Posts Tagged ‘Derek Jacobi’

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot


114 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The year’s strongest cast wrestles inertia to a standstill in “Murder on the Orient Express,” the latest addition to the pantheon of unnecessary remakes.

We already have Sidney Lumet’s perfectly delightful 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s great  railway mystery. But as with Shakespeare, Dame Agatha’s yarns are worthy of retelling for each new generation.  Problem is, this retelling is stillborn.

It’s always difficult to know exactly why a movie goes wrong, but in this case it may very well lie with the decision to have Kenneth Branagh both direct and star as eccentric Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

The character dominates virtually every scene, which means the acting weight alone was exhausting. To then also ride herd on a huge cast of heavy hitting thespians was too much to ask of anyone.

As it now stands, Branagh disappoints in both capacities. His features masked by absurd facial hair as obviously fake as the computer-generated backgrounds, he makes a mess of Poirot, who goes from crowd-teasing cutup to moody depressive without much in between. Lines that should evoke a laugh barely generate a tentative smile.

As for the directing end of things…well, what can you say when you have this much talent on hand and still end up with a dull yarn weighted down by blah characterizations?

Set aboard a snowbound luxury train on the Istanbul-Paris run, Michael Green’s screenplay clings to the basics of Christie’s tale (the “who” in the “whodunnit” makes for a one of the better revelations in all detective fiction) while dabbling with some of the particulars, largely in an effort to make the project more attractive to today’s mass audience.

Thus the screenplay finds time for one karate fight, a chase down a railroad trestle and a shooting — none of which are to be found in the novel or the earlier film.

While a few of the characters have undergone some tweaking (a physician aboard the train is now a Negro played by Leslie Odom Jr., providing the opportunity to dabble in some racial issues), most cling to Christie’s parameters. (more…)

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Emma Thompson, Dakota Fanning

Emma Thompson, Dakota Fanning

“EFFIE GRAY” My rating: C+

108 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

The Effie Gray scandal rocked Victorian society.

Today it might generate a minor shrug and possibly a pop song. (I’m thinking Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold.”) Ah, well, times change.

The subject of Richard Laxton’s film is the unhappy marriage of Scottish lass Effie Gray to the brilliant British art critic John Ruskin, a man twice her age.

Produced and scripted by Emma Thompson (who won an Oscar for her screenplay for Ang Lee’s “Sense and Sensibility”), it stars Dakota Fanning as Effie and Greg Wise as Ruskin, who often vacationed near her home while she was growing up and, apparently, convinced himself that he was in love with the girl.

Alas, Ruskin proves to be an intellectual giant and an emotional infant.  No sooner has he planted his new bride in his parents’ home than he begins ignoring her in favor of his writing.

His doting, success-driven Mama and Papa (Julie Walters, David Suchet)  micromanage John’s life to minimize interruptions to his literary pursuits. The result is an antisocial man incapable of appreciating that his young wife is bored silly and can find no purpose to her life.

Most distressing of all, John refuses to touch Effie. On their honeymoon she presents her naked body to him, but he’s so grossed out he flees the room.

And to make matters worse, it seems likely that the medicine Mama Ruskin keeps pouring down her daughter-in-law’s pretty throat may be poisoning the girl.


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“ANONYMOUS”  My rating: B (Opening wide on Oct. 28)

130 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Here’s a sentence I never expected to read, much less write:

Director Roland Emmerich has made a movie of ideas.

Yes, the man who gave the world high-concept, nutritionally light hits like “Stargate,” “Independence Day,” “Twister,” “Godzilla,” “The Patriot,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” has put on his thinking cap and delivered a Gordian knot of convoluted history from Elizabethan England.

And if his “Anonymous” is a largely chilly and cerebral affair, it’s positively overflowing with brain-tickling notions.

Nominally this is the story of Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford, a member of the court of Elizabeth I who in some quarters has been credited with being the true author of Shakespeare’s plays and poems.


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