Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"FAST FIVE" (2011) Review

"FAST FIVE" (2011) Review

I have never seen a movie from the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise before 2011. Never. I never had the inclination to see any of these movies, despite the series being a consistent cash cow for producer Neal H. Moritz and Universal Studios for the past decade. One might begin to wonder what led me to see the franchise's latest entry, "FAST FIVE".

I might have to retract a little. I did see the first movie, 2001's "THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS" last December. Well, I only saw two or three minutes of one of the movie's early scenes on a large screen television at my local electronics store. But those two or three minutes did not convince me to go see "FAST FIVE". The movie trailer did. When I first saw it, I had rolled my eyes in disgust at the idea of a fifth FAST AND FURIOUS movie. When I saw the trailer for a second time . . . it intrigued me. Because of this, I decided to end my ban on the franchise and see the movie.

In order to understand the beginning of "FAST FIVE", one would have to watch the past four movies - especially 2009's "FAST AND FURIOUS". That movie, featured law enforcement officer Brian O'Conner's reunion with the Toretto family - street car racer/thief Dominic "Dom" and his younger sister, Mia - after he had allowed Dom to escape arrest at the end of the first movie. Dom and Brian investigated the murder of the former's girlfriend, Leticia "Letty" Ortiz and her connection to a major drug lord. Brian made arrangements with the FBI for Dom's release in exchange for the latter's assistance in the drug lord's capture. However, a Federal judge reneged on the deal and sentenced Dom 25 years to life in prison. The movie ended with Brian, Mia and two of Dom's colleagues (Tego Leo and Rico Santos) attempting to free Dom from a bus en route to the Lompoc Penitentiary.

"FAST FIVE" picked up with Dom's rescue from the prison bus. Dom, Brian and Mia are forced to leave the United States as fugitives from justice. Upon their arrival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; they encounter Dom's former colleague, Vince. He recruits them to participate in steal cars from a moving train, on behalf of a Rio businessman and crime lord named Hernan Reyes. When Dom realizes that one of their fellow thieves, Zizi, is only interested in stealing one car - the Ford GT40 - he has Mia steal the car, while Dom and Brian fight Zizi and his henchmen. The fight results in Zizi's murder of three DEA agents on board the train. The murders are pinned on Dom and Brian. The trio discover a computer chip from the Ford GT40 that consists of details of Reyes' criminal operation and locations of $100 million dollars in cash. They decide to rip off the crime lord's money in order to start a new life, with the help of old friends. Dom, Brian and Mia also discover that a diehard U.S. DSS agent named Luke Hobbs is in Brazil to capture them for the murders of the DEA agents.

When "FAST FIVE" first hit the theaters, many fans and critics declared it to be the best in the franchise. Following my first viewing of the movie, I watched the other four that came before it. Two of them proved to be well-written entertainment; one of them seemed decent, but a little mediocre; and one barely maintained my interest. But "FAST FIVE" definitely turned out to be better than the first four movies. Although the movie featured an extreme car chase through the streets of Rio, it barely touched upon street car racing, a theme that dominated the other four films. In fact, the movie only featured two street car races - a good natured contest between four of the characters and another between Dom and Brian right before the movie's end credits. In other words, "FAST FIVE" was more of a heist film. And although certain fans had complained about the limited emphasis on street car racing, the critics and other fans had expressed that the heist plot made "FAST FIVE" the best in the franchise. So far.

Not only do I believe that "FAST FIVE" is the best in the franchise, I feel that it is one of the better heist movies I have seen in recent years (aside from 2001's "OCEAN'S ELEVEN" and 2007's "OCEAN'S THIRTEEN"). Aside from a small quibble regarding the Vince character, screenwriter Chris Morgan's plot turned out to be a strong continuation of the first, second and fourth films. Morgan's utilization of characters from the previous films provided "FAST FIVE" with a strong ensemble cast. In fact, I happily noticed that none of supporting characters had been shoved into the background or overshadowed by the Dom, Brian and Mia characters. Most of the supporting characters have previous connections with Dominic, except for two - Roman Pearce and Tej Parker - who appeared in 2003's "2 FAST 2 FURIOUS" as Brian's friends. This fifth film provided a warm and humorous private reunion between the three. And thanks to Morgan's script, the franchise's theme of family (especially fatherhood) resonated strongly. This theme also led me to view the Dominic/Brian friendship with a jaundiced eye.

The movie's production also struck me as top notch. Aside from the train robbery sequence, many of the exterior scenes were shot in Puerto Rico and Rio. Director Justin Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon did a first rate job in conveying the elegance, color, chaos and squalor of Rio de Janeiro. I also have to commend Kelly Matsumoto, Fred Raskin and Christian Wagner for their editing of the film - especially the foot chase through Rio's Rocinha Favela (shantytown) and the chase sequence throughout the city.

Before I end up gushing over the movie, I do have a few quibbles. The train heist had been shot in Arizona . . . and looked it. I am aware of the scrub lands that exist in Brazil, but the train featured in this sequenced looked as if it was traveling through a very stark and dry looking terrain. And Morgan's script never revealed how Vince ended up in Brazil. He had last been seen in "THE FAST AND FURIOUS", being evacuated to hospital by a medivac, after being badly injured in truck heist gone wrong. Had he been convicted following his release from the hospital? How did he end up in Brazil in the first place?

Considering the number of performers featured in the cast of "FAST FIVE", I figured it would take a separate article to write about them. If I must be honest, there was not a performance that hit the wrong note. I noticed that the movie seemed to have a strong sense of ensemble acting. Not only did the gang of thieves summoned by Dominic and Brian clicked with perfect magic, but Dwayne Johnson and the other actors who portrayed the DSS agents clicked very well as a team. And I could say the same about Joaquim de Almeida as crime lord Reyes and Michael Irby as his henchman, Zizi.

There were some performances that caught my eye. Vin Diesel and Paul Walker made an even stronger screen team, now that the latter's character (Brian O'Conner) officially became a criminal. And Walker's chemistry with Jordana Brewster seemed a lot stronger and more stable than it was in the first and fourth movies. Speaking of Walker (again), he was also able to re-create his strong chemistry with Tyrese Gibson, who portrayed his childhood friend Roman, from the second film. As for Gibson, not only did he have the worst line in the movie, he also had most of the best ones. He was dynamic as ever. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges gave a deliciously cool and sardonic performance as Tej Parker. Spanish-born actress Elsa Pataky really connected with Diesel and Johnson in separate films. And it was great to see Almeida in a strong role again. I found his character's view on the differences between Spanish and Portuguese colonization rather interesting and chilling. Sung Kang (Han Seoul-Oh) and Gal Gadot (Gisele Harabo)'s characters created a surprisingly sexy romance. Tego Calderon and Don Omar made a hilarious screen team as Dom's old colleagues from the Dominican Republic. And even Dwayne Johnson gave a slightly scary take on the "holy roller" Federal agent, Luke Hobbs.

