Weekend film reviews: ‘A Haunting in Venice,’ ‘Cassandro’

In “A Haunting in Venice,” Kenneth Branagh again stars as detective Hercule Poirot, who is investigating a murder at a séance, set 10 years after “Death on the Nile.” Credit: YouTube.

The latest film releases include “A Haunting In Venice,” “Cassandro,” “Rotting In The Sun,” and “A Million Miles Away.” Hear from  Katie Walsh, film reviewer for the Tribune News Service and the Los Angeles Times; and Witney Seibold, contributor to SlashFilm and co-host of the podcast “Critically Acclaimed.”

“A Haunting In Venice”

This is actor/director Kenneth Branagh’s third Agatha Christie adaptation where he once again stars as detective Hercule Poirot, who is investigating a murder at a séance, set 10 years after “Death on the Nile.” The ensemble cast also includes Michelle Yeoh, Kyle Allen, and Tina Fey. 

Walsh: “It's tonally quite different from the first two films, I found, in the sense that he's going to the seance. Michelle Yeoh plays the psychic, and they're dealing with death, as a psychic and a detective. They're the two people that people go to ask questions about their loved ones who have passed away. So it's a big reckoning both with war, and trauma, and death and sadness, and what it means to be someone who talks to the dead, whether it's through spiritual means, or detecting and finding a rational answer.”

Seibold: “I think [Branagh] was working with a little bit of a smaller budget and had a little bit more of a limited space in which to film this movie. So he's really trying to dress it up with a lot of weird eerie noises and the lenses and the angles and the lighting. So it all feels like a bit of a haunted house picture, which does make it stand apart from the little bit more austere aesthetic of the first two Poirot movies that he's made. It's also refreshing to see one of these Poirot movies without a really problematic male lead in the middle of it. This one is just sort of unabashedly entertaining.”


In this biopic, Gael García Bernal portrays the legendary Mexican American professional wrestler known as Cassandro, who incorporates drag into his look, also known as an exótico. It debuted at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

Seibold: “Cassandro came out and wanted to be an exótico who won. He wanted to be seen as a legitimate wrestler and bring this class of lucha libre to the fore, and this is his biopic. … It explores his relationship with his mother, who is a constant presence in his life; his relationship with his trainer, who encouraged him to get on with this; and his relationship with his boyfriend, who was closeted for a lot of the movie. Gael García Bernal — he's excellent in almost anything and he plays this part with the right amount of energy, but also a little bit of sadness underneath what he's doing because he is struggling through a lot of his personal life. And it all comes to a head at the end, where he realizes that being a superstar has actually been very positive for the world.”

Walsh: “He has to come into his own in the ring and be as big, and as flamboyant, and as wild as he can be. And he gets his superpower from embracing all of the things that people said he shouldn't be, which is queer, and gay, and flamboyant. It's centered by this incredible performance by Gael García Bernal, who's one of our greatest actors. I think it's a really beautiful, interesting, and very layered, intimate, grounded portrait of  an outsized figure.” 

“Rotting In The Sun” 

In this dark and satirical comedy, Chilean director Sebastián Silva plays a version of himself. He meets an obnoxious influencer named Jordan (Jordan Firstman) on a gay nude beach in Mexico, who later goes missing. 

Walsh: “It is outrageous. I can't even say everything that happens in this movie because I don't want to give anything away. But it is such a fascinating, harrowing, thrilling experience to watch it. And I do think Jordan Firstman gives a terrific performance because he's playing himself, but he's also acting, and it's got very ‘Uncut Gems’ energy. I don't know if that will mean anything to anyone, but just the high anxiety, everything's going wrong.”

Seibold: “It's almost surreal. It feels like this strange essay that Sebastián Silva is writing about himself because he is playing himself. He's playing the very depressed version of himself. He's playing the version of himself who's trying to break out as an artist and be taken seriously as an artist. But at the same time, a big element of this movie is [that] he's constantly online. He's looking at Instagram. He's at a party, but we see constant footage of him looking at his phone. And this idea of influencers and this shallow world of Instagram influencers is now taking over the space that art spaces that he wants. That he's included an actual influencer in this movie is his attempt to marry these worlds.” 

“A Million Miles Away”

This tells the true story of José Hernández, who grew up as a migrant farmworker and became a NASA astronaut.

Seibold: “José Hernández saw the moon landing on TV when he was a kid, and he didn't get to go into space until the early 2000s. So that's how long he was working to get into space. That was his dream. … Every scene of this is completely predictable. It's structured and very sappy, in a predictable way — almost as if it's made for a classroom full of anxious sixth graders. It has that kind of vibe to it, but it's a really good version of that.”

Walsh: “The best thing about this movie is the chemistry between Michael Pena and Rosa Salazar. They have a really fun dynamic as husband and wife. I do think that the director makes some interesting creative choices with some editing structure and the stuff she does with the camera. But it is pretty standard-issue biopic fare.”