Monday, December 5, 2016
"THE FAR PAVILIONS" (1984) Review
Thirty-four years ago saw the publication of an international best seller about a young British Army officer during the British Raj in 19th century India. The novel's success not brought about a not-so-successful musical stage play in 2005, but also a six-part television miniseries, twenty-one years earlier.
Directed by Peter Duffell for HBO, "THE FAR PAVILIONS" tells the story of Ashton "Ash" Pelham-Martyn, the only son of prominent British botanist Hillary Pelham-Martyn and his wife in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains in 1853. After his mother dies of childbirth, Ashton is mainly raised by his ayah (nurse) Sita, who is a part of his father's retinue. Cholera takes the lives of all members of the Pelham-Martyn camp some four years later, with the exception of Ash and Sita. The latter tries to deliver Ash to his mother's family in Mardan, but the uprising of the Sepoy Rebellion leads her to adopt the slightly dark-skinned Ash as her son. Both eventually take refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote. While Ash forgets about his British ancestry, he becomes the servant for Crown Prince Lalji and befriends the neglected Princess Anjuli, Master of Stables Koda Dad, and his son Zarin. Ashton eventually leaves Gulkote after learning from the dying Sita about his true ancestry. After reaching his relatives in Mardan, Ash is sent back to Great Britain to live with his Pelham-Martyn relations. Within less than a decade, he returns to India as a newly commissioned British Army. Not only does he make new acquaintances, but also renews old ones - including the Princess Anjuli.
British costume dramas have always been popular with American television and movie audiences for decades. But aside from the Jane Austen phenomenon between 1995 and 2008, there seemed to be an even bigger demand for period pieces from the U.K. during the 1980s . . . a major consequence from the popular royal wedding of the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer. HBO and Peter Duffell took M.M. Kaye's 1978 bestseller and transformed it into a miniseries filled with six one-hour episodes. Aside from a few changes, "THE FAR PAVILIONS" was more or less a television hit. And in many ways, it was easy to see why.
First of all, Kaye's story about a forbidden love story between a British Army officer viewed as an outsider by most of his fellow Britons and an Indian princess with a touch of European blood (Russian) was bound to appeal to the most romantic. Add an epic trek across the Indian subcontinent (in the form of a royal wedding party), action on the North West frontier and a historical event - namely the start of the Second Anglo-Afghan War - and one is faced with a costumed epic of the most romantic kind. And I am flabbergasted at how the story managed to criticize the British presence in both India and Afghanistan, and at the same time, glorify the military aspect of the British Empire. If I must be honest, M.M. Kaye not only wrote a pretty damn good story, but she and screenwriter Julian Bond did a solid job in adapting the novel for television.
Now, I said solid, not excellent. Even the most first-rate miniseries is not perfect, but I feel that "THE FAR PAVILIONS"possessed flaws that prevented it from being the superb production it could have been. The miniseries' main problem seemed to be its look. I had no problems with Robert W. Laing's production designs. His work, along with George Richardson's art direction, Jack Cardiff's superb cinematography, and Hugh Scaife's set decorations superbly brought mid-to-late 19th century British India to life. I was especially impressed by the crew's re-creation of the Rana of Bhithor's palace, the cantonments for the Corps of Guides regiment and the royal wedding procession for the Rana of Bhitor's brides - Princess Shushila and Princess Anjuli of Karidkote (formerly Gulkote). For a miniseries that cost $12 million dollars to produce, why shoot it on such poor quality film, whose color seemed to have faded over the past two or three decades? It seemed criminal that such a lush production was shot on film of bad quality.
As much as I admired Bond and Kaye's adaptation of the latter's novel, there were two aspects of their script that annoyed me. One, the screenplay skipped one of the novel's best parts - namely Ash's childhood in Gulkote. Instead, the story of his birth, early travels with Sita and his time in Gulkote were revealed in a montage that served as backdrop for the opening credits. And I was not that impressed at how the script handled Ash's early romance with a young English debutante named Belinda Harlowe. I found it rushed and unsatisfying. More importantly, the entire sequence seemed like a waste of Felicity Dean and Rupert Everett's (who played Ash's doomed rival George Garforth) time. And some of the dialogue for the romantic scenes between Ash and Juli struck me as so wince inducing that it took me a while to unclench my teeth after the scenes ended.
