“MAGIC CITY” Season One (2012) Episode Ranking

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Below is my ranking of the Season One episodes of the Starz Channel’s series called “MAGIC CITY”. Created by Mitch Glazer, the series starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Olga Kurylenko and Danny Huston:

 

“MAGIC CITY” SEASON ONE (2012) EPISODE RANKING

1 - 1.05 Suicide Blonde

1. (1.05) “Suicide Blonde” – Hotel owner and boss Ike Evans goes through great lengths to save the life of prostitute and murder witness Judi Silver from Miami mobster Ben Diamond. Ike’s second wife Vera tries to get pregnant, while a bond forms between Ike’s second son Danny and Mercedes Lazaro, the daughter of the hotel’s manager.

 

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2. (1.07) “Who’s the Horse and Who’s the Rider?” – Danny confronts older brother Stevie Evans about the latter’s affair with Ben Diamond’s new wife, Lily. State Attorney Jack Klein confronts Ike with damning evidence. And the latter is forced to make a deal with Diamond.

 

3 - 1.06 The Harder They Fall

3. (1.06) “The Harder They Fall” – Ike and Diamond bet on a boxing match. Danny stumbles across blackmailing photos of Stevie and Lily. And Klein stumbles something that might prove to be a threat to Ike.

 

4 - 1.01 The Year of the Fin

4. “The Year of the Fin” (1.01) – The series premiere begins on New Year’s Eve 1958 and introduces Ike, his family and his situation with Diamond. Ike’s conflict with union representative Mike Strauss takes a deadly turn. And Stevie begins an affair with Lily, unaware of her marriage to Diamond.

 

5 - 1.08 Time and Tide

5. (1.08) “Time and Tide” – In the season finale, Judy falls into Klein’s hands, hotel manager Victor Lazaro and his daughter Mercedes receive bad news from Cuba, and Ike’s future becomes uncertain.

 

6 - 1.03 Castles Made of Sand

6. (1.03) “Castles Made of Sand” – Ike tries to convince government officials to legalize gambling in Florida and asks former sister-in-law Meg Bannock for financial help. And Diamond begins to worry that Lily is sleeping around.

 

7 - 1.02 Feeding Frenzy

7. (1.02) “Feeding Frenzy” – Ike is forced to deal with the aftermath of Strauss’ disappearance. Also, Stevie continues his affair with Lily after discovering her true identity.

 

8 - 1.04 Atonement

8. (1.04) “Atonement” – While Ike deals with a break-in at the hotel; Vera plans an extravagant charity function that she hopes will attract the attention of Jackie Kennedy and Victor struggles to get his wife out of Cuba.

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: This Is Love?”

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: THIS IS LOVE?”

Ever since the middle of Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, there has been a fandom dedicated to the relationship between two of the series’ characters: former hackivist/turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Skye (no surname mentioned) and Agent Grant Ward. And despite the amount of attention dedicated to this potential romance on the Internet and in the media, I have found myself wondering if I should support it or not.

The relationship between Skye and Ward began in (1.01) “Pilot”, the series’ very first episode. Despite being a member of a hacktivist group called Rising Tide, Skye ended up being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and his newly formed team (which included Ward) track down a man named Mike Peterson, who had recently acquired super powers. Coulson assigned the no-nonsense Ward to serve as Skye’s S.O. (Supervising Officer) and train her.

During Season One’s first half, Ward trained Skye; while she responded with quirky jokes and mild flirtation. Then in the final scene of (1.08) “The Well”, Ward began an affair with another member of Coulson’s team – the formidable Agent Melinda May. I suspect that May slept with Ward as some form of comfort following his traumatic experiences with an Asgardian Beserker Staff. Their relationship lasted until a “repentant” Ward received a grilling for fraternizing with another agent and promised to end the affair in (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Two episodes later in (1.15) “Yes Men”, Ward admitted his attraction to Skye in a conversation with the rogue Asgardian goddess, Lorelei. She had him under her thrall at the time. The friendship between Skye and Ward deepened in the following four episodes – between (1.16) “End of the Beginning” and (1.19) “The Only Light in the Darkness”. During this period, the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” played out and resulted in the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the revelation of HYDRA’s (a former Nazi science organization-turned-terrorist group) infiltration, and Skye’s discovery that Ward had been a HYDRA mole on behalf of another S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA traitor, Agent John Garrett.

