Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
seen @ AMC Loews Orpheum 7, New York NY

I regret I have not travelled often by train. Oh, I take the subway all the time, living in New York, not to mention the occasional ride on the commuter rails to Long Island and upstate, but to sit in a reclining seat (one you can sleep in), to have a separate car where you can eat, another where you can look out on the vast landscape as you chug along to wherever you're going... that's special.

Train travel is more of a social experience than air travel - or it used to be, anyway, before everyone had a laptop or a cell phone or an iPod. Back in the 90s, I went to Chicago by train; on the way back, I met this pregnant Japanese girl who was meeting her husband in New York. We had a nice time chatting. When we arrived in Penn Station, I recall giving her directions to - was it Port Authority? - someplace important like that; wherever it was her husband was supposed to meet her.

Currently, Amtrak links New York to the rest of the country via two tracks within a single tunnel, however, in 2012, Hurricane Sandy dealt serious damage to this connection.

The Gateway Tunnel project is an initiative led by Amtrak to build a new tunnel under the Hudson River. Amtrak believes construction could begin next year, despite a lack of commitment by the president to supply federal funding. Personally, I'll believe it when I see it.

Around the world, train travel is regarded differently. High-speed rail (HSR) makes regional travel quick and relatively easy. China's trains are the fastest overall, but the "Red Arrow," the Trenitalia Frecciarossa 1000 - doing a crisp 220 MPH up and down Italy - is currently the fastest in Europe. The Amtrak Acela Express, by contrast, goes 150 MPH between Boston and DC. Although HSR is coming to California soon, the truth is, rail travel isn't the priority here that it is in other developed nations.

Still, none of these sleek, ultra-modern jaguars have the mystique and allure of the Orient Express. Begun in 1883 as a route from Paris to Istanbul (not Constantinople), it evolved into the ultimate luxury rail line. A version of the original line still exists today; if you got the dough, you can ride it.

The Orient Express has been represented in almost every popular media you can think of, including the Bond film From Russia with Love, a George Cukor film called Travels with My Aunt, and of course, a caboose-ful of adaptations of the Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express.

Kenneth Branagh is the latest filmmaker to ride the famous rail, readapting the Christie tale; he also leads an all-star cast as the epically-mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot. This was my first exposure to the story; I never read the book or saw any of the other films, so I liked it more, perhaps, than a number of reviewers, or Vija, with whom I saw the film.

I recognize the classic mystery conventions of the story, because they've been re-used and parodied so often: everyone bowing to Poirot's genius; the relative civility of the suspects; the way they conveniently line up for Poirot when he's about to reveal whodunnit. It's okay. This is a modern movie but it has an old-fashioned aesthetic.

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