Last Update 7/31/10

 

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1992)

A popular dentist is shot to death in his office and Poirot finds himself drawn into the investigation. There's also a connection to the marriage of an actress to a banker in India, and the chance meeting of some of the parties to that friendship in London many years afterward.  It's not initially clear what happened because the marriage seems to have broken up, and there's a mysterious Indian gentleman whose motives are a complete mystery. The disparate characters are all drawn together by coincidental dental problems, including dentophobic Poirot. The dentist is killed shortly after Poirot, the banker, a friend of his one time wife, and the mysterious Indian all visit him. It appears initially to be a suicide, but of course that wouldn't make much of a story. One suspect is the secretary's boyfriend, who was on the premises at about the right time and who has a mildly unsavory reputation. The Indian dies in his hotel room before the police can even speak to him, of a massive overdose of novocaine. Poirot is told that the banker's wife died, but we have earlier had evidence that she is still alive, suggesting she may be a suspect even though there seems to be no way that she could have done it. Then the acquaintance disappears and the plot thickens. The secretary's boyfriend is also difficult to find - he's played by Christopher Eccleston in his pre-Doctor Who days. When another woman shows up dead, an acquaintance of the missing woman - or perhaps the missing woman herself given the damage to the body - there's clearly too much going on for the first death to have been suicide.  More twists ensue.  Another of the top installments in this series. 7/31/10

Death in the Clouds (1992)

Poirot investigates murder aboard an airplane this time.  Beforehand we observe the tensions among a group of British tourists visiting France, including a mysterious older woman.  The lattermost is killed while Poirot is asleep, and it's pretty certain that she was blackmailing the spoiled and unpleasant wife of a British aristocrat. The murder weapon is a poison dart, so it's possible that anyone on the planet could be the killer, although the bitchy woman is obviously the prime suspect. A woman appears and announces that she is the dead woman's daughter, but then she disappears. Various clues suggest the possibility that any of several passengers and one steward might be the guilty party, including a dentist, an archaeologist, and a mystery writer. Then the prime suspects disappears as well.  There are some moments of genuine humor in this one as well as a clever mystery and uniformly good acting.  This is one of my favorites from from the series.  7/30/10

Murder on the Links (1996)

Back to Poirot, who accepts a challenge from an obnoxious rival detective this time around, while he and Hastings are supposed to be on vacation. The murder - supposedly by housebreakers in which the husband is killed and the wife tied up - bears a striking resemblance to an earlier crime, for which the wife was eventually convicted of conspiracy, although this time the husband has apparently only been abducted. The victim had just asked Poirot to come visit, saying that his life was in danger because of the discovery of fraud in his international business. The actor playing the other detective is leaden and unconvincing. The murder weapon is stolen from police headquarters by a woman and it turns up stuck into the body of a dead man, although it was not the cause of death. A clever plot is marred somewhat by the poor performance by some of the actors, but the regulars are always great and the scenery is very nice as well.  7/27/10

Bloody Mary (2006)

Salvage (2006)

Mortuary (2005)

Memory (2006) 

Four grade B  horror films, fairly typical of the sloppy though occasionally interesting genre’s current state.  In the first, Bloody Mary, a group of psychiatric nurses release a malevolent spirit that can move through mirrors.  One of their number disappears during a pretty silly initiation sequence and then people start dying with their eyes torn out.  Almost competent acting helps a somewhat lame plot and the opening scenes are effective.  The gratuitous, and uninteresting, nudity sprinkled through does not, nor do the mediocre to bad special effects and frequent poor lighting.  The nurses know about the curse and when one of their circle suggests they tell the authorities, she is sacrificed to the spirit, and this doesn’t set off any alarms!  Meanwhile the sister of the first victim is trying to find out what happened.  The actions of the staff at the hospital in front of visitors is absolute nonsense; they’d all have been fired by the end of the day, nor would a visitor be allowed to remain alone among a group of potentially violent patients, nor are the patients allowed to roam around freely at night.  You can also hear a cellphone go off in one scene in an enclosed office, which was obviously for someone in the crew.  At one point, the heroine sees a phantasm of her sister, an extra power of the witch that is never explained and seems to contradict the whole idea of the mirror game she’s trapped in.  One of the victims is virtually torn apart, but the doctors describe it as self inflicted, which is patent nonsense, and the police aren’t involved.  And if the only access to the tunnels under the psychiatric facility is outside the fence, how did even a wandering patient get there?  Why can people just wander into the records room and examine confidential records? And how do two people not connected with the institution enter it, late at night, without being challenged, and without thinking it strange that they are not challenged, and in fact stating that it’s possible that none of the staff remains there at night!!!  If the totally unbelievable confrontation between the protagonist and her policeman boyfriend had not come so close to the end, I would have ejected the disk at that point. The cop also refuses to investigate when one of the nurses accuses another of murder. And it’s “Nurses’ Dressing Room” not “Nurse’s Dressing Room.”  The surprise revelation – that one of the doctors is in league with the demon – is one of the worst I’ve ever seen. 

Salvage lacked the hopeful early signs.  The opening is amateurish, poorly lit, poorly acted, and the soundtrack is dreadful. A young girl takes a ride with a stranger – bad move – and after some particularly inane dialogue he makes some threatening moves, then leaves her at her house with the door locked.  But someone else is in the house. And then he’s in the house as well and he kills her. Except then the story starts all over again, but this time it’s her boyfriend who picks her up and she has a vague recollection of the previous version.  The acting seems to get worse as the movie progresses – to be fair the protagonist does a decent job.  The next day Claire begins having strange experiences – her mother is acting strange, someone is digging in a field who shouldn’t be, and she’s having flashbacks to her dream – if it was a dream. Blood drips on her from nowhere and a hand brushes her shower curtain. By now the viewer has no idea what is going on or why? When she dreams (?) that she has been attacked again, she talks to the police, and I almost stopped watching because the interview sequence looked like a high school student film – a bad one.  She also discovers that her assailant was killed a week earlier. As events unfold, I began to suspect that she was one of his victims, as was her boyfriend, and none of this was actually happening.  Sure enough, she finds a news story about her own disappearance and then her own dead body.  The twist ending isn’t much of a twist either. 

