Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Miss Marple: They Do It With Mirrors


Miss Marple and PBS's run of six Agatha Christie adaptations concluded this Sunday on Masterpiece Mystery, and due to a variety of reasons I am once again, way behind in blogging. :P They Do It With Mirrors was the third entry in this series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here's the story summary from the PBS website:

Glamorous Ruth Van Rydock (Joan Collins) is convinced her sister Carrie Louise is in danger, and confesses her suspicion to Miss Marple over tea. Carrie Louise, a quirky philanthropist with a string of ex-husbands, runs a correctional facility for young men on her estate. Miss Marple arrives to make some gentle inquiries and finds chilling danger lurking surprisingly close to home. When murder is the real-life plot twist during an amateur theater rehearsal on the estate, Miss Marple has to separate theatrical tricks from reality in an attempt to save Carrie Louise from the dire final act that awaits her.

Of the three episodes shown so far in this series, this one is by far the best showcase for Julia McKenzie's take on the role of Miss Marple. She's prominently featured throughout the film, and it's this performance that's finally, fully won me over into the ranks of McKenzie-Marple fans. Here McKenzie manages to be sharp and intuitive all while coming across as extremely warm and personable. Very well done. :)

The "stunt" casting is pretty spectacular for one hour and a half program. Let's start with the Rydock sisters, the flashy Ruth (Joan Collins) and the shy, universally loved Carrie Louise (Penelope Wilton). I haven't finished reading the novel yet (which is an actual Marple story BTW), but I can tell you that Joan Collins was pitch-perfect casting for the role of Ruth. It's uncanny. Penelope Wilton is a veteran of several of my favorite British programs and films. She played Mrs. Hamley in Wives and Daughters (a role quite similar to Carrie Louise), Mrs. Gardiner in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice, and Harriet Jones, former British Prime Minister, in Doctor Who. Carrie's husband is played by Brian Cox, most recently seen in the FREAKING FANTASTIC series Kings as Silas's prisoner, King Vesper. I will have to do a write up on that show when the DVDs come out in September - it was a wonderful drama that really deserved a second season renewal (if renewals were based on quality merits anyway).

Carrie's daughters are played by Emma Griffiths Malin (Gina), who starred opposite JJ Feild in the Poirot mystery Death On the Nile, and Sarah Smart (Mildred), who was also a Poirot alum. She appeared in the mess that was Mrs. McGinty's Dead a few weeks ago, as well as the AMAZING Wallander, where she played Anne-Britt Hoglund, a member of Wallander's team. To round out the household we have Tom Payne appearing as Edgar Lawson - he was also seen in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day as the producer Phil Goldman and the most recent version of Wuthering Heights as Heathcliff's son Linton. Maxine Peake plays Jolly Bellever, Carrie's friend and housekeeper, and also a Little Dorrit alum. It was so very, very weird seeing her play a "good" character after she made such an impression as the wicked Miss Wade. Oh - thought not a member of the household, I have to mention Alex Jennings's portrayal of Inspector Curry. So far from my reading of the book he's nailed the character. Jennings may look familiar to fans of Cranford, where he played the Reverend Hutton.

My favorite bit of casting deserves its own paragraph. :) Elliot Cowan plays Gina's husband Wally, and AMERICAN, and I have to say this Brit pulls off the role of former American G.I. quite well. I absolutely fell in love with Cowan when I saw Lost in Austen, where he put his own unique stamp on the role of Mr. Darcy (the man broods quite nicely, just have to point that out). Cowan's also appeared in episodes of Foyle's War, Poirot, and the first (and best) Sally Lockhart mystery, The Ruby in the Smoke. The man's got a rather uncanny ability for disappearing in roles, all the more unique I think because he's really got rather striking features IMO. I had to do a double take when he first appeared on-screen (thank goodness for pausing & rewinding live TV, HA!), because it was so hard to wrap my head around his appearance as a blonde American. Love, loved the fact that he got a great kissing scene at the end of this episode. :)

This film is a great example of the Marple series at its best, and an excellent showcase of all the reasons I love the program - great cozy mystery feel and TONS of wonderful guest stars. The story takes a bit of attention to follow - it's one of Christie's more convoluted plots IMO. I think it's a bit easier to keep track of how everyone is related to everyone else in the novel - a bit hard to follow on-screen, especially since some roles are compressed or omitted for the sake of time. My review of the book and the book vs. film comparison will follow shortly!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Primeval 3.10


Spoilers...

Well, the fabulousness that is (was - SOB!) the show Primeval came to an end tonight. As a season finale, I thought it worked spectacularly well. As a series finale, however - it was bloody awful. :-( This episode showcased so many of the elements that made this show so much fun, and showcased all of the growth the cast and storylines had accomplished over the course of the previous 9 episodes. It's CRIMINAL that the network axed Primeval without giving the showrunners the opportunity to give it something remotely resembling closure. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for the 23 episodes we got, but the show deserved a proper send-off.

The team was on fire this episode. Danny (Jason Flemyng) has strangely shown more interest in stopping Helen (Juliet Aubrey), than Cutter - her freaking ex - ever did. Cutter was always more interested in stopping her on some sort of academic plane, I suppose, but what I like about Danny is that he just wanted to get it done. Boots on the ground, guns, tenacity, whatever it took he was going to do it to stop her. It would've been nice to see a bit of that fire in Cutter, but oh well that was not to be.

So Danny decides to follow Helen into the future anomaly, taking Connor (Andrew Lee Potts) and Abby (Hannah Spearritt) with him for backup. Those two have never worked so well as they have under Danny's leadership. Before taking off there was an interesting moment in the warehouse with Sarah (Laila Rouass) and Becker (Ben Mansfield). Sarah's ready to go with them - in fact she seems afraid not to - but Danny orders her to stay with Becker, assuring her that he (I mean they) will be back. So the hopeless romantic in me can't help but wonder, would a hypothetical series 4 have led to a Sarah-Danny romance or a Sarah-Becker romance? Becker's definitely not one to put himself out there at this point, but he seemed to take an unusual interest in hanging out with Sarah this episode, I'm just sayin'. Example: going to Christine's anomaly center with no backup? Very out of character soldier boy. ;-) However, I have got to say that hanging out with Becker one-on-one and bonding while fighting off giant flying wasp thingys really brought out the best in Sarah. This may very well have been her best episode yet - showing off the triple threat of smarts, compassion, and butt-kicking, all in one hour.

I was really glad that only Connor and Abby went Helen hunting with Danny through the anomalies. They all get to be Macgyver-y when they restart Helen's (very cool touch-screen) computer. Connor got to show off his dinosaur knowledge and mad computer skills, and still got to be silly Connor when he talks himself into falling out of the tree during the stun grenade scene. This opened the door to some very nice Connor-Abby moments at the end of the episode (seriously I cannot lie, at the very end when they're all up in a tree I couldn't help going "Connor and Abby, sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G"...that has got to be some new personal low, HA!!). While there are a TON of unanswered questions, I am so happy that I got to see some measure of closure to the Connor and Abby romance question.

