Monday, September 22, 2014

"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" (2008) Review

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"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" (2008) Review

Since it first aired on television, I must admit that I have paid scant attention to "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", ITV's 2008 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1952 novel. I find this amazing, since the novel has always been a favorite of mine. I am not claiming that the 2008 movie is terrible. I was simply distracted by other matters during my last two viewings. This third viewing proved to be the charmed and I finally was able to ascertain the movie's quality. 

Unlike its literary source, "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" was not set in the early 1950s. Because the television adaptation was an episode of "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT", screenwriter Nick Dear transform the setting to the 1930s. There is some unwritten rule for the series' producers that all "POIROT" adaptations had to be set during that decade. Why . . . I do not know or understand to this day. However, changing the story's setting to another decade did not harm it, unlike"THIRD GIRL" or "TAKEN AT THE FLOOD". Dear also remove a few characters - including two from a newspaper article that is featured in the plot. And the literary characters of Maude Williams and Dierde Henderson are merged into one - Maude Williams. Fortunately, these changes had no negative impact upon the story.

In "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", the lodger of a dead charwoman is convicted of her murder and sentenced to be executive. Superintendent Spence, the case's investigating officer, suspects that James Bentley is innocent of Mrs. McGinty's murder and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the case for him. Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny and discovers that Mrs. McGinty had often worked as a cleaner at the houses of people in the village. He also discovers among her possessions a newspaper published a few days before her death and that a particular article had been cut out, which he later discovers was about four women connected with famous murder cases. Mrs. McGinty had also purchased a bottle of ink from a local shop. Poirot concludes that Mrs. McGinty had recognized one of the four women and had written to the newspaper for more information. One of Mrs. McGinty's cleaning learned of her discovery and killed her before she could talk.

After my recent viewing of "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", I realized that I did this movie a disservice by paying scant attention to it during my earlier viewings. The movie proved to be very entertaining and a worthy adaptation of a novel that has long been a favorite of mine. First of all, Christie created an intriguing, yet entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, until the last pages. And both Dear and director Ashley Pierce did an excellent job in translating Christie's story to the screen, maintaining its drama with links to the mysterious past and humor. Speaking of the latter, "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" proved to be one of the funniest Poirot mysteries I have ever come across. Since this story is a "village mystery", a rarity for a Poirot story, audiences get to witness the Belgian-born sleuth struggle as a guest at an untidy country manor-turned-guesthouse. The movie also dealt with Ariadne Oliver's frustrating collaboration with a playwright, who wants to adapt (meaning change) one of her Sven Hjerson novels. And the movie provides plenty of laughs from both story arcs. I do have one major regret regarding Dear and Pierce's adaptation of Christie's novel - they never included that fabulous scene in which Poirot revealed the murderer by giving the latter a major scare with the murder weapon. It was such a memorable scene that I felt some regret that it had not been included in the movie.

The production values for "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" seemed top notch. Production designer Jeff Tessler and his team did an excellent job in re-creating the English countryside of the 1930s. His work was solidly supported by Miranda Cull and Paul Spriggs' art direction and especially Sheena Napier's costume designs. I was especially impressed by the fact that Napier did not go over-the-top with her costumes, considering the movie's village setting. I wish I could be just as complimentary about Alan Almond's photography. Mind you, I found his photography beautiful and rich in color. But there were scenes I wish had been filmed with more light. And I could have done without the soft-focus photography.

David Suchet gave one of his funniest performances as Poirot in this movie. Mind you, he perfectly conveyed Poirot's pragmatic nature, intelligence and detective skills. But Suchet was hilarious as the long-suffering Poirot forced to deal with the incompetent housekeeping skills of his hosts, the Summerhayes. Zoë Wanamaker gave an equally hilarious as mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver, forced to endure playwright Robin Upward's changes in the stage adaptation of one of her novels. And both Suchet and Wanamaker once again created magic whenever they appeared together on the screen.

"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" also featured some first-rate supporting performances. After his first appearance in 2006's"TAKEN AT THE FLOOD", Richard Hope returned as Superintendent Harold Spence, the police investigator whose dissatisfaction with James Bentley's conviction, drew Poirot into the McGinty case. He gave a solid performance, just as he did in the 2006 movie. However, both his performance and the character did not knock my socks off. And Amanda Root's portrayal of the doctor's wife, Mrs. Rendell, seemed a bit over-the-top. But I did enjoy Raquel Cassidy, Mary Stockley, Sarah Smart and Paul Rhys's performances. The latter was especially funny as the pretentious playwright, Robin Upward, who drove Mrs. Oliver crazy. But the two performances that really impressed me came from Joe Absolom, who was interesting as the wrongly convicted and anemic lodger James Bentley; and Siân Phillips, who portrayed the enigmatic and secretive Mrs. Upward with great skill and mystery.

