A Poirot mystery we haven’t read. How spooky...
dmg media (UK)
A Haunting In Venice Cert: 12A, 1hr 43 mins ★★★★★ Bolan’s Shoes Cert: 15, 1hr 35mins ★★★★★ Rally Road Racers Cert: U, 1hr 33mins ★★★★★ The Nettle Dress Cert: 12A, 1hr 8mins ★★★★★ Kenneth Branagh’s first two attempts at capturing the elusive essence of the great Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, were muchloved classics of the Agatha Christie canon – Murder On The Orient Express in 2017 and Death On The Nile last year. The third, however, A Haunting In Venice, which arrives just 19 months after its predecessor, is not. It’s inspired by, rather than based on, a late Poirot novel, Halloween Party, which has not only been relocated from England to Italy but extensively re-written and further shaped by one of the short stories Christie wrote with a supernatural theme, The Last Seance. As a result, there is no sense of enjoying something with which we are already familiar, something we might have read or watched many times before. Set in 1947, it sees a withdrawn Poirot, clearly traumatised by the second World War of his lifetime, in uncomfortable retirement in late autumnal Venice. He employs a bodyguard to deter the many who want him to resume his detective work and comforts himself with boiled eggs and confectionery. It falls to his regular collaborator, the writer Ariadne Oliver, played here rather well by Tina Fey, to tempt him back into work. She wants him to accompany her to a seance in an inevitably haunted palazzo, where a grieving opera singer (Kelly Reilly) is hoping to contact her recently deceased daughter with the help of the celebrated medium, Mrs Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh). Ah, but will the many resident ghosts – the palazzo used to be a children’s hospital until the plague struck – let her? This is modestly classy hokum. Michael Green’s polished screenplay leavens Venetian Halloween chills with some welcome touches of humour and there’s no doubt that Fey, Reilly and Yeoh provide a top-class trio of female leads. Sadly, their male counterparts – both characters and performances – aren’t in the same league, Branagh’s decent-enough Poirot apart. Maybe that’s why I’d almost forgotten whodunnit by the time I got out into the street. Despite my fondness for the music of Marc Bolan and the fact that his son, Rolan Bolan, serves as an associate producer, there’s no disguising the fact that Bolan’s Shoes is a misconceived and, for the most part, poorly acted mess. Even the shoes make little sense. Beginning with a fictional fatal coach crash at the height of T. Rex mania, which clearly deliberately anticipates Bolan’s death in a car crash in 1977, we jump forward to the present, where the troubled Penny (a miscast Leanne Best) has travelled to Bolan’s roadside shrine. There she spots a familiar face, the bubble-blowing Jimmy, played unspeakably by a Timothy Spall looking like he’s just stumbled out of Slade. Sadly, it gets worse and more difficult to watch from there. There’s no doubt that the unimaginatively titled Rally Road Racers has colourful animation and a storyline that blends Wacky Races with Cars and a generous dollop of Kung Fu Panda. But, as we watch the truly bizarre story of Zhi, the slow loris who dreams of becoming a racing driver, what it doesn’t have is much in the way of magic or charm despite a voice cast that includes John Cleese, J.K. Simmons and Catherine Tate, and a racing car co-driven by a, er… pregnant male seahorse. It took seven years and many, many stings for newly widowed textile artist Allan Brown to weave a dress out of nettles. It takes director and cinematographer Dylan Howitt, less than 70 minutes to convince you that The Nettle Dress is one of the best documentaries you’ll see all year. Stunning.