Friday, July 31, 2015
”DEATH ON THE NILE” (2004) Review
This 2004 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1937 novel, ”Death on the Nile”, was the second to be adapted for the screen. In the case of this movie, it aired as a 90-minute presentation on the long-running television series, ”Agatha Christie’s POIROT”.
Like the novel and the 1978 movie, ”DEATH ON THE NILE” centered around Hercule Poirot’s investigation of the murder of an Anglo-American heiress named Linnet Ridgeway. Linnet had stolen the affections of her best friend’s fiancé and married him. When the newly married couple vacationed in Egypt, the best friend – one Jacqueline de Bellefort – stalked and harassed them during their honeymoon. Yet, when Linnet and her new husband, Simon Doyle, boarded the S.S. Karnak for a steamboat cruise down the Nile River, the heiress discovered she had other enemies that included the offspring of a man whom her father had financially ruined, her embezzling attorney who required her signature on a paper or her death to hide his crimes, a kleptomaniac American socialite and a professional thief who was after her pearls. Unfortunately for the killer, a vacationing Hercule Poirot and his friend, Colonel Race, are on hand to solve Linnet’s murder.
There were aspects of this adaptation of ”DEATH ON THE NILE” that I found admirable. The movie’s set designs for the S.S. Karnak seemed bigger and slightly more luxuriant that what was shown in the 1978 movie. Production designer Michael Pickwoad did a first-rate job in creating the luxurious atmosphere for the 1930s upper class. Actor J.J. Feild gave a solid performance as Simon Doyle, the man who came between Linnet Ridgeway and Jacqueline de Bellefort. However, I do not think he managed to capture the literary Simon Doyle’s boyish simplicity and lack of intelligence. I also enjoyed Frances La Tour’s portrayal of the alcoholic novelist, Salome Otterbourne. She gave her performance a slight twist in which her character seemed to be a little hot under the collar as she makes sexual advances toward Poirot in a subtle, yet comic manner. And the movie’s one true bright spot was, of course, David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. As usual, he gave an exceptional performance. However, I noticed that he was never able to form any real chemistry with James Fox’s Colonel Race or Emma Griffiths Malin, who portrayed Jacqueline de Bellefort; as Peter Ustinov had done with David Niven and Mia Farrow, respectively.
I wish I could harbor a high opinion of ”DEATH ON THE NILE”. But I cannot. There were too many aspects of this production that rubbed me the wrong way. I noticed that this version adhered very closely to Christie’s novel. Unfortunately, the screenplay’s close adaptation did not help the movie very much. It still failed to be superior or just as good as the 1978 version. So much for the argument that a movie has to closely follow its literary source in order for it to be any good. A closer adaptation of Christie’s novel meant that characters missing from the 1978 version – Cornelia Robson, Marie Van Schuyler’s clumsy young cousin; society jewel thief Tim Allerton; the ladylike Mrs. Allerton and the Allertons’ cousin, Joanna Southwood – appeared in this movie. Only the Italian archeologist, Mr. Richetti and Jim Fanthorp, the British attorney were missing. And honestly, the presence of the Allertons, Cornelia Robson and Joanna Southwood added nothing to the story as far as I am concerned. Aside from a few members of the cast, the acting in this movie struck me as very unexceptional and a little hammy at times. You know . . . the kind of hamminess that makes one wince, instead of chuckle with amusement.
But the movie’s real atrocities came from the hairstyles and makeup created for the younger actresses in the cast. Most of the hairstyles seemed like sloppy re-creations of those from the mid-1930s, the worst offenders being the cheap-looking blond wig worn by Emily Blunt (Linnet Ridgeway Doyle), the butch hairstyle worn by actress Zoe Telford (Rosalie Otterbourne); and the gaudy makeup worn by all of the younger actresses. Only Daisy Donovan, who portrayed Cornelia Robson was spared from resembling a kewpie doll. Instead, she wore a sloppy bun that served as a metaphor for her insecure personality – a theatrical maneuver that I found unnecessary.