In the end, "MRS. McGINTY" proved to be a first-rate adaptation of the 1952 novel. In fact, it was a lot better than I remembered from my first (and second) viewing. I thought it was well written by Nick Dear and directed with skill by Adrian Pearce. Most of all, it featured hilarious performances by both David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, who re-ignited their screen chemistry with great ease. I really enjoyed this film.

Friday, September 19, 2014

"The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga" - Luke Skywalker

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Here is the sixth article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga: 


"The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga"

Luke Skywalker

I had pointed out in a previous article that it would seem difficult to discuss moral ambiguity for the STAR WARS character, Padmé Amidala. Many fans of George Lucas' franchise seemed to regard her as an ideal character. And if I may be honest, I sense that many fans seemed to harbor similar feelings her son, Luke Skywalker. 

The three STAR WARS films released between 1977 and 1983 did not hesitate to reveal Luke's character virtues and flaws. But whenever his character is discussed on many Internet message boards and forums like TheForce.Net, his virtues are consistently focused upon and his flaws are either ignored or given lip service. More importantly, Luke is routinely compared to his father, Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader - usually to the latter's detriment. Many fans tend to use this comparison and his "moral triumph" in the 1983 film, "STAR WARS: EPISODE VI - RETURN OF THE JEDI" as reasons why Luke should have been regarded as "the Chosen One", namely the one character destined to bring balance to the Force. In fact, it seemed as if Luke has more or less become theSTAR WARS Saga's "Golden Boy".

Many fans would probably claim that Luke deserves the title. From the moment he was introduced as a Tatooine farmboy in 1977's"STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE" to his final confrontation aboard the second Death Star with his Jedi-turned-Sith father and the latter's Imperial master, Emperor Palpatine aka Darth Sidious; Luke has accomplished a good deal. With the help of the older Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and smugglers Han Solo and Chewbacca, he managed to save Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan from execution aboard the first Death Star. He used the Force to successfully blow up the latter. He rose to the rank of Commander and squadron leader after three years as a Rebel Alliance pilot. Luke served with distinction in many battle, including the Battles of Yavin and Hoth. He trained to become a Jedi Knight for a few months under the aging Jedi Master Yoda. And with the use of Obi-Wan's training manual, he completed most of his training on his own. Luke plotted and led the rescue of his friend Han from the clutches of the Tatooine gangster, Jabba the Hutt. But Luke's biggest triumph in the eyes of fans was his ability to overcome his own anger in the face of the Sith and avoid succumbing to evil - something his father had obviously failed to do. I suspect that many would find themselves asking what would be the point of discussing the moral ambiguity of a character like Luke Skywalker?

Senator Padmé Amidala Skywalker gave birth to Luke and his twin sister, Leia Organa, on the moon of Polis Massa at the close of the Clone Wars. Following the twins' births, she died while declaring her husband's potential for good. The witnesses to Padmé’s death - Obi-Wan, Yoda and Prince Bail Organa of Alderaan - deemed it necessary to separate the twins and hide them from their father and the Emperor Palpatine. Bail decided that he and his wife, Queen Breha of Alderaan, would adopt Leia. Obi-Wan decided to hand over Luke to Anakin's stepbrother and sister-in-law, Owen and Beru Lars, on Tatooine. He also remained on Tatooine to keep an eye on the boy. Luke grew up learning very little about his father and nothing at all about his mother, thanks to the Lars. During his boyhood, Luke not only became a talented pilot thanks to practice runs through Beggar Canyon, but also his uncle's farmhand.

Judging from one particular scene in "A NEW HOPE", I got the impression that Owen had hoped Luke would follow in his footsteps and become a moisture farmer. In other words, he had hoped Luke would take over the family farm. But Luke had no desire to become a farmer. From the moment he entered his teens - probably earlier - he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps and become a pilot. During an argument with Owen, he even expressed a desire to join the Imperial Academy. During a period of time, Luke and Owen seemed to be engaged in some kind tug-of-war regarding their personal desires. In the end, Owen's purchase of a pair of droids from a group of Jawas finally settled the matter. With tragic circumstances.

