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The Witches (1990)
Very endearing overall
To begin with, the main reason I rated it 8 and not 10 is the creepiness of the witches. Yes, I know they are shown exactly like Roald Dahl described them, but I really think that it's different to see it on screen rather than read about it. The true face of the Grand High Witch is absolutely repulsive to the point I feel sick looking at it and want to skip directly to her counter-transformation. As other reviewers have noted, it's for PG-13 more than for PG.
The rest of the film is very charming. Grandmother Helga is splendid and exactly like I imagined her when reading the book. Luke's a bit shrill with his "Graaaandma!" but acts very well. Anjelica Huston (apart from the true-face sequences) is a perfect Grand High Witch, and the hotel staff and Bruno (a nicer incarnation of Augustus Gloop) are hilarious.
Right, but I know it's always more interesting to read about flaws, so
The character of Miss Irvine is a bit underdeveloped and even if one hasn't read the book (I have), it can be noticed that it is a later deus ex machina addition (one moment she's cackling with everybody else and the next she "never really wanted to be with them anyway"). I mean, the Grand High Witch burns at least one witch per year and does horrible things to kids compared to that, merely not allowing her secretary to attend the banquet is nice everyday behavior; so it seems odd that Miss Irvine alone suddenly snaps and for a petty reason at that. But Jane Horrocks whom I like very much does a wonderful job of the part and manages to make it as convincing as the script allows.
I personally liked the change to the ending in itself. I believe that the problem with filming the original ending isn't its bittersweet flavor it just leaves too many threads hanging. Fine in a book, but, in my opinion, hard to film. It's a pity that the filmmakers took the other option to the extreme as well, and the whole Susan-Irvine-ex-machina thing seems rushed altogether, as many reviewers point out. Besides, although it effectively concludes the plot line of Luke's life as a mouse (the chief one that left the book ending open), it raises an entirely new question of the witches' nature the book was very vague on it; Grandma said the witches are humanoid demonic creatures, but the Grand High Witch selected the elderly witches and said that they were the ancestors of others. And now we learn that a witch can turn human if she really wants (and I'm really puzzled about the hair was Miss Irvine by the end still in her wig though with human hands or did her new hair magically grow exactly to match the wig?). Of course, it's Dahl and not Tolkien so no one expects a full story of witches from the creation of the world with all dynasties and rulers, but the witches are left a pretty mysterious species, and here even more than in the book.
However, I believe that (again and again, save for the witches' true faces) it's a very nice family movie. The ending of the book is quite a depressing one for kids I don't know firsthand as I read it at nineteen (it still nearly brought me to tears), but I'm sure that had I read it at around seven, at the same time as the Chocolate Factory, the Giant Glass Elevator, the Giant Peach, and Mr. Fox, I would have been terribly shocked, especially with the contrast. The movie ending is not so much rushed as to be a problem during watching. It's very funny and touching, I particularly liked Miss Irvine sending the white mice back to Luke. The questions only come to your head later, and they don't keep you from enjoying the film.
And Then There Were None (1945)
Romantic comedy with a dash of mystery
After all the praise lavished on this film, I decided to watch it, in spite of knowing about the changed ending.
Well, to put it short: if I hadn't read the book and watched the Soviet adaptation, I would have found this one absolutely charming. The actors are good (I especially liked the ones cast as Judge Quincannon and Emily Brent), the pace is fine, considering it was filmed seventy years ago. But nevertheless, first and foremost, it's an adaptation of Agatha Christie's masterpiece, and I viewed it as one.
The good points of it:
1) The shot fired by the judge and Dr. Armstrong when they stage the judge's murder. After all, it was the most reasonable thing to do.
2) The soundtrack. A splendid one (and catchy, too!)
3) The judge's "game of the mind". A nice addition to his character.
4) The Rogers. Both well played, and their interaction was shown quite believably.
The bad points:
1) The whole comic atmosphere. Two of the reviewers compared the film to a parlor game, and I couldn't agree more. The mistrust, tension and fear that completely dominate the characters after Mrs. Rogers dies are simply absent here. Up to the very end, everyone seems to behave as if they're in a murder game. It's okay by itself, it's not like a detective comedy is bad, if you haven't read the book, that is.
2) The general's reduced to a clown-like character, and his story (the most touching story of them all) is barely mentioned.
3) Blore is made an idiot. No: an IDIOT. Of course, he's not a genius in the book either, but here, I was shocked he had lived to his age at all, being so utterly brainless.
4) The change in Vera's backstory. I wouldn't have minded it (although it seems pointless, like Beatrice Taylor being replaced by Peter Brent for no reason), but it makes the seaweed trick nonsensical.
