Archive for the Mystery Category

Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery

Posted in Comedy, Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on December 27, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

An effective whodunnit needs a good setup, and Glass Onion — the sequel to the 2019 mystery film Knives Out — intelligently delivers. Let’s start with the title, which was inspired by the third track on the 1968 double album The Beatles (aka The White Album). The song was a self-referential composition that toyed with fans who sought to decipher hidden meanings in the Fab Four’s work. “Well, here’s another clue for you all….” John Lennon sang. It appropriately plays over the end credits.

In this account, the “Glass Onion” is the bar where five close friends hang out and meet future billionaire Miles Bron (Edward Norton). These associates called themselves the disruptors. The inception of Miles’ successful Manhattan tech company, Alpha, had its humble origins at this dive. In the present day, Miles is hosting a murder mystery party at his estate on a private Greek island. A giant translucent sphere sits atop his compound. He invites his long-time pals for a friendly get-together. These innovators include Alpha head scientist Lionel Toussaint (Leslie Odom Jr.), supermodel turned fashion designer Birdie Jay (Kate Hudson ), Connecticut governor Claire Debella (Kathryn Hahn), men’s rights streamer Duke Cody (Dave Bautista), and co-founder and ousted Alpha CEO Cassandra “Andi” Brand (Janelle Monáe). Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) also has an invitation and joins the group along with Birdie’s assistant Peg (Jessica Henwick) and Duke’s girlfriend Whiskey (Madelyn Cline).

Director Rian Johnson has crafted a clever puzzle for people who love to solve mysteries. A crackerjack screenplay punctuates the chronicle. Johnson shrewdly drops critical information in seemingly casual dialogue. The main story culminates about halfway through after Benoit Blanc easily solves the challenge of the fake murder. However, it isn’t long before the game becomes deadly, and one of their own is killed for real. The chronicle then flashes back and gives us the background leading up to their little soiree. It is here that the salient particulars of the plot unfold. The interconnected details of the past of these various individuals are exposed. Their sordid histories reveal that everyone has a motive.

Glass Onion is a sparkling delight that surpasses its predecessor. Ok, so the denouement may not be a jaw-dropping shocker, and Benoit Blanc’s presence is reduced to focus more on other characters. It’s an intricately assembled ensemble piece of amusing personalities. Every actor gets to shine, albeit some more brightly than others—lots of witty gags. The funniest moment is a realization that Kate Hudson’s character makes regarding someone’s identity after that fact had been well established. However, Janelle Monáe gets the juiciest part. She suitably shines in her role. The surroundings are opulent, the cast is fun, and the jokes are funny, Glass Onion provides layers and layers of fun.

11-29-22

The Wonder

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on November 21, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy) is an 11-year-old girl in rural Ireland who has allegedly been fasting for four months. She appears perfectly healthy and contends that she survives on “manna from heaven.” The devout townspeople hail it as a miracle, but skepticism arises. Local authorities call upon Elizabeth “Lib” Wright (Florence Pugh). She is an English nurse tasked to simply observe the child to test the veracity of these claims. As a woman of science, she is skeptical. Meanwhile, the all-male town council, which includes the town doctor (Toby Jones) and a priest (Ciarán Hinds), believes in divine intervention. Their disdain for Lib and her opinion is increasingly evident.

I don’t know who the audience is for this film. Believers who want to see a drama that affirms religion and faith will be disappointed because it’s not uplifting. However, it also fails as an exposé on how the desires of a little girl, her parents, and the Catholic Church intertwine. The developments are so deliberate and gradual that it tests the viewer’s patience. The more we learn, the less interesting the narrative becomes. The austerity of the surroundings effectively creates a sinister atmosphere. I’ll concede that. It’s a depressing mood piece but not much else.

The Wonder is a slow, methodical characterization of two people. Director Sebastián Lelio (Gloria, A Fantastic Woman) has achieved critical success with his cinematic portraits of women. Lib, the nurse, is an empathetic person. Anna persists as an enigma. Her behavior will give someone pause. Is she the real deal? The two personalities compel the viewer to keep watching to find out. However, the lethargic pace is plodding, and the resolution is unremarkable. The screenplay is based on the 2016 book of the same name by Emma Donoghue. The author also penned the novel Room, which she adapted into the Oscar-winning movie starring Brie Larson. I “wonder” if Donoghue considers her previous adaptation to be vastly superior…because I do.

