Death on the Nile

Posted on February 10, 2022 at 5:39 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Murders, gun
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 11, 2022
Date Released to DVD: April 4, 2022
Copyright 20th Century 2021

Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel about a murder in Egypt has been sumptuously brought to screen by Sir Kenneth Branagh, who directed and stars as super-sleuth Hercule Poirot. (It was previously filmed with Peter Ustinov in 2009.)

For this version of “Death on the Nile,” Branagh worked again with his outstanding “Belfast” cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos and production designer Jim Clay, and their work here is never less than breathtakingly exquisite, matched by the fabulous costumes designed by Paco Delgado and JobanJit Singh, worn by some of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. It is beautiful to look at, and to listen to, with a superb soundtrack that includes sultry songs by a nightclub performer (Sophie Okonedo, the highlight of the film). But as with Branagh’s previous Poirot film, there are some confounding choices that distract us from the reason we’re there, which is to have just enough information and almost enough emotional involvement to enjoy the puzzle. For some inexplicable reason, Branagh and his screenwriter, Michael Green (“Logan”) think that we need to understand Poirot’s backstory, which Dame Agatha knew very well we did not. In 33 books, 2 plays, and more than 50 short stories, she wisely never told us more about Poirot than that he was proud of his “little gray cells,” his Belgian heritage (he is often mistaken for French), and his impressive mustache and that he sometimes spoke of retiring to plant vegetable marrows. This film begins with an un-Christie, un-canon flashback to Poirot’s WWI combat experience, and it (and the coda at the end) add nothing to the story.

The story has more than enough love, betrayal, melodrama, and yes, murder to fill a movie. In fact, to my recollection, it adds at least one murder to the Christie original for, again, no particular reason. This is a darker story than “Murder on the Orient Express,” but the tone of the film, and even the stunning images (people and settings) are off-kilter with the carnage of the story. There’s a reason that the stories by Christie and her imitators are called “cozies.” Unlike noir mysteries, they are comparatively neat and civilized. Noir is rotgut whiskey and bathtub gin. Cozies are afternoon tea with lemon curd and clotted cream.

It begins (after we get the flashback out of the way) with two devoted friends, both beautiful, high-spirited young women. Jacqueline (Emma Mackey) is poor and Linnet (Gal Gadot) is very wealthy. Jacqueline tells Linnet she is madly in love with Simon (Armie Hammer) but they need money to get married. Linnet immediately offers her whatever she needs as a wedding gift, but Jacqueline says that what she wants is a job for her fiancé. If Linnet will hire him as her estate manager, that’s all they need. Linnet agrees, Simon asks her to dance to celebrate and…in the next scene, it is Simon and Linnet who are married, celebrating in Egypt. Jacqueline, almost mad with jealousy, has followed them. To feel safe, Linnet invites a group to take a boat to see the famous tomb at Abu Simbal and other sights along the Nile. She tells Poirot that having money means it is impossible to trust anyone.

The other passengers include the blues singer and her accompanist/manager niece (Letitia Wright of “The Black Panther”), Poirot’s handsome young friend Bouc (Tom Bateman, returning in the same role he played in “Murder on the Orient Express”) and his protective mother (Annette Bening), two middle-aged British ladies (underused Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders), Linnet’s lawyer (Ali Fazal) and doctor (a sincere, melancholy, toned-down Russell Brand). Jacqueline joins the group as well. When someone is murdered, it turns out that many of the passengers may have had motive and/or opportunity. Poirot will have to ask questions and ultimately gather all of the surviving group in one room to tell them which of them is guilty.

Where will the next Branagh/Christie all-star mystery take place? Following a train and a boat, which conveniently limit inquiries to the people on board. Maybe an airplane? A submarine? Despite its shortcomings, I’ll be along for the ride.

Parents should know that this is a murder mystery with some grisly and disturbing images. There are also sexual references and characters use some strong language and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Which clues did you miss? How do the songs relate to the story and characters?

If you like this, try: the original “Murder on the Orient Express,” “10 Little Indians,” and more Christie-based movies and television series as well as her books.

