Wednesday, February 21, 2018
"THIRTEEN AT DINNER" (1985) Review
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Peter Ustinov starred in theatrical adaptations of two Agatha Christie novels that featured her Belgian protagonist, detective Hercule Poirot. Three years after the second film, CBS Television hired him to star in three television movies featuring the Poirot character. The first one was the second adaptation of Christie's 1933 novel, "Lord Edgeware Dies".
Actually, the 1933 novel was published in the United States under a different title. And the 1985 television adaptation aired on CBS under that second title as "THIRTEEN AT DINNER". After appearing as a guest on a television talk show, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot is recruited by a famous American actress named Jane Wilkinson to convince her estranged husband, Lord Edgeware, to give her a divorce, for she has plans to marry the Duke of Merton. To Poirot's surprise, Lord Edgeware informs the former that he had already agreed to end his marriage to the American-born actress in a letter. However, Jane denies ever receiving it. The following evening, Lord Edgeware is murdered at his home. Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector Japp immediately suspects Jane of the murder. However, both Poirot and Japp discovers that the actress had attended a dinner party held by Sir Montague Corner on the night of the murder. This leaves Poirot, his friend Arthur Hastings and Japp to discover who had a reason to kill Lord Edgeware . . . or frame Jane Wilkinson for murder.
"THIRTEEN AT DINNER" was the first adaptation of Christie's 1933 novel that I had ever seen. However, I had also seen the 2000 adaptation from ITV's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" and wrote a review of it. If I must be honest, I found the 2000 television movie mildly enjoyable, but unremarkable. And if I must be honest, I could say the same about this adaptation. Considering that this adaptation was set during the time it was made - namely the mid-1980s. There were a few updates in the story to adhere to its late 20th century setting - which included making both Jane Wilkinson and a fellow actor, Bryan Martin, movie actors. Otherwise, Rod Browning's teleplay more or less followed Christie's novel.
What I disliked about "THIRTEEN AT DINNER"? I had one major problem. Thanks to Rod Browning's screenplay, I found it rather easy to guess who was killer after the third victim, another actor named Donald Ross, was murdered. One would have to be an idiot not to figure it out. What I liked about "THIRTEEN AT DINNER"? Well . . . despite the new time setting, the movie managed to be more or less faithful to Christie's novel. I found some of the humor rather sharp, especially between Poirot and Hastings. I rather liked John Addison's theme for Poirot. I found it rather quirky and easy to remember. More importantly, I thought the characterizations featured in the film rather strong. And the film's photography remained rather sharp after thirty-two years, thanks to Curtis Clark.
What I liked best about "THIRTEEN AT DINNER" were the performances. I really enjoyed Peter Ustinov's portrayal of Hercule Poirot in this film. His Poirot seemed more witty and sharp-tongued than he was in movies like "DEATH ON THE NILE" and "EVIL UNDER THE SUN". Although Jonathan Cecil looked like the typical English twit, his version of Arthur Hastings seemed a bit more clear-headed. And there were a few moments in which Cecil's Hastings briefly engaged in little witty repartees with Ustinov's Poirot. I rather enjoyed it. Faye Dunaway seemed to be enjoying herself in the dual roles of prime suspect Jane Wilkinson, Lady Edgeware and impersonator Carlotta Adams. I found her performance very charming and energetic. Either that or she was simply giving her usual 100% into the roles.
Although Lee Horsley has appeared in more prestigious movie and television productions, I have to admit that I found his role as action star Bryan Martin in this teleplay to be one of his most interesting and best performances. Superficially, Horsley portrayed the actor as an easy-going and charming star. But with subtle skill, Horsley conveyed Bryan Martin as an over-weening and vindictive egotist. Another interesting performance came from a much younger Bill Nighy, who portrayed Lord Edgeware's weak-willed heir, Ronald Marsh. I enjoyed Nighy's performance very much and found myself wishing that his role had been slightly bigger. David Suchet, who would begin a twenty-three year stint as Hercule Poirot in ITV's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT", portrayed none other than Chief Inspector Japp in this film. He gave a funny and sharp performance as Japp; and I found his interactions with Ustinov very entertaining. Suchet considered this performance as one of his worst. I do not agree. I suspect Ustinov felt the same, for he had suggested that Suchet should consider portraying Poirot in the future. "THIRTEEN AT DINNER"also featured solid performances from Amanda Pays, Diane Keen, Glyn Baker, John Barron, Geoffrey Rose, Pamela Salem; Benedict Taylor, whose portrayal of actor (he was a writer in Christie's novel) Donald Ross struck me as rather intelligent; and Allan Cuthbertson, who gave a very entertaining performance as the "friendly", yet competitive and egotistical Sir Montague Corner.