The relationship between Skye and Ward fell apart during Season One’s remaining three episodes. Skye was forced to leave Director Nick Fury’s secret Providence base and allow Ward to lead her into the arms of HYDRA and Garrett. The latter needed her to break the encryption code she had created to guard many S.H.I.E.L.D. files. After Coulson rescued her at the end of (1.20) “Nothing Personal” with the help of fellow agents Maria Hill and Antoine Triplett, Skye and Ward did not face each other again until the big confrontation between Coulson and Garrett in the season’s finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. In that episode, Skye expressed her disgust and contempt for Ward and he ended up in Federal custody after enduring a beat down by May.

Since the airing of “Beginning of the End”, fans have been divided over the future of Skye and Ward’s relationship (dubbed “Skyeward” on the Internet). They have also been divided over the possibility of Ward’s redemption in future episodes. How do I now feel about these issues? Honestly, I am a bit conflicted. At least about Ward’s redemption. Do I believe that he is beyond redemption? Well . . . no. I do feel that it would take a great deal of sacrifice on Ward’s part (possibly his death) to redeem himself for the murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Victoria Hand, her assistants, and Eric Koenig; and the attempted murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons, Coulson and Skye.

What about “Skyeward”? How do I feel about the Skye/Ward relationship? Honestly? I do not sense any real love between them. Not really. The ironic thing is that I had earlier considered the possibility of a romance between them. After all, cast members Chloe Bennet and Brett Dalton managed to generate a pretty good screen chemistry. However, the revelation of Ward as a HYDRA mole led me to dismiss any considerations . . . for the present. But after my recent re-watching of several Season One episodes, I found myself wondering how I could have ever considered any possibility of a romance between them in the first place.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Skye

There are certain fans who believe that Ward could find redemption from his actions as a HYDRA mole through Skye’s love. I have a problem with this theory. I have a problem, because I have doubts that Skye actually loves him . . . or ever loved him. Her flirtation attempts at Ward in the early episodes seemed to hint that Skye found Ward attractive. She even used a photograph of him as her laptop computer’s wallpaper . . . like an infatuated schoolgirl. This attraction was especially apparent in an early scene from “Yes Men”, in which both seemed physically aware of each other, while the latter expressed relief at her recovery from being shot by HYDRA scientist/industrialist Ian Quinn in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Before this romantic exchange could progress, Skye expressed her dismay over Mike Peterson, who had just become Deathlok. Because she viewed him as a close friend, this was the second time she had expressed disbelief and concern over Mike’s transformation. The first time this happened, Skye had discovered his transformation for the first time before Quinn shot her. And she expressed her dismay for the third when she was a prisoner of HYDRA in “Nothing Personal”. For some reason, Skye found it difficult to give up on Mike.

At the same time . . . I do not recall Skye ever expressing similar feelings for Ward, when she discovered he was a HYDRA mole. Not once. When she finally confronted him about his betrayal to S.H.I.E.L.D., she merely expressed anger and disgust. In fact, she labeled him as someone “evil”. In the season finale, her feelings toward him had transformed into contempt and she judged him as “weak”, instead of “evil”. The only member of Coulson’s team who seemed unable to face Ward’s betrayal or give up on him was Leo Fitz. From the moment the rest of the team learned about Ward’s betrayal, Fitz expressed disbelief that Ward was a HYDRA agent and expressed numerous theories that Ward may have been coerced. Even moments before Ward tried to kill him and Jemma Simmons by ejecting them into the ocean, Fitz continued to blind himself from Ward’s perfidy.

As I had stated earlier, Skye never tried to deny Ward’s betrayal. One might point out her willingness to cooperate with Garrett over the encrypted files, when Mike endangered Ward’s life in “Nothing Personal”. But Skye was willing, if reluctantly, willing to allow Ward to die if it meant preventing HYDRA from accessing those files. In the end, it took Mike’s argument that she would have Ward’s blood on her hands if she did not cooperate. If Joss and Jed Whedon, along with Maurissa Tancharoen, are willing to satisfy fans with some plot twist that allows Skye’s love to redeem Ward; they will have to dramatically change her character for that to happen.

