablanca into this character of questionable motives.

Daisy (Rey from Star Wars) Ridley plays Mary Debenham, stepping away from her interstellar Jedi to bring a singular classy elegance to her role as governess.

Leslie Odom portrays Dr. Arbuthnot, a man of many surprsing talents with skill and credibility.

 Dame Judy Densch – M, Shakespearean actress of tremendous dignity and comportment – continues to demonstrate her command of her art in even one of the smaller roles as the elderly Princess Dragomiroff.

Willem Dafoe (Green Goblin from Spiderman, Platoon, Odd Thomas, voice of Gill in Finding Nemo) equally at home in comedy or drama, as villain or hero, brings his many talents to bare for  the German professor Gerhard Hardman.

 Olivia Coleman is solid as Princess  Dragomiroff's personal maid.

Manuel Garcia (Magnificent 7) Rulfo is charming as Biniamino Marquez the Italian born newly Americanized citizen car salesman.

Marwan Kenzari is Pierre Michel, the ubiquitous conductor.

Michele Pfeiffer redeems herself from her awful participation in the terrible Mother! as the wealthy manhunting widow, commanding and entertaining in every scene she's in.

Luc Boynton portrays the fragile ephermeal Countess.

Sergei Polunin is almost comic relief in his intensity as the tightly wound Count, protective and attentive husband of the Countess.

Tom Bateman plays Bouc, playboy, friend of Poirot and ultimately responsible representative of the owners of the Express with style and contagious enthusiasm.

Penelope (Pirates of the Caribbean, Nine) Cruz, in a surprising turn plays Pilar Estravados, the intense missionary with an unexpected tough streak.

So go see this masterpiece of film making. Whether you have never heard of Agatha Christie before or if you've got the story memorized from a previously favorite version, you will more than be rewarded for your time in viewing this crown jewel retelling of the ultimate murder mystery.

* Branagh's Hamlet is the most spectacularly filmed Hamlet ever to grace the screen and the ONLY filmed theatrical unabridged Hamlet so far in existence.