Considering how long this article is, one would assume that I really enjoyed "FAST FIVE". And that person would be right. And I find this surprising, considering my initial contempt, when I first saw the movie's trailer. Not only did I really enjoy "FAST FIVE", it is one my favorite movies of the summer . . . so far. It is also one of my favorite movies of 2011, as well. I am impressed.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

"LOST": "The Island Guru"

"LOST": "The Island Guru"

There have been countless number of character essays and theories posted by "LOST" fans about Island Destiny Man – John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Quite frankly, I have only read a small number of those articles. But recently, I have been watching some of the series’ episodes from Seasons One and Two. After viewing some of them, I have grown aware of a certain trait of Locke’s that I find annoying.

When John Locke’s back story was first introduced in the episode, (1.04) "Walkabout", viewers discovered that he had been a wheelchair bound employee of a box company in Tustin, California. Viewers eventually discovered that Locke was the illegitimate son of the fifteen year-old Emily Locke and a con artist named Anthony Cooper. Locke spent most of his childhood and a great deal of his adult years longing to be a man of action and someone special. He spent those years honing his skills as a hunter and gathering a great deal of knowledge on so many subjects.

On September 22, 2004, John Locke had traveled to Australia to participate in a "walkabout tour" that would allow him to ”live in the wilderness” for a certain period of time with a group of tourists. Employees of the Melbourne Walkabout Tours took one look at Locke’s disabled state and refused to accept him on one of their tours. Forced to return home to California, Locke boarded the Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 that would take him from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California. Only he and his fellow passengers never reached United States soil. Instead, they found themselves stranded on a mysterious island in the South Pacific. Locke also discovered that the island had somehow cured his crippled legs. From this moment on, Locke became an acolyte of the island. And judging from his interactions with characters like Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle, he searched for his own band of acolytes to share his beliefs.

Locke spent most of Season One helping the castaways survive those first 44 days on the island and offer them sage advice. He also had two encounters with a mysterious smoke monster, became the survivors’ “great white hunter”, helped Boone Carlyle deal with unhealthy for his stepsister, Shannon Rutherford, helped Charlie Pace kick a heroin addiction and convinced spinal surgeon Jack Shephard to assume leadership of the castaways. This all changed in the episode, (1.19) "Ex Deux Machina", when Locke and Boone discovered a Nigerian plane filled with heroin and bodies in the jungle. In that episode, he had convinced Boone to crawl into the plane to examine it. Because he had failed to inform Boone that he had a prophetic dream that the plane would lead to Boone’s death, he lied to Jack about the true situation of Boone’s wounds after the actual accident. From that moment on, the series began to unravel even more of Locke’s less admirable traits. Many fans and even actor Terry O’Quinn have expressed regret that Locke had not remained the wise, self-assured man from Season One.

But my recent viewings of some of the Season One and Season Two episodes have led me to wonder if Locke’s "self-assuredness" had been nothing more than a façade. Also, that same self-assuredness seemed to have revealed a trait within Locke that I found personally distasteful. Superficially, John Locke’s willingness to help others like Charlie and Boone seemed may have seemed admirable. It certainly did to many viewers. No one has ever complained about his "methods" in helping those two. And for me, his methods in helping Charlie and Boone has made me wonder if John Locke was – like Jack Shephard – a slightly bullying and controlling man.

Charlie Pace
I had first noticed these traits in Locke during the Season One episode, (1.06) "House of the Rising Sun". This episode’s subplot featured an expedition in which Jack, Charlie, Kate Austen and Locke examined a large cavern as a provision for housing and water for the castaways. While alone with Charlie, Locke took the opportunity to reveal his knowledge of the musician’s heroin habit:

[We see Charlie walking away from caves trying to take drugs out of his pocket, looking behind him. But Locke is coming from the opposite direction.]
CHARLIE: Listen to me, you old git, I'm going in the jungle. A man has a right to some privacy.
LOCKE: Just hand it to me. You're going to run out. My guess is sooner rather than later. Painful detox is inevitable. Give it up now at least it will be your choice.
CHARLIE: Don't talk to me like you know something about me.
LOCKE: I know a lot more about pain than you think. I don't envy what you're facing. But I want to help. [Charlie walks away]. Do you want your guitar?
[Charlie turns and comes back.]
LOCKE: More than your drug?
CHARLIE: More than you know.
LOCKE: What I know is that this island might just give you what you're looking for, but you have to give the island something.
CHARLIE [giving Locke the drugs]: You really think you can find my guitar?
LOCKE: Look up, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You're not going to ask me to pray or something.
LOCKE: I want you to look up.
[Charlie looks up and almost cries when he sees his guitar on a cliff above.]

Judging from the above scene, Locke’s idea of helping Charlie was to insist that the latter hand over the remaining heroin he had left. He insisted. That was Locke’s initial idea of helping Charlie. Knowing the location of Charlie’s guitar, which the latter valued more than anything, Locke then maneuvered Charlie into giving up the drugs in return for the guitar.

In the following episode, (1.07) "The Moth", Charlie had demanded that Locke return his drugs – which the former agreed to do – ONLY when the former asked for the third time:

[Shot of Charlie running from a boar. Some luggage falls, the boar is trapped in a large net trap.]
LOCKE: Nice work, Charlie. You make excellent bait.
CHARLIE [angrily]: I'm glad I could oblige. Now give me my bloody drugs.

Act 2
CHARLIE: Did you hear what I said? I want my drugs back. I need 'em.
LOCKE: Yet you gave them to me. Hmm.
CHARLIE: And I bloody well regret it. I'm sick, man. Can't you see that?
LOCKE: I think you're a lot stronger than you know, Charlie. And I'm going to prove it to you. I'll let you ask me for your drugs three times. The third time, I'm going to give them to you. Now, just so we're clear, this is one.
CHARLIE: Why? Why? Why are you doing this? To torture me? Just get rid of them and have done with it?
LOCKE: If I did that you wouldn't have a choice, Charlie. And having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct, is the only thing that separates you from him [indicating the boar].

Now I realize that Locke simply wanted to help Charlie. And I realize that he honestly believe that he was giving Charlie a choice. But if that was John Locke’s idea of a choice, he could keep it, as far as I am concerned. I found Locke’s idea of giving someone a choice rather boorish and controlling. He did not simply give Charlie a choice. What Locke did was manipulate Charlie into making a choice . . . but only on his terms. If Locke really wanted Charlie to utilize his free will to make a choice – one way or the other – about the heroin, he should have given Charlie the heroin when the latter first asked. Some fans have argued that Charlie would have never given up the heroin if Locke had handed it over right away. My answer to that is . . . tough shit. Seriously. Charlie should have made the decision to either continue taking the heroin or stop using . . . on his own. Without Locke’s interference or manipulation.