When the saga's first movie hit the screens, audiences were introduced to Luke's personality flaws. He proved to be restless, impatient and at first, incapable of going against Owen Lars' wishes in order to follow his own path. It took the deaths of Owen and Lars at the hands of Imperial stormtroopers searching for R2-D2 and C3-P0, the droids that Owen had recently purchased. But manySTAR WARS fans claim that despite these flaws, Luke was basically an ideal or near ideal character. In fact, they usually claim that one of Luke's more admirable traits was his healthy attitude toward personal attachments. Unlike Anakin, Luke seemed more capable of letting go of his emotional attachments and facing the death or possible deaths of those close to him. His reaction to Owen and Beru Lars' deaths in "A NEW HOPE" has been constantly used as a prime example of this virtue on his part. After my latest viewing of the movie, I feel that I cannot agree. I believe there was a reason why Luke took their deaths with so little turmoil. I suspect that Luke's emotional connection to Owen and Beru was not as strong as many like to believe. Think about it. Unlike Queen Breha and Prince Bail Organa, who gave Leia their surname; the Lars never did the same for Luke. And Owen did his best to manipulate Luke into remaining on the farm, despite the latter's desire to leave. I suspect that Luke may have been saddened by his uncle and aunt's deaths. Yet, I also believe that a small part of him was relieved that he could finally leave Tatooine and follow his own path. And furthermore, I believe one should question Luke's reason to pursue Jedi training. I suspect that Obi-Wan's revelation of Anakin's past as a Jedi Knight and his own desire for knowledge of a father he never really knew, led him to consider becoming a Jedi Knight, instead of any serious consideration of this path.

One of the true reason why I believe Luke's reaction to the Lars' deaths was not a strong argument for his ability to let go of attachments . . . was his reaction to Obi-Wan Kenobi's death aboard the Death Star in the same movie. He had not taken the Jedi Master's death very well. Luke became very close to Obi-Wan, despite spending a brief period in the latter's company. When he saw Darth Vader strike down the Jedi Master during a duel, Luke reacted with surprise . . . and anger. In fact, he was so upset over Obi-Wan's death that he began firing his blaster at the Imperials in a blind rage, oblivious to the danger that surrounded himself and his companions. It took the voice of Obi-Wan's Force ghost to convince Luke to finally make a run for the Millennium Falcon, so they could all make their escape from the Death Star. Even worse, this would prove to be the first of several times in which Luke displayed his inability to let go of his attachments. 

Obi-Wan Kenobi was not the only one to whom Luke had formed an attachment in "A NEW HOPE". By the end of the movie, Leia, Han, Chewbacca and the droids 3P0 and R2-D2 had become part of his new family. So whenever a member or members of this family faced danger from the Empire, Luke naturally reacted . . . but not in a positive way. Following the disastrous Battle of Hoth in"STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK", Luke continued his Jedi training under Master Yoda on Dagobah. His training ended on an abrupt note when he received visions of Leia, Han and Chewbacca facing danger on the Bespin mining colony. Despite warnings from Yoda and Obi-Wan's Force ghost that he was ending his Jedi training too soon and might be walking into a trap, Luke was determined to travel to Bespin and rescue his friends. So what happened? Well, Luke failed to rescue his friends. Han ended up frozen in carbonite and carted away by bounty hunter Boba Fett to Jabba the Hutt. Luke engaged in a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader, got one of his hands chopped off and discovered that the Sith Lord was his father, Anakin Skywalker. Oh . . . and it was Leia, Chewbacca and Han's old friend Lando Calrissian who ended up rescuing him from certain death. All of this came about due to Luke's unwillingness to accept the possibility of his friends' deaths or his belief that only he could save them. Also, some of Luke's other negative traits reappeared as well in "THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". His impatience shone through during his first meeting with Yoda. His stubbornness revealed itself in his determination to leave Dagobah and rescue Leia and Han on Bespin. And his reliance upon aggression shone through during his time inside that cave on Dagobah.

By the time Luke's story picked up in "RETURN OF THE JEDI", his skills with the Force had increased, thanks to Obi-Wan's training manual. Luke seemed calmer, more patient and perhaps a bit wiser. This increase of wisdom and perception not only seemed obvious in his actions during the Rebel Alliance mission on the Endor moon, but also in his opinion of Lord Vader. One could say that Luke's view was influenced by blood connection. But Luke had made it clear to Obi-Wan's ghost that he had used his instincts and sensed the possibility of Vader's redemption. Only Obi-Wan refused to listen. As it turned out, the Force was not through with Luke Skywalker.

