“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” (2010) Review

“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” (2010) Review

Many years have passed since I last read Agatha Christie’s 1969 novel, “Hallowe’en Party”. Although it is not considered one of Christie’s better novels, the story possessed a style that struck me as rich and atmospheric. I never forgot it. So, when I learned about ITV’s 2010 adaptation of the novel, I could not wait to see it. 

Directed by Charles Palmer and adapted by actor Mark Gatiss (who appeared in 2008’s “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”),“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” begins with mystery author Adrianne Oliver visiting a friend named Judith Butler in the small village of Woodleigh Common. Because Mrs. Butler has a young daughter named Melinda, the two women accompany her to a children’s Halloween party being held at the home of a widow named Rowena Drake. A young girl named Joyce Reynolds announce that she had once witnessed a murder. Everyone assumes she is lying. A few hours later, Joyce is found drowned in a tub filled with water and bobbing apples. Determined to learn the identity of Joyce’s murder, Mrs. Oliver summons another friend, Belgian-born detective to Woodleigh Commons to solve the murder. During his investigation of Joyce’s murder, Poirot uncovers a series of murders, mysterious deaths and disappearances that the thirteen year-old girl may have witnessed.

I might as well be perfectly frank. I do not consider “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” to be one of the better written Christie adaptations I have seen. Ironically, the fault does not lay with screenwriter Mark Gatiss. I believe he did the best he could with the material given to him. But I believe that Christie’s 1969 novel was not one of her better works. I will be even franker. “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” nearly worked as a mystery. But looking back on it, I realized that it was one of those mysteries that I found easy to solve. Poirot’s investigation into past murders, suspicious deaths and disappearances at Woodleigh Common made the story somewhat easy to solve. Even worse, the murderer was nearly revealed some ten minutes before Poirot revealed his solution to the case. Like 2008’s “APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH”and 2010’s “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”“HALLOWE’EN PARTY” also touched on the subject of religion. Thankfully, Gatiss managed to keep the subject of religion on a subtle level – including the topic of paganism.

“Hallowe’en Party” was published in 1969 and heavily reflected the late 1960s. I cannot deny that this television adaptation looked very handsome, thanks to Jeff Tessler’s production designs, Cinders Forshaw’s photography and Sheena Napier’s costume designs. All three did an exceptional job of transporting viewers to a small English village in the late 1930s and capturing the mysterious atmosphere of Halloween. I only have two complaints about this. Despite the first-rate 1930s setting, I wish that the movie had been given the novel’s original late 1960s setting. I believe this story was more suited for this particular setting. Also, I wish that both Palmer and Gatiss had not included sounds of children chanting “Snap, Snap, Snap”, whenever a lone character seemed to be in a threatening situation. These chants brought back annoying memories of a handful of old “POIROT” movies from the 1990s that featured titles from nursery rhymes.

The saving grace of “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” proved to be the cast. David Suchet was in top form as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I found his portrayal subtle, humorous and intelligent. Frankly, I consider his performance to be one of his better efforts in the past three or four years. Many “POIROT” fans have bemoaned the lack of Hugh Fraser as Arthur Hastings during the past decade. As much as I had enjoyed Fraser’s portrayal, I did not miss him that much, thanks to Zoë Wanamaker’s portrayal of Adrianne Oliver, a mystery author who became one of Poirot’s closest friends. I have already seen Wanamaker’s previous takes on the Adrianne Oliver character in other “POIROT” episodes. She was marvelous in those episodes and I can say the same about her performance in this one. Also, she and Suchet made a surprisingly effective and humorous screen team.

