Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Agatha Christie’s Poirot Movie Collection Set 6 Blu-ray Review

Featuring three all-new, star-studded movies starring David Suchet, Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 6 was released on DVD and Blu-ray from Acorn Media on July 12, 2011. The DVD release includes all three lavishly produced mysteries premiered on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery! on June 19, June 26, and July 3. ITV Studios’ Poirot has aired on ITV1 in the U.K. since 1989 and on PBS and A&E in the U.S. BAFTA nominee David Suchet returns as Hercule Poirot—Agatha Christie’s elegant Belgian sleuth of unsurpassed deductive powers and peerless viewer appeal— in three baffling new cases based on her classic novels.

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While Sherlock Holmes is my favorite consulting detective, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot is my second favorite and he is just as dedicated, eccentric, and successful as Holmes, but without his bad vices.  Even though Agatha Christie grew disenchanted with her creation and thought he was a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep” but her fans disagreed and Christie continued writing stories featuring him.  I believe I’ve read every one of the Poirot stories, and I was struck but how close these movies remain to the books for the most part.  Usually, the writers of these kind of efforts try to change things to make it their own which is almost always a mistake since it’s hard to top Christie or Conan Doyle.  For the role of Poirot, a variety of actors have portrayed the famous detective at some point including Albert Finney, Sir Peter Ustinov, Sir Ian Holm, Tony Randall, Alfred Molina and perhaps most famously by David Suchet who has starred as Poirot more than anyone.  This box set provides us with three different movies that feature the singular Poirot.   Now that I’ve called you all here, I will do my best Poirot impersonation and recite the facts of the cases, and then make my dramatic pronouncement on each.

THREE ACT TRAGEDY – After guests at successive dinner parties mysteriously drop dead, Poirot teams up with an old friend, retired stage star Sir Charles Cartwright , to ferret out the killer. Guest stars include Jane Asher, Art Malik, and Kimberley Nixon. When an elderly Cornish vicar suddenly drops dead at a party, everyone looks to fellow guest Hercule Poirot to solve the murder. But the Belgian super-sleuth sees no foul play, correctly predicting that analysis of the clergyman’s glass will yield nothing more than the remains of an excellent dry martini. Before long, however, Poirot is summoned back to England from his boredom among the palms and irksome children of Monte Carlo. Another death among the same revelers has occurred, this time, indisputably, murder.
With the help of two enthusiastic amateurs – his old friend, the retired stage actor Sir Charles Cartwright, and Charles’s jaunty love interest, Miss “Egg” Lytton Gore, Poirot questions the the party guests who are not without their individual secrets, compulsions, and desires making them suitable suspects: the gambler, the high-end designer, the ambitious playwright, the penniless aristocrat, the rejected suitor and the faithful servant.  Poirot works to unravel a perplexing mystery, building a house of cards, tracking a missing butler, and even tempts fate by hosting his own sherry party with the same guests.  With a murderer on the loose, can the Belgian detective, a student of human character and motive, prevent the final exit of another player before the curtain closes on the third act?
This is my favorite movie of the set and even though I had figured it out early into the movie, it was so well-acted and directed that I still thoroughly enjoyed it.  A lot of my enjoyment was due to Martin Shaw’s performance as Sir Charles Cartwright and I swear he’s channeling Sir Ian McKellen.  The direction by Ashley Pearce was excellent and fast paced which added a momentum to the movie that is usually lacking.  Not only that, but the staging direction of the final scene combined with the excellent acting from all involved was very enjoyable to watch.

