Here’s some other stuff I watched between August and September, in alphabetical order. I need to quit my job and make time for more movies. Can anyone help?
Death on the Nile (1978)
written by Anthony Shaffer
based on the novel by Agatha Christie
directed by John Guillermin
Death on the Nile (2022)
written by Michael Green
based on the novel by Agatha Christie
directed by Kenneth Branagh
In 1978’s Death on the Nile, producers John Brabourne and Richard Goodwyn repeated the winning formula of their earlier Agatha Christie adaptation, Murder on the Orient Express (1974): An all-star cast, exotic locales, gorgeous cinematography, and just the right amount of camp. What they couldn’t bring back was Albert Finney in the role of Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (Finney did not want to film under the hot Egyptian sun). In his place, the production hired Peter Ustinov, and he brings a welcome dose of whimsy to his portrayal of the finicky detective. Watching him cooly observe the passengers aboard a river steamer – and deduce who among them is responsible for the murder of a rich heiress – is a treat (he’d go on to play Poirot in five more films). And back in 1978, I imagine the climax in which two killers are revealed came across as a surprise.
Similarly, actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s 2022 remake of Death on the Nile adheres closely to his previous modernization of Murder on the Orient Express (2017). It’s a high-gloss, more pompous affair in keeping with Branagh’s flashy approach to filmmaking. The camera glides all over the place and we get CG-enhanced views of Egypt as the bodies mount. But despite the fact that four decades later the reveal comes across as somewhat more predictable, Branagh is clearly relishing his chance at developing Poirot’s character. The result is a fun, if less impressive, whodunit. I’m curious as to what the next chapter will be.
Death on the Nile (1978) – Rating: ***
Death on the Nile (2022) – Rating: **½
Gretel & Hansel (2020)
written by Rob Hayes
based on the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel by The Brothers Grimm
directed by Oz Perkins
In The Blackcoat’s Daughter (2015), filmmaker Oz Perkins gave us his spin on Satanic possession. In I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016), he invited us into a haunted house. And now with Gretel & Hansel, he tackles folk horror, delivering another highly stylish, visually striking horror flick that unfolds slowly and dreamily. The point of entry is obviously the popular fairy tale Hansel and Gretel, but the approach and tone is all Perkins, a director who prefers (like I do) practical effects and slow-burn tension. I do wish more time had been given to the storytelling – just like with The Blackcoat’s Daughter, the film feels a little underdeveloped. But by the end, as Gretel fights the witch in order to save Hansel, you’ll be properly spooked. More, Mr. Perkins.
House of Gucci (2021)
written by Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna
from a story by Becky Johnston
based on the book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed by Sara Gay Forden
directed by Ridley Scott
House of Gucci is a strange film to come from director Ridley Scott, not known for particularly “fun” movies. But it does fit into an oeuvre that has shown a minor fascination for the intersection of crime and wealth, such as in American Gangster (2007) and All the Money in the World (2017). Here he focuses on the iconic Gucci family, and in particular Patricia Reggiani, the social climber who ended up marrying – and killing – Maurizio Gucci, heir to the fashion brand’s empire. The cast, which includes Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Adam Driver, and Jared Leto, is certainly having a good time, but this is Lady Gaga’s show all the way. Her performance as Patrizia is pitch perfect, balancing over-the-top camp with a real sense of loneliness and desperation, a woman who saw a perfect opportunity, played the role she created for herself… and went mad with the power she tasted.
The Snowman (2017)
written by Peter Straughan, Hossein Amini, and Søren Sveistrup
based on the novel by Jo Nesbø
directed by Tomas Alfredson
The Snowman is a bizarre and downright nonsensical mess about a Norwegian detective (Michael Fassbender) trying to catch a psychopath whose calling card is building snowmen at crime scenes (kinda a laborious thing to do if you don’t want to get caught). There’s a lot of talent here, including Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson as the investigators, Tomas Alfredson directing (2006’s Let the Right One In), and even Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. However, important scenes feel as if they’re missing (Alfredson himself has said that 10-15% of the film wasn’t shot), the acting is as remote as the desolate landscapes, and the plot often veers into the ridiculous, as in an unintentionally funny moment in which the killer blows Val Kilmer’s face off with a shotgun and a second later places a snowman’s head on top of his bloody neck stump (!). That’s some impressive time-warping superhero shit right there. I’m done.
Carlos I. Cuevas