The supporting cast featured interesting performances from acting veterans. There was Timothy West, whose portrayal of Woodleigh Commons’ vicar, struck me as wonderfully subtle and complex. Eric Sykes, whom I remembered from the“DARING YOUNG MEN” movies of the 1960s, was in fine form as the elderly solicitor Mr. Fullerton. Fenella Woolgar made a poignant Elizabeth Whittaker, a local schoolteacher who continued to mourn the death of a potential lover. Sophie Thompson gave an interesting, yet slightly melodramatic performance as the religious mother of the dead Joyce, Mrs. Reynolds. I must say that I was surprised that Julian Rhind-Tutt managed to keep it together and prevent his portrayal of landscape gardener, Michael Garfield, from becoming hammy. Mind you, Rhind-Tutt has been more than capable of giving a subtle performance in other productions. But Michael Garfield is somewhat of a showy character. The movie also benefitted from solid performances from the likes of Amelia Bullmore, Phyllida Law, Mary Higgins, Ian Hallard and Georgia King. However, I believe that Deborah Findlay gave the best performance in the movie, aside from Suchet and Wanamaker. She was subtle, yet superb as the ladylike, yet pushy widow Rowena Drake, whose home served as the setting for the opening murder.

I would not consider “HALLOWE’EN PARTY” to be one of the better Christie stories. As I had stated earlier, I believe its main flaws originated from the author’s 1969 novel. However, both director Charles Palmer and screenwriter Mark Gatiss did the best they could. Their efforts were not able to overcome Christie’s narrative flaws. But I believe they still managed to provide television audiences with an entertaining and atmospheric story, with the help of a first-rate cast led by David Suchet.

 

FRANCHISE RANKING: The “HARRY POTTER” Movies

Below is my ranking of the eight movies in the “HARRY POTTER” movie franchise, based upon J.K. Rowling novels:

FRANCHISE RANKING: The “HARRY POTTER” Movies

1. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004) – During his third year at Hogswarts, Harry becomes acquainted with creatures called the dementors and a past mystery regarding his parents and an escaped prisoner by the name of Sirius Black. Alfonso Cuarón directed.

2. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” (2010) – In this first half adaptation of Rowling’s final novel, Harry and his friends begin their search of the Horcruxes, objects that contain parts of Lord Voldemort’s soul. They are also forced to evade the evil wizard’s forces as the latter assume control of the wizarding world. David Yates directed.

3. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” (2007) – David Yates directed his first HARRY POTTER movie in which Harry Potter and his friends deal with the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge. They also become acquainted with the Order of the Phoenix, an old organization revived to deal with the new threat of Lord Voldemort.

4. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” (2002) – Harry Potter returns to Hogswarts for his second year, when the school is beset by a strange monster with a link to the school’s Chamber of Secrets. Directed by Chris Columbus.

5. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone” (2001) – Harry Potter is introduced into the world of magic for the first time as he enters the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Chris Columbus directed.

6. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” (2009) – During Harry’s sixth year at Hogswarts, he is assigned to discovered the deep secret of the new Potions teacher and stumbles across a mysterious Potions book labeled the property of the Half-Blood Prince. Romance also fills the air. David Yates directed.

7. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II” (2011) – In this continuation of “THE DEATHLY HALLOWS PART I”, the three heroes, along with the staff and students of Hogswarts have their final confrontation with Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Directed by David Yates.

8. “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” (2005) – Harry is manipulated into participating in the Triwizard Tournament as a last minute contestant. Mike Newell directed.

“THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” (1965) Review

 

”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” (1965) Review

Many comedies featuring a long running time and a cast of celebrities were very prevalent in Hollywood and Europe during the 1960s. One of the more famous of these films happened to be the epic 1965 comedy titled ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES, Or How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 Hours 11 Minutes. Directed and co-written by Ken Annakin, this two hour and eighteen minutes film depicted an comedic air race between London and Paris in 1910. 

Director Annakin first came up with the idea of a pre-World War I air race while co-directing Darryl Zanuck’s World War II epic,”THE LONGEST DAY” (1962). He pitched the idea to the producer and the latter agreed to bankroll the film. Zanuck also came up with the movie’s title, after Elmo Williams, managing director of 20th Century Fox in Europe, told the producer that his wife had written an opening lyric to the movie’s song:

Those magnificent men in their flying machines,
They go up diddley up-up, they go down diddley down-down!

Annakin complained would eventually “seal the fate of the movie”. However, after being put to music by composer Ron Goodwin, the ”Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines” song would become the “irresistible” jingle-style theme music for the film and go on to have a “life of its own”, even released in singles and on the soundtrack record. I can relate. To this day, I still consider the tune one of the best theme songs in movie history.

