Posts Tagged ‘Leslie Odom Jr.’

Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr.

“NEEDLE IN A TIMESTACK” My rating: C (VOD on Oct. 15)

111 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Time travel love stories — the ones that work, anyway — convince us of the inevitability of two souls finding each other across temporal and spacial eternities.

Basically you’ve got to leave one of these flicks feeling that the love relationship depicted is so earth-shakingly right that it must have been preordained by the fates.

John Ridley’s “Needle in a Timestack” aims for that sort of certainty in love…but comes up short.

It’s not for want of trying. The film has been very well cast; the performances are solid.

And yet it never quite works. Mainly, I think, because it doesn’t believe it’s own line of b.s.

Ridley’s screenplay (based on Robert Silverberg’s short story) unfolds in a near future that looks pretty much like ours. The big difference is that the world now is plagued with “time shifts,” waves of distortion that move across the landscape like a liquid wall.

In their wake some people’s realities are altered. They now have different spouses or jobs…and they have no memory of their previous lives.

Moreover, time travel is now a luxury available to the very wealthy. Despite rules to prevent the retro-retooling of the present, some of these high-tech vacationers do go into the past in order to fiddle with the future.

How did these “time shifts” come to be? Experiment gone bad? Interplanetary collision? COVID vaccine side effects?

The film doesn’t explain. Which is the first strike against it.

Anyway, Nick and Janine (Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo) are deeply in love. So they tell us…I never once felt it.

But in the wake of a particularly disruptive time shift, Nick becomes uneasy, convinced that Janine’s ex, the fabulously wealthy tech industrialist Tommy (Orlando Bloom), is using time travel to alter the past so as to reclaim Janine.

Maybe Nick is just paranoid. Or maybe not…his own sister (Jadyn Wang) has gone deep into debt in order to travel back in time to prevent the accidental death of her best friend.

In flashbacks (are they flashbacks, really, or an alternative reality depicting a different time line?) we witness Nick’s doomed romance with Alex (Freida Pinto)…doomed because without him realizing it, he’s fated to end up with Janine.”Fated” may be the wrong word. As Ridley’s dialogue insists on telling us at every opportunity, time is a circle. No beginning, no end, just an eternal round and round and round.

Now that’s a nifty concept, one thoroughly examined in countless pot-fueled late-night sessions in college dorm rooms. But “Needle in a Timestack” never makes its case emotionally. It’s more like a schematic for a Ted Talk.

Ridley, a cinematic jack of all trades (numerous producing credits, a mess of screenplays — “Three Kings,” “Red Tails,” “12 Years a Slave” — and a ton of TV) gets props for eschewing the usual fx-heavy trappings (when late in the film Nick becomes a time traveler, the tech is absurdly low) and concentrating instead on the human issues.

But something has gone wrong. At film’s end my reaction was less “aaaahhhhhh” than “uuuuuuuhhhh?”

| Robert W. Butler

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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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