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Judi Dench

Review: Murder on the Orient Express

Kenneth Branagh brandishes an improbable mustache and suspicious accent in Murder on the Orient Express, but I have no interest in mockery. Surely one reason—not the most exalted reason, maybe, but a reason—to go to the movies is to relish the spectacle of an actor battling outlandish tricks of the trade and making them fun. Branagh understands that kind of make-believe, and he hits it on the button here.

He plays the world’s greatest detective, Hercule Poirot, and also directs the film. Poirot boards the deluxe Orient Express in Istanbul, little suspecting a passenger will die in the night and an avalanche will strand the train just long enough for the murder to be solved.

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Film Review: ‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’

Judi Dench and Bill Nighy

Losing track of narrative beats is a terrible sin in expensive screenwriting classes, but not so important to actual movies. Here is a modest demonstration. The plot devices in this sequel are so stale that the movie itself loses interest in them halfway through its dawdling 122 minutes—and this is a good thing. By that time the contrivances of Ol Parker’s script have done their duty, and we can get to the element that turned the film’s 2011 predecessor into a surprise hit: hanging around with a group of witty old pros in a pleasant location. There are many worse reasons for enjoying movies.

In the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a group of elderly British expats in India found themselves warming to the charms of a dilapidated inn. Now the hotel’s hyperactive manager Sonny (Dev Patel, from Slumdog Millionaire) is planning his marriage—and wants to add a second establishment to build his success.

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‘Philomena’: On the Road With Judi Dench and Steve Coogan

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan

A heartrending true story won’t get you everywhere in movies, but it can really help. And Philomena, based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee by journalist and onetime UK government spokesman Martin Sixsmith, has a devastating tale to tell.

The film begins with Sixsmith (Steve Coogan, late of The Trip), a brittle Oxbridge type, newly out of a job and lowering himself to write a human-interest story. That’s how he meets Philomena (Judi Dench), an Irish lady with the kinds of questions that perhaps only a reporter could answer. As a teenager in the 1950s, Philomena got pregnant, was sent to a Catholic convent to hide her sin, and gave birth there. She remained at the convent as unpaid labor, and her little boy was taken at age 3, never to be seen or heard from again.

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