Friday, January 13, 2017

"LOST" RETROSPECT: (1.23-1.25) "Exodus"





"LOST" RETROSPECT: (1.23-1.25) "Exodus"

If one was to ask me what was my favorite season finale of "LOST", I would be prone to answer Season Three's (3.22-3.23) "Through the Looking Glass". But my second choice - and a very close one at that - would have definitely been the Season One finale, (1.23-1.25) "Exodus"

Although I do not consider it to be my favorite "LOST" finale, I can honestly say that I found it to be the most emotional . . . at least for me. Many would say that the series finale, (1.17-1.18) "The End". Mind you, "The End" had its share of emotional moments. But there were many aspects of it that I found very irritating. I found some flaws in the script for "Exodus". But I felt those flaws were overshadowed by some great writing by screenwriters/producers Damon Lindehof and Carlton Cuse. 

I might as well begin with what I consider to be the episode's flaws. The Season One finale featured flashbacks that revealed the castaways' experiences during their last hours in Sydney, Australia, before boarding Oceanic Flight 815. Mind you, I did not have any trouble with most of the flashbacks. Some of them revealed the development in personalities or relationships for some of the characters. This was apparent in Michael Dawson and Walt Lloyd's two flashbacks, along with Shannon Rutherford's, Charlie Pace's and to a certain extent, James 'Sawyer' Ford's. Other flashbacks revealed the personal clouds that hung over Jin-Soo Kwon, Sayid Jarrah and John Locke. Jack's flashback served as an introduction to Ana-Lucia Cortez, who would have a major role in the second season. But there were some flashbacks which I found useless and a waste of my time:

*Kate Austen - Her flashback featured U.S. Marshal Edward Mars explaining his long search for the young fugitive. Basically, all he did was reveal to the Sydney Airport authorities about his cat-and-mouse games with Kate and her infantile bank robbery in New Mexico. Yawn!

*Sun-Hwa Kwon - Her flashback merely confirmed her original secret knowledge of English via her understanding of the racist American couple who seemed to harbor clich├ęs about Asian marriages.

*Hugo "Hurley" Reyes - His flashbacks consisted of a series of minor incidents that nearly causes him to miss Oceanic Flight 815. Was it Lindehof and Cuse's intent for the audience to view Hurley's experiences with the ironic view that he would have been better off by missing the flight? I do not know. Then again, I do not care.

Not only did I find Kate's flashback a bore, I found some of her actions in this episode rather . . . peculiar. Okay, I had no problem with her decision to accompany Jack and Locke to the Black Rock. She wanted to help. Okay. But following Leslie Artz's death, she decided that she wanted to be one of the two to carry the dynamite in her backpack:

LOCKE: It's not smart to keep it all together. So, we split them up. If we need 3 sticks to blow the hinge then we should bring 6 -- 3 and 3 -- failsafe, in case one of us...

JACK: You and me, then.

KATE: No, I'm -- I'm taking one.

JACK: It's not going to happen, no.

KATE: This is why I came.

JACK: Then, you wasted a trip.


I realize that the castaways' leader, Jack Shephard was being controlling. But why on earth was it necessary for Kate to carry some of the dynamite? Why on earth would a woman with the survival instinct of a well-trained mercenary want to risk her life to carry a bunch of unstable sticks of dynamite? Cuse and Lindehof never made Kate's reasons clear. Poor Evangeline Lilly. She really had to put up with a lot of shit from those two. 

At the beginning of the episode, Danielle Rousseau appeared at the Losties' camp with news that the Others were going to attack their camp. After accompanying Jack's expedition to the Black Rock, she returned to the Losties' camp with the intent to steal baby Aaron in order to exchange him for her long missing daughter, Alex. When Sayid and Charlie finally caught up with her and Aaron, she revealed that she 'did' hear whispering about the Others coming for the "boy". As it turned out, the Others were after Walt. And they snatched him from the raft that Michael, Sawyer and Jin used in their attempt to leave the island. But . . . why did they snatch Walt? More importantly, how did they know that he was special? I doubt that Others spy Ethan Spy had found out. He spent most of his time with the Losties keeping an eye on Claire Littleton, who was pregnant during his stay with them. If Cuse and Lindehof did reveal the details behind Ben Linus' decision to order Walt's kidnapping, they failed to do so in any of the series' 121 episodes. 