Mortuary also showed bad signs early.  Denise Crosby and her two kids move to a new home where she has taken a job as a mortician – they’ll be living in the mortuary in fact.  The building has open sewage, chemical spills, filth, and is generally unlivable, and the mother’s acceptance of this after a minor objection just didn’t ring true.  The kids are stereotyped – hysterical young girl, resentful teenage boy – and while their acting is acceptable the script is only occasionally worthy of the effort.  There is also a gang of rebellious punk kids whose obvious role is to challenge the local legend of someone living in the graveyard and then get killed for their troubles while having sex. The perpetually laughing owner who greets them is annoying, but deliberately so.  I very much doubt, however, that a new mortician just out of school would be able to work unsupervised in a large facility but herself right after finishing her studies – particularly one as inept as this one.  Parts of the build up are effective as something stirs in the adjacent graveyard and Crosby finds a quote from Lovecraft enscribed on one of the mausoleums. Mom shows a couple of bodies to a pair of local teenagers even though she knows it’s illegal to do so.  Three teens disappear, two of whom return acting like zombies and vomiting black stuff.  Then more corpses start attacking people. Mom is possessed. The building is overrun by fungus. The lights start flickering.  The quality starts declining. This could have been a lot better with just a little more effort.  The pot smoking scene and the first attempt at draining a corpse were much too silly and there are awkward moments scattered through a familiar but not necessarily awful story line. I liked the sheriff, played as a very distinct and interesting character, although he doesn’t last long.  Generally a good cast, although one of the teenagers was actually 34. One big error.  The coffins are all supposed to be empty, but corpses emerge from them toward the end of the movie, and the “surprise” ending contradicts the premise of the movie.  Directed by Tobe Hooper.

The last of the set is Memory.  Billy Zane is exposed to a mysterious drug in Brazil after which he begins hallucinating/dreaming memories of a serial killer.  The cast also includes Ann Margret and Dennis Hopper, so the acting is clearly not a problem.  The script is not bad either, but rather slow and it takes a while to start taking direction.  There is a real killer as well, and the identity of that person becomes the central mystery, and the climax is the inevitable confrontation.  Oddly enough, although each separate element of this is well done, the whole is equal to less than the sum of the parts.  The psychological suspense is not particularly effective, the mystery is telegraphed, and the few really good parts only manage to make the mediocre ones seem even worse than they are.  Technically it's the best of the four, but I probably enjoyed Mortuary the most, despite its manifold flaws.  7/22/10

Cat Among the Pigeons (2008)

Murder at an exclusive girls' boarding school that caters to local and international celebrities.  Poirot is a friend of the headmistress so he volunteers his services when the killing starts. There are obvious tensions among the staff and possibly the parents as well, one of whom thinks she recognizes someone during a gathering but dismisses it as a mistake. One of the teachers struck me as very careless, racist, and ineffective for a school that is supposedly so tightly controlled and monitored.  Anyway, the nasty one is run through by a javelin and Poirot goes into action. An international conspiracy, an assassination, blackmail, a concealed pregnancy, an impersonation, jewel theft, and a supposedly dead person resurfacing under another identity are all keys to the solution. A variety of motives emerge and one of the students disappears despite protection from the secret service. It all sounds very confusing and requires strict attention but all of the questions are answered in due course.  All the usual suspects are gathered for a particularly dramatic climax.  One of my favorites.  7/18/10

Mrs. McGinty's Dead (2008)

Poirot is asked to look into the case of a young man accused of murdering his landlady when the investigating officer begins to have doubts about his conviction. He travels to the village where the crime took place and encounters an odd group of characters, some overtly hostile, some just sly.  He also uncovers a connection with a child murder from a generation past, who may have returned to England as an adult after leaving the country. Then an attempt is made on Poirot's life, which convinces him that there is indeed something to learn. I anticipated the most important of the clues but guessed wrong about who it pointed to.  Better than average production values and a competent cast for this one.  7/17/10

Hickory Dickory Dock (1995)

A series of inexplicable thefts at a student hostile coincides with a smuggling operation administered by the hostile's owner.  The kleptomaniac confesses, but some of the thefts were committed by someone else, and just after saying that she knows who was responsible for one of these unexplained thefts, she is fatally poisoned. Interesting casting error - the British actress playing the American student is unfamiliar with the American pronunciation of some words. Another goof: the killer switches the poison with another substance but when the poison is found, it is in its original container. There's some genuine humor in this one when Inspector Japp inquires about the purpose of the bidet and then accepts Poirot's invitation to stay with him. There's also excellent camera work in this one, notably the presence of a mouse at many of the critical moments. I guessed the killer(s) and the connection to a prominent politician, the latter of which appears to be only peripherally of interest.  7/15/10

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1990)

This is one of Poirot's earlier adventures, set in 1917, and it's the first time he times up with Captain Hastings - recently returned wounded from the war - to solve a crime. He accepts an invitation to visit an old friend, whose rich mother has remarried and split her inheritance between him and the new husband, whom he resents.  There are several other characters including a medical man who is hypersensitive to comments on poisoning. Poirot, meanwhile, has taken refuge in England along with several of his countrymen. Great sets and details in this one, but some of the acting - particularly Hastings' friend and the discharged housekeeper - is decidedly subpar. There's some marital infidelity and a quarrel between the elderly woman and her much younger husband, after which she is found dead while the husband is mysteriously absent. There's a small factual error; there were no American divisions fighting in Europe that early. Anyway, Poirot finds several clues including a fragment of a burned will.  All the obvious evidence appears to point to the widower, but I suspected that was far too easy, that the partially disinherited son was being completely written out of the will, in favor of her younger son, because of his love affair. I figured out most of the solution ahead of time but it was still pretty good. 7/15/10

The ABC Murders (1992)

One of Agatha Christie's better known Poirot mysteries pits the Belgian detective against a killer who provides clues to his victims in advance, in alphabetical order. The first victim, apparently chosen at random, is an elderly woman struck down from behind. Each murder is preceded by a taunting letter to Poirot. The letter for the third murder is inadvertently delayed because the address is wrong, which provides a clue - suggesting that the killer was looking at the wrong word while addressing the envelope. Poirot recruits friends of the first three victims to help him watch for the killer at the fourth site, having found another common thread. The randomness of the first three killings is a ruse, of course, designed to conceal the fact that the fourth victim was chosen purposefully and is in fact the point of the entire operation.  This was doubly unusual because we seem to know who the killer is almost from the start. The apprehension is a bit of a cheat; he is turned in by the housekeeper where he is staying when she spots him washing blood off his hands. Except there's a sudden reversal when it turns out he has an alibi for the second murder. He also denies writing the letters to Poirot. There's a clever resolution which I won't reveal.  One of the best of the Poirots. 7/14/10

Jennifer’s Body (2009) 

This horror movie about a possessed teenage got some hype, and it is above average, but primarily because the average is so low to begin with.  A group of teens – all played by people in their mid-twenties of course – includes the popular teenager, the nerd, and the usual supporting characters.  Although teens, none of them seem to have any trouble getting into bars.  Jennifer is interested in a rock singer, but he and his band want her because she’s a virgin and they can use her in a supernatural ceremony. There are comedy elements, just enough to make things unbelievable but not enough to actually be funny.  Jennifer starts eating her classmates and her best friend is the only one who suspects the truth.  The lesbian scene seems oddly out of place and the plot never goes b anywhere new.  It also goes on a bit too long and the end is completely unsatisfying.  Some good spots but they're overwhelmed by mediocrity. 7/10/10

Poirot, Set 2, Volume 3 (2006)

Another set of three short mysteries, opening with "The Theft of the Royal Ruby."  An Egyptian prince is the victim of theft by a clever woman, but Poirot manages to recover the jewel and unmask the thieves despite the obnoxiousness of the prince.  The opening set up is okay but the story involves a string of sometimes incredible coincidences and Poirot seems almost obtuse at times before uncovering the culprits, who seemed to me obvious from the outset, given the implausible set up.  The weakest in the series I've yet seen.

