THE name, plot, location and most of the characters have been changed in this whodunnit based on Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party.
And why director and star Sir Kenneth Branagh chose to do this is not entirely a mystery.
Kenneth Branagh as Hercule Poirot and Tina Fey as Ariadne OliverCredit: AP
As a title, Hallowe’en Party sounds like a cheap slasher.
The original story was not well received by critics. There were too many characters in the book.
And Venice is certainly a more film-friendly location than a fictional English town.
What has survived this cull is great Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, played for the third time by Branagh, along with the Halloween party itself and Poirot’s murder mystery writer friend Ariadne Oliver.
Casting comic actress Tina Fey as Ariadne is this production’s masterstroke.
At last Branagh has a sidekick to bounce off in the form of gentle tease Fey, who gleefully delivers put-downs such as describing Poirot as the “number two” greatest detective.
They are a fine double act, able to switch tone with ease.
One minute they are sharing jokes, the next they are discussing the existence of God.
It is Ariadne who tempts Poirot out of retirement to attend a seance on Halloween at a run-down palace in Venice.
Fine double act
Poirot only agrees to attend to prove that the psychic, Joyce Reynolds, is a fake.
But he ends up having to stay in order to solve a murder.
As with Branagh’s previous two Poirot movies, much of the cast are hit and miss.
Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh proves her class as icy mystic Joyce.
Young Jude Hill from Branagh’s film Belfast demonstrates that he’s a talent to watch.
And French actress Camille Cottin intrigues as the help, Olga Seminoff.
But model-turned-actor Jamie Dornan fails to convince as a war veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
And the rest of the cast failed to persuade me that they feared for their lives.
As a result, this whodunnit is not as chilling as it would like to be.
But it did have me guessing the killer’s identity right up until the big reveal.
A Haunting In Venice is an enjoyable trip, but one that does not leave much of an impression.
CASSANDRO is not your typical sporting biopic – and it is all the better for it.
Based on the true story of gay Mexican wrestler Saul “Cassandro” Armendariz, it sees Gael Garcia Bernal pull off an enchanting performance as a man seeking acceptance through the sport he’s loved since childhood.
Gael Garcia Bernal in CassandroCredit: AP
Set predominantly in Texas during the 1980s, the part-time wrestler starts off competing under the alias El Topo (“The Mole”).
Frustrated with being consigned to lose each meet, Saul looks to the women in his life for inspiration.
His single mother Yocasta’s ultra-feminine style then becomes the basis for Saul’s new “exótico” wrestling identity “Cassandro”.
And it gives him the courage to live flamboyantly as himself.
Intimately-shot fight sequences, balancing close-ups and wide angles, capture both the farce and athleticism that goes into this brand of wrestling.
Yet director and co-writer Roger Ross Williams brings out a deep sincerity in the characters that keeps you invested in Saul’s grounded yet emotionally impactful journey.
AS animated capers go, Rally Road Racers is a pretty run-of-the-mill offering.
Zhi (voiced by Jimmy O. Yang) is a slow, wide-eyed primate of the loris family.
Zhi, voiced by Jimmy O. Yang, in Rally Road RacersCredit: PA
Inspired by his childhood hero Archie Vainglorious (John Cleese) – a rich toad with a flair for villainy – he wants to swap his Tai Chi-loving village for the high-octane realm of rally driving.
Zhi ends up betting Archie that he will win the 200-mile Silk Road Rally, and the film goes on to follow his treacherous misadventures across China.
There are lots of foreign stereotypes and dodgy accents, with the Americanised Zhi and fellow slow loris Shelby (Chloe Bennet) playing out the more conventional hero/love interest.
The most entertainment comes from Cleese’s posh, entitled antagonist, along with his disposable minion-like frogs.
Animation-wise, there’s a fun racing sequence replicating A-ha’s Take On Me video but, mostly, the landscapes are boring and lifeless.
There are a few funny sight gags too.
But given the calibre of animated films at present, Rally Road Racers is not even close to pole position.
JESSIE BUCKLEY and Riz Ahmed star in sci-fi romance Fingernails.
NICOLAS CAGE plays a bald professor who keeps appearing in people’s dreams in Dream Scenario.
JAMIE FOXX is a lawyer representing a wronged funeral parlour owner in The Burial.