After episode 6 aired, my friend Kaye and I were discussing the show and she made some reference to Danny's James Bond-like qualities (very true BTW). I love the fact that Danny's like James Bond in plaid flannel shirts. LOL! When he takes off after Helen, that was the kind of action I always wanted to see Connor take - but honestly that probably wouldn't have been half as satisfying show-wise. Connor would've probably let Helen talk him into something stupid. *rolls eyes* So Danny got to show off his James Bond qualities, along with a healthy dash of young Charlton Heston (seriously doesn't Flemyng look a bit like Heston?), as he gets to go chasing Helen through Planet of the Apes-land.

Helen is an excellent example of the true believer psycho who is so far gone she's completely stupid. So she kills a couple of the poor ape people, and then she gets crushed by a raptor that got through the anomaly because she lost her stupid glass anomaly closing device. Hoisted on her own petard, to bring Shakespeare into the discussion. ;-) Very sweet way to have her go...and the icing on the cake was when Danny finds twice as many ape people as Helen just poisoned, still alive and doing whatever it is ape people do.

With Helen out of the way it would've been fascinating to see where the show would've gone villain-wise. Would a past incarnation of Helen have come out of the woodwork, or more government craziness? The possibilities were endless. Really, you could've spent a whole series exploring 1) Danny becoming king of the ape men, 2) Abby and Connor going all Swiss Family Robinson and making their home in a tree to avoid being eaten by raptors, and 3) Sarah going all Cutter-like and figuring out how to get the three of them home. Because she was on fire by the end of this episode, and I think her character might've started to get really interesting by a (sadly hypothetical) series 4. Oh, and another thing - 4) Becker dating Sarah or something (because in one of the funniest moments of the series, when Danny loses Becker's gun to a future predator, Connor comments how that won't go over well, and they decide they have to get the guy a girlfriend...hilarious!!) and in general being fabulous because he will not lose three teammates to anomalies, because that's just not done. :-)

Good-bye, Primeval team...thanks for the memories and all that. You deserved so much more (stupid, stupid, STUPID ITV network!).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Enclave by Karen Hancock


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

The Enclave

Bethany House (August 1, 2009)

by

Karen Hancock



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Karen Hancock has won Christy Awards for each of her first four novels--Arena and the first three books in the Legends of the Guardian-King series, The Light of Eidon, The Shadow Within, and Shadow over Kiriath. She graduated from the University of Arizona with bachelor's degrees in biology and wildlife biology. Along with writing, she is a semi-professional watercolorist and has exhibited her work in a number of national juried shows. She and her family reside in Arizona.


ABOUT THE BOOK

When Lacey McHenry accepts a prestigious research fellowship at the world-renowned Kendell-Jakes Longevity Institute, she sees it as a new start on life. But a disturbing late-night encounter with an intruder leads to an unexpected cover-up by Institute authorities, and she soon realizes there's more going on than she ever imagined.

She finds a supporter in genetics researcher Cameron Reinhardt. However, Reinhardt is a favorite of the Institute's director, and she can't help wondering if he, too, is in on the cover-up. The brilliant but absentminded researcher turns out to have his own secrets, some of them dark and deadly. The Enclave is characterized by adventure, intrigue, spiritual analogy, and romance, all set in an unusual but fully realized world--one that may have its foundations on earth but which, the more one learns of it, doesn't seem much like the earth we know at all.

If you'd like to read the first chapter of The Enclave, go HERE

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer of Hitchcock: Spellbound


This week's entry in My Friend Amy's Summer of Hitchcock film festival is the 1945 psychological thriller Spellbound, starring Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck. It's been several years since I've made time to watch this film, so I feel like I was able to approach it with fairly fresh perspective this time around. Spellbound was meant to capitalize on the public's newfound fascination with psychoanalysis, a fact the filmmakers make abundantly clear by a proclamation on the screen before the film even starts, extolling the virtues of psychoanalysis in healing the disturbances of sane minds.

A bit about the story...

Ingrid Bergman plays Dr. Constance Peterson, who works at a mental hospital called Green Manors. (Seriously, why do asylums in movies always have words like "green" or "manors" in their names? It cracks me up...) She is completely devoted to her work, until the new head doctor, Anthony Edwardes, arrives - played by a positively yummy Gregory Peck in only his fourth film role. The two are, of course, instantly attracted to each other - you can almost see the sparks fly when they first meet - and wonder of wonders, Constance the ice queen begins to thaw. But Dr. Edwardes' strange behavior jeopardizes Constance's newfound romance he has this strange, almost violent aversion to parallel lines, and then a breakdown in the hospital operating room follows, raising the suspicions of the entire staff. Edwardes is not who he claims to be, and Constance must use all of her skill to discover whether or not he's a victim or - perish the thought! - the perpetrator of the crime that's tormenting his mind.

I don't think Spellbound has stood the test fo time quite as well as some of Hitchcock's other efforts (such as Rear Window). Admittedly I am the last person who could accurately judge the psychology as its presented on-screen, but I'll go out on a limb here and say the methods come off as a little dated. Plus there's the rather bipolar style of the film. On one hand you have scenes (such as when Constance and Edwardes ditch work and go for a picnic lunch) that are filmed in a highly romanticized style, very much like "women's pictures" of the time period (think Dark Victory or Now, Voyager), with soft focus lenswork and swelling, romantic music. Miklos Rozsa's score is undeniably beautiful, but more often than not it feels out of place and distracting within this film. And then you have the sharp, tense clarity of the Salvador Dali-designed dream sequence. I've never been one to gravitate towards surrealist art, but the sequences are undeniably striking, particularly in how they treatment of those scenes differs from the rest of the picture.