In the Season One finale, (1.24) "Exodus II", Charlie accompanied Sayid in a search for Danielle Rousseau, a long time castaway who had kidnapped Aaron Littleton in order to exchange him for her own kidnapped daughter. During that search, the pair came across a Nigerian plane with dead bodies and Virgin Mary statuettes filled with heroin. In a weak moment, Charlie took one of the statuettes behind Sayid’s back. It turned out to be the first of many trips in which Charlie ended up filching a statuette or two, until he managed to build up quite a collection. The ironic thing is that Charlie managed to refrain from using heroin in his possession. Claire Littleton – Aaron’s mother, Mr. Eko and eventually Locke discovered in Season Two’s (2.10) "The 23rd Psalm" and (2.12) "Fire and Water" that Charlie had possession of the statuettes. This, along with Charlie’s frantic concern and actions over Aaron, led Locke to assume that Charlie had resumed using drugs again:

CHARLIE: Hey, John, can I talk to you for a second?
LOCKE: Yeah, what is it, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I take it you heard about what happened last night.
LOCKE: If you mean you taking the baby out of Claire's tent in the middle of the night -- yeah, I heard.
CHARLIE: This whole thing was a big misunderstanding, John. I was sleepwalking. I don't how or why --
LOCKE: Is there something you want from me, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I was hoping you could speak to Claire for me. You know, put in a good word.
LOCKE: Are you using?
LOCKE: Heroin. Are you using again?
CHARLIE: Kate sees a horse -- nothing. Pretty much everybody's seen Walt wondering around the jungle. But when it's Charlie it must be the bloody drugs, right?

Charlie did lie about having the drugs in his possession. But he had been telling the truth about not using. When Locke found Charlie’s stash of statuettes, he reacted in the following manner:

[Back on the Island, Charlie holds a couple of baggies of heroin in his hand.]
LOCKE [suddenly, off camera at first]: I'm disappointed in you, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You following me?
LOCKE: How long have you been coming out here?
CHARLIE: John, you've got the wrong idea, man.
LOCKE: You said you destroyed them all, and yet here they are. How is that the wrong idea?
CHARLIE: I came out here to finish the job. I'm going to get rid of these right now.
LOCKE: Yeah, that's very convenient now that I found you. [Locke goes to the statues with his pack.]
CHARLIE: What are you doing?
LOCKE [putting the statues in his pack]: There was a time when I let you choose whether or not you were going to do this to yourself. Now I'm making that choice for you.
CHARLIE: Oh, you don't believe me? Give them to me. Give them to me right now; I'll destroy them. Look. [He breaks up the baggies in his hand] I'll throw them in the sodding wind. Look, John, I know I lied, alright. [Locke starts walking away] Wait, wait, wait. Remember all those talks we had, you and me? You said everything happens for a reason -- this island tests us. That's what this is, John, at test. This is my test. That's why these are here.
LOCKE: These are here because you put them here, Charlie. [Locke starts to leave again.]
CHARLIE: Wait, John, wait. [Charlie grabs Locke's arm, and Locke angrily breaks free.] What are you going to do? Are you going to tell Claire? You can't. If she sees them, I'm done. She'll never trust me again, and she has to, John. It's about the baby, alright? Aaron's in danger. You have to believe me.
LOCKE: You've given up the right to be believed, Charlie.

Now, I can understand how Locke would be pissed off that Charlie had lied to him about having the statuettes. But the manner in which he took possession of them reminded me of a bullying parent. At that moment, Locke decided that he would do something about Charlie’s drug problem by taking away the heroin without the latter’s permission. Like a parent would act toward an errant child. All Locke could have done was express disappointment at Charlie for the latter’s lies. But he behaved as if he had the right to take the drugs away . . . and "make the choice" for Charlie to stop using. The sad thing is that Charlie allowed him to get away with such controlling behavior.

Booone Carlyle
By mid Season One, John Locke found another disciple to mentor. It all began when Charlie and a very pregnant Claire had been kidnapped by a spy for the Others – Ethan Rom – in the episode (1.10) “Raised By Another”. In the following episode, (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, a party that included Locke, Jack, Kate Austen and a wedding planner named Boone Carlyle set off into the jungle in search of the two kidnapped castaways. Eventually, the quartet split into two teams when Kate revealed that she also had tracking skills. Jack and Kate formed one team, and Locke and Boone formed the other. And at this moment, the master/apprentice relationship between the latter pair was born.

This relationship between Locke and Boone lasted approximately eight to nine episodes – between ”All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” and (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”. During this period, Locke and Boone discovered a steel door to the hatch (Swan Station) that would dominate Season Two. The two men spent several episodes trying to find ways to open the hatch, while lying to the castaways that they were on expeditions hunt for boar. These expeditions were briefly postponed in the episode, (1.13) “Hearts and Minds”, when Boone decided to tell Shannon about the discovered hatch:

BOONE: Look, at least I've got to tell Shannon.
BOONE: What do mean, why? She's my sister.
LOCKE: Why do you care about her so much?
BOONE: You don't know her man. She's smart, she's special in a lot of ways.
LOCKE: Fair enough.
BOONE: She's been asking me about this. I can't keep lying to her.
LOCKE: You mean you can't keep lying to her, or you can't stand the way she makes you feel because you're lying to her?
BOONE: Both. Whatever. Look, she can keep a secret.
LOCKE: You're sure?
BOONE: Yes, I'm sure.
LOCKE: No, I mean, are you sure you want to do this?
BOONE: I've got to get her off my back. She keeps asking me about this, she keeps asking me about you, about the whole thing.
LOCKE: You're sure you've thought through the ramifications?
LOCKE: So be it.
[Boone turns around, Locke clocks him with a knife handle.]

After this surprising moment, Locke tied Boone to a tree and used drugs to force the latter to experience a vision quest :

[Shot of Boone tied up. Locke is mixing the stuff in the bowl.]
BOONE: Locke, what is this? Do you hear me? Untie me right now.
LOCKE: Or what?
BOONE: I swear I won't tell anyone about the hatch thing, okay? I promise.
LOCKE: I'm doing this, Boone, because it's time for you to let go of some things. Because it's what's best for you. And, I promise, you're going to thank me for this later.
BOONE: Hey, I don't think this is best for me. [Locke smears the stuff he's been mixing onto the wound on Boone's head.] What is that?
LOCKE: An untreated wound, out here, is going to get infected.
BOONE: You're not going to just leave me here.
LOCKE: Whether you stay is up to you. The camp is 4 miles due west.
BOONE: Which way is west?
[Locke throws a knife into the ground, just out of Boone's reach.]
LOCKE: You'll be able to cut yourself free once you have the proper motivation.
BOONE: Locke!
[Boone is struggling in the ropes, trying to reach the knife.]
BOONE: Help, help!

Locke claimed that he was forcing Boone to submit to a vision quest ”for his own good”. Perhaps helping Boone find closure in his relationship with Shannon had been on his mind. But I find it interesting that Locke had decided to manipulate Boone into this situation after the latter decided to reveal the secret about the hatch. And regardless of whether Locke truly had Boone’s interests at heart or not, he really had no business forcing Boone into that situation in the first place. No wonder the younger man attacked Locke upon returning to the camp.

It all worked out in the end. Locke’s enforced ”vision quest” convinced Boone to leave Shannon alone and allow her to continue her romance with Sayid. More importantly – at least for Locke – the two men continued to maintain the secret of the hatch within the next six to seven episodes. However, Boone never really forgotten Locke’s heavy-handed method of coercing him into a vision question. He made this perfectly clear in ”Ex Deux Machina”:

[The scene switches to Boone and Locke at the hatch.]
LOCKE: I had a dream last night. I asked for a sign and then I saw a plane crash—a Beechcraft [pointing] right out there. It was a dream, but it was the most real thing I've ever experienced. I know where to go now.
BOONE: Go for what?
LOCKE: To find what we need to open this bastard up.
BOONE: Have you been using that wacky paste stuff that made me see my sister get eaten?
LOCKE [laughing]: No, no.
BOONE: Because, John, I've got to tell you—signs and dreams...

