Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox). Watch trailer

The varying merits of the UK’s early November film releases appear to be in direct proportion to the protagonists’ face-fuzz. Much was made in advance of Kenneth Brannagh’s reimagining of Hercule Poirot’s ‘magnificent moustaches’ in the latest adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (20th Century Fox, 3 November), but the rest of the production falls short of its aimed-for grandeur. There’s a fair bit to admire in the period detail of costumes and props, the transformation of a Surrey hangar into Stamboul Station and an icy precipice in the Eastern Alps, and Michael Green’s script admittedly has a degree of wit and pathos, but Brannagh’s Poirot is so weighed down by his carefully orchestrated quirks that even the stellar supporting cast can’t raise the action to true drama or suspense. Johnny Depp as the villainous Ratchett and Penelope Cruz as anguished missionary Pilar Estravados come closest to performing with passion, but the talents of Willem Dafoe, Judi Dench, Michelle Pfeiffer and the rest are stifled as each steps forth to admire the brain and bearing of the dapper deductionist as he ticks off their individual talents for deception. There were pleasing observations in Christie’s 1934 story and subsequent stage play about the morality of shared guilt and retribution, but here they are almost swatted aside as Brannagh chooses to finish on a lighthearted – and highly optimistic – nod towards an ongoing franchise. What would be a far more interesting watch than an equally tired and dated Death on the Nile is a fly-on-the-wall ‘making of’ documentary of the present film, for insight into the impressive set-ups for sure – but mostly to see how film royalty rubs along in the midst of a slow-motion train wreck.
★☆☆☆☆

Shocking, unexpected and macabre, with multiple moments of guilty, did-I-really-just-laugh-at-that humour.”

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Curzon Artificial Eye). Watch trailer

Colin Farrell, who opted for a Ned Flanders-style push-broom in Yorgos Lanthimos’ acclaimed (yet troublingly loose) The Lobster, sports a full Roy Keane in the writer-director’s latest The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Curzon Artificial Eye, 3 November). Trotting along at a familiar clipped, emotionless, ironic pace with dialogue about nothing in particular between characters in a rut of their own making, the film then bursts into something altogether more sinister as a seemingly unstoppable outside force comes into play. Farrell’s Steven Murphy is an eminent heart surgeon at a monumental, sterile hospital, living in cold co-dependence with his ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman). Steven has befriended a needy youth named Martin (Barry Keoghan), who he introduces to Anna and their kids Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic) in the mistaken belief that Martin and the much younger Bob might become friends. When Martin turns menacing, Steven is faced with an impossible decision; a sacrifice with echoes in the ancient brutality of a Greek myth you should probably only google after viewing, which gifts the film its title. Shocking, unexpected and macabre, with multiple moments of guilty, did-I-really-just-laugh-at-that humour, it’s a film not easily forgotten, with stand-out performances from the main players.
★★★★☆

Paddington 2 (StudioCanal) Watch trailer

Furriest of them all, of course, is everyone’s favourite Peruvian marmalade junkie. Nicole Kidman was a surprise star of writer-director Paul King’s first Paddington film as evil taxidermist Millicent Clyde, and in Paddington 2 (StudioCanal, 10 November) the role of would-be nemesis is taken by Hugh Grant, whose cracked actor Phoenix Buchanan mercilessly ridicules the worst excesses of loviedom, while shamelessly stealing every scene he appears in. But it’s the lovable, decent, honest, hard-staring bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) who stays firmly in the spotlight as he conquers some distinctly odd jobs and a lengthy prison stretch, wins over the seemingly pitiless, and makes Great Aunt Lucy (Imelda Staunton) and his adoptive family the Browns (led by the ever-dependable Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins) prouder than ever in the process. Paddington as action-adventurer ought to be a world away from the genteel pace of Michael Bond’s books, but the original charm, good humour and gentle moral prodding shine through. Those of a certain age whose image of the bear is rooted in the BBC shorts of the mid-1970s will be delighted by a sequence in which Paddington steps inside a pop-up London, picturing the chance to show Lucy around his new home. The first film quickly became the biggest-grossing non-Hollywood family film of all time, and the follow-up brims with invention, gusto, irresistible humour and emotional truth in another sure-footed crowd-pleaser for all ages. Roll on Paddington 3.
★★★★★

Mark Reynolds is a freelance editor and writer and a founding editor of Bookanista.
@bookanista

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