THE CLOCKS - Lieutenant Colin Race, a reluctant spy for the Royal Navy, tracks down the celebrated sleuth, Hercule Poirot, to relate a tale of murder and espionage. Race first became embroiled in the situation when a beautiful stranger ran shrieking into his arms in a neighborhood street, horrified at having discovered a corpse in the house where she’d been requested for a job. The woman, a young typist named Sheila Webb, is now the main suspect in an intricate puzzle whose only apparent clue is the inexplicable placement of four clocks around the crime scene, none of which belong to the house’s owner, all frozen at exactly 4:13. Without an alibi and unable to explain away the clocks, Sheila is dependent on Race and the meticulous Belgian brain of Poirot to exonerate her and find the murderer.
Yet Race, under pressure from his superiors at the Royal Navy to solve a parallel  or perhaps connected investigation of a dangerous German mole, has lost his objectivity, too much the gallant champion of a woman whom he considers innocent. It is up to Poirot to take on the eccentrics of the crime scene’s neighborhood – the extreme cat lady Mrs. Hemmings, the milquetoast Blands, the arrogant Mr. Mabbutt, and the academic Waterhouse siblings. But the case seems only to further confound, and no one can even establish the identity of the victim…until a second victim is discovered. The clock is ticking down as Poirot strives to solve the case before the Germans can exploit their bloody intelligence and before the murderer strikes again.
This was a pretty good effort but I think the book it’s based on worked a lot better.  There’s so many plot threads and characters in this movie that don’t work as well on the screen as they do on the page.  Since there’s essentially two mysteries to solve, you get more bang for your buck, but I don’t think they pulled it off as well as they could have.  David Suchet is impeccable as Poirot as always, and a lot of the humor of the movie is watching his reaction to the insane cat lady and her multitude of cats that he’s allergic to.

HALLOWEEN PARTY - The imperious Mrs. Rowena Drake’s annual Halloween party boasts a special guest, feisty detective novelist Ariadne Oliver. But while a storm rages in the dark night and the children of Woodleigh Common play at horror inside the stately Drake home, Joyce Reynolds, a universally disliked girl, announces that she once witnessed a murder. The adults dismiss her and Drake’s vicious children ridicule her, but when she turns up face down in an apple-bobbing tub, her story of murder seems all too true.
Summoned by Oliver, who is now bedridden with a head cold, Hercule Poirot travels to Woodleigh Common in the company of rakish landscape gardener Michael Garfield to find the girl’s killer. With the knowledge that “old sins cast long shadows,” and the help of the spiteful crone Mrs. Goodbody, he delves into the small community’s past gossip and plentiful scandals, revisiting a forgery, a stabbing, and relationships ranging from “deeply unsuitable” to secret. With the dubious help of the grisly old village witch and the wildly speculative mystery writer Oliver, Poirot must investigate old sins and discover the connections between a years-old stabbing, a Russian au pair, and a forgery to unmask a dangerous killer, all before another corpse surfaces.
This is the most atmospheric and dark of the three entries and it’s Halloween themed proceedings add a welcome mood to the movie and its subsequent murders.  Anytime little kids chant it always adds a little creepiness to things. The movie provides a good mystery for Poirot to unravel with the help of Agatha Christie’s self-caricature Ariadne Oliver who is played by ZoĆ« Wanamaker, who is very good in the role.  This movie feels like it’s the most modern of the three with a lesbian subplot and shows an insidious type of evil that is more common today than when it was written.  Another item to note is that this episode was written by Mark Gatiss, who is well known for writing episodes for both Doctor Who and the excellent reinvention of Holmes and Watson in Sherlock.

Video (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

These 1080p (1.78:1) transfers are uniformly above average but lacking in consistency.  Interior scenes look very sharp and detailed, but outdoor scenes occasionally suffer in quality as some of the shots look soft.  Colors are generally good and flesh tones appear natural and consistent.  Black levels vary but overall are decent but not as dark as I would have liked.  For a trio of made for TV movies, these all look pretty good but they could have been better.

Audio (3 out of 5 stars) 

The PCM 2.0 sound mix is also pretty good but somewhat limited.  While the dialogue and music by Christian Hensen are well balanced, the ambient effects aren’t as well represented.  The mix uses the front speakers well but the lack of action for the other channels loses the chance to add some excellent atmosphere that would have added a lot to the movies.  I suppose for these kind of movies you don’t really need the 5.1 or more channels but it would have been nice.

Special Features (0 out of 5 stars) 

There are no special features for any of the movies which is too bad since that’s going to really drag down the final score.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

If you enjoy mysteries and good acting, then I highly recommend this set and the series as a whole to you.  David Suchet has created the definitive Poirot and he’s good in every one of these.  The production values are also very nice and it’s obvious to see the dedicated effort by everyone involved in these productions to make them the best they can.  Mr. Suchet has stated that he wants to film every one of the Poirot stories before he turns 65 and I wish him well as I’d love to see more of them!
Use your little grey cells and order your copy today by clicking on the image below!


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