Monday, February 27, 2012


Below are images from "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO", the new adaptation of Stieg Larsson's posthumous 2005 novel. Directed by David Fincher, the movie stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara:


Friday, February 24, 2012

"The Curious Affair of B'Elanna Torres' Age"


Over the years there have been many complaints about the inconsistency regarding characters and stories in TREK series, "sSTAR TREK VOYAGER" (1995-2001). I will not deny that the series has been guilty of the occasional inconsistency. To be frank, all of the five TREK series and many of its movies are guilty of the same. However, I was shocked and surprised to learn that some of the websites that provide information on the entire franchise turned out to be just as inconsistent.

While perusing the Wikipedia website, I was surprised to discover a major discrepancy featuring one of the major characters on "STAR TREK VOYAGER", namely that of the Chief Engineer, B’Elanna Torres. According to this site, B’Elanna was born in 2349, the same year as Operations Chief, Harry Kim. It also included that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, right after her last meeting with her mother, Miral Torres. Two years later in 2368, B’Elanna allegedly resigned from Starfleet Academy and not long afterwards, joined Chakotay’s cell in the Maquis. There is another source that confirms this – namely Jeri Taylor’s Voyager novel, "Pathways". Personally, I had major problems with this summation.

One, I find it hard to believe that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis sometime between 2368 (the year that Chakotay had resigned from Starfleet and joined the Maquis) and 2369. If this is true, then she would have first met Tom Paris, in the Maquis. But the television series had never hinted that B’Elanna and Tom knew each other before Voyager was hurled into the Delta Quadrant in early 2371. The early Season 2 episode, "Non-Sequitur" made it clear that Tom had served his full sentence in a Federation prison – eighteen months in an alternate timeline that Harry Kim found himself in. According to the episode and the stardate, Tom had been released from prison in September 2371. Which means that Tom had been captured and imprisoned by the Federation in March 2370. And the Season 2 episode, "Dreadnought", made it clear that Voyager’s encounter with Cardassian missile occurred nearly on the second anniversary of B’Elanna’s first encounter with the missile – not long after she had joined Chakotay’s cell. According to the stardate, "Dreadnought" occurred in the summer of 2372, which means that B’Elanna had joined Chakotay’s cell sometime during the late spring of 2370.

Also, it is not possible that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, after seeing her mother for the last time. According to the late Season 5 episode, "The Equinox", B’Elanna had not seen her old Academy boyfriend, Maxwell Burke, in ten years. "The Equinox" was probably set near the end of 2375, which means that she and Burke had last seen each other in 2365. This also leads me to believe that B’Elanna had already been in Starfleet Academy by 2366. I am also convinced that it is possible that B’Elanna had last met with her mother after resigning from Starfleet Academy and not before joining it. Although there is no episode that claimed that B’Elanna had last spoken to her mother after leaving Starfleet, the Season 6 episode, "Barge of the Dead" certainly did not make it clear that she had joined Starfleet Academy after her last meeting with Miral – despite what Wikipedia and Jeri Taylor have claimed.

There is one last reason why I find it difficult to accept that B’Elanna was born in 2349. It happens to be the same birth year as her close friend, Harry Kim. If the two friends had been born in the same year, this meant that both had entered Starfleet around the same time. And both would have immediately been placed on the Engineering track. Their chances of meeting for the first time at the Academy would have been pretty good. Yet, the premiere episode, "Caretaker" makes it pretty clear that B’Elanna and Harry met for the first time, while in the Ocampan settlement.

It is the series itself that makes it easy for me to refute the claim that B’Elanna Torres had joined the Maquis in 2368 or that she had been born in 2349. In regard to the first claim, the stardates provided in episodes like "Non-Sequitur" and "Dreadnought" seemed to contradict Wikipedia or Jeri Taylor that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis in 2368. And episodes like "Caretaker", "The Equinox" and "Barge of the Dead" gives enough evidence to refute the claim that B’Elanna had been born in 2349.