Thankfully, "Exodus" was filled with so many memorable scenes and moments that I am willing to forgive Cuse and Lindehof some of the episode's missteps. As I had stated earlier, this episode was filled with some very emotional moments. My favorite included Sawyer's revelation to Jack about his meeting with the latter's now deceased father back in Australia. Superb acting by both Josh Holloway and Matthew Fox. Another great moment featured Walt's decision to hand over his dog Vincent to the greiving Shannon. Neither Malcolm David Kelley or Maggie Grace had ever received any recognition for their acting. Well, perhaps Kelley did once. Yet, both of them gave some of their best performances in this scene - especially Grace. But who gave the best performances in the episode? For me, the honors should have went to Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim as the castaways' estranged Korean couple. The couple finally reconciled over their matter regarding Sun's secret ability to speak English in a very emotional moment that featured tears, hugs and superb acting by the two. In fact, I am still wondering why the two Kims had never received any major acting nominations for their performances on the show. Both Fox and Terry O'Quinn gave excellent performances in an interesting scene in which Jack questioned John Locke about his penchant for revolving his life around the island's mysteries.

Many fans have claimed that strong characterization has always been the major strength on "LOST". Perhaps. But there have been many times during the series' six season run in which some of the characterization seemed to have declined. Think (2.04) "Everybody Hates Hugo"(3.09) "Stranger in a Strange Land"(4.04) "Eggtown" or (4.06) "The Other Woman". But when it came to action-oriented scenes and story arcs, "LOST" was truly in its element. And "Exodus" had its share of memorable action-oriented scenes and one truly chilling one. 

My favorite action scenes included the expedition to the Black Rock, Leslie Artz's death, and Sayid and Charlie's search for Danielle and the kidnapped Aaron. However, one of the better scenes featured the Black Rock expedition's encounter with the Smoke Monster (aka the Man in Black) and the latter's attempt to drag Locke into some hole. When I think about it, some of the most effective action scenes during the series' first four seasons featured the Smoke Monster. But not even the Smoke Monster's attack upon Locke, Jack, Kate and Hurley was nothing in compare to what happened to the castaways on Michael's raft. In what I believe to be one of the most chilling scenes in the series' history, Walt ended up being kidnapped by the Others. Between the night setting, the violent attack upon the raft passengers and Walt's cries as he was being carried away by his kidnappers still leaves chills within me, even after six years.

My recent viewing of "Exodus" also left me pondering about some of the characters and events. While my family and I were watching those moments leading up to Walt's kidnapping, we found ourselves openly wondering what would have happened if Sawyer and Walt had not convinced Michael to fire that flare gun. Because once he did, the Others managed to find them within minutes. While reading some of the reviews and posts about this episode, I noticed that back in 2005, many assumed that Charlie would resume taking drugs after he found the Virgin Mary statuettes filled with heroin. Considering how Locke "helped" Charlie get over his drug addiction in (1.06) "House of the Rising Sun", I am not surprised that Charlie took one of those statuettes. In fact, I believe that Charlie did the right thing. Only he could really help himself get over his drug addiction. All Locke did was manipulate him into doing something that he had never volunteered to do in the first place. That is not real help.

Jack may be a controlling and doubting ass at times, but I found myself sympathizing with him during his conversation with Locke about the island. The fact that Locke believed that opening the hatch would lead to his "destiny" and his willingness to be dragged away by the Smoke Monster made me realize that the latter had been right in Season Six - Locke was a chump. He had spent most of his time on the island believing that he had to delve its mysteries in order to achieve some kind of destiny and the position of being special. And when Locke told Jack that the late Boone Carlyle had been a sacrifice that the island demanded, I am surprised that the good doctor managed to refrain from shooting him. If I had been in Jack's shoes, I would have shot him. I realize that it would have been the wrong thing to do, but I still would have shot him. I just do not see how Locke could justify Boone's death in that manner. 