5) Had to mention it. The ending. It seems that THIS judge's real plan was like "seven murders and one matchmaking". I thought he would have had his future victims' photographs! Why didn't he react to the wrong person (Morley)'s arrival? He searched for murderers so scrupulously, yet he failed to deduct that it was Vera's sister who was actually guilty. It seemed to me after watching the film that Lombard and Vera were in fact lying by the end. Why not? It would be very fitting for Lombard to make up a convincing story about him being another man. I mean, when a gun's pointed at you, you'll call yourself any name just to escape! As it's implied that Vera's sister is dead, Vera, too, could throw the blame on her to save her neck (she told Lombard about her sister before the killer was revealed, so she could have thought him Owen).
So, it's a romantic comedy with some mystery thrown in-between, but so different in spirit from the original book it was hard to consider it an adaptation.
Sense & Sensibility (2008)
An excellent film to watch... after the novel
Though the 1995 adaptation still remains my favorite, this one does have some advantages over it. First, of course, there are the younger actors cast as Elinor and Brandon; as much as I admire Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, it's a fact that they were about 15 years older than their characters. Second, the miniseries format which allowed more scenes to fit in. Third, the addition of Elinor's drawing hobby - after all, she's a living and breathing 19-year-old, not Rational Sense personalized.
The costumes and sets are all splendid. Almost no complaints here, though the poverty of Barton Cottage was, I believe, a bit exaggerated with rooms so tiny there is barely enough space for the family, let alone their guests.
But the main flaw of this adaptation, in my opinion, is that it gives too much away too early. We see Willoughby seducing and leaving Eliza Jr. in the first scene, and his sly smile, shifting eyes and plainly arrogant remarks later makes one wonder just how he completely bewitches everybody. On the other hand, Marianne is shown much more sympathetic with Colonel Brandon from the start, and after the duel scene no one can doubt which of the men will end up with her.
Edward is shown much less shy than in the 1995 film. It allows him to converse with Elinor more freely, but then he (all of a sudden!) begins to mumble and stammer during the famous "talk about his education". Why the change?
Finally, the scene with Marianne's sickness is much less dramatic. It seemed that the director wished to get her quickly to her happy ending, so, although she's raving in fever, there is always a feeling that there is no real danger.
I think that this miniseries is a wonderful adaptation for those who are already familiar with the plot. Somehow it's like a big fanfiction in the "missing scenes" genre. It's for people who want to see Elinor not so rational and Edward not so shy; Colonel Brandon and Marianne's romance developing earlier and, well, less subtly; Willoughby the Villain from the beginning etc.
But I wouldn't recommend it to these who don't know the novel or other movies based on it. Spoils all the intrigue, especially in the case of Marianne and her suitors.
The Magic Flute (2006)
Original and worth watching
As for myself, I usually can't watch classic operas being modernized. "Aida" with fireworks and circus gymnasts or "Tristan and Isolde" with mobile phones and handguns no, thank you. The only exception is Mozart's "The Magic Flute": in my opinion, its surrealistic libretto can survive any modernization.
I see that the reviews for Branagh's adaptation are quite mixed, but I generally liked it. Joseph Kaiser is a great Tamino, Amy Carson is excellent as Pamina. Benjamin Davis may not have a very strong voice, but he has the cheerfulness and charm of Mozart's Papageno. The rest of the cast also fit their roles wonderfully.
The Masonic references are gone, but the rest of the libretto is preserved, with all its humor and fairytale aura.
There are only two moments in the film that really annoyed me. First, the combination of the overture with battle scenes. It looked, well, odd. Second, the suicide of the villains the episode seemed a bit rushed and not quite understandable. I can see why the Queen of the Night killed herself, with her terrible pride. I can see why Monostatos killed himself, with his maniacal passion for Pamina. But the three ladies? Had they climbed up and agreed to serve Sarastro, he'd have pardoned them for sure (he'd have pardoned everyone, judging by his face). Of course, they could have been enormously devoted to the Queen Their suicide was something of an unsolved mystery.
But overall, the film is definitely a very nice one.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
An ageless movie
Despite it was filmed almost 40 years ago, Murder on the Orient Express still is great - even if you've read the book. Finney, I have to admit, isn't the best Poirot, but he acts well enough. And the rest of the cast is wonderful! Lauren Bacall is the best, I think: she manages to be an excellent actress twice, to play the part of Linda Arden who plays the part of Mrs Hubbard! When Linda's identity is revealed, you can almost see her turning into a totally different person!
The humor of the book is kept in the movie. Pity that Monsieur Bouc's constant suspicions about the Italian are cut out, but instead we have him changing his opinion after every interrogation. Yet Mrs Hubbard's hilarious character is very much the same. And the questioning of Countess Andrenyi is accompanied by continuous looks of devoted watchfulness and almost grotesque jealousy of the Count. There are countless other details (such as Princess Dragomiroff's doggies) that give the movie some lightness a mystery always needs.
And, last but not least, the film's very touching. It's actually the only film besides Titanic and Hamlet that always brings me to tears. Ingrid Bergman gives a perfect performance of the gentle, soft-hearted Swedish lady, who is hesitant even to strike the brutal murderer. And by the end of the film there also is a very moving scene with the calm official Pierre Michel crying over his dead daughter's picture - that was the director's brilliant addition that allowed us to further understand the struggles and suffering of the characters.
