A Haunting in Venice - Photo 20th Century Studios
A Haunting in Venice – Photo 20th Century Studios

Released on September 15, Dame Agatha Christie’s 133rd birthday, Kenneth Branagh’s “A Haunting in Venice” is adapted from her novel “Halloween Party.”

In post-World War II Venice, ostensibly retired Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Branagh) is urged to attend a séance by mystery writer Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), who has used him as a character in her crime-riddled novels.

It’s All Hallow’s Eve in 1947 when celebrated psychic Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) plans to communicate with Alicia Drake (Rowan Robinson), the dead daughter of bereft opera singer Rowena Drake (Kelly Reilly).

Alicia apparently plunged off a balcony at the family’s gloomy, reportedly haunted palazzo that once housed an orphanage; the spirits of abused children are said to still wreak revenge upon the living, especially nurses and doctors.

Always skeptical Poirot views Reynolds as a treacherous opportunist who preys on the vulnerable until she, too, meets a ghastly demise.

Suspects include PTSD-afflicted field surgeon Leslie Ferrier (Jamie Dornan), his precocious son Leopold (Jude Hill), Alicia’s former fiancé Maxime Gerard (Kyle Allen), Rowena’s housekeeper Olga Seminoff  (Camille Cottin), and the late medium’s assistants, Desdemona and Nicholas Holland (Emma Laird, Ali Khan).

FYI: Back then, PTSD was called “shell-shock” and/or “battle fatigue.”

Taking considerable liberties with Agatha Christie’s original 1969 whodunit, screenwriter Michael Green (“Death on the Nile”) and actor/director Kenneth Branagh have transplanted the murder mystery to picturesque Venice, where gothic ghosts seemingly waft among the rain-shrouded canals.

Branagh’s inventive casting creates an intriguing ensemble, as comedienne Tina Fey exudes arrogant authenticity, along with sharp-tongued Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh, while Kelly Reilly is barely recognizable as “Yellowstone’s” Beth Dutton. If young Jude Hill looks familiar, he previously starred with Jamie Dornan in Branagh’s “Belfast.”

And when the embittered Poirot’s verbose disillusionment with humanity becomes too tedious, Branagh relies on production designer John Paul Kelly and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos to provide shadowy, sinister distractions, amplified by Hildur Gudnadottir’s nostalgic score.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “A Haunting in Venice” conjures a spooky, supernatural 7, currently playing in theaters.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 - Photo Focus Features
My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3 – Photo Focus Features

Credit cinematographer Barry Peterson for making “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” one of the most enticing Aegean travelogues I’ve seen in years. But – as a feature film – it’s a bit of a disappointing addition to the popular franchise.

Set one year after “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” (2016), the familiar, cliché-riddled story finds Toula – now married to Ian Miller (John Corbett) – mourning the death of her father Gus and determined to carry out his final request: giving his photo-filled journal to his childhood friends.

That involves the entire eccentric Portokalos clan flying from Chicago to Athens. then journeying to Gus’s tiny, rural hometown on Corfu, only to discover that few residents remain in that mountainous hamlet, turning the intended ancestral reunion into a logistical challenge as the family, literally, unearths its roots.

(FYI: veteran character actor Michael Constantine, who played Gus, died at age 94 in 2021, a year after Nia Vardalos’ own father passed.)

Light-hearted ethnic humor sustains colorful characters like Toula’s aging mother Maria (Lainie Kazan), her preening brother Nick (Louis Mandylor), and Aunt Voula (Andrea Martin) , who insists “I’m not a gossip. I’m a tattletale.”

Youthful romance surfaces between Toula’s hard-partying daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) and her college suitor Aristotle (Elias Kacavas). Along with a few Syrian refugees, including lovely Quamar (Stephanie Nur), the quaint village even has a young, non-binary Mayor named Victory (Melina Kotselou).

The original “Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002) introduced writer/director Nia Vardalos and – costing only $5 million – it quickly became the highest-grossing romantic comedy of all time, garnering an original screenplay Oscar nomination. 

This time, Vardalos, who also directs, becomes mired down in myriad storylines and subplots. And those in charge of continuity should have noted that, as an Orthodox Greek Christian – if Gus were cremated (which is rare) – his ashes would need to be buried, not scattered.

On the Granger Gauge, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3” is a bittersweet 6.  Wait for this to stream.

Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.