All that aside, the main reason I still enjoy this film is Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman's off-the-charts chemistry. As Tasha points out in her review of Spellbound, it's a surprisingly sexy movie, especially considering it was made over 60 years ago! Maybe it was the Freudian references that let the double entendres get by the censors, LOL! ;-) One of my favorite scenes is when Constance visits Anthony's rooms in the middle of the freaking night, wakes him up and makes some lame excuse about wanting to read his book on the guilt complex. Then they kiss - and really, it's a great screen kiss - but Hitchcock had to cut away to a scene of all the "locked doors" in Constance's mind blowing wide open. That scene cracks me up every time I see it, it's so delightfully random by today's standards. Any cheesiness aside, I just love watching Bergman and Peck together on-screen. Peck still had a real boyish charm to his good looks that would only become more rugged and defined over time, and Bergman positively glows - the camera just loves her here. Some of their scenes together are still a bit swoon-worthy. :)

The Spellbound DVD is chock-full of interesting special features that (since I bothered to watch them, HA!!) really enhanced my appreciation of the film. "Dreaming with Scissors: Hitchcock, Surrealism, and Salvador Dali" delves into the making of the dream sequence (for example, the original sequence was about 20 minutes long, but was deemed "too disturbing" for the final cut), and the touches on some of the trouble Hitchcock had with producer David Selznick of over this project. The "Guilt By Association: Psychoanalyzing Spellbound" featurette gives some really interesting context to this project in terms of just how ground breaking the subject matter was back in 1945. Widespread public interest in psychoanalysis stemmed from (at least in part) soldiers returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder (as its now known) and how they were treated. Fascinating stuff! There's also a short featurette on Rhonda Fleming ("A Cinderella Story"), giving her perspective on the film and her start in Hollywood (Spellbound was her first credited role). I rolled with laughter when she talked about being assigned the part of the nymphomaniac patient seen at the beginning of the film - only since she & her mother didn't know what a nymphomaniac was, they had to look it up. Her mother was relieved to discover that the studio wasn't typecasting her daughter (LOL!!). ;-)

While Spellbound may be a bit dated, especially when compared to some of Hitchcock's other films, it's still worthy viewing - particularly as a document of the time, and first and foremost for Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman's fantastic love story. :)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Review: Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie

Murder Is Easy
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
ISBN: 978-0-312-97982-9

About the book:

It was just Luke Fitzwilliam's luck to be stuck next to a dotty old woman like Miss Fullerton on the London-bound train - although he found himself quite entertained with her tall tales about a series of perfect murders in the quaint village of Wychwood. But when he reads the next day of the freak accident that killed her, too, Fitzwilliam's amusement turns to grave concern. A visit to the isolated village confirms his worst fears. For Wychwood seems to be divided by an eccentric lot of locals: those who are in on a dark and dangerous secret - and those who don't live long enough to share it.

Review:

In many ways Murder Is Easy reminded me of one of my favorite Christie novels, the Miss Marple outing The Moving Finger. Both books draw back the curtain on seemingly tranquil, "ideal," English village life where everyone has secrets and no one is as they seem. Luke Fitzwilliam, newly retired from overseas police work, has a chance encounter with the eccentric Miss Fullerton on the London train. She tells him a fantastic tale of a murderer running loose in her village, knocking off people left and right - really too incredible to be believed. Or so Luke thinks, until he gets the news that his elderly informant was killed in a freak accident on the way to report her findings to Scotland Yard. He hatches a plan to pose as a friend's cousin writing a book on local customs, and goes to stay with his cousin Bridget, who turns out to be a stunning beauty engaged to the local bigwhig, Lord Easterfield. Not knowing who to trust, Luke joins forces with Bridget - but the murderer could be craftier than they think...

Most of my Agatha Christie reading has been confined to the Poirot or Marple novels, so it's always a treat to discover one of her standalones that delivers a good corker of a mystery. The pacing is excellent, and the way Christie introduces the cast of suspects, only to dismiss each in turn, is supberbly handled. Being something of a hopeless romantic (LOL), I loved the romantic, but atypical subplot between Bridget and Luke. They sparred and fought like crazy, but couldn't help falling for each other. :) And the last few chapters, where the murderer is revealed, are absolutely un-put-downable. With this book Christie created one of her creepiest, most disturbing villains, proving the revenge is a frightening dish best served cold. For all the pros, I did think the dialogue is a bit "clunky" and just does flow as well as some other Christie efforts I've read. But that's a small quibble, and certainly shouldn't detract one from reading what is a thoroughly enjoyable puzzler from Dame Agatha Christie.

Book vs. Film:

The differences between the book and the recent film version of Murder Is Easy absolutely boggle my mind. I don't think I could even keep all of the changes straight to the point where I could list them and have them make even some sort of sense. The first change is, of course, the insertion of Miss Marple - what's shocking is that it's far from the most glaring change to the plot. Most of the townspeople are present, but their history and motivations are completely mixed up or changed wholesale. I think it's a real shame that the culprit's history and motives were completely rewritten for the screen. In the book, the murderer's motives are so creepy and disturbing as is, Christie didn't need to fabricate an incest/rape plot. The bottom line is, changes to Christie's novels typically don't bother me - when they make sense. But this film pretty much completely rewrote the novel from the ground up, and the filmmakers went for an ick factor rather than the psychologically disturbed, way more creepy, villain Christie created. I will give the filmmakers credit for building up the character of Constable Reed (Russell Tovey). The constable is only mentioned in the novel, never really introduced, and Tovey made the character a lot of fun to watch (not that I'm biased or anything, HA!). And while the filmmakers completely rewrote Bridget's character, the romantic tension between Bridget and Luke (Benedict Cumberbatch) is pretty true to the way the two characters are written in the novel. The bottom line, though, is that this film pales in comparison to the book.

Miss Marple: Murder Is Easy


Spoilers...

Considering a new Marple episode is on Masterpiece Mystery tonight, I know I'm really late in posting about last week's episode a week late. But I was left, quite honestly, slightly freaked by last week's episode (I couldn't get my head around the idea of Christie writing an incest/rape plot), and wanted to read the novel before I blogged about the film. So now that that's accomplished, on to a bit about the film from the PBS website (because trust me, the film and the book are two entirely different things!):

Miss Marple coincidentally meets a woman on the train who confides that she is on her way to Scotland Yard to report two murders. "Murder is easy," the woman says conspiratorially. "As long as no one thinks it is murder." When Pinkerton herself is found dead, Miss Marple travels to the quaint village of Wychwood to pick up the trail. The village is populated with any number of suspects — a beautiful, young American on some sort of mission, a successful politician and an ambitious lawyer. But even with the help of retired policeman Luke Fitzwilliam (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Last Enemy) will Miss Marple be able to unlock the secrets of this sleepy village?

In many ways this film resembles one of my favorite entries in the rebooted Miss Marple franchise - The Moving Finger. Both stories take place in what are, apparently, peaceful, tranquil little villages - the most unlikely locale for homicidal maniacs, right? Or not, as the case is proved here once again. To start with, I should say Murder Is Easy isn't actually a Miss Marple book. Before I'd even read the novel this week, it was easy to spot that Miss Marple co-opted at least half of the role of Luke Fitzwilliam (Benedict Cumberbatch). Miss Marple has been quite successfully inserted into non-Marple books in other episodes of this series (particularly By the Pricking of My Thumbs, which is a Tommy & Tuppence novel). I'm all for inserting Miss Marple into non-Marple books, since those are rarely, if ever, filmed. And, at least to date, they remain fairly faithful adaptations of the original stories in basic essentials in spite of the new investigative presence. So, let's start off by talking about the "stunt" casting in this episode. :)

First up we have the aforementioned Benedict Cumberbatch (Amazing Grace, Atonement) as Luke, recently returned from policework overseas, and attempting to recalibrate to English life. As the main character in the novel, in order to "make room" for Miss Marple he loses half of his role. Luke's character isn't as compelling as I would've liked to see, given that I think Cumberbatch is a fantastic actor, but I did enjoy the scenes where he got to play off Julia McKenzie's Marple. Which brings me to my second favorite piece of casting - Russell Tovey (Little Dorrit) as Reed, the local constable. Tovey does a terrific job of playing Reed with the right balance of go-get-'em smarts and uncertainty at being caught way out of his depth investigatively. My favorite scene in the film is, I think, the sequence where Reed interviews several townspeople, and it turns out that Miss Marple is listening in from the next room, coaching him along with the occasional note. Tovey and McKenzie played off each other really well here, and were a lot of fun to watch.

