Worthy Endeavour – Morse Younger and More

I never thought I’d live to see the day when a film would make me want to read a book. And, I’m amazed that I’ve never heard of Colin Dexter. To go by the films and TV shows, the books should do me nicely.

I’ve always loved crime as a genre. Specifically detective driven stories. Film, TV show or novel, I’ve dipped into these mysteries with fervour. Somehow, along the way, I ended up almost exclusively transfixed by Keiji/Tantei type J doramas or films.

The_Detective_Is_in_the_Bar_poster
“The Detective Is in the Bar poster” – Fair use via Wikipedia

And that seems to have held good as far as reading goes too – save that translations are rarely as fast output as subtitles. I have to thank Youtube for introducing me to snippets of this and that, from here and there, and breaking the spell. To some extent only, to be fair. Excellence, par excellence, belongs to the Japanese and none else.

So it was idle surfing on Youtube that led me to the Endeavour series. And to have, thus, found that Colin Dexter has written a series of detective novels featuring an Inspector Morse. While there exist films and TV shows based on the Inspector, more recently someone took it into their head to create a series about Morse before inspectordom – Endeavour.

The Morse series, film or TV show, are easy to find and you will quickly discover that Inspector Morse scrupulously avoids giving us his first name. Though the Morse shows are quite engaging, they are not really so well made. 

The Endeavour series, on the other hand, the fifth season, in particular, are an aesthetic pleasure and pure delight so far as story and acting go too.

Overriding all the other plus points in its favour, Endeavour boasts Shaun Evans.

Shaun Evans on the Pressures of Playing a Beloved Character like Morse

The actor is brilliant – mobile features and an endearing eccentricity of manner combine to charm. Think of him as a classy Hugh Grant if you must or whatever else can replace that Divine Disaster.

We watch him hone his deductive powers as the case devolves into a complex murder inquiry led by Morse’s new mentor, Inspector Thursday (Roger Allam, “The Queen”). A Jaguar owner and ale drinker, Thursday allows Endeavor to pursue his own obscure clues, which include first-edition poetry books and hidden crossword puzzles. Suspects abound — the girl’s boyfriends, an Oxford Don, a Jaguar salesman, various women and certain higher-ups.

Shaun Evans (“The Take,” “The Virgin Queen”) is outstanding in the title role. His Endeavour is edgy, with an incisive mind and a manner so neurotically insecure that he is lucky to be able to get to work on time.

Culture Vulture
Endeavour: Behind the Scenes | Shaun Evans as DS Endeavour Morse | ITV

… what separates Endeavour from other crime series. “It has this class about it,” he says. “The cinematography is exceptional…”

Cracking the Morse code

And that is it, in a nutshell – a visual delight, the show endeavours to do its best in all aspects.

Set in Oxford, the series exposes the viewer to visual experiences guaranteed to make you want to visit the locales and quaff something at one of the featured pubs or something of the sort.

Oxford_Skyline_Panorama_from_St_Mary's_Church_-_Oct_2006
DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0. Oxford skyline facing south towards Christ Church Cathedral and Tom Tower of Christ Church,  from The Church of St Mary the Virgin.

In the first Endeavour, aired in early 2012 , a young girl is murdered. Her boyfriend has, perhaps, committed suicide.  One soon discovers that there is rarely just the one corpse in the Morse code.

The police uncover secret orgies for the mostly high and mighty. The girls, on the other hand, are underage. Detective Inspector Thursday and young Endeavour go about it in their signature ways and the tale has a very interesting twist to it.

There are scenes which stand out in memory, reminding one of classical paintings. Rembrandt and Rubens influences…

Endeavour DVD Trailer – 2012
Directed by Colm McCarthy, and written by Russell Lewis

While the film is a little raw around the edges in terms of making, this is not something most viewers would notice and it has its share of scenes which can be framed and hung up on a wall as art.

Young Morse is not as alcoholic as his older self on the Morse shows. However, I’ve decided that British detectives and policemen knock back a decent amount on TV shows. And Endeavour tries to live up to the task. You might even design a drinking game based on glugging down one of each drink used on the show.

So far, Season Five is the acme of the series and I look forward eagerly to the sixth season.

You might want to prime yourself by viewing some Inspector Morse shows first but Endeavour is quite standalone and any episode is worth its weight in gold as an entertainingly educative experience – proof that quality is never a bore. Go catch some Endeavour today! Find out where to watch.

Endeavour_morse
“Endeavour morse” – Fair use via Wikipedia
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Train Orientations – Tracking Christie’s Orient Oeuvre

Retaining charm over the years, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, as book or film, makes a good anytime gift to self or another – the ultimate luxury being to read/watch it on a train. On the Orient Express!

With several screen versions, film and TV, to its credit, this murder mystery continues to engage. But has the latest movie remake run out of steam?