In the end, Boone paid a heavy price for becoming John Locke’s protégée . . . assistant . . . or however you want to call him. In the same episode, Locke dreamt of the following - a Beechcraft plane crashing, as well as his mother pointing in its direction; a blood-stained Boone; being confined to his wheelchair and a woman from Boone's past who had died from a fall. As shown in the above passage, Locke did reveal some of his dream to the younger man. Unfortunately, he failed to tell Boone about seeing the latter covered in blood. With Locke’s legs temporarily paralyzed, he urged Boone to climb into the Beechcraft. The younger man managed to briefly contact someone via the plane’s radio (it turned out to be Bernard Nadler from the Tail Section of Flight 815) before the plane fell over and severely injured Boone. Locke managed to regain the use of his legs and carry Boone back to camp. But since he had failed to inform Jack about the nature of Boone’s injuries, the latter eventually died in the next episode, (1.20) “Do No Harm”.

Other Castaways
Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle were not the only survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 to whom Locke had volunteered his advice. In (1.14) “Special”, he tried to give parenting tips to Michael Dawson on how to handle the latter’s ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd. Being older than Charlie and Boone, and resentful of Locke’s growing relationship with Walt, Michael angrily rejected Locke’s advice. Ironically, I sympathized with Michael. God knows he barely knew anything about being a parent, considering Walt’s mother kept him away from the ten year-old. But Michael had never asked for Locke’s advice or sympathetic ear. And the older man did not help matters by attempting to teach Walt on how to throw a machete without Michael’s permission.

Locke’s relationship with spinal surgeon Jack Shephard is practically legendary amongst ”LOST” fans. And yet, their relationship had begun on a harmless note when Locke informed Jack that most of the castaways regarded him as their leader. This was Locke’s way of convincing Jack to accept the mantle of leadership. In the end, Locke grew to regret the advice he had given for by Season Two, he ended up clashing with Jack over the leadership of the castaways. Which I did not found surprising, considering that both men shared a penchant for controlling others . . . in their own fashion.

There have been other instances in which Locke inflicted his own will against the desires and choices of others . . . or manipulated others. In ”The Moth”, he prevented Sayid from setting up a signal to help the castaways get rescued. He committed a similar act in Season Three’s (3.13) “The Man From Tallahassee”, when he blew up the submarine that the Others had provided for Jack’s departure from the island. In (3.19) “The Brig”, Locke manipulated James “Sawyer” Ford into murdering his own father, Anthony Cooper. It seemed that Cooper had conned Sawyer’s family of their money back in the 1970s – an act that drove Mr. Ford to commit the double act of murder/suicide. And in the Season Three finale, (3.24) “Through the Looking Glass II”, Locke murdered island newcomer Naomi Dorrit in cold blood to prevent her from signaling her companions from an offshore freighter.

For me, there is one scene that truly symbolized the conflicting and sometimes hypocritical nature of John Locke. In Season Two’s (2.11) “The Hunting Party”, Locke and Jack had discovered that Michael had left the camp in a desperate search to find Walt, who had been kidnapped by the Others in ”Exodus II”. And the two eventually clashed over how to react over Michael’s desperate flight:

LOCKE: Doesn't seem to be -- trail's as straight as the interstate -- the path of a man who knows where he's going. [Locke stares at Jack a moment] Where are you going, Jack?
JACK: What?
LOCKE: Well, let's say we catch up with him, Michael. What are you going to do?
JACK: I'm going to bring him back.
LOCKE: What if he doesn't want to come back?
JACK: I'll talk him into coming back.
LOCKE: This is the second time he's gone after Walt. He knocked me out; he locked us both up. Something tells me he might be past listening to reason.
JACK: What? You think we should just let him go -- write him off?
LOCKE: Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can't do?

What exactly did Locke say to Jack? Oh yes . . . ”Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?” I found the comment a very ironic comment for John Locke to make, considering his past history with Charlie, Boone and Michael. Judging from the above dialogue, Locke seemed to be a fervent believer in free will and choices. Yet, he seemed incapable of practicing what he was preaching. Despite his belief in free will and free choices, I suspect that John Locke suffered from a malady that afflict many human beings – namely a desire to inflict one’s will or control over others. Power over another is a heady drug and many would bend over backwards or make any excuse to indulge in that desire. A very popular excuse, at least with Locke, seemed to be that he had acted for the greater good on behalf of his fellow castaways – regardless of whether they had asked for his help or not. From what I have seen of Locke’s character over the series’ past four seasons, he reminds of a certain type of character who has appeared in many forms of literature over years. This type happens to an individual who has exercised very little control over his/her life and who has spent most of his/her life being manipulated by others. This has certainly been true of Locke’s character in his relationships with his parents, employers and other acquaintances. Especially his father. This could explain why given the opportunity, Locke never hesitated to make decisions for others without their consent or manipulate them with a Draconian touch that seems rather sinister.

The ironic thing is I have rarely come across any criticisms regarding Locke’s penchant for inflicting his will upon others. Many fans have complained about his willingness to be manipulated by others, especially his father Anthony Cooper and leader of the Others, Ben Linus. Some fans have complained about his obsession over the island and his long-running feud with Jack. But I do not recall coming across any complaints about his actions with Boone in ”Hearts and Mind”. And many have complimented him for the way he dealt with Charlie’s drug addiction in Season One. I wish I could share in this adulation, considering that Charlie did give up his heroin addiction. But I cannot. I believe that Locke – and possibly many fans – was more focused upon the endgame, instead of the journey. What I am trying to say is that Locke seemed so intent upon achieving a goal – whether it was to get Charlie to give up drugs or convince Boone in getting over Shannon – that he failed to realize that such goals required a great deal of work on their parts. I would have been more impressed if both Charlie and Boone had come to the realization that they needed to get over their desires and obsessions on . . . their . . . own, or made the decision to achieve these goals without being manipulated by Locke. But since Locke had decided to interfere in the lives of both men, he pretty much robbed them of their struggles.

After reading this article, one would believe that I dislike John Locke. I do not. Frankly, I consider him to be one of the most fascinating characters on ”LOST”. Like many other fans, I bought into that image of him as this mysterious and all wise man who not only understood the island better than the characters, but also understood them and their situation better than them. What I had failed to realize back in Season One that underneath the persona of the all wise island guru, John Locke was an insecure man whose enthusiasm over being healed by the island led him to interfere and manipulate the lives of some of his fellow castaways. This enthusiasm not only led him to wallow in a delusion that he knew all there was to know about life, it also hid the fact that as an individual, Locke failed to achieve self-realization before the end of his life.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (2011) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "X-MEN: FIRST CLASS", the fifth entry in the "X-MEN" movie franchise. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, the movie stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon and January Jones:

"X-MEN: FIRST CLASS" (2011) Photo Gallery

Monday, August 22, 2011

"MANSFIELD PARK" (1983) Review

"MANSFIELD PARK" (1983) Review

Long before Patricia Rozema wrote and directed her 1999 adaptation of "Mansfield Park", Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, the BBC aired its own adaptation some sixteen years earlier. This one came in the form of a six-part miniseries and is regarded by many Austen fans as the definitive screen version of the novel.

