Kenneth Branagh

Murder on the Orient Express (2017) [DVD]

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It was with some trepidation that I approached the latest big screen adaptation of Agatha Christie’s seminal Murder on the Orient Express. For one thing, my enduring affection for both the novel and Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film meant I was already predisposed to not liking the new kid on the block. For another, I’d heard some very polarised reactions to the new film with some not liking it one bit. I can’t remember the last time that my father was ever as vitriolic about a film as he was after seeing this at the local Odeon.

Given all that, I was surprised by how much I liked the new film. Its by no means a match to the original version, nor even to the delightful 1994 BBC Radio 4 dramatisation by Michael Bakewell starring John Moffatt as Hercule Poirot (the pictures are always better on the radio.) But it’s nonetheless a solid, quality production which strikes a balance between sensible reverence for the source text with the necessary updates to appeal to a 21st century cinema-going audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Before the Frost, by Henning Mankell [TV4, BBC]

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Last month I wrote about the final run of episodes of Swedish TV’s Wallander series starring Henning Mankell’s detective Kurt Wallander; next year we’ll have the final three instalments of the BBC adaptations of Mankell’s novels, without which the Corporation likely wouldn’t have thought to shown the Swedish series on BBC4 in 2008 thereby unexpectedly igniting what became the phenomenon by the name of Nordic Noir. So successful were these imported subtitled films that in many ways they’ve somewhat eclipsed the British version – at least in terms of critical and highbrow reception, if by no means not in terms of viewing figures.

I confess I myself have loved the Swedish version and tended to be rather dismissive of the British one. Is it just the exotic allure of the foreign language and the subtitles that’s beguiling us into thinking one is better than the other, or does that stand up to objective review? In many ways it’s hard to tell, because the BBC version is a series of adaptations of Mankell’s novels, while the Swedish version starring Krister Henriksson features original stories and is consciously more of a television series, the novels having already been ticked off with Rolf Lassgård playing Wallander in a run of theatrical films. Where Kenneth Branagh is the unequivocal centre of the novels and therefore the BBC version, Henriksson – at least at the start – is positioned more at the head of a ensemble of crime fighting detectives. Read the rest of this entry »

A Bumper Post of Harry Potter Reviews

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When the first five Harry Potter films came out, I dutifully trooped off and saw them at the cinema having read the book. But something (I genuinely can’t remember what) interrupted my flow and I somehow missed out on seeing or reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and so of course I never saw or read the final instalment Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows either. Somehow successfully avoiding any major spoilers, I never did find out how the story ended.

I always meant to go back and pick up the story on DVD (or Blu-ray as it turned out) but the longer I left it the more I realised I’d forgotten key details of the earlier stories in the meantime. I’d need to go back on a fresher course of the first five before I was able to finish off the final three films – and that required quite a lot of time, being as it is around 20 hours of viewing in total. But Christmas seemed like it might be the best time to pull this off, and so with festive carols in the air and lights twinkling on the tree (and storms lashing against the windows), I finally got underway… Read the rest of this entry »

Thor (2011) [DVD]

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When I originally heard that Kenneth Branagh had been selected as the director of a Marvel Superhero film, I thought it was a very odd choice indeed. Still best known for his Shakespearian productions (both on stage and on celluloid), Branagh is hardly the person you would expect to be doing a big-budget all-action summer Hollywood blockbuster.

Having finally seen the end result this weekend, all I can say is that he still seems a very odd choice for it. But ‘odd’ is by no means necessarily a bad thing, and there are certain aspects to Thor that play impressively well to Branagh’s strengths and which few other filmmakers could have pulled off nearly as successfully as he does; but at the same time there are other parts of the film where his apparent lack of interest in empty bombast and action for its own sake really does tell, leaving some oddly hollow sections.

First the good stuff: the film’s version of Asgard, the legendary home of the Norse Gods, is truly spectacular. Beautifully and imaginatively designed and exceptionally well captured by Branagh, his director of photography and the SFX team, this was one of the most convincing and jaw-dropping creations I’ve seen on screen for many a year. The architecture is epic but moreover cohesive, and it has a real sense of grandeur to it while also looking like a true work of art. Read the rest of this entry »