I might a well be frank. I did not find the narrative for "THIRTEEN AT DINNER" particularly exceptional, but it was pretty solid. In fact, I could say the same about the 1933 novel and the 2000 television adaptation. What did strike me as exceptional was the cast. The movie did feature a very entertaining cast led by the always superb Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot and Faye Dunaway.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Below are images from Season One of the ABC series, "REVENGE". Created by Mike Kelley and loosely based upon Alexandre Dumas père's novel, "The Count of Monte Cristo", the series starred Madeline Stowe and Emily VanCamp:
"REVENGE" SEASON ONE (2011-2012) Photo Gallery
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1750 and 1799:
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1750 AND 1799
1. "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992) - Michael Mann directed what I believe is the best film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 novel set during the Seven Years War. The movie starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Wes Studi and Russell Means.
2. "Dangerous Liaisons" (1988) - Stephen Frears directed this sumptuous Oscar nominated adaptation of screenwriter Christopher Hampton's 1985 stage play, which was an adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 novel. The movie starred Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfieffer.
3. "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" (2000) - Ang Lee directed this superb Oscar winning adaptation of Wang Dulu's wuxia novel. The movie starred Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi.
4. "Amazing Grace" (2006) - Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch and Romola Garai starred in this biopic about British politician/abolitionist William Wilberforce's efforts to end Britain's TransAtlantic slave trade. Michael Apted directed.
5. "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1982) - Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour starred in this superb adaptation of Baroness Orczy's 1905 novel and its 1913 sequel, "Eldorado". Directed by Clive Donner, the movie co-starred Ian McKellen.
6. "Pride & Prejudice" (2005) - Joe Wright directed this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen's 1813 novel. The movie starred Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.
7. "1776" (1972) - William Daniels, Howard da Silva and Ken Howard starred in this adaptation of Peter Stone's 1969 Broadway musical set during the American Revolution. Peter H. Hunt directed.
8. "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" (1963) - Patrick McGoohan starred in this Disney adaptation of Russell Thorndike's 1915 novel, "Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh". James Neilson directed.
9. "Jefferson in Paris" (1995) - Ismail Merchant co-produced and James Ivory directed this semi-fictionalized account of Thomas Jefferson's tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France. The movie starred Nick Nolte, Greta Scacchi, Gwyneth Paltrow and Thandie Newton.
10. "April Morning" (1988) - Chad Lowe, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Urich starred in this adaptation of Howard Fast's 1961 novel about the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Delbert Mann directed.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
"THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY" (2006) Review
I have never read Agatha Christie's 1931 novel, "The Sittaford Mystery". And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read "The Sittaford Mystery".
So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. "THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY" revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain's new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter's elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.
Much to Miss Marple and Enderby's surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan's death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan's wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple's help.
"THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY" strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie's original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie's denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.
Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings - unnecessary, as far as I am concerned - that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer's identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer's identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock's last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, "PYSCHO". I found that moment so ridiculous.
I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie's production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie's setting - a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan's home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland's cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform "THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY" into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.
The performances in "THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY" proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan's portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole "verbose elderly lady" act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie's last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan's performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan's right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan's past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film's production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town's local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story's main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.
It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like "THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY". I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie's novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast's acting - including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan's.
Monday, February 12, 2018
Below are images from "GANGS OF NEW YORK", the 2002 loose adaptation of Herbert Ashbury's 1927 non-fiction book. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Daniel Day-Lewis and Cameron Diaz:
"GANGS OF NEW YORK" (2002) Photo Gallery