Tag Archives: Jennifer Saunders

Murder Was Again the Case

Death on the Nile

by George Wolf

“He accuses everyone of murder!”

“It is a problem, I admit.”

This playful admission by legendary detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is one of the ways Death on the Nile has some winking fun with the often used, often parodied Agatha Christie formula.

And since Christie’s source novel is one of the works that perfected that formula, it’s smart to acknowledge some inherent campiness while you’re trying to honor the genius of the original construction.

After his successful revival of Murder on the Orient Express in 2017, Branagh is back to again star, direct, and team with screenwriter Michael Green for another star-studded, claustrophobic whodunit.

This time we’re aboard a lavish cruise down the Nile in the late 1930s. Wealthy heiress Linnet Ridgeway (Gal Gadot) has just married the dashing Simon Doyle (Armie Hammer), and they’ve invited a group of friends and family (including Annette Bening, Sophie Okonedo, Russell Brand, Jennifer Saunders, Letitia Wright and no-that’s-not-Margot- Robbie-it’s Emma Mackey) to help them celebrate.

Ah, but love and money bring “conflicting lies and jealousies,” and soon Linnet proves wise in putting the world’s greatest detective on the guest list. Murder is again the case!

And when Hercule Poirot is on it – which takes a while – Branagh and Green craft a capable reminder of what makes this formula so sturdy. From the discovery of clues to the requisite red-herring accusations, it’s just fun to feel part of Poirot’s deductive process.

But while Branagh and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos expertly utilize the confines of the ship to their advantage, the surrounding locales smack of outdated CGI and land as a disappointing stand-in for the eye-popping wonder of Orient Express.

Branagh and Green also try valiantly to weave a layer of love through the mystery. Opening with a prologue that introduces a decades-old pining (along with Poirot’s keen eye for detail and a dubious inspiration for that mustache), the film’s ambitions for this added narrative weight are worthy, but ultimately add more running time than substance.

The epilogue that checks in with Poirot six months after the cruise lets us know Branagh may have more Christie mysteries on his itinerary, and that’s not a bad thing. Death on the Nile proves that a trusty return to glamour and intrigue can still overcome some excess baggage.

Moderately Fabulous

Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie

by Hope Madden

There is something cathartic in watching the brazenly wrong-headed Eddie Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders) and her enabling bestie Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) of Absolutely Fabulous make bad decisions. This summer, they take their Bollinger, ciggies, Botox and bags of coke to the big screen. The result is Moderately Fabulous.

The British sitcom has enjoyed sporadic but popular runs on BBC since the early Nineties. Saunders – who also writes – pokes fun at celebrity culture while she and Lumley offer a master course in physical comedy, onscreen chemistry and unseemly humor.

Will the boozy duo’s quest for the swingin’ celebrity life ease as they sashay into their sixties? Of course not.

Eddie’s PR firm has fallen on hard times. Her champagne fridge is empty and her credit cards are “broken.” What she needs is one big client. Good luck! Kate Moss is between PR agents. If Eddie and Patsy can finagle a meeting at the upcoming fashion show without knocking Moss into the Thames and drowning her, setting off a social media frenzy, not to mention an all-out police manhunt, they’ll be back in the Bolly in no time.

Though the plot is almost painfully thin, padded with a veritable cameo-gasm (the highlight of which is a hilarious Jon Hamm), Saunders keeps the raucous one-liners flowing. And their wisdom is, as usual, spot on.

Tough night of boozing and pill popping? Freshen up with a little spritz of after birth.

Don’t think of family members as attachments. “They’re parasites, ticks, danglers.”

And the best advice yet: “Avoid the Jacuzzi – it’s a smoothy of old sperm.”

Yes, these are still the most delightfully horrible people in the world, and Ab Fab is at its best when it remembers this. Their generational issues are not meant to be resolved lovingly, wistful moments of regret are antithetical to their credo, and God knows no lesson should ever be learned.

Unfortunately, Saunders does not abide by these laws entirely. Director Mandie Fletcher can’t hide the threadbare script behind a runway’s worth of cameos, either. Like so many cinematic sit-com adaptations, Absolutely Fabulous would have played better on the telly. But thanks to Saunders and, in particular, the comedic genius of Lumley, you will laugh.