I hate to say this but despite David Suchet’s performance as Poirot and Michael Pokewoad’s production designs, I came away feeling less than impressed by this version of ”DEATH ON THE NILE”. Not only did I find it inferior to the 1978 version, but also to many other adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novels and stories.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Below are images from Season One of the ABC series, "AGENT CARTER". Created by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the series stars Hayley Atwell as Agent Margaret "Peggy" Carter:
"AGENT CARTER" SEASON ONE (2015) Photo Gallery
Monday, July 27, 2015
BECOMING "THE DARK ONE"
I have a confession to make. I am a little disappointed at how Emma Swan became the new "Dark One". She did so by committing a noble act. And I find that . . . unsatisfying.
The Season One episode, (1.08) "Desperate Soul" revealed that Rumpelstiltskin had originally become "the Dark One" when he was recruited by the title's previous holder, Zoso, to find the dagger that would either allow the former to control him or acquire magical power by killing him. Zoso goaded Rumpelstiltskin into anger by questioning the paternity of latter's son, Baelfire/Neal Cassidy, and the latter killed him. Rumpelstiltskin became the new "Dark One" and remained so for several centuries.
But nothing similar happened to Emma. Instead, she recently became "the Dark One" in the series' Season Four finale, (4.23) "Operation Mongoose, Part II" by saving Regina Mills from an entity that would allow the latter to assume that title. She did so by allowing herself to become possessed by said entity. Before coming possessed, Emma told Regina that she wanted prevent Regina's moral progress from being disrupted. Well, I am glad that Regina was prevented from becoming "the Dark One". But . . . pardon me for saying this, but Emma's reasoning struck me as a bit patronizing. And it seemed that Horowitz and Kitsis may have taken the whole "savior complex" a bit too far. At least to me.
Emma was worried about the regression of Regina's moral compass? She should have been worried about her own. Despite the Sorcerer Apprentice's spell that had allegedly transferred Emma's inner evil to the daughter of Maleficent, Lily Page in a (4.17) "Best Laid Plans" flashback, I personally suspect that his spell went no where. After all, Emma's moral compass was already questionable by the she first had arrived in Storybrooke. She had spent most of her adolescent as a thief. Both she and former boyfriend, Neal, had stolen a yellow Volkswagen . . . which was never returned by Neal or Emma. When she told Regina that her car was stolen in (4.13) "Darkness on the Edge of Town", she seemed to be lacking in any remorse over her crime. She had also committed a series of petty crimes - including destruction of private property, and breaking and entering - that should have landed her behind bars in Storybrooke or fired as the town's sheriff back in Season One. Her rescue of son Henry Mills from the clutches of Cruella de Vil in (4.19) "Sympathy for the De Vil" nearly endangered his life. Yet . . . very few people have commented on this. Her decision to save Maid Marian from being executed by Regina in (3.22) "There's No Place Like Home", literally ended in disaster. And if viewers are really to believe that the Apprentice had removed all signs of Emma's inner evil before she was born; why did the Chernabog demon, which allegedly only sought out one with the heart with the greatest potential for evil in order to devour said heart, went after Emma, instead of the former Evil Queen in "Darkness on the Edge of Town"? What did that say about Emma's true nature - spell or no spell?
Unfortunately, the series' reluctance to openly acknowledge Emma's unpleasant side has not done her character any credit. Sometimes, I get the feeling that Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis are afraid of really exploring how low Emma can sink on her own. Or when they are willing to do so, they are very vague about it. Why, I do not know. To this day, no one seems willing to criticize Emma for keeping a stolen vehicle. No one bothered to point out that her decision to act as Marian's savior had led to disaster. No one. Not a single character on the show (aside from an angry Regina in early Season Four) or any of the series' viewers. No one had questioned Emma's method of killing Cruella de Vil in "Sympathy for the De Vil" . . . especially since she could have saved Henry without ending Cruella's life and nearly endangering his. Well, I take that back. Horowitz and Kitsis claimed that Emma had "stepped over the line" by killing Cruella. The problem is that they never made the effort to clarify their comment - not to the fans or on the show. I have noticed in the past that the only times Emma's actions were really criticized happened during late Season Three when she was determined to upset the Charming family dynamics by returning to New York City with Henry.
