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not the greatest, 28 July 2014

Not much of a plot to "The Plymouth Express," but it still has a top cast and fabulous production values.

An old friend, Gordon Halliday, asks Poirot to check out a man interested in his daughter Florence, but Poirot does not take that kind of case and refuses. However, when Carrington reminds Poirot that he is not a parent and can't understand the pain of seeing his daughter with someone unscrupulous, Poirot relents.

Florence boards the Plymouth Express with her jewel box and is murdered. A devastated Halliday asks Poirot to help solve it. There are a few suspects, one being Florence's ex-husband, Rupert, who asked her for money. Another is Armand de la Rochefort, the man Halliday didn't like. Actually, he doesn't like either man.

Poirot knows they won't find the murderer until they find the jewels.

A neat mystery, very clever, and if it was a little padded, so what? It's entertaining, with Poirot, Hastings, and Miss Lemon, and the denouement is good. These mysteries have class -- better to pad a Poirot episode than something less well done.

excellent Poirot, on board ship, 28 July 2014

Poirot is called in by a bank to help transfer $1 million in Liberty Bonds to America. The gentleman who is to take the bonds and travel on the Queen Mary with them has had an unfortunate series of events. He is almost run over by a car, and then he's poisoned.

Unfortunately the young man next in line has gambling problems, but he's what the bank has, so they ask Poirot to accompany him. Hastings goes along as well and he's thrilled as this is the Queen Mary's maiden voyage. Sadly the bonds are stolen.

Great episode, with newsreel footage accompanying the episode. All of the acting is top-notch. Exciting and entertaining - you can't ask for much more.

and we meet not merely by chance, 27 July 2014

The above statement goes against the philosophy of "Night Train to Lisbon," but that's because I don't agree with the philosophy. My opinion does not take away from this beautiful film because of course, events can be viewed in many different ways.

Jeremy Irons plays Raimund Gregorius, a Swiss Professor. One gets the impression that he leads a well-ordered and probably boring life. On his way to work one morning, he sees a woman about to jump off of a bridge, and he tackles her to the ground. She asks if she can walk with him, which she does, and sits in his schoolroom for a while. Then he notices her leaving. He runs from his classroom and follows her. In her coat, which she has left behind, he finds a train ticket to Lisbon and a book by Amadeu Prado. The train leaves in fifteen minutes. Raimund races to the station, but the girl is nowhere in sight. He boards the train.

Raimund becomes enchanted by Amadeu's writings and wants to find out more about him and meet him. He registers at a hotel, buys some clothes, and starts asking questions and looking for Amadeu.

What he finds is a compelling story that took place during the Portuguese resistance to the dictator Salazar, the story of some young people, Amadeu (Jack Huston), his best friend Joao (played as an adult by Tom Courtenay), Jorge (August Diehl/Bruno Ganz), and Estefania (Melanie Laurent/Lena Olin), and their lives then and now. With the help of his eye doctor Mariana (Martina Gedeck), a priest (Christopher Lee), and others, Raimund puts the pieces of their story together. In doing so, he begins to question his own life and choices. As he tells Mariana, "They lived." He asks himself, has he? The beauty of Portugal is ever-present in this film, underlying the emotional and suspenseful scenes as Raimund learns the different threads of the story. Jack Huston, so compelling in "Boardwalk Empire," is as compelling but completely different here. He's physically beautiful, gentle, and idealistic. The acting is marvelous, as is Bille August's direction.

This is not a bombastic, blow-up, CGI movie. It moves at a steady pace, not a breakneck one as it explores these people's lives and the writings of Amadeu, and as Raimund talks about randomness and chance. His involvement does indeed seem random, but I was left with a feeling that he was where he was supposed to be, learning what he needed to learn in order to live a fuller life. Whether life is random or not is something none of us know. I do know this is a wonderful, atmospheric film.

director's cut, 25 July 2014

"The Executioner's Song" from 1982 was a TV movie, and on Netflix, I believe they send out the director's cut. It has lots of Roseanna Arquette's breasts and other body parts.

Based on the book by Norman Mailer (who also wrote the screenplay), this is the story of Gary Gilmore, who became famous by demanding that the state of Utah go ahead with his execution. It was the first execution in the US since the 1960s and the first since 1972 when the Supreme Court ruled that death sentences prior to that date were unconstitutional, which is why the Manson group was not executed.

