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Death on the Nile Review | Succession Meets Knives Out in Branagh’s Latest

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Is it just me, or is the major reveal in Death on the Nile ridiculously obvious? We’re talking peak Geno Smith while he was a New York Jet. Not to sound like one of those morons you get in every theater with a mystery who’ll say something to the effect of “I knew it was __ all along!” when the credits roll, but something about the execution of Death on the Nile made it feel underwhelming. Sure, the whole point of mystery movies is to have audience members constantly trying to figure out who committed the crime, but when your first guess ends up being the correct one, it just feels underwhelming. Well-acted and featuring some beautiful cinematography, Death on the Nile is undoubtedly a good time, but the opening hour’s unevenness and perhaps too much family time (who else can relate?) bog it down from being something great.

During the honeymoon of newlyweds Linnet (Gal Gadot) and Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), one of the passengers is found to be dead. Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is on the case as the mystery is unsolved.

Armie Hammer as Simon Doyle and Gal Gadot as Linnet Ridgeway in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

Lead actor (and director) Kenneth Branagh is good as usual. His over-the-top performance as Hercule Poirot is easily the best part of the film, and it’s a shame that he doesn’t give himself more time to slowly solve the case. Poirot is like that family member who watches family events from afar and is able to see affairs that are waiting to happen just from people-watching.

Gal Gadot is fine, though it’s admittedly hard to take her seriously in any role that is not Wonder Woman. A fun drinking game I may suggest, especially if you got a Jackass Forever shot glass, is downing a shot every time Cleopatra is namedropped from either Gadot or Hammer. It’s a nice reminder of the “sexy” and “smart” iteration of Cleopatra that Gadot will star as in the film that surely has no chance of being a failure. Imagine a world where that could go wrong; I’m sure you can’t.

Is Armie Hammer allowed to be brought up?” is the question that many critics will likely face when writing their reviews. To avoid any risk of controversy, all I will say is that it’s funny to see him play another role with a British accent (the other one being The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and he’s perfectly fine in his role. Nothing so spectacular that you’ll have flashbacks to a time when he was pegged as the next big thing, but good enough to serve his role and not stand out for any negative reasons. Though it should be said that those who don’t want to see Hammer in the film and perhaps had some hope of him being edited out judging by the last trailer will be disappointed. He’s one of the main characters, and Disney (understandably) did what they had to do in light of recent allegations and exempt him (as much as they could) from the final marketing pushes.

The rest of the family ensemble is a mixed bag of memorable characters like Euphemia (Annette Bening) and Sophie (Salome Okonedo), and forgettable ones such as Andrew (Ali Fazal), Linnet’s cousin who clearly has ulterior motives in his relationship with Linnet. The issue is that they all fit the stereotypes of a whodunit, all set up to look guilty as if they were about to walk into a confession booth, but not all are created equal.

Scene from 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

When Branagh isn’t delightfully chewing up the scenery, Emma Mackey, who is bound to make your mind ask, “Is that Samara Weaving?” for most of the runtime, stole the show as Jacqueline. If you’ve seen Murder on the Orient Express, you’ll know what to expect of Branagh, thus making Mackey the most memorable part of Death on the Nile. Her “Joker origin story” is as melodramatic as it gets, and it’s quite funny when you realize that the crux of this movie could have all been avoided if Linnet had abided by the “bro code.” The basic, and you’d think universal rule, is that you don’t go after someone that a friend has already pursued, much less got engaged to. Linnet does that immediately after she is introduced to Simon in what has to be one of the biggest slaps in the face for Jacqueline. What Mackey’s character proceeds to do isn’t right, but it’s understandable at the very least.

But, as a whodunit, does Death on the Nile succeed? Well, the time spent with Poirot solving the mystery, interrogating those on the boat are wildly entertaining. Even the melodramatic setup that gives reasonable cause to each of the family members is fun, but should not take up to 70 minutes of the movie (more on that in a second). The mystery of the murderer feels relatively obvious.

Films like the aforementioned Knives Out showed how you can handle a film that gives away the major twist halfway through, granted, Death on the Nile keeps it in until the end, and even the major red herring that was supposed to throw everyone off someone’s scent felt off. Assuming Death on the Nile sticks true to its original ending from the novel, it just fits such a stereotype in these movies that’ll likely be the first or second prediction that comes to mind; even before getting into the “meat and potatoes” of the movie.

Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot in 20th Century Studios’ DEATH ON THE NILE, a mystery-thriller directed by Kenneth Branagh based on Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel. Photo by Rob Youngson. © 2020 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

The runtime of Death on the Nile is likely somewhere between 120 and 130 minutes; it’s a film that doesn’t necessarily overstay its welcome as Moonfall did with roughly the same runtime earlier this week, but there is a lot of setup for this Succession-like game of family politics. Yes, the setup is necessary, but it didn’t even feel like we were on the boat until at least 40 minutes in, which is strange when it felt like all of the trailers showed scenes on the boat. Plus, we get the idea after the first couple of times Mackay is stalking the newlyweds, no need to continue hammering it home that she is not taking the breakup well.