About an hour ago, I had examined the Wikipedia. Changes had been made. It no longer claimed that B’Elanna had been born in 2349. Instead, it claimed that she had been born in 2346. I do not know if this is true, but it seems a lot more plausible than its earlier claim. But I would not be surprised if these changes were removed by the site’s webmaster. No matter. I know what I believe.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"THE ISLAND" (2005) Review

"THE ISLAND" (2005) Review

The summer of 2005 saw the release of a science-fiction thriller called "THE ISLAND". Directed by Michael Bay, the movie proved to be a box office failure in the U.S., but a hit with overseas moviegoers.

Many have described "THE ISLAND" as a a pastiche of "escape-from-dystopia" science fiction films of the 1960s and 1970s like "FAHRENHEIT 451", "THX 1138" and "LOGAN'S RUN". The movie begins with a young man named Lincoln Echo Six, who lives in an isolated compound which strictly regulates its inhabitants' lives. The Overseers control every aspect of the lives of Lincoln, his friend Jordan Two Delta and the other residents from diet and free time activities, to social relationships. The inhabitants hope to win a lottery to go to "the Island", the only place on Earth not contaminated by a deadly pathogen.

Already dissatisfied with his life, Lincoln illicitly visits a power-plant basement where his friend, technician James McCord, works. There, he discovers a live moth in the ventilation shaft, leading him to realize that the outside world might not be contaminated. When Lincoln releases the mother, he follows it to another section, where he witnesses the murders of two lottery winners - one after childbirth, and the other in the process of having his liver harvested. When Jordan becomes the next lottery winner, Lincoln rescues her from a similar fate and the two make their escape from the facility. While the facility's medical official, Dr. Merrick, hires mercenary Albert Laurent and his men to find Lincoln and Jordan, the pair learns from McCord the truth about their existence - they are clones of wealthy sponsors, who intend to use them for spare parts or surrogate motherhood.

"THE ISLAND" received mixed reviews from critics. Some complained that the movie seemed to be an uneasy mixture of a science-fiction thriller and an action film. Others complain that the movie did not handled the ethical issue of cloning very well. I might as well be honest. I like "THE ISLAND" very much. In fact, it is one of four Michael Bay movies that I consider favorites of mine. And I am not a big Michael Bay fan. Unlike many critics, I thought the movie did an excellent job of mixing science-fiction creepiness and high octane action. Well . . . most of the time. Now, I would not consider "THE ISLAND" to be perfect. But my complaints about the movie are different from those made by other critics. Well . . . not really.

A good number of critics had a problem with the movie's action sequences. They felt it was too over-the-top. I was fine with most of the action sequences. But there were two that failed to entertain me. Lincoln and Jordan's arrival in downtown Los Angeles led to a high octane chase that involved the pair, the Los Angeles Police and Laurent and his team. It was too much and too damn confusing. I found some of the stunts - especially those that involved the two clones hanging from high-rise building to improbable to swallow. It was just too over-the-top for my tastes. I also had a problem with Lincoln's fight with Dr. Merrick in the finale. It involved wires, glass and some rather confusing photography from Mauro Fiore. I have one last complaint. What in the hell happened to the clones at the end of the movie? I realize that they managed to escape the facility. But what happened to them following their escape? Like Lincoln and Jordan, they were adults with the mentality of adolescents or younger. Unlike Lincoln and Jordan, they had no experiences of life outside of the facility. What happened to them?

But for me, the good outweighed the bad in "THE ISLAND". There were a good number of action sequences that I actually enjoyed. And they include Laurent's confrontation with Lincoln and his sponsor, the real Tom Lincoln; and Lincoln and Jordan's encounter with Laurent's team at the Yucca train station in Arizona. But the best sequence for me proved to be Lincoln and Jordan's escape from the facility. I found it absolutely thrilling and well shot by Bay and Fiore. The action sequences also benefited from Nigel Phelps' colorful production designs and especially from the movie's special effects team.