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Crime Drama DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Remake

Wonder Woman 1984

Posted on December 21, 2020 at 8:00 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and sequences of action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic book/action-style peril and violence, sad death
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: December 25, 2020
Date Released to DVD: March 30, 2021

Copyright 2020 Warner Brothers
You may wonder why Wonder Woman is not as wonder-ful this time around. Part of that is attributable to shrinking it from big-screen theatrical release to home screens. We feel that right away in the bravura opening sequence, a flashback with Diana Prince as a young girl competing with adult Amazonian women in an athletic event like the American Ninja Warrior obstacle course if it was also a triathlon. But the bigger problem is in the fundamentals, the storyline and characters.

The first Wonder Woman was exceptionally well-conceived and executed, a triumph for director Patty Jenkins after some lackluster films from DC Comics. The WWI setting added interest, especially seeing Diana’s response to learning about the world outside of her idyllic woman-only community of Amazonian warriors. The stakes were clear and compelling and the villain was genuinely scary.

This sequel, set in 1984 for no particularly compelling reason, has entertaining moments and fun action sequences but the stakes are not as visceral and the villains are not as interesting.

As a resident of the Washington DC area, I got a special kick out of the re-creation of the 1980’s look of Georgetown and some of the other locations and tried not to pay too much attention to the details they got wrong. I can promise you, no one who works at the Smithsonian would think of touching any of their artifacts without gloves and other protective equipment, much less letting anyone, even a major contributor who knows how to flirt, take one home. But that is what happens when an item with crystals ends up at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, where Diana (Gal Gadot) is now working as an expert.

Now, I’m not asking for realism in a genre that includes radioactive spider bites and infinity stones, but ideally the McGuffin (Hitchcock’s term for whatever it is the story is about — the formula, the gold, the nuclear codes, whatever) has to be simple enough not to interfere with the plot but specific enough to make the threat interesting, and that means we have to understand a little bit about how it works, why it is important, and what it takes to defeat it. It’s more fairy tale than comic book, a wishing stone crystal thingy more like “be careful what you wish for” stories like The Monkey’s Paw (which gets a shout-out in the film) or King Midas’ power to turn all he touched to gold.

That’s not a very good McGuffin and the villains are disappointing, too. There is a guy who has informercials about how to be rich on television, Maxwell Lord played by guy-behind-the-Mandelorian-helmet Pedro Pascal, who wants, well, pretty much everything. Making him in the oil business is a nice 80’s touch. And there’s the mousy museum curator Barbara Minerva (Kristin Wiig), who wants to be just like Diana. The muddled elements of their storylines are reflected in an absurd flashback that is supposed to make us, what, feel sorry for him? Understand his “Cat’s in the Cradle” problem? And the Capra-esque conclusion is not the “we are the world” moment they hope for.

Then there’s Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. As you may remember, he died heroically in the first movie. So there’s a real “Bobby Ewing in the shower” moment (another 80’s reference?) to bring him back. I’m all for putting Chris Pine in every movie ever, but again, the way this happens is not thought all the way through and it is impossible not to feel uneasy about the way the characters overlook the real-world consequences of his return for so much of the storyline. I did get a kick out of having the guy do the trying on clothes montage, though, for once. And the post-credit appearance from a most-welcome addition to the cast.

Gadot is an enormously appealing screen presence but this storyline is not a good fit with her abilities as an actress or a movie star. This is a sadder, wiser Diana, more than 60 years after the first film, but at times she just seems emptier.

Maybe it’s just been too long since I’ve seen a comic book movie, but I found it entertaining despite all of the narrative shortcomings. Just hoping the next chapter is more wonder-ful.

Parents should know that this movie has extended comic book/action-style peril and violence and a sad death.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Max spend more time with his son? Did Diana envy Barbara?

If you like this, try: “Wonder Woman” and the DC Comics. Adult fans will enjoy Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman, about the remarkable story of the man who created the character.