"Exodus" has its flaws that I found worthy of a head shake, including some questionable flashbacks and the story arc featuring Kate and the dynamite sticks. But most of the episode featured some excellent writing that included great emotional moments and action sequences, along with first-rate acting by most of the cast. Not surprisingly, it is not only one of my favorite season finales of "LOST", but also one of my favorite episodes period.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

"FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD" (1967) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD", the 1967 adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel. Directed by John Schlesinger, the movie starred Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch and Alan Bates: 


"FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD" (1967) Photo Gallery

























































































































Saturday, December 31, 2016

"DANIEL DERONDA" (2002) Review

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"DANIEL DERONDA" (2002) Review

With the exception of the 1994 miniseries, "MIDDLEMARCH", I am not that familiar with any movie or television adaptations of George Eliot's works. I finally decided to overlook my earlier lack of interest in Eliot's final novel, "Daniel Deronda" and watch the television version that aired back in 2002. 

This adaptation of Eliot's 1876 novel was set during the same decade of its publication, although the literary version was set a decade earlier - during the 1860s. Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Tom Hooper, "DANIEL DERONDA" contained two major plot arcs, united by the story's title character. In fact, Davies followed Eliot's narrative structure by starting its tale mid-way. The miniseries began in the fictional town of Leubronn, Germany with the meeting of Daniel Deronda, the ward of a wealthy landowner; and the oldest daughter of an impoverished, yet respectable family, Gwendolen Harleth. The two meet inside a casino, where Gwendolen manages to lose a good deal of money at roulette. When she learns that her family has become financially ruined, Gwendolen pawns her necklace and considers another round of gambling to make her fortune. However, Daniel, who became attracted to her, redeemed the necklace for her. The story then flashes back several months to the pair's back stories.

Following the death of her stepfather, Gwendolen and her family moves to a new neighborhood, where she meets Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, a taciturn and calculating man who proposes marriage safter their first meeting. Although originally tempted to be courted by Grandcourt, Gwendolen eventually flees to Germany after learning about Grandcourt's mistress, Lydia Glasher and their children. Meanwhile, Daniel is in the process of wondering what to do with his life, when he prevents a beautiful Jewish singer named Milah Lapidoth from committing suicide. Kidnapped by her father as a child and forced into an acting troupe, Milah finally fled from him when she discovered his plans to sell her into prostitution. Daniel undertakes to help Milah find her mother and brother in London's Jewish community before he departs for Germany with his guardian, Sir Hugo Mallinger. Although Daniel and Gwendolen are attracted to each other, she eventually marries the emotionally abusive Grandcourt out of desperation, and he continues his search for Milah's family and becomes further acquainted with London's Jewish community. Because Grandcourt is Sir Hugo's heir presumptive, Daniel and Gwendolen's paths cross on several occasions.

There are times when I find myself wondering if there is any true description of Eliot's tale. On one hand, it seemed to be an exploration of Jewish culture through the eyes of the Daniel Deronda character. On the other hand, it seemed like an exploration of an abusive marriage between a previously spoiled young woman who finds herself out of her depth and a cold and manipulative man. Most critics and viewers seemed more interested in the plotline regarding Gwendolen's marriage to Henleigh Grandcourt. At the same time, these same critics and viewers have criticized Eliot's exploration of Jewish culture through Daniel's eyes, judging it as dull and a millstone around the production's neck. When I first saw "DANIEL DERONDA", I had felt the same. But after this second viewing, I am not so sure if I would completely agree with them.

Do not get me wrong. I thought Andrew Davies, Tom Hopper and the cast did an excellent job of translating Gwendolen's story arc to the screen. I was especially transfixed in watching how the arrogant and spoiled found herself drawn into a marriage with a controlling and sadistic man like Henleigh Grandcourt. However by the first half ofEpisode Three, I found myself growing rather weary of watching Hugh Bonneville stare icily into the camera, while Romola Garai trembled before him. Only Gwendolen's pathetic attempts to rattle her husband and Grandcourt's jealousy of Daniel provided any relief from the constant mental sadism between the pair. In contrast, Daniel's interest in Milah, her Jewish ancestry and especially his confusion over his own identity struck me as surprisingly interesting. I also found the conflict between Daniel's growing interest in Judaism and his godfather's determination to mold him into an "English gentleman" also fascinating. When I first saw "DANIEL DERONDA", I thought it could have benefited from a fourth episode. Or . . . the producers could have stretched the second and third episodes to at least 75 or 90 minutes each. But you know what? Upon my second viewing, I realized I had no problems with the production's running time. Besides, I do not think I could have endured another episode of the Grandcourts' marriage. 