"The Affair of the Victory Ball" is considerably better.  Murder takes place at an elaborate costume party, which is visually quite impressive and a nice backdrop for the murder.  It's a mild cheat because there are two people working in collusion, which makes it almost impossible for the viewer to anticipate the solution.  Still pretty good though.

Finally we have "The Mystery of Hunter's Lodge", which involves murder among the members of a rather contentious hunting party.  It's one of those where there are multiple people with identifiable motives for wanting the irascible victim dead. Poirot is bedridden with a cold, but that doesn't stop him from sifting through the evidence and uncovering several lies. Pretty good solution to this one and a nice bit of humor at the end.  7/9/10

The Pleasure Drivers (2005)

Someone recommended this to me some where along the line and I finally got around to watching it.  Whoever recommended it must have been mad at me because this is a silly, disorganized, pointless piece of nonsense whose plot makes so little sense that I cannot describe it concisely.  Let's just say that there are two crazy women with guns looking for one another, and an inhibited therapist with an apparently nymphomaniac companion who show up at the same motel - The Big Cock In - at the same time as the two armed women, who have a ridiculous shootout in the parking lot while the other two characters either run around screaming or get a gun pushed up their butt - literally.  A total waste of time.  7/8/10

Poirot, Set 2, Volume 2 (2006) 

Three more Poirot adventures beginning with “The Tragedy at Marsdon Manor.”  An ailing man is found dead, apparently of fright, after his wife has several experiences of the supernatural in the same area where he is found.  Creepier than most of the other episodes I’ve seen, but the theatricals of the wife/widow rang false and I suspected her right from the outset.  Well done but not one of the better episodes. 

“The Double Clue” pits Poirot against a master thief after the latest coup, from a rich jewelry collector.  The criminal, obviously, is a Russian expatriate woman for whom Poirot feels considerable affection, so much so that he fabricates a phantom thief, recovers the latest jewelry from her, but makes sure that she departs the country to pursue her career where it doesn’t matter to him.  I didn’t care for this one very much. 

“The Mystery of the Spanish Chest” is somewhat unfocused at first.  A woman tells Poirot that she thinks a friend is going to be murdered by her insanely jealous husband. There's some skulking around whose purpose is not at all clear. The woman in question has a male admirer, although it is not clear whether or not his attentions are welcome. Poirot is almost absent from the first twenty minutes.  The body is found in the chest of the title, apparently having been there throughout a party at which Poirot was present. It's the husband that turns up dead though.  A little hard to follow at times, but the best of this set of three. Although some of these are less than thrilling stories, Suchet does such a superb job that I usually didn't notice, and the sets are invariably impressive as well. 7/3/10

The Hive (2006)

Ants begin attacking humans in swarms in this low budget horror thriller that opens with a silly exchange between two "experts" on the subject of ants. The ants, which can cover ground faster than a running human being for some reason, are CGI and the military initially confronts them with one flame thrower, which is in action for less than a minute. Next is a more impressive wall of flaming gasoline. Eventually they begin using some ant specific superweapon that dissolves them in large quantities, but there are billions more and they can form themselves into shapes resembling living creatures. A single ant inside a human being can also semi-control them. The ants apparently have a group consciousness and are aware of molecular structure, among other things. There are some inconsistencies. Supposedly the ants revert to normal activity when separated from the swarm, but that isn't always the case. Carping aside, however, this was actually pretty suspenseful and while the script was uneven the acting was almost at least competent. Some of the CGI scenes aren't bad at all, particularly inside the hive. The scientists are unconvincingly ignorant of science sometimes and the female scientist's reluctance to kill insects is particularly unconvincing, but they don't make egregious errors.  The second half isn't as effective, with a much slower pace and an obvious nut case mixed in with completely implausible communications. 6/30/10

Poirot Set 2: Volume 1 (1991)

Three Poirot mysteries, starting with "The Million Dollar Bond Robbery".  An excellent episode with great newsreel footage of the Queen Mary, upon which some of the story is set.  A banker is robbed of negotiable bonds during the crossing despite having the only key - supposedly - on board.  He's the primary suspect, obviously, but Poirot suspects that things are not as they seem.  The unraveling is clever.  I suspected but wasn't sure of the solution.  Suchet does his usual superb job as the prissy but brilliant detective.  The supporting cast isn't bad either.

"The Plymouth Express" involves a woman murdered and robbed on a train.  Her estranged husband was hard up for money and her latest suitor was involved in a shady financial transaction.  The dead woman's missing jewels are the key to the solution this time.  Poirot is more opaque than usual part of the solution involves an unlikely leap of logic on his part, so this one is mildly cheating early on and the solution itself is a complete cheat, introducing a character we didn't even know existed as the killer, and whom Poirot identifies almost by magic.

The third episode is "Wasps' Nest."  A friend of Poirot is engaged to a model who is under some mysterious pressure from a local odd jobs man.  They are also being spied upon by another mysterious man with a death's head cane. There's no murder in this one, but not for a want of trying.A suspicious automobile accident ensues. Lots of odd goings on but the story doesn't feel as tightly constructed as in the other two.  This remains one of the best mystery series of all time, and I'm happy to say I still have a lot of episodes to watch.  6/26/10

Quincy, M.E. (1977)  

The first two seasons of this medical detective show didn’t include a lot of episodes. The opener is “Go Fight City Hall…to the Death”, which opens with us knowing who the killer, a rapist murderer who has government connections.  Jack Klugman is Quincy, a brilliant but abrasive medical examiner who always has own theories. City hall, including the mayor, are stonewalling things and when Quincy goes to Mexico to investigate a similar and connected death, someone tries to kill him. This episode includes the famous scene where Quincy grosses out a class of police trainees in order to duck out early. Klugman makes a rather routine mystery a cut above the rest.  The same is true of “Who’s Who in Neverland” in which a woman is murdered to prevent her writing an expose, by means of a military bacteriological weapon whose use is never adequately explained. An actress dies under mysterious circumstances and a politician is accused of murder by the dead woman’s mother in “A Star Is Dead”, but her story is so patently absurd that I didn’t buy it when the investigating officer accepted it. The conflict between the two lovers is even less plausible, and the writing is in general pedestrian and sometimes silly, with multiple people committing perjury, implausible situations and reactions, and a good deal of nonsense.  A very disappointing episode. 

