Murder on the Orient Express

Dream cast.

Visually sumptuous.

Fab footage for steam train fans (and let’s face it, who isn’t a fan of steam trains?).

But…

Despite all of the above, and without wishing to sound ungrateful and churlish, Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” never quite lives up to expectations.

Judi Dench.

Johnny Depp.

Michelle Pfeiffer.

Penelope Cruz

Derek Jacobi.

The list of this amazing cast is endless, but, with the exception of Mr. Branagh who produces/directs/stars in the film, they all seem under-utilised, Judi Dench in particular.

The film is a visual treat, undoubtedly, with lots of lovely footage of the Orient Express chugging its slow and stately way across snowy Europe.  Never have the Swiss Alps looked so gorgeous.

Avalanche stops the train.  A murder occurs while the train is stranded.  Whodunit?

And I can’t spoil the plot for you, so let’s leave it there.  I knew, of course, who did it, having seen the 1974 film – which has an even more breathtaking cast than the 2017 version, if that were possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this remake, loved the lush period detail, loved the train, loved the clothes, loved the elegance.

Very much enjoyed Mr. Branagh’s less caricatural portrayal of Hercule Poirot, though, if I might be so bold – what’s with the moustache/s, Mr. Branagh?  Downright weird.

But.

I don’t really see what this film achieves, other than making M. Poirot a little more thoughtful and a whole lot more theatrical.
Do go see it.

Lovely film.

But not, I fear, a great film.

“The High”. A documentary by Barry Walton

If you love an exciting tale of extraordinary people doing even more extraordinary things and doing them in extraordinary scenery to boot –  then get yourself a copy of “The High”, a documentary about the toughest race on earth.  Settle down and prepare to be blown away by the crazy dreams and the lovely, crazy people you will meet.

I say this advisedly, since Dr. Rajat Chauhan, the man who dreamed up the idea and is the race director, is my running guru and a friend, so I can take liberties and describe him as a crazy dreamer and I know he will smile and say his trademark “Awesome ma’am.”

A few years ago, Doc Chauhan had a decidedly crazy idea.  How about organising a race high up in the Himalayas, one that would take in the highest motorable pass in the world?

Why ever not?

And actually why not make the race a nice jazzy length of 111km?  (Inevitably a second race of 222km was added.  And, yes, how did you guess, as of last year, there’s now a 333km…)

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Crazy.

I told you so.download

Everyone said it couldn’t be done, including the army, who pretty much run things up in Ladakh, a high altitude sensitive border area, but Doc was having none of it.

The first edition of Ultra the High in 2010 had 3 runners and only one finisher, and this is their story.  And it is a gripping tale of huge physical effort, commitment, and –  yes, let’s not deny it –  physical danger.

I already knew quite a bit about this extraordinary high altitude ultra marathon, having spent time with the 2014 team up in Leh.  Several girls from my running group were crewing for the race last year, and since I was up there acclimatising before attempting a 6300m peak, we all hung out.

So I knew the background and some of the players in this amazing story, and yet, even so, I was gripped watching Barry Walton’s documentary.  Just seeing the struggles and the pushing through the mental and physical barriers of these ultra runners is so exciting.

The runners, the organisers, the crew –  everyone is so committed, so laid back, and so low-key about their achievements.

Ladakh looks as stupendously gorgeous as it is.

A great way to share in the drama of what is, after just 6 editions, already known as the toughest race on earth.  Well, the 6th edition is still on as I write, but you know what I mean.

Awesome.

To buy the DVD, follow the instructions on the website.

To run in this race…ah well, now, that’s a different matter altogether…

Indian Summers

How is it possible to be so out of step  – and, perhaps to coin a phrase – so out of thinking step, with pukka critics, with the folks with a day job, who review TV for a living, who get paid to pass judgement?

We just finished watching “Indian Summers” last night, and when Episode 10 was over, the mood was, “Thank the good Lord THAT series is done and dusted”.  But, hey, what’s this?  Everyone else seems to have loved it.

Can it be me?  Am I the one at fault for not liking such a super expensive period production?

Perhaps my critical instincts are not honed enough.

Or, perhaps, more prosaically, me a Brit, married to an Indian and the mother of two gorgeous Anglo Indian children, and living as we do here in India, and my husband having grown up in Simla…perhaps our critical antennae are tuned a little differently.  I say “our” because, for the record, hubby was as underwhelmed as I was.

We were given the boxed set last month, while on holiday in England, and once back in scorching Delhi, we settled down to watch it with great anticipation, naively imagining something as fabulous as “The Jewel in the Crown”, perhaps, or “Heat and Dust”.  I mean, after all, in the aftermath of such a totally gorgeous, glorious, fabulous production such as “Downton Abbey”, here comes a period drama about India in the last days of the Raj…ooh, yes, what could be nicer.  Gorgeous frocks, gorgeous scenery, drama.  We imagined it all.

Not a bit of it.

Frocks first of all, because it’s the easiest thing to deal with.

Why does Ms. Walters wear that same rather peculiar dress, looking more 1960s than 1930s, over and over and over again?

