Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" (2012) Review

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"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" (2012) Review

If someone had told me about eight to nine years ago about a fictional story featuring a historical leader and his encounters with the supernatural . . . I would have laughed in that person's face. Hell, I would that about a year ago. Then eight years ago, Seth Grahame-Smith wrote a novel about Abraham Lincoln battling vampires. And you know what? I did not laugh. But I sure as hell did not take it seriously. 

During the spring of 2012, I saw the trailer for the movie adaptation of Grahame-Smith's novel and found myself surprisingly intrigued by it. Well . . . I was intrigued by the movie's visual style. And the fact that movie featured actors that I have become a fan of did not hurt. But the idea of Abraham Lincoln being a vampire hunter remained a block in my mind. In fact, I struggled over whether or not to see "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER", until the day before the movie's wide release. And to my surprise, I am glad that I finally saw it.

"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE SLAYER" begins on April 14, 1865; with President Abraham Lincoln recounting his experiences with vampires in a journal. The movie flashbacks to the year 1818 in Southern Indiana, where the young Abraham and his parents - Thomas and Nancy - work out the family's debt to a local landowner and slave owner named Jack Barts. Abraham befriends an African-American young slave named William Johnson. When the latter is attacked by one of Barts' employees with a whip, Abraham intervenes before his father comes to his rescue. Barts demands that the Lincoln family compensate for the interaction over William in cash. Thomas cannot afford to pay back the landowner and refuses to work out his debt even further. Barts later attacks Nancy at the Lincolns' cabin and poisons her. She later dies the following morning.

Nine years later in 1827, an eighteen year-old Abraham seeks revenge against Barts by attacking him. But the latter, who proves to be a vampire, overpowers Abraham. Abraham is rescued by a mysterious man named Henry Sturgess, who informs the young man of Barts' true state. Henry offers to teach Abraham to be a vampire hunter. During training, Sturgess informs Abraham that Jack Barts and other vampires in America are descended from a vampire named Adam, who owns and lives on a plantation outside of New Orleans, with his sister Vadoma. Sturgess also tells Abraham of the vampires' weakness - namely silver - and presents the latter with a silver pocket watch. After several years of training, Abraham travels to Springfield, Illinois. There, he makes plans to read for the law, befriends a shopkeeper named Joshua Speed, renews his friendship with William; and falls in love with Mary Todd, a socialite from a wealthy Kentucky family. Abraham also begins his activities as a vampire hunter.

"ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" is not perfect. It is a flawed movie. There were one or two aspects of the plot that I found questionable. After Abraham's reunion with William, the pair was arrested for fighting off slave catchers that were after the latter. Following their arrest, there was a scene that featured the incarcerated pair being visited by Mary Todd. The next scene featured a freed William being kidnapped by Adam's thugs off the streets of Springfield, in order to lure Abraham into a trap set in Louisiana. How on earth did William avoid being sent back down South as an escaped slave? When he first reunited with Abraham inside Joshua's store, he told the latter that he was an escaped slave. So, how did William end up freely walking the streets of Springfield . . . without being sent back South as a fugitive slave? 

My second problem with "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" deals with a brief scene during the Civil War. This scene features Confederate president Jefferson Davis convincing Adam to deploy his vampires on the front lines. Look . . . I am the last person who could be accused of being a neo-Confederate. Trust me . . . I am. But I found this scene between Davis and Adam to be very unbelievable, even for fiction. I simply cannot see Jefferson Davis allying himself with a vampire in order to win the Civil War. One, like Abraham, Davis would have been leery of the idea of associating with a vampire. And two, chances are he probably would have been on to Adam's plan of transforming the United States in a land of the undead. The only way this scene would have worked is if Davis had been unaware of Adam's state as a vampire.

My last problem with "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" turned out to be a costume worn by actor Benjamin Walker, who portrayed Abraham Lincoln. I am, of course, referring to the outfit he wore in the Abraham/Mary wedding scene. Take a look: 

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Dear God! What were Varvara Avdyushko and Carlo Poggioli thinking? Abe's wedding outfit looks like a nineteenth-century version of a high school prom suit, circa 1975. In other words, two periods in time clash in the creation of this God awful suit. It is a good thing that I found their other costumes very impressive. 

