Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" (2010) Review

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"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" (2010) Review

Anyone who has read Agatha Christie's 1925 novel, "The Secret of Chimneys", will be disappointed by the 2010 television adaptation that stars Julia McKenzie as Miss Jane Marple. The television movie bears little resemblance to the novel. But that does not mean one should completely dismiss the movie. 

Although a long time fan of Christie's novels, I have never read "The Secret of Chimneys". Familiar with many of the author's novels, I knew that the former was not one that featured Jane Marple. I did not care. I have come across other Miss Marple television movies in which the literary source did not feature her as the main character. However, I was surprised to learn that the 2010 movie bore very little resemblance to the original novel. Then again, I should not have been surprised. The forces behind the adaptations of Christie novels seemed to have a penchant for changing the plots and sometimes, even the murderer's identities, whenever the whim struck them. And this whim certainly went into full gear for"THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS".

Written by Paul Rutman, the plot for "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" begins in the 1930s, when an Austrian named Count Ludwig Von Stainach first visited Chimneys, the estate of the 9th Maquis of Caterham to attend a diplomatic ball. During that visit, a famous diamond belonging to Lord Caterham, is stolen; leading to the beginning of the decline of his family's fortunes. Over twenty years later, Jane Marple, who is related to Lord Caterham's family, visits Chimneys for a weekend house party when she learns that it is being considered to become a part of National Trust. Also attending the house party held by Lord Caterham is a local ambitious Member of Parliament (M.P.) named George Lomax, who wants to marry the aristocrat's younger daughter, Lady Virginia Brent; older daughter Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, and National Trust advocate Miss Hilda Blenkinsopp. However, the main reason behind the house party proves to be the visiting Count Von Stainach, whom Lomax wants Lord Caterham to entertain in order to sign a deal for iron ore that post-World War II England desperately needs. Unbeknownst to everyone else, Lady Virginia has met and fallen in love with a young man named Anthony Cade, who has decided to crash the party in order to prevent her from marrying Lomax. However, the house party takes a dark turn when someone shoots and kills Count Von Stainach in one of the manor's secret passages. And since Anthony was the first to stumble across the count's body, he becomes "Suspect Number One".

Knowing that "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" was not an original Jane Marple mystery, I had no idea on what to expect from this television series. Thankfully, the movie proved to be a surprisingly entertaining film filled with some humor, strong characterizations, plenty of romance - both charming and poignantly sad, and two very puzzling mysteries. Although one mystery surrounded the disappearance of the Brents' diamond and the other featured the murder of Count Von Stainach, both proved to be connected to one another. I have read the synopsis of Christie's 1925 novel. I must admit that it read more like a political thriller than a murder mystery. And a part of me felt somewhat relieved that screenwriter Rutman did not attempt a faithful adaptation of the novel. Some have claimed that Anthony Cade, who was featured as the main investigator in the novel, had been pushed into the background. I cannot agree with this assessment. Instead of the story's main investigator, Cade was used as one half of the movie's main love story and the main suspect of Von Stainach's murder. Rutman did a very good job in utilizing the Cade character, while replacing him with Miss Marple as the main investigator.

There were technical aspects of "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" that I certainly enjoyed. Chris Seager's photography struck me as beautiful. The movie's photography displayed its filming locations - Hatfield House for the exterior shots andKnebworth House for the interior shots - with beautifully sharp colors. Miranda Cull contributed to Seager's photography with her art designs for the movie's interiors shot inside Knebworth House. And Sheena Napier did an excellent job of designing costumes for the movie's characters. This is a movie filled with upper-class or aristocratic characters who have seen better times, financial. This means that Napier's costumes had a mid-century elegance that seemed slightly worn, and did not come off as expensively glamourous.

Charlotte Salt, Jonas Armstrong, Ruth Jones and Matthew Horne. Anthony Higgins, whom I have not laid eyes upon in years, gave a charming performance as the elegant, yet extroverted Count Ludwig Von Stainach. But there were performances that really caught my eye. One of them came from Stephen Dillane, who gave a deliciously twisted performance as the slightly eccentric Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Fitch. Another performance that impressed me came from Adam Godley, whom I last saw on USA Network's "SUITS". I thought he perfectly portrayed the ambitious, yet controlling politician George Lomax. I rather liked Dervla Kirwan's portrayal of Lady Eileen "Bundle" Brent, Lord Caterham's older daughter. I felt Kirwan did an excellent job in portraying a woman who is struggling to deal with the possible erosion of a lifestyle she had known all of her life. Edward Fox is another I have not seen in years. But I felt that he, along with Dillane and Julia McKenzie gave the best performances in the movie. Fox's Maquis of Caterham proved to be a skillful portrayal of an elderly, yet sad man whom seemed unable to stop grieving over a recently deceased wife. 