S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA Agent Grant Ward

Judging from the Season One episodes I have seen, I would say that Grant Ward harbors stronger feelings for Skye than she does for him. And yet . . . I cannot sense any deep and abiding love on Ward’s part for Skye. I can recall him expressing concern for her life, when she infiltrated Quinn’s mansion in (1.03) “The Asset”. He did seemed concerned for Skye’s life after she had been shot by Quinn. Yet, other members of the team seemed more openly upset. Like Ward, Fitz expressed remorse that he did not accompany Skye to Quinn’s Italian villa, where she got shot. But he seemed a lot more emotional than Ward. Simmons literally burst into tears. May lost her temper and nearly beat the living crap out of Quinn, who became their prisoner. And Coulson became uber-determined, actually desperate to find a means to save Skye’s life – even to the point of breaking S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol and searching for the project that had resurrected him. Of all the team members, Ward seemed the least emotional over Skye’s fate. Perhaps the latter was trying not to shed “unmanly” tears. Who knows? He did express his displeasure to his mentor John Garrett, who had ordered Skye’s death. But his easy willingness to accept Garrett’s dismissal of the incident struck me as a bit . . . interesting.

Ward’s most emotional reaction to any character on the show was directed at Garrett. This happened when the latter’s organs began to fail, due to internal cybernetic parts. Ward expressed deep concern when Garrett’s health began to fail in(1.21) “Ragtag”. And when a captured Fitz used an old World War II EMP device that further endangered Garrett’s life, Ward nearly flipped out. Despite the fact that Garrett had ordered Quinn to kill Skye and Mike Peterson to endanger his life, Ward remained concerned over and loyal to the older man. Some might say that Ward’s continuing loyalty to Garrett was a sign of emotional abuse he had received. But those flashbacks in “Ragtag” seemed more like examples of emotional manipulation from Garrett, not abuse.

And there is something else that bothers me. I found it odd that Ward’s attraction to Skye finally became apparent to audiences in “Yes Men”. Especially when May had brusquely brushed aside his concern and offers of help after she had been tortured in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Minutes later, Ward spotted Coulson tenderly attending to May’s wounds inside the Bus’ (S.H.I.E.L.D. plane) medical bay. I found it odd that Ward would begin expressing any romantic feelings for Skye two episodes after what he had witnessed between Coulson and May. Was he fooling himself about Skye? Had he been fooling her and the rest of the team about his true feelings? Was he relieved that he no longer had to fake romantic feelings for May? Or had he viewed Skye as an easier target for his reluctant lover act? Who knows?

Those fans who have rejected the idea of a future romance between Skye and Ward tend to cite the latter’s sexism, which reared its ugly head in both “Nothing Personal” and “Beginning of the End”. But I had spotted other reasons that make me doubt these two might be destined for any future love. One, Skye had no problems accepting Ward’s betrayal of the team and S.H.I.E.L.D., unlike Leo Fitz. On the other hand, she had trouble accepting Mike Peterson’s cooperation with Garrett and HYDRA. As for Ward, he was willing to deliver Skye into Garrett’s hands in episodes like “The Only Light in the Darkness”, “Nothing Personal” and even “Beginning of the End”. If he truly loved her, why would he be willing to endanger her in this manner? Is this supposed to Marvel’s idea of love? Frankly, I rather doubt it.

I could see that both Skye and Ward found each other sexually attractive. But love? Sorry, but I am not buying it. Not at the moment. The Whedon brothers and Tancharoen will have to make numerous changes in Skye and Ward’s personalities in order for me to believe they will eventually become one of the great romances for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: The Last Stand Against Mediocrity

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”: THE LAST STAND AGAINST MEDIOCRITY

The age of serial drama or adventure is over. It is over. I first came to this conclusion after learning the dismal ratings for the last episode of ABC’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” called (1.10) “The Bridge”. I eventually learned that the show’s ratings were not as dismal as I had been led to believe.  But the series never became a top ratings earner. Ironically, my original statement is not a criticism directed at the series or its latest episode.