Despite the above flaws, I still managed to enjoy "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" very much. After watching the movie, I now regret my reluctance over its premise. The idea of historical figure being utilized as an action character in a supernatural story turned out to be very . . . very original. More conservative minds would probably find such an idea sacrilegious. I recall a co-worker expressing disgust at the idea of someone using Abraham Lincoln as an action figure in a movie. But think about it. In some ways, he was a good choice on Seth Grahame-Smith's part. Lincoln was a physically impressive man, being tall and strong as a bull. He knew how to wield an ax with the same level as a Musketeer with a sword. More importantly, he was an intelligent man who could be ruthless when the occasion called for it. 

I found Grahame-Smith's use of Nancy Hanks Lincoln's death and the issue of slavery to create his story of Lincoln and vampires very effective. The screenwriter used the death of Lincoln's mother to jump start the future president's alternate profession as a vampire hunter. And I was very impressed by his use of the slavery issue to intensify Lincoln's interest in the destruction of vampires. In "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER", the institution of slavery and especially the slave trade is used to provide vampires with easily available humans (namely slaves) to feed upon. The Jack Barts character apparently gathered slaves around the Ohio River (which bordered the upper South) and shipped them to the vampire-owned plantations in the Deep South. This strikes me as a fictional reflection of the large-scale shipments of many upper South slaves to the cotton plantations of the Deep South during the first half of the 19th century in real life. According to Abraham's mentor, Henry Sturgess, the U.S. slave trade not only gave vampires easy access to "food", but kept their penchant of seeking victims all over the country under control. This use of slaves as easy victims for vampires led to their support of the Confederate cause during the Civil War. 

The transportation of slaves from the Upper South to the Deep South proved to be one of the movie's historically accurate contributions to the plot. I have to be frank. "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" is not exactly historically accurate. In reality, William Johnson was a free-born African-American who became Lincoln's personal valet. The movie overlooked the fact that Lincoln had a much beloved stepmother, and four sons - not one. Also, Harriet Tubman never operated in the Deep South, let alone Louisiana. And African slave traders did not sell "their own kind" to Europeans, as the vampire Adam claimed in the movie. They sold people they considered to be strangers and especially, foreigners. But . . . this is a movie about a former U.S. president that became a vampire hunter. Would anyone really expect a tale of this sort to be historically accurate? I certainly would not.

But one of the major highlights of "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" proved to be the mind-boggling visuals created by the special effects team led by Matt Kutcher. These visuals were especially effective in exciting actions sequences that featured Abraham's final confrontation with Jack Barts on the Illinois prairie, the rescue of William Johnson in Louisiana, the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg and especially the fiery confrontation aboard the train heading for Gettysburg. William Hoy's editing, Caleb Deschanel's photography and especially Timur Bekmambetov's direction really made it happened. Aside from the stomach churning wedding suit, I must admit that I really enjoyed Varvara Avdyushko and Carlo Poggioli's costume designs - especially for the costumes worn by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Their costumes, along with François Audouy's production designs, Beat Frutiger's art direction and Cheryl Carasik's set decorations really contributed to the film's overall look of early to mid-19th century America.

And what about the cast? Benjamin Walker, in my opinion, was a find. A genuine find. I do not know how to put this. The man was perfectly cast as Abraham Lincoln. He possessed the height, the looks (thanks to the make-up department). He had great screen chemistry with his co-stars - especially Dominic Cooper, Anthony Mackie, Jimmi Simpson and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Walker did not simply walk or stand around, looking like Lincoln. Thanks to a superb performance, he made Lincoln a human being, instead of a walking historical figure. Dominic Cooper added another fascinating performance to his résumé as the enigmatic Henry Sturgess, the individual that taught Abraham Lincoln to be a first-rate vampire hunter. His performance reeked with mystery, wit and wisdom. Cooper's Sturgess was also a curious mixture ambiguity and moral fortitude that I found very fascinating.

