FRED Watch Quickie Film Review: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

ALL ABOARD!

I’m a Wayne Stellini and welcome to FRED Watch, where we review everything from the mainstream to the obscure. Today’s film is Murder on the Orient Express

20th Century Fox

Famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) acquires a spot on the Orient Express, a three-day train ride that is destined for London. On board, he is approached for protection by Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp), an unlikeable American businessman who has been receiving threatening messages.

Poirot declines the offer and that evening, hears noises coming from Ratchett’s compartment and sees a woman in a red kimono running down the hallway. Not long later, an avalanche derails the train and Ratchett is found murdered.

With an assortment of suspects, Poirot and Orient Express director Bouc (Tom Bateman) begin to investigate…

Actor/director Kenneth Branagh brings Agatha Christie’s famous detective to an audience, who may not be familiar with the book series or their numerous adaptations, in a polished production that has all the aesthetic charm of Hollywood’s golden era.

Indeed, contemporary cinema’s cream of the crop portray an assortment of suspects whose complexities are perhaps too constrained by the film’s timeframe to be anything more than archetypes; not all are fleshed out and most leave you wanting to know more about them. But that does not seem to matter as Branagh commands such attention with a charismatic and humorous portrayal of Poirot. His interactions with the top-notch ensemble keep this old fashioned mystery running at a steady pace.

Beautifully framed and photographed with a stunning colour pallet, Murder on the Orient Express is a refreshing offering in an era of studio films chasing the dollar with big budget comic book adaptations. 4 / 5

Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Penélope Cruz, Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Johnny Depp, Josh Gad, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Tom Bateman, Olivia Colman, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzari, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Sergei Polunin, Miranda Raison.

Director: Kenneth Branagh | Producers: Ridley Scott, Mark Gordon, Simon Kinberg, Kenneth Branagh, Judy Hofflund, Michael Schaefer | Writer: Michael Green (Based on Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie) | Music: Patrick Doyle | Cinematographer: Haris Zambarloukos | Editor: Mick Audsley

 

In cinemas now.

Let us know what you thought of this film in the comments!

I’ve been a Wayne Stellini and you’ve just experienced FRED Watch.

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UNI-Bums: The Stranger—Out Now!

All good things have a beginning. The Bums discover a stranger in their midst… But who is he?

Here’s the newest UNI-Bums skit from FRED the ALIEN Productions…

Starring: Phillip Hunting, Bethany Griffiths, Michael R. Lister, Ben Campbell.

Director: Phillip Hunting | Producers [not credited]: Bethany Griffiths, Phillip Hunting, Fulya Kantarmaci, Michael R. Lister, Wayne Stellini | Writer: Phillip Hunting | Music: Michael R. Lister | Cinematographer: Fulya Kantarmaci | Editor: Fulya Kantarmaci

 

Keep up to date with the Bums: Like us on Facebook!

FRED @ Fringe Update #17

So much time has gone by since the idea of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning came to mind—just over a year, in fact. A lot has happened since then and yet the whirlwind of producing dictates that it has all gone too quickly to comprehend.

Phillip (Ryan Stewart) is confronted by the mysterious Bride (Bethany Griffiths).

For the cast, time spent working on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning was a twenty-week exercise in trust, understanding their respective characters, learning lines, and more. I won’t pretend to understand the mindset of an actor; it is perhaps not too different to a writer, but must be on the opposite side of the spectrum to a producer.

Because of this, I could not help but beam with pride as I saw their hard work materialise on stage. Yes, there are always improvements—the cast are far more critical on themselves than I am of them—but it can be difficult to focus on such things when your audience is embracing the show. And what an incredible and generous audience we had across all four nights, each offering a different vibe than the other to our cast. If our audience knew of the eleventh-hour complications that hit us prior to the show’s opening, they did not seem to notice or care. A roaring applause at each curtain call told the cast that they had done an exceptional job.