And now, Emma has become "the Dark One". Through an act of noble sacrifice. UGH! Kitsis and Horowitz spent most of Season Four building up to how unpleasant Emma could be . . . and ended it all in a nice bow tie with forgiveness toward her parents' perfidy. And what did they do next? Allowrd Emma to become "the Dark One" through an act of sacrifice. This whole story arc would have been more interesting if Emma's Season Four descent into evil could have ended with her falling under "the Dark One" curse. But noooooo! Once again, the possibility in revealing how low Emma can sink winds up being pushed aside or in this case, sugar coated.
When will "ONCE UPON A TIME" be willing to expose Emma's true potential for evil without resorting to vague or evasive storytelling, or possession by magical entity? They managed to do so with her parents, Snow White and David, Prince Charming. I think Emma could become a more interesting character if Horowitz and Kitsis would allow this to eventually happen. But I have a deep suspicion that the series will end before the two showrunners would be willing to do so.
Thursday, July 23, 2015
"TOMORROWLAND" (2015) Review
Back in May 2015, the Disney Studios released a movie that did not proved to be successful at the box office. Directed by Brad Bird, the movie got its title - "TOMORROWLAND" - from futuristic themed land found at Disney theme parks.
It is a pity that "TOMORROWLAND" did not prove to be as successful as the Disney Studios had hoped. It struck me as a very unusual film. Superficially, it is a family friendly movie about a disillusioned genius inventor and a teenage science enthusiast, who embark upon a journey to an ambiguous dimension known as "Tomorrowland", where they believe their actions can directly affect both the world and themselves. On another level, "TOMORROWLAND" produced an emotional reaction within me that truly took a cynical person like myself, by surprise.
The story begins with the adult Frank Walker telling an off-screen audience about when he had attended the 1964-1965 New York Fair as a child, and his attempt to present the jet pack he had invented to be used as an exhibit at the Fair. When his jet pack is rejected by a man named David Nix, young Frank is approached by a girl named Athena, who sees great potential within him. Athena gives Frank a pin with a "T" symbol and instructs him to follow her aboard the new It's a Small World" attraction, created by Walt Disney's engineers for his Disneyland theme park. Frank follows Athena, Nix and a group of other people and ends up transported to the futuristic cityscape, "Tomorrowland", when his pin is scanned.
At this point, the narration shifts to the adolescent Casey Newton, the daughter of a Cape Canaveral engineer, who tries to sabotage the machines that are dismantling the NASA launch pad in order to save her dad's job. at who sneaks into a decommissioned NASA launch pad in Cape Canaveral, where her father Eddie is an engineer. After one attempt at sabotage, Casey returns home, where Athena sneaks another "T" pin that is programmed to Casey's DNA into the latter's motorcycle helmet. The next night, Casey attempts to break into the NASA compound again, but is arrested. At the police station, Casey not only discovers the pin among her personal items, she also discovers that upon contact, the pin instantly shows her a view of "Tomorrowland". Determined to find the origin of the pin, Casey traces it to a Houston memorabilia store that is owned by a couple that proves to be robots, who attack her. Athena, who also proves to be an Audio-Animatronic robot, rescues Casey and takes her to Frank's farm in New York. She also tells Casey that the latter and Frank are needed to save the world. And the only way to do that is to head for Tomorrowland.
From a technical point-of-view, "TOMORROWLAND" is a very attractive looking movie. First of all, I have to applaud Scott Chambliss' production designs for the film. His re-creation of the 1964-1965 New York New York's World Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York really impressed me. It must have been difficult to re-create not only the event's physical look, but also the mid-1960s. Then Chambliss went a step further and created the sleek, futuristic look of "Tomorrowland". If his work does not earn an Academy Award nomination, I will be very surprised. And yes, other members of the crew contributed to Miranda's production designs. I thought the work of the art direction team, Lin MacDonald's set decorations, Jeffrey Kurland's costume designs and especially Claudio Miranda's sharp and colorful photography truly enhanced the movie's style and look. I only have one problem - namely Michael Giacchino's score. Quite honestly, I did not find it memorable.
