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Tag Archive: Agatha Christie


Review by C.J. Bunce

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders is now available for streaming in the U.S. on Amazon Prime.  Christie is renowned for the cozy mystery novel, but the 2017 three-part BBC series upends the cozy qualities of Christie’s trademark storytelling with the seemingly obligatory modernizing of the classics through a dark and grotesque filter.  If you’re revisiting Christie through the lens of something like Edgar Allan Poe, then it might make sense to you to swap out your familiar vision of the enduring detective hero Hercule Poirot for someone known for his whispering, creepy, and pretentious characters.  Someone like John Malkovich.  If you’re lucky, as was director Alex Gabassi (The Frankenstein Chronicles) and screenwriter Sarah Phelps (EastEnders), you might find Malkovich in one of his finer performances.

Malkovich, in a most reserved and dialed back performance, is perfect as Poirot at the end of his career, disgraced, derided, and reviled, shunned instead of adored in a time when the native Belgian was reviled in England in a wave of anti-immigrant hatred.  He is dark, moody, uncertain, nearly off his game as he begins to receive in his batch of daily love and hate mail a single set of letters from an unknown sender with violent intentions.  Now retired (this is Poirot in 1933) he seeks the aid of Scotland Yard, always helpful in the old days, to find one Inspector Crome, a twenty-something inspector played by 29-year-old Rupert Grint.  Poirot is out and Crome is in, until Crome realizes Poirot’s warnings of a killer taunting Poirot with murder victims and towns following laid out alphabetically were all spot on.  At last Grint makes his move into a mature role, and he does it believably well, holding his own opposite the incomparable mystique of Malkovich.  Joining Grint from the Harry Potter films is Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtle) as the vile landlady of a creepy young man whose initials are A.B.C., played by Eamon Farren (Winchester, Twin Peaks), and who the story follows in parallel to Poirot’s pursuit.

Unfortunately the potentially interesting switch-up to the Modern is mired in unnecessary irrelevancies, including attempts at ambience at the expense of furthering the plot.  So prepare for overlong frames of lurid, exaggerated, repulsive, and vulgar wallowing in fluids, leering at every fathomable excess, regurgitations too numerous to count, an odd sex torture scene, tasteless dwelling on spilled urine and worse.  It becomes difficult to look over and around these additions to try to hone in on the point of the whole thing, the part that works: Christie’s clever mystery story.  Not surprisingly none of the excesses were in Christie’s original mystery.  The distractions are unfortunate, because Grint shows promise as a classic British character type he could possibly bank on for future roles, and Malkovich gives a good effort at an updated take on the character, complete with an acceptable mix of accents.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

We first previewed the new series back in January here at borg.com.  The Minky Woodcock story The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini is as much a showcase of the creator’s various talents as a mash-up of great story concepts.  Cynthia von Buhler is an artist, performer, playwright, and author.  Her fictionalized tale of the last days of Houdini draws a bit from the modern mainstream shock drama (think The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), her unique provocative art style (fans of Stjepan Šejić will love it), her affinity for crime noir, and her own investigation into the death of a relative in the 1930s.  The result is a new, crafty, shrewd, and fiery private detective, the fictional Minky Woodcock, a character who proves she can hold her own against Arthur Conan Doyle, and would make a good lead in an ongoing noir series (in fact a follow-up story is in the works for next year, with Minky investigating the mysterious poisoning death of Ziegfeld Girl Olive Thomas).  The complete The Man Who Handcuffed Houdini is now available in a colorful hardcover edition from Titan Comics and Hard Case Crime.

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in von Buhler’s story (she both wrote and illustrated the story).  The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is later hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on the magician (a purported philanderer).  The blend of the true and the fabricated is artfully drawn into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

 

The new hardcover compilation edition includes the main cover artwork and variants for the four issues of the series.  Von Buhler balances realism with the surreal.  Her choice of color has the nostalgic flair of Matt Kindt’s DeptH series, her images of real people (like Houdini) are spot-on, and she particularly excels at skintones, which appear almost photo-real in contrast to the book’s comic page designs.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

The life of master magician Harry Houdini intersected with many other celebrities of the day, and a few of them come into play in a new four-issue comic book series by writer and artist Cynthia von Buhler.  A new addition to Titan Comics’ Hard Case Crime works, Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini tracks the magician in the 20 days leading up to his death on October 31, 1926.  Incredibly enough only the strangest elements of von Buhler’s series are real.  Minky Woodcock is the writer’s creation–the daughter of a private investigator who is hired first by Arthur Conan Doyle to help him discredit Houdini, she is then hired by Houdini’s wife as a magician’s assistant to keep tabs on him.  The blend of the true and the fabricated is smoothly drawn together into an impressive tale of 1920s debauchery, fraud, celebrity, and spectacle.