It was great to see Anna Chancellor in a new project. Anyone familiar with the "Colin Firth" Pride and Prejudice will recognize her as the one and only Miss Caroline Bingley. She plays the doomed Lydia Horton, who "stole" the Major from Shirley Henderson's character, Honoria Waynflete. Hands down the creepiest bit of casting is Henderson (Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter films, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day). Henderson plays creepy and disturbing extraordinarily well. It's freakishly uncanny!! The woman is 44, apparently, but she looks a good 15 years younger than that at least, and her height (only 5'1/2") only reinforces her waif-like appearance. The idea of someone, who looks like Henderson, killing five people, just boggles the mind.

I ended up appreciating this film a bit more on the second viewing as a creepy show. The first time I watched it I went in expecting more of a creepy, cozy-style mystery, along the lines of The Moving Finger. You get that, of course, but then for reasons I've yet to figure out the filmmakers had to go for the low, salacious angle of having all of these crimes stem from the results of Honoria's mentally retarded brother getting drunk and raping her, resulting in a pregnancy which led to the randomly inserted American orphan angle, Bridget searching for her roots. (Speaking of Bridget, when she discovers her roots why is she not more...disturbed?! Just sayin'...) I'm not completely naive - I get that the 1950s weren't all Donna Reed, and a lot of crappy things happened then as happens today. But this movie seemed determined to show that veneer of gentility everything crappy and awful that could happen, did. I mean there's a fine (okay, sometimes it's a neon flashing sign, but whatever) line between a nicely mysterious, creepy story and outright distasteful. And I guess what I'm trying to say, is this show ended up more on the "eewww" distasteful end of the scale for me than not. Book vs. film comparison after my review of the novel, which will be in the next post.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Philanthropist


So is anyone watching The Philanthropist on NBC? It hasn't exactly been appointment viewing with me, but I've enjoyed the four episodes that have aired thus far enough to keep my DVR set for a season pass record it. The #1 reason the show works is James Purefoy. The scripts can be a bit middling and/or contrived, but Purefoy's talent and attitude always seem to elevate the material and make it occasionally compelling viewing (for me, anyway).
What's to like about the show, besides the fabulousness that is James Purefoy you might ask? ;-) I luv the globe-trotting scope of the series. Four of the eight scheduled episodes have aired, and we've traveled to Nigeria, Myanmar, Paris, and back to Nigeria again. Purefoy's character, Teddy Rist, has delivered vaccine to a disaster-struck village, investigated government corruption, and broken up a sex-trafficking ring. I also love the soundtrack to the series, the world music used throughout the show. It is fantastic - gives the show a bit, just a bit, of a James Bond-esque globetrotting feel.

Back to the Teddy Rist character - he's a playboy in more ways than one. Loves money and women (was fun to see Lucy Brown, a.k.a. Claudia/Jenny from Primeval make an appearance in the Myanmar episode as a doctor doing humanitarian work) and is haunted by demons from his past, namely the death of his little boy a few years prior. He's not a wholly moral, upstanding hero with no faults - he definitely has his vices, but that makes him kind of real, know what I mean? Purefoy plays Rist a lot like Bruce Wayne, only without superpowers (or batwings). I think that's another reason I like the character - everything he does, he does under his own power, just using his ingenuity and bravado, a "superhero" who really puts his life on the line.

The only thing that annoys me about this show are the voiceovers. Each episode is always told in retrospect, so there are these little annoying voiceover interjections throughout the episodes. I don't really understand why the show can't take place in "real" time, but whatever. Not sure if this show is a candidate for getting picked up for a 2nd season, and honestly I'm not sure it would work well for very long. But I'd be willing to give it a shot - anything to give James Purefoy a chance to save the world every week, right? :)

Primeval 3.9


Spoilers...

I can not believe that this is the next-to-last episode of Primeval. There were several moments in this episode that were absolutely fantastic, starting with all of the "Do Not" do this and that signs that Lester (Ben Miller) put up all over his apartment to keep Connor (Andrew Lee Potts) from wrecking his pristine place. The "caution" tape keeping Connor's stuff crammed in a small area of the living room was the icing on the cake. HILARIOUS! I am telling you, there is a whole unexplored concept for a TV show in the whole Lester-Connor situation.

As I talked about in my write-up of episode 8, since the show is ending I am so freaking happy that Connor and Abby (Hannah Spearritt) at least hint at taking their relationship to the next level. This episode opened with some really cute awkward moments which I loved because Connor was so stinking cute but HATED because, you know, the show ends next week. Grrr!!

Danny (Jason Flemyng) got lots of nice solo time this week as he takes it upon himself to break into Christine's (Belinda Stuart Wilson) headquarters. As much as I loved Cutter, Danny has, I think, surpassed him as my favorite ARC team leader. He and Cutter are both rather loose cannons, but Danny's just funnier and more sarcastic, know what I mean?

So while Danny is tied up with Christine and the mystery woman, Connor, Abby, Sarah (Laila Rouass), and Becker (Ben Mansfield) get called to this week's anomaly where rhino-like creatures were wreaking havoc around a campsite. While I didn't think Becker got a chance to really shine this week (boo!), I thought Sarah got a chance to show some real gumption in the field which was nice to see. And it was too funny when Abby goes to rescue the guy who was out there for his stag party, and he asks her if she's the stripper. The look on her face was just priceless!! And I loved how Becker and Sarah needled her about it, that was cute.

The set up for next week...so the mystery woman is Helen (Juliet Aubrey). And as much as I hate Helen, and she's probably in my top 10, maybe top 5 most hated television villains of all itme, I LOVED the fact that she's the one who gave Christine her comeuppance. Christine was so freaking annoying this series. Helen's turned out to be a really interesting character. I used to think she was just power mad, but this episode hints at just how insane she's become. Apparently she doesn't want to be some sort of world dictator with unlimited riches, and she doesn't have an altruistic bone in her body when it comes to saving people. Helen's completely jumped the shark into the waters of insanity...and there is no negotiating with her type of true believer.

