I see that the long-awaited Killers of the Flower Moon is out but, spoiler alert, you won’t find a review of that here-yet. Instead this article is for those who have two hours (or less) to kill and want a reasonable assurance they’ll be entertained. Don’t get me wrong—you will probably be entertained by the new Scorsese feature, but it happens to run for approximately 210 minutes—these features can be seen without a restroom break.
In terms of recent releases, I enjoyed A Haunting in Venice, the latest Kenneth Branagh (stars, directs) take on Hercule Poirot. I’m not familiar with the David Suchet Poirot films, but more than his cinematic counterparts Peter Ustinov and Albert Finney, Branagh’s Poirot is considering both legacy and mortality. In his adaptations, the stakes are more personal, and plots have occasionally been tweaked to allow for his character to be personally (and not just academically) involved. In A Haunting in Venice,, a retired Poirot allows himself to be talked into attending a séance at a Venetian palazzo and possibly expose the medium as a fraud. The plot involves a questionable suicide, greed, betrayal, spurned and emotionally scarred lovers, a curse, and possibly visitors from the spirit world. It doesn’t give anything away to say murder plays a big role, with Poirot seemingly questioning his own capabilities and long-held beliefs.
Branagh’s direction and Michael Green’s adaptation (of Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party) work together to create an atmospheric and tense scenario, a film in which revelations are effectively spaced apart for maximum effect. The cast is less star-heavy than in other Branagh/Poirot outings; you do have Tina Fey and Michelle Yeoh doing fine work in prominent roles but Camille Cottin (Call My Agent) and Jamie Dornan also do contribute exceptional performances. The suspense is effective and the traditional “gathering the suspects” also provides a satisfying payoff. While this may still be in theaters, it’s probably entering the streaming stage. Give it a try.
William Friedkin’s last film was The Caine Mutiny Court Martial (on Showtime), and I should tell you, I have a great fondness for the 1954 film version (Bogart, Fred McMurray, Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer). However, only the last third of the film is taken up by the trial, and because you don’t see the events, you the viewer has to decide on the side you take–although in any version I’ve seen, including this one, the actor playing Queeg, in this case, a raspy but fairly effective Kiefer Sutherland does decide the case. Because this version has been updated to the Persian Gulf, the prosecutor is now female (an effective Monica Raymund) and possessing a bit more moral outrage than previous prosecutors. The Judge (the late Lance Riddick) also takes a more active role than in previous versions, largely to good effect.
The trial itself (and the film) is nicely structured, allowing with insights into both the accused (namely Jake Lacy’s Lt. Maryk) and the commander who finds his record on trial (Sutherland’s Queeg). Though essentially a one-set piece, the camerawork is nimble and there are several interesting compositions that add to the flow and disguise the “talking heads” nature of the piece, Because the trial takes up the whole film, there are a number of good character vignettes besides the leads, as in Gabe Kessler’s Petty Officer and Griffin Dunne’s defensive doctor. Jason Clarke’s reluctant defense attorney Greenwald is also quite effective; he doesn’t quite make one forget Jose Ferrer—and in this revised version, he is deprived of one of Ferrer’s best moments. I only mention this because it lessens the impact of the final scene. My other quibble is that Keefer (played by Lewis Pullman) makes a negligible impression, and in this revised version, even less so. Don’t take my word—watch the film, and though there are flaws, this is a well done, assured work, with something to say about duty, loyalty and responsibility.
If you’re in the mood for a ‘feel-good” film, look no further than The Burial, which can be found on Amazon Prime. Inspired by a true story, Tommy Lee Jones is the owner of a faltering funeral home company in the South who lives to regret a deal he’s made with a large funeral home consortium. When the company in question hedges, Jones is pushed to the brink; to save his business and provide his family with a legacy and some security, he engages the services of flashy personal injury attorney Jamie Foxx, thus resulting and David and Goliath story that is enormously entertaining—even though you have no doubt as to where it’s heading. Jones and Foxx both deliver appealing and textured performances, and are well-supported by Pamela Reed and Amanda Warren (as their respective wives), Jurnee Smollett as the opposing attorney, Bill Camp as the villain, and Mamadou Athie as an innovative and enterprising lawyer who is the secret weapon in Jones’ case. The courtroom histrionics are credible (as these things go) and the payoff is emotionally satisfying.