Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile (2022)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh. Screenplay by Michael Green, based on the novel by Agatha Christie.

This is Kenneth Branagh’s second outing portraying the great Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot and directing the action. As with the previous Murder on the Orient Express (2017), this is an ensemble piece, drawing together some of the biggest names in contemporary cinema, probably all jumping at the chance to work with Branagh – I know I would be!

Like it’s predecessor, there are script adjustments, new characters added to bring it into the 21st century, (which thankfully draws Letitia Wright and Sophie Okonedo into the mix) and a callback character from the previous film. Overall, the cast are fine and it’s everything you’d expect from a film of this genre and style. The set design, costuming cinematography and lighting are sumptuous, coupled with a soundtrack that is period perfect, making this a feast for the senses. And therein lies one of the biggest flaws in this film – it’s too gorgeous. Yes, it serves as an important reminder of the opulent world these people inhabit but I find it detracted from them – the characters I wanted to meet, get to know, empathise with. The beauty overrode the rest of the film and never let me forget I was watching a movie.

I know many who adore Branagh’s skills as an actor and director (I include myself in that club) so what I’m about to say might sound heretical.

My other issue with this movie is Branagh’s take on Poirot, he plays him more as a man of action, which traditionally, Poirot is not. It’s very subjective (isn’t all art?) but after seeing this, I desperately wanted to rewatch David Suchet who, in my opinion, is a far more flamboyant version of the character, yet remains utterly human, unafraid to display his flaws and leans far more heavily into the character from Christie’s many books.

In conclusion, this is not as good as Murder on the Orient Express (2017) which I found far more entertaining. It is incredibly well made and almost too beautiful to look at – but ultimately, lacking in substance. Perfectly fine while it’s on screen but ultimately, forgettable.Death on the Nile is currently screening in selected cinemas in Australia and available to stream on Disney Plus.

Velvet Buzzsaw

I’ve been physically and emotionally preoccupied with bushfires the last few weeks, with friends, their properties, native wildlife and some of the most beautiful places on the planet destroyed or under threat. The air quality’s been pretty horrendous even here in the city – what must it be for firefighters and local residents? – and I’ve had messages from friends in northern climes, who are telling me of snow in Cornwall UK and the horrific Polar Vortex that’s caused so much chaos in Canada and the US. So please forgive me for not keeping up here. In truth, I’ve been neglectful of writing anything.

Velvet Buzzsaw 2019

Written & directed by Dan Gilroy.

This very stylish thriller is another Netflix production and I’ve read very mixed reviews since it dropped here at the start of February. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, this reunites him with Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (Gilroy’s wife), who all previously worked on Nightcrawler (2014). Where that film was a dark, noirish beast that centered on some very dubious characters, Velvet Buzzsaw is drenched in the sunlit and very elite world of the LA art market. Russo and Gyllenhaal lead a very impressive ensemble cast in this bitchy satire on the fine art world but there are definitely problems. Jake Gyllenhaal always impresses but I found his portrayal of the art critic at times almost a caricature of a young Andy Warhol.

Russo is entirely convincing as a former punk who’s made a fortune out of other people’s talent, Toni Collette is delightful as the bitchy Gretchen and John Malkovitch is hilarious as the artist battling to create while sober. But at the core of the film is the mesmerising and often downright creepy artwork of Vetril Dease, which is stolen after his death by Josephina (Zawe Ashton), an art agent working for Rhodora Haze (Russo). As people start to make a lot of money out of this work, strange things start happening – I think you get the picture.

While I mostly enjoyed the movie (it was a welcome relief from the real world) I found it quite clunky at times and think it could’ve done with a very different edit to lift some sections. Also, I felt this was a film caught between two genres, not quite being a full-blown satire and never being close to a true horror movie.

Some of the death scenes are quite inventive and there are moments of definite creepiness, but I know this won’t satisfy horror fans.

Fun while it lasted – but quite forgettable.

The Party

The Party (2017) Directed by Sally Potter.

Earlier this week, (before the madness of Avengers: Infinity War hit Australia) I was feeling decidedly tired and run down. Recovering from a head cold, too much work and generally worn out, I decided on an evening of solo self-care.

What would cheer me up? A hearty dinner for one followed by an acerbic, biting black comedy? Yes please! This film, written and directed by the wonderful Sally Potter (Ginger & Rosa, Yes, The Tango Lesson and the sublime Orlando) was just what I needed.

The Party is a short (71 minutes) and fast-paced ensemble piece that revolves around Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who’s just been made Minister of Health and is having a few friends around to celebrate her promotion. It was filmed just before the Brexit madness in the UK, proving again that truth is stranger than fiction.

Shot in digital black and white and beautifully lit, the focus is often on the faces of the ensemble, accentuating their flaws as much as their beauty. This is particularly true of Cillian Murphy’s often manic Tom and Timothy Spall as Bill (Janet’s taciturn husband). I also think this method showed the underlying dinginess of Bill and Janet’s house (particularly the bathroom), which could also be viewed as a metaphor for their lives.

The entire cast of seven are terrific (I’m a sucker for anything with Bruno Ganz in it) but for me Patricia Clarkson as the no filter, cynical and bitter April steals the film and has many of the best lines. There is a twist that I did see coming but I still laughed out loud when it finally arrived.

This has opened to mixed reviews and I can see that it does sound and look more like a theatrical production at times, playing with caricatures rather than characters in its short running time. Also note it has a MA15+ rating for some graphic drug use. But nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if you’re a fan of black comedy and farce. It’s currently playing at the State Cinema in North Hobart and selected cinemas across Australia.