Sep 13 2010

Productive Weekends are Awesome Weekends

Posted by

And what a weekend it was! Saturday was spent mostly at InterventionCon, which was small but fierce, as they say. Although the entirety of it could fit into one room at Dragon*Con, it was well run and had a lot of interesting stuff packed into such a small space. I got some cool Photoshop tips from “Hawk” of AppleGeeks and the “revenue streams” panel helped me firm up some ideas for the new comic.

Speaking of the new comic, I finished a logo and general website design for that over the weekend as well; with the writing I got done on it last week, practically all that’s left is actually starting to draw the thing, which will probably start happening later this month, in between working on the various books. Currently it’s well on track for its intended launch in “early 2011.” I don’t know if it’ll be ready by Further Confusion or not, but I can safely say that it will be ready for Confuzzled.

Hey, did I mention that I’m “Guest of Honour” for Confuzzled? Did I mention how blown away by the sheer awesomeness of that I am? Dude. In another country. I win at life! 😀

*ahem* Sorry. What was I saying?

Oh yeah, the productive weekend. 🙂 Well, today I had been thinking of going back to InterventionCon, but in the end I decided that it would be a better use of time overall to actually work on the comics. My buddy Sirfox came over and he, Mrs. Gneech, and I grabbed some pizza and generally did the whole “art jam” thing; I sketched up some drafts of a comic adaptation of an Emerald Rose song that I’m hoping to put into Attack of the War-Cats, as well almost-finishing storyboards for a six-page bonus story in same, titled “Thunder’s Last Stand.” (We all know that Colonel Thunder is an amazing hero — but now for the first time we hear the story of how he got that way!)

Oh! I also just got in edits for “Blackbird Singing In the Dead of Night (From the Casebooks of Squash and Stretch, Private Investigators),” which has officially been accepted for the third volume of the ROAR Anthology series.

Last but not least, the weather finally broke. So yeah, it was a good weekend. 🙂 Thanks, world! I’ll see you in the morning.

-The Gneech

PS: Oh, and hey, the Redskins won! How about that last-second ending, eh?

Filed under : Gneechy Talk | 1 Comment »
Aug 10 2010

Praising With Faint Condemnation

Posted by

You may recall that I recently blasted the David Suchet Murder On the Orient Express — and I stand by that blasting. However, while I was researching that, I found out about a “modernized” 2001 made-for-TV version starring Alfred Molina, mostly by way of people shouting “Stay away! Stay away!”

Well, my curiosity was piqued to the point that I had Netflix shoot it off my way and took a look at it. And given my reaction to the last one, it may surprise you to hear that my verdict is: “It’s not that bad.” Or possibly, “It’s not bad for what it is.”

Is it Hercule Poirot? No. Let’s face it, the character of Poirot doesn’t really work outside of his historical context, and even if he did, Alfred “Throw Me the Idol, I’ll Throw You the Whip” Molina doesn’t really work as Poirot. He’s huge, he’s earthy; he’d make a great Larry Talbot. But a prim and dainty little detective? No. And for what it’s worth, the filmmakers seem aware of this: they downplay the eccentricity of the character, and instead introduce a pointless “exotic love interest” character to try to set up a sort of “Hercule Poirot, International Man of Mystery.” That doesn’t work either, but it’s not any fault of Alfred Molina’s, it’s just a dumb idea.

Made in the dot-com boom, a lot of the modernization revolves around technology: Daisy Armstrong’s father becomes a sort of Steve Jobs-ish software guru (as does his college pal, Arbuthnot), and Poirot finds several clues by looking up the Armstrong case on the internet — much to the outrage of many of the commenters I found about this film. But I didn’t have a problem with that: if you’re going to modernize a story, modernize it! I also think it’s worth giving the filmmakers points for addressing the fact that the “real” Orient Express has been more or less defunct since the ’70s [1], by having M. Bouc talk about his company’s revitalization of the line.

So, why am I more forgiving of this low-budget clunker than I am of the David Suchet version? It’s all about where you set the bar. This version makes no pretense of being a faithful adaptation of Christie’s work. Like the Margaret Rutherford “Miss Marple” movies, it uses Christie’s work as a launching pad to create its own thing. Does it succeed brilliantly? Well, no. There is some seriously clunky exposition and the only character to really make an impression is Ratchett himself. But at the same time, it’s not the slap in the face that the Suchet one was, either, and so I find myself feeling a lot more friendly towards it.

-The Gneech

[1] “The Orient Express” has a complex genealogy. You can still ride “an” Orient Express today, but it’s not the one Agatha Christie was writing about.

Filed under : Reviews | Comments Off on Praising With Faint Condemnation
Jul 12 2010

Murdering the Orient Express

Posted by

Some twenty-ish years ago, the BBC (and by extension on this side of the pond, PBS) began running a TV series based on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, starring David Suchet as the quirky little detective.

And it was brilliant. David Suchet perfectly captured the strange mixture of warm, insightful playfulness and cold calculation that made Poirot so formidable a detective, not to mention nicely embodying Poirot’s long list of idiosyncrasies without becoming quite the grotesque that other actors had tended to turn him into in the past. Hardcore Christie purists might grumble about the way Col. Hastings, Inspector Japp, and Miss Lemon were crammed into every story with a crowbar because they were “part of the regular cast,” and there may have been moments when the series veered a bit towards being a situation comedy that just happened to have detective stories in it. But on the whole, it was brilliant. And many people, myself included, said of this series, “Man, I wish they’d do Murder On the Orient Express!”