The above action sequences were not the only aspects of "THE ISLAND" that I enjoyed. The movie also featured some rather interesting scenes that I found either creepy, very dramatic or rather funny. Screenwriters Caspian Tredwell-Owen, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci did an excellent job in setting up what I believe is one of the film's best moments - namely the two murders that he witnessed and his discovery of the truth behind the facility. And the latter sequence was truly frightening, but in a subtle way. The most jarring moment proved to be Starkweather Two Delta's attempt to evade the facility's guards and have his organs harvested. That scene really had me on edge. Another wonderful scene proved to be one between Laurent and Dr. Merrick, in which the former begins to harbor doubt about the activities of his client's cloning facility. Lead actor was allowed to strut his stuff in a scene that featured Lincoln and Jordan's meeting with the former's sponsor, billionaire boat designer Tom Lincoln. I found it creepy, yet rather funny. However, the best scene - at least for me - proved to be James McCord's revelation that Lincoln and Jordan were clones. This scene was so well acted and so funny that not only is it my favorite one in the film, but . . . it is just a favorite of mine, period. If I had to list my ten favorite movie scenes of all time, it would be on the list.

I thought the cast was impeccable. Instead of using an American accent, Ewan McGregor used a Canadian accent for his role as Lincoln Six Echo. And it worked. If I must be honest, I have never been a fan of his American accents. And for his performance as Tom Lincoln, the actor used his own Scottish accent. Whether he was the clone Lincoln or the billionaire Tom Lincoln, McGregor was brilliant. I believe that his performance in this movie is among his best work ever. "THE ISLAND" turned out to be the first time I ever became aware of Scarlett Johansson. And she not only impressed me with her performance as the surprisingly strong-willed Jordan, but also made me realized what a strong screen presence she possessed. What I liked about her performance is that beneath Jordan's projected facade of delicacy and charm, laid a tough young woman who also proved to be rather observant of other people. And Johansson did a great job with her role.

The movie's supporting cast included Sean Bean, who portrayed Dr. Merrick, the cloning facility's administrator. One of the best things I can say about Bean is that he is an actor who strikes me as being a persistently first-rate chameleon. He can play hero, villain or otherwise at the drop of the hat. And while his Merrick is obviously a bad guy, he is a very subtle and at times, an emotional one. Djimon Hounsou portrayed the Afro-French mercenary, Albert Laurent. And like Bean, he also gave a first-rate and very subtle performance. In fact, Hounsou's Laurent seemed like an enigma to me. Thanks to his performance, he deliberately made it hard for the audience to surmise whether he was a true villain or someone who might prove to be an ally for the two protagonists.

"THE ISLAND" also provided comic relief from first-rate actors such as Ethan Phillips, Kim Coates, and Brian Stepanek. Michael Clarke Duncan gave a brief, yet very effective performance as Starkweather Two Delta, the doomed clone whose elation at being chosen to live on "the island" became despair over discovering that he was being operated on for his organs. It was a great moment for the Oscar-nominated actor. But my favorite performance came from Steve Buscemi, who portrayed Lincoln's friend, engineer James McCord. Remember my rhapsody over the scene featuring McCord, Lincoln and Jordan? Well, he was mainly responsible for making it so memorable for me. Mind you, both McGregor and Johansson also contributed to the scene with some excellent acting. But Buscemi made it for me. I believe it was one of his finest moments on screen - big and small.

I will not claim that "THE ISLAND" is a perfect film. It had a few action scenes that seemed over-the-top for me. And I believe it could have been more clearer about the fates of the clones at the end of the movie. But I cannot deny that it was an entertaining film with an intriguing plot. And for me, it worked, due to Michael Bay's energetic direction and a superb cast led by Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Below are images from "MISSION IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL", the fourth entry in the MISSION IMPOSSIBLE movie franchise. Directed by Brad Bird, the movie stars Tom Cruise:


Thursday, February 16, 2012

"UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" (2010) - Series One Retrospective


"UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" (2010) - Series One Retrospective

Not long after ITV aired its premiere of Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame's successful series, "DOWNTON ABBEY", the BBC announced its plans to air an updated version of the old 1970s television classic, "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS". The news took me by surprise. I had naturally assumed that the series' creators Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins decided to revive the series in response to the news about "DOWNTON ABBEY". Had I been wrong? I do not know. Did it really matter? I do not think so.