11-16-22

Significant Other

Posted in Drama, Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on October 19, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s a shame that Significant Other is saddled with that title. It’s so generic; the name escapes me every time I try to recall it. The movie is substantially better than the label suggests. The production begins with a red meteor falling from the sky into the forest. Soon after, we see a deer unexpectedly grabbed by an eerie tentacle. The story then switches over to a couple in a six-year relationship. Harry enjoys camping and takes Ruth on a backpacking trip to the Pacific Northwest. She has prescient misgivings. You’ve seen this tale a dozen times before, right? That’s what you think.

So I’m impressed when I think I’m getting a predictable horror film and am pleasantly surprised by something that subverts my expectations. Taking risks doesn’t always reap the rewards. Unlike another recent slasher sequel to a decades-long franchise, Significant Other makes some bold swings that actually do connect. What seems to be a simple setup about “a terrifying creature in the woods” becomes much more. Writers and directors Dan Ber & Robert Olsen have fashioned a horror picture into a multilayered meditation on relationships with several twists and turns. It appears that Harry is deeply in love with Ruth. Her feelings are a bit more ambiguous. Ruth suffers from extreme anxiety and is not handling the outdoors very well. They hike to a gorgeous scenic overlook, and he proposes. Ruth has a panic attack and rejects his offer. That’s just the beginning of their problems.

Adding to the unsettling atmosphere is a pair of intriguing performances. Maika Monroe and Jake Lacy exhibit a range of emotions that often catch the viewer off guard. No stranger to being a scream queen, Monroe had her breakthrough in 2014 with It Follows. She followed that up with The Guest (2014), Greta (2018), and Watcher (2022). Meanwhile, Jake Lacy utilizes the same blend of drama mixed with subtle comedy on the HBO anthology series The White Lotus. Together they comprise an unstable duo that seizes our attention—two unique individuals with strange personalities. Neither can be trusted. Who are these people? Where should my loyalties lie? That’s all part of the fun. If a movie is to be judged by the shock of a reveal, then Significant Other satisfies with at least one (maybe two) that are off the charts.

Significant Other is currently streaming exclusively on Paramount+. 

10-16-22

Don’t Worry Darling

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on September 26, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Even before Don’t Worry Darling was theatrically released on September 23, it was subjected to an onslaught of negative publicity. The tabloid shenanigans concerning certain key people were the fodder for rampant gossip. I’m being vague because this is Fast Film Reviews, not The Hollywood Reporter. I only bring it up because I’d bet the farm that the drama behind the scenes is 100x more interesting than the finished product.

The company town of Victory, California, is a traditional community in the 1950s. Husbands go to work while women stay home, do household chores, and socialize. Alice and Jack are a young attractive married couple in love. However, Alice begins to detect cracks in their seemingly idyllic existence. Bunny (director Olivia Wilde) is Alice’s best friend.

So let’s start with the good: The ensemble features an outstanding performance from Florence Pugh, looking radiant in Brigitte Bardot-style tresses. She is another UK actress (like Saoirse Ronan or Millie Bobby Brown) that is more convincing as an American woman than many of her peers. She did it perfectly in Midsommar, and now she’s done it again in another psychological thriller. Also worthy of mention is actor Chris Pine. He’s scary good as the enigmatic Frank — the founder of the “Victory Project.” A job to which the men all report every morning. Their departure in cars en masse is a spectacle. The details of their employment are shrouded in mystery.

I was captivated by the aesthetics. The production design is visually striking as it recreates this picturesque vision of suburban life in America. The cinematography is impressive too. Director of photography Matthew Libatique often partners with filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. Libatique’s effort draws upon his iconic visuals in Requiem for a Dream. Remember the repeated montage involving extreme close-ups of heroin as it cooks, boils, and enters the body? Well, substitute those sequences for bacon, eggs, and sliced toast as Alice makes breakfast every morning.

Ok, so now the bad? The script presents an unimaginative tale that is wholly derivative. Any deep dive into what happens here won’t withstand scrutiny. Why does Jack dance like a puppet for the men? What’s up with the hallucinations that feature choreography à la Busby Berkeley? Why do Bunny’s loyalties suddenly shift on a dime? Why does Frank’s wife (Gemma Chan) do what she does at the climax? Why do the aggressive (and unsexy) sex scenes never progress beyond third base? These are just a few of the questions I had. At least consulting the internet for answers made me feel I wasn’t alone. However, it didn’t resolve my confusion.

