Death on the Nile (2022)

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 4/5/22;
20th Century;
Mystery;
Box Office $45.43 million;
$29.99 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray, $43.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for violence, some bloody images, and sexual material.
Stars Kenneth Branagh, Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie, Emma Mackey, Tom Bateman, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Ali Fazal, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Sophie Okonedo, Letitia Wright.

The end of the 2017 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express featured famed fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) summoned to Egypt to handle another murder case, seemingly teasing Christie’s Death on the Nile as a potential sequel.

Well, Branagh does return as Poirot and as director for Death on the Nile, but it ends up not following up on that tease. Instead, it’s three years later, 1937 (the year Christie released Nile, incidentally), and Poirot is mentioned as having solved that case in Egypt, which ends up being unrelated to the new storyline.

After beginning with a flashback to World War I that depicts an origin story for Poirot’s famous mustache, the film finds the detective returning to Egypt for a bit of a vacation, where he ends up as a guest to the wedding party of Linnet and Simon (Gal Gadot and Armie Hammer). The couple have invited some friends on a swanky cruise down the Nile, and enlist the aid of Poirot in keeping an eye on Jackie (Emma Mackey), Simon’s former fiancée who has taken to stalking the couple out of jealous rage for being spurned for the wealthier Linnet.

When a string of murders do take place onboard the ship, Poirot is hard-pressed to stop them, though he is keen on solving them, which does beg the question of why the killers insist on continuing with their plans even knowing that a world-class sleuth is accompanying them and he always solves the case. Maybe they’re just masochistic for the challenge of stumping him.

Anyway, Branagh and screenwriter Michael Green have tweaked the source material a bit to give the story a more modern feel despite its period setting, swapping the race and gender of a few characters, such as making the romance novelist character from the book into a touring jazz singer and budding love interest for Poirot.

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Beautifully shot and visually exquisite on HD and Ultra HD displays, Branagh imbues the film with an impeccable sense of style, staying true to the spirit of the original novel while peaking behind the mustache at what makes Poirot tick.

The Blu-ray includes nearly 40 minutes of behind-the scenes featurettes that offer some good insights into the making of the film. The 15-and-a-half-minute “Death on the Nile: Novel to Film” examines the collaboration between the filmmakers and Christie’s estate to bring the latest adaptation of her book to life, while the six-minute “Agatha Christie: Travel Can Be Murder” takes a look at some of Christie’s inspirations for setting the book in Egypt. “Design on the Nile” is an 11-minute featurette about the creation of the costumes and sets for the film, highlighted by a tour of the river yacht at the center of the story. The five-and-a-half-minute “Branagh/Poirot” focuses on Branagh’s talents as a director while also starring in the film.

Rounding out the extras are eight deleted scenes that are pretty interesting and run about 10 minutes in total.

Black Panther

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street 5/15/18;
Disney/Marvel;
Action;
Box Office $694 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, 39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for prolonged sequences of action violence, and a brief rude gesture.
Stars Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Daniel Kaluuya, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker, Andy Serkis.

Black Panther is a prime example of the effectiveness the superhero genre can have in drawing upon the mythological aspects of comic book storytelling to provide a thought-provoking allegory for modern times that is both powerful and entertaining.

Director Ryan Coogler’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (the 18th film to enter the canon) is one of those films that presents a distinct point of view yet is also likely to be differently interpreted based on the mindset of the viewer, to the degree that deciphering its true message should spark a wide array of debates for some time to come. But, at its core, as a character-driven superhero action blockbuster, the film ranks among the most memorable and well-crafted in the genre, with the most pressing factor of its ultimate ranking on any best-of lists likely to be predominately determined by one’s own personal connection to the characters and story.

Not unlike the “Thor” movies, but more compelling and grounded, the story is driven by Shakespearean family drama, in this case centered on the character of T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.

Picking up from the events of that film, T’Challa must return to his home country of Wakanda to assume the mantle of king.

As the centerpiece of one of the film’s primary motifs of things hiding in plain sight, the tiny African nation presents itself as a poor third-world nation, but in actuality is a technologically advanced civilization fueled by a magical element that crashed into Earth long ago.

T’Challa’s reign is soon threatened by a long-lost cousin (Michael B. Jordan) who grew up in America after a devastating fallout between T’Challa’s father and uncle, and resents that Wakanda never sought to help the global plight of the descendants of Africa.

Black Panther does a good job incorporating traditional African tribal culture and the natural beauty of the continent into a strong “what if” scenario involving a mighty African kingdom that had control of its own resources and avoided the imperialism of the past few centuries.

The film invites comparisons to The Lion King for its rich visual and musical representation of Africa. Yet Coogler is also adept at presenting the sci-fi elements of the story, from Wakanda’s technical marvels and vast cityscapes, to an energizing action setpiece in South Korea.

Black Panther also presents strong representation for women, from the spunky intelligence of T’Challa’s sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), who spearheads of the designs of Wakanda’s new technologies; to Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), T’Challa’s love interest and a savvy Wakandan spy; to the fierce Okoye (Danai Gurira), who commands a fighting force of female Wakandan warriors who would give Wonder Woman’s Amazons a run for their money.

The Blu-ray contains a number of good extras aimed at fans of both the film and the comic book Black Panther. Primary among these is a 20-minute roundtable discussion between Coogler, the film’s producers and some of the writers of the “Black Panther” comic book over the past few decades.

Coogler also offers an introduction to the film and an insightful commentary track that imparts some deeper meaning on some of the character dynamics.

The Blu-ray also includes four deleted scenes that expand a few aspects of the story.

In addition, the disc includes 25 minutes of behind-the-scenes featurettes and a two-minute gag reel. There’s also a nine-minute retrospective of the MCU’s 10-year history, plus a two-minute preview of the next film, Ant-Man and the Wasp, which hits theaters July 6.

The digital versions include exclusive Wakandan travel ads, plus a featurette about the fight training for the film’s stunts.