The mediocre writing continues in “Hot Ice Cold Hearts”.  A man is found in the water suffering from pain and his heart stops shortly after he reaches shore. Quincy is interested because “I never saw symptoms like that before.”  Anyway, the dead man was spying on a group of professional thieves when he was caught and injected with poison from a rare fish.  The plot is full of more holes than a fishnet. “Snake Eyes” is an above average episode in which a resort is stricken by an unknown disease while a prominent mobster is there.  I boggled when neither the police nor any other authority became involved even after it became generally known what was going on. The murder is almost an afterthought. Next was “The Thigh  Bone’s Connected to the Knee Bone”, in which a human bone turns up on a college campus and Quincy and the killer engage in a battle of wits and danger.  The stupidity of the police and the construction workers early on kicked me out of the story almost immediately, and the student protestors later didn’t help. There’s also a major blunder later when a football player who had devastating and permanent injury to his knee is believed to have died fighting in Vietnam – he would never have been allowed into the army. Not a bad episode despite the implausibilities. 

Quincy is on vacation when he runs into a town wide conspiracy to railroad the wrong man for murder in “Visitors to Paradise.” Another one marred by implausibilities. Two men assault Quincy making no effort to conceal their identity and the sheriff sides with them against all the evidence, even though he is not part of the conspiracy. “The Two Sides of Truth” has a familiar situation, presented implausibly.  Quincy is pitted against his old teacher who may be shading his testimony because he needs the money.  Quincy’s reaction doesn’t ring true at all, and his suspicion of fraud is based on the fact that a nearsighted man doesn’t have a spare set of glasses with him. Nor is much of the rest convincing.  

The second season saw the show move to an hourly format.  The set up is otherwise the same, with the same lackadaisical attitude about civilians walking into the autopsy room at the morgue. “Hit and Run at Danny’s” isn’t bad, except that the witness protection program would not allow a witness to be in the same city less than a year after she had testified there. Quincy doesn’t appear in “Has Anyone Here Seen Quincy.”  Coroner Hiro is the star, solving multiple problems, but the acting is generally bad, particularly the dizzy blonde. “A Good Smack in the Mouth” is a rather preachy bit about child abuse, not very good despite an attempt to fool us about what’s really happening.  “The Hot Dog Murder” is better, with a few rough spots, with Quincy convincing a murderer that he’s dying in order to get a confession. 

“An Unfriendly Radiance” could have been okay if they hadn’t decided that severe radiation poisoning isn’t obvious during an autopsy.  It’s prostitution and a maligned priest in “Sullied Be Thy Name”, mercy killings at a sanatorium in “Valleyview”, and a rapist in ‘Let Me Light the Way”, all competent episodes with bumps in the writing.  The show didn’t live up to my memory and if it wasn’t for Jack Klugman and Robert Ito, I probably would not have watched the last few episodes. 6/25/10

The Last Airbender soundtrack, composed by James Newton Howard, $18.49, 2010

This is the soundtrack for a movie directed by M. Night Shyamalan which is also being adapted as a series of graphic novels, after the fact I believe. The story itself involves a hero striving to prevent an evil empire from absorbing other, smaller nations.  The opening theme is rather understated, not at all what I was expecting based on the subject matter, although it ends with some more rousing bits.  The pattern continues with most of the other tracks.  The longest and most interesting track is "The Blue Spirit", although even that failed to hold my attention some of the time.  This is almost entirely low key mood music and while it probably does a great deal to help the visuals, it really isn't all that interesting to listen to as free standing music.  

End of the Line (2008)

After three weeks of mysteries, I needed to watch something a bit more visceral, so I tried this horror movie, which involves subway trains, a device I frequently find effective.  The movie opens with a dream sequence though, which put me off as it always does. Late one night the protagonist takes the subway and is among a group captured by an end of the world cult that is for some reason convinced that it needs to kill people in order to save them.  Except, as we will discover, that they have a good reason for believing what they do.  An above average chase and kill sequence makes up the bulk of the movie, flawed by script problems. The characters are oblivious to obviously dangerous situations and they frequently act so artificially that no sense of realism is possible.  There's a mix of competent and incompetent actors, plausible and implausible scenes, and the basic premise isn't really plausible until the end, when it's too late. The cultists - and there are a lot of them, just happened to be on the train - they're not traveling together, and they are all carrying very large knives, swords etc. The survivors manage to get to an underground locker room where they discover that all radio, television, and telephone services are kaput, suggesting something happened worldwide. Then real demons show up, although only for the last sixty seconds of the movie even though they're featured on the cover.  A lot of interesting stuff mixed up with nonsense. 6/16/10

Ellery Queen (1975) 

Jim Hutton was great as Ellery Queen in this short lived detective series, which I remember as being extremely well written and with a clever device – at some point in each show the audience is told that they have all the clues to solve the crime. They also managed to cram a lot of story into each show. The pilot opened with a short live radio detective series showing us how the sound effects were done.  The show is hosted by Simon Brimmer, a pretentious fop who serves as contrast to Ellery, and Ray Milland is guest star.  The 90 minute pilot has a multi-leveled solution that fooled me completely. It’s adapted from The Fourth Side of the Triangle, which was reportedly ghostwritten by Theodore Sturgeon and/or Avram Davidson. Brimmer is a recurring character, as is Flannigan, a pretentious roughneck reporter. 

“The Hard-Hearted Huckster” makes use of a familiar trick, a feint to obscure the time of death.  I spotted the killer right away this time but it was still an entertaining episode.  Walter Pidgeon, Ronnie Cox, and others are featured in “The Disappearing Dagger.”  An aging detective announces that he has solved an old murder and promptly shows up dead himself.  Ellery has to thread his way through the various suspects and find the solution to both crimes.  I was ahead of him this time as well, having figured out who the killer was and how he had disposed of the murder weapon in what was essentially a locked room/airplane. I didn’t guess the killer or the method in “The 12th Floor Express”, but it wasn’t one of the stronger episodes despite a tantalizing puzzle, a man shot on an elevator that apparently never stopped between floors. 