But this is something I have known all along. The cast are a wonderful group of talent that it feels fraudulent of me to take any credit for the show’s successes. Our audience was receptive, feedback has been encouraging, and Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning gave FRED the ALIEN Productions its biggest single-sitting audience ever.

The tension between Graeme (Jeffrey Bryant Jones) and Michael (David McNamara) is evident in this scene, where Tally (Anna Reardon) and Simon (Hayden Gridley) look on.

It is perhaps too close since the final curtain call for me to truly take in the experience. As a first time director, mistakes were made—all forgivable ones, hopefully—but FRED the ALIEN’s culture dictates that these are seen as lessons and opportunities. I cannot say how this experience will impact on future projects, but for now, I will take a deep breath before heading into our next project… which will be the basis of tomorrow’s production meeting.

On behalf of the cast and crew of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning, I would like to thank you for joining us on FRED’s journey to Melbourne Fringe. We hope you have enjoyed the ride.

Best,
Wayne Stellini

Writer/Director/Producer
Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning

Graeme (Jeffrey Bryant Jones) receives some encouraging words from Tally (Anna Reardon) as Simon (Hayden Gridley) process the unfolding drama.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blaine (Ben Campbell) encounters a remorseful Bride (Bethany Griffiths).

Michael (David McNamara) discovers that Tally (Anna Reardon) and Simon (Hayden Gridley) have a lot to answer for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tally (Anna Reardon) supports Michael (David McNamara) as his father Graeme (Jeffrey Bryant Jones) reaches out to him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally at the altar! As Father Rob (Phillip Hunting) begins the ceremony, Tally (Anna Reardon) clutches on to Michael (David McNamara), and Phillip (Ryan Stewart) and best man Blaine (Ben Cambell) hope for no more interruptions.

 

 

FRED @ Fringe Update #16

From the Director..

“8” is significant in numerology. There is something infinite about it, something about the never-ending karmic cycle that serves as a reminder to do your best for yourself and others.

I think artists tend to have this principle in the back of their minds. I know I have. How can I best serve the story? How can I best engage the audience? When putting on a show like Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning, its relevance, though unintentional, cannot be forgotten.

But in 8 days we will land our feet firmly on the ground and begin a show run that will end, but there is no telling if what may resonate with our audience ever will.

It will not be long until I am looking back on the whole experience, thinking about what contribution (if any) our small show may have made to a discussion filled with such loud and prominent voices.

I will have to get back to you on that one, but what I can tell you now, is that it would not be possible without 8 significant people…

RYAN STEWART, BEN CAMPBELL,

BETHANY GRIFFITHS,

JEFFREY BRYANT JONES,

ANNA REARDON, DAVID McNAMARA,

HAYDEN GRIDLEY,

and, the person who has been there from the very beginning, PHILLIP HUNTING.

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

FRED @ Fringe Update #15

From the Director…

Ryan Stewart and Phillip Hunting explore Christian faith and marriage equality in this improvisation workshop.

If I use the metaphor of a race, I would be tempted to say that the finish line is in sight. But it would not be true.

Even though it will not be long until our audience takes a seat in the beautiful Gasworks Theatre and watches a story unfold for seventy-five or so minutes, the marathon that has brought cast and crew to that point will not be over. There are reflections, self-critiques, and feedback to consider. There is also no certainty that Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning will no longer be relevant to the Australian political landscape we find ourselves in.

Yes, we hope that everyone watching the play will engage in an evening of laughs, tension, and an expression of love, but there is a sentiment and desire among those of us working on it that the story and characters will resonate a little while after the curtain call.

David McNamara rehearsing a pivotal scene.

Although it may seem otherwise, we are not here to preach anything. The expectation that anyone paying their hard-earned money to watch a play about two men getting married in an imagined (and, perhaps, near) future are already supporters of marriage equality. (Then again, an artist would be foolish to assume anything about their audience.)