"MANSFIELD PARK" told the story of Fanny Price, the oldest daughter of a former Royal Navy officer, who is sent by her parents to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle-in-law, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at their estate called Mansfield Park, during the early 19th century. Viewed as socially inferior by her new family, Fanny is treated as half-relative/half-servant by the Bertrams. Only Edmund, the family’s second son, treats her with great kindness and love. Because of Edmund’s behavior, Fanny finds herself in love with him by the age of eighteen. But her life and the Bertrams’ lives soon encounter a force of nature in the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford, a pair of vivacious siblings that are related to the local vicar’s wife. Henry ends up stirring excitement and romantic interest within the breasts of the two Bertram sisters – Maria and Julia. And much to Fanny’s dismay, Edmund forms a romantic attachment to the alluring Mary.

In compare to the 1999 and the ITV 2007 movies, this 1983 miniseries is a more faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Considering its six episodes, I do not find this surprising. Literary fans tend to be more impressed by cinematic adaptations that are very faithful to its source. However, ”MANSFIELD PARK” is not a completely faithful adaptation. Screenwriter Ken Taylor completely ignored Fanny’s questions regarding Sir Thomas’ role as a slaveowner. Whereas Austen’s novel and the 2007 movie briefly touched upon the subject, writer/director Patricia Rozema literally confronted it. Only the miniseries ignored the topic, altogether. Judging from the fans’ reaction to this deviation from Austen’s novel, I suspect that many of them are willing to pretend that the subject of slavery was never broached in the miniseries.

Did I enjoy ”MANSFIELD PARK”? Well . . . the miniseries had its moments. It allowed me to become more aware of the plot details in Austen’s 1814 novel than the other adaptations did. I enjoyed the scene featuring the Bertrams’ introduction to the Crawford siblings. I enjoyed the ball held in Fanny’s honor in Episode Four. It struck me as very elegant and entertaining. I also enjoyed the constant flirtation and verbal duels between Edmund and Mary, despite my dislike of the former character. And much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the sequence featuring Fanny’s visit to her family in Portsmouth. For once, the miniseries’ pacing seemed well paced and I enjoyed the details and production designs in the setting for this sequence. One of the actors portraying Fanny’s younger brothers turned out to be a young Jonny Lee Miller, who later portrayed Edmund in the 1999 production.

But the best aspect of ”MANSFIELD PARK” turned out to be a handful of first-rate performances and Ian Adley’s costume designs. I usually do not harbor much of a high opinion of the costumes designs seen in other Jane Austen’s adaptations from the 1970s and 80s. But I cannot deny that I found Adley’s costumes not only colorful, but very elegant. I am not surprised that he earned a BAFTA TV Award nomination for Best Costume Design.

As I had stated earlier, I was also impressed by a handful of performances featured in the miniseries. One came from veteran actress Anna Massey, who superbly portrayed one of Fanny Price’s aunts, the noxious Mrs. Norris. Depended upon her sister and brother-in-law for their support, Massey’s Mrs. Norris walked a fine line between toad-eating behavior toward Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram and her malicious tyranny toward Fanny. Samantha Bond gave a subtle and complex portrayal of the oldest Bertram daughter, Maria. Bond conveyed not only the shallow and selfish aspects of Maria’s personality, but also the dilemma that her willingness to become the wife of the disappointing Mr. Rushworth put her in. I also found myself impressed by Bernard Hepton’s performance as Sir Thomas Bertarm, owner of Mansfield Park and patriarch of the Bertram family. Hepton’s Sir Thomas came off as superficially generous, intelligent and morally absolute. He seemed every inch of the ideal English landowner and gentleman. Yet, Hepton also conveyed the corruption that lurked underneath Sir Thomas’ façade – namely the man who seemed more concern with the financial suitability of his children’s spouses than any emotional regard. Hepton also revealed with great subtlety, the baronet’s egomania and tyranny in scenes that featured the character’s efforts to coerce Fanny into accepting Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal.

I will be brutally honest. I have never been a fan of the Edmund Bertram character. Despite his kindness to Fanny and occasional wit, he strikes me as too self-righteous and very hypocritical. Whenever I think of that scene in which Edmund rejected Mary Crawford, it still makes my blood boil. But his characterization worked, due to Nicholas Farrell’s performance. He really did an excellent job in conveying all aspects of Edmund’s personality, both the good and the bad. Despite my negative feelings regarding Edmund’s personality, Farrell made him seem very interesting. But ”MANSFIELD PARK” would have never been bearable to me without Jackie Smith-Wood’s sparkling portrayal of one of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters, Mary Crawford. Like Fanny Price, many fans have either loved or disliked this character. Count me as among the former. I absolutely adored Mary – especially in the hands of the talented Ms. Smith-Wood. With great skill, the actress conveyed all aspects of Mary’s personality – her barbed sense of humor, dislike of the clergy, her talent for manipulation, her moral ambiguity, her charm, her wit, her great warmth and generosity. I suspect that the main reason I like Mary so much is that as an early 21st century woman, I find it easy to relate to her way of thinking. Smith-Wood managed to convey the modern sensibilities of Mary’s personality, while still portraying the character as a woman of the early 19th century.

Unfortunately, the bad tends to go hand-in-hand with the good in many movie and television productions. And there are aspects of ”MANSFIELD PARK” that left a bad taste in my mouth – including a few performances. One performance I did not particularly care for was Angela Pleasence’s portrayal of Fanny’s other aunt, the languid Lady Bertram. I am aware that Ms. Pleasence possesses a rather high voice. But I noticed that she exaggerated it for her portrayal of the childish and self-involved Lady Bertram. I wish she had not done this, for I found this exaggerated voice very annoying. And now that I think about it, I realized that Pleasence’s Lady Bertram hardly did a thing in the miniseries that allowed the plot to move forward, except use her selfishness to protect Fanny from Mrs. Norris’ spite . . . sometimes. But I cannot blame the actress. Lady Bertram is a role that has never impressed me. I have yet to find an actress who has ever done anything with the role. I truly believe that producer Betty Billingale and director David Giles selected the wrong actor to portray the charming Lothario, Henry Crawford. Robert Burbage seemed like an affable presence and he wore the costumes designed by Ian Adley very well. But his portrayal of Henry seemed wanting. I will go further and state that I found his performance by-the numbers and his acting skills rather mechanical. Burbage’s Henry did not strike me as the attractive and sexy man who managed to flutter the hearts of the Bertram sisters. Instead, I felt as if I had been watching an earnest schoolboy trying . . . and failing to behave like a rakish seducer.