Death on the Nile is wholly enjoyable, it’s just unable to contain its big secret any more than a dorm hall when you have a crush. With the subtlety of the Little Rascals sneaking into a movie theater, the major twist felt more like a “no duh,” moment rather than the gasp it hoped to achieve. Even still, the cast is (mostly) filled with interesting characters that all have a guilty look on their face, and some of the images are absolutely stunning. Death on the Nile is still worth a watch with family and friends, as you can argue whether or not you truly had it figured out from the start, and perhaps the twist is better than my own experience with it. Sooner or later, murder mysteries need their Spider-Man: No Way Home with Benoit Blanc and Hercule Poirot gracing the screen together.

Death on the Nile will hit theaters on February 11.

FILM RATING

Andrew is an entertainment journalist and film "critic" who has written for the likes of Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, Film Focus Online, /Film and The Hollywood Handle among others. Leader of the Kaitlyn Dever Fanclub.

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‘UNDER THE GREY SKY’ Review | A Harrowing Tale of Courage and Resistance

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Under The Grey Sky
Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich as Lena in 'Under The Grey Sky' (Photo Credit: LOCO Films)

Over the years, we have seen a surge in movies that depict the political unrest around us. Earlier this year, we saw Alex Garland’s ‘Civil War’ making viewers think about what the future might look like for us. Movies like ‘Civil War’ not only focus on how a regime can be so cruel to its people but they also shed light on how some people pay the price of exposing the government’s dirty schemes. One such person is Katsyaryna Andreeva, a Belarusian journalist, who was put behind bars for covering a protest against the corrupt Belarus government. She was labeled as a traitor by her government and sent to prison. Her inspiring, yet troubling story is masterfully captured in Mara Tamkovich’s debut feature film UNDER THE GREY SKY.

The film opens with Lena (Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich), an intrepid journalist, fearlessly livestreaming the brutal crackdown of a protest against the 2020 Belarusian election results. Her commitment to exposing the truth sets the stage for the intense drama that follows. The protest, which quickly turns violent, is captured in stark detail, showcasing the bravery of those who stand against tyranny. However, Lena’s defiance comes at a steep price; she is swiftly arrested, thrusting her husband, Ilya (Valentin Novopolskij), into a harrowing ordeal. Faced with relentless police raids and the grim possibility of Lena’s long-term imprisonment, Ilya is caught in a moral and emotional predicament. He must decide whether to continue supporting Lena’s cause or to seek a more secure path for himself. On the other hand, Lena is being forced to give a bogus confession and fight her inner demons to navigate through one of the darkest phases of her life. Her unwavering resolve becomes a focal point of the narrative, illustrating the resilience required to withstand oppressive regimes.

It is a poignant exploration of the intersection between technology and political activism in the 21st century. The film underscores how tools like the internet, drones, and social media have become essential in documenting human rights abuses and rallying global support. On the other hand, Tamkovich’s direction is unflinching in its depiction of state-sponsored violence, offering a visceral portrayal of the lengths to which authoritarian regimes will go to maintain control. Cinematographer Krzysztof Trela’s work is particularly noteworthy, as he skillfully captures the oppressive atmosphere of modern-day Belarus. The film’s muted color palette and claustrophobic framing capture the essence of the dark reality faced by those living under autocratic rule.

Aliaksandra Vaitsekhovich delivers a riveting performance as Lena, capturing the journalist’s tenacity and vulnerability with remarkable depth. Her portrayal is both raw and nuanced, conveying the inner strength required to confront an inviolable enemy. Meanwhile, Valentin Novopolskij as Ilya is as brilliant as Aliaksandra. The chemistry between Vaitsekhovich and Novopolskij lends authenticity to the couple’s struggle, and making it a compelling viewing experience.

Overall, Mara Tamkovich’s directorial debut UNDER THE GREY SKY is a harrowing tale of political repression. Tamkovich’s narrative is an unflinching look at the personal sacrifices demanded by political activism. The movie’s tension is palpable, capturing the oppressive atmosphere through gritty, immersive cinematography. The film is an inspiring testament to the enduring fight for justice.

Under The Grey Sky premiered at this year’s TRIBECA FESTIVAL.

FILM RATING
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Twisters: A Swooping Storm of Entertainment

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Twisters [credit: Warner Bros/Universal Pictures]

Twisters was on a lot of people’s most anticipated lists for the year, and rightly so given the cast and crew involved. We don’t see a lot of big-budget disaster movies in mainstream Hollywood these days. So the idea of a modern reboot of Twister although slightly strange and sudden, seemed like a breath of fresh air in this world of superhero flicks and silly action comedies. Everything about the project says that the studio was dead serious about this one and was going all in.

 

Universal’s modern adaptation of the classic is helmed by Lee Isaac-Chung and co-produced by Steven Speilberg. It has a story by Top Gun: Maverick helmer Joseph Kosinski and an ensemble cast that includes Daisy Edgar-Jones, Glen Powell, Anthony Ramos, David Corenswet, Sasha Lane, Maura Tierney, Kiernan Shipka, Daryl McCormack, Katy O’Brian, Brandon Perea among others. Basically, every young star that has the potential to be a movie star is in this movie.

