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Posts Tagged ‘Kenneth Branagh’

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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cinderella“CINDERELLA”  My rating: B

112 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Don’t go to Disney’s new live-action version of “Cinderella” expecting post-modern irony, a feminist perspective, or even psychological realism.

The makers of this movie take their fairy tales straight up and undiluted by any such intellectual folderol.

In last year’s “Maleficent” the Disney Studio reinterpreted its 1959 “Sleeping Beauty” from the evil fairy’s point of view.

But “Cinderella” director Kenneth Branagh and screenwriter Chris Weitz have no use for such revisionism. The fairy tale is enough for them. They aim for the heart, not the head.

Darned if they don’t pull it off.

This isn’t precisely a remake of Disney’s acclaimed 1950 animated version, but fans of the original will see plenty of references, from the evil stepmother’s pampered cat Lucifer to the fat mouse Gus.

(Now if only they’d had Helena Bonham Carter’s Fairy Godmother sing “Bippity Boppity Boo”…well, can’t have everything.)

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Chris Pine as the new Jack Ryan

Chris Pine as the new Jack Ryan

“JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT” My rating: C (Opens wide on January 17)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan has always been the anti-Bond, a CIA agent who balances a normal family life with adventures that carry a torn-from-the-headlines aroma.

No luscious babes. No super villain with a high-tech lair disguised as a volcano.

Actually, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit” might have benefitted from a super villain or a luscious babe or two. This latest attempt to reboot the franchise (previous

Keira Knightley

Keira Knightley

Jack Ryans include Alec Baldwin, Ben Affleck and, most notably, Harrison Ford) is a competent but fairly sedate affair. Whether it will jump-start the series is up to the ticket buyers…I’m not terribly hopeful.

Chris Pine, fresh from his other gig as a young James T. Kirk in the “Star Trek” universe, is our new Jack Ryan. We meet him studying economics in London in 2001. After 9-11 he enlists in the Marines, is shot down in Afghanistan, paralyzed with a spinal injury, and undergoes a long rehab which not only gets him back on his feet but into the bed of his med-student therapist, Cathy (Keira Knightley).

This all happens in the first 10 minutes.

While still recuperating at Walter Reed he’s recruited by CIA spookmaster Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), who gets Jack a job in a big Wall Street firm from

Kevin Costner

Kevin Costner

which he can covertly look for funding channels for terrorist groups. If he were married to Cathy, Jack could tell her of his real job, but since they’re only living together, he can’t. This puts a strain on their relationship.

Jack’s study of international financing raises alarms of a plot from within Russia to destroy the U.S. economy with a combined terrorist attack and world-wide sell-off of American securities that would make the dollar worthless.

So Jack is off to Moscow to confront one of those newly-minted Russian billionaires, Viktor Cherevin (a thin-lipped Kenneth Branagh), who carries an old Cold War grudge against the Yanks and wants to elevate Mother Russia to her rightful place at the top of the international food chain.

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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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There’s absolutely no reason why any of us must see “Thor,” the latest Marvel Comics big-screen adaptation.

The good news is that if you do see it, there’s no harm done.

This is a surprisingly effective (I’m tempted to call it smart) addition to the superhero canon, a moderate success for a most unlikely filmmaker:  Kenneth Branagh.

The Irish-born Branagh, of course, is the theatrical wiz kid who burst upon the cinema scene with his terrific “Henry V” back in 1989 and who has periodically created and/or appeared in other Shakespearean films, among them “Othello,” “Hamlet” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”

His non-Bard movies, on the other hand, have been flops. While Branagh has proven himself a valuable supporting player in a variety of worthwhile films (“Rabbit Proof Fence,” the Harry Potter franchise), his credibility as a filmmaker for years has been on the skids. (more…)

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