FILM: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Branagh MurderFirst there are the moustaches. They flow out of Brangh’s nose, sweep across his cheeks and end up about an inch from the lobes of his ears. They are described by Agatha Christie as ridiculous and these ones certainly are. There’s a rather worrying moment when we see the contraption that Poirot wears at night to keep his moustaches safe. It makes him look a bit like Hannibal Lecter. Close your eyes at that point.

This being Branagh. Poirot is Branagh-ed, Branagh is certainly not Poirot-ed. Branagh is incapable of playing him as ‘a ridiculous little man’ so there is longing in the gazing at a photo of Katherine and there is manly striding and Poirot does clever things with his stick. The beginning sequence is extremely bizarre. Poirot solving the Middle East crisis while measuring the height of his oeufs. I’m sorry if that line is obscure but you’ll just have to go and watch it to see what I mean. I suppose the purpose behind it is to inform us that Poirot is clever and odd and it certainly does that!

The plot is changed somewhat from the book, which is a relief because if it hadn’t been there would have been endless scenes of Poirot interviewing suspects and going. ‘Làlàprécisémentmon cher and eh bien mon ami…’  and  nothing much else. Fortunately, we have introduced here a stabbing, a shooting and a chase and this livens things up no end in comparison to the book. In one scene Poirot strides across the top of the snow-covered train and he keeps his footing. Phew!

The settings are all very beautiful. We have a lovely train, we have thrusting pistons, we have steam and we have snow-filled valleys, snow drifts and snow falls. Yes, there’s lots of lovely snow and the scene when the train steams out of Istanbul is particularly gorgeous. I love all that.

Now to the rest of the cast. I could have done with a great deal more of Olivia Colman, a woman who can do no wrong in my eyes. Here she gets to order the fish, play some cards with Judi Dench and utter a few lines in German. I could have done with more of Judi Dench as well, if it comes to that, although she does look very splendid in velvet and toque. Derek Jacobi gets to say more and is as always eminently watchable.  Johnny Depp plays a rotter perfectly well and can do this kind of thing standing on his head so can Willem Dafoe and Penelope Cruz and Michelle Pfeiffer. The ones who stand out are not the starry ones but more Josh Gad as Hector McQueen, Phil Dunster as Col. John Armstrong and Leslie Odom as Dr Arbuthnot.

I was looking forward to the product placement episode that I had been warned about in a review. If you have not heard of GODIVA CAKES you will certainly know about them at the end of this film. And Poirot does utter the immortal lines ‘I lerve theese leetle cecks.’ It is a startlingly stand-alone line. It’s not even as if he says, ‘The knife is hidden in these leetle cecks.’ or ‘Theese leetle cecks are filled with arsenic.’ No, it is apropos of nothing that he lerves them. I wonder how much money Godiva paid for the privilege of having Poirot utter this line. And I wonder if the  cecks will follow Poirot to the Nile. I worry the chocolate might melt in all that heat. Mind you, I worry that Branagh’s moustache might get a bit bedraggled as well. At the end of the film Poirot is summoned to Egypt so we know that’s where he’s heading next. I think Ken will look very nice in the linen suit and the panama which he is probably being measured for as I type.

Would I recommend it?  Well, I think your enjoyment will depend on two things. First your view of Kenneth Branagh, who is in my opinion a bit of a marmite actor. If you don’t mind lots of close ups of his big, angsty blue eyes, you’ll be fine, if not, it’ll be a long couple of hours. Second, if you’re someone who knows Agatha Christie’s writing very well and wants a film that reflects that, the depiction of Poirot may well infuriate you. Probably best to give this a miss and seeks out the DVD of David Suchet’s version or Albert Finney’s, both of whom are much closer to the original.

MoustachesFinally, if you would also like to experiment with your own moustaches here is a lovely box of moustaches I spied in Paperchase. You can get to choose between six moustache styles: traditional gent, cowboy, rusty brush, Italian plumber, oil baron and Abra-Kadabra! (I know, I know but I’m only writing down what’s on the packet). Poirot’s incidentally is closest to traditional gent. This being my own product placement. Paperchase, darling, if you happen to be reading, I’m a writer so how about notebooks for life. Oh, and pens I could do with some pens as well, especially those fancy ones you lock in the glass cabinets. Waiting to hear from you. Thanking  you ever so, as Marilyn might once have said.