When I had learned that the ratings for “The Bridge” had dropped considerably last January, I was a bit upset. Many fans saw this as a sign of the show’s not-so-sensational quality. I realize that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” is not flawless. There is no such thing as a flawless show. But I believe it has achieved its potential to become a first-rate one.  I also believe that the quality of its writing has grown with time. But judging from the reaction to the show’s first season, I can clearly see that American television viewers and critics now lack the patience to deal with a serial drama. They will not allow shows like “S.H.I.E.L.D.” to develop at a steady pace. They want instant perfection right off the bat.

I blame televisions series like “LOST”, the new “BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA”, and “ONCE UPON A TIME”. All three shows gave television viewers an excellent First Season that seemed to blow their minds. And thanks to shows like the one I had just listed, an excellent first season is what many viewers have come to expect from a TV show in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Superb shows like “BABYLON 5”“BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and “ANGEL” did not have perfect first seasons. First first seasons were decent, but flawed. But in time, all three developed into excellent shows by their second and third seasons. And this is why I consider them among the finest series in television series. I am also reminded of cancelled shows like “FLASHFORWARD” and “THE EVENT”. I might as well be frank. The first half of their single seasons never struck me as exceptional or impressive. But both shows managed to develop in quality by the end of their seasons. And both shows promised great potential, as well. But the respective networks refused to give them a chance and cancelled them, instead of giving them a second season.

Considering that the writing for television series like “BABYLON 5” and “BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” managed to slowly develop over time, I now realize that I can never consider shows like “LOST” and “ONCE UPON A TIME” among the best in television history. Sure, they were entertaining and revealed flashes of brilliant writing. Unfortunately, I believe that the writing for “LOST” flip-flopped in quality during its remaining five seasons. Despite some first-rate story arcs and plot twists over the years, it never reached the same level of quality that it had enjoyed during its first season. Many fans were dazzled by “ONCE UPON A TIME” during its first season. But the series is now in the midst of its third season. And I feel that eventually, it will suffer the same fate of inconsistent quality as “LOST” did.

The first season of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” reminded of those first seasons for shows like “BABYLON 5” and“BUFFY”. Like the two now defunct shows, the first season for “S.H.I.E.L.D.” was obviously flawed. But I feel that it also reached its potential, especially in the story line regarding the agency’s battle with an organization called Centipede, which turned out to be an offshoot of a bigger enemy from “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”.  When the series first began, I could barely stand characters like Grant Ward, Leo Fitz and Jemma Simmons. I found the former aggressively bland, and the other two rather annoying and out of place. The series has just finished its first season and I have grown to appreciate all three characters. This is due to their fleshing out as interesting characters, instead of remaining mere cliches.

For me, this is a sign of why I like the production styles of television producer/writers like Joss Whedon and J. Michael Straczynski. They do not try to wow the audience off the bat with a spectacular premiere or first season. Both Whedon and Straczynski, and other show creators like them, are willing to allow their stories and characters to develop with time … like true storytellers. But today’s television viewers do not seem to appreciate real storytelling. They do not appreciate a steady development of story and characters. They want to be dazzled right off the bat. And the creators of shows like “LOST” and “ONCE UPON A TIME” are willing to feed them dazzling premieres to automatically draw in viewers. Because of this new style of storytelling and lack of audience patience, I fear that “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” will not survive its second season, if its storytelling format remains.  And if it does last, I fear that the networks might force Whedon and his brother, Jed Whedon will transform the series into an episodic one that allow guest starring costume heroes to push the main characters into a back seat.

Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. In fact, all I can do is sit back and speculate on the future of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. If it ends up cancelled by the end of its second season or is transformed into episodic television; the show’s fate will become another step down in the quality of television writing – especially for the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I fear culture is in serious danger of going to the dogs.

 

 

“All Aboard the Orient Express”

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Below is a look at two major movies and a television movie that featured journeys aboard the famed Orient Express:

 

“ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS”

I will be the first to admit that I am not one of those who demand that a novel, a movie or a television production to be historically accurate. Not if history gets in the way of the story. But there is an anal streak within me that rears its ugly head, sometimes. And that streak would usually lead me to judge just how accurate a particular production or novel is.

Recently, I watched three movies that featured a journey aboard the legendary train, the Orient Express. Perhaps I should be a little more accurate. All three movies, “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963) featured a famous route that came into existence nearly a year following World War I called the Simplon Orient Express. The original route for the Orient Express stretched from Paris to Istanbul via Strasbourg, Munich, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest. Then in 1919, Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits introduced a more southerly route, due to the opening of the Simplon Tunnel. This route stretched between Paris and Istanbul, via Lausanne, Milan, Venice, Belgrade and Sofia. Writers Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming made the Simplon Orient Express route famous thanks to their novels, “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) and “From Russia With Love” (1957). And the movie adaptations of these novels increased the route’s fame.