If the trend holds, next week will be fantastic television and horribly depressing because we're probably not going to get any closure thanks to ITV's insane decision not to renew Primeval. Off to bang my head against the wall... ;-)

Friday, July 17, 2009

O Jerusalem


I discovered a little gem of a film this week – O Jerusalem starring one of my favorite up-and-coming actors, JJ Feild (The Ruby in the Smoke, Northanger Abbey). I haven't been able to stop thinking about this film since I watched it. Based on the book of the same name by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, it's an account of the events surrounding the birth of the State of Israel following the U.N. mandate to partition Palestine in 1947. The film takes some license and using the historical fact presented within the book tells the story of Bobby Goldman (JJ Feild), an American Jew and World War II veteran, and Said Chahine (Said Taghmaoui), a Palestinian Arab, who meet in New York and become fast friends in spite of their different backgrounds, views, and the antagonism brewing between their respective cultures halfway across the world. With the vote on the partition pending and the withdrawal of the British occupation imminent, Said’s family calls him to Jerusalem and Bobby follows given his own long-standing interest in the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

The transition from America to Palestine, and what that means for Bobby and Said’s friendship, is both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch play out. America is a “safe” ground where they can debate and vehemently disagree with each other, but friendship always trumps their differences. However, once they arrive in Palestine and are confronted with the reality of the simmering, primed to explode conflict, it’s crushing to see what that does to their friendship. As Said’s mother tells Bobby when he first arrives, for years many Arabs coexisted peacefully with their Jewish neighbors – each honoring the other’s holidays, etc. But in the aftermath of the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jews, and with partition looming, battle lines are drawn, forcing tension between former friends and neighbors.

JJ Feild as Bobby Goldman

O Jerusalem
makes an excellent companion film to Exodus, which stars Paul Newman and is based on the novel by Leon Uris (one of my all-time favorite movies, an absolute classic), since the timelines overlap. That movie also features an Arab-Jewish friendship that is tested and ultimately sacrificed to the conflict. It’s also interesting to compare the way each film portrays the Jewish resistance fighters (the Irgun, the more extremist terror group, and the Haganah, the more moderate, government-sanctioned fighting force). O Jerusalem probably does an even better job that its predecessor of giving equal screen time to both the Jewish and Arab perspectives. No one side is portrayed as fully right or wrong; rather, each culture’s belief in their respective cause is compellingly portrayed.

Taghmaoui and Feild as Said and Bobby

The film has an almost documentary feel to it, and that style brings both pros and cons. The scene editing is fast and choppy but that only serves to enhance the raw intensity of the events unfolding onscreen, the effect aided by the black and white newsreel footage inserted throughout the film. The documentary style of the film also translates into a lack of character development overall. Bobby and Said are the only characters you really get to know and feel for - but that focus, in this case anyway, really works. I was also extremely impressed with Stephen Endelman’s score. He never went for bombastic action cues, more often than not it was the softer pieces played over or in the aftermath of action sequences that tugged at the heartstrings and upped the emotional impact of the scenes. According to the movie’s IMDB page, it was filmed in Liverpool and Rhodes, and that considered I was very impressed with the location shots which appeared quite authentic – there was apparently some nice attention to detail at work throughout the production.

Ian Holm as Ben Gurion (looks a little crazy, no?) and Tovah Feldshuh as Golda Meir

One could argue that the way Bobby and Said keep encountering each other as enemies in the field is contrived, however, I appreciated the way their encounters kept the enormous cost of the fighting at the emotional forefront of the film. These are the characters we really get to know, witnessing every fateful decision, the tremendous cost that the fight over partition exacts on their lives. That’s where the hope lies, in viewing their struggles – and this film does end on a hopeful note (though I would have preferred going without Feild’s voiceover drumming the point home – the actions of the characters speak for themselves in my view). Despite multiple opportunities on each side, when it came right down to it, Bobby and Said could not kill each other. That’s the crux of why I found this movie to be so powerful – at its heart it’s not about nations or politicians, it’s about the choices made by average, everyday people on the ground caught up in events beyond their control. It's about the cyclical, consuming nature of violence, and how terrifyingly "easy" it is to get caught in that cycle. Because if any real change is going to happen, it’s not going to come about as the result of some government mandate to fight or keep the peace – a heart change is required. Seeing the ways in which Bobby and Said honor their friendship, even after both suffer through fighting and horrific losses, is a powerful reminder of how, though the trappings may differ, there is a universality to the human experience that *should* foster compassion and understanding, if only those traits are allowed room to grow.

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.” (Psalm 137: 5-6 KJV)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pirate Hunter by Tom Morrissey


This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

Pirate Hunter

Bethany House (July 1, 2009)

by

Tom Morrisey



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tom Morrisey is a mountaineer, aviator, shipwreck diver, and explorer, who holds a Full Cave certification from the National Speleological Society - Cave Diving Section.

He has launched, edited or contributed to numerous national publications and is an award-winning adventure-travel writer. A popular speaker, he is also active in both evangelism and the arts. Morrisey earned an MFA in creative writing from Bowling Green State University, and his fiction has been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines.

His first novel, Yucatan Deep (Zondervan, 2002) was a finalist for the Christy award, and he is the author of six novels, including Wind River and In High Places. In addition Tom has also written two nonfiction books: 20 American Peaks & Crags (Contemporary Books, 1978) and Wild by Nature (Baker Books, 2001). He and his family live in Orlando, Florida.

ABOUT THE BOOK

High Seas Adventure Meets a High-Tech Quest for Pirate Gold West Indies, 18th century Young Ted Bascombe is rescued by notorious pirate Captain Henry Thatch, finding himself caught up in a world of crime, adventure, and a daily fight for freedom.... Key West, 21st century Marine archaeologist Greg Rhode embarks on a treasure-hunting expedition in the turquoise waters of the Florida Keys, but he's as beguiled by a beautiful diver with different-colored eyes as by the lure of pirate gold...The Hunt Is On! Interweaving these two stories, pro deep-sea diver Tom Morrisey spins a multilayered tale of two young men's quests to escape their past by losing themselves to adventure on the high seas. Romantic and thrilling, this unique novel explores the timeless truth that "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

If you would like to read the first chapter of Pirate Hunter, go HERE

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Primeval 3.8


Spoilers...

After a break last week, Primeval returned tonight with the first of its last three episodes (say it with me...*SOB*!!). This time, an anomaly to the future has opened up, and guess who's back - the insanely evil future predators, first seen, if memory serves me correctly, in the finale of series 1 (episode 6 of the series overall). This episode contained several great moments, starting with when the team first arrives at the anomaly site, and they all start griping about Danny's (Jason Flemyng) driving, and Becker (Ben Mansfield) complains about being stuck in the back seat. I just love the whole vibe Danny's presence has given the team. As seen later in the episode, Danny knows how to make tough decisions and be a capable team leader. But in those moments inbetween, when lives aren't on the line right that second, his presence brings an element of fun to the team. They're like this wonderfully dysfunctional family, that will poke and gripe and needle each other, but at the end of the day they are willing to lay their lives on the line for each other and their work.