From what I can gathered, the William Johnson character was not featured in Grahame-Smith's novel. I could be wrong. I never read the book. But I am glad that the author included the character in the movie, giving me a chance to see Anthony Mackie on the screen again. But this is the first time I truly saw him as a character in an action figure and he was superb. I could also say the same for Jimmi Simpson, whom I have grown used to seeing in comedies. He was great as Abraham's Springfield crony, Joshua Speed, whose interest in Abraham and William's old friendship led him to become involved in their vampire hunting activities. Mary Elizabeth Winstead was given the opportunity she was given to portray a different Mary Todd Lincoln from the usual portrayals marred by either insanity or cold-blooded ambition. And in the end, she gave a great performance that conveyed the famous First Lady's intelligence, vivacity and wit. And Rufus Sewell was first-rate as the movie's main villain, a long-living vampire named Adam, who harbored plans to make the United States a country fit to be dominated by vampires. Sewell used a Southern accent that I found surprisingly impressive.

As I had stated earlier, "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" was not a perfect movie. It had a plot hole or two that screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith had failed to address. The movie's story also featured an implausible scene featuring a historical figure. But the movie boasted some excellent performances from a cast led by Benjamin Walker and some superb visuals that not only transported moviegoers back to the world of early and mid 19th century America, but also to the supernatural world of vampires. And thanks to Grahame-Smith's story and Timur Bekmambetov's stylish direction, the movie began with what many would consider an implausible plot - a historical icon battling supernatural beings - and transformed it into a fascinating tale filled with both fantasy and history. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying "ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER" very much.





Wednesday, July 11, 2018

"X-MEN" (2000) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "X-MEN", the 2000 adaptation of the Marvel comic book series. Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie starred Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen and Anna Paquin: 



"X-MEN" (2000) Photo Gallery

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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Peach Melba

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PEACH MELBA

Below is a small article about a famous dessert created around the end of the 19th century at a restaurant in London. It is called Peach Melba

The Peach Melba is an ice cream dessert that includes peaches and raspberry sauce by the French born chef, Auguste Escoffier in honor of the famous Australian sorprano, Nellie Melba. In 1892, Melba was performing in Richard Wagner's opera called Lohengrin at Covent Garden in London. The Duke of Orléans gave a dinner party at the Savoy Hotel to celebrate her triumph. Chef Escoffier, who ran the kitchens at the Savoy, created a new dessert for the occasion.

Escoffier used an ice sculpture of a swan that was featured in the opera. Ice cream rested on the bed of the ice sculpture. Escoffier then topped the ice cream with peaches and spun sugar. Eight years later, Escoffier created a new version of the dessert to celebrate the opening of the Carlton Hotel, where he had become head chef. Escoffier used dishes, instead of ice swan sculptures. And he topped the peaches with raspberry purée. Other versions of this dessert over the years have use pears, apricots, or strawberries, instead of peaches; and/or the use raspberry sauce or melted red currant jelly, instead of raspberry purée.

Below is a recipe for Peach Melba from the PBS website:



Peach Melba

Ingredients

6 ripe, tender peaches
Sugar
1 ½ pints vanilla ice cream (fresh homemade is best)
1 heaping cup fresh ripe raspberries
1 heaping cup powdered sugar
6 tbsp blanched raw almond slivers (optional)


Directions

Boil a medium pot of water. Keep a large bowl of ice water close by. Gently place a peach into the boiling water. Let the peach simmer for 15-20 seconds, making sure all surfaces of the peach are submerged. Remove the peach from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge it into the ice water for a few seconds to cool. Take the peach out of the ice water and place it on a plate. Repeat the process for the remaining peaches.
When all of the peaches have been submerged, peel them. Their skin should come off easily if they are ripe, thanks to the short boiling process. Discard the skins. Halve the peeled peaches and discard the pits.