“Miss Angie’s Last Performance” is another one I figured out, more through analysis of the characters than logic.  A radio performer fakes an attempt on her life, then gets killed for real.  A nice red herring in this one but not enough to fool me.  RayWalston and Guy Lombardo are among the guest stars in “Auld Lang Syne” in which a businessman pisses off his partner, secretary, son, prospective daughter-in-law, and nephew all at a New Year’s Eve party.  Not surprisingly, he ends up dead shortly thereafter when he announces he is revising his will.  The dead man is not a nice guy but the others are all much worse. An excellent episode with some genuine humor as well as a good mystery, although it cheats because we don’t know the telephone number the dying man dialed – which is the name of his killer.  

Don Ameche, Anne Francis, Susan Strasberg, Craig Stevens, and others are the all star cast of “The Lover’s Leap,” wherein an elderly woman is thrown from her balcony, or did she commit suicide?  Not one of the better episodes, with a hokey solution and an obvious killer.  “The Chinese Dog” repeats a ploy from one of the other episodes, the murderer pretending to talk to the victim after he’s dead in order to confuse the time of death.  In this case, it’s the sheriff himself who is responsible. Ellery is one of the suspects when a bad tempered cartoonist is shot to death in his office in “The Comic Book Crusader”. It’s a bit of a cheat because it’s the Murder on the Orient Express trick of multiple killers, but it’s still a good episode.  I didn’t care for “Colonel Nivin’s Diary” much either.  A British novelist on a book tour in the US would not have brought two filing cabinets full of notes with him, but that’s the case when a former spy writes a tell all book and threatens to reveal more, before being found dead in his club room. Some of the acting is over the top in this one also, particularly Robert Loggia, who is usually so good. Since only one suspect had an alibi, it was obvious that he was the killer. 

“The Mad Tea Party” is a good episode with Jim Backus, Larry Hagman, and others attending a costume party out of Alice in Wonderland in a creepy old house during a thunderstorm. His obnoxious host is missing the following morning.  I started to figure things out just before the secret was revealed.  George Burns is the victim in “Veronica’s Veils.”  This one’s pretty good as well, although there’s no way that the viewer can guess the solution from the evidence provided. “The Pharoah’s Curse” is also very good, although I didn’t believe the killer’s motive.  A rich but unlikeable man dies shortly after providing a cursed mummy to a museum.  Ellery gets a very smart female assistant in this one; I would have liked to see her stick around for more episodes. 

A mystery writers gets killed in “The Blunt Object”, a lesser episode that is much too obvious. Roddy McDowall is a fake psychic in “The Black Falcon.”  There’s some nice misdirection, but the most vital clue to the identity of the killer is withheld this time until the revelation, although I guessed who was responsible for other reasons. A sparring match ends in death for a professional boxer in “The Sunday Punch”.  I guessed this one immediately and the motive came later; it’s another question of the timing of the death.  Pretty good though. “The Eccentric Engineer” has Ed McMahon, Arthur Godfrey, and others.  An inventor is murdered in his locked workshop.  Not a good episode.  The premise – that he’s pretending to be crazy in order to get some work done – is implausible and the secret door is a cheat.  There’s a flub in “The Wary Witness”.  A witness is shot and dies in the hospital.  The police pretend she is still alive, but at one point Ellery mentions to one of the suspects that she was killed. Otherwise, pretty good.  It fooled me and didn’t cheat. 

“The Judas Tree” is an average episode, but I guessed the killer very early again.  “The Sinister Scenario” features Vincent Price as a director dealing with spoiled actor Troy Donahue, who’s a bit too bad to be plausible. Real bullets are substituted in the shooting scene and he ends up dead.  I was also fooled by "Two Faced Woman" in which one painting conceals another, and an old secret.  Clever back plot in this one.  "Tyrant of Tin Alley" involves the theft of a young composer's music by an older composer who is losing his touch, and when the thief ends up dead, there's a whole crowd of suspects.  Nice misdirection with the dying clue, but we don't find out that the victim was color blind and could not have found the right item until quite late. And finally "Caesar's Last Sleep", in which a gangster is murdered while under police protection in a locked room.   The murder method is clever but the killer was obvious.

Most of these episodes are better than a lot of movies I’ve seen. Jim Hutton’s death would have been tragic under any circumstances and the loss of one of the best detective shows ever to appear just underlines that fact.  I'm surprised that this has not yet been commercially released on DVD. 6/9/10

Dread (2009)

Two college students take the unwise step of starting a documentary about what it is that people fear the most.  Unbeknownst to them, one of their crew saw his parents killed by a homicidal maniac and wants to convey this emotion to others.  You can undoubtedly see where the plot is going from there. It's based on a Clive Barker short story, however, so there are surprises in store for you. Although the story is fairly straightforward in the early stages, there is a jerky quality to the scenes that I found offputting.  I wasn't able to develop any actual opinion of the characters.  The interaction stopped sounding plausible to me during the scene when one of the two male leads breaks the other's watch, leading to a series of grotesque reminiscences and hallucinations.  The middle of the film drags quite a lot as well and the soundtrack is less than enthralling. There are hints of good stuff but the execution just doesn't live up to the potential and it gets less plausible as it goes along. 5/27/10

Lord Edgware Dies (2000)

In many classic detective stories, the plot involves the murder of someone whom everyone has reason to wish dead.  That's the case in this Poirot production, and Lord Edgware is in fact a thoroughly awful person whose death is no great loss.  Nevertheless the crime must be solved.  The first oddity is that Poirot was originally asked to talk Edgware into divorcing his actress wife, which he had actually already agreed to by letter, a letter that never arrived.  The wife therefore seems to be free of suspicion, but one should never make that assumption.  There is also an unhappy daughter, a badly treated secretary, the son who inherits, and several others who hated the man.  The wife did in fact show up at the house just prior to the murder, according to the servants, who had only met her once, suggesting an impersonation, and since we earlier met a professional impersonator, the connection is obvious. When the impersonator shows up dead a short while later, our suspicion is confirmed.  A third murder takes place while the victim is on the telephone with Poirot.  This was one of the more complicated stories, although the teleplay manages not to lose the viewer. I guessed the killer right off, although I couldn't figure out the motive. When only one character has a perfect alibi, I'm always suspicious.  5/26/10

The Reeds (2009)

This direct to video horror film had a more promising opening than most, a creepy scene of a man in a boat dealing with something unseen, and then the gathering of several characters for an outing, but for a change the characters aren't instantly dislikable and there's some good photography and scenery to boot. The acting is even competent. We know something peculiar is going on after two odd confrontations with a young woman along the way, but eventually our heroes are off to their vacation among the reeds in a rented boat. Not surprisingly, they get lost. The first actual violence involves a spike that runs up through the hull of the boat and into one of the passengers - and it's effectively done.  Naturally the cellphones won't work. There are some hallucinations which did nothing for me and just made things more confusing. It actually might have been better if they'd been real, since there's an implied time loop that held promise. The story deteriorates a bit later with the characters turning on one another accidentally and not entirely plausibly. It turns out this is a ghost story with some very effective scenes but there's too much extraneous stuff going on for it to be entirely successful. Still one of the better in the After Dark Horrorfest series for this year.  5/25/10