If the show is going to be ending in a few weeks, I am grateful that this episode gave me a scene I'd been wanting to see - Lester (Ben Miller) and Connor (Andrew Lee Potts) as roommates! :) There's a whole show right there in that situation, Lester & Connor, the Odd Couple of the 21st century!

This episode sees Abby's (Hannah Spearitt) situation with her unbelievably stupid younger brother really come to a head. Not only has his presence forced Connor to room with Lester (well, honestly, I'm grateful for that development because it's resulted in some real hilarity), but it's caused a lot of tension between Connor & Abby - i.e., she thinks Connor's some sort of ingrate because he refuses to rat about what a git her brother is (see losing Rex in episode 7...ugh!). So the entire team sans Sarah (shocker...I still think Laila Rouass has been criminally underused during her time on this show) must put their lives on the line when Abby's brother disappears through the anomaly. This was where Abby really started to get on my nerves - she was being extremely headstrong because she was upset, I get that - but did she have to be so annoying while being concerned for her only living relative's safety? Is that asking too much? *sigh*

However...good points out of this scenario:

Becker gets to be wonderfully heroic. I absolutely loved the moment where he got so exasperated with Abby refusing to listen to him that he called her "Abigail." You could cut the frustration in his voice with a knife. And then when he proves willing to sacrifice himself for Danny, Connor, Abby, and her STUPID INGRATE OF A BROTHER - I was so freaking proud I cheered. (There is an upside to watching these last three episodes, knowing they're the last episodes of the show - if someone kicks the bucket I don't have to fathom continuing to watch the show without them. Know what I mean?) But Becker LIVES!!! That made me very happy. :) It's nice that he's proven to have ability as well as sense (unlike Stephen!).

Connor and Abby finally, finally, FINALLY actually KISS!! Yes, said kiss was marred by the most gosh-awful, random song insertion in the history of awkward television moments (what was that, Tom Jones?!). But if the show is ending at least I got the satisfaction of seeing their relationship progress. I'm sure it didn't hurt that Andrew Lee Potts and Hannah Spearritt are a real-life couple (at least I rather hope they still are). The look on Connor's face when Abby breaks the kiss is just priceless. :) His character has really grown & matured throughout the show's run, without losing any of the goofy charm that makes Connor so appealing.

So who is the woman Christine's (Belinda Stuart Wilson) flunkie brings back through the anomaly? Will Danny really listen to Lester's admonition to play by the rules? (I think not!) I'm attempting to mentally prepare myself for an extraordinarily unsatisfactory show finale in two episodes...but I'm sure it'll be wrenching. It's a real shame this show was axed when creatively it still shows so much promise!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Review: A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie

A Pocket Full of Rye (A Miss Marple Mystery)
By: Agatha Christie
Publisher: Signet/Penguin
ISBN: 978-0-451-19986-7

About the book:
The shocking thing about Rex Fortescue’s murder was that the contemptible tycoon wasn’t knocked off sooner. But when two less-deserving souls fall victim to the killer, Miss Jane Marple is engaged to detect. The only link appears to be buried in a not-so-innocent verse. So what’s the rhyme and reason behind the playful hint? The answer draws the shrewd sleuth into the heart of a family secret – and an increasingly menacing game that’s anything but child’s play.

Review:

No one could create puzzlers like Dame Agatha Christie. A Pocket Full of Rye is so jam-packed with red herrings, Christie could’ve taken the story towards a half dozen or so different resolutions (at least!). The victim, Rex Fortescue, was a thoroughly unlikable man, and the dysfunctional family he leaves behind are, for the most part, equally unpleasant. The incredibly competent Inspector Neele is assigned to investigate the case, and what at first seems like a “routine” poisoning case soon grows into a veritable maze of lies and misdirection – beginning with the curious discovery of rye in Rex’s pockets. When Rex’s much younger widow is subsequently poisoned while taking tea, and the maid is found murdered by the clothesline, Neele struggles to find the connection between these seemingly random crimes.

Miss Jane Marple barely appears in this novel, but her scenes are critical in revealing the killer’s identity. She’s the catalyst that helps Neele connect the threads of these seemingly random killings. I was quite impressed with Neele’s character – for my money he’s one of Christie’s most interesting inspectors. He’s extremely intelligent, intuitive, and knows how to read people. Most importantly, he knows how to use a person's tendency to underestimate him. He’s not one of those investigators who must have every clue handed to him by the “civilian” or “amateur” sleuth. Christie could’ve written more novels featuring Neele’s character and I wouldn’t have complained at all.

Christie incorporated rhymes or famous quotes as clues in her mysteries on more than one occasion (Poirot’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe or Tommy and Tuppence’s By the Pricking of My Thumbs, to name just a few). Pocket probably isn’t one of my favorites – the pool of suspects is relatively limited after all. But Christie throws so many misdirections and possible motives into the setting of this dysfunctional, very English, household that it’s a delight to spend a few hours with Neele and Marple sorting through the red herrings in order to reveal the culprit.

Book vs. Film:

Possible spoilers…

I was a little shocked, actually, by how faithful the most recent film adaptation of A Pocket Full of Rye is to the original book. Whole sections of dialogue from the novel made it into the script almost verbatim. Matthew Macfadyen absolutely nailed the role of Inspector Neele. He perfectly captures the right balance of Neele’s intelligence and dry, almost awkward sense of humor. The only alterations that immediately come to mind is the omission of Miss Ramsbottom’s character (Rex’s sister-in-law), and increasing the presence of Miss Marple just a bit, since her presence is so minimal in the novel (i.e., in the film Marple discovers the newspaper article about uranium deposits in East Africa, while in the novel Neele is the one who connects that article to Lance’s lies). You can read my review of the film A Pocket Full of Rye here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Miss Marple: A Pocket Full of Rye

The Miss Marple mysteries are like the equivalent of television “comfort food” for me, so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the savvy sleuth’s return to Masterpiece Mystery Sunday night. However, I have to admit that my excitement was somewhat tempered by the knowledge that a new actress was taking up Miss Marple’s ever-present knitting needles – after three series as Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan retired from the role, and with the fourth series, Julia McKenzie took the reins. I absolutely loved Geraldine McEwan as Miss Marple – she’s the reason I now love the character, and have been inspired to really delve into the Agatha Christie novels she brought to life on-screen. I grew up watching the Marple television show that featured Joan Hickson in the title role – and while I certainly get why people love the show, and that it was a faithful adaptation of the stories, Hickson’s take on Marple bored me to tears. McEwan brought life and humor and zest to the role – and if some liberties are taken with scripts, I don’t have enough of an emotional attachment to the stories themselves to really get up in arms about it.

