Sunday, June 25, 2017
"A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" (1989) Review
I have a confession to make. I am not a big fan of Agatha Christie novels written after 1960. In fact, I can only think of one . . . perhaps two of them that I consider big favorites of mine. One of those favorites happened to be her 1964 novel, "A Caribbean Mystery".
There have been three television adaptations of Christie's novel. I just recently viewed the second adaptation, a BBC-TV production that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple. This version began with Miss Marple's doctor revealing to one of her St. Mary Mead's neighbors that following a recovery from pneumonia, she had been treated to a vacation to a beach resort in Barbados managed by a young couple named Tim and Molly Kendal, thanks to her nephew Raymond West. Miss Marple becomes acquainted with another resort guest named Major Palgrave, a retired Army officer who tends to bore not her but others with long-winded stories about his military past. But while Miss Marple struggled between shutting out the verbose major and pretending to pay attention to him, the latter shifts his repertoire to tales of murder. When Major Palgrave announces his intention to show her a photo of a murderer, he suddenly breaks off his conversation before he can retrieve his wallet. The following morning, Major Palgrave is found dead inside his bungalow. And Miss Marple begins to suspect that he has been murdered. Two more deaths occurred before she is proven right.
As I had earlier stated, the 1964 novel is one of my favorites written by Christie. And thankfully, this 1989 television movie proved to be a decent adaptation of the novel. Somewhat. Screenwriter T.R. Bowen made a few changes from the novel. Characters like the Prescotts and Señora de Caspearo were removed. I did not miss them. The story's setting was shifted from the fictional island of St Honoré to Barbados . . . which did not bother me. The television movie also featured the creation of a new character - a Barbados woman named Aunty Johnson, who happened to be the aunt of one of the resort's maids, Victoria Johnson. The latter made arrangements for Miss Marple to visit her aunt in a black neighborhood. Aunty Johnson replaced Miss Prescott as a source of information on Molly Kendal's background. More importantly, the Aunty Johnson character allowed Bowen to effectively reveal Imperial British racism to television viewers by including a scene in which the Kendals quietly reprimanded Victoria for setting up Miss Marple's visit to her aunt.
More importantly, I have always found "A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" to be an entertaining and well-paced story - whether in print or on the television screen. Bowen did a excellent job in adapting Christie's tale by revealing clues to the murderer's identity . . . in a subtle manner. That is the important aspect of Bowen's work . . . at least for me. The screenwriter and director Christopher Petit presented the clues to the television audience without prematurely giving away the killer. And considering that such a thing has occurred in other Christie adaptations - I am so grateful that it did not occurred in this production.
However, "A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" does have its flaws. Fortunately, I was only able to spot a few. First of all, I had a problem with Ken Howard's score. I realize that this production is one of many from the "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MISS MARPLE" series. But "A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" is set at a beach resort in the Caribbean. One of those problems proved to be Ken Howard's score. Considering the movie's setting at a Caribbean beach resort, I figured Howard would use the appropriate music of the region and the period (1950s) to emphasize the setting. He only did so in a few scenes. Most of the score proved to be the recycled music used in other "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MISS MARPLE" television movies - you know, music appropriate for scenes at a quaint English village or estate. Frankly, the score and the music's setting failed to mesh.
I also had a problem with a brief scene near the movie's ending. This scene featured a brief moment in which an evil (and in my opinion) cartoonish expression appeared on the killer's face before attempting to commit a third murder. I found this moment obvious, unnecessary and rather infantile. But the movie's score and this . . . "evil" moment was nothing in compare to the performances of two cast members. I have never seen Sue Lloyd in anything other than this movie. But I am familiar with Robert Swann, who had a major role in the 1981 miniseries, "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY". Both Lloyd and Swann portrayed a wealthy American couple from the South named Lucky and Greg Dyson. Overall, their performances were not bad. In fact, Lucky and Greg seemed more like complex human beings, instead of American caricatures in the movie's second half. But their Southern accents sucked. Big time. It was horrible to hear. And quite frankly, their bad accents nearly marred their performances.