Again, it's a truly ageless movie and you won't regret watching it.
Complicated simple murder... a bit too complicated
The Clocks is one of my favorite Poirot mysteries, so I decided to watch this adaptation - despite the mixed opinions of the viewers.
Well, I liked it very much. Sheila, Colin, and of course the great detective himself are portrayed perfectly, the plot is generally faithful to the book.
Though, some story changes seemed pointless to me - for example, why change Edna Brent's name?
And I think that the additions on the spy subplot were completely unnecessary - they only confused everything and didn't play a big role in the solution. Casting suspicion on the Waterhouses (and making them German-born refugees), for example.
So, I give the movie 8 out of 10. Minus one for the useless plot alterations, and minus one for making Inspector Hardcastle way too dull - in my opinion, too dull even for the classical "stupid policeman" of the detective stories.
Test pilota Pirxa (1979)
Lem and actors at their best
Stanislaw Lem is one of my favorite authors. Every book of his is both very deep and philosophical and so funny that I laugh to tears. And "The Inquest", the short story that the film's based upon, is one of his most wonderful pieces. So even though I'm not a fan of old sci-fi movies which usually seem boring and dull, I decided to watch this one.
Luckily, it turned out to be an exception. The action was as swift and exciting as in modern films, and the plot was great. It was altered, of course - you can't turn a short story into a 1,5-hour film without expanding it. But the alterations fitted in perfectly. Most of Lem's hilarious humor remained in the movie, and some more was added (such as "Humans generally are less reliable. - Poor... poor humans").
The acting was very good. I think Alexandr Kaidanovsky was the best - but perhaps that's because his part was the most difficult one. (I can't explain why, because I would spoil one of the main plot intrigues!) And Sergei Desnitsky made an excellent performance of the clumsy, awkward but brave pilot Pirx.
To put it short: if you want first-class special effects and modern actors, skip it. If you want a both funny and thrilling sci-fi based on Lem's masterpiece, with various psychological and philosophical problems raised and discussed, "The Inquest of Pilot Pirx" is just for you.
Excellent movie, excellent adaptation
I have hesitated for a long time before watching this version. I couldn't choose between it and the one with Gwyneth Paltrow: both versions include actors I know and admire, both seemed to be adequately faithful to the book, etc. But the cover illustration of the edition of "Emma" I have shows a dark-haired girl, so I have always imagined Emma as a brunette - that's why I chose this version after all.
And I'm INCREDIBLY glad I did.
It is really very faithful to the book, and, what is more, it captures the book's spirit. We see quite a complicated drama, with confused human feelings and a very vague good guys-bad guys distinction, and yet everything is in the 19th century style, one can see no traces of modernization.
The main heroine is portrayed perfectly, with all the contradictions of her nature. Kate Beckinsale shows us a girl who is full of good will but can be quite arrogant, who is rather clever but too self-assured... And, furthermore, we see Beckinsale's Emma changing and maturing as the film goes on.
Mark Strong, too, gives a great performance as Emma's ever-faithful friend Mr. Knightley. He always conveys the emotions his character's supposed to feel - sometimes with only his facial expression, as Mr. Knightley is not a talkative person.
The other actors are wonderful as well, so I think the characters look and behave just as Jane Austen must have imagined. My favorite among the minor characters is Harriet Smith, a naive sweet-natured girl whom we can't help but pity as she struggles to sort out her feelings. She is so realistic in the movie! After watching it, I sometimes find myself in situations similar to Harriet's - even though I live two hundred years later!
Spy Game (2001)
The ideal action movie
I can't see why some people find Spy Game boring. It is one of the most exciting movies I have ever seen - keeps you thrilled from beginning to end! And at the same time it's one of the funniest. My whole family adores Redford's Nathan Muir and his dry humor (such as "Every time my coach told me that, I knew I was about to get benched").
Of course, some scenes in the movie can be frightening for someone - shootings, bombings and so on. But they are not too graphic, so I think for people who like action/crime/spy movies, it is all just fine.
The setting of action in several completely different countries adds a lot of color and brightness to the movie.
And... last but not least... there is the romance of Tom and Elizabeth. Although for a major part of the movie it is in the background, it always appears in time to remind the characters (and also the watchers) that there is more in this life than the CIA's cold rules and calculations.
Perfect on-screen short story
A very nice little movie, quite faithful to the book.
Mrs. Todd, though, is a bit vulgar-looking, she wears too much makeup and too bright clothes - it's not like the strict plain housewife I imagined when I read the story. But this portrayal of her doesn't spoil the overall impression.
The mystery here is as twisted as in Christie's larger works. I liked it that the director didn't try to prolong it by adding a whole set of new characters and details. Almost everything is just as it was in the story.
I highly recommend the movie to everyone who likes the true Agatha Christie stories, her ideas and her characters, preserved on screen. Watching The Adventure of the Clapham Cook is literally like seeing that mysterious but also quite funny short story coming alive.