It feels like the screenwriters simply watched The Stepford Wives, drank a bottle of whiskey, and then wrote this movie. Ok, so it’s not *exactly* the same thing. (They threw in a little of The Matrix) Yet it’s so similar that the estate of author Ira Levin — who penned the 1972 novel — might be entitled to a cut of the profits. Katie Silberman gets credit for the screenplay based on a story by Carey Van Dyke, Shane Van Dyke, and Silberman. The best scene in the film is a dialogue at a dinner party that includes Alice and Frank while the guests look on. Sadly even the promise of that conversation doesn’t coalesce into anything meaningful. The plot didn’t offer surprises. The “twist” ending is a disappointment, although my predictive abilities remain acute. So no, this flick isn’t worth your time, but don’t worry, darling reader! I saw this, so you don’t have to.

09-22-22

See How They Run

Posted in Comedy, Mystery with tags on September 20, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

If I hadn’t checked the credits, I might have thought this sprightly comedy mystery was directed by Wes Anderson. See How They Run is a meticulous ensemble piece featuring exquisite set design and the retro fashions of another era. It is, in fact, the feature film debut of Tom George, a British television director (This Country, Defending the Guilty).

This loving creation is a sendup of the Agatha Christie murder mystery. The setting is London in 1953, and it features Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell), who has been assigned to solve a homicide. In a nod to meta exposition, the crime occurs after the 100th performance of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at a West End theater. Also accompanying him is an inexperienced helper, Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan). The victim is an unlikeable movie director Leo Köpernick (Adrien Brody). He didn’t have a lot of friends, so everyone surrounding the play is a suspect.

A lighthearted romp…that just so happens to involve murder. Per tradition, audiences are asked not to reveal the killer’s identity to anyone who hasn’t seen The Mousetrap play. Likewise, I would never spoil a film either, but whodunnit in See How They Run is unimportant. This is simply an excuse to get a spirited cast together for amusing conversations and funny situations. Director Tom George and screenwriter Mark Chappell clearly admire Wes Anderson. I’m also a big fan, though I dare say this surpasses Anderson’s last picture, The French Dispatch. It’s light and breezy without being fussy. The developments all whiz by in a scant 98 minutes. Like this review, it’s fast.

09-15-22

Vengeance

Posted in Comedy, Mystery, Thriller with tags on August 4, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Office is one of the great sitcoms of the 2000s. I state this as fact, not opinion, so perhaps I was more excited than most to hear that “Ryan Howard” made a film. B. J. Novak is best known for his work on the U.S. version of The Office. He also wrote, directed, and produced the sitcom, so he’s had significant experience behind the camera. Vengeance is his feature directorial debut. B. J. Novak also wrote the screenplay and stars.

Ben Manalowitz (B.J. Novak) is a struggling journalist based in New York City who casually dates many women. One night he gets a call from Ty Shaw (Boyd Holbrook), the brother of one of these arbitrary hookups. Aspiring singer Abby (Lio Tipton) has been found dead of an apparent overdose. Believing Ben was her serious boyfriend, Ty heartbreakingly delivers the news. Ben can barely remember who she was. Yet Ty is so distraught that Ben decides to fly to Abilene, TX (where Abby got her name) and attend the funeral. Sensing an opportunity for an exciting podcast, he chooses to stay and probe further into her death. He pitches his investigation to a successful producer back in New York. Eloise (in a compelling performance by Issa Rae) is receptive to the idea.

Vengeance is blessed with a clever script that straddles the line between intelligent satire and flat-out comedy. If you sense a tale about a shallow city slicker from New York who learns that gun-toting Texas are not as backward as he initially thought, you’d be right. However, how those relationships are detailed makes all the difference. The characterizations are beautifully revealed in random asides. An ongoing joke is how Ben frequently uses the phrase “100 percent” to express his “sincere” agreement. When Ty is touched by his use of the word, it’s an affecting moment. Another occurs when Abby’s sister Paris (Isabella Amara) demonstrates that she has read Chekhov, and Ben uncomfortably admits he hasn’t. There are a lot of those revelations.