Optional Step: Place the peeled peaches in a large bowl of cold water mixed with 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice or ascorbic acid powder. Let the peach halves soak for 10 minutes. Drain off the water and gently pat the peach halves dry with a paper towel. This step will help to keep the peaches from oxidizing and turning brown.
Sprinkle the peach halves with sugar on all exposed surfaces. Place them on a plate in a single layer, then place them in the refrigerator for 1 hour to chill.

Meanwhile, make the raspberry purée. Place the raspberries into a blender and pulse for a few seconds to create a purée. Strain purée into a bowl through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down on the solid ingredients and agitating the mixture with a metal spoon to extract as much syrupy juice as possible. It will take a few minutes to extract all of the juice from the solids. When finished, you should only have seeds and a bit of pulp left in the strainer. Dispose of the solids.

Sift the powdered sugar into the raspberry purée, adding a little powdered sugar at a time, and whisking in stages till the sugar is fully incorporated into the syrup. It will take several minutes of vigorous whisking to fully integrate the powdered sugar into the syrup. Refrigerate the raspberry syrup for 1 hour, or until chilled.
Assemble six serving dishes. Scoop ½ cup of vanilla ice cream into each serving dish. Place two of the sugared peach halves on top of each serving of ice cream. Divide the raspberry sauce between the six dishes, drizzling the sauce over the top of the peaches and ice cream. Top each serving with a tablespoon of raw almond slivers, if desired. Serve immediately.


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Saturday, June 23, 2018

"JANE EYRE" (1973) Review





"JANE EYRE" (1973) Review

When I began this article, it occurred to me that I was about to embark upon the review of the sixth adaptation I have seen of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. I have now seen six adaptations of "Jane Eyre" and plan to watch at least one or two more. Meanwhile, I would like to discuss my views on the 1973 television adaptation. 

For the umpteenth time, "JANE EYRE" told the story of a young English girl, who is forced to live with her unlikable aunt-by-marriage and equally unlikable cousins. After a clash with her Cousin John Reed, Jane Eyre is sent to Lowood Institution for girls. Jane spends eight years as a student and two as a teacher at Lowood, until she is able to acquire a position as governess at a Yorkshire estate called Thornfield Hall. Jane discovers that her charge is a young French girl named Adele Varens, who happens to be the ward of Jane's employer and Thornfield's owner, Edward Rochester. Before she knows it, Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester. But the path toward romantic happiness proves to be littered with pitfalls.

After watching "JANE EYRE" . . . or least this version, I hit the Web to learn about the prevailing view toward the 1973 miniseries. I got the impression that a number of Brontë fans seemed to regard it as the best version of the 1847 novel. I can honestly say that I do not agree with this particular view. Mind you, the miniseries seemed to be a solid adaptation. Screenwriter Robin Chapman and director Joan Craft managed to translate Brontë's tale to the screen without too many drastic changes. Yes, there are one or two changes that I found questionable. But I will get to them later. More importantly, due to the entire production being stretch out over the course of five episode, I thought it seemed well balanced.

I was surprised to see that "JANE EYRE" was set during the decade of the 1830s. It proved to be the second (or should I say first) adaptation to be set in that period. The 1983 television adaptation was also set during the 1830s. Did this bother me? No. After all, Brontë's novel was actual set during the reign of King George III (1760-1820) and I have yet to stumble across an adaptation from this period. Both this production and the 1983 version do come close. But since "Jane Eyre" is not a historical fiction novel like . . . "Vanity Fair", I see no reason why any movie or television production has to be set during the time period indicated in the story. 

