Death on the Nile
Director: Kenneth Branagh
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: YES, for both the film and the book
Grade: Rocky Road
I mean. It’s watchable? It’s a little weird watching it, mind you, considering the public trainwreck of a cast, up to and including Possible Cannibal Armie Hammer. Still, I like Agatha Christie stories, and I’m always a sucker for a whodunit, so I didn’t have a bad time watching this, just, whew, some of the choices they make. Why?
Let’s begin with World War I and The Secret Tragic Mustache History of Mr. Hercule Poirot, a real sentence that I’m really saying right now. We get non-canonical flashbacks to our hero as a soldier, which is . . . fine, I guess, and see that Poirot is A) typically brilliant, B) too brilliant to become a farmer, which is, uh, apparently what he’s planning to do after the war? And C) clean-shaven, at least until he gets kinda blown up, and his nice fiancée suggests that he grows a mustache if he hates his facial scars so much. And, I mean. None of that’s awful. I probably wouldn’t blink twice at it in a non-Hercule Poirot story, but here it just feels so silly, like finally, AT LONG LAST, we learn the Secret History of the Ridiculous Mustache—a question that absolutely nobody was asking. (Also, at the end of the movie, Poirot shaves off his facial hair, which like, yay for acceptance of scars, but also . . . IDK, the Angst Beard has a long tradition in Hollywood, but the Angst Mustache is somehow just so much harder to take seriously?)
Anyway, what’s much worse is how Death on the Nile doubles down on one of my least favorite things about Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express: Poirot’s random dead fiancée, Katherine. The actress who plays Katherine is totally fine. But her tragic death is why Poirot, you know, Renounced Love, and became a great detective instead of a farmer, and how he can be so cold and removed and unfeeling, and ugh to all of this, especially this fucking line: “He told me how much he hoped you’d be happy one day, too. That you’d get tired of being just a pure cold detective. Be human instead.”
Look, I’m sure you’re tired of hearing this. I know I’m tired of saying it. But it is VERY POSSIBLE to be both happy and human without romantic love in your life. And what’s funny is, I’m not even 100% against the idea of a Poirot Love Story, like, do I think that shit is necessary? Nope, not remotely. But I will say that—in one of the many, many deviations from the original text—Poirot and Salome (Sophie Okonedo) have this whole quiet, flirty thing where she’s all awesome and he’s kinda cutely awkward, and it actually does work for me? But Death on the Nile pushes so HARD on this idea that you’re not truly living without romantic love, and that bullshit is just annoying AF.
Other unexpected adaptational choices: killing off Buoc, a character who isn’t even in the original novel. Instead, he’s the comic relief from Murder on the Orient Express, and his death is both surprising and genuinely pretty sad. It’s funny because I did think Branagh was gonna change up the third victim here, but I was so sure it was going to be Annette Bening, not Tom Bateman. Buoc’s death is much more tragic, and on one hand, WAAAAH, but OTOH, I think this switch-up actually does play pretty well. Certainly, Poirot’s sorrow about his dead friend feels way more earned than it ever did about poor dead Katherine.
Death on the Nile is a bit hard to judge as a whodunit since I already know, well, whodunit. I do feel like it’s less rushed than Murder on the Orient Express, which is good . . . although it also takes quite a while before the murders begin, which is less good. The cast may have been a PR disaster, but they’re a decent bunch of actors, and I’m mildly amused by how almost everyone here is putting on a fake accent. (The American actors are playing English, the English actors are playing American or Belgian or French, etc.) Strongest players are probably Kenneth Branagh, Annette Bening, Tom Bateman, and Sophie Okonedo. (She’s the MVP for sure.) Armie Hammer probably gets Worst Player, if only because, wow, I burst into laughter during his weepy scene, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be funny. If I hadn’t already known he was one of the bad guys, I definitely would’ve figured it out then.
Oh, this has gotten way too long. Some final random thoughts: A) JFC, the camera angles in this film have only gotten weirder, WHY, why are you doing this to me, Branagh? B) The CGI is also pretty terrible, like, that pyramid shot? Oh no. Oh, no. C) The sexy dancing in this movie seems incredibly forced to me, like, I am not always the best judge at what qualifies as steamy? But good Lord, this is just, like, lingering, awkward, faux-fucking on the dance floor. D) Some of the quippy dialogue is fun. I’m a simple girl, and I like a good quip. And E) I love, love, LOVE that Poirot straightens the dead woman’s foot. That might’ve been my favorite moment in the whole movie.
Director: Matt Reeves
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – HBO Max
Spoilers: VERY MUCH YES
Grade: Vanilla? Or, IDK. Vanilla-chocolate swirl, maybe?
TBH, I was kinda dreading watching The Batman, mostly because of the three hour runtime (superhero movies, when will you stop), but honestly? I was pretty entertained. Like, I wouldn’t call it the Batman film I’ve been waiting for my entire life or anything, but I had a good time watching it.
I like that The Batman is a slow burn mystery, that we really do get more of a detective story than any of the previous films. I like some of the dark humor (thumb drive, heh), and I’m utterly grateful that we skip the Crime Alley scene. I also enjoy how the film really commits to its whole emo noir aesthetic. (Holy shit, does Bruce lives in a gothic cathedral now? WTF.) Did those emo vibes occasionally make giggle? You’re damn right they did. I was absolutely grinning through Robert Pattinson’s noir VO (though, TBH, I think we could’ve cut that down just a bit) and definitely at Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” . . . but IDK, even though I couldn’t quite get through that with a straight face, it still worked for me, somehow, particularly with Pattinson as a younger, reclusive, moody AF Bruce Wayne. It felt fitting. I think there’s only one moment in the hospital where I just couldn’t quite buy him; otherwise, I like RP just fine as Batman.
