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Posts Tagged ‘Judi Dench’

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” My rating: C  

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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Judi Dench, Ali Fazal

“VICTORIA AND ABDUL”  My rating: B-  

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Dame Judi Dench — who won an Academy Award for portraying one British monarch (Elizabeth I in “Shakespeare in Love”) and was nominated for playing another (Victoria in “Mrs. Brown”) — now goes for the trifecta with “Victoria and Abdul.”

Stephen Frear’s comic costume drama finds Dench once again in the glum mourning clothes of Queen Victoria, this time late in the monarch’s reign.

As you’d expect, this great actress eats up the screen, in the process compensating for a screenplay that isn’t exactly sure what it wants  to say.

This Victoria remains the isolated, lonely widow who in “Mrs. Brown” found companionship (and perhaps chaste romance) with her Scottish gamekeeper.  But now, several years down the road, she’s  getting a bit dotty. Dozing off at state dinners is  standard operating procedure. And she’s a voraciously fast diner, posing a problem for others who are expected to stop chewing when she does.

Victoria’s advisers and hangers on (played by a Who’s Who of Brit thesps like Michael Gambon, Tim Piggot-Smith and Olivia Williams)  are running the show in her intellectual absence. The  Queen’s influence is  limited to picking menus.

Based on a little-known historical incident,“Victoria and Abdul” centers on the arrival in court of Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal), one of the Queen’s Indian subjects who prior to this has been a humble clerk in a prison.

Abdul is tapped to represent India at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee not because of his standing but because of his, er, standing — he’s a lanky fellow and clueless British officials reason that a tall man will look better presenting Her Majesty with a rare and precious gold coin from the subcontinent.

What nobody counts on is that the old gal will look into Abdul’s Omar-Sharif eyes and strike up a remarkable friendship, one that revitalizes Victoria’s mental faculties, sharpens her interest in affairs of state and threatens the status quo of the royal household.

(more…)

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The usual suspects reunite

The usual suspects reunite

“THE SECOND BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL”  My rating: C-

122 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Ideally, a sequel gets made because there’s more to explore in the story or characters.

Most often, though, the sole motive is money.

And you can hear the spare change clanking incessantly beneath the dialogue of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”

The first film was a sleeper hit, thanks to its stellar British cast (Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Judi Dench), the exotic Indian setting and its amusing blend of expatriate adventure and cheeky septuagenarian sexuality.

It never added up to much, but it went down easily, especially with the gray-haired crowd that rarely gets to see itself portrayed with any sort of dignity on the big screen.

But though this follow-up was made by the same people — director John Madden, screenwriter Ol Parker and the returning players — all the charm seems to have evaporated. It’s a paint-by-numbers effort.

The screenplay gives each of the retiree residents of the Marigold Hotel [added:] in Jaipur a crisis to overcome — usually a romantic one. Contrasting against those late-life liaisons are the impending nuptials of young hotel operator Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) and his beloved Sunaina (Tina Desai).

Fortune hunter Madge (Celia Imrie) has two well-heeled Indian gentlemen on tap but can’t decide which one to marry. Nighy’s Douglas is smitten with Dench’s Evelyn, but he’s too shy to jump and she won’t commit.

Bon vivant Norman (Ronald Pickup) fears that he has inadvertently put out a mob hit on his girlfriend, Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

Muriel (Maggie Smith) grumpily lectures Americans on how to make tea and quietly nurses her concerns when a medical checkup doesn’t go as planned.

These subplots circle a larger story.

(more…)

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Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe

“MY WEEK WITH MARILYN” My rating: B- 

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

An actress portraying Marilyn Monroe faces the same daunting obstacles as an actor playing Jesus.

No matter how good your performance, it pales in comparison to the real thing.

Michelle Williams, one of our finest young actresses, does a perfectly credible job as the  immortal blonde sex symbol in “My Week with Marilyn,” a melodrama unfolding during the filming of “The Prince and the Showgirl” in London in 1957.

But as good as Williams is, not once did I mistake her for Marilyn. It’s a passable impersonation, but no one will ever fill the screen the way Monroe did.

Simon Curtis’ feature directing debut  (after a long career in television)  is based on “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me” and “My Week with Marilyn,” Colin Clark’s memoirs about his experiences as a young production assistant on the film. (more…)

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