Vengeance is a movie about the preconceptions and ignorance that outsiders have about people they don’t know. This is not another let’s “laugh-at-the-yokels” affair. BJ Novak’s observations about Texans are nuanced and render them as fully rounded human beings. Abby’s family is a likable clan. The ensemble of actors includes Dove Cameron, Isabella Amara, and J. Smith-Cameron in memorable roles. Ashton Kutcher deserves a special mention as a music producer. Oh sure they value their weapons and extol a love for fast food chain Whataburger that borders on the ridiculous, but the presentation is affectionate. The screenplay upended my expectations many times over.

I can’t say I was on board with every development that happens. I didn’t embrace the biggest surprise. The final act is punctuated by a shocking act of violence that is not earned. It’s as if Quentin Tarantino sabotaged the production. Despite that brief indiscretion into another genre, the story is mostly substance over style. The chronicle ultimately coalesces into a profound comment on culture and society. There is joy in this insightful reflection on humanity. I was delighted, and I think you will be too.

08-02-22

Nope

Posted in Horror, Mystery, Science Fiction with tags on July 23, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The difference between homage and rip-off is subjective. The old joke is that an “homage” is when you copy someone else; a “rip-off” is when someone else copies you. Another glib definition is that when one enjoys the appropriation, the borrowing is deemed a lovely tribute, and when offended, it’s theft. However, I would like to offer a more sincere explanation. When you take elements that exist in beloved films and creatively manipulate them into something entirely new and innovative, it’s an homage. That is the process at play in Jordan Peele’s latest triumph.

The tale concerns a brother and sister who run a horse wrangling business. Daniel Kaluuya’s character incredulously goes by OJ, a nickname that invites double takes. Keke Palmer is the affable Emerald. Nestled 40 miles north of Los Angeles in the desert town of Agua Dulce sits the Haywood Ranch. Here horses are raised for use in Hollywood productions. This was their father’s livelihood, an enterprise dating all the way back to the beginning of motion pictures. In the official explanation, Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) has recently met with an untimely demise when he is violently pelted with stray particles thrown from a plane overhead. Yet something more ominous is looming. A mysterious cloud up in the sky seems to have a malevolent effect on the human and animal life in the area.

Nope is an ensemble anchored by the dichotomy of a pair of individuals. These two differ on how to proceed with the family’s legacy. Keke Palmer plays the free-spirited sister. Her lively performance is a vibrant counterpoint to Daniel Kaluuya’s aloof, almost lethargic personality. He is a man of few words, with virtually no expression. I have to assume the intention to render OJ so stoic was a directorial decision. To imbue this man with a sluggish demeanor was an unconventional choice I couldn’t embrace. Does nothing faze this man? In one intense, armrest clenching predicament, OJ quietly utters a simple — albiet hilarious — “Nope” when deciding whether to exit his car.

Once they realize something more sinister is afoot, the duo decide they need to document the threat. Aiding them is Brandon Perea as Angel, a tech employee at a Fry’s Electronics store who installs the security cameras they purchase. He’s also a conspiracy theorist that believes in aliens and wants to be involved in their endeavor. A dialogue about how UFOs are now known as UAPs is an amusing aside. They shun Angel’s assistance, although his tenacity prevails. Deep-voiced character actor Michael Wincott also appears as Antlers Holst, a cameraman from the old school that may have a solution to getting these mystifying events on film. If Nope has parallels to Jaws, then Antlers is our Quint.

Nope is filled with fascinating scenes, but it takes a while to groove into the rhythm of this picture. I didn’t know what the heck was going on at first. Nevertheless, Jordan Peele’s saga is a carefully constructed narrative that twists and contorts to include essential clues that gradually aid our understanding of the story. Paradoxes and red herrings crop up. The appearance of a TMZ reporter riding a motorcycle in a mirrored helmet becomes a fly in the ointment. Look again because these seemingly arbitrary ideas illuminate what makes these personalities tick. A key ingredient to the cast is Ricky Park (Steven Yeun), a former child actor named “Jupe” after his role on a popular 90s TV show Kid Sheriff. He now trades on that fame by running a Western-themed amusement park called Jupiter’s Claim. The outdoor show attended by a small audience is a jaw-dropping setpiece that descends into a terrifying sequence. A random vignette regarding his second failed sitcom and a monkey is a head-scratching bit of information that memorably opens the picture. It’s horrifying. Sometimes sound effects conjure up images that are worse than any visual.