The new "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" picked up six years following the old series' finale. The London townhouse at 165 Eaton Place in the Belgravia neighborhood is no longer occupied by any member of the Bellamy family. A Foreign Office diplomat and his wife - Sir Hallam Holland and Lady Agnes Holland - have returned to Britain and inherited the Eaton Place townhouse. The couple hired former parlourmaid Rose Buck, now running her own agency for domestic servants, to find them staff as they renovate the house to its former glory. The Hollands are forced to deal with the arrivals of Sir Hallam's mother, Maud, Dowager Lady Holland and her Sikh secretary Amanjt Singh; and Lady Agnes' sister, Lady Persephone Towyn - all of whom cause major stirs within the new household. The three-episode series spanned the year 1936 - covering the death of King George V, the Battle of Cable Street and King Edward VIII's abdication.

Because it came on the heels of the critical darling, "DOWNTON ABBEY", "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" received a good share of negative criticism from the media and television viewers. And if they were not comparing it to the series written by Julian Fellowes, they were comparing it to the old "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" from the 1970s. Among the negative press it received was a report of a brief clash between Marsh and Fellowes regarding the two series. If I must be honest, I was just as guilty as the others for I had believed the negative press without having seen the series. But my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch it.

I did have a few problems with "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS". It had its moments of over-the-top maudlin, courtesy of screenwriter Heidi Thomas. I suppose I should not have been surprised. Thomas had served as screenwriter for 2007's "CRANFORD" and its 2009 sequel. And she managed to inject plenty of wince-inducing sentiment into those productions, as well. I also found Rose Buck's hunt for the Hollands' new staff rather tiresome. It dominated the first half of Episode One, "The Fledgling" and I nearly gave up on the series. And I also found the cook Clarice Thackeray's encounter with society photographer Cecil Beaton disgustingly sentimental. But . . . the encounter led to one of the best cat fights I have seen on television, so I was able to tolerate it. I have one last problem - namely the series' three episode running time. Three episodes? Really? I would have given it at least five or six. Instead, the three episodes forced the first series to pace a lot faster than I would have liked.

For me, the virtues of "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" far outweighed the flaws. First of all, I was delighted that Marsh, Atkins and Thomas had decided to set the new series in the 1930s. I have been fascinated with that decade for a long time. It witnessed a great deal of potential change and conflict throughout Europe - including changes within Britain's Royal Family that had a major impact upon the nation. "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" did an excellent job in conveying how these changes affected ordinary Britons and the Holland household in particular. Many had complained about the strong, political overtones that permeated "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS". I, on the other hand, loved it. The political overtones not only suited the series' 30s setting but also jibed with the fact that one of the major characters happened to be a diplomat from the Foreign Office, with friendly ties to a member of the Royal Family.

Production wise, "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" looked gorgeous. Designer Eve Stewart did a superb job in re-creating London in the mid-1930s for the series. Along with set decorator Julia Castle, she converted 165 Eaton Place into a wealth of Art Deco eye candy. Amy Roberts' costumes - especially for Keeley Hawes and Claire Foy - were outstanding and contributed to the series' 1930s look. My only complaint regarding the series' production is the series' theme and score. Quite frankly, the only memorable thing about Daniel Pemberton's work was that I found it too light for my tastes. It suited Heidi Thomas' occasional forays into sentimentality very well. Unfortunately.

Not being that familiar with the original "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" series from the 70s, I did not find myself comparing the old cast with the new one. First of all, I thought the new cast did just fine - including the recurring characters. Blake Ritson gave a subtle performance as Prince George, Duke of Kent and youngest living brother to King Edward VIII. I noticed that Thomas took great care to ensure that Ritson's Duke of Kent would be critical of Wallis Simpson's pro-Nazi sympathies. I found this interesting, considering of his past reputation as a Nazi sympathizer. Speaking of Mrs. Simpson, I was slightly disappointed by Emma Clifford's portrayal of the future Duchess of Windsor. The actress portrayed Mrs. Simpson as some kind of negative archetype of American women found in many British productions - gauche and verbose. This portrayal seemed completely opposite of how Mrs. Simpson had been described in the past - cool and tart. Edward Baker-Duly was given a more ambiguous character to portray - namely German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop - which allowed him to give a more subtle performance.