A Pocket Full of Rye is the first film to feature McKenzie, and I am so, so relieved that the basic tone and style of the series isn’t changing. McKenzie effortlessly fills the gap left by McEwan’s departure, and brings her own spark and brand of humor and compassion to the role. I thought it was a little strange that this story didn’t feature Miss Marple as prominently as she has been in other mysteries, especially considering this is a “Marple” book, not a regular mystery where the character is inserted into the action. However, I’ve never read this book and decided to start it yesterday for comparison purposes – and so far, Miss Marple isn’t front & center in the action of the book, either. Go figure. ;-)


A bit about the story (taken from the PBS website):

Businessman Rex Fortescue drops dead after breakfast, apparently poisoned. The only clue is incomprehensible — grain found in his suit pocket. It's obvious that Fortescue isn't exactly missed. Between his estranged and angry children and a wife who seems to not be at a loss for comfort, the Fortescue house is full of secrets. Inspector Neele (Matthew Macfadyen, Little Dorrit) is dispatched to investigate, but makes little progress until the arrival of Miss Marple. For Marple, the case is child's play — the killer seems inspired by the rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence." As the murders pile up, Marple discovers a motive as dark as blackbirds. Julia McKenzie makes her debut as Miss Marple along with a strong supporting cast (Rupert Graves, The Forsyte Saga; Hattie Morahan, Sense and Sensibility) in this adaptation of Agatha Christie's A Pocket Full of Rye.

One of the biggest treats in the previous three series of Marple mysteries is identifying and enjoying the wild variety of familiar British acting talent that have taken on guest star roles in the various films. A Pocket Full of Rye continues this tradition, and I have to call out my favorites:

Of course the most important reason to view this episode is the presence of Matthew Macfadyen as Inspector Neele (that little moustache does a surprisingly good job of disguising him, LOL!). This has been an excellent year for Matthew on Masterpiece, as earlier this year he played Arthur Clennam superbly in the out-of-this-world, amazing, fantastic miniseries Little Dorrit. Inspector Neele was a fun role to watch Matthew take on – Neele isn’t a romantic lead, he’s competent, straight-laced, and has a wicked gift for dry understatement (i.e., the "dead as a dodo" line). My favorite moment of the entire show is when Miss Marple looks at Neele rather slyly remarks that he resembles Errol Flynn. Looking extremely pleased with that comparison, Neele smoothes is ‘stache and remarks, quit happily, “you think so?” H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S. The exchange is a wonderful example of how Miss Marple succeeds in winning those who doubt her abilities or her usefulness over. This little old lady may seem quite harmless, but she’s an astute observer and knows exactly when the right word or look needs to be played in order to advance her cause. Well played by Julia McKenzie!

Lucy Cohu plays Pat, the elegant wife of Lancelot Fortescue, the “black sheep” of the family. Two of Cohu’s most recent appearances have been as Jane Austen’s sister-in-law, Eliza, in Becoming Jane and dance teacher Theo Dane in the delightful Ballet Shoes. I really, really like her and look forward to seeing her in new projects – she’s elegant, classy, and not a stick figure like so many actresses out there.

Anna Madeley, playing Adele Fortescue, is a familiar face to Masterpiece viewers. In 2006 she starred as the title character in The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton, and in 2008 she played Lucy Steele in Sense and Sensibility. Though Adele only makes a brief appearance in Pocket, Madeley brings a lot of Lucy Steele-esque humor to the role which is fun to see.

Hattie Morahan is another Sense and Sensibility alum – she played the best version of Elinor Dashwood to date (in my view anyway, LOL!). In Pocket she plays Elaine Fortescue, who’s not at all sorry to have her father out of the way, since that frees her to marry her communist boyfriend. Since she hasn’t been acting all that long, I thought Hattie Morahan was almost unrecognizable as Elaine. However, I thought she fit the period well and enjoyed seeing her take on a more “modern” role, albeit a small one.

I had to look up Ben Miles - he plays the straight-laced eldest son, Percival Fortescue. Miles bears more than a passing resemblance to Primeval star Ben Miller IMO (weird, no?), yet I can’t find any info that they are related. He seems extremely familiar, but the only project I can recall seeing him in is the loverly Under the Greenwood Tree, where he played the thwarted Parson Maybold. Apparently he’s also been in series 1 of Lark Rise to Candleford, a BBC series that looks very Cranford-esque, which finally comes to region one DVD this October.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It contained everything I love about this mystery series - great pacing, excellent costumes and period detail, topped off with wonderful performances by the cream of British acting talent. Next up in the series is Murder is Easy. Can't wait!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The return of Miss Marple!


I am extremely excited and thrilled about the return of Miss Marple to Masterpiece Mystery, starting tomorrow night. Series four marks the debut of Julia McKenzie as the sharp-witted, astute, knitting-loving sleuth. Here's a bit about series four and the upcoming schedule:

With a gentle smile and a probing mind, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple often finds herself at the center of trouble — a witness to betrayals, poisonings and all manner of mayhem. Knitting needles in hand and a cup of tea always at the ready, Marple quietly earns confidence while uncovering secrets and exposing killers.

In Series IV, the famous knitting needles change hands, passing to actress Julia McKenzie (Cranford). Stepping into the shoes of a succession of screen Marples, including Margaret Rutherford, Angela Lansbury, Joan Hickson, and Geraldine McEwan, McKenzie feels both honored and awed. "I'm very excited but also slightly daunted by the enormous responsibility that comes with taking on such an iconic role," she says. "And I suppose I'll have to remind myself how to knit!"

JUL 5 – 26 Miss Marple, Series IV
One of Agatha Christie's signature characters returns to Mystery!, with Julia McKenzie taking over the role of spinster sleuth Miss Marple in four new episodes.
Jul 5 A Pocket Full Of Rye (90 minutes)
Jul 12 Murder is Easy (90 minutes)
Jul 19 They Do It With Mirrors (90 minutes)
Jul 26 Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (90 minutes)

A Pocket Full of Rye features Matthew Macfadyen (woo-hoo!) as a guest star. Can. Not. WAIT. :)

Poirot: Mrs. McGinty's Dead

The final Poirot episode slated to air on this season of Masterpiece Mystery was Mrs. McGinty's Dead. Here's a bit about the story from the PBS website:

There's no denying that Mrs. McGinty, a cleaning woman, is dead — killed with a blunt object in her home. And, there seems to be no doubt about who did it — James Bentley, her tenant. No doubt, that is, except to the arresting officer, Superintendent Spence, who calls on the analytic Hercule Poirot to reconsider an open-and-shut case. The village of Broadhinny is home to eclectic and seemingly charming residents. Yet, as Poirot politely and insistently digs below the surface, he finds a cadre of characters with unexpected secrets, and unearths two cases from the past with surprisingly contemporary connections to Broadhinny. David Suchet reprises his signature role as the Belgian detective Poirot and ZoĆ« Wanamaker returns as crime novelist Ariadne Oliver in this adaptation of Agatha Christie's novel, Mrs. McGinty's Dead.