Nothing about this chronicle is expected. That quality elevates this breathtaking odyssey into a compelling and bewildering experience. In a bit of misdirection, the movie starts with a cryptic quote from an obscure book of the Hebrew Bible: Nahum 3:6: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” The prophet foretold destruction, and that is precisely what you will get. I was immediately taken aback. Is this Jordan Peele’s religious awakening? In a sense. His latest shows a reverence for Hollywood filmmaking.

Nope is about slowly building dread and the method for dealing with that danger. The account is masterfully detailed and executed. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema is among the MVPs with his masterful celebration of the visual grandeur using IMAX cameras. The presentation is stunning. Whether it’s the magnificent sweep of an aerial object or capturing the incongruity of inflatable tube men blowing in the wind across the open prairie, the impressive exhibition of Nope is terrific in a production inundated with the majesty of the unknown. Michael Abels’ (Get Out, Us) atmospheric music heightens the awe-inspiring displays. Jordan Peele borrows heavily from the book of Spielberg in how his narrative plays out. Most notably, the elements of Close Encounters, Poltergeist, and Jaws. The bloody iconography of The Shining and the love for classic Hollywood cinema in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are in there too. Steven Spielberg made it scary to swim. Jordan Peele makes it frightening to look up at the sky.

07-21-22

The Outfit

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery with tags on May 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I love a clever title with a double meaning. The Outfit is about an English tailor named Leonard Burling (Mark Rylance) who sews suits, but it also concerns the Chicago Outfit, an organized crime syndicate. The story details one fateful night in the tailor’s life. Okay, so he’s technically a “cutter” because Leonard used to work in London’s Savile Row. It’s 1956 and he runs a neighborhood shop in Chicago controlled by Roy Boyle (Simon Russell Beale), an Irish Mob boss. Roy’s son Ritchie (Dylan O’Brien) and chief enforcer Francis (Johnny Flynn) are Leonard’s best customers but they also use his business as a place to hide dirty money. Oh and his receptionist Mable (Zoey Deutch) also happens to be Ritchie’s girlfriend.

The drama has all the trapping of the stage. The story is set in a single location. A twisty sequence of developments unfolds as the tailor attempts to stay alive by manipulating people with his words. The low-key vibe of the account takes a while to get going. However, things do get more complicated and even bloody. Before the night is over, not everyone will still be alive. A series of discussions propel the plot. Although the climax ultimately relies on a sequence of several actions. The ending could use a little — pardon the pun — tailoring.

The Outfit is an entertaining tale from screenwriter Graham Moore who won an Oscar for The Imitation Game. The dialogue is crisp and witty. A sample exchange:

Richie: [My father was] always stating, “A well-tied tie is the first serious step in life kid”
Leonard: Wilde
Richie: F***ing crazy, right?
Leonard: No, that’s a quote: Oscar Wilde

Screenwriter Graham Moore is making his directorial debut. He expertly builds tension from a unique situation. There’s a rat somewhere in Roy Boyle’s organization and he’s aiming to find out who it is. The centerpiece is a stellar performance from Mark Rylance. He’s a cagey individual but his unassuming nature belies a shrewd personality. A notable alumnus of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, his talent here recalls the work of another graduate of the prestigious school, Anthony Hopkins. I can’t give an actor higher praise than that. Mark Rylance elevates this well-written theater piece into a captivating pressure cooker drama.

05-06-22

Deep Water

Posted in Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on March 29, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A new release starring erstwhile lovers Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas based on a 1957 novel by Patricia Highsmith (Strangers on a Train, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and helmed by provocateur Adrian Lyne would have been a big deal in a previous era. Yet on March 18, this went straight to streaming on Hulu. There’s a reason for that. Adult movie fare isn’t doing so well in theaters at the moment. Oh and frankly, it’s not all that good. But that doesn’t mean it lacks entertainment value.

Director Adrien Lyne earned a flashy reputation in the 80s & 90s for glossy dramas that were sexy and stylish. Flashdance, Fatal Attraction and Indecent Proposal were some of his best known. However, the last time he made a film, was way back in 2002. Unfaithful featured an Oscar-nominated performance by Diane Lane. She was outstanding to be sure, but I also credit Adrien Lyne for being the director in charge of that production. The promise of his first picture in 20 years is something to celebrate. If only it delivered the captivating heights of his previous work.