Death on the Nile (2005)

Hercule Poirot gets drawn into a romantic triangle when a rich woman steals her friend's fiance, then finds herself hounded by the spurned woman on their subsequent honeymoon in Egypt.  The newlywed woman appeals to Poirot, who is less than sympathetic until she ends up murdered in her bed.  Gorgeous sets in this one as the suspects and victims travel down the Nile on an elaborate riverboat and visit various sites along the way. As usual, it turns out that there is a very large number of people with reasons to want the woman dead - her new husband inherits a fortune, a financial advisor harbors a grudge, the jilted woman carries a handgun with which she already wounded her late boyfriend, and others have grievances less obvious. The gun appears to have been stolen just before the murder is committed, and almost anyone could have taken it. Husband and homicidal ex-friend both appear to have iron clad alibis. Then two more people are shot in rapid succession, each of whom apparently saw the murderer, the maid who tried to blackmail the killer, and an alcoholic woman who is shot while telling her story to Poirot. There's another plethora of despicable people, but the story is very good even though once again I guessed the solution almost immediately.  5/21/10

Robot Monster (1953)

This is a long standing contender for worst movie of all time, a black and white extravaganza whose monster was cobbled together by putting a diving helmet on a gorilla suit, with bad generic soundtrack, laughable script and acting.  Two adult women and two children are having a picnic in a gravel pit - Why? - when they encounter two archaeologists in a cave. Some odd light in the sky causes the boy to have visions of stock dinosaur footage and the robot monster and his equipment appear in the cave. There's also some kind of time passage because the monster - Ro-Man - has conquered the world in the interim, though he's still living in a cave.  Why?  Then we find out there are only eight people left alive on Earth and Ro-Man has to kill them. The plot makes no sense, with the relationships among the characters altered inexplicably, timelines different for different characters, contradictions, and just about everything else in equally bad shape. The director reportedly attempted to kill himself because of the reaction to the movie. They make so many movies this bad nowadays that it wouldn't stand out, but for its time it was an anti-classic.  5/19/10

Evil Under the Sun (2002) 

Poirot is recovering from a sudden illness at an island resort when he begins to suspect that there is a murder brewing.  Sure enough, a young woman is found dead on the beach and his vacation becomes a working one. The interpersonal conflict are apparent from the outset, and none of the characters seems particularly likeable. There’s some humor in this one as Poirot suffers under a strict regimen ordered by his doctor.  There’s an awful lot of spying on other people’s conversations in this one, plus at least two hints of extra marital affairs.  A cache of heroin shows up, possibly suggesting the motive for the killing, as well as two mysterious would-be bird watchers, a pair of old eyeglasses, and other unresolved questions. This is a mild cheat because there are two murderers working in consort, which makes it impossible for the viewer – or reader – to discover the truth logically, but it’s still a good story. 5/19/10

Sorority Row (2009) 

Another horror movie about a sorority where all of the members look like they’ve stepped off the cover of Cosmopolitan.  Just what the world needed. How’s this for an original plot.  A pledge prank goes awry with disastrous results, after which the members vow never to mention the incident again.  But someone doesn’t want to let it lie silent.  Why risk a new idea when you can retread one that has been done scores, if not hundreds of times before?  And as usual, the actresses are all too old for the parts, which is understandable in a high school movie at times, but not one about a college sorority.  One is 26 playing an 18 year old.  Part of the problem with this plot is that since all of the victims to be are unpleasant people who deserve their fate, there’s not a lot of sympathetic suspense for the viewer. The prank and the screw up are both pretty unbelievable as well. Some of the dialogue is so predictable I could almost say it before I heard it.  And unfortunately, the set up is actually the best part of the movie.  The subsequent murders are routine, unimaginative, and actually boring, and there’s no surprise or suspense in any of them. The plausibility level also drops as the killer seems to have psychic abilities to anticipate the movements of his victims, as well as to turn on showers remotely and so forth.  Nicely arranged garbage is still garbage.  To quote one of the characters:  “Oh, this is really dumb.”  Carrie Fisher should have known better than to do an extended cameo in this one.  The killer, who is supposed to be so smart, leaves his fingerprints on the murder weapons at every opportunity.  Really dumb. 5/18/10

The Final (2009)

Teenage revenge by the outgroup against the ingroup. Most of us can identify with that.  And naturally most of the high school kids are played by actors in their twenties. The popular kid snobs are exaggerated beyond credibility and none of the parents have any redeeming qualities either. The plotters are horror movie fans and they plan to put their years of watching to use by arranging a party for their nemeses which will even the score. Some of the acting is pretty good, much is too far over the top. Drugged punch incapacitates the prospective victims while the nerds don sinister costumes to conceal their identities and steal all the car keys and cell phones, then chain the sleepers together. Some of the staging and camera work was impressive as well, which helped mask the cliches. The hunting sequence should have been rethought.  It depended on too much coincidence. The plot begins to break down halfway through.  Even  when one of them escapes, they don't change their plan, and the leader even shows his face even though they've said they won't kill any of the prisoners, just disfigure them.  Not that the costumes do much to conceal who they are.  And the escapee happens to run for help to yet another psycho who takes him prisoner.  Potentially good start, mediocre middle, falls apart in the final third.  5/17/10

Five Little Pigs (2003)

Hercule Poirot undertakes the investigation of an old murder case in which a woman was hanged for poisoning her husband, who was having an affair with a model.  When Poirot interviews the survivors, we discover that the model is an egocentric and nasty person, but the stories all seem to confirm that the wife was indeed the most likely culprit.  And the dead man was no loss to the world either. Alas, even those who admired the wife believed that she was guilty. Nothing much physical happens in this one, but I found it far and away the most compelling of the Poirots I've watched to date, very much about the interplay among the various characters, the conflicting stories, and the obvious fact that the weight of the evidence notwithstanding, the dead woman was not guilty after all.  There's a nice confrontation scene and a clever unraveling of the mystery.  Some will be disappointed that the real murderer gets away, although not entirely unpunished, but the resolution is a realistic one.  5/16/10

The War Games (1969)