Why does Leena wear the same dark green sari over and over and…

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Now onto that gorgeous scenery.  My sister (who kindly gave us the DVDs) mentioned that it was filmed in Malaysia.  Perhaps if you don’t know India, don’t know Simla, it might have worked, but since we do and we do, it didn’t.  The look, the architecture, the vegetation, the sounds, the tea plantation – none of it looked nor felt Indian.  Sorry, but it just didn’t.  It looked and sounded like tropical Malaysia

Now I am going to have to tread a little carefully in my next comments, in this age of uber PC-ism…but sorry, the Parsi family did not look remotely like a Parsi family.  Ditto those orphans, who looked nothing like Ango-Indians, not even remotely like mixed race children.  It would have been so much more dramatic, I think, to have had children who looked the part.  Especially the oddly feral little boy Adam.  If he had looked pale and half European, I feel he would have been a much more haunting and dramatic presence.  More unsettling.

And, yes, on a point of order : I may be wrong here, but I do not believe in a million years that the Viceroy would have done bad Indian accent, head waggling impersonations.

And as for the slow, oh-so-slow lingering camera angles…that just went on and on and on…my goodness me but they did drag things out.  The action sort of speeded up in the final 2 or 3 episodes, where suddenly all the wandering plot lines were yanked together, but then – blow me down with the proverbial feather –  just when you thought they had dispensed with the slow filming, we have Mr. Dalal running in slow-mo.  And we have long, lingering footage of Mr. Dalal and Alice dancing …it’s OK, we get it.  They love each other and are gazing lovingly at each other across a crowded dance floor.  We.  Get.  It.

So, yes, actually – very disappointed, both in the muddled storyline and the seriously mediocre acting (other than the fabulous Roshan Seth, who dazzles.  And who is the only one in that family who really looks and sounds like a Parsi).

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Who is the hero of the piece?  Ralph Wheelan and/or Mr. Dalal?

Are we actually supposed to like Ralph?  I do hope not, because my only thought was that by marrying a woman whom he thinks is rich but is actually skint, at least this scheming manipulative man would be getting some kind of comeuppence.  What a nasty, two-faced hypocritcal bit of work he is.

Cynthia is just downright unpleasant.  And can anyone tell me why she was at the hanging?  Her role as a glorified innkeeper permitted her that?  I hardly think Dalal pere et fils coming to her all-white club was comeuppance enough for her.

So little did I like her character that I actually thought she was going to go up in flames in the final episode when she drunkenly lights candles – and why the Hindu shrine in her drinking den?

 

Not a fan.  Not at all.

And what’s with the plural “summers” in the title?  Does that mean there is more to come?

 

FYI, here’s what Channel4 said about their own show:

  • Set against the sweeping grandeur of the Himalayas and tea plantations of Northern India, the drama tells the rich and explosive story of the decline of the British Empire and the birth of modern India, from both sides of the experience. But at the heart of the story lie the implications and ramifications of the tangled web of passions, rivalries and clashes that define the lives of those brought together in this summer which will change everything. It’s the summer of 1932. India dreams of Independence, but the British are clinging to power. In the foothills of the Himalayas stands Simla; a little England where every summer the British power-brokers of this nation are posted to govern during the summer months.

    – Written by Channel4

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Take a generous helping of the best of British acting talent.

Add an exotic (yes, really) location like Rajasthan, India.

Combine with great filming and the result is a colourful, happy, feel-good, entertaining confection.

This film is  a delight.

It may not be the most searingly important film on the circuit, and it might not address issues of world importance, but it manages to make you happy, make you smile, make you cry a little bit (though I do cry at the drop of a hat, to be fair) and after all, why else do you go to the cinema ?

Our standard noisy Delhi cinema audience, who had chattered and gossiped on their mobiles through all the trailers, were pin-drop quiet during the movie.

Admittedly a few mobiles did go off, but that’s par for the course. There’s always one who ignores the request to turn the critters off.

It was extra fun, as a Brit living in India, to sit and watch a film about Brits moving to India.  The (Indian) audience clearly loved the movie, though I realised I was a lone voice laughing out loud at “building tea.”

The film tells the story of a group of British pensioners lured to India in separate ways and by separate decisions, to spend their twilight years in what they imagine will be palatial splendour, with almost certainly an overlay of colonial glory.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is, shall we say, not quite what they had expected.  Despite the bubbling enthusiasm of the young manager Sunny (Dev Patel) the palace of their dreams is little more than a tatty, run down hotel.  Bags of charm but certainly not splendid.

The British pensioners react in various ways.  Some complain, some hate it, some good-naturedly accept it and some eventually come to love it. Each one of them tackles this new chapter of their lives with different degrees of positivity and gung-ho-ness.

The pensioners are all ever so British, in ever so many different ways.

I won’t spoil the plot, but suffice it to say that it has (almost) a totally happy ending.

The cast is beyond stellar with Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith turning in fabulous performances.  Maggie Smith is utterly brilliant.

Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton –  the cast is absolutely perfect.

Despite the revulsion some of the Brits feel at the squalor and dirt and chaos and noise of India, overall the country comes out a winner.  India is not romanticised, but by and large the Indians are kind, polite, caring, non-whingeing nice people.  Certainly nicer than the British families most of the pensioners have left behind in England.

A happy feel-good film, beautifully shot, and a perfect family choice.