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Superhero

Wonder Woman

Posted on June 12, 2017 at 1:39 am

Copyright 2017 Warner Bros/DC

They finally got a DC Comics superhero movie right. While Marvel/Disney has managed to turn out a series of top-quality films that managed to achieve a range of vividly individual tones for the different characters and yet keep everyone in the same infinity stone universe, DC/Warners has stumbled, most recently with the ponderous and murky “Batman vs. Superman.” A comic book movie can have serious themes, but it has to be fun. DC managed that for television, but not for the big screen – until “Wonder Woman,” which hits the superhero sweet spot between new and familiar, funny and exciting, romantic and heroic.

Credit goes to director Patty Jenkins (“Monster”) and screenwriter Allan Heinberg for making a smart, entertaining film about the character created by the fascinating William Moulton Marston, a Harvard-trained lawyer/psychiatrist, feminist, and inventor of the lie detector.

There’s a bit of a slow start with an unnecessary origin story. Young Diana the only child on the island of Themyscira, populated by women warriors. She wants to study combat with her aunt, the fierce General Antiope (Robin Wright), but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) wants to keep her safe.

It is Diana’s destiny to fight, however. When handsome and dashing WWI pilot Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) is shot down near the island, Diana rescues him. Wrapped in the Wonder Woman version of the lie detector, the golden lasso, he explains that he is an American spy, working undercover, and that he has discovered a terrible weapon that the Germans will use to wipe out thousands, even millions of people, poison gas. Diana (Gal Gadot), convinced that only the Greek god of war, Ares, could be responsible for such chaos and catastrophe, and that if she leaves the island, she can find him, kill him, and restore to humanity the peace they were created for.

We are used to origin stories where an ordinary person has superpowers unexpectedly thrust upon him (almost always him), whether he is bitten by a radioactive spider, arrives from a planet with a red sun, or gets hit with gamma rays. It is always fun to see them learn what they can do. We get a bit of that here with an obligatory training montage showing Diana riding horses and developing her hand-to-hand combat skills. We get the obligatory “you have greater powers than you know.”

But what is refreshing in this film is that what comes as a surprise to her is not what she can do but what the rest of the world has to offer. Trevor is the first male human she has ever seen — and she sees all of him when he gets out of the bathing pool, though it is his watch, and not his body, that she finds surprising. When she leaves the island, everything is new to her — WWI-era London, a baby, the idea of marriage, clothing that may be fashionable but impedes movement.

Gadot, a veteran of the Israeli army has a warmth on screen that shines through her increasing engagement with the human world and her ferocious determination in battle. She and Pine have an engaging spark with some old movie-style repartee and sizzling glances. The movie, shot on film, not digital, has a lovely old-school glow as well. The action scenes are exciting and vibrant with character, not just about the stunts.

We have seen a lot of WWII on screen but not much of the Great War. WWI introduced one of the most terrible weapons in human history, a weapon so devastating and uncontrollable that it has been banned ever since. “Wonder Woman” wisely grounds this story in that moment, with poison gas being developed by the Germans, led by chemist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya, unfortunately perpetuating the comic book cliché of disfigured villains) and an officer named Ludendorff (Danny Huston), who has a juicily evil moment involving a gas mask.

If the “Justice League” trailer at the beginning does not give you a hint that somehow Diana will still be around in the 21st century, bookend scenes set in the present day (involving a delivery from Wayne Industries) alert you that her WWI experience is just the beginning. I have some problems with a turning point for Diana in he final confrontation that is disappointingly retro. Aside from these concerns, this film is cheeringly robust, vibrant, and exciting, worthy of the Amazon warrior and the early feminist who created her.

Parents should know that this film includes extended wartime and comic book violence, characters injured and killed including civilians and children, some disturbing and graphic images, some sexual references and mild sexual situation, drinking and drugs.

Family discussion: Why didn’t Diana’s mother tell her the truth? Why did Sir Patrick send Steve and Diana on the mission?

If you like this, try: the Wonder Woman comics and the book about the creator of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore

Related Tags:

 

Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik