For a review of “Murder on the Orient Express,”
Agatha Christie’s 1934 mystery novel “Murder on the Orient Express” was memorably adapted to film in 1974, with Albert Finney playing the fastidious Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. Now, Sir Kenneth Branagh slips into Poirot’s signature splendid mustache in a starstudded, big- budget remake, which he has also directed.
The way he tears into the performance, with an elegant vigor, it seems as though Branagh has been waiting his whole life to age into the role of Poirot, clearly relishing the blend of quirky meticulousness— one could call it obsessive- compulsiveness— and cheeky humor. He runs away with the picture, both as star and director, with lavish production design and an intoxicating and dazzling display of cinematic style.
The murder mystery set aboard a train from Istanbul to Calais is the kind of oldfashioned romp we don’t often see anymore, executed with a thoroughly modern sense of verve and rhythm. An opening prologue set in Jerusalem concerning a missing religious relic shows us Poirot’s unique methods, as well as lays out the spritely, agile pace and warm humor that pervades Poirot’s presence. Despite his dealings with dastardly doings, Poirot maintains a sense of dignity and cheer. He’s truly funny — this is a man who wears an elaborate sleeping mask on his mustache and giggles incessantly at Dickens— but he does take crime very seriously.
Poirot’s hoping for a vacation, but alas, that’s not to be. When he runs into an old pal in Istanbul ( while marveling over an array of breads — this man loves his baked goods), he secures passage aboard a luxury sleeper train, soon to become a crime scene. Through a series of dizzyingly complicated long shots, we’re introduced to all our main characters in the train station as they board, the characteristics and clues flying fast and furiously.
As for the stars in “starstudded,” we’ve got wellregarded favorites — Michelle Pfeiffer as a cougarish husband hunter, Judi Dench as a Russian princess, Penelope Cruz as a severe missionary, Willem Dafoe as an Austrian professor and Johnny Depp appropriately cast as a dirt bag gangster and obvious villain. Joining them are up- and- comers Daisy Ridley as an international governess, Leslie Odom Jr. as a noble doctor, Sergei Polunin and Lucy Boynton as a reclusive Count and Contessa, and Josh Gad as the gangster’s secretary. When the murder is discovered, Poirot is pressed into duty, and all passengers become suspects.
Those who have read the book or know the original film will knowthe twists and turns of the mystery, but it’s not worth spoiling for those who are new to the story. The pop and fizz of the opening, and the lush production are utterly transporting and will make you crave a croissant, a coupe of champagne and a long trip on a luxury train through a wintry landscape.
But as the mystery deepens, reveals itself and grows darker, it becomes sad, delving into the aftermath of trauma and how it reveals itself. No longer a romp, all of the energy that Branagh starts out with drains like blood out of a corpse, leaving the film ultimately cold to the touch. The beginning is a rollicking ride that will likely leave audiences craving more Christie, and here’s hoping we do see Branagh return as Poirot— his rendition is too fun to be cut short.
“Murder On The Orient Express,” a Twentieth Century Fox release, is rated PG- 13 for violence and thematic elements. Running time: 114 minutes.
“Daddy’s Home 2”
“Daddy’s Home 2” just might have to meet “A Bad Moms Christmas” outside in the parking lot to rumble over this turf war. Both films are seasonal romps about intergenerational love, acceptance and different parenting styles, but “Daddy’s Home 2” slightly gets the edge. The surreal and silly sequel to the hit 2015 comedy skates on the well- known but still- appealing comic personas of stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg and their zany chemistry.
Co- writer and director Sean Anders returns to helm the family comedy, and like the moms in “Bad Moms Christmas,” “Daddy’s Home 2” doubles down on the dads. While milquetoast sweetie stepdad Brad ( Ferrell) managed to exert his sensitive, progressive influence on tough guy Dusty ( Wahlberg), it’s a whole new ballgame when their fathers come to town. Jon Lithgow is brilliantly cast as Brad’s dad, Don, aka Pop Pop, a chatty retired mailman with cookies in his pocket. Then there’s Dusty’s father, Kurt ( Mel Gibson), who goes by “El Padre” with the kids and is a womanizing, virulently macho astronaut who keeps trying to give his grandchildren guns for Christmas.
The secret sauce that makes the “Daddy’s Home” films work is the strange brew of chemistry between Wahlberg and Ferrell. Wahlberg is his breathy, exasperated self, while Ferrell executes his naive oaf routine he does so well, lending his clumsy physicality to all manner of bodily injury, accidents and mishaps. Christmas, of course, lends itself well to the repeated power tool gags that Brad gets into, with snow blowers and lights and chainsaws and cellphone towers.
With the added dads around, those antics become frantic. The mania produced by four warring dads, two moms and several precocious kids means the film almost never stops to breathe or let a bit run its full course. There’s a genius thermostat dad joke that would have been that much funnier with more time, but the film zips through jokes and plot points to fit them all in.
Lithgow’s character is so delightfully conceived and performed with many tiny perfect details that Don practically deserves a spinoff sitcom. The soft underbelly of the “Daddy’s Home” movies is celebrating softer male emotion and sensitivity, and Don is the perfect representation of how that makes people around him feel warm and happy. That progressive idea needs a foil, something to bump up against, which is represented by the toxic, macho swagger of Kurt. The casting of Gibson is pretty perfect for that, but you have to wonder if he’s totally in on the joke.
Kurt is the villain of the film, encouraging violence between the dads and aggressive sexuality on little Dylan ( Owen Vaccaro), who has his first crush. He gives obviously egregiously bad advice, urging his grandson to kiss the girl he likes and “smack her on the caboose.” But the film wants to have it both ways, playing it for laughs. The casual sexual harassment incites groans instead ( Gibson’s background doesn’t help). While Brad lectures on the “friend zone,” he manages to skip actually talking about consent.
“Daddy’s Home 2” has its highs and lows. There are moments when it’s deliriously silly and delightful, and others where it misses the mark, lacking the consistency of the first film. And while at times it feels like too many dads, they eventually all learn to “co- dad,” in some kind of harmony.
“Daddy’s Home 2,” a Paramount Pictures release, is rated PG- 13 for suggestive material and some language. Running time: 100minutes. ½
Mark Wahlberg, left, and Mel Gibson star in the Paramount Pictures release “Daddy’s Home 2.”