Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 2006

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far, we've talked about their youthful escapades and their adventures as they approached middle age. We move into their golden years today, but with a twist...

Before Julia McKenzie took over the role of Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan spent three seasons putting her own mischievous mark on the role. Following the success of the first season, it became clear that ITV was going to keep the train going as long as they could. Thus began the inserting of Miss Marple into non-series cases like The Sittaford Mystery. That announcement was controversial enough for fans, but it was pure scandal when it was announced that Miss Marple would be teaming up with another established Christie detective, in....

Agatha Christie's Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)
dir: Peter Medak

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Spies Like Us: N Or M?, 2015



All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far we've covered their early TV days - and now, their most recent appearance on the small screen...

In 2013, ITV aired the last episodes of signature series Poirot and popular reboot Marple, effectively ending an era of televised Agatha Christeries. Just two months after the final episode of Marple was broadcast, rival network BBC announced it was ready to re-stake its claim on the Queen of Crime, announcing the production of two miniseries in time for Agatha's 125th birthday in 2015. One of those was the three-episode And Then There Were None, which is a masterpiece, highly recommended. The other was Partners in Crime.

At the time of the announcement, Tommy was already cast (Jessica Raines would come aboard Tlater), because it was his idea in the first place. Comedian David Walliams, known for his collaborations with Matt Lucas on shows like Little Britain and Come Fly with Me, brought the idea of a Tommy & Tuppence reboot to the BBC, with Agatha Christie Ltd's Hilary Morgan support and company. Walliams, who earlier appeared in Marple: The Body in the Library, was apparently attracted by the idea of a couple bickering over a corpse. More than that, after re-reading the novels and short stories, Walliams felt that they were more worthy of celebration, to stand alongside Poirot and Marple as equals.

Naturally, a number of re-workings came. When picking an age for the Beresfords, the producers split the difference - late-30s/early-40s, with a son away at school. Mr. Carter of the Secret Service was still Mr. Carter of the Secret Service, but was also Tommy's uncle. The bellhop-turned-assistant Albert was greatly changed: he became a middle-aged, one-armed chemistry teacher frequently consulting for the Service. And of course, just as they picked an age for the Beresfords, they had to pick an era. The Roaring Twenties, as in the original stories and series? The War Years? The late-60s/early-70s?

No, no. These are spy thrillers, and what era screams that more than the Cold War? The action was updated to the 1950s, which meant Nazi spies would now become Soviet spies, in the adaptation of...

N Or M?
dir: Edward Hall

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: N Or M?

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. We've imagined adaptations of a Poirot, and of a Miss Marple - and now, for your approval, a Tommy and Tuppence adventure...


Published in 1941, N Or M? is one of the more fascinating Agatha Christie reads. While all her novels keep up with the changing times, here Christie writes about life in England during The War, with all the fears and concerns of the era. The setting is a guest house in a small seaside town, where a variety of people escape the threat of Hitler's march on Europe: mothers whose husbands stay in London for work, middle-aged couples, the sick, veterans of The Great War now deemed too old to fight, German refugees, etc. All the while, there's talk of a Fifth Column, while radio and newspaper reports tell of the fall of France. And while history did echo the prevention of German invasion (the whole point of the mission), the book was obviously written before the horror of the Blitz. Surely that would have changed the tone a smidge.

Oh, but I mentioned a mission. So. Tommy and Tuppence are now in their forties - Tommy specifically puts his age at 46 - and while the twins Derek and Deborah are doing their part for the war effort, the Beresfords feel put out to pasture. Then comes Mr. Grant, a young member of the secret service who comes to Tommy on the recommendation of their old boss. To quickly sum up: there is a network of double agents within the government, there are two top spies that answer directly to Hitler, and one or both of them is staying at a guest house called Sans Soucie by the seaside. It is up to Tommy and Tuppence to find the spy.

Thus begins one of Christie's more exciting, surprisingly poignant, and all around best novels. The fact that it's only been adapted once, for television, only two years ago, is frankly shocking. You wouldn't have to change a detail to make it palatable for cinema-goers: there's romance, there's action, there's a torture chamber run by a dentist (33 years before Marathon Man), there's a kidnapping that ends with someone getting shot in the head midway through.

It is ready for filming. And I've got just the cast, after the jump...

Young Adventurers: Partners in Crime, 1983-84

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. Yesterday, we talked about their television debut in The Secret Adversary. Well that was just the lead-up to a full series, entitled...

Partners in Crime (1983-84)
dir: Paul Annett / Christopher Hodson / Tony Wharmby

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bright Young Things: The Secret Adversary, 1983

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. We talked all about Hercule Poirot at first, while last week was dedicated to Miss Marple. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Christie's super spy couple, Tommy and Tuppence, aka Partners in Crime.