I have to give George Eliot for creating an interesting novel about self-discovery . . . especially for the two main characters, Daniel Deronda and Gwendolen Harleth. And I want to also credit screenwriter Andrew Davies for his first-rate translation of Eliot's novel to the television screen. I would not say that Davies' work was perfect, but then neither was Eliot's novel. I have to praise both the novelist and the screenwriter for effectively conveying Daniel's confusion over his own identity and his fascination toward a new culture and how both will eventually converge as one by the end of the story. Although Gwendolen plays a part in Daniel's inner culture clash, she has her own struggles. I do not simply refer to her struggles to endure Grandcourt's emotional control over her. I also refer to Gwendolen's moral conflict - one in which she had earlier lost when she had agreed to marry Grandcourt. But a trip to Italy will eventually give her a second chance to resolve her conflict. On the other hand, I do have some quibbles about Davies' screenplay. Daniel was not the only character who had developed feelings for Milah. So did his close friend, Hans Meyrick. Unfortunately, Davies' screenplay did little to explore Hans' feelings for Milah and toward her relationship with Daniel. Speaking of Milah, I could not help but feel fascinated by her backstory regarding her relationship with her father. In many ways, it struck me as a lot more traumatic than Gwendolen's marriage to Grandcourt. A part of me wishes that Eliot had explored this part of Milah's life in her novel. Speaking of Milah, Episode Two ended on an interesting note in which she finally became aware of the emotional connection between Daniel and Gwendolen. And yet, the story never followed through on this emotional and character development. Which I feel is a damn shame.

Some fans and critics have expressed regret that Daniel ends up marrying Milah, instead of Gwendolen. After all, Eliot allowed two other characters to form a mixed marriage - the Jewish musician Herr Klesmer and one of Gwendolen's friends, Catherine Arrowpoint. Surely, she could have allowed Daniel and Gwendolen to marry. I do believe that they had a point. I feel that Daniel and Gwendolen would have made emotionally satisfying partners for each other. But if I must be honest, I can say the same about Daniel and Milah. I believe the two women represented choices in lifestyles for Daniel. Gwendolen represented the lifestyle that both Sir Hugo and Daniel's mother wanted him to pursue - namely that of an upper-class English gentleman. Milah represented a lifestyle closer to his true self. In the end, Eliot wanted Daniel to choose his "true self".

I cannot deny that the production values for "DANIEL DERONDA" struck me as outstanding. Don Taylor's production designs for the miniseries did a beautiful job in re-creating Victorian England and Europe during the 1870s. The crew who helped him bring this era to life also did exceptional jobs, especially art director Grant Montgomery and set decorator Nicola Barnes. However, there were technical aspects that truly stood out. Simon Starling's colorful and sharp photography of Great Britain and Malta (which served as Italy) truly took my breath away. I could also say the same for Caroline Noble, who did an excellent job of re-creating the hairstyles of the early and mid-1870s. As for Mike O'Neill's costume designs for the production . . . in some cases, pictures can speak louder than words:

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Truly outstanding and beautiful. I was especially impressed by Romola Garai's wardrobe.

"DANIEL DERONDA" also featured a good deal of outstanding performances. If I must be honest, I cannot find a single performance that struck me as below par or even mediocre. The miniseries featured solid performances from the likes of Celia Imrie, Anna Popplewell, Anna Steel, Jamie Bamber and Daniel Marks. "DANIEL DERONDA" also included some interested supporting performances, especially Allan Corduner's skillful portrayal of the blunt-speaking musician Herr Klesmer; David Bamber as Grandcourt's slimy sycophant, Lush; Edward Fox as Sir Hugo Mallinger, Daniel's loving benefactor; Amanda Root's interesting portrayal of Gwendolen's rather timid mother; Daniel Evan's intense performance as Miriam's long lost brother; and Greta Scacchi's very complex portrayal of Grandcourt's former mistress, Lydia Glasher.