Finally, I come to Sylvestra Le Touzel’s performance as the miniseries’ leading character, Fanny Price. I am not a fan of the Fanny Price character. Yes, I admire her willingness to stick to her conviction in rejecting Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal in the face of Sir Thomas’ attempts to coerce her. But Fanny also strikes me as being priggish, passive-aggressive, illusional (to a certain extent) and worst of all, hypocritical. I also dislike Edmund Bertram, but I was impressed by Nicholas Farrell’s portrayal of the character. On the other hand, I WAS NOT impressed by Le Touzel’s performance. I realize that she had portrayed a socially awkward and introverted character. But I have seen other actors and actresses portray similar characters with a lot more skill. Le Touzel’s performance struck me as wooden, mannered and at times, slightly hammy. Hell, she made Burbage’s performance seem positively fluid. Le Touzel eventually became a first-rate actress. I saw her very funny performance in 2007’s ”NORTHANGER ABBEY”. But I wish that Billingale and Giles had cast someone with a lot more skill to portray Fanny, twenty-eight years ago.

I find it odd that screenwriter Kenneth Taylor took it upon himself to be as faithful as possible to Austen’s novel, with his deletion of Sir Thomas’ role as a slaveowner being the only exception. However, he had failed to change some aspects of the novel that I consider to be very flawed. Taylor never allowed Fanny and Edmund to become self-aware of their personal failings. Edmund managed to self-flagellate himself for becoming emotionally involved with Mary. But I do not consider that much of a failing. Because of the pair’s failure to become self-aware of their failings, I believe they lacked any real character development. Taylor’s script could have assumed a third voice and criticized or mocked Fanny and Edmund’s lack of development. But it did not. The sequence featuring the ”Lover’s Vows” play dragged nearly all of Episode Three. By the time Sir Thomas had returned to Mansfield Park, I nearly fast asleep, thanks to the episode’s slow pacing. In fact, Giles and Taylor’s efforts to make ”MANSFIELD PARK” faithful to the novel nearly grounded the miniseries to a halt on several occasions, almost making the entire miniseries rather dull.

More than anything, I had a problem with the miniseries’ finale. One, I never understood Edmund’s decision to reject Mary Crawford as his fiancée. Although Mary had condemned her brother and Maria Bertram Rushworth’s affair and elopement as folly, she had a plan to save the honors of both the Bertram and Crawford families. She had suggested that they convince Henry and Maria to marry following the latter’s divorce from Mr. Rushworth; and have both families stand behind the couple to save face. This plan struck me as very similar to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s plan regarding Lydia Bennet and George Wickham in ”Pride and Prejudice”. Why did Austen condone Mr. Darcy’s actions regarding Lydia and Wickham in one novel and condemn Mary Crawford for harboring similar plans in this story? Did Taylor, Giles or Willingale even notice the similarities between Mr. Darcy’s actions and Mary’s plans and see the hypocrisy? Apparently not. My last problem centered on Fanny and Edmund’s wedding in the final episode. How on earth did this happen? The miniseries made Fanny’s romantic feelings for Edmund perfectly clear. Yet, Edmund never displayed any romantic regard for Fanny, merely familial love. Even when revealing the end of his relationship with Mary to Fanny, he still expressed his love for his former fiancée. But the next scene featured Fanny and Edmund’s wedding. At least Patricia Rozema’s 1999 movie conveyed Edmund’s burgeoning romantic feelings for Fanny. Giles and Taylor failed to the same in this miniseries.

I might as well say it. I will never harbor a high regard for ”MANSFIELD PARK” . . . at least this version. Although its faithfulness to Jane Austen’s 1814 novel revealed the story in greater detail than the 199 and 2007 movies, I believe there were scenes in which it should have been less faithful in order to overcome some of the story’s shortcomings. The miniseries can boast a few outstanding performances from the likes of Nicholas Farrell and Jackie Smith-Wood. But it was hampered by other performances, especially the wooden acting by lead actress, Sylvestra Le Touzel. In the end, ”MANSFIELD PARK” proved to be a mixed bag for me.

Friday, August 19, 2011

"A Broken Heart in the 'STAR WARS' Saga"


There have been many complaints of Padme Amidala’s role in the last installment of the STAR WARS saga – “Revenge of the Sith”. The main contention for many fans seemed to be her death. Many felt that Lucas had weakened her character by allowing her to die of a broken heart. Others accused her of abandoning her newly born children through death. And others have excused the circumstances of her death, claiming that she was “sacrificing herself” so that her twins could be separated and hidden from Emperor Palpatine.

I am not going to try to explain the "sacrifice", simply because I do not buy it. I do not believe that Padme had sacrificed herself in death, for her children’s safety. I believe that she had genuinely died of a broken heart.

My next question is . . . why is it that Padme was not allowed to give into despair by many STAR WARS fans? Why? Because she is supposed to be a strong woman? Since when are strong personalities incapable of giving in to despair or depression? Does anyone understand that nearly everyone possesses both strengths and weaknesses? What is this lack of tolerance over the possibility that Padme may also have her weaknesses? I get the feeling that many feel she should have been this one-dimensional portrayal of a strong character with no weaknesses. What did these fans expect her to do? After giving birth to Luke and Leia, sit up and start singing, "I Am Woman"?

Padme had just witnessed the ascension of the Empire . . . and the death of the Republic she had served with great devotion. Even worse, her dreams of a private life with her husband were dashed by news that he had participated in the deaths of hundreds of Jedi – adults and children, alike. She tried to confront Anakin about the situation and was brutally attacked by him (strangulation). His attack eventually perpetrated the difficult birth of the twins – Luke and Leia. By the time she had even considered that Anakin might still have some good in him, it was TOO LATE for her. At least physically. Both Anakin (who finally gave in to desapir after learning of Padme's death) and Obi-Wan (who spent the next 19 years wallowing in despair, regret and guilt) were lucky that they were not in their third trimester of a pregnancy and on the verge of giving birth.

Years ago, female characters had been in danger of being stuck in nurturing roles or simply the hero's love interest. Now, it seems that female characters "have to be" some kind of Xena the Warrior Princess or a female "Action Jackson" in order to prevent being labeled as WEAK. Apparently, female characters are still not allowed to be all of the above.

Someone on a STAR WARS forum had claimed that females roles are either of the “Xena the Warrior Princess” archetype or the “Dora Dorrit” (or weak female) archetype. This person criticized Lucas of turning Padme from a female warrior into a weakling. My question is . . . why not allow a woman – or anyone, for that matter – to be both strong and weak? It would seem like a very human thing to be.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"THE LINCOLN LAWYER" (2011) Review

"THE LINCOLN LAWYER" (2011) Review

For years I began to wonder if Matthew McConaughey would be stuck in an endless series of mediocre romance comedies and light action thrillers. The last noteworthy movie I had seen him in was the 2008 comedy, "TROPIC THUNDER". Only, he was not the lead in that film. And the last noteworthy movie in which he was the lead actor was the 2006 drama, "WE ARE MARSHALL" and before that – the 2000 World War II thriller, "U-571". Then I saw "THE LINCOLN LAWYER" and whatever doubts I had about the future of his career were erased. For now.

Directed by Brad Furman and based upon Michael Connelly’s 2005 novel, "THE LINCOLN LAWYER" told the story about a successful Los Angeles defense attorney named Mickey Haller, who operates around Los Angeles County out of a Lincoln Town Car, driven by a former client working off his legal fees (hence the title). Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career – a Beverly Hills playboy named Louis Roulet, who also happens to be the son of a real estate mogul named Mary Windsor. Roulet is accused of the brutal beating of a prostitute. At first, Roulet seems to be an innocent who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. But when Haller and his investigator, Frank Levin, discover that the prostitute’s injuries are similar to a past case of his that landed a previous client, Jesus Martinez in prison for murdering a woman, the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller.