While neither as popular or prolific as Poirot and Marple, Tommy and Tuppence were with Christie from the beginning to the end. The only characters to age alongside their creator, the pair made their debut in The Secret Adversary in 1922, twenty-somethings in search of excitement. By their final adventure, 1973's Postern of Fate, they are in their seventies, are grandparents, and have left the hustle and bustle of the city for a quiet life in the country. Secret Adversary was Christie's second book; Postern of Fate the last she ever wrote (though not, as we've mentioned, the last published).

For a series that spent one novel and ten short stories centered around a bright couple spying and going on adventures, it's surprising how little attention they've received on screen. Maybe it's because their adventures are few and far between - fifty years, one short story collection and four novels, the last of which is considered by many, including daughter Rosalind Hicks, to be Christie's worst. Still, there have been some interesting adaptations: the 1929 silent film Die Abenteuer GmbH, the 1950s radio series starring real-life couple Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim, a French film franchise from the past decade. But their most famous iteration was as a BBC series in 1983, beginning, as Christie did, with:

The Secret Adversary (1983)
dir: Tony Wharmby

Saturday, October 14, 2017

All Kinds Of Wonder Women

Poorly organized thoughts on current multiplex offerings

Victoria and Abdul
dir: Stephen Frears
scr: Lee Hall, based on the book by Shrabani Basu

Do biopics no longer require a point of view? While Ali Fazal is not lacking in charm, his Abdul is a bit of a cipher. Flirtations with giving his character more shades of grey are quickly abandoned, quickly making him a plot point rather than a character. Despite some lip service, Anglo-Indian tensions are not framed within a proper context - the movie would rather tsk-tsk the Royal Household for racism and classism at home than question the legitimacy of Empire or acknowledge the Queen's complicity in it. Thank goodness for Judi Dench's performance as Queen Victoria, a terrific, terribly sad portrayal embracing the Queen's contradictions and letting us see the cracks.


mother!
dir/scr: Darren Aronofsky

My love for Darren Aronofsky continues unabated. I shan't say much, only to point out that the dizzying cinematography, labyrinthine production design, and suggestive performances all contribute to a cinematic fever dream that's just...transportive. It's best to go into this not knowing anything, but if you must have a hint...I'll provide them after the jump (along with reviews of Blade Runner 2049, It, and more).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Psycho Beach Party: A Caribbean Mystery, 2013

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Next week is Tommy & Tuppence Week, but today, we conclude our look at Miss Jane Marple.  

Beginning in 2004, BBC rival ITV began their broadcast of a new series: Agatha Christie's Marple. After Maggie Smith passed on the role, Geraldine McEwan was cast, playing the St. Mary Mead spinster with a gleeful trickster quality, an older forest spirit having a ball! After the filming of the third series, though, McEwan fell and broke her hip; she retired from the role, and other from some voice-overs, seemed to retire from acting altogether. The question, of course, was: who would fill McEwan's shoes?

Enter Julia McKenzie.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Earned It: A Pocketful of Rye


All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Miss Jane Marple. Yesterday, Oscar winner Helen Hayes brought Jane to the small screen; today, the most prolific TV Marple.

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Pocketful of Rye (1985)
dir: Guy Slater

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reflections in an Olden Eye: Murder with Mirrors, 1985

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Miss Jane Marple. We've seen her on the big screen; now, a look back at one of two TV Marples of the 80s...

Murder with Mirrors
dir: Dick Lowry

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: The Mirror Crack'd

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. Last week, we imagined a second Poirot. This week, may we suggest a Miss Marple?


Published in 1962, the majority of The Mirror Crack'd is an observation of the changing landscape of England, especially its countryside, 15 years after The War. Since then, St. Mary Mead has been incorporated, a new suburban row of homes - dubbed the Development - has been built behind the vicarage, Miss Marple has found need for a daily companion, Dr. Haydock is retired, and Mrs. Bantry is now a widow who has sold her home to a Hollywood star.

It's the Hollywood angle that made this an obvious choice for le cinema, as we discussed earlier today. Besides the 1980 flick, the Joan Hickson television series made this the series finale...and while the Geraldine McEwan-Julia McKenzie series kind of buried it, it did cast Lindsay Duncan.

I think the main issue - not with the Hickson version, that was perfect - but the main issue has been the pressure to do the Hollywood thing, but not taking advantage of the book's most interesting aspects. They do Hollywood catfights, but not Hollywood's prescription drug problem; they explore the pressure of older actresses to seem younger (which the book does not), but ignore the multiple adopted children of Hollywood starlets. What in the world!

Which makes it ripe for a remake.

The cast after the jump. All italicized descriptions come from the Cast of Characters on page xi of the large print edition published by G.K. Hall & Co. in 1992.