Superficially, the character of Miriam Lapidoth seemed like the type that would usually bore me - the "nice girl" with whom the hero usually ended. But actress Jodhi May projected a great deal of depth in her portrayal of Miriam, reflecting the character's haunted past in a very subtle and skillful manner. Barbara Hershey more or less made a cameo appearance in "DANIEL DERONDA" that lasted a good five to ten minutes. However, being an excellent actress, Hershey gave a superb performance as Daniel's long lost mother, a former opera singer named Contessa Maria Alcharisi, who gave him up to Sir Hugo in order to pursue a singing career. Perhaps I should have been horrified by her decision to give up motherhood for a career. But Hershey beautifully conveyed the contessa's frustration over her father's determination that she adhere to society's rules by limiting her life to being a wife and mother. And I found myself sympathizing her situation.

Like Miriam Lapidoth, the Daniel Deronda character seemed like the type of character I would find boring. Superficially, he seemed too upright and not particularly complex. However, I was surprised and very pleased by how Hugh Dancy injected a great deal of complexity in his portrayal of Daniel. He did an effective job in portraying Daniel's conflict between the lifestyle both Sir Hugo and his mother had mapped out for him and the one represented by Miriam, her brother Mordecai, and their friends, the Cohens. Romola Garai was equally superb as the complex Gwendolen Harleth. She did such an excellent job in conveying Gwendolen's growth from a spoiled and ambitious young woman, to the matured and more compassionate woman who had survived an emotionally traumatic marriage that I cannot help but wonder how she failed to earn an action nomination, let alone award, for her performance. Hugh Bonneville also gave an excellent job as Gwendolen's emotionally abusive husband, Henleigh Grandcourt. I read somewhere that the role helped Bonneville break out of his usual staple of good-natured buffoons that he had portrayed in movies like 1999's "MANSFIELD PARK" and "NOTTING HILL". I can see how. I found his Grandcourt rather chilly and intimidating.

"DANIEL DERONDA" may have a few flaws. But overall, it is a prime example of the British period dramas at its zenith during the fifteen-year period between 1995 and 2010. It is a superb production and adaptation of George Eliot's novel, thanks to Tom Hooper's direction, Andrew Davies' writing, the excellent work by its crew and the first-rate cast led by Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai. It is something not to be missed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1870s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1870s: 


TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1870s

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1. "The Age of Innocence" (1993) - Martin Scorcese directed this exquisite adaptation of Edith Wharton's award winning 1920 novel about a love triangle within New York's high society during the Gilded Age. Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfieffer and Oscar nominee Winona Ryder starred.



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2. "The Big Country" (1958) - William Wyler directed this colorful adaptation of Donald Hamilton's 1958 novel, "Ambush at Blanco Canyon". The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.



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3. "True Grit" (2010) - Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis' 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl's desire for retribution against her father's killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.



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4. "Far From the Madding Crowd" (2015) - Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen starred in this well done adaptation of Thomas Hardy's 1874 novel about a young Victorian woman who attracts three different suitors. Thomas Vinterberg directed.



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5. "Around the World in 80 Days" (1956) - Mike Todd produced this Oscar winning adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 novel about a Victorian gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Directed by Michael Anderson and John Farrow, the movie starred David Niven, Cantiflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton.



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6. "Stardust" (2007) - Matthew Vaughn co-wrote and directed this adaptation of Neil Gaman's 1996 fantasy novel. The movie starred Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfieffer.



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7. "Fort Apache" (1948) - John Ford directed this loose adaptation of James Warner Bellah's 1947 Western short story called "Massacre". The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, John Agar and Shirley Temple.



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8. "Zulu Dawn" (1979) - Burt Lancaster, Simon Ward and Peter O'Toole starred in this depiction of the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South Africa. Douglas Hickox directed.



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9. "Young Guns" (1988) - Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips starred in this cinematic account of Billy the Kid's experiences during the Lincoln County War. The movie was directed by Christopher Cain.



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10. "Cowboys & Aliens" (2011) - Jon Favreau directed this adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's 2006 graphic novel about an alien invasion in 1870s New Mexico Territory. The movie starred Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.