I found the casting for the Holland servants very satisfying. Many have complained that Jean Marsh's role as Rose Buck seemed woefully reduced in compared to the old production. If her role had been reduced, I did not mind. After all, Rose was a familiar figure and I believe it was time for the lesser-known characters to shine. As much as I had enjoyed Adrian Scarborough's solid yet nervous butler, Mr. Pritchard, and Anne Reid's tart-tongued cook Clarice Thackeray; I found myself impressed by Neil Jackson's cool portrayal of the ambiguous chauffeur Harry Spargo. I thought he did a great job in conveying the changing passions of Harry, without resorting to histronics. Ellie Kendrick did an excellent job in her portrayal of the young and very spirited housemaid, Ivy Morris. Although Art Malik seemed a bit noble as the Dowager Lady Holland's Sikh secretary, Mr. Amanjit, I believe that he managed to come into his own when his character befriended the German-Jewish refugee Rachel Perlmutter in Episode Two, "The Ladybird". Like Scarborough and Red, Helen Bradbury gave solid performance as Frau Perlmutter. However, there were a few moments when she managed to inject a great deal of pathos into her performance, making it a pity that she only appeared in one episode. Heidi Thomas' portrayal of the Hollands' servants really impressed me. She managed to portray them as multi-dimensional characters, instead of the one-dimensional portrayals that marred the characterizations of the servants featured in Series One of "DOWNTON ABBEY".

Heidi Thomas certainly did a marvelous job with her characterizations of the members of the Holland family. I had noticed that most fans and critics were impressed by Eileen Atkins' portrayal of the Maud, Dowager Lady Holland. I cannot deny that she did a superb job. Atkins was overbearing, intelligent, wise and impetuous. But . . . the Lady Holland character also struck me as a remake of the Dowager Countess of Grantham character from "DOWNTON ABBEY" . . . who struck me as a remake of the Countess of Trentham character from "GOSFORD PARK". In other words, the Lady Holland character struck me as being a somewhat unoriginal character. One could almost say the same about the Sir Hallam Holland character, portrayed by Ed Stoppard. Many fans have complained about his "noble" personality and penchant for political correctness - especially in his handling of Lotte, the orphaned daughter of Holland maid, Rachel Perlmutter, and his distaste toward the British Fascist movement. However, Stoppard did an excellent job in making Sir Hallam a flesh-and-blood character. And this came about, due to Stoppard's opportunity to reveal Sir Hallam's reaction to the conflict between his mother and wife, making him seem like a bit of a pushover.

But for me, the two most interesting characters in the series proved to be Lady Agnes Holland and Lady Persephone Towyn, the two daughters of an impoverished Welsh peer. In their unique ways, the two sisters struck me as very complex and ambiguous. At first glance, Keeley Hawes' portrayal of Lady Agnes Holland seemed like a cheerful, slightly shallow woman bubbling with excitement over establishing a new home in London. Hawes' performance, along with Thomas' script, even managed to inject some pathos into the character after the revelations about Lady Agnes' past failures to maintain a successful pregnancy. But once her mother-in-law and rebellious sister became a permanent fixture in her house, the cracks in Lady Agnes' personality began to show. Thanks to Hawes' superb performance, audiences were allowed glimpses into the darker side of Lady Agnes' personality. After watching Series One of "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS", many would view Lady Agnes' younger sister - Lady Persephone - as the series' villain. And she seemed so perfect for the role, thanks to Claire Foy's brilliant performance. Her Lady Persephone was a vain, arrogant and temperamental bitch, who treated the Hollands' staff like dirt - save for Harry Spago, with whom she conducted an affair. At first, it seemed that Harry managed to bring out Lady Persephone's softer side, especially in her ability to emphasize with his woes regarding the country's social system. Harry also introduced her to the British Fascist movement. But whereas he ended up finding it repellent, Lady Persephone became even more involved . . . to the point that she developed a relationship with the German ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop, before following him back to Germany.