But I did not have a problem with the production's other performances. Joan Hickson gave a marvelous performance as the elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. I especially enjoyed her scenes when her character struggled to stay alert during Major Palgrave's endless collection of stories. She also had great chemistry with Donald Pleasence, who gave the most entertaining performance as the wealthy and irascible Jason Rafiel. What made the relationship between the pair most interesting is that Rafiel seemed the least likely to believe that Miss Marple is the right person to solve the resort's murders. Both Michael Feast and Sheila Ruskin gave the two most interesting performances as the very complex Evelyn and Edward Hillingdon, the English couple who found themselves dragged into the messy history of the Dysons, thanks to Edward's affair with Lucky. I found both Sophie Ward and Adrian Lukis charming as the resort's owners, Molly and Tim Kendal. I was surprised that the pair had a rather strong screen chemistry and I found Ward particularly effective in conveying Molly Kendal's emotional breakdown as the situation at the resort began to go wrong. "A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" also benefited from strong performances given by Frank Middlemass, Barbara Barnes, Isabelle Lucas, Joseph Mydell, Stephen Bent and Valerie Buchanan.
There were a few aspects of "A CARIBBEAN MYSTERY" that rubbed me the wrong way. I felt that most of Ken Howard's score did not mesh well with the movie's setting. I also had a problem with a scene in the movie's last half hour and the accents utilized by two members of the cast. Otherwise, I enjoyed the movie very much and thought that screenwriter T.R. Bowen, director Christopher Petit and a fine cast led by Joan Hickson did a more than solid job in adapting Agatha Christie's 1964 novel.
Saturday, June 24, 2017
Below are images from the 2015 Best Picture Oscar winner, "SPOTLIGHT". Directed and co-written by Thomas McCarthy, the movie starred Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber:
"SPOTLIGHT" (2015) Photo Gallery
Thursday, June 22, 2017
Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Four (2010) of "MAD MEN". Created by Matthew Weiner, the series stars Jon Hamm:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE "MAD MEN" SEASON FOUR (2010) EPISODES
1. (4.07) "The Suitcase" - In this acclaimed episode, an impending deadline regarding the Samsonite ad leads Don Draper to force Peggy Olson to stay late to work and miss a birthday dinner with her boyfriend. He receives a call from Anna' Draper's niece, which confirms his fears about her health.
2. (4.09) "Beautiful Girls" - Peggy is forced to face some unpleasant facts about a client's discriminatory business practices. Don and girlfriend Faye Miller's burgeoning relationship is tested when his daughter Sally runs away from home and turns up at the office. Roger Sterling tries to rekindle his affair with former mistress Joan Harris.
3. (4.12) "Blowing Smoke" - Don encounters his former mistress Midge Daniels and discovers she is married and has become a heroin addict. This leads him to run an ad declaring that SCDP will no longer represent tobacco firms. Sally is upset to learn that her mother and stepfather - Betty and Henry Francis - plan to move.
4. (4.06) "Waldorf Stories" - A drunken Don receives a Clio Award for an ad; Peggy is forced to work with new art director Stan Rizzo at a hotel room; Accounts man Pete Campbell is upset over the arrival of former rival Ken Cosgrove; and Roger recalls his first meeting with Don and the early days of his affair with Joan.
5. (4.05) "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" - Sally's erratic behavior leads Betty and Henry to seek counseling for her, over Don's objections. Pete enters SCDP into a competition to win the Honda account, to the displeasure of Roger, who tries to undermine the firm's efforts, due to his anti-Japanese sentiments from World War II.
Monday, June 19, 2017
Released in movie theaters nearly ten years ago was "NATIONAL TREASURE 2: THE BOOK OF SECRETS", the 2007 sequel to the 2004 Disney hit film,"NATIONAL TREASURE". Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the movie starred Nicholas Cage, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha and Jon Voight.
