Kenneth Branagh’s take on the classic Agatha Christie whodunit “Murder on the Orient Express” is like its namesake: Luxurious, workmanlike…and just a bit stodgy. Branagh plays Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who is pressed into service when a gangster, played by Johnny Depp, is murdered on a train traveling from Istanbul to London. The long list of suspects includes Judi Dench, Penélope Cruz, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer and Willem Dafoe. While the termination isn’t particularly memorable, the journey on this Orient Express is pleasant enough.
The poor who live on the fringes of society are the focus of “The Florida Project,” a realistic slice of life drama set in the seedy shadow of Disney World. Willem Dafoe plays the manager of a low rent motel catering to families with mischievous, potentially delinquent kids who lack supervision. Most of the focus is on Moonee, played by young Brooklyn Prince, and her prostitute mom, played by newcomer Bria Vinaite (Vin-EYE-tay). The cast is spot-on, particularly Prince, who gives one of the best juvenile performances you’re likely to see. Writer/director Sean Baker offers little in the way of plot, opting to fill the gritty R-rated film with a slowly unfolding series of vignettes. It builds, however, to an emotionally gripping finale. “The Florida Project” is definitely not for everyone, but it’s an observant examination of modern American poverty.
Also opening this week, “Mayhem” in an R-rated action/adventure/horror film starring Steven Yeun. In a film with the title of a female dog, Marianna Palka plays a poorly treated housewife who goes psychotic and assumes the identity of a dog. “My Friend Dahmer” is a drama about one of America’s most infamous serial killers. “Daddy’s Home 2” is a sequel to the 2015 comedy starring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. “Wonderstruck” is a drama based on Brian Selznick’s acclaimed novel involving two stories about runaway kids, spaced 50 years apart.