Yes, Houdini and Doyle were once friends, and their relationship fell apart over their views on spiritualism.  Doyle employed a bizarre spiritualist for Houdini (appearing in the comic) who conducted séances in the nude (who knew the 1920s had such characters?).  When Houdini’s mother was summoned, communicating through the medium in the form of a letter, Houdini was quickly able to see the fraud as an image of a cross appeared and the language was written in English.  Houdini’s mother was Jewish and spoke no English.

 

Von Buhler writes and illustrates both her heroine Minky Woodcock and Houdini’s wife Bess as fascinating women of the 1920s.  Von Buhler’s artistic style is perfectly suited for the story–her women look like they emerged from 16mm film from the Golden Age of cinema–she uses pen and ink with a watercolor method that makes the issues of the series look like they’re printed on classic pulp paper.  And her renderings of Harry and Bess Houdini look like their photographs.

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Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan–a member of that fabled Class of 1982’s “best summer of movies”–turned 35 this year, and to celebrate, the film is returning to theaters as part of the Fathom Events series.  It has been said the film’s director and screenplay writer Nicholas Meyer saved Star Trek.  Meyer was well-known as the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and its screenplay, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and for directing and writing the screenplay for the fan-favorite, time travel thriller, Time After Time.  After the lukewarm response at the box office to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, executive producer Harve Bennett tapped Meyer to take the franchise in a bold, new direction, and the result, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, became the best reviewed film of the franchise and a classic among all science fiction.  Many details about Meyer’s work have been recounted in Allan Asherman’s The Making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Meyer’s own memoir, The View from the Bridge.  Meyer has also shared a trove of his thoughts and work on the film in director commentaries accompanying the film’s various home releases.  He’s not quite finished with Star Trek yet–he’s back again as a writer and producer on the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, premiering next month.

I was ecstatic to interview Nicholas Meyer this past week and listen to him reminisce as director and screenwriter of The Wrath of Khan for the approaching anniversary theatrical release, and ask him questions I’ve had for years about his long writing career.  Meyer sees himself first as a storyteller.  In addition to The Wrath of Khan, he wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and he directed and wrote the screenplay for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  I think you’ll discover—or rediscover—that in Meyer’s selections of leading stage and screen actors like Christopher Plummer, Meyer provided gravitas to the Star Trek universe, and by infusing classical literature into the voices of characters from the likes of Shakespeare, Doyle, and Melville, he elevated Star Trek’s story beyond mere popular science fiction.  Everything that would come after The Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek franchise exists as a direct result of Meyer’s success on that film.

Director Nicholas Meyer observing final detail work as Ricardo Montalban’s headwrap is applied, filming the first appearance of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

CB:  Welcome to borg.com.  Thanks for chatting with me and borg.com readers today and congratulations on the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

NM:  Thank you so much.  It’s a real pleasant surprise—As Kirk said to Scotty, “That’ll be a pleasant surprise.”

CB:  Let’s talk about Ricardo Montalban as Khan.  I have always loved this line: “I’ll chase him ‘round the Moons of Nibia and ‘round the Antares Maelstrom and ‘round Perdition’s flames.”  When you write something like that, do you know that you’ve got it, and when you see Montalban saying it and it appears on the screen, do you get any satisfaction of seeing that all come together?

