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Gal Gadot leads all-star cast

A honeymoon aboard a glamorous steamer is tragically cut short because of a search for a murderer in “Death on the NIle.” Armie Hammer and Gal Gadot are part of an all star cast in the crime mystery which opens today at Cinema Centre 8.

Originally slated for release back in 2019, Death on the Nile’s endless, COVID-related delays meant Branagh had time to go off and make the Oscar-nominated Belfast, and he’ll be relieved that it’s the latter that’s taking up the column inches.

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After spending five minutes in his vacuum-sealed Egypt, audiences may well yearn for the relative comforts of strife-torn Northern Ireland.

The film’s bad luck was exacerbated, of course, by the gruesome allegations levelled against its star Armie Hammer, whose presence was largely obscured in the film’s trailers. But unlike Murder on the Orient Express’s then-scandalised headliner Johnny Depp, who was polite enough to expire in the first reel, Hammer is very much front and centre in the sequel.

As dashing chancer Simon Doyle, Hammer makes a swarthy, sexually charged entrance, slow-grinding co-star Gal Gadot’s wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway in a swinging London nightclub in 1937 – much to the chagrin of his soon-to-be-ex, and Linnet’s friend, the sultry socialite Jacqueline de Bellefort (Emma Mackey).

We are treated to somewhat of a Detective Hercule Poirot origin story in “Death on the Nile,” as we learn about his romantic past at the start of the film and even how he originally became mustachioed.

The romantic bit is relevant as the film unfolds, because love is the central theme for most of the characters, making it a particularly appropriate film to debut on Valentine’s Day as it is. However, it’s still based on an Agatha Christie novel, so there’s a murder (or two) and an ensemble cast of suspects laid out like a never-ending game of Clue just as enjoyable as “Murder on the Orient Express,” but perhaps more picturesque with Egypt as the setting this time.

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Before getting into the plot, I want to address the #metoo elephant in the room, namely lead actor Armie Hammer (“Call Me By Your Name,” “The Social Network”). He has been accused by several young women of sexual violence in recent years and just completed a stint in rehab for sexual addiction. Thankfully, his part is only prominent amidst this formidable cast for the first third of the film, while the murder plot is being setup. After that, his presence fades into the background in favor of better performances and more interesting plotlines. If you want to avoid this film for that reason, however, I cannot argue, as I still have not seen the new “West Side Story” for the same reason. Let it be known that I was previously a big fan of both Mr. Hammer and Ansel Elgort.

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Hammer appears as Simon Doyle, the golden boy new fiancé of Jacqueline de Bellefort, played by Emma Mackey (“Sex Education”), markedly more stunning than her wealthy best friend – Wonder Woman, though we are obviously supposed to see Gal Gadot in her traditional role of femme fatale when she inevitably steals her man. One whirlwind romance and quickie marriage later, Hammer and Gadot are off on a fabled, privileged 1930s honeymoon of yesteryear. They have invited a gaggle of murderous suspects – ahem, friends – to tour the pyramids of Egypt with them and the luscious sets are like decadent paintings, their every move choreographed like a dance, making this film one to see in the theater.

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Notable performances appear in the form of a band led to sumptuous perfection by Sophie Okonedo (“Ratched,” “The Secret Life of Bees”) who even catches Poirot’s eye and the fierce Letitia Wright (“Black Panther,” “Small Axe”), the object of another love triangle herself, travels with them, along with Annette Bening as a painter and mother to one of the eventual demised and Jennifer Saunders (“Abfab”) plays a kind of Debbie Downer character with an unexpected subtlety against type in her every anti-bourgeoisie comment.

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It’s all glamorous settings, romance and theatrical entrances until Hammer’s first fiancée starts showing up at their every venue, stalking them into insecurity (Gadot) and rage (Hammer). Even booking an entire boat to themselves isn’t enough to evade Ms. de Bellefort, but just as they decide to call it off and return home, Gadot herself turns up dead.

There is no cleverness to how director Kenneth Branagh ham-handedly lays out the clues along the way (a well-timed public argument here, an unjustified reference to missing red paint there), but nonetheless, the reveal is just as satisfying and in some ways even more tragic a la Romeo and Juliet than the ending of “Orient Express.” For all its obviousness, it does still become somewhat of a mystery, proving that Poirot’s love is ultimately his macabre work. Note: Xem Phim Chuyện ma gần nhà Online