Both Christie and Fleming’s novels featured the Simplon Orient Express’ route from Istanbul to Yugoslavia. There are reasons why their stories do not stretch further west to as far as at least France. In “Murder on the Orient Express”, the train became stuck in a snowdrift in Yugoslavia and detective Hercule Poirot spent the rest of the novel trying to solve the murder of an American passenger. And in “From Russia With Love”, British agent James Bond and his companion, Tatiana Romanova, made it as far as either Italy or France. The 1974 and 2010 adaptations of Christie’s novel, more or less remained faithful to the latter as far as setting is concerned. However, EON Production’s 1963 adaptation of Fleming’s novel allowed Bond and Tatiana to escape from the train before it could cross the Yugoslavia-Italy border.

While watching the three movies, I discovered that their portrayals of the Simplon Orient Express route were not completely accurate. I can imagine the thoughts running through the minds of many, declaring “Who cares?”. And I believe they would be right to feel this way. But I thought it would be fun to look into the matter. Before I do, I think I should cover a few basics about this famous train route from Istanbul to Paris-Calais.

During its heyday, the Orient Express usually departed from Istanbul around 11:00 p.m. Following the rise of the Iron Curtain after World War II, the Orient Express extended it route to stops in Greece in order to avoid the Soviet-controlled countries. The only Communist country it passed through was Yugoslavia. When the train became the slower Direct Orient Express in 1962, it usually departed Istanbul around 4:15 p.m. I do not know whether a restaurant car and/or a salon “Pullman” car was attached to the Direct Orient Express when it departed Istanbul between 1962 and 1977. One last matter. In the three adaptations of the two novels, the Orient Express usually made a significant stop at Belgrade. It took the Orient Express, during its heyday, at least 23 to 24 hours to travel from Istanbul to Belgrade.

Let us now see how accurately the two “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” movies and the 1963 “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” flick accurately portray traveling aboard the Simplon Orient Express (or Direct Orient Express) on film. I will begin with the “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, the 1974 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974)

Following the conclusion of a successful case for the British Army somewhere in the Middle East, Belgian-born detective is on his way home to London, via a train journey aboard the famed Orient Express. When an American businessman named Samuel Rachett is murdered during the second night aboard the train, Poirot is asked by his friend and director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, Senor Bianchi, to investigate the crime.

In this adaptation directed by Sidney Lumet, the Simplon Orient Express that left Istanbul did so at 9:00 at night. The movie also included a dining car attached to the train. One scene featured a chef examining food being loaded onto the train. This scene is erroneous. According to the The Man in Seat 61 website, there was no dining car attached to the train when it left Istanbul. A dining car was usually attached at Kapikule on the Turkish/Bulgarian border, before it was time to serve breakfast. The movie also featured a salon car or a “Pullman”, where Hercule Poirot interrogated most of the passengers of the Istanbul-Calais car.

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According to the “Seat 61” site, there was no salon “Pullman” car attached to the train east of Trieste, Italy. Christie needed the presence of the car for dramatic purposes and added one into her novel. The producers of the 1974 movie did the same. At least the producers of the 1974 used the right dark blue and cream-colored car for the Pullman. More importantly, they used the right dark blue cars for the train’s sleeping coaches, as shown in the image below:

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In the movie, the Simplon Orient Express reached Belgrade 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. For once, the movie was accurate. Somewhere between Vinkovci and Brod, the Orient Express ended up snowbound and remained there until the end of the story.

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“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010)

This adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novel first aired on Britain’s ITV network in 2010. The television movie started with Hercule Poirot berating a British Army officer caught in a devastating lie. After the officer commits suicide, Poirot ends up in Istanbul, where he and a British couple witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. Eventually, the couple and Poirot board the Orient Express, where the latter finds himself investigating the murder of an American passenger.