Annakin, along with Jack Davies, wrote a story that opened with a brief, comic introductory segment on the history of flight, narrated by James Robertson Justice and featuring American comedian Red Skelton (in a cameo appearance) that depicted a recurring character whose aerial adventures span the centuries, in a series of silent blackout vignettes that incorporate actual stock footage of unsuccessful attempts at early aircraft. As the story unfolded, Lord Rawnsley (Robert Morley), a newspaper magnate whose favorite to win his race is his daughter’s ( fiancé, Richard Mays (James Fox). Lord Rawnsley summed up the expectation that a Britisher should win the competition: “The trouble with these international affairs is they attract foreigners.” An international cast plays the array of contestants, most of whom live up to their national stereotypes, including the fanatically by-the-book, monocle-wearing Prussian officer (Gert Fröbe), the impetuous Count Emilio Ponticelli (Alberto Sordi), an amorous Frenchman (Jean-Pierre Cassel) , and the rugged American cowboy Orville Newton (Stuart Whitman), who falls for Lord Rawnsley’s daughter, Patricia (Sarah Miles).

The main entertainment came from the amusing dialogue and characterizations and the daring aerial stunts, with a dash of heroism and gentlemanly conduct thrown in for good measure. Terry-Thomas portrayed the cheating Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, an aristocratic rogue who “never leaves anything to chance”. With the help of his bullied servant Courtney (Eric Sykes), he sabotaged other aircraft or drugs their pilots – only to get his comeuppance in the end. The film is also notable for its use of specially constructed reproductions of 1910-era aircraft, including a triplane, as well as monoplanes and biplanes. Air Commodore Wheeler insisted on using the authentic materials of the originals, but with modern engines and modifications (where necessary) to ensure safety.

In the end, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” became one of the most successful ”epic comedies” to emerge from the 1960s. Not only did it score top notches at the box office, it was also nominated and received various movie awards in both the U.S. and Great Britain. The original screenplay written by Ken Annakin and Jack Davies was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing Directly for the Screen (1966). The film was also nominated in the category of Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written. At the 1966 Golden Globes, the film won Best Motion Picture Actor – Musical/Comedy for Alberto Sordi, as well as being nominated in Best Motion Picture – Musical/Comedy and Most Promising Newcomer – Male for James Fox.

I can say with true honesty that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” has become one of my favorite movies from the 1960s. Ken Annakin and his production crew had created a stylish and funny movie. The movie was filled with memorable characters like Terry-Thomas’ dastardly Sir Percival Ware-Armitage, Alberto Sordi’s eager aviator Count Emilio Ponticelli and Gert Fröbe’s by-the-book Prussian Colonel Manfred von Holstein. One very witty moment featured the arrival of the Japanese pilot, Yamamoto (Yujiro Ishihara), whose description of his journey from Japan to Great Britain turned out to be less exciting than a reporter had assumed.

Thomas N. Morahan’s production design and Osbert Lancaster’s costumes managed to evoke the bygone era of Europe and especially Great Britain during the last years before the outbreak of World War II. Christopher Challis’ photography and the Special Effects department led by Ron Ballinger did a great job in re-creating the actual air race shown during the last third of the film. Two of my favorite scenes featured the contestants leaving Dover to cross the English Channel and the race’s exciting finale in Paris. I also enjoyed the pre-race interlude at Dover in which the contestants and their families/companions spend a few hours frolicking in the sea and sipping champagne.

Not all seemed perfect with ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES. One tiresome aspect of the film included the running joke featuring Pierre Dubois’ encounters with six women of different nationalities that all look alike and are portrayed by Irina Demick. I found it slightly amusing when Dubois encountered two of the women. By the time of Dubois’ encounter with the fifth Irina Demick, I found myself screaming for the joke to end. Romance did not fare very well in the movie. Granted, James Fox’s Mays and Sarah Miles’ Patricia made a quaint couple. But Whitman’s arrival as Orville Newton, Mays’ rival in the race and for Patricia’s hand, did not improve matters. The problem was that Whitman and Miles made a poor screen team. According to Annakin, the two actors had a falling out after Whitman attempted to romantically pursue Miles and the two ended up disliking each other so much, they had trouble portraying a romance between Orville and Patricia. Mind you, Whitman and Miles had a few scenes that did generate chemistry. I suspect those scenes had been filmed before the fallout.