Most of the cast is pretty solid, honestly: Jeffrey Wright feels instantly correct as Jim Gordon, Zoë Kravitz is enjoyable as Catwoman, John Turturro works really well as Falcone, I like Andy Serkis’s take on Alfred, and though it’s a kind of a minor role, I really enjoy Peter Sarsgaard as D.A. Colson. Paul Dano and Colin Farrell, though, I have mixed feelings about. Dano, himself, chews scenery like no one’s business, which . . . IDK, kinda works for me, but also not always? I do like the parallels between Riddler and Batman, and I did love Dano singing the “Ave Maria,” but I also definitely started cracking up when he was all “NOOO!” and IDK. It felt silly and over the top in a way that—unlike Batman’s bangs or Kurt Cobain—just didn’t quite work for me. Meanwhile, I actually enjoy pretty much all of Colin Farrell’s line deliveries here; he’s kind of the comic relief and—to my very great surprise—the jokes aren’t generally about his size or appearance. (They’re more about him trolling Batman and Gordon for their mediocre Spanish, which I am absolutely here for.) Still . . . I hate the fat suit. I hate the prosthetics. Sure, Farrell is unrecognizable, but that doesn’t add anything to this story; mostly, it just kept distracting me. At least, this doesn’t piss me off the way that Dune did or anything; it’s just like . . . why? Why not just cast someone else?
With a 3-hour runtime, I expected The Batman to drag considerably, but I actually think it’s pretty well paced for the most part. I do wish Batman and Catwoman worked together more throughout the film, partly because their quasi-romance felt a bit forced to me, and partly because I just wish we had more time with Catwoman in general. Alfred, too, gets pretty much dropped after the hospital scene, which disappointed me, although at least they didn’t kill him. (Oh, I would’ve murdered people.) I do wonder if we could’ve trimmed the third act a bit and maybe given those two characters a bit more time?
It also must be said that I just can’t bring myself to give a shit about that Joker tease, like, no disrespect to the actor, but Christ, I could go another full decade without the Joker; I am begging you. Still, I genuinely like that Batman ends this movie realizing that being vengeance isn’t enough, that he needs to be a symbol of hope as well. (Side note: I kinda loved the Vengeance name, if only because I kept thinking of this song and wanting people to come up to Batman and be all, “What’s up, Vengeance?”) The idea of Batman as a symbol of hope as well as a symbol of fear interests me, maybe because it’s kinda the whole antithesis of movies like The Dark Knight and is actually something I’d love to see explored in a sequel, should a sequel be made. I am all about character growth, and if we could actually get a compassionate Batman in a live action film, not just in cartoons like JLU? IDK, that could be pretty neat to see.
Appointment With Death
Director: Michael Winner
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – ScreenPix
And we’re back to Agatha Christie! Funny story: I’ve been wanting to check out Appointment With Death for actual years now, only it’s not an easy film to find, streaming or otherwise. However, while working on the Death on the Nile review above, I found myself looking up a list of obscure whodunit movies, and while looking up Green for Danger (number #1 on the list), I stumbled across the fact that Appointment With Death was available on ScreenPix. A free one week trial later, and here we are!
Peter Ustinov will never be my favorite Poirot, but I enjoy watching his movies well enough, and while Appointment With Death definitely isn’t knocking Evil Under the Sun from its top spot, I had a decent time watching it. This movie is, truthfully, a bit on the forgettable side, but I also feel like I have less glaring problems with it than I did with Branagh’s Death on the Nile—although that isn’t to say there aren’t flaws to be had because oh, there are. For one, we wait quite a while before anyone gets murdered—although admittedly, this does allow us more time with Piper Laurie, who excels in this film as the cruel Mrs. Boynton. For another, the insta-love between Dr. Sarah King and Raymond kinda kills me, although I’m pretty sure Agatha Christie is the one to blame for this. Insta-love is pretty common in these mysteries. There’s also the fact that Appointment With Death is about a bunch of white, snotty, British and American people in Jerusalem; there are definitely a few cringey moments, up to and including how little anyone cares about Hassan, a boy who tries to give Poirot critical information and ends up getting murdered for it. This immediately leads to a scene where Sarah, who initially looks guilty of Hassan’s murder, is briefly menaced by a bunch of silent men with brown skin, and it’s . . . yeah, it’s not great.
On the upside, this cast. Along with Peter Ustinov and Piper Laurie, we have Carrie Fisher, Lauren Bacall, and Hayley Mills, all of whom I had fun watching. Hayley Mills doesn’t have a super interesting role, but I enjoyed seeing her all the same, having grown up on the 1961 version of The Parent Trap. I like Carrie Fisher in this (I mean, when do I not like Carrie Fisher), and Jenny Seagrove is good, too. Honestly, all the women in this movie are more interesting than the men, but it’s Piper Laurie and Lauren Bacall who are the true standouts here. I would’ve paid, like, so much money to watch a film solely about these two squaring off. They are both an absolute delight.
Anyone who doesn’t generally enjoy whodunits is not gonna be won over by Appointment With Death, which is, well. Pretty formulaic in the long run. But since I’m a person who is deeply comforted by dysfunctional murder families, secret wills, and detectives who insist on giving dramatic reveals for absolutely no good reason, well. I’m ecstatic that I finally managed to track this one down.