Movie of the Week 52
The ABC Murders 2018 crime, drama, mystery
(3 episode mini-series; stream via Amazon Prime)
One thing needs to be said at the beginning: Ignore the negative reviews by purists who have zero tolerance for any deviation from the Agatha Christie story. Question: I understand that, for many mystery readers, Agatha is the Queen of Whodunits, but since when did her fictional murder mysteries become sacred cows? She was a tier 2 mystery writer that I rank far below Robert Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Eric Ambler and Ross MacDonald. And I think Malcovich’s Hercule Poirot is the best ever. I always considered the David Suchet/Inspector Poirot to be effeminate and highly annoying. That said the mini-series is not for everyone. It's a kind of production one either loves or hates, with not much in between.
The thing that divides the viewers is the way Poirot was portrayed in the series, which is very different from what we are used to. Here we get a much darker and realistic version of this beloved character, and the whole world of the show is much more brutal as well. This is not the cozy, sanitized, light storyline shown in the old Masterpiece Theater versions. The new style and characterizations fit the dark story perfectly. The cinematography is a work of art and 1930’s England is faithfully presented.
I really enjoyed this new approach to the classic character. Otherwise it would be the same story with different actors, and I don't see the point in doing that. Resetting the story to a future point where Inspector Japp and Poirot are both retired gives the story a new perspective that I found to be brilliant. Gone are Poirot's silly, waxed mustache and oily, slicked down hair. The actors fit perfectly into this new "tougher, masculine Poirot". John Malkovich is brilliant as the shunned, half-forgotten detective dealing with past trauma, Eamon Farren is perfect as the confused Cust, Tara Fitzgerald nailed a complex, tragic character, and I even liked Rupert Grint even though he got off to a rough start.
To sum up, the 2018 ABC series is not for everyone. It's definitely not for the grannies, who want the show to stay rigidly truthful to the novels. Those types should stick with the Masterpiece Theater. But for people like me, who enjoy new tales about classic and intelligent characters and who love dark, hard-boiled stories, it is perfect. The next day I was thinking about how Poirot zeroed in on the real killer. It was so smooth and subtle – I had to watch it again the next day.
Movie of the Week 51
Top Gun 1986 action, adventure
I saw this film on the big screen when it was released over three decades ago, and was surprised to hear that a sequel will be released in late 2020. I was inspired to rewatch this movie and pen a review of this blockbuster (mild spoilers ahead). The premise of the story is very simple: Maverick (Tom Cruise) is a young hotshot Navy aviator who earns his chance to go to Top Gun, the most prestigious aerial combat school in the US military. Soon rivalries, friendships, and romance take hold along with really cool aerial sequences. The plot is simple; you could write it on the back of a stamp. The themes of American aviation superiority and the warrior ethos are hammered in. Of course, a romance subplot with Kelly McGillis is inserted for box office appeal, but it is the friendship between Maverick and Goose that really makes this film special. In military parlance, Goose is the Guy in Back (GIB). The GIB takes care of missile control systems, radar, and the ECM (electronic counter measures). With multiple instruments handled by the GIB, the pilot can concentrate on flying the F-14A Mach 2 jet fighter. In a recent contest ranking movie sidekicks, Goose (Anthony Edwards) was the winner; easily beating out second place runner-up Walter Sobchak (The Big Lebowski). Like all good sidekicks, Goose served alternately as a wingman, counselor, buddy and partner in crime. Goose snapped a Polaroid of Maverick flipping an upside down bird to a Soviet pilot, sang a duet of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” as part of Maverick’s wooing his new love interest, and took his share of the heat for Maverick’s fly-bys and other high-jinks. Goose was not only Maverick’s best friend, but also his only family. And the cherry on top: Goose also gets an emotional, heroic death scene. What more could you ask from a sidekick?
This film was a fantastic recruiting bonanza for the Navy in the midst of the Cold War. After this film premiered you could hear the noise of the competing Army, Marine and Air Force recruiters slamming their crew-cut heads against the wall in despair over the grand success of pro-Navy propaganda. An “AFTER ACTION PLAN” was set in motion throughout the armed services for the next terrific recruitment film. Keep in mind that Top Gun was Pentagon approved. If you, the Producer/director, want to play with the big military toys, you play by their rules. And that means a legal contract and script approval by Pentagon brass. Which brings me to the HARD question: How in the hell are they going to replace Goose in the sequel, Top Gun: Maverick?