As I had earlier stated, the young Jedi Knight seemed to be at peace with himself in the 1983 film. And he was also determined to help his father find redemption, as well. And if that failed, Luke was willing to face death at the hands of Vader and Palpatine. However, two moments of emotional manipulation - from both Palpatine and Vader - exposed Luke's continuing weakness for attachments. Luke tried to resist fighting Vader before the Emperor aboard the second Death Star. But when the latter revealed that he had manipulated the events that led to Battle of Endor in the hopes of wiping out the Rebel Alliance for good, Luke raised his lightsaber in order to strike Palpatine. This act led to a second duel with his father. And when Luke refused to continue the duel, Vader taunted him with the knowledge of a twin sister (Leia) and his determination to recruit her to the Sith Order. Not surprisingly, Luke lost his temper and literally assaulted his father.

Luke seemed to be on the verge of beating Vader to death, when he stopped, tossed aside his lightsaber and declared himself "a Jedi", as his father had once been. This was the moment that made Luke the Saga's "Golden Boy" in the eyes of many fans. This was the moment in which Luke proved he could rise above his emotions and his aggression. This was the moment in which he proved his moral superiority over his father. And yet . . . 

During my last viewing of "RETURN OF THE JEDI", I watched that scene two or three times. And something occurred to me after my last viewing. I realized that Luke owed a lot of his moral standing and decisions in that moment to the Emperor Palpatine. Perhaps I should say that he owed a lot to Palpatine's big mouth. Every time I watched that scene, I found myself wondering what would have occurred if Palpatine had kept his mouth shut. I do recall what happened when he opened it. Let us relive that moment . . . shall we?

VADER: You cannot hide forever, Luke.

LUKE: I will not fight you.

VADER: Give yourself to the dark side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for...

(Vader stops and senses something. Luke shuts his eyes tightly, in
anguish.)

VADER: Sister! So...you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her, too. Obi-Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will.

LUKE: Never-r-r!

(Luke ignites his lightsaber and screams in anger, rushing at his father
with a frenzy we have not seen before. Sparks fly as Luke and Vader
fight in the cramped area. Luke's hatred forces Vader to retreat out of
the low area and across a bridge overlooking a vast elevator shaft.
Each stroke of Luke's sword drives his father further toward defeat.

The Dark Lord is knocked to his knees, and as he raises his sword to
block another onslaught, Luke slashes Vader's right hand off at the
wrist, causing metal and electronic parts to fly from the mechanical
stump. Vader's sword clatters uselessly away, over the edge of the platform and into the bottomless shaft below. Luke moves over Vader and holds the blade of his sword to the Dark Lord's throat. The Emperor watches with uncontrollable, pleased agitation.)

EMPEROR: Good! Your hate has made you powerful. Now, fulfill your destiny and take your father's place at my side!

(Luke looks at his father's mechanical hand, then to his own mechanical,
black-gloved hand, and realizes how much he is becoming like his father. He makes the decision for which he has spent a lifetime in preparation. Luke steps back and hurls his lightsaber away.)

LUKE: Never! I'll never turn to the dark side. You've failed, Your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.


Whew! That was close.

There was Luke wearing a demented expression on his face as he beat the living crap out of his father. The latter had just revealed his knowledge of the existence of a twin daughter and his intention to turn her. Luke attacked, until he finally managed to drive Vader on his knees. Just as he prepared himself to deliver the final killing blow, Palpatine opened his mouth to express his approval of Luke's surrender to rage. By comparing the two Skywalkers, Palpatine gave Luke the opportunity to take stock of his actions. I suspect that he came within an inch of fully succumbing to his anger and to evil. More importantly, he probably has Palpatine's big mouth to thank for edging him away from the abyss. I believe that deep down, Luke had the potential to succumb to evil as much as his infamous father or any other character in the STAR WARS Saga. And I suspect that many of the franchise's fans find this difficult to accept.

What else can I say about Luke Skywalker? As we all know, the events of "REVENGE OF THE SITH" will not be the end of his story. Luke will become one of the characters in the upcoming STAR WARS episode - "EPISODE VII" - due to be released in December 2015. Previous movies revealed that veteran Jedi Masters Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi (even as a Force Ghost) had more lessons to learn, despite their ages and experiences. If the producers and writers of this new movie are any true storytellers, perhaps they will reveal that a 50-something Luke has a few lessons to learn himself in the new movie. 

So . . . am I willing to embrace the fandom's inclination to put Luke Skywalker on a pedestal? No. I cannot harbor an ideal opinion of him. I am well aware that he possesses a good share of virtues. But he also possessed flaws, as well. And considering how close he came to succumbing to his negative traits, I find it difficult to view him as morally superior to his father, Anakin Skywalker. Just luckier.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"TWO WEEKS NOTICE" (2002) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the 2002 romantic comedy, "TWO WEEKS NOTICE". Written and directed by Marc Lawrence, the movie starred Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant: 


"TWO WEEKS NOTICE" (2002) Photo Gallery

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