Freeze Frame: “A Haunting in Venice” (PG-13), “A Million Miles Away” (PG)

Kenneth Branagh returns for this third go-round as Agatha Christie’s famed detective Hercule Poirot in the spooky whodunit, “A Haunting in Venice.” During a seance at an eerie Venetian villa in 1947, a medium played by Michelle Yeoh is murdered. It’s up to the cunning Belgian sleuth to determine if supernatural forces are at play.

Once again, Branagh serves as producer and director as well as star, and he’s joined by Tina Fey who suppresses her usual comic persona for a dramatic turn as a famed mystery novelist and Jamie Dornan as a shell-shocked doctor. As director, Branagh reaches into a full bag of cinematic tricks to establish a moody atmosphere and maintain our attention. Frankly, the movie is over-directed, and his gimmickry mostly calls attention to itself. Plus, the mystery isn’t too hard to figure out. The bigger mystery is how Poirot maintains his perfectly coiffed moustache through rain, flood, and beating. Nevertheless, “A Haunting in Venice” is an entertaining old-fashioned lark for genre fans that serves as an eerie intro to the Halloween season.

The inspirational Amazon Prime biopic “A Million Miles Away” tells the true story of Jose Hernandez, a migrant farm worker who persevered through multiple challenges over many years to become a NASA astronaut. Michael Pena plays Hernandez, a brilliant mathematician who never gave up on his lofty dreams of space travel. The usually reliable Pena isn’t quite able to mine the more engaging aspects of this character. And while the movie is heartfelt and family friendly, it’s also overlong, slow paced and predictable. “A Million Miles Away” is still a comforting story of a life well lived.

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