I must admit that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” can boast some hilarious moments and dry wit. But most of the humor seemed focused upon the Keystone Cops antics of the aviators during the days leading up to the race and the race itself. Most of the film’s humor featured bizarre plane crashes, hackneyed stunts and cliché portrayals of the various nationalities featured in the film. I rather liked the comedian Benny Hill . . . but not in this movie. In ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN”, he portrayed a fire chief, whose job was to keep an eye out for aviation accidents. And whenever a crash occurred, it gave Hill and his cronies the opportunity to engage in an extreme form of slapstick humor that forced me to press the Fast Forward button of my DVD player . . . every damn time. But if there is one aspect of the movie I find frustrating, it is the fact that ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINE” is a two hour and eighteen minute film about an air race . . . that does not occur on screen until the last 45-47 minutes. The movie’s first fifteen or twenty minutes focused upon the characters’ introduction. But most of the movie’s action does not focus upon the race. Instead, it focused upon the few days before the race in which one has to endure practice flights that include countless crashes and slapstick humor. And every time I watch this film, I find this aspect so . . . damn . . . FRUSTRATING.

Technically, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” is a first-rate film. Although I found some of the dry humor to be rather sharp and entertaining, the slapstick humor that dominated the film became very hard for me to bear. I am also not thrilled that only one-third of the film had focused upon the actual race. But I have to give the movie points for the creation of interesting characters like Sir Percy Ware-Armitage and Count Emilio Ponticelli, along with a memorable and catchy theme song. And I must give Annakin and his production crew credit for re-creating a charming look at the elegance of pre-World War I Europe. Overall, ”THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN IN THEIR FLYING MACHINES” has remained a fun and entertaining look at the early days of aviation that moviegoers today might still enjoy.

A Look Back at “HARRY POTTER and The Goblet of Fire” (2005)

 

A Look Back at “HARRY POTTER and The Goblet of Fire” (2005)

With the sixth installment of the HARRY POTTER movie franchise (“HARRY POTTER and the Half-Blood Prince”) just recently released on DVD and Blue Ray, I thought this would be a great time to look back at a previous installment – “HARRY POTTER and the Goblet of Fire”.  When the latter was first released in November 2005, many had hailed it as the best of the four HARRY POTTER movies. I wish I could have agreed with that assessment of “Goblet of Fire”. I really wish I could. But . . . I cannot. I am sorry, but I consider “Goblet of Fire” to be the weakest of the six movies.

Unlike many other movies, I had no problems with the screenwriter cutting out some of the material from the novel (however, I do regret that Newell and Kloves had cut out the Dursley scenes – which were the best in the series. In fact, all of the first four novels had been edited for the movie screen. However, “Goblet of Fire” did so in a manner that left the movie filled with plot holes:

*Why is it that no one knew that Couch Jr. was missing from Azkaban?

*How did Voldemort and Couch Jr. know about the Triwizard Tournament?

*Where was the infamous trunk, when Moody aka Couch Jr. arrived at Hogswarts?

Another problem I had with the movie was Newell’s heavy emphasis upon a realistic portrayal of British schoolchildren, to the detriment of the characters’ performance. He tried to be realistic with the Hogswarts students, yet wallowed in one-dimensional clichés with the visiting foreigners.

Aside from the Yule Ball (one of two or three sequences I actually enjoyed), I got the feeling that Newell was a H/Hr shipper. I especially noticed that Hermoine did not seem upset with Fleur thanking Ron for helping Harry to save her sister – unlike the novel.

But my two biggest disappointments with the movie were its production design (I got the feeling that Newell was trying to recapture Middle Earth as it was in “LORD OF THE RINGS: The Two Towers”, making Hogswarts look very grim) and the hammy acting that nearly the entire cast seemed to be engaged in (with the exceptions of Dan Radclifffe, Rupert Grint and Alan Rickman [surprisingly]).

Do not get me wrong – I still managed to enjoy “Goblet of Fire”.  But it seemed like a comedown after following upon the heels of the solid “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets”; along with the dazzling “Prisoner of Azkaban”.