I am not going to pretend that the new "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" is an exceptional series. Because I do not think that it is. Basically, it is simply a continuation of the old series from the 1970s. I thought that its running time was ridiculously short - three episodes. It could have benefited from at least two or three more episodes. And screenwriter Heidi Thomas marred it even further with a good deal of over-the-top sentimentality, especially in the first and third episodes. However, Thomas managed to tone down that same sentimentality in the characters. Nor did she follow Julian Fellowes' mistake in "DOWNTON ABBEY" by portraying the servants as one-dimensional characters. And the cast, led by Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes, were first rate. But what really worked for me was the 1930s setting that allowed Thomas to inject the political turmoil that made that era so memorable. I only hope that Thomas will continue that setting in the second series. "UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS" may not have been perfect, but I believe it was a lot better than a good number of critics and fans have deemed it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"MIDDLEMARCH" (1994) Review

"MIDDLEMARCH" (1994) Review

Many years have passed since I first saw "MIDDLEMARCH", the 1994 BBC adaptation of George Eliot's 1871 novel. Many years. I recalled enjoying it . . . somewhat. But it had failed to leave any kind of impression upon me. Let me revise that. At least two performances left an impression upon me. But after watching the miniseries for the second time, after so many years, I now realize I should have paid closer attention to the production.

Directed by Anthony Page and adapted for television by Andrew Davies, "MIDDLEMARCH" told the story about a fictitious Midlands town during the years 1830–32. Its multiple plots explored themes that included the status of women and class status, the nature of marriage, idealism and self-interest, religion and hypocrisy, political reform, and education. There seemed to be at least four major story arcs in the saga. Actually, I would say there are two major story arcs and two minor ones. The first of the minor story arcs focused on Fred Vincy, the only son of Middlemarch's mayor, who has a tendency to be spendthrift and irresponsible. Fred is encouraged by his ambitious parents to find a secure life and advance his class standing by becoming a clergyman. But Fred knows that Mary Garth, the woman he loves, will not marry him if he does become one. And there is Mr. Nicholas Bulstrode, Middlemarch's prosperous banker, who is married to Fred's aunt. Mr. Bulstrode is a pious Methodist who is unpopular with Middlemarch's citizens, due to his attempts to impose his beliefs in society. However, he also has a sordid past which he is desperate to hide.

However, two story arcs dominated "MIDDLEMARCH". One of them centered around Dorothea Brooke, the older niece of a wealthy landowner with ambitions to run for political office, and her determination to find some kind of ideal meaning in her life. She becomes somewhat romantically involved with a scholarly clergyman and fellow landowner named the Reverend Edward Casaubon in the hopes of assisting him in his current research. Dorothea eventually finds disappointment in her marriage, as Reverend Casaubon proves to be a selfish and pedantic man who is more interested in his research than anyone else - including his wife. The second arc told the story about a proud, ambitious and talented medical doctor of high birth and a small income named Tertius Lydgate. He arrives at Middlemarch at the beginning of the story in the hopes of making great advancements in medicine through his research and the charity hospital in Middlemarch. Like Dorothea, he ends up in an unhappy marriage with a beautiful, young social climber named Rosamond Vincy, who is more concerned about their social position and the advantages of marrying a man from a higher class than her own. Dr. Lydgage's proud nature and professional connections to Mr. Bulstrode, makes him very unpopular with the locals.

After watching "MIDDLEMARCH", it occurred to me it is one of the best miniseries that came from British television in the past twenty to thirty years. I also believe that it might be one of Andrew Davies' best works. Mind you, "MIDDLEMARCH" is not perfect. It has its flaws . . . perhaps one or two of them . . . but flaws, nonetheless. While watching "MIDDLEMARCH", I got the feeling that screenwriter Andrew Davies could not balance the story arcs featuring Dorothea Brooke and Tertius Lydgate with any real equilibrium. It seemed that most of his interest was focused upon Lydgate as the saga's main character, instead of dividing that honor between Lydgate and Dorothea. While the miniseries revealed Dorothea's unhappy marriage to Casaubon, Davies' screenplay in the first three episodes, Davies did a first rate job in balancing both hers and Lydgate's stories. But Lydgate seemed to dominate the second half of the miniseries - the last three episodes - as his story shoved Dorothea's to the status of a minor plot arc. Mind you, I found the Lydgates' marriage fascinating. But Davies failed to deliver any real . . . punch to Dorothea's story arc and especially her relationship with her cousin-in-law, Will Ladislaw. If I have to be honest, Dorothea and Will's relationship following Casaubon's death struck me as rushed and a bit disappointing.