I'll Drink to That: The Mirror Crack'd, 1980

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Miss Jane Marple. Yesterday, we took a look at the first film to bring her to the screen, Murder, She Said. Today, a Miss Marple movie about the movies...

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)
dir: Guy Hamilton

Monday, October 9, 2017

Life Begins at Seventy: Murder, She Said, 1961

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Last week, we talked all about Hercule Poirot. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the last person anyone would expect to have a mind for murder - the little old lady of St. Mary Mead, Miss Jane Marple.

The star of twelve novels and 20 short stories, Miss Marple was introduced in The Murder at the Vicarage as a nosy, gossiping busybody, cynical about people, always expecting the worse. Many's a reader or viewer who will point to the inconsistency between this Marple and the softer, kindlier little old lady we grew to love, but the difference is not so keenly felt by me. One must notice that her eyes are described as "sparkling" when she hears of murder or is in the middle of sleuthing. And there's no doubt that she manipulates people, usually maids, into doing the dirty work for her, telling them to be careful before sending them into the lion's den with her marching orders. Oh yes, Miss Marple may seem like a nice old lady - and she is! - but she has a taste for scandal and shenanigans.

Agatha is on the record as preferring Miss Marple mysteries to Poirot ones. They were easier to write because she was easier to write. Many of them do not feature Miss Marple prominently at all - instead, she drops in every now and then to hear a bit of tattle, before bringing all the threads together in a thrilling yet humbly-delivered denouement. Her books also provide more observations about a changing England, especially the post-War novels - but one is bound to notice such things in a sleepy village.

Popular on television, Miss Marple has only come to the big screen a handful of times. Today is about that very first time. Join us after the jump, won't you, for....

Murder, She Said (1961)
dir: George Pollock

Saturday, October 7, 2017

True Stories and Other Tales

In which every other film reviewed here is inspired by a true story.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie
dir: Charlie Bean/Paul Fisher/Bob Logan
scr: Fisher & Logan & Tom Wheeler & William Wheeler and Jared Stern & John Whittington, story by Hilary Winston & Fisher & Logan & Wheeler & Wheeler and Dane Hageman & Kevin Hageman


Band of ninjas take on, then team up with, their ultimate nemesis, who happens to be their leader's dad. Mines the traditional father-son dynamic for comedy, but it's also bothersome, implying that a woman could never do "dad" things like play catch or drive a car. Despite legitimately funny gags, it's the first of the LEGO movies to feel forced, phoned-in.


Stronger
dir: David Gordon Green
scr: John Pollono, based on the book by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter

True story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. Damn fine acting from Jake Gyllenhaal, not shying away from the protagonist's childishness, and Tatiana Maslany as his on-again, off-again caregiver/girlfriend. Both are mowed down by Miranda Richardson as his tough-talking, hard-drinking mother, who seems to find a purpose in being the mother of an almost-martyr; imagine if Mary brought a Bible around everywhere she went so she could tipsily tap it and go, "You know who this is about?" I was transfixed by her performance.

I'm not sure what the movie wants me to feel by the end, though. For two hours, it confronts the American obsession with making heroes out of victims, our insatiable need to throw survivors on the media hype pyre. Yet by the end, his acceptance of himself as a symbol allows him to find a sense of responsibility lacking in his life? I guess. Doesn't quite reach the Flags of Our Fathers level of discourse regarding Americana.

Thoughts on Battle of the Sexes, Good Time, Home Again, and more...after the jump

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, 2013

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Next week is Miss Marple Week, but today, we conclude our look at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot.  

The history of Hercule Poirot on screen has been, as we've seen throughout this week, quite a rollercoaster. Whether they were comical, Oscar-nominated, prolific, animated, or meta, each Poirot received equal amounts praise and criticism. Maybe Christie was right in her initial assessment of bringing Poirot to the stage: maybe he was too much on the page for an actor to do proper justice.

And then came David Suchet.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

I Ain't Down Yet: Murder by the Book, 1987

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot. We've discussed some of his big screen adventures, like The Alphabet Murders and Death on the Nile. Yesterday, we talked about the only series - anime, at that - to present a successful crossover of Poirot and Marple. Today, another crossover - that of fiction and reality! 