Deep Water is a limp drama about a couple living in the fictional Louisiana town of Little Wesley. It concerns a husband named Vic Van Allen, (Ben Affleck) in an unconventional marriage to his wife Melinda (Ana de Armas). She has affairs with various men. Instead of sneaking around behind his back, she flaunts them much to his discomfort. It’s the odd back and forth of the feuding twosome that compels your attention. However, the story is a head-scratcher. At first, it appears they’ve agreed to an open marriage. But when Vic threatens the guest (Brendan C. Miller) that Melinda invites to a party, it’s clear Vic isn’t happy with what his wife is doing. Although that doesn’t stop her. It’s implied that perhaps Melinda savors his jealousy. Martin McRae — the last guy that romanced his wife — goes missing and Vic claims to be responsible. Or is he kidding? Melinda is unfazed by the possibility that Vic is a murderer. “I’m the one you kill for.” she coos. It isn’t long before she’s off openly flirting with a different man (Jacob Elordi) and then another (Finn Wittrock).

Deep Water occasionally recalls what made Lyne’s earlier output so irresistible. The milieu is sleek and polished. As photographed by cinematographer Eigil Bryld, the living spaces are exquisitely opulent. They live in a palatial suburban mansion that would be right at home on the pages of Architectural Digest. The bathrooms are the size of a bedroom. A grand pool at the center of a party shimmers with an incandescent glow. The atmosphere is seductive. It hints that something sinister is always brewing. But the attempt to achieve the provocative excitement of his past work goes unfulfilled and an abrupt ending is supremely unsatisfying.

Deep Water is not good. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the mischievous tone that pervades the account. Melinda has this lusty appetite that straddles the line between insatiable and ridiculous. Conversely, Vic inexplicably vacillates between bouts of being enraged and aroused. The developments elicit laughter and campy elements inform the plot. Their precocious six-year-old daughter steals every scene she is in. The suggestion is the dissimilar pair stay together for her sake. Her bratty behavior is an annoying delight. “Alexa, play ‘Old MacDonald’ again” she chirps despite her mother’s protestations. Meanwhile, Vic keeps snails as pets and that’s a bizarre addition to the story. Ben Affleck broods with the same intensity as Nick Dunne, his role in Gone Girl. His character is a most perplexing personality. I could never quite figure out what motivates this highly confused individual. In the absence of a clear motive or credible passion, I simply reveled in the absurdity of it all.

03-25-22

Death on the Nile

Posted in Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller with tags on February 15, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Director Kenneth Branagh is having a moment. On February 8th, Belfast was nominated for an impressive 7 Oscars — including Best Picture. The celebrated filmmaker has followed up his movie with the more box office-friendly Death on the Nile. It was the #1 movie in theaters this weekend.

The mystery is of course based on the 1937 novel by Agatha Christie. Kenneth Branagh is not only the director and producer, but he also reprises his role as detective Hercule Poirot. It’s a sequel of sorts to his remake of Murder on the Orient Express, a monetarily successful adaption that came out in 2017. I wasn’t a fan, but I’m happy to report this one is significantly better.

All aboard the S. S. Karnak! This trip down the river Nile is an old-fashioned throwback — in a good way. Where Orient felt tired and stuffy, this is lighthearted and fun. Screenwriter Michael Green (Logan) even gives us a bit of a backstory of Hercule Poirot and why he has that immense mustache. The collection of stars is enjoyable to watch. In any large ensemble, the ability to stand out can be a challenge. Gal Gadot is perhaps the most memorable as a wealthy English heiress but Sophie Okonedo makes an impression as an American Jazz singer. Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Emma Mackey, Ali Faza, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders are among the other actors that show up. Note: It would be insipid to list the entire cast so the omission of any actor should not be viewed as a deliberate choice.

This interpretation is the kind of fluffy diversion I enjoy while watching but completely forget about days later. The thing I do remember most is how much CGI is used to make it look like they’re in Egypt. It’s quite obvious this wasn’t filmed on location. Credit goes to VFX Supervisor George Murphy and his team who utilize a London soundstage and an “extravagant” dependence on green screen. That does take away from the authenticity of the experience. The 1978 version of Death on the Nile with Peter Ustinov WAS a production that was famously shot in Egypt. This revision doesn’t top its glorious predecessor for style or opulence. Let’s face it, that’s a major component of these Agatha Christie adaptions. I’ll concede the story moves briskly, however. The chronicle is not a chore to sit through. Thankfully this is just slightly over two hours. In an era where movies hew closer to three hours than two, that’s a welcome surprise. It’s nothing to die for, but still a solid piece of entertainment.

02-10-22