NM:  Absolutely!  I have to say, first of all, I didn’t write it.  Herman Melville wrote it.  I substituted a few planets or something.  This is all Ahab.  I just cribbed it.  I remember with some satisfaction what I took to be at the time my cleverness (which turns out to be the curse of Kirk: “I patted myself on the back for my cleverness”).  It wasn’t until I saw Ricardo actually do it that I got goosebumps, and thought, “Holy cow.  This is wonderful!”  And I said to him actually at some point during the movie, “You really should be playing Lear.”  He sort of looks like Lear–with a big set of pecs.  Because he has been on stage, he was on Broadway, he did legit plays.  He was very touched, I think, that I had told him this, and he made some disparaging remark about his Hispanic accent.  I said, “That’s all bullshit.  You enunciate perfectly.  You could do this.”  I think Khan was as close as he ever got to doing it.

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Everyone is a suspect.  The clues are everywhere.  For mystery lovers, it’s a staple.  It’s Agatha Christie’s most well-known 1934 novel come to life, Murder on the Orient Express, the fourth major production for film or television of the classic whodunit in the English language–the 1974 Academy Award winning Sidney Lumet film being the best known.  For the older generation the story is known, but for a new generation the stage is set for a big screen version of Clue/Cluedo.  As with the 1974 version, the cast of the 2017 version is extraordinary.

So how do you cast a film against the last generation of film greats?  Leading a bevy of thespian knights and dames, Sir Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars as master detective Hercule Poirot, the world’s greatest detective, played previously by Albert Finney (who refused a knighthood in the year 2000).  Sir Derek Jacobi plays the butler Edward Henry Masterman in a role played by Sir John Gielgud in the earlier version.  Dame Judi Dench plays Princess Natalia Dragomiroff, formerly played by Dame Wendy Hiller.  In an update for the new version, American actor Leslie Odom, Jr. (Supernatural, Gotham) takes on the role of Doctor (formerly Colonel) Arbuthnott, played previously by Sir Sean Connery.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens star Daisy Ridley as governess Mary Debenham, formerly played by Dame Vanessa Redgrave.

The list of American actors includes a fascinating mix of genre favorites old and new.  Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp takes on the role played before by Richard Widmark as the debonair businessman Edward Ratchett.  Academy Award nominee Michelle Pfeiffer is widow Harriet Hubbard, a role played in the 1974 film by Lauren Bacall.  Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe is Professor Gerhard Hardman, played earlier by Colin Blakely.  Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz plays a newly named character, Pilar Estravados, a missionary, in the part played before by Ingrid Bergman.  Rounding out the cast is Josh Gad (Frozen) as Ratchett’s assistant Hector McQueen (played before by Anthony Perkins), and British TV regular Olivia Colman (Broadchurch, The Night Manager) plays the maid Hildegarde Schmidt (previously played by Rachel Roberts).

Take a look at this first trailer for the new Murder on the Orient Express:

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rocket

Our annual “All the Movies You’ll Want to See…” series has been one of the most viewed of all of our entries at borg.com each year.  So this year we again scoured Hollywood and its publicity machine for as many genre films coming out in 2017 that have been disclosed.  The result is a whopping 58 movies, many you’ll probably want to see in the theater or catch on video (and some you may want to skip).  We bet you’ll find a bunch below you’ve never heard of.  Bookmark this now for your 2017 calendar!

Most coming out in the second half of 2017 don’t even have posters released yet.  We’ve included descriptions and key cast so you can start planning accordingly.

What do we think will be the biggest hits of the year?  How about Star Wars: Episode VIII or Wonder Woman?   Luc Besson’s Valerian and the City of 1,000 Planets?  Ghost in the Shell?  Or Beauty and the Beast? 

justice

You’ve heard endlessly about Logan and Justice League, but 2017 will also see numerous other sequels, like Alien: Covenant, Blade Runner 2049, Thor: Ragnarok, and sequels for Underworld, Resident Evil, Planet of the Apes, Pirates of the Caribbean, XXX, John Wick, King Kong, The Fast and the Furious, Cars, The Kingsman, Transformers, Despicable Me.   And The Six Billion Dollar Man is finally on its way.  Look for plenty of Dwayne Johnson, Tom Cruise, Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, Samuel L. Jackson, Zoe Saldana, Hugh Jackman, John Goodman, Michael Peña, Ryan Reynolds, Sofia Boutella, and Elle Fanning in theaters this year.

So wait no further, here are your genre films for 2017:

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