Book to cinema is a flight of fancy that many enjoy.  And train journeys have much more romantic potential than flights. Their lure is probably only second to that of an ocean cruise. Geographies whizz by. As the external world flees past, an internal ecosystem evolves. People bond and the inescapable closeness can brings out hostilities.

As it is, train tales occupy a good chunk of popular focus:

How to experience the allure of trains in literature
The Literary Express: From Agatha Christie to Khushwant Singh
Railway Novels: Sensation Fiction and the Modernization of the Senses

And crime on a train is a frequent favourite, on screen or in a novel. Train chase scenes are guaranteed thrills. We might even say that a crime on a train falls into the closed door mystery bracket.

Murder on the Literary Express – Top 10 Train Thrillers

Deemed to be among her nine best, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is based on real experiences of travel, including unexpected halts and co-passengers. Choosing the train as setting, she joins an illustrious line of writers who have staged their fictional dramas on the Orient Express.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula the vampire escapes by ship while his pursuers board the Express.

Next comes Graham Greene with his Stamboul Train and that is one book I shall seriously consider reading – on a train.

And this is followed by Ms. Christie with, first, a short story, and, then, the novel. Preview the short story on the Amazon cover below:

In Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot version, he boards the express and, obviously, there is a murder. Poirot is faced with ethical issues – and one of the movie versions makes much of this for its Catholic worth. So, this is a book that offers you, not only an adventurous ride in a very luxurious train, but also milks the moment for its moral worth. 

The reviews all rave over Poirot’s grey matter and burst with spoilers.

For my part, I will only tell you that, not only is the book inspired by the author’s own travel experiences, but she also used an event in the news to bolster her art. 

Charles Lindbergh was famous for many of his groundbreaking flights including the first solo transatlantic one. Details of the kidnapping of his son appear to have inspired Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.

The novel was written in Istanbul, in a hotel called the Pera Palace Hotel which has kept her room as showpiece. Now, won’t that make a nice pit stop on a Christie nostalgia trip? 

Christie made her first unscheduled trip on the Simplon Orient Express in 1928, after the failure of her 14-year marriage to Archie Christie. Already a seasoned world traveller, Christie left England on an impromptu solitary adventure passing through Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece to Istanbul.

After crossing the Bosphorus Strait, she joined a Simplon Orient Express extension to Damascus, then rode a six-wheeler bus across the desert to Baghdad. On the trip she witnessed her first archaeological dig, and met her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan.

From 1930, the Taurus Express linked the Simplon Orient to Turkey, Syria and Baghdad. Despite greasy food and bed bugs, Christie loved the scenery and adventure enough to take several more Orient and Taurus trips, sometimes arriving two days late, delayed by floods, breakdowns or border bureaucracy.

She recognised the five-day delay when a train was stuck in a Turkish snowdrift in 1929 as an ideal murder-mystery setting, and drew the motive for her 18th novel, Murder On The Orient Express, from the kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh’s toddler son in 1932.

Real-life mystery behind Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express

The novel’s plot has won praise:

Christie isn’t the one deceiving the readers, in the end — the readers deceive themselves. 

What makes Murder on the Orient Express’s iconic ending work so well

The first film version of Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express , made in 1974, was a success

The more recent film plays around with the plot.

Overlong and joyless, it’s the cinematic equivalent of a giant, opulent express train trapped in the snow, heaving and off balance. Buy another ticket. Skip this train. 

A Joyless Ride

However, the scale of the film is grandiose down to costumes:

Vogue met Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne to learn how she sourced the Thirties garments for the film’s female leads – from the missionary’s prim travelling clothes to the princess’s lavish jewellery.

Dressing The Women Of Murder On The Orient Express

There is also a Japanese version but I found it a bit laboured:

With such a history of remakes, is it time to call it a day? Or do some stories helplessly beg endless screen interpretation? If so, what is that quality? Even as we ponder, academics, somewhere, are busy disentangling such things and writers  and script-writers tussle with considerations of ‘best treatments’.

More to the point: What would be the best way to enjoy the book/movie? On or before a train journey? And let’s not forget the option of audiobook.

Now, in case you are tempted to do it on a train, what about the real thing?

orientexpress

Welcome Aboard – VENICE SIMPLON-ORIENT-EXPRESS

These days, one takes the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express precisely for the journey, rather than to get from A to B. Passengers celebrate wedding anniversaries, birthdays, and, according to Girotto, divorces, along the way.

 On the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, the murder mystery is not included

Playing Single – Double Trouble or Troublesome Triangle?

Coming from India, one tended to assume marriage was a popular and natural transition for adults. However, I soon found that, in neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia, many young women prefer being single. In any case, Japan is tussling with its problem of low rates of reproduction, a consequence of this reluctance to tie the knot.

It must surely be with this preoccupation in mind that there is a set of Japanese dramas which address the desire to forgo marriage and to embrace being single. Some are pure fun and some have elaborate stories. As with all J doramas, the point is never anything as paltry as the ‘story’.