The movie can also boast some excellent performances. George Clooney was at top form as the adult Frank Walker, who had become weary and cynical after being rejected from "Tomorrowland". I cannot recall the last time I saw Hugh Laurie in a motion picture. But he was superb as the cool and judgmental leader of "Tomorrowland", David Nix. I especially enjoyed his performance in the scene in which his character went into a rant over humanity's foibles. I was surprised to learn that Britt Robertson is 25 years-old. She did an excellent job in portraying a character who seemed to be at least a decade younger. More importantly, she managed to develop a strong screen chemistry with both Clooney and the young actress who portrayed Athena, namely Raffey Cassidy. The latter gave a first-rate performance as the long-living android, who managed to develop some kind of affection toward both Casey and especially Frank. Thomas Robinson was superb as the young Frank. Not only did he have great chemistry with Cassidy, he managed to give an intelligent performance without coming off as an adult in a boy's body. I also enjoyed the performances of Keegan-Michael Key (of "KEY AND PEELE") and Kathryn Hahn as the pair of android managers of the Houston memorabilia store, who proved to be both funny and rather scary.
For the likes of me, I tried to understand why this movie had produced so much hostility from the critics and from some moviegoers. In the end, I decided it would be a waste of my time. I cannot control the opinions of others. And quite frankly, I have no desire to do so. I find such efforts rather frustrating and exhausting. All I can do is express my feelings of the movie. Personally? I rather liked it."TOMORROWLAND" is such an oddball of a film. Superficially, it struck me as one of those solid Disney family actions films that the studio had been making for the past 60 years or so. But once Frank and Casey reached "Tomorrowland", the film shifted into a tone that made it quite unique and in the end, I found rather touching. How touching did I find it? Let me put it this way . . . I found myself crying when the movie ended.
I am certain that many who did not like the film would say that I cried over how much of a mess it turned out to be. Perhaps these same fans and critics did not like the shift of tone in the movie's last half hour or so. I must confess . . . I had a bit of trouble with that shift, myself. Or perhaps they disliked Nix's rant . . . or the fact that it revealed a great deal of truth about humanity. Nix's rant made me acknowledge the negative aspects of humanity, something that I tend to complain about to this day. But as George Clooney's character managed to point out, not all is negative about humanity. Sometimes, we humans can surprise each other in a positive way. Did other moviegoers and critics come to this conclusion? Or did they expect some kind of one-dimensional "good-vs.-evil"conflict that can usually be found in many summer films? Perhaps I should not dwell upon what the audience wanted and focus on my reaction of "TOMORROWLAND". After all, my opinion should count . . . at least to me.
There is another aspect of the film that I had carried away with me upon leaving the movie theater. I noticed that following Frank's expulsion by the character Nix and the latter's intent to ensure the cityscape's separation from Earth, the dimension known as "Tomorrowland" declined as a community. This outcome reminded me of what seems to me is the decline of today's culture and originality. Many societies today seem so bent upon either remembering the past (through rose-colored glasses) or rejecting anything remotely original that I find myself wondering if the same happened to "Tomorrowland", when Nix had decided to close itself off from Earth and the innovations of humans when he discovered the possibility of a worldwide catastrophe. Perhaps that last scene of Frank and Casey entrusting "Tomorrowland" androids (to whom they had been narrating this story) to recruit new"dreamers" from Earth and bring them to "Tomorrowland" is what drove me to tears when I left the theater.
Once again, I found myself encountering another original film that very few seem capable of appreciating or enjoying. I only hope that director Brad Bird and co-screenwriter Damon Lindelof are aware there are some people - including myself - who truly appreciated their creation of "TOMORROWLAND", along with the cast and crew who worked on this film.