I do not know what time the Simplon Orient Express departed Istanbul in this adaptation. The movie never indicated a particular time. This version also featured a brief scene with a chef examining food being loaded aboard a dining car. As I previously mentioned, a dining car was not attached until Kapikule. The movie did feature Poirot and some of the Istanbul-Calais car passengers eating breakfast the following morning. In this scene, I noticed a major blooper. Car attendant Pierre Michel was shown serving a dish to Poirot in the dining car. Note the images below:

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Pierre Michel greets Poirot and M. Bouc before they board the train

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Pierre serves breakfast to Poirot

Why on earth would a car attendant (or train conductor, as he was in the 1934 novel) act as a waiter in the dining car? Like the 1974 movie, the ITV adaptation also featured a salon “Pullman” attached to the train, east of Italy. In fact, they did more than use one salon “Pullman”. As I had stated earlier, the westbound Simplon Orient Express usually acquired a salon “Pullman” after its arrival in Trieste. But in this adaptation, the producers decided to use the dark blue and cream-colored “Pullman” cars for the entire train as shown in these images:

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This is completely in error. As I had stated earlier, the Orient Express usually featured a dark-blue and cream-colored salon “Pullman” between Italy and Paris. But it also featured the dark-blue and cream-colored seating “Pullmans” between Calais and Paris. There is no way that the Orient Express leaving Istanbul would entirely consist of the blue and cream “Pullman” cars.

However, the train did arrive at Belgarde at least 24 hours after its departure from Istanbul. Like the other movie, the train ended up snowbound between Vinkovci and Brod and remained there until the last scene. However, I am confused by the presence of the police standing outside of the train in the last scene. Poirot and the other passengers should have encountered the police, following the train’s arrival in Brod, not somewhere in the middle of the Yugoslavian countryside.

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“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” (1963)

Ian Fleming’s tale begins with the terrorist organization, SPECTRE, plotting the theft of the KGB’s a cryptographic device from the Soviets called the Lektor, in order to sell it back to them, while exacting revenge on British agent James Bond for killing their agent, Dr. No. After Bond successfully steals the Lektor from the Soviet consulate in Istanbul, he, defector Tatiana Romanova and MI-6 agent Kerim Bey board the Orient Express for a journey to France and later, Great Britain.

While I found this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1957 novel extremely enjoyable, I found myself puzzled by the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s journey aboard the Orient Express. It seemed so . . . off. In the movie; the Orient Express conveying Bond, his traveling companions and SPECTRE assassin “Red” Grant; departed Istanbul somewhere between 3:00 and 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. The train departed Istanbul around nine o’clock at night, in Fleming’s novel. Mind you, the novel was set in the 1950s and the movie, set in the early 1960s, which meant that its departure in the movie was pretty close to the 4:15 pm departure of the Direct Orient Express train that operated between 1962 and 1977. I do not recall seeing a dining car attached to the train, during its departure in the movie, so I cannot comment on that. But after the train’s departure, the movie’s portrayal of Bond’s Orient Express journey proved to be mind boggling.

The main problem with “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE” is that Bond’s journey proved to be the fastest I have ever witnessed, either on film or in a novel. It took the train at least three-to-four hours to reach Belgrade, following its departure from Istanbul. One, it usually took the Orient Express nearly 24 hours to reach Belgrade during its heyday. During the first ten-to-fifteen years of the Cold War, it took the Orient Express a little longer to reach Belgrade, due to it being re-routed through Northern Greece in an effort to avoid countries under Soviet rule. This was made clear in Fleming’s novel. But the 1963 movie followed the famous train’s original eastbound route . . . but at a faster speed. After killing Grant, Bond and Tatiana left the train before it reached the Yugoslavian-Italian border. Bond’s journey from Istanbul to that point took at least 15 hours. During the Orient Express’ heyday, it took at less than 48 hours. And during the 15 years of the Direct Orient Express, it took longer.

Unlike many recent film goers and television viewers, historical accuracy or lack of it in a movie/television production has never bothered me. I still remain a major fan of both “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (1974 version) and “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. And although I have other major problems with the 2010 “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, there are still aspects of it that I continue to enjoy. Historical inaccuracy has never impeded my enjoyment of a film, unless I found it particularly offensive. But since I can be occasionally anal and was bored, I could not resist a brief exploration of the Hollywood and British film industries’ portrayals of the Orient Express.