Gilmore, who requested to face a firing squad, became kind of a cause celebre. As a hero of some sort, I suppose he fits in well with today's idea of a celebrity. He was basically a loser who always chose the easy way out. When he was released on parole for robbery, he had the help and support of his cousin (Christine Lahti) and his uncle (Eli Wallach), but he was unable to hold down a job and became obsessed with a 19-year-old (Arquette) with two children.

He then returned to the robbery business and for no good reason shot and killed two people after he robbed them.

I believe this was a TV movie in two parts, so what I saw was shortened. As a result, to make way for Arquette's body, there was quite a bit cut, making it jerky.

My main problem was getting any sympathy going for Gilmore or Arquette. Tommy Lee Jones did a terrific job, but even though Gary's family loved him and just hated the things he did, I as an audience member didn't share their feelings. As far as I'm concerned, he wanted to die because he didn't want to stay in prison. He robbed so he could pay for a truck and didn't have to work. Same old story - the easy way out.

This story was described as "tragic." The tragedy is that the Arquette character had two children. She was a whack job who tried to commit surgery so that she and Gary could continue their affair in heaven. It said at the end of the movie that she moved and started over. I hope for the sake of her kids that she made it. I have no doubt with her figure she met somebody. Let's hope it wasn't another loser.

The Sniper (1952)
good psychological noir, 25 July 2014

"The Sniper" is an unusual noir from director Edward Dmytryk in his first film after being on the blacklist. It's unusual in that it's the story of a man's violence against women - multiple women, and he's seen shooting them.

Shot in San Francisco, though the city isn't mentioned, the film stars Arthur Franz, a familiar face to TV audiences and a man who rarely had a lead in films -- in fact, this may be his only lead. Nevertheless, he does a compelling job as a disturbed man who wants to be stopped.

The chase scene at the end is particularly good. Another familiar face, the wonderful Richard Kiley, plays a psychiatrist.

Violence against women certainly became a big subject later on, but there wasn't much about it back in the'40s and '50s. There was, however, during and post-war, a good deal about the psychological trauma of returning soldiers. This is one of them, and it's excellent.

An unusual assistant on this case, 20 July 2014

Poirot, who is having a rose named for him, has a strange encounter in "How Does Your Garden Grow?" from 1991. He meets an elderly woman who gives a seed packet, which is empty. When he returns to his home, he finds a letter from the same woman asking him for help.

Poirot's assistant in this case is none other than Miss Lemon, who accompanies him to Surrey. However, the woman, Miss Amelia Barrowby, has died during the night. Poirot is certain that it was murder, and this is confirmed in the postmortem; she was poisoned with strychnine.

The original suspects include the woman's niece and her husband; then Miss Barrowby's Russian companion leaves abruptly. Japp is sure the companion did it; Poirot disagrees.

Good mystery, with poor Hastings derailed by allergies, necessitating Miss Lemon accompanying Poirot. Beautifully photographed, and you can't beat Suchet as Poirot.

Sick, and I mean that in the old-fashioned way, 20 July 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Today "sick" means great, but I am not describing "Death and Dreams" that way. I mean sick.

Barnaby and Troy are called in to investigate what seems to be a suicide. The autopsy reveals the man was drugged, however. As he was treated at a clinic nearby, Barnaby once again comes into contact with an attractive counselor (Isla Blair), a widow with three children. Troy, in fact, teases him that his interest in her is more than professional, but we all know that Barnaby is devoted to Joyce and doesn't even pick up what Troy is inferring.

More murders follow.

One reviewer here described the denouement as ridiculous. I didn't find it ridiculous; I found it disturbing. There was an aspect I found ridiculous, and that is that the murders involved teamwork. Pathetic. And sick.

As usual, Midsomer Murders is gorgeous to look at and well acted. this isn't one of their best stories. I'm used to aberrant characters and situations being involved in the investigations, but this was a bit too much.

The Hoax (2006)
Clifford Irving's fake biography of Howard Hughes, 20 July 2014

Unlike some others on this board, no doubt, I was around when Clifford Irving wrote his infamous autobiography of Howard Hughes, and I saw the TV interview shown in the film. I thought he was a big phony. Turns out he was. It's not because I'm perceptive; that's how he came off.