"NATIONAL TREASURE 2: THE BOOK OF SECRETS" opens with the Gates family - Benjamin and Patrick (Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight) - learning from a black market dealer named Mitch Wilkinson (Ed Harris) that their Civil War ancestor Thomas Gates (Joel Gretsch) may have been the mastermind behind Abraham Lincoln's assassination. Wilkinson's so-called proof came from assassin John Wilkes Booth's diary. To prove their ancestor's innocence and family honor, Ben and Patrick recruit the aid of family friend Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), Ben's estranged girlfriend Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger), Patrick's ex-wife Emily Appleton (Helen Mirren), FBI Agent Sadusky (Harvey Keitel) and even the President of the United States (Bruce Greenwood) to help them find the treasure of gold that would vindicate Thomas Gates and the family's name.
In a nutshell, this sequel turned out to be just as fun and exciting as the first movie. Ben Gates and company follow clues that lead them from Paris to London to Washington D.C. and finally Mount Rushmore in the Dakota Black Hills. The cast were their usual competent selves and Ed Harris turned out to be just as effective as a villain as Sean Bean had been in the first film. My favorite sequences included Ben, Abigail and Riley's attempt to gain access to one of the rooms at Buckingham Palace, Ben and Abigail's minor adventures at the White House and Ben's kidnapping of the President at Mount Vernon.
I did have a few problems with the movie. My biggest gripe turned out to be the treasure itself. I realize that the Templar treasure found in the first film could not be topped. But I must admit that the City of Gold found beneath Mount Rushmore had failed to impress me at all. And why end the movie at Mount Rushmore? Granted there was a war between American settlers and the Dakota Sioux in 1862, but what did that have to do with the Civil War? I would have been happier if the movie's setting had remained on the East Coast.
Aside from these minor gripes, "NATIONAL TREASURE 2: THE BOOK OF SECRETS" turned out to be as entertaining as the first film. I would highly recommend it.
Friday, June 16, 2017
Below are images from "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2", the sequel to Marvel's 2014 hit film. Written and directed by James Gunn, the movie stars Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana:
"GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2" (2017) Photo Gallery
Thursday, June 15, 2017
"COMIC BOOK MOVIES: CRITICAL HYPOCRISY"
It just occurred to me that none of Marvel’s Captain America films ended on a happy note. Yet, they have never been criticized for possessing too much angst or being depressing. On the other hand, D.C. Comics films like 2016's "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE" have been accused of being dominated by these traits. And I have never understood this contrasting attitude toward the two comic book movie franchises.
In "CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER", Steve Rogers lost his close friend, James “Bucky” Barnes during a mission. He was forced to crash the HYDRA plane into the cold Atlantic Ocean, where he froze for the next 66 to 67 years. Because of the crash, his burgeoning relationship with S.S.R. Agent Peggy Carter abruptly ended, with her believing that he had died. The movie ended with Steve awakening in 2011 New York City as a fish out of water and the world completely changed.
Although I love it with every fiber in my body, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER" proved to be a rather depressing film, if one is completely honest. The only positive thing that came out of it was Steve’s new friendship with Afghanistan War veteran, Sam Wilson. Otherwise, the movie featured the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the very agency that his old love Peggy Carter, Howard Stark and Chester Philips had created, due to a major mistake they had committed. And that mistake turned out to be the recruitment of former HYDRA scientist, Armin Zola into the newly formed S.H.I.E.L.D. agency. Steve discovered that despite Johann Schmidt aka the Red Skull’s death, HYDRA continued to exist and that it had infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and the U.S. Senate. He also discovered that his former best friend, Bucky Barnes, was not only alive, but also a brainwashed assassin for HYDRA. Everything eventually went to shit by the end of film, including Steve’s career with S.H.I.E.L.D.
"CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR" proved to be another depressing film. It introduced the Sokovia Accords, a United Nations sponsored document that forced enhanced beings like himself and other members of the Avengers to register with and be regulated by various governments. The main drive behind the Accords was Secretary of Defense and former U.S. Army General Thaddeus Ross, who had been the nemesis of Bruce Banner aka the Hulk. The Sokovia Accords finally gave Thaddeus Ross the opportunity to control a team of enhanced beings. The ninety-something Peggy Carter finally died. And the Avengers faced another threat - a Sokovian named Zemo, who wanted revenge for the destruction of his country - an event caused by Tony Stark’s creation of an artificial intelligence (A.I.) called Ultron. And Zemo also used the still brainwashed Bucky Barnes, whose past involved being coerced by HYDRA into murdering Howard and Maria Stark, to get his revenge. Between the Accords and Zemo, the Avengers suffered a permanent split by the end of the movie.
On the other hand, many film critics and moviegoers have criticized about "darker" aspects of the DCEU films. They have accused director Zack Snyder and the production teams behind the DCEU movie franchise of being too depressing or portraying its major protagonists as a bit too angsty. One, I see nothing wrong with morally and emotionally complex comic book hero movies. Also, at least two of the DCEU movies, "MAN OF STEEL" and "SUICIDE SQUAD" ended on a happier note.
"MAN OF STEEL" ended with Clark Kent aka Superman moving to Metropolis and joining the staff of The Daily Planet as a junior reporter and exchanging a knowing smile with his love, Lois Lane - the only person other than his mother who knew of his identity as Superman. "SUICIDE SQUAD" told the story of a group of super villains (two of them, meta-humans) who were forced to battle a powerful sorceress, bent upon world-domination by the director of A.R.G.U.S., Amanda Waller. Although Waller's right-hand man, Colonel Rick Flagg, had allowed the villains to walk away after she had been kidnapped, the "Suicide Squad" assisted Flagg in taking down the Enchantress anyway. They were repaid with a reduced prison sentence and a few benefits. Also, "SUICIDE SQUAD" was filled with a great deal of humor - something that many critics and moviegoers have complained that the DCEU was lacking.
I find it ironic that "MAN OF STEEL" and "SUICIDE SQUAD" have been criticized for being "depressing and angst-riddled", along with the DCEU's boogeyman, "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE" (which I also adore with every fiber of my being). Yet, the MCU's Captain America films have managed to evade such criticisms, despite their ambiguous endings. Why have many critics and moviegoers have been so hard on the DCEU films about their ambiguity and given the Captain America films a pass? Hypocrisy much?
Monday, June 12, 2017
“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review
One can categorize the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot’s close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001’s “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”.
Based upon Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel, “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” told of Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot’s arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner’s assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband’s dig – especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner’s longtime colleagues.
Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady’s past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.
Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every “POIROT” television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman’s was not Hasting’s nephew. Poirot’s assistant in Christie’s novel was Louise Leidner’s personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner’s nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.
I only had a few quibbles about “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. One, I found Clive Exton’s addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot’s assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie’s running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner’s murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer’s identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.
But I still enjoyed “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by First of all, I was impressed by the production’s use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley’s photography, Chris Wimble’s editing and the art direction team – Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie’s setting in the Middle East.
David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot’s revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb’s intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner’s colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character’s (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton’s screenplay.
“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
"I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" (1951) Review
I have seen my share of time travel movies and television programs over the years. But I do not believe that I have never seen one as ethereal as the 1951 movie called "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU".
A second adaptation of John L. Balderston's 1927 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James' incomplete novel, "The Sense of the Past"; "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" told the story of an American nuclear physicist named Dr. Peter Standish, who is transported to London of the late 18th century. The story begins when a co-worker of Peter's with the British nuclear program, Dr. Roger Forsyth, expresses concern about the former's lack of social life. As the two become friends, Peter reveals that he had inherited an old house located at London's Berkeley Square by a distant relative. He also also reveals that he was a descendant of an American Tory who had immigrated to Britain after the Revolutionary War to marry a cousin named Kate Pettigrew. Not long after this revelation, a thunderstorm sends Peter back to 1784, where he takes the place of his late 18th century ancestor, the other Peter Standish.