After watching this movie, it occurred to me that the movie’s title bore very little significance to the actual plot. If anything, the idea that the Mickey Haller operated his law firm from the back seat of his Lincoln Town Car struck me as some kind of plot contrivance that almost seemed like a publicity ploy. Honestly. Both Connelly’s novel and the movie would have been better off with a title that related more closely with the plot. Perhaps I am being a bit of a nitpicker. Yet, before I actually saw "THE LINCOLN LAWYER", I honestly thought the car would feature as a major plot point for the story. Another problem I had with the movie was that at times, cinematographer Lukas Ettlin utilized in that quick-cut photography that tends to leave me feeling slightly dizzy. And I thought that the story’s conclusion may have been rushed a bit. But despite these mild annoyances, I enjoyed the movie very much.

One, it has become increasingly rare to find a major Hollywood movie set in the Los Angeles. There have been movies set in my hometown. But there are not as many as they used to be. And as an Angeleno, this has been a bone of contention for me. Thankfully, director Brad Furman and cinematographer Lukas Ettlin did a great job in revealing the City of Angels to movie goers without resorting to extremes in its portrayal. Two, Furman made great use of a first-rate cast filled with many whose careers I thought were either over or sliding into oblivion. Most importantly, both Furman and screenwriter John Romano did an excellent job of translating Connelly’s novel to the screen. Okay, I confess that I have never read the novel. Which means that I do not know how faithful Romano’s screenplay was to the novel. But whether the movie was a close adaptation or not, I must admit that it had a damn good story. The best thing I liked about "THE LINCOLN LAWYER" was that Haller’s defense of Roulet transformed into a nightmarish situation in which he found himself in an unwitting game of cat and mouse.

When I said that the cast was first-rate, I was not joking. The supporting cast included excellent performances from the likes of Frances Fisher, who portrayed Roulet’s controlling and over-protective mother; Michael Peña, who portrayed Haller’s former client claiming innocence of murder, while serving time in prison; Laurence Mason as Haller’s observant chauffeur/former client; John Leguizamo, who portrayed the slightly sleezy bail bondsman responsible for directing Haller to Roulet’s case; and Bob Gunton, who portrayed the Roulet-Windsor family’s obsequious attorney. I believe that the last decent movie that Josh Lucas made was 2006’s "GLORY ROAD". So, it was great to see him in a first-rate movie in which, once again, he proved how much of a chameleon he could be in his portrayal of the righteous prosecuting attorney, whose self-assurance is slowly whittled away. William H. Macy created a strong screen chemisty as Haller’s intelligent and witty investigator, who helps solve the case. And Marisa Tomei gave a strong performance as Haller’s ex-wife and a prosecutor who is torn between relief that she is no longer married to such a difficult man and lingering feelings for him.

But the two star performances came from Matthew McConaughey in the title role of Mickey Haller; and Ryan Phillippe as his latest client, Louis Roulet. McConaughey, who has spent too many years without a first rate leading role, owned this movie. Let me take that back. He did not completely own the movie, but he definitely made the Mickey Haller character his own. Hell, he practically conquered it. Sure, McConaughey utilized his usual brand of Southern charm in the movie’s first ten or fifteen minutes. But as the movie’s plot made a sharp turn, the actor dropped the charming façade and revealed his character’s range of emotions in dealing with his complicated new client. And speaking of the Louis Roulet character, I believe that it might turn out to be one of Ryan Phillippe’s best roles ever. Due to his superb performance, he transformed Roulet from a charming, yet bewildered client that projected an air of innocence to a dark and malignant man with a talent for manipulation.

Would I recommend that you see "THE LINCOLN LAWYER" before it disappears from the movie theaters? Absolutely. Thanks to director Brad Furman and screenwriter John Romano, the movie turned out to be a superb adaptation of Michael Connelly’s novel. And the movie was also blessed with a first-rate cast, led by outstanding performances from Matthew McConaughey and Ryan Phillippe. It is one of the better movies I have seen this year so far.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Mary and Henry Crawford in "MANSFIELD PARK"


Every time I read an article or review about Jane Austen's 1814 novel, "MANSFIELD PARK", the authors of these articles always comment on the unpopularity of the novel's leading character, Fanny Price. I could say the same about most articles and reviews on the novel's television and movie adaptations. Time and again, both critics and others claim that most Austen fans have a low opinion of Fanny Price. At the same time, these same commentators like to point out the popularity of the novel's antagonists, Henry and Mary Crawford.

The first time I had come across such a statement about Fanny Price and the Crawfords, I decided to search for further articles that verified these claims. In all honesty, I have come across at least less than a half-a-dozen articles or blogs that either criticized Fanny or praised the Crawfords to the sky - especially Mary Crawford - or did both. But most of the articles and reviews I have discovered usually followed this structure:

1. Fanny Price is very unpopular with Austen fans.

2. The Crawfords - especially Mary - is very popular with Austen fans.

3. The authors claim that they harbor the same opinions, until recently.

4. The authors eventually state that they believe Fanny Price is a misunderstood character and praise her character to the sky as a paragon of virtue and courage.

5. Or the authors would point out Fanny's personality flaws and claim that Austen used as some kind of metaphor for eighteenth century morality play, or etc.

6. Bring up the Crawfords and reveal how degenerate they really were, despite any virtues they may possess. Both characters have been called the worse names in an effort to make Fanny look good.

I like to call the above structure or formula - "The Defense of Fanny Price Campaign". And most articles I have read about "MANSFIELD PARK" usually follow this formula. In fact, I have come across so many articles of this nature that I now have doubts that most Austen fans really dislike Fanny or even like the Crawfords.

I am well aware that Mary and Henry Crawford were flawed. And I believe that Austen did an excellent job of making their flaws rather obvious. On the other hand, I believe that she did a pretty good job in portraying their virtues, as well. Fanny Price was no different, in my opinion. Mind you, I found her rather dull at times. But I have never dismissed her on those grounds. Fanny did have her virtues. But I believe that she also possesed flaws. And like the Crawfords, she never overcame hers by the end of the novel. But whereas Austen literally ignored Fanny's flaws by the end of novel . . . and gave her a wide berth, she castigated the Crawfords for failing to overcome their flaws. Many critics and fans who have posted articles in the very fashion I brought up, also did the same. And so did the movie and television adaptations.

This is the main problem I have about "MANSFIELD PARK". If Austen had been willing to acknowledge Fanny's flaws (let alone those of her cousin, Edmund Bertram), I would have never found it difficult to enjoy the story. I suspect that "MANSFIELD PARK" could have easily been one of those novels that explored the complex nature of all of its major characters without labeling one or two of them as "villains". Or . . . if she really wanted to villify the Crawfords that badly, she would have been better off portraying them as superficial, one-note characters.