Thankfully, the virtues outweighed the flaws. Because "MIDDLEMARCH" still managed to be an outstanding miniseries. Davies did a more or less excellent job in weaving the production's many storylines without any confusion whatsoever. In fact, I have to congratulate Davies for accomplishing this feat. And I have to congratulate director Anthony Page for keeping the production and its story in order with allowing the latter to unravel into a complete mess. More importantly, both Page and Davies adhered to George Eliot's ambiguous portrayal of her cast of characters. Even her two most ideal characters - Dorothea and Lydgate - are plagued by their own personal flaws. Some of the characters were able to overcome their flaws for a "happily ever after" and some were not. The period between the Regency Era and the Victorian Age has rarely been explored in television or in motion pictures. But thanks to "MIDDLEMARCH", I have learned about the political movements that led to the Great Reform Act of 1832. A good number of people might find Eliot's saga somewhat depressing and wish she had ended her story with a more romantic vein in the style of Jane Austen . . . or allow Dorothea and Lydgate to happily achieve their altruistic goals. However . . . "MIDDLEMARCH" is not an Austen novel.

I am trying to think of a performance that seemed less than impressive. But I cannot think of one. I was very impressed by everyone's performances. And the ones that really impressed me came from Juliet Aubrey's spot-on performance as the ideal and naive Dorothea Brooke; Jonathan Firth, whose portrayal of the spendthrift Fred Vincy turned out to be one of his best career performances; Rufus Sewell, who first made a name for himself in his passionate portrayal of Casaubon's poor cousin, Will Ladislaw; Peter Jeffrey's complex performance as the ambiguous Nicholas Bulstrode; Julian Wadham as the decent Sir James Chattam, whose unrequited love for Dorothea led him to marry her sister Cecila and develop a deep dislike toward Will; and Rachel Power, who gave a strong, yet solid performance as Fred Vincy's love, the no-nonsense Mary Garth.

However, four performances really impressed me. Both Douglas Hodge and Trevyn McDowell really dominated the miniseries as the ideal, yet slightly arrogant Tertius Lydgate and his shallow and social-climbing wife, Rosamond Vincy Lydgate. The pair superbly brought the Lydgates' passionate, yet disastrous marriage to life . . . even more so than Davies' writing or Page's direction. And I have to give kudos to Patrick Malahide for portraying someone as complex and difficult Reverend Edward Casaubon. The latter could have easily been a one-note character lacking of any sympathy. But thanks to Malahide, audiences were allowed glimpses into an insecure personality filled with surprising sympathy. And Robert Hardy was a hilarious blast as Dorothea's self-involved uncle, the politically ambitious Arthur Brooke. What I enjoyed about Hardy's performance is that his Uncle Brooke seemed like such a friendly and sympathetic character. Yet, Hardy made it clear that this cheerful soul has a selfish streak a mile wide. And despite his willingness to use the current reform movement to seek political office, he is incapable of treating the tenants on his estate with any decency.

"MIDDLEMARCH" could not only boast a first-rate screenplay written by Andrew Davies, first rate direction by Anthony Page and a superb cast; it could also boast excellent production values. One of the crew members responsible for the miniseries' production was Anushia Nieradzik, who created some beautiful costumes that clearly reflected the story's period of the early 1830s. I was also impressed by Gerry Scott's use of a Lincolnshire town called Stamford as a stand-in for 1830-32 Middlemarch. And Brian Tufano's photography beautifully captured Scott's work and the town itself.

Yes, "MIDDLEMARCH" has a few flaws. And the photography featured in the latest copy seems a bit faded. But I believe that it is, without a doubt, one of the finest British television productions from the last twenty to twenty-five years. After all of these years, I have a much higher regard for it than when I first saw it.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"THE COMPANY" (2007) Photo Gallery


Below are images from "THE COMPANY", a three-part TNT miniseries that was based upon Robert Littell's 2002 novel about the Cold War. Directed by Mikael Salomon, the miniseries starred Chris O'Donnell, Alessandro Nivola, Rory Cochrane, Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton:

"THE COMPANY" (2007) Photo Gallery