This is one of the longest of the Doctor Who adventures, and one of the best featuring the second Doctor, Patrick Troughton. He and friends materialize in the middle of a World War I battlefield, but there's something peculiar going on, and when they escape after various tribulations, they find themselves in another war zone and then another, both from disparate moments in history.  It appears that an alien race is abducting humans and using them as playing pieces in elaborate and all too deadly military campaigns in order to entertain themselves.  The concept is one of the better ones in the series, although I think this particular serial went on a bit too long.  The Doctor convinces a few of the people they meet, but the aliens have hypnotic abilities that allow them to re-impose their conditioning after only a few seconds exposure. But eventually the Doctor uses one of the alien traveling devices to solve the mystery but there are too many instances where events repeat themselves, and some of the escapes are very contrived.  5/15/10

Zombies of Mass Destruction (2009) 

Another zombie spoof, this one set in a small town beset by the walking dead.  First we get introduced to several exaggerated characters, sometimes genuinely funny, particularly the conversation about the Iraq war at the gas station.  There’s a fatuous mayor, a grump restaurant owner, an awkward teenager, a bigoted minister, and so forth. Some jokes are more obvious, like not noticing that a passerby is dead and covered with blood. The cast is unfamiliar but they’re actually pretty good in most cases, and the soundtrack is better than average, and there are even some serious sequences that work quite well. The pacing isn’t always even though and it could use some editing, but it’s basically well done. The gay couple trying to come out to one’s zombie mother is hilarious, as is the heroine assuring a kid that “nothing bad is going to happen.”   But my favorite line is “We have history’s greatest zombie on our side.  Jesus Christ.” Not great by any means, but better than I had expected. 5/14/10

Murder in Mesopotamia (2001) 

One of Agatha Christie’s better novels provides a more suspenseful adventure than usual for Hercule Poirot.  While vacationing in what is now Iraq, Poirot learns that a woman connected to an archaeological expedition has been receiving threats including strange faces at her bedroom window, and elsewhere one of the locals has been murdered after a falling out with an unidentified European.  The threats supposedly originate with her former husband, but he is supposed to be dead, and there is reason to believe she may have written the letters herself.  Several of the characters are engaged in one form of suspicious behavior or another, and the dead man supposedly had a brother who was very close. Then the woman ends up dead and Poirot must track down the killer. Then another body shows up, possibly a suicide, and the puzzle takes a new twist.  A pretty good adaptation but it’s a bit confusing early on because so many characters are introduced so quickly. The solution to how the murder was committed is particularly satisfying. 5/13/10

Megashark vs Giant Octopus (2009)

How could I possibly pass up a title like this one?  It's the CGI equivalent of the old Japanese men in monster suit movies. The opening credits were actually quite nice, but I feared from the outset that this would be the high point. As soon as the acting and dialogue started, the quality plummeted.  Among other things, whoever heard of an admiral personally operating the radio to a helicopter pilot on even a "classified" mission using illegal technology - and for no apparent purpose.  It precipitates the thawing of a giant octopus - shades of Godzilla!  The octopus attacks an oil drilling platform in one of the cheapest monster attacks ever filmed - jerky camera and flashing lights but no actual destruction. Then we have the giant shark leaping into the air to knock an airliner out of the sky - not plausible since it could not raise that much mass high enough to reach where airliners travel, and if it could, the impact would have shattered the plane, not simply knocked it spinning. The governments, of course, are covering up the attacks, for no reasons ever really explained.  When the oceanographer couldn't tell the difference between a squid and an octopus, I threw up my hands in disgust. Then a destroyer is destroyed - more shaking camera but no actual destruction.  All the effects money must have gone to the - unconvincing - CGI.  Then the military begins performing secret police operations in the US - apparently the writer is unaware of the fact that this is illegal and sending uniformed soldiers to make an arrest rather than quietly doing it with FBI or CIA agents makes no sense at all. Our heroes are interviewed by a government agent with some of the worst dialogue and acting I've ever encountered.  The scientists want to trap rather than kill the creatures.  Where have I heard that before?  But the plan is to lure the monsters into San Francisco Bay and Tokyo Bay to trap them!  Of course!  That way there will be no people around to get killed, or to see the creatures that the government doesn't want them to know about.  Makes perfect sense to me.

The science is painfully silly.  They decide to use pheromones as lures, but they don't know the sex of the creatures, nor would they have a convenient vial of pheromone from a prospective mate of prehistoric sea animals in any case.  Except they do, apparently.  We're never told exactly how they come up with it. Nor can megalodons swim through the water "faster than a jet."  And later it can't even catch up to a submarine. There's a superficial love story - also hopelessly silly - and the major operation brings back the idiot government heavy, whose dialogue and delivery get even worse as the movie progresses. "I keep thinking of Einstein and Oppenheimer and the magnitude of it," opines the female lead, who is going to set the bait personally.  "When the ice age ended, most creatures ran for their lives."  Oh?  That's right; the ice age ended on one distinct afternoon.  I should have remembered. More nonsense when ships fire on the shark.  When they lose it on radar they announce "target destroyed" with no evidence, and then it comes back and they all die.  And this ridiculous sequence happens twice!  And now that they've lured it into San Francisco Bay, it decides to eat the Golden Gate Bridge. We actually get to see one bite for a change, but from close up.  I guess they couldn't afford a CGI bridge to destroy. "My God! What have we done?"   And despite the artillery and missiles and stuff "it appears our weapons are ineffective" so they decide to use nuclear weapons.  There's also a really bad mutiny scene. And "hard right" is not what a submarine captain would order. Was this someone's high school project?  If so, they probably failed.  Inappropriate soundtrack completes the disaster.  Watch the credits on this, then turn it off.  5/12/10

The Monster of Peladon (1974)

The Doctor returns to the planet Peladon, this time with Sarah Jane Smith along but otherwise with a very similar story. Efforts are being made to create a modern mining industry, but strange deaths begin to occur, apparently the result of an ancient curse, although it's obviously someone a lot more corporeal who is responsible. The king is dead and his daughter is on the throne, and there's another chief advisor who acts the heavy and doesn't like the Doctor. The Doctor tries to make peace among the various political factions and nearly gets himself executed, buried in a cave, and otherwise assaulted.  As was the case with the first Peladon adventure, the script is decidedly subpar, and even the acting is less convincing than usual.  The silly costumes are bad as well and the sets are only slightly better.  The Ice Warriors are back as well, and this time they turn out to be as villainous as they were in the past.  Better than the first trip to this world, but not by much. 5/9/10

Iron Man 2 (2010)