I had other problems with "THE FAR PAVILIONS". The casting of American actress Amy Irving as the adult Princess Anjli ("Juli") produced a "what the hell?" response from me when I first saw the miniseries. That startled feeling remained after my last viewing. Irving simply seemed miscast in the role, despite a decent performance from her and her solid chemistry with lead actor Ben Cross. Another role that failed to match with the performer was that of British military administrator, Sir Louis Cavagnari, portrayed by John Gielgud. Cavagnari was 39 years old, when he met his death at the British mission in Kabul, Afghanistan. Gielgud was 79 to 80 years old when he portrayed the military officer . . . naturally too old for the role. The makeup department tried to take years off the actor with hair dye and make-up. Let us just say that Amy Irving was more convincing as an Indian princess than Gielgud was as a character 40 years his junior. However, I will give Gielgud plenty of credit for his excellent portrayal of a British Imperial diplomat at his most arrogant.
Aside from my quibbles about the casting of Amy Irving and John Gielgud, I have no complaints about the rest of the cast. Ben Cross did a superb job in his portrayal of the hot tempered and impatient Ashton Pelham-Martyn. Ash has always been a frustrating character for me. Although I sympathized with his feelings and beliefs, his occasional bursts of impatience and naiveté irritated me. And Cross perfectly captured all of these aspects of Ash's nature. Despite my strong belief that she was miscast, I cannot deny that Amy Irving gave a subtle and well acted performance as Princess Anjuli. But I could never accuse Omar Sharif of being miscast. He did a superb job in his portrayal of the wise and very witty horsemaster of Gulkote/Karidkote, Koda Dad. Sharif made it easy to see why Ash came to regard Koda Dad as more of a father figure than any other older male. Although I believe that Irving was miscast as Princess Anjuli, I was surprised at how impressed I was by Christopher Lee's portrayal of Anjuli's uncle, Prince Kaka-ji Rao. The Anglo-Spanish actor did an excellent job of portraying a character from a completely different race. I suspect the secret to Lee's performance was that he did not try so hard to sell the idea of him being an Indian prince. And Saeed Jaffrey was superb as the effeminate, yet manipulate and murderous courtier, Biju Ram. It seemed a pity that the miniseries did not explore Ash's childhood. Audiences would have been able to enjoy more of Jaffrey's performance.
Sneh Gupta was excellent as childishly imperious and self-absorbed Princess Shushila, Juli's younger sister. She did a first-rate job of transforming Shushila from a sympathetic character to a childishly imperious villainess. Robert Hardy gave a solid performance as the Commandant of the Guides. Benedict Taylor was charming and outgoing as Ash's only military friend, Walter "Wally" Hamilton. I really do not know how to describe Rosanno Brazzi's performance as the Rana of Bhithor. I feel that too much makeup made it difficult for me to get a grip on his character. I was surprised to see Art Malik as Koda Dad's son, Zarin. But his role did not seem big enough to produce a comment from me. Rupert Everett was excellent as George Garforth, the British civil servant with a secret to hide. Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with the miniseries' portrayal of the story line in which he played a part.
I realize that "THE FAR PAVILIONS" has a good number of strikes against it. But its virtues outweighed its flaws. And in the end, it proved to be an entertaining miniseries, thanks to the lush production and the first-rate cast led by Ben Cross.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
"JERICHO" RETROSPECT: (1.05) "Federal Response"
After my surprised delight over the narrative for the previous episode, (1.04) "Walls of Jericho", I wondered if my delight would continued into the next episode. I would not judge (1.05) "Federal Response" to be better than its predecessor. But it proved to be quite surprising . . . from a certain point of view.