I do think, however, that we have been working on something special; a time capsule piece that both did and did not have to be written. I suppose we will let our audience decide as we keep on running after that curtain call.

In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

 

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

FRED @ Fringe Update #14

From the Director…

The dedicated cast of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning jump straight into rehearsals.

I love this photo. If you have been following FRED the ALIEN Productions on social media, you would have come across it before. Just over a month ago, in fact.

At first sight, it perhaps does not look any different to the onslaught of images we have shared as part of our online marketing campaign, but this particular one will always be one of my favourites.

Only a few months ago, the different pairings of actors you see here had never met one another. And yet, here they are working together without any instruction from me. David and Hayden are running lines⎯perhaps from one of their scenes together; Jeffrey is helping Ben recall his dialogue; and Ryan and Anna are in the middle of rehearsing their first scene as a feuding duo.

At the beginning of every rehearsal session, the cast are given time to catch-up, get into costume, ask me any questions, have a bite to eat… whatever they need to do before we get into things. So, it is always a lovely thing to see them get straight into it. It shows how much they care.

Processes for Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning are generally long: The auditions alone took a few weeks. (Hayden’s went for around ninety minutes and I am sure Ryan’s second round audition lasted for up to two hours, if not longer.) And by the time audiences sit down to watch the show, the cast would have been workshopping, learning lines, and rehearsing for twenty exhausting weeks. They might be tired, but there is still lots of energy lurking within them.

Admittedly, the last few weeks have been a particularly challenging time for FRED, but we will continue to push through the obstacles presented to us so that we may deliver a spectacular show. We owe it to our audience, our backers, and, as I am reminded when I look at this picture, we owe it to our dedicated cast.

I love this photo.

 

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Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

FRED @ Fringe Update #13

[CONTENT WARNING: OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE]

From the Writer/Director…

Image courtesy ABC News.

I have been working on a side-project relating to Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning—well, a handful of side-projects, actually. There always seems as though more needs to be said about marriage equality and LGBTQIA+ rights.

One of them had me speaking of the play in past tense, as though it were relegated to a time long ago, where a Melbourne writer felt the need to pen a story which reflected the marriage of two men as a normal, beautiful thing. Set in a near-future, sure, but not near enough.

And now, as Australia discusses an unpopular plebiscite, Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning increases in relevance. Our play is set in Melbourne, recently voted the world’s most liveable city for the seventh year in a row and my hometown. It is also where one of the most aggressive anti-marriage equality sentiments has been expressed since the beginning of the plebiscite campaign. Yesterday, posters were placed around our beautiful CBD imploring to ‘Stop the Fags’ and accompanied by some implausible ‘facts’ and emotive imagery. (Read the ABC News story here.) It reflects the sort of culture in which one of the characters, Graeme, grew up in.

I spoke with actor Jeffrey Bryant Jones about his role recently:

This week’s events made me think: The tone of Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning would be different if I were writing it now. As it stands, the play is a mix of farcical humour and domestic drama, an obscure reality which relies on a chaotic undertone to function. But if I were writing the play now, in the midst of increasingly hateful, distasteful, and blatantly ignorant discourse, Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning would be a completely different piece altogether.

I am so proud of the work the cast and crew have put into the show that I wouldn’t change a thing about it. So, I suppose, there is only one thing to do. I have much more to say about LGBTQIA+ rights that it is perhaps time for me to knuckle down on a sequel…

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

FRED @ Fringe Update #12

From the Director…

Sometimes, in the few moments of stillness and solitude I have while realising Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning for the stage, I become a little reflective.

The new look FRED the ALIEN Productions team in one of our earliest writing sessions together (November 2015).

I can’t speak for Michael R. Lister and Phillip Hunting, but I don’t particularly think they ever envisioned that FRED the ALIEN Productions would be interacting with the creative arts in the way it has been when they created the company several years ago. Brining Bethany Griffiths, Fulya Kantarmaci, and myself on board in late 2015 certainly changed the course of things!

