“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” (2001) Review

One can categorize the “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S POIROT” television movies into two categories. The ones made between 1989 and 2001, featured the supporting characters Captain Arthur Hasting, Miss Lemon (Hercule Poirot), and Chief Inspector Japp. The ones made post-2001 sporadically featured the mystery writer, Adriande Oliver. The very last television movie that featured Poirot’s close friend, Hastings, turned out to be 2001’s “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”.

Based upon Agatha Christie’s 1936 novel, “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” told of Hercule Poirot’s investigation into the murder of Louise Leidner, the wife of an American archeologist named Dr. Leidner. The story began with Poirot’s arrival in Iraq, who is there to not only visit his friend Captain Arthur Hastings, but also meet with a Russian countess of a past acquaintance. Hastings, who is having marital problems, is there to visit his nephew Bill Coleman, one of Dr. Leidner’s assistants. Upon his arrival at the dig, Poirot notices the tension between Mrs. Leidner and the other members of her husband’s dig – especially with Richard Carey and Anne Johnson, Dr. Leidner’s longtime colleagues.

Both Poirot and Hastings learn about the series of sightings that have frightening Mrs. Leidner. The latter eventually reveals that she was previously married to a young U.S. State Department diplomat during World War I named Frederick Bosner, who turned out to be a spy for the Germans. Mrs. Leidner had betrayed Bosner to the American government before he was arrested and sentenced to die. But Bosner managed to escape, while he was being transported to prison. Unfortunately, a train accident killed him. Fifteen years passed before Louise eventually married Dr. Leidner. Not long after Poirot learned about the lady’s past, someone killed her with a deadly blow to her head with a blunt instrument.

Many Christie fans claim that the 1989-2001 movies were superior to the later ones, because these movies were faithful to the novels. I have seen nearly every “POIROT” television movie in existence. Trust me, only a small handful of the 1989-2001 movies were faithful. And “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was not one of them. First of all, Arthur Hastings was not in the 1936 novel. Which meant that Bill Coleman’s was not Hasting’s nephew. Poirot’s assistant in Christie’s novel was Louise Leidner’s personal nurse, Amy Leatheran. In the 2001 movie, she was among the main suspects. There were other changes. Dr. Leidner’s nationality changed from Swedish to American. Several characters from the novel were eliminated.

I only had a few quibbles about “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. One, I found Clive Exton’s addition of Captain Hastings unnecessary. I realize that the movie aired during the last season that featured Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon. But what was the point in including Hastings to the story? His presence merely served as a last touch of nostalgia for many fans of the series and as an impediment to the Amy Leatheran character, whose presence was reduced from Poirot’s assistant to minor supporting character. Two, I wish that the movie’s running time had been longer. The story featured too many supporting characters and one too many subplots. A running time of And if I must be brutally honest, the solution to Louise Leidner’s murder struck me as inconceivable. One has to blame Agatha Christie for this flaw, instead of screenwriter Clive Exton. I could explain how implausible the murderer’s identity was, but to do so would give away the mystery.

But I still enjoyed “MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA”. Clive Exton did the best he could with a story slightly marred by First of all, I was impressed by the production’s use of Tunisia as a stand-in for 1933-36 Iraq. Rob Hinds and his team did an excellent job in re-creating both the setting and era for the movie. They were ably assisted by Kevin Rowley’s photography, Chris Wimble’s editing and the art direction team – Paul Booth, Nigel Evans and Henry Jaworski. I was especially impressed by Charlotte Holdich’s costume designs that perfectly recaptured both the 1930s decade and the movie’s setting in the Middle East.

David Suchet gave his usual top-notch performance as Hercule Poirot. I am also happy to include that he managed to avoid some of his occasional flashes of hammy acting during Poirot’s revelation scene. Hugh Fraser gave his last on-screen performance as Arthur Hastings (so far). And although I was not thrilled by the addition of the Hastings character in the movie, I cannot deny that Fraser was first rate. Five other performances really impressed me. Ron Berglas was perfectly subtle as the quiet and scholarly Dr. Leidner, who also happened to be in love with his wife. Barbara Barnes wisely kept control of her portrayal of Louise Leidner, a character that could have easily veered into caricature in the hands of a less able actress. I also enjoyed Dinah Stabb’s intelligent portrayal of Anne Johnson, one of Dr. Leidner’s colleagues who happened to be in love with him. Christopher Bowen did an excellent job of keeping audiences in the dark regarding his character’s (Richard Mason) true feelings for Mrs. Leidner. And Georgina Sowerby injected as much energy as possible into the role of Amy Leatharan, a character reduced by Exton’s screenplay.

“MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA” was marred by a running time I found too short and an implausible solution to its murder mystery. But it possessed enough virtues, including an excellent performance by a cast led by David Suchet, an interesting story and a first-rate production team; for me to consider it a very entertaining movie and one I would not hesitate to watch over again.

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“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” (1997) Review

I just recently watched Pierce Brosnan’s second outing as James Bond in this 1997 movie that co-stars Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” (1997) Review

I wish I could say that my opinion of the movie has improved over the years . . . but I would be lying. Mind you, TOMORROW NEVER DIES did have some highlights, but unfortunately, it possessed more negative traits than positive ones. I think it would be best if I list both the good and the bad about this movie:

Positive

*Michelle Yeoh

*Bond’s romantic scene with Danish linguist was rather sexy

*Foreign locations – Hamburg and Thailand (as Vietnam) never looked lovelier

*Bond and Wai-Lin’s escape from Caver building in Vietnam – great stunt
*Motorcycle chase – well done

*Pierce Brosnan – seemed natural . . . when he was acting in scenes with Yeoh

*Vincent Shirerpelli as Dr. Hamburg – oddly enough, I had rather liked him. He was a lot more interesting than Mr. Stamper. And his death was even more interesting, as well.

*Mr. Gupta – seemed like a pretty sharp and cool guy.

Negative

*Pierce Brosnan – his angsty scenes with Teri Hatcher seemed stiff and unnatural. And his voice tend to sound odd, when he’s giving the impression of supressing his emotions. Why did the director, Roger Spottiswode, have him shooting machine guns two at a time during the final confrontation on Carver’s boat? He looked like a walking action movie cliché.

*Jonathan Pryce – one of the most overbearing and annoying villains in the Bond franchise. Only Sophie Marceau in the latter half of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH surpassed him.

*Plot – Is it just me or is the plot of this Bond movie seemed like an extended rip-off of a LOIS AND CLARK episode from its first season? Perhaps learning of Teri Hatcher’s casting must have given the screenwriters the idea.

*Moneypenny’s Little Sexual Joke – why is it that nearly every sentence directed by Moneypenny to Bond sounded like some kind of sly sexual joke? It got very annoying.

*Bond and Q’s Meeting in Hamburg – All Q was doing was handing over a car to Bond, and the director turned it into a hammy production number. What a bore and a waste of time!

*Mr. Stamper – a second-rate version of Red Grant. Where are Robert Shaw or Andreas Wisnewski when you need them?

*Car Chase Inside Hamburg Parking Structure – Bond uses a remote control . . . ah, never mind! The whole scene was a bore. Even worse, it happened after the marvelous Bond/Kaufman scene. What a waste of my time.

*Final Confrontation on Carver’s boat – Despite all of the gunfire exchanged and the other action, I found it to be too long . . . and boring.

*Wade – I did not need to see him again. Joe Don Baker was wasted in this film.

*Bond’s Cover as a Banker – I am beginning to suspect that Bond makes a lousy undercover agent. By opening his mouth and hinting at Carver’s boat, he ended up exposing himself. What an idiot!

*Teri Hatcher – She was wasted in this film. And she and Brosnan do not do emotional angst together, very well.

Also, TOMORROW NEVER DIES did managed to produce a few favorite lines of mine:

Favorite Lines

“Believe me, Mr. Bond. I can shoot you from Stugartt and still create the proper effect.” – Dr. Kaufman to Bond

BOND: “You were pretty good with that hook.”
WAI-LIN: “That’s from growing up in a rough neighborhood. You were pretty good on the bike.”
BOND: “Well, that comes from not growing up at all.”

“No more absurd than starting a war for ratings.” – Bond to Carver

KAUFMAN: “Wait! I am just a professional doing a job!”
BOND: “So am I.” (Then kills Kaufman)

Despite some of its virtues, TOMORROW NEVER DIES is not a favorite movie of mine. In fact, it is my least favorite Brosnan movie. It is more or less a generic burdened by an unoriginal plot and one of the hammiest villains in the franchise’s history.