I've got to be honest, not a huge fan of this episode. I found it extremely hard to follow. It'd be easy to blame the lack of coherency on too many players, but Christie could handle large ensemble casts. So I've got to think that in this case the script and direction left much to be desired in the areas of story flow and coherency. However, I will say that like all Poirot episodes, visually the show was a stunner, a feast for the eyes full of wonderful period detail.

Far & away the highlight of this episode was the presence of Zoe Wanamaker as Ariadne Oliver, mystery novelist and Poirot's friend and acquaintance. It was not only fun to watch her banter with David Suchet, but the scenes where she voiced her exasperation with her characters were hilarious!!

That's about all I've got to say about this episode...it just felt rather poorly executed, all things considered. Am I completely insane or was it a total muddle?

Poirot: Cat Among the Pigeons


Possible spoilers...

I've been watching David Suchet play Hercule Poirot for almost as long as he's "owned" the role (twenty years, to be exact!). Masterpiece Mystery offered up two new-to-the-States mysteries this season, the first to air in about three years. The first of these two films was Cat Among the Pigeons (yes, I know it's been about two weeks since it aired...chronically late with the blogging, LOL!). Here's a bit about the story from the PBS website:

At the esteemed Meabowbank school for girls, Hercule Poirot is helping friend and headmistress Miss Bulstrode pick her successor. With his flawless sense of human nature, Poirot learns that the teachers have more on their mind than mentoring young girls. When a sadistic gym teacher is found dead with a javelin through her heart, the girls get a shocking education in murder, and Poirot is drawn deep into a compelling case involving international espionage, a revolution in a foreign land and a missing princess. As the girls become increasingly hysterical and the teachers more guarded, can Poirot uncover a ruthless killer, the cat among the pigeons? David Suchet reprises his role as the Belgian super sleuth in this adaptation of Agatha Christie's Cat Among the Pigeons.

Overall I have to say I was quite pleased with this episode. When I see David Suchet playing Poirot, the man amazes me with his agelessness. I missed the presence of Poirot's stalwart compatriots Inspector Japp, Captain Hastings, and Miss Lemon - however, I can only assume they don't appear in the original novel on which this story is based. But I'm such fans I wouldn't mind it one bit if they were written in. ;-) Oh well, c'est la vie!

This film is paced extremely well, and is rich in atmosphere and period detail. I absolutely loved the elite girls school setting - on the surface, Meadowbank is the best girls school in England, but seething just beneath the surface is a whole other world of backstabbing, jealousies, and resentments. Poirot describes the school as "the world in miniature," and the description is of course more than apt. Everyone - from the teachers to the students - have their little secrets that they might *kill* to keep.

A couple of casting shout-outs:

Miss Bulstrode, the headmistress of Meadowbank, is played by Harriet Walter. Walter has appeared in everything from Sense and Sensibility (1995) playing Fanny Dashwood to Little Dorrit, seen earlier this year on Masterpiece Classic, playing Mrs. Gowan. I'm used to seeing her play really snarky, generally unlikable characters, so it was a nice change to see her playing a sympathetic individual.

Inspector Kelsey, the obligatory representative of the local police who must, of course, butt heads with our genius detective (*wink*), is played by none other than Anton Lesser. Lesser is also a Little Dorrit alum, where he played the corrupt banker Mr. Merdle. Playing one of the "good guys," even if he's a bit dense (HA!), was a most welcome change in this case.

The eye candy for this ep was provided by Adam Croasdell, playing the undercover agent/gardener also named Adam at the school. Poor Adam is unlucky in work and in love...the character may be a bit hopeless but I'll look forward to seeing the actor in future projects. :-)


Isn't he a doll? :) Anyways, I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. The way the international espionage storyline intersects with the school drama was superbly handled IMO. Very, very well done - the final reveal was even a bit unexpected, and surprise reveals are always welcome - just means, of coruse, that the story's been very well directed.. Poirot's in fine form here, and this was a welcome return to the airwaves for my favorite quirky Belgian sleuth.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Two quick reviews...

Confessions of a Shopaholic: Shopaholic is a cute little movie, I have to own that I liked it way more than I expected. Based on two of Sophie Kinsella's novels about shopaholic Rebecca Bloomwood, Rebecca is a wannabe reporter who holds the dubious distinction of having maxed out 12 - yes, twelve - credit cards. Somehow she manages to get a job at Successful Saving magazine, and miracle of miracles, her unorthodox advice strikes a chord and takes readers by storm. However, Rebecca's credibility and budding romance with her boss is all put in jeopardy when her creditors catch up with her.

Yes, it's completely predictable but I didn't care. I thought Shopaholic was just what the doctor ordered after a HIGHLY stressful work week (Seriously why are short weeks so LONG? But I digress...). It's a fluffy, funny, surprisingly clean little rom-com that shockingly enough had some moments of real depth - particularly when Rebecca starts to learn that she doesn't need to be defined by her "stuff."

Isla Fisher plays Rebecca and I thought she was just terrific. She's got a lot of potential ahead of her in these type of roles. The #1 reason I wanted to see this movie, though, was Hugh Dancy as Rebecca's boss, Luke Brandon. I've had a crush on him since he played David Copperfield (Speaking of, WHY OH WHY isn't his version of David Copperfield on DVD? It's my favorite!!). He & Isla have great screen chemistry, and he's just so stinking adorable, well I'd watch him read the alphabet so maybe I'm biased... ;-) I also really enjoyed Joan Cusack and John Goodman's appearance as Rebecca's parents. Kristin Scott Thomas also had a small role and she looked so scary I didn't even recognize her (HA!) until I looked her up on the IMDB.



Also recently watched New In Town, starring Renee Zellweger and Harry Connick Jr. It was...eeehhh. Cute, but I think overall I preferred Shopaholic. I would definitely watch the latter again at any rate. New was an okay way to burn an hour and a half on a lazy evening, but that's about it. It really, really reminded me of the musical/movie Pajama Game (I've only seen the movie so that's what I'm comparing it to). Only in this movie the boss/union rep roles are reversed between the male & female leads.

I think my biggest problem with this movie was that I just couldn't get past how freaking awful and caveman-like Harry Connick Jr. looked every time he was on-screen. Also, I HATE AND LOATHE TAPIOCA with every fiber of my being. And since it plays kind of a large role in the movie...well that's just stomach-turning in my world. LOL!