Dokushin Kizoku – A Swinging Single / Noble Bachelor – is a 2013 Japanese drama that revolves around the world of film production with reference mainly to scriptwriting. Two brothers vie for the love of a mousy bespectacled girl whose script brings her into their world.

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Dokushin Kizoku

Two men and one woman – a classic recipe for the traditional love triangle. Who will win the lady? The real ladies man or the dyed-in-wool bachelor with no wiles? The girl is guileless and struggles to make sense of all sorts of mixed signals from her two eligible bosses.

Mamoru Hoshino (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) is the president and creative director of Kinema Etoile, a film production company founded by his late father. He is brilliant and has a keen sense for talent, but he is also peculiar when it comes to his personal daily habits. He has strong beliefs in being single and has no desire to get married as he likes to spend his personal time in a way that he chooses. On the other hand, Mamoru’s younger brother Susumu (Hideaki Ito) was previously married, but is currently going through harsh divorce proceedings. Unlike his older sibling, Susumu is outgoing and has good social skills. He loves women, but is not interested in long term relationships. Yuki Haruno (Keiko Kitagawa) has struggled with previous relationships and recently declined a marriage proposal. She has dreams of becoming a scriptwriter and believes that marriage will hinder her efforts in her pursuit of that dream. She is not against marriage though, as a matter of fact, she strongly believes in it.

DRAMA KING

Let’s take Mamoru first because I adored the role. Tsuyoshi Kusanagi has the typical fascinating face that marks an actor of quality in Japanese dramas and films. We have to bear in mind that the Japanese industry appears to favour actors over ‘stars’. Though they have their share of those too in ample proportions.

Tsuyoshikusangi
Tsuyoshi Kusanagi

He has a perfect life – from food to shoes. Yes, he worships his and wipes them with champagne. This perfectionism is what makes him sensitive in his role as editor as well. In that sense, he is obvious to us as the appropriate love interest for Yuki. Yet, his ingrained protectiveness towards his bachelorhood makes him a clumsy wooer. And that is exactly what makes him so delicious in the romantic moments. Some have found him expressionless which is tragic – it’s the subtle passing of emotions across his face, in his eyes, that charms as does the inscrutable sky with its swiftly changing moods. All this also combines to make him the key player in the drama where humour is concerned – is it not always thus? The more serious the actor appears the funnier it is where the comic is required.

However, his brother is the more acceptably cooler of the two. We see how women come and go in his life. He’s also struggling through a mind bogglingly costly divorce. Yet he knows the moves and now his heart is involved. The girl is so unlike those he normally dates. Who in their right mind is going to turn down this handsome articulate hunk for his odd looking tongue tied brother?

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Hideaki Ito

And what about the object of their affections?

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Keiko Kitagawa

Keiko Kitagawa has handled the role well – she flows easily from dumpy nerd girl look to deadly chic and she plays romance, humour and heartbreak to perfection here.

What the reviews say:

I love the movie leitmotif for this series. They talk about movies all the time, and they use famous songs from classic movies for the BGM. Even without the sensitive lighting of certain scenes, the carefully heartbreaking lines, and the sheer talent Kitagawa Keiko showed throughout the show’s run, hearing Audrey Hepburn singing Moon River straight from Breakfast at Tiffany’s is enough to break one’s heart. At least I think it was straight from the movie.

stormstalker

Contrary to its title, Dokushin Kizoku is not really about the swinging single life. Yes, it’s a love story that takes root during the course of a movie production but, in its own way, it’s also a circumspect tribute to cinematic endeavors in general. It has protagonists who are certified cinephiles who share a strong belief in film, not only as a form of artistic expression but also as a medium that captures the imagination and opens up worlds that would otherwise have been out of reach.

RUNDOWN ZOO

 

From the Title song

The Episode titles are cute: 

  1. Cinderella for a night! The royal bachelor falls in love!
  2. The end of the royal bachelor life!?
  3. The night you stole my heart
  4. The night I decided to never fall in love again
  5. Love comes alive… I will get married
  6. A tearful proposal
  7. The things I can do for her
  8. I can’t go back… The scar of heartbreak
  9. Goodbye… Everyone has a choice
  10. Love’s Conclusion

I hope you find a way to catch this drama – Hulu or Netflix might have it – for it is well made and engaging. As usual, for me, it’s a struggle to read the subtitles – I loathe dubbing – as there is so much going on in the background and each frame is simply divine.

My favourite scene is one in which Yuki and Mamoru are stuck in a hotel in adjacent rooms. They are each in a hot tub and looking out at the moonlit sky – simply heaven. Take me there at once!

Yes, Dokushin Kizoku, as do many other Japanese dramas, makes you want to get your hands on everything you see – the clothes, things in the background – and, most of all, to visit the locales.