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BCB After Dark: Looking ahead to the short term

The cool spot for night owls, early-risers and Cubs fans abroad asks what potential free agent shortstop you’d like on the Cubs in 2023.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the happiest spot for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. It’s our last show of the week. Come on in out of the rain. I hope you’re not too wet. I’m sorry that the Cubs were. There are still a few good tables available. No cover charge. Bring you own beverage.

BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.

So the Cubs lost a rain-soaked shortened game to the Rays, 8-2. Let’s just move on to the Pirates.

Last time I asked you what your favorite memory of Cubs legend Jake Arrieta was. The voting wasn’t really close as 53 percent of you picked the 2015 Wild Card game at PNC Park when Arrieta threw a complete-game shutout of the Pirates, striking out 11 and walking no one. In second place was Game 6 of the 2016 World Series with 18 percent. Arrieta didn’t pitch as well in that game, but the stakes were much higher and he did get the win. In third place was his first no-hitter in 2015 at Dodger Stadium

Here’s the place where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip ahead to the end if you want. You won’t hurt my feelings.

Tonight I’ve got a track from the new album by trumpeter Terence Blanchard, featuring the E-Collective and the Turtle Island Quartet. I’m not going to list all the musicians playing on this one because it’s a small orchestra, but you can check out the album and see the liner notes if you are interested.

So here’s “Fall,” a Wayne Shorter composition and a performance that will help you wind down after a crappy day. Or after a good day. Whatever you had.

The murder mysteries of Agatha Christie have always been material for adaptations, and there are two main cinematic versions of her 1937 novel Death on the Nile, featuring her famous detective Hercule Poirot. The first one was directed by John Guillermin in 1978 and starred Peter Ustinov as Poirot and the second one is a new 2022 release that is directed by and stars Kenneth Branagh as Poirot. (There have been several television and stage adaptations as well.)

Neither film is a great piece of art, nor is either film bad. They both set out to be a piece of star-studded light entertainment about a murder mystery and they both succeed in doing that. A lot of times I watch films like that to take my mind off other things and both films serve as pleasant diversions. While Branagh does fill in some plot holes and make some changes to the characters to appeal to modern sensibilities (and for some of the motivations to make more sense), the basic plot of the mystery remains unchanged.

Both versions are “old-fashioned,” in a sense, but Branagh’s version uses the techniques of modern filmmaking to make an old-fashioned film. For example, whereas the 1978 version was filmed on location in Egypt, the new version was shot entirely in London with CGI effects used to re-create the Egyptian scenery. But they are both stories about a murder (actually murders) in an exotic location with about half a dozen suspects who have the both the motive and opportunity. A genius detective, Poirot, collects the clues and solves the case. Of course there’s a twist. It’s basically the same setup as in Christie’s earlier novel Murder on the Orient Express. In fact, both of these versions are considered sequels to filmed versions of that novel. (Although Ustinov replaced Albert Finney as Poirot in the 1978 version because Finney declined to reprise his role from the 1974 version.)

Whether you prefer the CGI Egypt of Branagh’s version over the on-location shooting of Guillermin’s is a matter of preference. Branagh, as a director, has always had a flair for the big and operatic and the new version looks larger than life and bold, if somewhat unreal. (Because it is unreal.) The colors pop off the screen. The 1978 version certainly looks more like what Egypt actually looks like, but that also means things can look a little dull and drab. Since the plot is clearly more fantasy than anything realistic, I don’t have a problem with Branagh’s version looking like an elaborately-staged (and super-expensive) show. But I can see how some would recoil at almost every shot looking like an oil painting. Branagh may actually be taking a playful shot at his own film’s look by adding a character who is painting the scenery of Egypt during the voyage.

As I noted last time, both versions are loaded with big names. The 1978 version, in addition to having Ustinov as Poirot, has Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, George Kennedy, Jack Warden and Bette Davis. The 2022 version (which was actually filmed in 2019 and delayed because of the pandemic), has Branagh, Gal Gadot, Annette Bening, Russell Brand, Letitia Wright, Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French as well as a pre-scandal Armie Hammer (Or at least filmed before his scandals came to light.) There are a few more recognizable faces as well.

As you can see from the casting of Wright, Branagh keeps the cast from being all-white by changing Lansbury’s romance novelist character to a blues singer (Sophie Okonedo) and has Wright play her niece/manager. The only non-white character in the 1978 version is a bungling Indian porter (I. S. Johar) whose pidgin English and cluelessness are rather insensitively played for comedic laughs. The Indian character (played by Ali Fazal) in the 2022 version is a very literate lawyer and an actual murder suspect. He corresponds to George Kennedy’s character in the 1978 version.

Branagh rearranged the relationships between the lesser characters and the victims in ways that make a bit more sense. This is a big improvement as the motivations that make the characters suspects are now clearer. The 1978 version may be truer to the novel, but I found the 2022 version easier to follow, which is odd because I watched it first. Even having the more recent film as a guide, I had more trouble following the 1978 version.