I am not stating that I found "Federal Response" disappointing, as I did (1.03) "Four Horsemen", but I would not view it as one of the better episodes of Season One, let alone its first half. In this episode, the citizens of Jericho deal with mysterious messages from the Department of Homeland Security and several fires caused by a series of power spikes. The episode begins with a handful of Jericho's citizens playing cards inside Mary Bailey's Tavern at the break of dawn. The electricity, which had shut down in the previous episode, returns and telephones all over town start ringing. Jericho's citizens receive a recorded message telling everyone to remain calm and that help is on the way. The Emergency Alert System is put into place as televisions display a message ordering citizens to stand by for further instructions. Also, it seems that someone within the government has ordered the blockage of all computer IP addresses. Even worse, the town becomes plagued by a few power spikes. One of them blows up a transformer on the public library's roof, setting it ablaze and severing several power lines.
For nearly a decade, I had firmly believed that "Federal Response" was mainly about the series of fires that popped up around Jericho. And for the likes of me, I never understood what the fires had to do with the series' main narrative. Now, the fires did have something of an impact upon one subplot . . . namely the marriage between Eric and April Green. The series had already established that their marriage was strained and Eric's affair with tavern owner, Mary Bailey. When Eric and April's home is destroyed by one of the fires, the former discovers that his wife had filed for divorce before the September bombs in the series' pilot episode. This discovery led April to reveal that she had changed her mind about a divorce and wanted to give their marriage a second chance. So far, Eric has not made up his mind about that situation.
But what did the fires have to do with the series' main narrative? Not much. But it did drive forward another subplot that proved to be more important. After the Emergency Alert System has been put in place and the IP addresses are blocked, the mysterious Robert Hawkins uses a portable satellite transceiver in his backyard to access his laptop. While Robert works on the latter to send a message, Jake and best friend Stanley Richmond go to the local pumping station to give access to water for the firemen trying to put out the library fire. Once their mission is a success, Jake goes to the roof with Stanley's rifle scope to search for any other fires. Not only does he spot the fire that will consume Eric and April's house, he also spots Robert working on the laptop. More importantly, Robert sees Jake watching him. Later, Robert forces Jake to accept his help in trying to save Eric and April's house in order to ascertain what the latter knows. Later, Robert checks Jake's background and discovers that the latter has visited a series of countries and now has a flagged passport. In the end, both the Federal "response" and the fires allowed Jake and Robert to realize that neither is what the other seemed to be. And their realizations will eventually drive the pair to develop a future relationship that will have a major impact upon the series' main narrative.
Aside from the matter regarding Eric and April's strained marriage, other personal dramas featured in this episode drove the series forward. For the first time, Jake hinted the trauma of his past five years to his father. And for the first time, Johnston Green seemed more than ready to welcome back his recalcitrant son. Robert's family life remains strained, as he tries to discipline his older offspring Allison about her use of water. The teenager refuses to listen to her father, still resentful of the past. And Robert refuses to listen to his wife Darcy's warning about how to treat their children, hinting that he might be forced to leave again. Stranded IRS agent Mimi Clark tries to warn Mary Bailey that Eric might not be serious about her. Dale Turner and Skylar Stevens grow even closer, after one of the fires destroy the trailer where Dale lives. And Jake's reaction to Emily Sullivan getting injured by a fallen power line hints that he still harbors strong feelings for her. Rather surprisingly, all of these small, personal dramas will eventually have some impact upon the series' future narrative and subplots.
"Federal Response" also featured the usual first-rate performances. The episode featured solid performances from most of the cast. But the performances that really caught my attention came from eight cast members. The messy love triangle between Eric, April and Mary proved to be realistic and complex, thanks to the first-rate performances by Kenneth Mitchell, Darby Stanchfield and Clare Carey. Alicia Coppola gave an interesting and wry performance as the observant and sardonic IRS agent Mimi Clark, who believes she knows how the Eric/Mary affair will end. Both Gerald McRaney and Pamela Reed were excellent as Jake and Eric's parents, Johnston and Gail Green, in scenes that featured the pair's separate reactions to Jake's current presence in Jericho. But my favorite performances came from leads Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James, who did excellent jobs in conveying their characters' reactions to the current crisis and personal demons. More importantly, for the first time they truly hinted the strong chemistry that will make them one of the better action teams in science-fiction/fantasy television.