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) Review

Below is my review of the recent 2010 adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels – “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”:

“MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2010) Review

After being on the air for nearly two decades, ”Agatha Christie’s POIROT” decided to air its own version of the mystery writer’s 1934 novel, ”Murder on the Orient Express”. Although there have been two other well known adaptations of the novel – the famous 1974 movie that starred Albert Finney and the 2001 teleplay that starred Alfred Molina. But this latest version starred David Suchet (considered by many to be the ultimate Hercule Poirot) in the starring role.

Directed by Philip Martin and written by Stewart Harcourt, ”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” opened with Hercule berating a British Army officer, who has been revealed to be a liar in regard to a case. Upon completion of said case, Poirto travels over to Istanbul, the first step of his journey back to England. There, Poirot witnesses the stoning of a Turkish woman for adultery with a Colonel Arbuthnot and a Miss Mary Debenham. Thanks to an old acquaintance named Monsieur Bouc, a director of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (which owned the Orient Express lines), the detective manages to book passage aboard the famed continental train, the Orient Express. Among the passengers are Colonel Arbuthnot, Miss Debenham and a sinister American businessman named Samuel Rachett. The latter tries to hire Poirot’s services to protect him from unseen enemies; but the detective refuses due to a dislike toward the American. After the Orient Express becomes caught in a snowdrift in the middle of Yugoslavia, Rachett is found murdered in his compartment – stabbed to death twelve times. As it turned out, Poirot discovered that Rachett was a criminal named Casetti, who was guilty of kidnapping and murdering one Daisy Armstrong, the five year-old daughter of a wealthy Anglo-American couple. To protect the passengers from the Yugoslavia police, Monsieur Bouc hires Poirot to investigate the American’s murder.

Considering this film turned out to be the third, well-known adaptation of Christie’s novel, there were bound to be comparisons with the previous films – especially the famous 1974 version. All three movies featured changes from the novel. In this adaptation, screenwriter Stewart Harcourt decided to allow Poirot to witness the stoning of an adulterous Turkish woman. The characters of Doctor Constantine (a Greek doctor who volunteered to assist Poirot) and an American private detective named Cyrus Hardman were combined into a new character – an American obstetrician named . . . what else, Doctor Constantine. Rachett aka Casetti became a man who desired forgiveness for his kidnapping and murder of young Daisy. The brains behind Rachett’s murder turned out to be a different character. The Greta Ohlsson character was younger in this film. The movie featured a threat against Poirot’s life, after his resolution to the case. And the Orient Express remained snowbound a lot longer than in the novel and previous movies.

But the biggest change in ”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” featured the addition of religion as a theme. In fact, the subject permeated throughout the entire movie. Television viewers saw scenes of both Poirot and surprisingly, Rachett, in the act of prayer. The movie also featured a discussion between Poirot and Miss Ohlsson on the differences between their dominations – Catholic and Protestant – and how they dealt with vengeance, justice, and forgiveness. Like many other Christie fans, I suspect that this addition of a religious theme was an attempt by Harcourt to allow Poirot to struggle with his conscience over his willingness to support Monsieur Bouc’s decision regarding the case’s solution.

There were some aspects of ”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” that I found appealing. Due to the production’s budget, this adaptation spared the audience some of the over-the-top costume designs from the 1974 movie. The movie also featured first-rate performances from Denis Menochet (the best performance in the movie), who portrayed the car attendant, Pierre Michel; Brian J. Smith as Rachett’s private secretary, Hector McQueen; Barbara Hershey as the verbose tourist Mrs. Caroline Hubbard; Hugh Granville as Rachett’s valet, Edward Masterman; and Eileen Atkins as the imperious Princess Dragonmiroff. Despite portraying the only character not featured in the story, Samuel West gave an impressive, yet subtle performance as Dr. Constantine, whose occasional outrageous suggestions on the murderer’s identity seemed annoying to Poirot. I also have to give kudos to Harcourt for making an attempt to allow Poirot experience some kind of emotional conflict over the fate of Rachett’s killer(s). The novel never broached this topic. And in the 1974 film, Poirot twice expressed brief doubt and regret over the matter.