 

The movie opens with a long action sequence, where we get introduced to some of the characters including Daisy Edgar-Jones. This tornado sequence sets the tone and expectations for what’s to come. It tries to start off with a bang, but it is a little rocky at the beginning and takes a lot of formulaic tropes. Someone who has seen a lot of blockbuster action movies or disaster movies would almost start to get worried in the first 20 minutes because some of the scenes feel half-backed and lackluster. But once Daisy’s co-lead is introduced, that’s when the movie really gets going.

 

Of course, I’m talking about a little-known actor called Glen Powell. His screen presence is arguably as strong as anyone in the industry right now. He plays a “tornado wrangler’ named Tyler Owens, and his character is as badass as his name. But most importantly, he brings a much-needed injection of energy into the screenplay. Then we go into some exposition and the story goes a lot deeper than one would expect. The characters are well-built and the viewer really starts caring about each one of them.

Twisters [credit: Warner Bros./Universal Pictures]

The movie is shot with 35mm, which works perfectly for the landscape that Isaac-Chung is trying to capture. This is just his second directorial and his first attempt at a big-budget blockbuster, and it shows in his style as he opts to play it safe. he rarely takes big swings or shows ambition in some sequences. Most of the action sequences are thrilling and the tornadoes keep you on the edge of your seat. The visual effect work is also commendable and justifies the massive budget.

 

While the story is effective, the screenplay can be a little up and down at times, mostly in the first half. Another negative is the music choices. While the sound design is splendid, the score and the song choices are not so much. Some of the songs that played in the background were extremely distracting and did not fit at all. The movie also underdelivers on its own standards of brutality that it sets very early on. It also lacks a bit of warmth and is a little lightweight on humor.

 

Twisters succeeds at being a fun, thrilling blockbuster cinematic experience anchored by a magnetic Glen Powell and Daisy Edgar-Jones. The visual aesthetic is on point and tornado sequences make you feel like you’re right in the eye of the chaos. The cast is charming and the characters are treated with care. It may lack warmth and ambition, but it makes sure to entertain you and makes for an exciting summer blockbuster. Definitely worth an IMAX watch.

Twisters will be released in cinemas on July 19.

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‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ Review (TRIBECA) | A Brilliant Fusion of Comedy and Social Commentary

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Julia Aks
Julia Aks in a still from 'Jane Austen's Period Drama' (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

We are in 2024 and sadly, the subject of periods or menstruation is still considered to be taboo in several cultures and societies. In cinema, we have seen a lot of titles talking about the issue with great sensitivity. However, none has been so effective and powerful as Julia Aks and Steve Pinder’s Jane Austen’s Period Drama. The short film, which is set against the backdrop of Georgian England, starts with a joyous moment of Miss Estrogenia receiving her much-awaited marriage proposal. However, things go upside down when she realizes that her period has arrived and her dress is drenched with blood. Upon seeing the blood, Mr Dickley takes Estrogenia to her home and calls for a doctor. Although Estrogenia has decided to tell Dickley about menstruation, her mother stops her from doing that because she feels that Mr. Dickley would drop the idea of marrying her daughter.

The movie’s narrative is clever, and witty, and intertwines traditional themes of love, social status, and marriage with contemporary issues of feminity and bodily autonomy. The unique mixture of both these elements creates a distinctive storyline that feels timeless and relevant at the same time. In this narrative, the unexpected period serves as a metaphor for the often unspoken aspects of womanhood that clash with societal expectations of decorum and propriety. This bold narrative allows viewers to be a part of Estrogenia’s life and how she navigates the balance between honesty and societal pressures.

Jane Austen Period Drama

A still from ‘Jane Austen’s Period Drama’ (Photo Credit: Mickwick Productions)

The writing is quirky, yet thought-provoking and explores the subject with sensitivity. The direction by Steve Pinder and Julia Aks is skillful, balancing the film’s comedic elements with its more serious undertones. Another aspect that makes the film such a brilliant watch is its cinematography. The cinematography captures the elegance of the 18th-century setting and opulent interiors that take viewers to a time when things were pretty different. The costumes and period-accurate set designs enhance the movie’s authenticity. Acting-wise. Julia Aks steals the show with a mesmerizing performance. Her performance enhances the viewing experience, giving viewers a glimpse of her impeccable talent. Meanwhile, the supporting cast delivers strong performances, adding richness and complexity to the story. The dynamics between characters are well-developed, with each interaction contributing to the overall narrative.

Overall, Jane Austen’s Period Drama is a brilliant and charming take on the genre of period drama. The film masterfully combines humor, thought-provoking storylines, and heart most extraordinarily. Additionally, the film does occasionally lean into modern sensibilities but never forgets its true destination. Solid performances, engaging script, and beautiful cinematography make this film a must-watch for everyone who loves literature and contemporary comedy.

Jane Austen’s Period Drama had its premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

FILM RATING
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