Thursday, January 5, 2017

Location Work

Die Hard (1988): adapted from the Roderick Thorp novel by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza; directed by John McTiernan; starring Bruce Willis (John McClane), Bonnie Bedelia (Holly Gennaro McClane), Reginald VelJohnson (Al), Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber), and Alexander Godunov (Karl): The movie that created the location-specific action movie remains one of the ten greatest action movies of all time. And such a great Christmas movie. The actors are great, the action is beautifully filmed and edited, and a lengthy plot moves by quickly and explicably. It's not a short movie, but it feels short. 

Four sequels never recaptured the simple, almost primal appeal of Die Hard -- one hero, 12 villains, one building. Alan Rickman is a perfect villain for Bruce Willis' quippy Everyman -- urbane, funny, ruthless. And Alexander Godunov was a revelation -- a ballet dancer turned into the menacing mound of muscle. The satire occasionally gets a bit broad, but what action movies even attempt to satirize their stock characters any more? The idiot FBI agents are still a hoot. Highly recommended.

And Then There Were None (a.k.a. Ten Little Indians) (1945): adapted by Dudley Nichols from the novel by Agatha Christie; directed by Rene Clair; starring Barry Fitzgerald (Judge), Walter Huston (Doctor), Louis Hayward (Lombard), Roland Young (Detective), June Duprez (Vera), Mischa Auer (Prince), C. Aubrey Smith (General Mandrake), Judith Anderson (Emily), Richard Haydn (Rogers), and Queenie Leonard (Ethel Rogers): Enjoyable, overlong first film adaptation of Agatha Christie novel/play is fun primarily because of its actors, especially Walter Huston, Barry Fitzgerald, and Richard Hadyn hamming it up as retired Judge, Doctor, and Butler, respectively. Will everyone die? Does everyone deserve to die? How many remakes of this thing are there, anyway? Recommended.

Murder on the Orient Express (1974): adapted by Paul Dehn from the Agatha Christie novel; directed by Sidney Lumet; starring Albert Finney (Hercule Poirot), Lauren Bacall (Hubbard), Martin Balsam (Bianchi), Ingrid Bergman (Greta), Jacqueline Bisset (Countess Andrenyi), Sean Connery (Arbuthnot), John Gielgud (Beddoes), Wendy Hiller (Princess Dragomiroff), Anthony Perkins (McQueen), Vanessa Redgrave (Mary), Michael York (Count Andrenyi), Colin Blakeley (Hardman), Richard Widmark (Ratchett), Rachel Roberts (Hildegarde), and Jean Pierre Cassel (Pierre): The producers brought the 'so many stars in head-shot boxes on the poster!' approach normally used by Hollywood for disaster movies and historical epics at the time to this adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most famous Hercule Poirot novels. With a twist!

Frankly, it's a bit... soporific in its first half, as various clues are laid out prior to the eponymous murder. And Albert Finney is a honking, sputtering, too-jolly-by-half Hercule Poirot. The high-powered cast goes through its paces, nabbing a sympathy Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Ingrid Bergman along the way (even though Bergman had already won two deserved Oscars and should have nabbed a third for Notorious). It's an interesting movie, and something of a departure for Sidney Lumet. Lightly recommended.

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