Have you seen the film? What did you think of it and Branagh as Poirot?

BEST OF ENEMIES

William Buckley (left) and Gore Vidal in 1968

Best of Enemies is a film about the ten debates which took place between William  F. Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal on ABC  during the Republican and Democratic conventions of 1968. It’s wickedly funny and anyone who’s interested in politics and the history of television should go and see it.

ABC decided to do the debates (live and unscripted) because they needed to get their ratings up. Buckley was asked who he would refuse to debate with and replied a communist or Gore Vidal.

So naturally ABC chose Gore Vidal.

The two men came from very similar affluent backgrounds but   occupied opposite ends of the political spectrum. Buckley was known for presenting a TV show called The Firing Line, he was the founder of the National Review, a right-wing magazine, he had been in the CIA and had written a book favouring McCarthy; Gore Vidal, had written The City and the Pillar, (1948) which was ground breaking for its dispassionate presentation of male homosexuality. The book had so horrified The New York Times that it refused to review any more of Vidal’s books. Vidal responded by writing three crime novels (with PI Peter Cutler Sargent) under the pseudonym Edgar Box. In 1968 the year of the debate he had written the novel Myra Breckinridge, a satire on conventional American sexuality and the first novel in which the main character undergoes a clinical sex-change. He had also been the screenwriter on the 1959 film Ben-Hur.

Interestingly, by the time they met in these debates both men had run for office  – Buckley for mayor of New York in 1965 and Vidal for Congress in 1960. Both had lost. Both men were intellectuals, both men loathed each other and viewed the other’s political views as dangerous.

Knowing that Buckley liked to wing it, Vidal hired a researcher so during the first five debates that took place during the Republican convention he was the one landing most punches.

He was also the one that didn’t sweat or lose his earpiece.

William Buckley, a good looking man with huge blue eyes and a somewhat unnerving smile, realised that he would have to step up a level. By the time of the Democratic convention in Chicago he was better prepared, producing a letter Bobby Kennedy had written to him containing derogatory comments about Vidal. Vidal, who was distantly related to Jackie Kennedy (they shared a step-father) had fallen out with Bobby Kennedy and now made some dismissive comments about the writer. Not perhaps the most diplomatic approach since Bobby Kennedy had been shot two months earlier.

Things finally came to a head in their penultimate debate on August 28th. The discussion was about how the Chicago police had dealt with people protesting against the Vietnam war at the Democratic convention. Vidal called Buckley a crypto-Nazi and Buckley lost it and said roughly the following:

“Now listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered.”

In the above clip things kick off about 10 minutes in.

The look of triumphant amusement on Vidal’s face is telling. He explained afterwards that he had wanted people to see the cuckoo which lived in Buckley’s head and out it had come. He had got his ‘Caine Mutiny’ moment. Afterwards Buckley was mortified that he had allowed himself to be goaded into behaving in that manner. The show however had been a huge hit for ABC and changed the nature of political broadcasting.

The following year Buckley wrote a long essay in Esquire magazine: On Experiencing Gore Vidal. Vidal replied the following month with: A Distasteful Encounter with William Buckley. The two men then sued each other and the litigation rolled on for several years.

Buckley’s TV show The Firing Line continued until 1999. In 1976 Buckley also turned his hand to crime writing with the first of ten spy novels, Saving the Queenfiguring CIA agent Blackford Oakes. There’s probably another post to be written here about the propensity for right wingers to write thrillers and left wingers to write PI books but I’ll save that for another time. In 1982 Vidal ran for the senate in California but failed to win. In this link below you’ll find a slightly surreal clip of Vidal acting the part of a senator debating with Tim Robbins in the film Bob Roberts.

This was a feud that lasted. In Buckley’s final appearance on TV the clip of him losing his temper was shown and he was mortified; he thought the film had been destroyed. An assistant to Vidal describes him watching a video of the debates over and over again like Norma Desmond watching herself in Sunset Boulevard.

When Buckley died Vidal wrote: William F. Buckley Jr RIP in hell.

Below is the link for an assessment of Vidal’s detective novels in the New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/gore-vidals-detective-novels

Have you seen the film? What did you think?