Richard Gere plays Irving, an ambitious, frustrated writer led along the garden path by McGraw-Hill, who state they are publishing his work of fiction (not the Hughes book, something else) and then renege. Angry, he searches desperately for a subject and comes upon the reclusive Howard Hughes.

What if he said he had unlimited access to Howard Hughes and had permission to write his biography? He confides in his researcher and friend, Richard Suskind (Alfred Molina), who doesn't think it's a good idea. Sure it is. Hughes never talks to the press, and he's so eccentric, no one would believe him anyway. Even his close advisors may not know he is working with Irving.

Somehow Irving withstands the most pressurized scrutiny through handwriting analysis (copied from a magazine article) and interrogations which would have broken anyone, and he is paid a big advance. Meanwhile, Suskind is breaking under the strain.

This is a very well done movie, with Gere in top form as the driven Irving. Marcia Gay Harden as Irving's wife does an excellent job, as does Molina as his nervous friend.

The underlying theme? People will believe anything, especially with the prospect of big money. However, Irving did have plenty about Hughes, thanks to research and some clever maneuvers. As a result of that work, he indirectly caused the Watergate scandal. He had received information about Hughes giving a loan to Richard Nixon's brother Donald to help him obtain contracts with The Pentagon. The book wasn't published, but because of the publicity surrounding this incident, Nixon became afraid that the Democrats had information from Hughes. He wanted to find out if the Democratic National Committee had connections to Hughes. Thus, Watergate.

The one who really made out due to Irving's claims of knowing Hughes book was Irving's mistress, Nina van Pallandt, who wound up with a film career and, if memory serves, a nightclub act.

problems with fishing lures, 18 July 2014

In the Midsomer village of Malham Bridge, outside the meeting of Midsomer Flyfishers Association, Margaret, the wife of the secretary accuses Isobel Hewitt (Honor Blackman) of using weighted lures. The argument escalates, ending in Isobel slapping Margaret.

Margaret files charges, which brings Barnaby and Troy to the village. Isobel, an older, vital woman, goes for a drive with a doctor, Duncan Goff in a jaguar. Later, they are both found murdered, beaten with a stake from a fence.

The detective team learns quickly that people weren't crazy about either Isobel or the doctor for different reasons, be it the doctor's womanizing with married women, or weighted lures, or something else.

Good mystery with an assortment of suspects, including relatives of Isobel's who actually owned her home, a friend who helped her financially occasionally, Margaret (she who was slapped)...but then, the use of weighted lures and a fight don't seem like motives for a bludgeoning murder. And who was the intended victim? Gorgeous settings, with Barnaby's family, Joyce and Cully, making an appearance. I really love this series. This is a good, if not great episode -- but it's been running for so many years, they can't all be great.

Poirot's Christmas is less than merry, 18 July 2014

Poor Poirot. There's no heat in his apartment, and it's not being fixed until after Christmas. Then this old man, Simon Lee, calls him and says he needs Poirot at his country home over Christmas, though he's not given an explanation as to why. Poirot has one question: Do you have heat? He's on his way.

Simon Lee is a perfectly awful man. In the beginning of the episode, we see an incident which took place 40 years earlier in South Africa, when Lee and his partner find diamonds. Lee kills his partner but is injured and is taken in by a woman who is disfigured by a port wine stain on her face. It's obvious she falls for him, but one night she discovers that he's disappeared.

Lee hasn't changed much. He has summoned his family to his home and he wants Poirot to watch them. "For what?" asks Poirot. "You'll know when you see it," Lee answers. What Poirot sees later is Lee's murdered body which was in a locked room.

The whole family makes up the list of suspects. Two sons, one of whom hasn't been around for years, a granddaughter, Pilar, the child of Lee's late daughter, and two daughters-in-law.

Soon, a local detective and Inspector Japp turn up.

I understand this is not a faithful adaptation of the book, and one reviewer here said he was glad Agatha Christie wasn't alive to see her work changed. Once the estate gets its money, it's obvious that they don't care what anyone does to the stories. If Christie were alive, I imagine things would be different.

I enjoyed this one, but that's because I don't remember the book.

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