Branagh added some backstory to Poirot and why he is the way he is. That means we get a glorious-looking prologue to the film set in World War I that explains why Poirot sports a mustache. The defining character trait of Ustinov’s Poirot is that he is always correcting people who think he’s French. Poirot is Belgian, and that’s a running joke of very little humor in the 1978 version. Other than that, he’s just a very smart guy who likes solving puzzles like a murder mystery. Maybe also feeling superior to everyone else. Branagh’s Poirot actually has some character development and some motivations for why he is the way he is. He also likes feeling superior to other people, however. He did not completely re-write the character.

Another really positive thing Branagh does is give a reason that Poirot is in Egypt and present at the scene of a murder other than “He’s on vacation,” which is what the 1978 version does. Branagh makes it seem like it’s just an accident that the great detective just happens to be there when a murder happens, but the truth comes out later and the film is better for the revelation.

But what really surprised me about why the 2022 version is better is the running time of the two films. Despite Branagh adding in this whole backstory for Poirot, the 2022 version clocks in at 127 minutes, of which about seven or eight minutes are the credits at the end of the picture. The 1978 version is a languid 140 minutes and there’s only a minute or two of credits at the end, as was the norm back in the seventies.

What accounts for the longer running time of the earlier version? To use a baseball analogy that we’ve all been discussing lately, as far as I can tell, there’s just more dead time between pitches. It just takes Guillermin’s version a lot longer to get from one scene to another. Guillermin version may also take a bit longer because whereas Branagh just has Poirot quickly explain how each suspect could have committed the murder, Guillermin has the actors act out the killing as Ustinov describes it. Those acted-out descriptions just aren’t necessary, although they do give the members of the all-star cast a chance to play a killer, even if it’s theoretical.

As far as the murder plot of both films go, it’s not that complex. I had no trouble figuring out what would happen very early in the film and I’m not particularly good at guessing mysteries. Yes, there are plenty of red herrings in there, but it wasn’t hard to guess who was going to be murdered and who committed it. There are some additional murders later in the two films that I wasn’t expecting, so the plot isn’t completely predictable. But after 20 minutes, I basically went into it like a Columbo episode where you know who the killer is and the fun is guessing how Poirot is going to figure it out. And while the killer and how they did it is identical in both movies, there are a few minor alterations in Branagh’s version on how Poirot solves the killings.

Earlier this week, I wrote that we shouldn’t be re-making great films, but rather flawed films with a good concept that could be improved upon. In this sense, even though it’s just a solid picture, Branagh’s take on Death on the Nile on the right track. He took a decent and old-fashioned murder mystery that was written in 1937 and filmed in 1978, updated it for the 21st Century and fixed a few plot and character holes along the way. The result is not great art by any means, but it’s a pleasant diversion for anyone who enjoys these murder mysteries in exotic locations.

Just because I’m not going to miss an opportunity to share Bette Davis, here she is with Lois Chiles and Maggie Smith in the 1978 production.

And here’s the trailer for the 2022 version, which plays more like a weird Depeche Mode music video than anything else. But it does give you some shots of the CGI Egypt so you can make your own comparisons.

The 2022 version is available for viewing on HBO Max and Hulu. The 1978 version is available on the Criterion Channel.

Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.

I know we just went through all this, but we can expect that the Cubs will be active in the free agent market this winter. While I doubt that anyone around here would trade Seiya Suzuki for Carlos Correa at the moment, the truth of the matter is that Correa has a much longer track record and he plays a position of need for the Cubs. It’s not like Nico Hoerner is tearing things up this year, even though he has looked better than he has previously defensively at shortstop. (Nico was always good at second base.)

Correa signed a three-year deal with the Twins, but he has an opt-out after each season. Unless he struggles mightily in Minnesota (and he’s not off to a good start), we can expect that he’ll be a free agent again this upcoming winter. The Cubs reportedly made Correa a big offer before the lockout, but didn’t come back to it afterwards.

But Correa is not going to be the only free agent shortstop on the market this fall. There is also going to be Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner and Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, unless they sign extensions before then.

So tonight’s question is should the Cubs sign any of these three shortstops next winter? If so, which one? Assume that they’re all going to go for huge money and years, although they may not get the ten years and $350 million that some of them may want. Just assume that signing one of these three shortstops will be a big financial commitment.

So which shortstop do you want to see playing for the Cubs in 2023?


Which potential free-agent shortstop should the Cubs sign next offseason?

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    Xander Bogaerts
    (7 votes)
  • 9%
    Carlos Correa
    (10 votes)
  • 34%
    Trea Turner
    (36 votes)
  • 49%
    None of them! Spend the money elsewhere.
    (52 votes)
105 votes total Vote Now

Thanks again so much for stopping by. Try to stay dry out on your way home. We’ll call you a ride if you need one. Please tip your waitstaff and tell a friend. Please hit “like” and the “subscribe” button. (I don’t know why I said that. There are no “like” or “subscribe” buttons.) But do join us again next week for another edition of BCB After Dark.