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
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
The Enclave 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
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
Miss Marple: Murder Is Easy
Saturday, July 18, 2009
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!!
Friday, July 17, 2009
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.
“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
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
Friday, July 10, 2009
Review: A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christie
By: Agatha Christie
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.
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:
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
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.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
The return of Miss Marple!
Poirot: Mrs. McGinty's Dead
Poirot: Cat Among the Pigeons
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...
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!