But what I find really frustrating is this so-called "Defense of Fanny Price" campaign that seemed to have swamped the Internet for the past four-to-five years. By utilizing the structure that I had earlier pointed out, these critics and fans seem willing to turn a blind eye to Fanny's flaws; at the same time, castigate Mary and Henry Crawfords as villains on the same level as George Wickham of "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE". Of all the articles I have come across about the characters featured in the 1814 novel, only one has seemed willing to view them all as morally complex and ambiguous. If there are other "MANSFIELD PARK" articles of similar nature, I can only hope that someone would inform me.

Monday, August 8, 2011

"AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS" (1956) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 1956 Oscar winning film, "AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS". The photos originally came from "LIFE" magazine and the movie was produced by Michael Todd and starred David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton:

"AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS" (1956) Photo Gallery

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" Retrospective: (5.12 “Bride of Chaotica!”)

"STAR TREK VOYAGER" Retrospective: (5.12 “Bride of Chaotica!”)

One of the aspects of ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” that I have truly enjoyed over the other "TREK" shows were the holoprograms featured or the episodes centered in the two Holodecks. One such holo program was "The Adventures of Captain Proton" stories created by Voyager’s Chief Pilot, Tom Paris. Captain Proton was featured in at least four episodes – three in Season Five and one in Season Seven. But without a doubt, my favorite happened to be the third Proton story titled, "Bride of Chaotica!".

In short, (5.12) "Bride of Chaotica!" began when Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeil) and Harry Kim (Garrett Wang) are enjoying the latest chapter of his Captain Proton program in one of the Holodecks. They are forced to leave it running when spatial distortions trap the ship and disrupt their control over the computer. Voyager’s command staff attempted to discover a way to free the ship from the spatial distortions. Unfortunately, extra-dimensional aliens that exist in a photonic state cross over from their own dimension through a distortion located in the holodeck. They are detected and attacked by Proton’s archenemy, Dr. Chaotica (Martin Rayner), who believes them to be from the Fifth Dimension, and whose holographic (photonic) weaponry - though harmless to humans - is deadly to the aliens. Eventually, the crew discover the war being waged between Chaotica and the Fifth Dimension and must defeat him by playing out their roles as the fictional Captain Proton (played by Tom Paris), his sidekick Buster Kincaid (Harry Kim), and Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People. Paris convinced Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) to take on the latter role.

I might as well be frank. I LOVE ”Bride of Chaotica!”. I adore it. It is one of my favorite ”TREK” episodes of all time. What am I saying? It is my favorite ”TREK” episode of all time. Screenwriters Bryan Fuller (creator of ”DEAD LIKE ME” and ”PUSHING DAISIES”) and Michael Taylor created a first-rate episode filled with imagination, action and humor. Having the characters of Tom Paris’ Captain Proton holoprogram get drawn into a galactic war with an actual group of actual aliens that are photonic was a stroke of genius. And Fuller and Taylor, along with director Allan Kroeker, did an excellent job combining an original story with great characterization.

The cast was excellent, as always. Robbie McNeill and Garrett Wang revived their old magic as Tom and Harry – the two crewmembers who got more out of the Captain Proton holoprogram than anyone. Come to think of it, McNeill also managed to generate strong chemistry with Tim Russ (Lieutenant-Commander Tuvok) and Kate Mulgrew. The latter was superb as Queen Arachnia, although I think she may have been a little guilty of too much mugging, while expressing Janeway’s disregard for the Proton holoprogram. However, I loved her scene with Neelix (Ethan Phillips) that showcased Janeway’s caffine addiction. With that scene, she may have truly earned the nickname - Queen of the Delta Quadrant:

JANEWAY: "Coffee, black."
NEELIX: "I'm sorry, Captain. We've lost another two replicators –"
JANEWAY: "Listen to me very carefully because I'm only going to say this once. Coffee – black."
NEELIX: (To replicator)"Coffee, black. While I've got your attention there are –"
JANEWAY: (Holds up hand)"Coffee first."(drinks/inhales)"...Now, what's the problem?"

And then there is Dr. Chaotica, portrayed with great relish by Martin Rayner. The promise he had shown as a rich and over-the-top character in the Season Five premiere, ”Night” was fulfilled in this episode. The late Nicholas Worth ably supported both Mulgrew and Rayner as Chaotica’s ruthless, obsequious henchman, Lonzak.

As much as I love ”Bride of Chaotica!”, there is one aspect about it that disturbed me – namely the crew’s reaction to the Captain Proton hologram. It is quite apparent that they view it as nothing more than a childish piece of fiction for those of the immature mind. And it is quite apparent that they also view Tom Paris’ participation in it as childish. And they are not the only ones. I have read some reviews of the episodes. While most tend to sneer at it, along with anything labeled ”STAR TREK VOYAGER”, at least two of them did not. Julia Houston seemed to view the holoprogram not only as Tom Paris’ personal fantasy, but also as an example of his imagination. Like me, she seemed annoyed by the inability of others to appreciate Paris’ imagination . . . and his right to his own fantasy. Now Jim Wright did seem to enjoy the holoprogram and appreciate its uniqueness. But it also seemed that he viewed it as a sign of Paris’ immaturity . . . and as something that the Chief Pilot would have to give up in order to develop as an adult.

Quite frankly, I agree with Julia Houston. I was very annoyed by the other Voyager crewmen’s snobbish reaction to Captain Proton. Okay, perhaps they did not care for it very much. But was there really any need for them to openly sneer at what he considered recreation and fantasy? What law was there that Tom’s pursuit of recreation had to be culturally high-brow or meaningful? Janeway, of all people, had no business to sneer. This is a woman who had spent two seasons indulging in her Lambada One holoprogram – a ”Jane Eyre”/”Rebecca” Gothic romance. I must also admit that I was a little put-off by Jim Wright’s assumption that Tom needed to give up the Proton program in order to become more mature as an adult. To me, this attitude seemed like a clear lack of appreciation for Tom’s vivid imagination. Perhaps it was more important to him and other ”VOYAGER” fans that Tom become the stand-up Starfleet officer that Owen Paris and Janeway wanted him to be. Happily, Tom never stuck to his declaration of giving up the Proton program. He and Harry were still using it in early Season Six (see ”Alice”). And a late Season Seven episode called ”Homestead” revealed that Tom had created another B-movie style program called “Invaders from the Ninth Dimension."

Personally, I like the idea that Tom Paris would eventually become that successful holonovelist sometime in his future. But in the VOYAGER relaunch novels, he became a permanent Starfleet officer, achieving the rank of Lieutenant-Commander and Voyager’s new first officer. Ugh. What a waste of a vivid imagination that created the likes of the Proton holoprograms. In real life, I would compare Tom to the likes of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry, J. Michael Stracynski and the two writers who had created this wonderfully imaginative episode – Fuller and Taylor. A girl can imagine - can’t she?

Monday, August 1, 2011

"NORTHANGER ABBEY" (1986) Screencaps Gallery


Below are screencaps from "NORTHANGER ABBEY", the 1986 A&E/BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's 1817 novel. Directed by Giles Foster, the movie starred Katharine Schlesinger, Peter Firth and Robert Hardy: 

"NORTHANGER ABBEY" (1986) Screencaps Gallery














Thorpe - NA 1987