Despite some of the movie’s virtues, I found ”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” to be rather disappointing. One of the biggest disappointments proved to be David Suchet’s performance. I have admired his portrayal of the Belgian detective for over a decade. But this movie did not feature one of Suchet’s better performances. In this movie, his Poirot struck me as harsh, judgmental and one-dimensional in his thinking. The movie also featured Poirot in full rant – against a British Army office at the beginning of the story, and against the suspects, following the revelation scene. In fact, this last scene struck me as an exercise in hammy acting that made Albert Finney’s slightly mannered 1974 performance looked absolutely restrained.

Unfortunately, most of the cast did not fare any better. Joseph Mawle, who portrayed the Italian-American car salesman, Antonio Foscarelli, gave a poor attempt at an American accent. His British accent kept getting into the way. As for David Morrissey’s portrayal of Colonel Abuthnot, I could only shake my head in disbelief at such over-the-top acting – especially in the scene following Poirot’s revelation of the case. And I never understood the necessity of making the Mary Debenham character so anxious. Jessica Chastain’s performance did not exactly impress me and I found myself longing for the cool and sardonic woman from the novel and the 1974 version. I really did not care for Serge Hazanavicius’ portrayal of Monsieur Bouc, the train’s official. I found his performance to be ridiculously over-the-top and annoying. One could say the same about Toby Jones’ portrayal of Samuel Rachett aka Casetti. Poor Mr. Jones. I have been a big fan of his for the past five years or so, but he was the wrong man for this particular role. What made this movie truly unbearable was the last fifteen to twenty minutes, which became an exercise in overwrought acting by most of the cast. Including Suchet.

There were other aspects of this production that bothered me. I never understood the necessity to change the instigator of the murder plot against Rachett. It made more sense to me to adhere to Christie’s original plot in that regard. And I found the use of religion not only unnecessary, but also detrimental to the story. I have nothing against characters with religious beliefs. But I found the scenes featuring both Poirot and Rachett praying in their compartments excessive. The religious topic transformed Poirot into a grim and humorless man.  Even worse, I found myself wondering if Suchet’s Poirot was suffering from some form of Post Traumatic Shock during the first fifteen to twenty minutes of the film. He seemed to moving in a state of silent shock, while others – especially Monsieur Bouc – talked around him.  As for Rachett . . . I can only assume that the sight of him praying inside his compartment was supposed to be an indicator of his remorse over his crimes against Daisy Armstrong. Or did fear, instigated by a series of threatening letters, drove him to prayer? If so, the scene clumsily contradicted his other actions aboard the train – snarling at his employees and Pierre Michel, and propositioning Mary Debenham. The topic of religion also produced a tiresome scene filled with overwrought acting by Marie-Josée Croze, in which her character – Greta Ohlsson – lectured Poirot about the differences between Catholics and Protestants in regard to justice, revenge, forgiveness and remorse.

I found the stoning scene in Istanbul completely unnecessary and rather distasteful. I found it distasteful, because the scene changed Poirot’s character and allowed him to harbor a laissez faire attitude over the incident. Poirot also used the stoning scene to indulge in an excessive lecture to Mary Debenham about justice. He was right about the stoning being a part of a custom that no foreign visitor had a right to interfere. But his entire attitude about the matter did not seem like the Hercule Poirot I had become familiar with from Christie’s books, the movies and the ”POIROT”series. Worse, the incident provided a contradicting viewpoint on vigilantism and justice. Think about it. Poirot said nothing against the stoning, which was an act of vigilantism, because not only did he view it as a foreign custom, but also as an act of justice against someone who had sinned. Yet, at the same time, he expressed outrage and disgust over Rachett’s murder – also an act of vigilantism. The entire topic reeked of hypocrisy and bad writing.

”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” possessed some virtues that its filmmakers could boast about. Performances from Samuel West, Brian J. Smith, Eileen Atkins, Hugh Bonneville, Barbara Hershey and especially Denis Menochet were first-rate. There were no over-the-top costumes that left me shaking my head. And thankfully, the Hector McQueen character strongly resembled the literary version. On the other hand, the movie seemed riddled with unnecessary changes that either lacked common sense or damaged the story. Its additions of the religion topic and stoning incident simply made matters worse in regard to story and characterization. And a good deal of hammy acting abounded in the movie and made me wince with discomfort, especially from David Suchet. In conclusion, this”MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” turned out to be a disappointing affair for me.