As I had stated earlier, "Federal Response" proved to be an interesting episode that managed to contribute to the series' narrative . . . by a hair's length. It also featured some solid performances, along with first-rate ones that include both Skeet Ulrich and Lennie James. But there is one thing I forgot to add . . . the episode also ended on an ominous note. The town's citizens felt a distinct rumble - as if the ground was shaking . . . before they rushed outside and spotted what appeared to be two ballistic missiles soaring through the night sky above Jericho.
Thursday, November 24, 2016
Below are images from the 1980 movie, "STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK". Produced by George Lucas and directed by Irwin Kershner, the movie starred Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Billy Dee Williams:
"STAR WARS: EPISODE V - THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK" (1980) Photo Gallery
Sunday, November 20, 2016
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" (1980) Review
As far as I know, Guy Hamilton is the only director who has helmed two movie adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. The 1982 movie, "EVIL UNDER THE SUN" was the second adaptation. The first was his 1980 adaptation of Christie's 1962 novel, "The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side".
A big Hollywood production has arrived at St. Mary's Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple, to film a costume movie about Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England, starring two Hollywood stars - Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster. The two actresses are rivals who despise each other. Marina and her husband, director Jason Rudd, have taken residence at Gossington Hall, where Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly used to live. Due to Colonel Bantry's death, Mrs. Bantry - who is one of Miss Marple's closest friends - has moved to a smaller home.
Excitement runs high in the village as the locals have been invited to a reception held by the movie company in a manor house, Gossington Hall, to meet the celebrities. Lola and Marina come face to face at the reception and exchange some potent and comical insults, nasty one-liners, as they smile and pose for the cameras. The two square off in a series of clever cat-fights throughout the movie.
Marina, however, has been receiving anonymous death threats. After her initial exchange with Lola at the reception, she is cornered by a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Badcock (played by Maureen Bennett), who bores her with a long and detailed story about having actually met Marina in person during World War II. After recounting the meeting they had all those years ago, when she arose from her sickbed to go and meet the glamorous star, Babcock drinks a cocktail that was made for Marina and quickly dies from poisoning. It is up to Miss Marple and her nephew, Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock of Scotland Yard to discover the killer.
I surprised to learn that Guy Hamilton was the director of "THE MIRROR CRACK'D". This movie was the first of two times in which he directed an Agatha Christie adaptation that placed murder in the world of show business. Frankly? I am beginning to suspect that he was more suited for this particular genre that he was for the James Bond franchise. Like the 1982 film, "EVIL UNDER THE SUN", I enjoyed it very much. I am not a big fan of Christie's 1962 novel. I understand that the origin of its plot came from Hollywood history, which gives it a touch of pathos. Along with the quaint portrayal of English village life and the delicious bitch fest that surrounded the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster, I believe that Hamilton and screenwriters Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler in exploring that pathos in the end. There is one aspect of Christie's story that the screenwriters left out - namely the connection between Marina and the photographer Margot Bence. Honestly, I do not mind. I never cared for it in the first place. I found this connection between Marina and Ms. Bence a little too coincidental for my tastes.
I did not mind the little touches of English village life featured in "THE MIRROR CRACK'D". Although I must admit that I found them occasionally boring. Only when the citizens of St. Mary's Mead interacted with the Hollywood visitors did I find them interesting. On the other hand, the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster was a joy to watch. And I feel that Hamilton and the two screenwriters handled it a lot better than Christie's novel or the 1992 television movie. And to be honest, I have to give Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak most of the credit for the venomous and hilarious manner in which their characters' rivalry played out on screen.
The behind-the-scene productions for "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" certainly seemed top-notch. Christopher Challis' photography struck me as colorful and beautiful. However, there were moments when he seemed to indulge in that old habit of hazy photography to indicate a period film. Only a few moments. Production designer Michael Stringer did a solid job of re-creating the English countryside circa early-to-mid 1950s. His work was ably supported by John Roberts' art direction and Peter Howitt's set decorations. Phyllis Dalton did a very good job of re-creating the fashions of the movie's 1950s setting. I especially enjoyed the costumes she created for the fête sequence. The only aspect of the production that seemed less than impressive was John Cameron's score. Personally, I found it wishy-washy. His score for the St. Mary's Mead setting struck me as simple and uninspiring. Then he went to another extreme for the scenes featuring the Hollywood characters - especially Marina Gregg - with a score that seemed to be a bad imitation of some of Jerry Goldsmith's work.