But that was twenty years ago. Poirot had a great run in the U.K. and over here, but eventually was cancelled as all good shows must someday be. Like so many other great TV detectives, David Suchet’s Poirot moved on to the occasional “movie special” instead of the regular weekly offering, allowing them to take on Christie’s longer works without abridging the heck out of them. Unfortunately, something changed along the way. Hercule Poirot, the quirky and offbeat Belgian detective who winked and chuckled at English society, became POIROT, ZEALOUS DEFENDER OF LAW AND ORDER! And his cases went from being charming parlour games, to GRIM CRIME DRAMA.

And thus, twenty years later, we are finally presented with David Suchet as Poirot in Murder On the Orient Express … and the series that used to portray Poirot so perfectly, instead gets it all wrong.

We start on a sour note with Poirot solving a case which results in a young and promising military officer blowing his brains out, spattering gore all over Poirot’s face. This scene, while unpleasant, at least has a hint of a precedent in the actual book; the scene that follows, in which Col. Arbuthnot and Mary Debenham happen upon a woman being viciously stoned to death for adultery, not only didn’t appear in the book but is completely contradictory to the deliberately-pedestrian way in which the the book starts. Things keep going from grim to grimmer as Poirot boards the train, meets Ratchett and turns down his job offer, and various characters begin throwing religion at each other and praying all over the place. (Do what now?) And Poirot finds himself telling Mary Debenham that the woman who was stoned to death “knew the rules of her culture” and that by breaking them she invited being brutally stoned to death in the street.

Wait, what?

The train may stay on the rails, but this script sure didn’t. 0.o The screenwriter (or director, or whoever it was making these decisions) was so intent on making a Big Damn Point about “justice” vs. “law” — whatever that point was, I never could quite figure it out — that they were perfectly happy to twist Poirot from a likable ex-cop who did amateur sleuthing as a mental diversion into a cold zealot who cares only about The Law (in capital letters) and believes that the slightest slip leads instantly to anarchy and barbarism. On top of this, all of the charm, all of the pleasant “conversationality” of Christie’s writing is thrown completely away, leaving only a bleak landscape where what little humor there is seems like a bitter jab instead of a friendly nudge. This Murder On the Orient Express has Poirot scowling and barely able to stomach the presence of Ratchett during the job offer and essentially refusing even to speak to him, instead of the book’s lighthearted exchange of, “At the risk of being personal, I don’t like your face.” By the end, both Poirot and the suspects are all nearly frozen to death, croaking at each other in grim darkness, and the presentation of the “right” solution to the Yugoslavian police is an angsty dark night of the soul for Poirot, instead of gently handing the decision to M. Bouc, the director of the line, and “retiring from the case.”

SPOILER ALERT: In one of the most egregious twists of character, even if it is a supporting character, Col. Arbuthnot, the steadfast British officer who was so upset that Ratchett was murdered instead of being sentenced to death by a jury of twelve, “the civilized way,” pulls out a gun with the intent to murder Poirot in order to prevent him from telling the police what actually happened — thus not only perverting the character, but also the whole damn point of the story. This, to me, falls under the heading of the screenwriter (or director, or whomever), putting themselves and their own desires above the work, which is something I always resent in any adaptation.

I don’t know the motivation behind turning Poirot from light whodunnit into bleak melodrama, and honestly I don’t care. But one idea that occurred to me was that they may have done it deliberately to distance themselves from the 1970s Albert Finney version of Murder On the Orient Express. That version is a grand symphony, a tribute not only to Agatha Christie but to the glories of old Hollywood and pre-war Europe, with the Orient Express itself all but waltzing across the screen in its own exuberance. What better way to be different from its exalted elegance than to be harsh and grim, right?

Unfortunately, for all of Albert Finney’s chewing the scenery in the 1970s film, he is at least chewing the scenery in ways compatible with what Agatha Christie actually wrote. The 1970s Murder On the Orient Express is an extremely faithful adaptation; one that even Dame Agatha herself was pleased with, after a lifetime of seeing her works hacked up and generally mucked around with. (And crying all the way to the bank, it’s true.) Admittedly, that leaves the makers of the Suchet version in a tough spot: how do you make a faithful adaptation of such a famous work, without simply doing again the extremely faithful adaptation that’s already been made? The key there I would think would be in letting it ride on David Suchet, with his subtle, nuanced, warm and humorous Poirot taking the stage instead of the eccentric, french-horn-laughing, wild-eyed Poirot of Albert Finney. Twenty years ago, when I was wishing for the David Suchet Murder On the Orient Express, that was what I was wishing for. The 1970s version had everything right except Poirot himself — the new version seems to get everything wrong including Poirot himself.

C’est la vie!

-The Gneech

CORRECTION: I should mention here that Agatha Christie’s Poirot is made by ITV, not the BBC; my apologies. It’s all “British television” to me. 🙂

Filed under : Reviews | 10 Comments »