From what I have read about the sequel, Maverick pilots single-seat jets, so the part for a GIB character does not exist. Goose may be gone, but remember he had a son that Maverick was very fond of, so expect an appearance of Goose Jr. Also Maverick has to have a love interest, right? The romance subplot will star Jennifer Connelly. In classic Hollywood fashion, Kelly McGillis (born 1957) was skidded for a sexier, younger actress. Raise your hand if that surprises you. As for our favorite high-flying Scientologist, he barely looks a day older when he climbed into the jet cockpit back in 1986. So with ageless Mr. Cruise heading up the cast, the sequel is a safe bet for financial success. I look forward to seeing Top Gun: Maverick, on the big screen (due to premier in December). Just remember you are watching sanitized, patriotic, pro-military propaganda, so just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
A few more thoughts about the original 1986 Top Gun:
Best quote: “I feel the need for speed”. [Maverick]
Best song on soundtrack: Danger Zone by Kenny Loggins
Wardrobe: Maverick’s leather bomber jacket.
Movie of the Week 50
Serenity 2005 sci-fi adventure
Serenity is the cinematic sequel to the short-lived 2002 science fiction TV series Firefly. I think it is safe to say that if you enjoyed the Firefly TV series, you will also like the movie Serenity. The actors, writers, director are same in both, and provide the essential blend of “Space Cowboy Si-fi” elements so stunning in the TV series. I also think that Serenity can be enjoyed as a stand-alone movie without watching the TV series, but being a big Firefly fan – I recommend binge streaming it before seeing the movie.
A brief review of the Firefly backstory goes like this: A giant civil war between the major planets erupts due to the Alliance forcing a “unification” of the free worlds, whereby they bend the knee to the Alliance. The Rebels or “brown coats” are defeated by the Alliance. The few surviving Rebels retreat to the wilder, remote “borderlands” of space that is under weak, or nominal, Alliance control. Certainly the most feared threat in the borderlands is the Reaver space ships. The Reavers are roaming packs of savage zombies who attack ships and raid settlements; torturing, and eating their victims, then paint their hideous ships with human blood. Don’t ask how stone-age cannibalistic barbarians can fly space ships. One of the mysteries left unsolved in the TV series is the origin of the Reavers. This movie provides the answers. The heroes are Captain Malcolm (aka Mal) Reynolds, a former Rebel commander, and the crew of his spaceship Serenity. Mal and his crew (also ex-Rebel soldiers) adopt the outlaw life as a means of survival by thieving and smuggling; yet they still maintain a chivalrous and disciplined code. The Serenity also discreetly hauls a few paying passengers; thereby, providing a steady stream of interesting new characters. Mal is a strong alpha male warrior and leader with a noble code of honor that values loyalty and social bonds. These bonds are often put to the test as the iron fist of the Alliance tightens and the crew of the Serenity is faced with higher and higher risk to avoid obliteration. Although Mal is a most wanted criminal by the Alliance, he is clearly the good guy of the story. End of Backstory.
Back to the movie (mild spoiler alert): The opening scenes revisit the escape of Simon Tam and his sister, River, from a secret, highly guarded Alliance medical facility. In the TV series, Simon and River are mere passengers and their backstory was shrouded in subplot mystery land. But in the movie, River Tam is a central character. We soon discover that she possesses psychic mental powers, e.g. reads people’s thoughts and can foresee future events. And when triggered by subliminal messages, she has remarkable hand-to-hand fighting ability. In other words, the quiet, reserved, bare footed River can suddenly transform into the ultimate bitch on wheels. Simon explains that the Alliance doctors selected River as a test subject for their ghoulish Nazi-like experiments to create superhumans and weaponized them. The Serenity crew, having seen River in action, is terrified to have her aboard. It also becomes clear that an Alliance task force is tailing the Serenity in search of River. The crew debates the wisdom of sheltering River and Simon, and decides it is time for the brother and sister passengers to leave the ship at the next port of call. Of course that does not happen with the Alliance battle fleet closing in on the Serenity. Mal refuses to turn over River to the Alliance and becomes increasingly determined to know the truth about River’s connection with the Alliance. Gradually bits and pieces of the truth emerge from River’s damaged, unstable psyche. The answers, River remembers, can be found on the planet Miranda. The pilot maps a path to Miranda and quickly discovers two big problems: the first being that Miranda is listed in the planetary database as a dead, or uninhabitable, rock; and the second being that the bulk of the Reaver space fleet is orbiting around Miranda. Mal has to make a tough call; pinned between Reavers and an Alliance task force, Mal decides to…
I will stop this review here. Highly recommended for fans of Space Cowboy films.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2023. All rights reserved.