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" certainly featured some first-rate performances. Angela Landsbury made a very effective Jane Marple. She not only seemed born to play such a role, there were times when her portrayal of the elderly sleuth seemed like a dress rehearsal for the Jessica Fletcher role she portrayed on television. Elizabeth Taylor gave an excellent performance as the temperamental Marina Gregg. She did a great job in portraying all aspects of what must have been a complex role. Rock Hudson was equally first-rate as Marina's husband, the sardonic and world-weary director, Jason Rudd. He did a great job in conveying the character's struggles to keep his temperamental wife happy and the impact these struggles had on him. Edward Fox was charming and very subtle as Miss Marple's nephew, Scotland Yard Inspector Dermot Craddock. I especially enjoyed how his Craddock used a mild-mannered persona to get the suspects and others he interrogated to open up to him.
I was never impressed by Agatha Christie's portrayal of the Lola Brewster character . . . or of two other actresses who portrayed the role. But Kim Novak was a knockout as the somewhat crude and highly sexual Hollywood starlet. Watching the comic timing and skill she injected into the role, made me suspect that Hollywood had underestimated not only her acting talent, but comedy skills. Tony Curtis certainly got a chance to display his comedic skills as the fast-talking and somewhat crude film producer, Martin Fenn. And I rather enjoyed Geraldine Chaplin's sardonic portrayal on Ella Zielinsky, Jason Rudd's caustic-tongued secretary, who seemed to be in love with him. The movie also featured solid performances from Charles Gray, Wendy Morgan, Margaret Courtenay and Maureen Bennett. And if you look carefully, you just might spot a young Pierce Brosnan portraying a cast member of Marina's movie.
Overall, I enjoyed "THE MIRROR CRACK'D". I thought Guy Hamilton did an excellent job in creating a enjoyable murder mystery that effectively combined the vibrancy of Hollywood life and the quaintness of an English village. He was assisted by a first-rate crew, a witty script by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler, and a very talented cast led by Angela Landsbury.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
"THE CELEBRATION OF MEDIOCRITY AND UNORIGINALITY IN “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS"
Look … I liked the most recent “STAR WARS” movie, “THE FORCE AWAKENS”. I honestly do. Heck, I feel it is better than J.J. Abrams’ two “STAR TREK” films. But I am astounded that this film has garnered so much acclaim. It has won the AFI Award for Best Picture. It has been nominated by the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture.
“THE FORCE AWAKENS”??? Really? It did not take long for certain fans to point out that the movie’s plot bore a strong resemblance to the first “STAR WARS” movie, “A NEW HOPE”. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had more or less plagiarized the 1977 film, along with aspects from other movies in the franchise. Worse, it has some plot holes that Abrams has managed to ineffectively explain to the media. In other words, his explanations seemed like shit in the wind and the plot holes remained obvious.
Then I found myself thinking about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series. I will not deny that the movie had some flaws. Just about every movie I have seen throughout my life had some flaws. But instead of attempting a carbon copy of the television series, Ritchie put his own, original spin of the show for his movie. And personally, I had left the movie theater feeling impressed. And entertained. It is not that Ritchie had created a perfect movie. But he did managed to create an original one, based upon an old source. Now that was impressive.
But instead of having his movie appreciated, a good deal of the public stayed away in droves. Warner Brothers barely publicized the film. Worse, the studio released in August, the summer movie season’s graveyard. And for those who did see the movie, the complained that it was not like the television show. Ritchie had made changes for his film. In other words, Ritchie was criticized for being original with a movie based upon an old television series.
I find this incredibly pathetic. One director is criticized giving an original spin to his movie adaptation. Another director is hailed as the savior of a movie franchise for committing outright plagiarism. This is what Western culture has devolved into, ladies and gentlemen. We now live in a world in which the only movies that are box office hits are those that form part of a franchise. We live in a society in which glossy and mediocre shows like “DOWNTON ABBEY” are celebrated. We live in a world in which a crowd pleasing, yet standard movie biopic like “THE KING’S SPEECH” can receive more acclaim than an original film like “INCEPTION”.