As a multi-platform art collective with assorted interests and diverse backgrounds, anyone who doesn’t quite fit in, has been brushed aside, or naturally sits on the fringe, are the sort of people we like to play with. Then again, we love anyone who is comfortable sitting in the mainstream too. The way we see it, there’s enough room for everybody. Love is love, after all.

Don’t get me wrong, we can also be a bunch of cynics! If I am being honest, we are a beautiful contradiction. We’re too much of an eclectic mix to be anything else.

So, it is nice when people outside of the FRED circle—creatives and audiences alike—find enjoyment with what we do. It is a pat on the back that generally comes from our nearest and dearest… but mostly from Phillip’s mother, Lesley.

In fact, all of Phillip’s family are lovely. Two years in a row now, they have supported FRED’s stage shows (as well as an assortment of other productions in-between). It is this kind of encouragement that keeps us at FRED the ALIEN on our toes. Our audience is small, but incredibly loyal.

It is in this vein that this week’s FRED @ Fringe Update is devoted to our most vocal of supporters. There are a number of people who are always there for FRED without expecting acknowledgement or reward, but for today, I want to give a shout-out to six of them in particular…

Malcolm, Lesley, and Bethany Hunting: The physical and financial support never stops flowing. If Phillip believes in a project, so do you—it’s all you need to know before you support it.

Kerry Turpie: Your enthusiasm for what Michael does is the sort of loving encouragement not experienced enough between siblings. It’s a wonderful thing to see.

Alison Whan: A mentor, friend, and advocate of the arts. Your support for me and the FRED team exceeds that of so many others. No show would be complete without you sitting in the audience and having a post-performance chat about what we did well and what we could have done better.

Ben Campbell (sitting), rehearsing with co-star Ryan Stewart, has and continues to contribute to FRED the ALIEN in multiple ways, including his acting talents.

And finally, Ben Campbell: You came on board to deliver one line in an episode of UNI-Bums and never went away! What more can I say? The energy, eagerness to help out, and light-hearted spirit you bring to every FRED project makes us a better team. And that is only the beginning of how you contribute to our collective.

As tickets have now gone on sale for Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning, I know you will all be cheering us on through personal achievements, self-doubt, grand triumphs, and harsh realities. So, let me be the first to say it: Thank you.

If you would like to join these amazing people in helping FRED the ALIEN Productions bring Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning to the stage for Melbourne Fringe at Gasworks Arts Park, you can buy a ticket to see the show or add a few coins to our Indigogo fundraising campaign.

In the meantime, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

FRED @ Fringe Update #11

From the Director…

Ryan Stewart, Ben Campbell, and Anna Reardon reading through a complicated scene.

One of the consistent and key sentences in the Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning marketing message begins with ‘Set at a time when marriage equality is a reality…’

The past week in Australian politics has rendered me with mixed feelings as the Liberal/National Party Coalition Government feud over the civil rights of their same-sex attracted constituents. Like two cats clawing over the possession of a mouse, parliamentarians of assorted affiliations continue fighting over whether marriage equality should be a reality or not.

When writing Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning last year, it appeared that marriage equality would need to wait until the Australian Labor Party were in power; their policy platform includes such a bill.

However, the issue continues to destabilise Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He happens to support marriage equality, but needs to appease the ultra-conservative right faction of his party, who are still infuriated with how previous leader Tony Abbott was replaced.

As history has shown, only the ruling (often oppressive) ideology can action change. So, it is humbling to see that an issue such as queer civil rights is important enough to the dominant heterosexual population to continue to make waves. This time last year, there were only ripples in the water of progression.

Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning was FRED the ALIEN Productions’s contribution to that momentum. We, by no means, can take any credit for the turning tide, but the world we’ve been creating for the past several months now seems to becoming a reality sooner than we originally thought.

David McNamara and Jeffrey Bryant Jones reading through an intense scene. Even though the show is a comedy, it acknowledges some hard truths about the LGBTQIA+ community’s history.

