Reviews

Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 5

In this collection of the latest Agatha Christie mysteries, everything is worth seeing, but the unorthodox adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express stands head and shoulders above the rest.


Masterpiece Mystery!

Distributor: Acorn
Cast: David Suchet, Tim Curry, Zoe Wanamaker
Network: PBS
Release Date: 2010-07-27
Website
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Amazon

It would be easy to think that there is little new to discover in a character like Poirot. The star of dozens of Christie’s most famous mystery novels, Hercule Poirot, he of the little grey cells and the meticulously arranged breakfast table, Poirot has been around for nearly a century. He has been brought to the screen by no lesser actors than Alfred Molina, Peter Ustinov, Albert Finney, and lest we forget, a criminally miscast Tony Randall.

Perhaps no performer has had the insight into this enormously complicated character that David Suchet brings to the role, and to especially to his powerhouse performance in Murder on the Orient Express. Thoroughly at home in a character he has played for more than two decades, Suchet is a force on screen, bringing an uncharacteristic tension and smoldering intensity to the role that reveals a decidedly different side of a character who runs the risk of seeming well tread.

Make no mistake – in this collection of the latest Agatha Christie mysteries, everything is worth seeing. However, the series' admittedly unorthodox adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express stands head and shoulders above the other – still quite good – films collected here. In Appointment With Death, a terrific supporting cast includes Tim Curry in a turn that sees a performer having more fun that one is accustomed to on the too-often dowdy Mystery productions. The Third Girl, meanwhile, is a thoroughly workman-like if unremarkable whodunnit that won’t disappoint fans of the series.

The adaptation of what is certainly Christie’s most well-known work, and arguably her defining one, is alone worth the price of admission. David Suchet, indelibly the face of Christie’s brilliant, neurotic Belgian detective to a generation, gives the performance of a lifetime.

As with any adaptation, the writers of Murder on the Orient Express have taken their liberties, and embellishments and departures from the novel are not infrequent. This will no doubt strike a sour chord with some viewers, especially Christie purists. But it also opens new doors into a story that frankly, could use a fresh coat of paint after many decades and countless interpretations. The latest iteration, the crown jewel of this collection, offers viewers an original take on a classic character, providing some intriguing new twists on a well-known character.

While sticklers may grumble, it’s intriguing to see an exploration of sides of Poirot rarely explored. On the heels of a grim episode and thrown into close, unfamiliar quarters with a group of strangers, the Poirot of Orient Express seems for perhaps the first time on screen, genuinely vulnerable. Rather than the logical, often icy detective of the past 20 years, we see a man at odds with himself and struggling with his own ideals, a detective who does not have all the answers. The result is a performance punctuated by emotional outbursts that explode onto the screen, rendered especially jarring when expressed by the famously collected private investigator.

Also included in the collection is a mini-documentary on the history of the Orient Express which plays like equal parts celebrity history lesson and lifestyles of the rich and famous on a train, though the section on Christie’s connection with the storied train does bear watching. Suchet makes an entertaining tour guide, even if hearing him speak without the prim Belgian accent we’ve grown to love is a bit strange, and it certainly beats out the rest of the collection’s special features, which amount to little more than slideshows.

The other two works collected here are about what we’ve come to expect from the series, which is far from a slight. Both The Third Girl and Appointment With Death are visually splendid period pieces built around Christie’s Poirot stories, which age surprisingly well and remain thoroughly compelling in their own right. One of the most charming things about this series, now entering its third decade, is the consistency it brings to the table. These films make for what is arguably the ultimate in television comfort food, perpetually satisfying and predictable without being boring, a standby that seems impervious to time or trend.

That’s exactly what The Third Girl and Appointment With Death represent: attractive, workmanlike mysteries that work the trick of simultaneously providing a spark of mental stimulation and the proper degree of pre-bedtime relaxation. They might not often be works that reach the impressive heights of Murder on the Orient Express, but these are always pleasant, engaging, worthwhile pieces of entertainment to come home to, and make excellent companions for a cup of evening tea.

7

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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