The movie also featured some solid performances. I was surprised to see Jean Harvey in the role of Jane's Aunt Reed. The actress would go on to appear in the 1983 adaptation of the novel as Rochester's housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As for her portrayal of Aunt Reed, I thought Harvey did a solid job, even if I found her slightly theatrical at times. Geoffrey Whitehead gave an excellent performance as Jane's later benefactor and cousin, St. John Rivers. However, I had the oddest feeling that Whitehead was slightly too old for the role, despite being only 33 to 34 years old at the time. Perhaps he just seemed slightly older. The 1973 miniseries would prove to be the first time Edward de Souza portrayed the mysterious Richard Mason. He would later go on to repeat the role in Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 adaptation. Personally, I feel he was more suited for the role in this adaptation and his excellent performance conveyed this. I do not know exactly what to say about Brenda Kempner's portrayal of Bertha Mason. To be honest, I found her performance to be something of a cliché of a mentally ill woman. For me, the best performance in the entire miniseries came from Stephanie Beachum, who portrayed Jane's potential rival, the haughty and elegant Blanche Ingram. I do not think I have ever come across any actress who portrayed Blanche as both "haughty" and lively at the same time. Beachum did an excellent job at portraying Blanche as a likable, yet off-putting and arrogant woman.

Many fans of the novel do not seem particularly impressed by Sorcha Cusack's portrayal of the title character. A good number of them have accused the actress of being unable to convey more than a handful of expressions. And they have accused her of being too old for the role at the ripe age of 24. Personally . . . I disagree with them. I do not regard Cusack's performance as one of the best portrayals of Jane Eyre. But I thought she did a pretty damn good job, considering this was her debut as an actress. As for her "limited number of expressions", I tend to regard this accusation as a bit exaggerated. Yes, I found her performance in the scenes featuring Jane's early time at Thornfield a bit too monotone. But I feel that she really got into the role, as the production proceeded. On the other hand, many of these fans regard Michael Jayston's portrayal of Edward Rochester as the best. Again, I disagree. I am not saying there was something wrong with his performance. I found it more than satisfying. But I found it difficult to spot anything unique about his portrayal, in compare to the other actors who had portrayed the role before and after him. There were a few moments when his performance strayed dangerously in hamminess. Also, I found his makeup a bit distracting, especially the . . . uh, "guyliner".

The production values for "JANE EYRE" seemed solid. I felt a little disappointed that interior shots seemed to dominate the production, despite the exterior scenes of Renishaw Hall, which served as Thornfield. Some might argue that BBC dramas of the 1970s and 1980s were probably limited by budget. Perhaps so, but I have encountered other costumed productions of that period that have used more exterior shots. I had no problem with Roger Reece's costume designs. But aside from the outstanding costumes for Stephanie Beacham, there were times when most of the costumes looked as if they came from a warehouse.

Earlier, I had commented on the minimal number of drastic changes to Brontë's novel. I am willing to tolerate changes in the translation from novel to television/movie, if they were well done. Some of the changes did not bother me - namely Bessie's visit to Jane at Lowood and the quarrel between Eliza and Georgiana Reed, during Jane's visit at Gateshead Hall. But there were changes and omissions I noticed that did not exactly impress me. I was disappointed that the miniseries did not feature Jane's revelation to Mrs. Fairfax about her engagement to Mr. Rochester. I was also disappointed that "JANE EYRE" did not feature Jane begging in a village before her meeting with the Rivers family. Actually, many other adaptations have failed to feature this sequence as well . . . much to my disappointment. And I was a little put off by one scene in which Mr. Rochester tried to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield following the aborted wedding ceremony with over emotional kisses on the latter's lips. Not face . . . but lips. I also did not care for the invented scenes that included a pair of doctors telling Reverend Brocklehurst that he was responsible for the typhus outbreak at Lowood. What was the point in adding this scene? And what was the point in adding a scene in which two society ladies discussed John Reed during a visit Thornfield? 

Overall, "JANE EYRE" proved to be a solid adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel, thanks to director Joan Craft and screenwriter Robin Chapman. Everything about this production struck me as "solid", including the performances from a cast led by Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. Only Stephanie Beachum's portrayal of Blanche Ingram stood out for me. The production values struck me as a bit pedestrian. And I was not that thrilled by a few omissions and invented scenes by Chapman. But in the end, I liked the miniseries. I did not love it, but I liked it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Photo Gallery



Below are some photos from the 1979 miniseries called "THE SACKETTS". Based upon two of Louis L'Amour's novels - "The Daybreakers" (1960) and "Sackett" (1961), the miniseries starred Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage: 


"THE SACKETTS" (1979) Photo Gallery