Two movies – the kind we’re supposed to see in theaters – reach our TV sets this coming week.
Each was directed by its star. Each is sort of a “part three,” filmed in interesting corners of Europe. Neither is anywhere near as good as the first … but yes, they’re still worth watching.
On Tuesday – in time for one last Halloween scare – “A Haunting in Venice” (shown here), Kenneth Branagh’s third Hercule Poirot film, reaches Hulu. Then on Friday, Peacock has “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3.”
In many ways, these two are opposites – one dark and foreboding, the other quite cheery. Here are looks at both:
“A Haunting in Venice”
At first, people grumbled that Branagh is clearly not Poirot – the cocky little Belgian who keeps signaling he’s the smartest person in the room (and maybe on the continent).
But by also directing the films, Branagh has succeeded. He may have mis-cast himself in the lead role, but he’s done everything else right.
Like a few other directors (Steven Spielberg, for instance), Branagh masters both sides of filmmaking.
Yes, he’s big on story, dialog and character. He started with Shakespeare; he filmed his own masterpiece, the deeply personal “Belfast,” in black-and-white.
But Branagh also understands that movies should feel big and cinematic; he directed “Thor” and a lovely version of “Cinderella.”
That sense helped during his first two Poirot films. “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile” had clever Agatha Christie plots, but they also filled the screen with great visuals.
So it’s a surprise that for the third film, Branagh (via screenwriter Michael Green):
— Jettisoned Poirot thestories. Christie wrote roughly 86 of them (in novels, short stories and two plays), but Green ignored them. He used a tiny bit of her “Hallow’een Party,” but not much.
— Instead, told a story that is mostly inside a dark mansion. Unlike the two previous films, this lacks variety and visual zest.
Green’s story has all the strengths of a Poirot mystery – interesting characters, multiple suspects, surprising twists – and the usual flaw: The sudden emergence of a wildly elaborate explanation.
By movie standards, it’s merely kinda good – a good story, with few cinematic extras. But it’s solid entertainment for TV … which, as it happens, is where it will be, starting Tuesday.
“My Big Fat Greet Wedding 3”
The first movie, in 2002, was one that fans really liked and accountants really loved. Made for $5 million, it grossed $369 million.
It also exhausted all the fun parts. The second film, in 2016, made $91 million; this third one only managed $38 million.
Gone is the fun of seeing Toula (Nia Vardalos) transform from mousy bystander to vibrant bride …. And of hearing her elders lecture on the glory that was Greece …. And of seeing one side of a wedding overflowing with Greeks, while the other is empty.
By this third film, Toula and her husband Ian are settled. Now comes a mysterious invitation to visit the Greek town where her late father grew up. Everyone (including her college-age daughter) descends on the town; many seem to be bearing secrets.
Vardalos wrote the script, which is fairly good, and did the direction, which is pedestrian. She gives us likable people, interesting places and small laughs, but nothing more. For TV, that might be enough.