Murder by the Book (1987)
dir: Lawrence Gordon Clark

The Detective
Ian Holm as Hercule Poirot

The Victim
Ian Holm as Hercule Poirot

The Suspect
Peggy Ashcroft as Agatha Christie

With
Michael Aldredge as Edmond Cork
Dawn Archibald as Sally the Maid
John Atkinson as The Gardener
Richard Wilson as Sir Max Mallowan


With the outbreak of World War II, Christie was genuinely uncertain about her chance of survival. Besides that, after twenty years, she was equally uncertain about Poirot's longevity within popular culture. And so, in addition to a final Miss Marple mystery, she set about writing Poirot's final case, one which includes an assurance that this would undoubtedly, definitively, be the last word on Poirot: his death. Both final novels were tucked away in a vault, not to be published until after Dame Agatha's death. Christie wound up changing her mind, and Curtain: Poirot's Last Case was released in September 1975; four months later, Christie herself passed away, age 85.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Toon In: Death in the Clouds, 2005

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot. We've discussed some of his big screen adventures, like The Alphabet Murders and Death on the Nile, but today, we're "drawn" to a more "animated" mystery...

Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple: Death in the Clouds, Parts 1-4 (2005)
dir: Jôji Shimura
series dir: Naohito Takahashi

The Detective
Kôtarô Satomi as Hercule Poirot

The Victim
Madame Giselle

The Suspects
? as Dr. Bryant
Takeshi Aono as Daniel Clancy
? as Armand Dupont
Toshikazu Fukawa as Jean Dupont
Kouichi Yamadera as Norman Gale
Youko Honna as Jane Grey
Kotono Mitsuishi as Cecily Horbury
? as Venetia Kerr
? as Anne Richards

With
Masako Jô as Oliver the duck
Hirofumi Nojim as Captain Arthur Hastings
Fumiko Orikasa as Maybelle West
Atsuko Tanaka as Miss Felicity Lemon
Kaoru Yachigusa as Miss Jane Marple
Yûsaku Yara as Inspector Sharpe


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: The ABC Murders

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. Now, if that movie's a success, they're gonna do a follow-up. May we suggest another Poirot?

Just yesterday, we talked about The Alphabet Murders, a slapstick comedy version of an Agatha Christie novel, with only the faintest resemblance to the original work. That work was The ABC Murders, which pits Poirot's wits against those of a serial killer, all the while receiving mocking letters from the murderer.


Published in 1935, it's a chilling puzzler, sure, but some of the best chapters describe the many conferences held by law enforcement officials who, at a loss for what else to do, gather together to dissect and repeat every detail and theory about the unknown maniac. There are a number of chapters, too, dedicated to witnesses and leads that go nowhere, contribute nothing to the investigation.

Frankly, such chapters are what make the novel genius. With the law, one feels the impotency of not knowing, the need for people to feel like they're doing something, anything. With the leads and witnesses, Christie explores England's class system and the resentments that come with it; public panic in the face of national crisis; casual xenophobia; and the desire for 15 minutes of fame, no matter the context. It's a little bit Zodiac, a little bit Drop Dead Gorgeous.

Which makes it perfect for a film.

The cast after the jump. All italicized descriptions come from the Cast of Characters on page 9 of the Black Dog and Leventhal hardcover edition.

The New Guy in Town: Death on the Nile, 1978

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot. Yesterday, we talked about 1965's The Alphabet Murders; today....:

Death on the Nile (1978)
dir: John Guillermin

The Detective
Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot

The Victim
Lois Chiles as Linnet Ridgeway

The Suspects
Bette Davis as Mrs. Van Schuyler
Mia Farrow as Jacqueline de Bellefort
Jon Finch as Jim Ferguson
Olivia Hussey as Rosalie Otterbourne
George Kennedy as Andrew Pennington
Angela Lansbury as Salome Otterbourne
Simon MacCorkindale as Simon Doyle
Maggie Smith as Miss Bowers
Jack Warden as Dr. Ludwig Bessner

With
Harry Andrews as Barnstable
I.S. Johar as Manager of the Karnak
David Niven as Colonel Race


1974's Murder on the Orient Express was a hit - admiration from critics, the 11th highest-grossing film of its year, an Oscar, even the approval of Agatha Christie, who never liked film adaptations of her works. It was only natural that the producers would want to produce a follow-up, using the same formula: glamorous period costumes and sets, an exotic locale, an all-star cast. And so they did, four years later, with this: the second EMI Christie caper, the third and last Christie flick to get Oscar attention, and my personal favorite....Death on the Nile.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Who's That Guy?: The Alphabet Murders, 1965

Happy Agatha Christie Month!

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot. 

The fussy little man with the egg-shaped head, effete manner, and impressive mustache made his debut in Christie's first detective novel, 1920's The Mysterious Affair at Styles. He would eventually star in over 40 novels and short story collections, as well as an original play, Black Coffee, over a period of 54 years. 

Yet as popular as he was and is, he's had surprisingly little representation on screen. To date, only eight films featuring Poirot have been released. The first three, released between 1931 and 1934, were produced in England and starred the tall, handsome, cleanshaven Austin Trevor, and have since been considered lost. It would be another 30 years before someone else would take on the mantle...and the results were very unexpected....

Read on, after the jump.