Friday, September 12, 2014

British Mystery Coming 2014, 2015

Starting Thursday, October 2, Gracepoint will hit the small screen in America. Folk have been quick to assure us that it will not be a point-by-point remake (at least, after the first two episodes) of the original, superb series Broadchurch - but I'm not entirely convinced.

Since my last update list, I've seen a few more things turn up.

Besides more seasons of Foyle's War (complete), Broadchurch (filming), Father Brown (filming), and Sherlock (being written) we have...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Labours of Hercules - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Elephants Can Remember.

It's practically a fact of nature that if you're cooped up with a number of people in a house in the snow, someone will be dead by the end of the weekend. If a small rotund Belgian man is there, you might as well call up friends (after calling your family solicitor) and say goodbye.

Complete with the requisite creaks in the night, the latest Poirot episode, The Labours of Hercules, must have been extremely difficult to adapt. The original consisted of a dozen quirky, loosely related short-stories, which culminated in a night-club called Hell (really). The adaptation picks a few of the best elements and combines them into a charming but bittersweet tale that feels unique in all the Poirot canon. We have German psychology, a dastardly serial killer, eccentric, hilarious foreigners, gorgeous vistas in a setting reminiscent of Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, and the return of our favorite femme fatale, Countess Vera Rossakoff (and if you don't know who that is - SHAME - watch The Double Clue.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mirror, Mirror: How the Modern Fairy Tale Reflects Us

Mankind should have outgrown happy endings a long time ago. From merely a brief perusal of the daily news, it seems unlikely that we would still be interested in the whimsy of fantasy. Yet in the wake of such seminal tragedies as 9/11, in a world fractured by war, disease, and death, fairy tales remain one of our most recognizable cultural icons, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of books such as The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Elephants Can Remember - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: Dead Man's Folly

A couple, General and Mrs. Ravenscroft, walk along the white cliffs of Dover, arm-in-arm. The dog runs ahead, barking happily. They smile at one another. A few seconds later, a shot rings out, and the two lie dead.

Thus kicks off the climactic season of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, running circa 1989. Despite an added storyline involving murder by hydrotherapy (a psychiatric treatment in which the patient is blasted with scalding then freezing water), this episode is not as uniformly dark as Murder on the Orient Express, the intense conclusion to the previous season.

Ariadne Oliver’s appearance adds a good element of humor. Her slapdash, jovial demeanor is the perfect foil to Poirot’s fastidious world-weariness (which has become a little old—dude, one smile won’t hurt.) During the reception for her Crime Novelist of the Year award, Mrs. Oliver is cornered by the formidable Mrs. Burton-Cox, a mother with an ax to grind. Does she remember her goddaughter, Celia Ravenscroft? Yes, well, what she wants to know is did General Ravenscroft kill his wife, or did Margaret Ravenscroft kill her husband?

Friday, August 8, 2014

My 5 Favorite Con-Men

Regular readers here at Longish will know that I'm more than a little obsessed with British detectives. So now, for a change of pace, let's get to know my favorite British con-men. There are a few conditions—con-men are not criminals of the vulgar sort. No, indeed; these dashing figures eschew unsophisticated fisticuffs, and make do with intelligence and witty repartee. For this reason I would not nominate Moriarty (his weapon is strategy, a general of the underworld), though I would almost nominate Saruman (disqualified because his witty repartee stems from an enchantment.)

Also, they must be loads of fun. Let's start with the most fun of them all...

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - Dead Man's Folly - Episode Review

My review of last week's episode: The Big Four

Like most TV shows throughout the last decades, Agatha Christie's Poirot has become progressively darker, but Dead Man's Folly is a welcome return to a simpler age (similar to The Big Four, which I had not seen when I first saw this episode). Yes, a simpler age with murder, adultery, and other deadly sins, but they're all mercifully off-screen, and I'll have no qualms in watching this with my younger siblings. (True enough, I love the Suchet adaptation of Orient Express, but it's nice to have something lighter once again.)
With summer in the air, wealthy squire Sir George Stubbs and his fragile, childlike wife Hattie plan a grand fĂȘte for their Devonshire neighbors to celebrate their recent acquisition of Nasse House. Fancy dress, fortune telling, and a coconut shy are all scheduled, as well as a murder hunt designed by mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver. But Mrs Oliver is convinced something is amiss, and asks Hercule Poirot to attend the festivities as a means to put her mind at rest.

In this classic Christie plot, we have an enormous cast of barely distinguishable British suspects, a garden fete, a murder. The first half the plot is heavy on exposition, and feels a little staged as character after character walk up to Poirot and begin to talk about themselves and their backgrounds. The cast would have been much more manageable if several characters had been cut, but the significant ones stick out just enough to remember who's who. The necessarily heavy amount of suspect interviews is relieved by inter-cutting punctuated with moments of Mrs. Oliver. Cadfael and Lewis fans will notice Hugh Beringar (Sean Pertwee) and Superintendent Innocent (Rebecca Front) among the crew.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Big Four - Episode Review

[Originally posted at Longview.]

And so it begins. The gang is officially together again for the first time in thirteen years (though also the last, for Japp and Ms. Lemon.) Unfortunately, it’s only for a few scenes in this eccentric but enjoyable addition to the Poirot series. The Big Four was Agatha Christie’s attempt at a conspiracy thriller, mixed among the usual Poirot body-in-the-library cases. She couldn’t quite leave that format behind, and her conspiracy conveniently takes the shape of multiple murders in country houses. Mark Gatiss and Ian Hallard’s adaptation is at its strongest when it is focusing on these quirky, clever episodes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Meet His Grace - Why You Should Read Archbishop Cranmer

There's a great deal of irony that it was while googling Sir Thomas More that I discovered religio-political commentator/blogger Archbishop Cranmer. For those of you not up on your history of the Church of England (shame, shame), Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) was the first protestant Archbishop of Canterbury, compiled a good segment of the Book of Common Prayer, recanted his protestant convictions under Catholic queen Mary, was convicted to burning at stake, recanted his recantation, and died a martyr. Before that, he helped accomplish the divorce which Thomas More died rather than consent to (not to mentioning being part of the group that interrogated More).

Of course, I'm not talking about that Cranmer. I'm talking about his 21st Century reincarnation as an anonymous political blogger. His Grace, as he calls himself, posts regularly from a shamelessly Anglican perspective on politics in and out of the church. As is evident from the stream of testimonials on His Grace's page, he's widely read and respected in the U.K. (even Richard Dawkins has found time to emerge from his lair and call him "very nasty indeed"), and he presents a reasonable and intelligent commentary on most relevant issues, even when I don't agree with him. In particular, he has kept me up to date on the state of the church in Iraq (it's dire.)