In regard to culture or even pop culture, this society is rushing toward conformity, familiarity and mediocrity. God help us.
Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Below is a gallery featuring photos from "CINDERELLA MAN", the 2005 biopic about boxer James J. Braddock. Directed by Ron Howard, the movie stars Russell Crowe, Renee Zellweger and Paul Giamatti:
"CINDERELLA MAN" (2005) Photo Gallery
Saturday, October 29, 2016
"THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" (2002) Review
Let me make something clear . . . I have never read the literary version of "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO", written by Alexandre Dumas. I have seen three movie versions – including this latest one starring James Caviezel. But I have never read the novel. So, for me to compare the literary version to this movie would be irrelevant.
In short, "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" is the story about a French sailor named Edmond Dantès (Caviezel), who finds himself a victim of French political machinations, thanks to the Emperor Napoleon, a jealous first mate named Danglars, his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) and an ambitious local magistrate named J.F. Villefort (James Frain). Edmond ends up on an island prison called Château d'If, where he meets a fellow prisoner, a priest and a former soldier in Napoleon's army named Abbé Faria (Richard Harris). Faria is killed in an accident after informing Edmond about a fabulous hidden treasure. After Edmond uses Faria’s death to escape from Château d'If, he befriends a smuggler and thief named Jacopo (Luis Guzmán). The two find the treasure that Faria had talked about and Edmond uses it to establish the persona of the Count of Monte Cristo. His aim? To avenge himself against those who had betrayed him – Danglars, Villefort, Mondego and his fiancée Mercédès Iguanada (Dagmara Dominczyk), who had married Mondego after his arrest.
I have to give kudos to director Kevin Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert for creating a first-class adaptation of Dumas’ novel. From what I have read, it is not an exact adaptation of the novel. As if that was possible. Not that I care whether it was or not. I still enjoyed the movie. Despite some of the changes to the story, "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" still managed to retain its emotional ambiguity. Villains such as Villefort and especially Mondego are not as one-dimensional ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ as one might believe. The origin of Villefort came from his father’s ego-driven ambition. As for Mondego, his dislike and betrayal of Edmond had its roots in his own insecurity and bouts of self-hatred, despite his position as an aristocrat. As for Edmond, he becomes so blinded by his hatred and desire for revenge that his actions nearly ends in tragedy for Mercédès and her adolescent son, Albert (Henry Cavill) – the only innocents in this tale of betrayal and vengeance.
The cast was first rate. James Caviezel gave a superb performance as Edmond Dantès, the naïve French sailor who becomes a wealthy man bent upon vengeance. Caviezel took Edmond’s character and emotional make-up all over the map without missing a beat. And Guy Pearce was equally superb as the villainous Fernand Mondego, an arrogant aristocrat whose own jealousy and bouts of self-loathing led him to betray the only friend he would ever have. James Frain gave a solid performance as the ambitious Villefort, whose greed allows Edmond takes advantage of in order to exact his revenge. And I could say the same for both Dagmara Dominczyk, who portrayed Mercédès Iguanada, Edmond’s charming fiancée who found herself stuck in a loveless marriage with Mondego due to certain circumstances; and Luis Guzmán’s portrayal as the wise and loyal Jacapo. Henry Cavill gave a solid performance as Edmund's guileless, yet emotional son who gets caught up in the crossfire between Edmund and Fernand. And the late Richard Harris managed to create great chemistry with Caviezel as Edmond’s wise mentor, Abbé Faria.
Cinematographer Andrew Dunn and production designer Andrew Dunn did a great job of transforming locations in Ireland and the island of Malta into early 19th century France. And they were ably assisted by Tom Rand’s costume designs. Along with a first-rate cast, Kevin Reynolds’ competent direction and Jay Wolpert’s script, this version of "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" turned out to be an entertaining movie filled with exciting action, great drama and excellent storytelling. A first-rate movie all around.