Julia McKenzie has received some criticism for her portrayal of Jane Marple over the past three to four years. Apparently, many fans believe she seemed a bit too robust and young to be portraying the elderly sleuth. McKenzie, who is in her early 70s, is old enough. And quite frankly, I have enjoyed her portrayal just as much as I have Joan Hickson and Geraldine McEwan's. McKenzie simply has a different, slightly less incoherent style in approaching the Miss Marple character. And not only did I enjoyed it in "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS", but also in her other Miss Marple movies. 

I would not exactly view "THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS" as one of the best Miss Marple mysteries I have seen on television. But thanks to some solid direction from John Strickland, a surprisingly first-rate script written by Paul Rutman and some superb performances from a cast led by Julia McKenzie, I ended enjoying it very much.

Monday, April 14, 2014

"DIVERGENT" (2014) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "DIVERGENT", the recent adaptation of Veronica Roth's 2011 novel, which is the first in a trilogy. Directed by Neil Burger, the movie starred Shailene Woodley, Theo James, and Kate Winslet: 


"DIVERGENT" (2014) Photo Gallery

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Sunday, April 13, 2014

"HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Ending on Controversy"

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"HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: ENDING ON CONTROVERSY"

The CBS television series, "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" (2005-2014), ended its nine season run on March 31, 2014. Television audiences usually greet television finales either with great satisfaction or with equal contempt. Instead of one or the other, the television series created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas proved to be not only divisive, but also controversial. And romance for the series' main character, Ted Mosby, ended up being the center of that controversy. 

As fans of "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" know, the series is more or less one major flashback in which one Ted Mosby decides to tell his two children about how he had met their mother, one Tracy McConnell. Or was it? For nine seasons, fans expected the series to end with Ted meeting the future mother of his children. The final episode, (9.23-9.24) "Last Forever", featured Ted's first meeting with Tracy. However, Bays and Thomas allowed television viewers to meet Tracy before Ted, when she made her first appearance in the Season Eight finale, (8.24) "Something New". That particular episode featured Tracy purchasing a Long Island Railway ticket that would take her to Farhampton, the site of Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky's wedding, where she would perform a bass guitar at the wedding reception. In "Last Forever, Part I", Ted had left Barney and Robin's wedding reception and ended up at the rail station. He planned to return to New York City and prepare for his journey to Chicago and a new job. At the Farhampton station, he finally meets Tracy, thanks to the intervention of an elderly woman.

One is led to wonder . . . what exactly was the controversy about? Why did the finale resulted in a divisive fandom for"HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER"? Well . . . Ted's story continued following his first meeting with Tracy. Two years after their wedding, Barney admitted to Ted that his marriage to Robin was suffering, due to her profession forcing them to become constant travelers. Within a year, they announced their divorce to their friends. Barney resumed his womanizing, until he became a father, following a one-night stand with a date. Robin found it difficult to face Ted and Tracy's happiness and drifted away from the group. Ted and Tracy spend five years engaged and have two children, before they finally get married in 2019. In 2024, Tracy dies. Ted spends six years grieving her, until Penny and Luke (his children) realize the story was really about Robin, whom Ted contemplates dating again. The Mosby children give Ted their blessing and the series ends with Ted standing outside Robin's apartment window, holding the blue French horn he had originally stolen for her, when they first met.

This finale caused a major storm within the "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" fandom. Many fans cried foul that the series was really about Ted's tumultuous relationship with Robin, instead of how he first met Tracy. Others sighed with a collective relief over Robin and Barney's breakup and later, Ted's reconciliation with Robin. How did I feel? If I must be honest, I was one of those who sighed at the ending presented by Bays and Thomas. Why? One, I have always found Ted and Robin's relationship rather fascinating. This was probably due to my feeling that Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders had a great screen chemistry. And two, I have never been a fan of the Robin/Barney relationship. When I first heard that Robin and Barney were being considered as a couple, I cheered at the thought. I liked the idea of the two friends becoming lovers. Smulders also had great chemistry with Neil Patrick Harris in scenes that featured Robin and Barney's friendship. But once the romance began . . . the chemistry fizzled and an odd hollow feeling would swell within my gut.

Unlike many other fans of the series, I never viewed "Last Forever" as terrible. Actually, I thought it was pretty decent. Believe or not, this feeling did not stem from my feelings toward the resolution of Ted and Robin's relationship. Mind you, it was a more than pleasant surprise, but there was more to the relationship that I liked. One, I was glad that Barney realized that he was not the marrying kind. Most people, even the Ted/Robin shippers, saw this as a regression of Barney's character. I did not. I do not believe that marriage matures a person . . . especially since many people get married for the wrong reasons. Both actors George Clooney and Charlie Sheen had marriages that ended in disaster. Like Barney, Clooney never married again after his failed marriage. Well . . . so far. Sheen has gone through three marriages and still managed to prove that he was not the marrying kind. Lana Turner experienced eight marriages before she finally admitted to herself that she was not the marrying kind. When a person finally confronts a reality about him or herself, he or she achieves some kind of maturity. And as far as I am concerned, Barney did exactly that. His maturity increased, when he became a devoted father (following a one-night stand).