However, once 20th century Peter settles into his new life, he is struck by a series of surprises. One, he finds himself slowly falling in love with his fiancée's younger sister, Helen Pettigrew. Peter discovers that Georgian era London is not the paradise he had assumed it to be for years. He also realizes that his occasional lapses of judgment, in which he uses modern day language and revealing information he could not have known if he had actually grown up in the 18th century. Peter's occasional lapses and his feelings for Helen lead to growing antagonism toward him from not only his fiancée Kate, but also from Mr. Throstle, the man to whom Helen had been promised; leading to potential disaster for him.
I am usually a big fan of time travel movies. But if I must be honest, my reason for watching "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" stemmed from sheer curiosity and nothing else. I never really thought I would be impressed by this movie. And I was . . . much to my surprise. Mind you, the film's method of time travel - a bolt of lightning - struck me as unrealistic, even from a fictional point of view. There was no machine or vehicle like a Delorean to channel the energy from that bolt of lightning. Instead, the Peter Standish was struck by lightning and transported some 160 years back to the past. That he survived being struck is a miracle.
Nevertheless, I still enjoyed "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" very much. At its heart, the movie featured two genres - time traveling and romance. And both seemed to intertwine perfectly, thanks to director Roy Ward Baker, who directed the 1958 classic, "A NIGHT TO REMEMBER". There have been time travel movies in which the protagonists are slightly taken aback by the "primative" conditions of the time period in which they end up. But I found Peter Standing's reaction to the reality of 18th century London rather enjoyable on a perverse level. I found it satisfying to watch him come to the realization that 1784 London was not the social paradise that he had assumed it was. "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU" is also one of the rare works of fiction that pointed out the lack of decent hygiene that permeated Western society before the 20th century. Between Peter's disgust at London society's array of body odors and their bafflement at his habit of a daily bath, I was nearly rolling on the floor with laughter. But more importantly, "I'LL NEVER FORGET" is a poignant love story between Peter and Helen. What made it very satisfying for me is that Helen was the only one who seemed to have a bead on Peter's personality. More importantly, she seemed to be interested in Peter's comments about the future, instead of repelled by them.
But what really made the romance between Peter Standing and Helen Pettigrew worked were the performances of the two leads, Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth. Thanks to their intelligent and subtle performances, they made Peter and Helen's love story believable. I was surprised that Michael Rennie had such a small screen presence in the movie, considering that he had received third billing. Nevertheless, I thought he gave a pretty good performance as Peter's 20th century friend and colleague, Dr. Roger Forsyth. Another performance that caught my attention came from Dennis Price, who gave a very entertaining performance as Helen and Kate's brother, a dye-in-the-wool late 18th century cad, Tom Pettigrew. Kathleen Byron gave an energetic and brief performance as Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. The movie also featured solid performances from Beatrice Campbell, Raymond Huntley and Irene Browne, who not only portrayed the Pettigrew matriarch in this film, but also in the 1933 version, "BERKELEY SQUARE".
Although I found the mode of time travel rather implausible - being struck by lightning, I must admit that I enjoyed "I'LL NEVER FORGET YOU". In fact, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. And I have to thank Ranald MacDougall's adaptation of John L. Balderston's play, intelligent performances from a cast led by Tyrone Power and Ann Blyth, and more importantly, intelligent and subtle direction from Roy Ward Baker.
Saturday, June 10, 2017
Below are images from "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS", the eighth installment in the FAST AND FURIOUS movie franchise. Directed by F. Gary Gray, the movie stars Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Dwyane Johnson and Charlize Theron:
"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" (2017) Photo Gallery