It had been a long time since I'd actually watched a movie in a theater and I really liked the first movie in this series.  The second is good as well, but despite good performances by Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, I didn't think it measured up to the first.  For one thing, the plot was pretty much the same.  The two villains are a thwarted Russian scientist with an armored suit and energy whips, and a rival businessman who wants to cut in on Tony Stark's business.  As with the first, there is more time spent on various subplots than on the action sequences - which is a nice change.  In this case, the bad guy has a couple of dozen robots to help in the final battle, and Iron Man has a friend in a duplicate suit to fight on his side.  There are lots of plot holes - there is no such thing as fabricating a new element for example.  I also wondered how Stark can be the protector of America but run around unarmored where he could be assassinated at any moment.  There were also times when I sympathized with the senator who is supposed to be a bad guy.  Stark really is temperamentally unsuited to have that much responsibility. I also balked when the government steals Stark's technology, then somehow gives it to a rival company quite openly.  Clandestine I might believe.  Open theft blew me out of the story.  A mixed bag but fun to watch.  5/8/10

The Curse of Peladon (1972)

Jon Pertwee was my favorite Doctor Who, in part because I thought the scripts were excellent during his tenure, but I recall being disappointed in this adventure, as well as the sequel, which I will watch tomorrow.  The planet Peladon is considering joining the galactic society, and at a crucial meeting the Doctor and Jo Grant are mistaken for delegates from Earth.  Then one of the officials is murdered and the locals think an ancient curse has struck again, but the Doctor doesn't agree at all.  He suspects that an outside party is responsible, and in fact is is the Ice Warriors, an old enemy although not one of the major foes. There are some really silly costumes in this one, and the delegate from Alpha Centauri is annoyingly cute. Someone is attempting to kill members of the delegation to prevent the planet from up its sovereignty, and perhaps to manipulate the local government for other reasons as well.  The Doctor gets tricked into committing a capital crime and Jo is suspected of one of the attempts.  The Ice Warriors, on the other hand, appear to have reformed and become good guys, more or less. Minimalist sets don't help much and this feels claustrophobic at times, even when it isn't supposed to.  The complexity of the plot is pretty good but much of the dialogue is pretty bad. Not as disappointing as I remembered but still one of Pertwee's least interesting episodes.  5/7/10

Plaguers (2009)

I didn't have much hope for this one, but I've always liked Steve Railsback, even though most of his movies have been bad ones.  The description made it sound like a variation of the standard zombie movie, except aboard a spaceship.  The opening sequence, before the credits, with lurching figures pursuing an injured woman seemed to confirm that, as well as to suggest how bad the acting was going to be. I had to chuckle at the Star Wars type opening that followed - spaceship coming onto the screen from one side so that see it from the rear, but that's as close as it got.  And not very. Our heroes are space travelers, and not very ept ones. On the other hand, they probably couldn't make a career out of acting either, although the bad script certainly didn't help their performance.  Anyway, they're carrying this mysterious energy source that glows green that is so powerful that it can resurrect the dead, which is significant because their captain recently died and one of the sexy female crew members is acting captain. They encounter a ship which has been infected with a plague that turns people into monsters. The often inappropriate soundtrack does nothing to help build tension when the story really needs it. Railsback is the only likable character, which blows any chance that we'll care what happens to any of them.  They encounter a disabled medical ship filled with sexy nurses.  I see a pattern here. As the film progressed, I realized it was not a zombie ripoff at all, but an Aliens ripoff, complete with secret android crew member, distress call interrupting journey home, two maintenance workers who constantly complain, female protagonist taking over for dead captain who sets ship on self destruct at the end, argument about whether to answer the distress call, crawling through the air ducts, etc. Pretty close to plagiarism, actually, but the quality is so bad that no one would bother to complain.  Interesting that far future starships would carry revolvers as weapons and have cells that locked with keys.  Everything about this one is bad, flat acting, fake looking fight sequences, bad soundtrack, silly plot, implausible action, corny dialogue,terrible special effects.  The sets aren't awful, but that's the best I can come up with.  My favorite stupid quote: "There was one letter on it, in a language we'd never seen before.  It roughly translated to 'Thanatos'."5/6/10

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (2000) 

This is one of the few Agatha Christie novels I’ve actually read, though far too long ago to remember any details. Ackroyd is a rich man with lots of enemies within his family.  His secret lover has recently committed suicide, claiming that she murdered her ex-husband.  An anonymous call is made stating that Ackroyd has been killed as well, but no one at the house realizes it until the door to his study is broken in and his body has been found. There are early hints that someone has been fiddling with evidence to confuse the time of death, pretending he is still alive when he actually is not.  Poirot shows up at the critical moment – which I suspect is a variation from the book – and is one of the first to view the corpse. The dead man had also announced that he was going to investigate rumors that his dead mistress was being blackmailed.  Mention of a Dictaphone confirmed my suspicion that his voice from behind the closed door was a recording, that he was already dead.  Then someone murders the butler as well, and the adopted son – chief heir – appears to be the culprit, so naturally he’s innocent. Poirot makes no bones about the fact that he believes everyone involved in the case is lying.  Pretty good mystery over all, and I was wrong about who the killer was. 5/5/10

Point Pleasant (2005) 

This short lived television series was set in a small New Jersey town where the daughter of Satan – unaware of her identity – arrives dramatically to touch off the ultimate battle between good and evil.  The pilot is nicely done, with some noteworthy camera work, although it does try to introduce too many characters and too much information too quickly. Some of the dialogue is clunky and the interpersonal relationships develop too rapidly to be convincing and it started to feel like a soap opera my midpoint, with enough cleavage for an entire season. There’s the usual problem with similar horror films – Satan’s forces are so all powerful that it is unreasonable to believe that they would lose. I was hoping to see some new direction in episode 2 but the set up is so artificial that I wasn’t optimistic. Satan;s spawn is living with a local family while she searches for her mother in one of the most implausible elements – and the family dog hates her. More obvious cleavage shots – this town spends a lot of time on the beach and everyone is oversexed.  I managed a couple of more episodes, then watched the finale but I saw nothing to make me want to watch those that I skipped.  Bad acting, bad writing, bad concept, and murky logic.  Don’t waste your time. 5/4/10

Sad Cypress (2003)

Although I have been a fan of the classic detective story - Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, etc. - since before I ever discovered SF, I was never really a fan of Agatha Christie and I've only read about a dozen of her novels, including the one on which this particular film is based, and that was so long ago that I didn't remember anything about the story.  This is also the first of the David Suchet Poirot films that I've seen, and I was pleased to see that he was portrayed completely seriously rather than as a vaguely comic character.  The case in this instance involves the death of an elderly, wealthy woman and a younger one, both by poisoning, apparently by another woman who stood to inherit in one case and lose her lover in the other.  Poirot sees immediately that there is more to be discovered and does so in due course.  I spotted the real murderer, and figured out the motive, almost as soon as the second death took place, but it took Poirot's investigation to provide proof to back up my instinct.  The sets and costuming are both excellent. All in all a pretty good production, and I'll be watching more in this series.  5/3/10

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