And two, I thought "Last Forever" did an excellent job in portraying the friends' shifting dynamics, following Robin and Barney's wedding. The episode began with Ted contemplating leaving New York City for a job in Chicago, following the wedding. But after meeting Tracy, he changed his mind. However, Robin and Barney's travels made it difficult for the group to stay together. This difficulty grew after their divorce, and Robin decided to distance herself from the group in order to avoid witnessing Ted's growing relationship with Tracy. In one emotional scene that I found particularly satisfying, Lily confronted Robin over the latter's absence. This scene reminded me that despite any romantic dynamics, the friendship between the five characters was a very important element of the series.

In the end, Tracy's fate did not take me by surprise. Many fans, including myself, have been predicting her demise ever since the Season Eight episode, (5.20) "The Time Travelers", featured a scene in which Future Ted talked about meeting Tracy 45 days before the wedding at Farhampton. As I had earlier pointed out, Tracy was finally shown in "Something New". More importantly, she appeared not only in flashforward segments throughout Season Nine, but also in a few present scenes in which she met the other major characters - aside from Ted. This final season also featured a very charming episode called (9.16) "How Your Mother Met Me", which featured the events in Tracy's life during those same eight years before she met Ted. 

I can understand why so many fans were upset that the series ended with Tracy's death. They had spent eight years anticipating the moment when she and Ted would finally meet. But they did get to know her during Season Nine. Also, Tracy came off as a somewhat ideal character, despite Cristin Milioti's charming portrayal. And she ended in an ideal relationship/marriage with Ted. Quite frankly, she and Ted seemed just a little too perfect for each other. Bays and Thomas allowed audiences to get to know Tracy before the finale. If they had introduced her . . . and killed her off in the same episode, I would have accused the showrunners of poor writing. More importantly, the script made it clear that Ted spent six years mourning Tracy, before he resumed his romance with Robin. Many fans seemed to have this idea that Ted sought out Robin not long after Tracy's death. Go figure.

As much as I liked "Last Forever", I believe it did have problems. Well . . . I believe it had one major problem. And that problem originated back in Season Five - namely the Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky relationship. I thought it was badly written. Not only did I considered it badly written in this episode, but I feel it has been mishandled as far back as Season Five. If Bays and Thomas had intended for Robin and Barney to get married and divorced, they could have achieved this before Season Nine. Instead, audiences were subjected to nearly two years of Barney struggling to hide his attraction to Robin, ever since their one-night stand in Season Three's (3.16) "Sandcastles in the Sand". They finally began dating in Season Five premiere, (5.01) "Definitions" and broke up by the seventh episode, (5.07) "The Rough Patch"

Two seasons later, they cheated on their respective dates in the Season Seven episode, (7.09) "Disaster Averted". By the end of Season Eight, they were engaged. To make matters worse, the entire ninth season was set during the weekend for Barney and Robin's wedding. They finally got married in one of the final scenes of (9.22) "The End of the Aisle". In a 2016 flashback for the next episode, "Last Forever, Part 1", they had announced their divorce to their friends. I suspect that Robin and Barney's second breakup in the series, along with Barney's return to his bachelor activities, really upset a lot of fans . . . even more so than Ted and Robin's second turn at romance. If only Bays and Thomas had tightened the writing for Robin and Barney's relationship, I would not have found their divorce so abrupt. And perhaps they could have achieved this by allowing Ted and Tracy's first meeting to happen on a day other than the one for Barney and Robin's wedding.

I found it rather odd that a series called "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" would turn out to be a lot more. As viewers eventually learned in the finale, a lot of it was about Ted's relationship with Robin . . . from the moment when they first met, to the moment some twenty-five years later, when they decided to renew their romance. The series was also about Ted's relationship with his other four friends - Marshall Erickson, Lily Aldrin and Barney Stinson - and about their own personal lives. Ironically, Robin and Barney proved to be instrumental in Ted meeting Tracy. Due to their wedding, and Ted's attempt to avoid his own feelings about their nuptials, he ended up leaving the wedding reception earlier than usual . . . and meeting Tracy.

It is ironic that many fans and critics ended up being disappointed with the finale for "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER". Granted, I believe it may have been tainted by some flaws that originated several years ago. But considering how it ended, it proved to be a lot more satisfying to me than the past two to three seasons that preceded it. Goody-bye "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER". I will miss you.


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