The show—for us, anyway—will always serve as a bit of a time capsule: Written when same-sex attracted people could not marry, first produced when the issue of marriage equality was hotly debated, and perhaps performed again when Michael and Phillip don’t have to wed in an imagined future.

But what does the current political climate mean for our protagonists Michael and Phillip? Well, it means that their wedding doesn’t have to happen in an imagined time, but it can happen now.

You can meet the incredible cast who are bringing this story to life HERE.

To find out more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.

FRED @ Fringe Update #10

From the Director…

It’s interesting what visuals can do.

Bethany Griffiths took the initiative to search out her costume, one of the most fun visual cues in Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

Bethany Griffiths becomes one with her character, known only as the Bride.

It’s been weeks since she found the perfect dress, which got my complete blessing—though it would have been a major battle to convince her otherwise had I not approved of the costume choice. So attached is she, it wasn’t long until Bethany confirmed that she would be keeping the costume once the show is well and truly over.

There was also something special in seeing the transformation in her performance during the first rehearsal in which she adorned the dress: Bethany understood her character in a way that she hadn’t before.

What was challenging in creating a character who is only known as the Bride is that my imagination allowed me to go anywhere with her backstory, which also feeds into her motivations, both of which are essential to her personal narrative and developmental arc. But the manner in which Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning is being brought to the stage dictates that the cast have far more agency to express their characters than what they perhaps first imagined; since they are sticking to the script, there is minimal room for improvisation. What this means is that Bethany’s interpretation of the Bride, her backstory, and motivations might be completely different to mine.

As best friends Blaine and Phillip, Ben Campbell rehearses with Ryan Stewart.

No doubt, Bethany knows the character’s real name. So do I. We’re not telling one another. This adds to the fun of workshopping and rehearsing scenes that involve the Bride, and Bethany is teaching me more about the character. During the auditions for Phillip months ago, one of the actors exclaimed, ‘Who is this woman?’ I replied with a smirk, ‘Exactly.’ Bethany understands this about the Bride.

Sometimes the greatest gift you can give an actor—and, by extension, the whole show—is the freedom to explore the realms of their character’s potential. But the actor has to accept it.

Someone who has had no problems with this is Ben Campbell. Portraying Michael’s swindling, albeit loveable, younger brother Blaine, Ben has engaged with Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning with immense energy. The role is not without its challenges, but Ben is a good sport. I have had the pleasure of directing him for a handful of UNI-Bums episodes and, currently serving as one of the online series’ producers, see that his enthusiasm for performing and developing his craft continues to grow.

In fact, I have always seen Ben and Bethany interact with one another as though they were siblings. They’re quick to poke fun of or snap at one another. Because of this, the challenge for them as friends, performers, and colleagues is to interact with one another on stage in a manner that they would not normally do. They have met this challenge head-on and it’s wonderful to see how far they are willing to push their characters, as well as themselves.

In less than two months time, the cast won’t be looking at empty seats… we hope!

Visual cues are helpful to the crew as well.

Producer/stage manager Fulya Kantarmaci and I stood at Gasworks Theatre not too long ago, discussing, debating, and measuring a number of elements of the performance space. I took a step back and looked at nine rows of empty seats and the thought of an audience looking over at our cast overwhelmed me. Fulya and I then climbed up to the ninth row and smiled at the empty stage. What our audience will experience when the space is full of set pieces, props, and a cast of eight talented actors excited us.

In less than two months time, a number of visual cues and boundless energy will come together when Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning has its world premiere!

To find out more, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And of course, feel free to explore FREDtheALIENproductions.com for the latest on Michael and Phillip Are Getting Married in the Morning.

 

 

Wayne Stellini is an executive member of the FRED the ALIEN Productions team. He has written and directed episodes of UNI-Bums, and produced FRED’s stage debut, The Writer, in 2016.