Saturday, April 28, 2012

"HOW THE WEST WAS WON" (1962) Review




"HOW THE WEST WAS WON" (1962) Review

This 1962 movie was among the last of the old-fashioned "epic" films that was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).  Filmed using the Cinerama widescreen process, it featured an all-star cast directed by at least three directors.  

After making the decision to use the Cinerama wide-screen process, MGM decided to produce a cinematic adaptation of LIFE magazine's 1959 series of articles about the history of the American West.  Screenwriters James R. Webb and John Gay (uncredited) achieved this by focusing the film on two to three generations of family that migrated westward from western New York, to Southern Ohio, to California and finally to the deserts of Arizona.  The story stretched out in a period of fifty (50) years from the late 1830s to the late 1880s.  According to Wikipedia, the movie was set between 1839 and 1889.  Yet, Webb and Gay's script never indicated this.  The movie consisted of five segments that were directed by three directors, Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall.

"The Rivers", which was directed by Henry Hathaway, focused on the Prescott family's journey from western New York to Southern Ohio, in an attempt to reach the Illinois country via the Erie Canal and the Ohio River.  During their journey, they meet a mountain man named Linus Rawlins, who falls in love with eldest daughter, Eve; encounter murderous river pirates; and are caught in some dangerous rapids during their trip down the Ohio River.  The last part of their journey ends in Southern Ohio, when the patriarch and matriarch of the Prescotts are drowned and Eve decides to remain there.  She eventually marries Linus and her younger sister, Lilith decides to head to St. Louis.

In "The Plains", Lilith Prescott is a dance hall entertainer in St. Louis, when she receives news of an inheritance - a California gold mine - from a former patron.  In order to join a California-bound wagon train, Lilith becomes the traveling companion of a middle-aged woman named Agatha Clegg.  She also becomes the romantic object of two men - the hard-nosed wagonmaster Roger Morgan (who has a ranch in California) and a professional gambler named Cleve Van Valen.  Lilith eventually forms an attachment to Cleve.  But when her inheritance turns out to be a bust upon their arrival in California, Cleve abandons her.  He eventually reconciles with her on a Sacramento River steamboat and the two marry.  Hathaway also directed.

John Ford directed "The Civil War", a short segment about the experiences of Zeb Rawlins' (Eve and Linus' elder son) at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War.  Although Zeb survives, his father was killed during the battle, and his mother died before his return to the family's Ohio farm.  Zeb decides to remain in the Army after the war.

"The Railroad" was about Zeb's experiences as an Army officer during the construction of the railroad during the late 1860s.  He tries and fails to keep the peace between the construction crew led by a man named Mike King and the local Arapaho tribe.  The Arapho incites a buffalo stampede through the railroad camp after King breaks another promise.  And Zeb resigns from the Army.  George Marshall directed.

Hathaway directed the final segment, "The Outlaws", which featured Zeb's last days as a law officer, as he tries to prevent a group of outlaws led by a man named Charlie Gant from stealing a shipment of gold.  After he is successful, Zeb and his family join his widowed aunt Lilith on a trip to her new Arizona ranch.

"HOW THE WEST WAS WON" was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It won three won - Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.  It is also considered a favorite of director Ron Howard.  I might as well be honest.  I have always liked "HOW THE WEST WAS WON".  If I had not, I would have never purchased the DVD set.  But I cannot see how it was ever nominated for Best Picture, let alone won the Best Screenplay Oscar.  It was NOT that great.  To me, "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" was a mediocre epic that featured a small handful of excellent performances, great photography and a superb score.

The fifty year period that spanned "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" struck me as more suitable for a television miniseries, instead of a movie - even if it had a running time of 162 minutes.  There was too much going on in this film and its time span of fifty years was simply too long.  The 2005 miniseries,"INTO THE WEST" had a similar premise, but it had the good luck to be aired in a six-part miniseries that ran for 552 minutes.  And because of the lack of balance between the story's premise/time span and its running time, the story about the Prescott-Rawlins family seemed half-empty . . . and rushed.

The best of the five segments are the first two directed by Henry Hathaway - "The River" and "The Plains", which featured the Prescotts treks from New York, to Ohio.  Although not perfect, thanks to some plot inconsistency and historical inaccuracy.  What makes these two segments superior to the other three is that are longer and if I must be frank, more substantial.  I could not decide between the two segments on which was my favorite.  I enjoyed viewing the family's journey down the Ohio River and the exciting battle with the river pirates.  On the other hand, both Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck's performances made "The Plains" very enjoyable for me.

But the worst of the three segments is the third one directed by John Ford - namely "The Civil War".  I hate to say this, but John Wayne did not make an effective William T. Sherman.  The recently deceased Henry Morgan did a slightly better job as Ulysses S. Grant - frankly, by saying as little as possible.  As for the segment, the screenwriters and Ford did not even bother to feature any plausible battle scenes of Shiloh.  Instead, the audience was subjected to a quick montage of Civil War scenes from other MGM movies - probably 1957's "RAINTREE COUNTRY".  The only good thing about this segment was the beginning scene, when Zeb said good-bye to his mother and younger brother . . . and the last scene, when he said good-bye and handed over his share of the family farm to his brother. 

I enjoyed the work of the cinematography team led by the legendary William H. Daniels very much.  I noticed that a great deal of the movie was shot on location in many of the national parks in the United States.  However, the Cinerama process took away some of the grandeur with the curved lens, which made it impossible for Daniels and the others to film any effective close ups.  And has anyone ever notice that whenever two of the actors seemed to facing each other, their lines of sight seemed to be slightly off?  It must have been hell for the actors to face off each other in a scene, while being unnaturally positioned for the camera.

There were certain aspects of "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" that made it enjoyable for me.  Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, George Peppard, Gregory Peck, Thelma Ritter, Henry Fonda, Lee J.Cobb and Eli Wallach gave the best performances, as far as I am concerned.  Spencer Tracy did a top-notch job as the film's narrator.  But I especially have to commend Reynolds, Baker and Peppard for damn near carrying this film.  Without them, this movie would have folded like a sheet of paper.  There were some performances that did not ring true to me.  According to one scene that featured Linus Rawlings' grave, Eve's husband and Zeb's father was born in 1810.  I hate to say this, but James Stewart was too old - at the age of 53 or 54 - to be portraying a 29 year-old man.  He gave an entertaining performance, but he was too damn old.  Karl Malden, who portrayed Eve and Lilith's father, struck me as a bit too hammy for my tastes.  So were Robert Preston, who portrayed the gauche wagonmaster Roger Morgan; and Richard Widmark, who portrayed the railroad boss Mike King.  Everyone else was . . . okay.

What was the best thing about "HOW THE WEST WAS WON"?  The music.  Period.  It . . . was . . . superb.  Every time I hear the first notes of Alfred Newman's score at the beginning of the movie, I feel goosebumps.  I love it that much.  As much as I enjoyed John Addison's score for "TOM JONES", I find it mind boggling that it beat out Newman's score for "HOW THE WEST WAS WON".  I just cannot conceive this.  Newman also provided 19th century music from the era for the movie and it was used beautifully . . . especially in "The Plains" segment.  With Reynolds portraying a dance hall performer, she provided moviegoers with entertaining renditions of songs like "What Was Your Name in the East?""Raise a Ruckus" and the movie's theme song, "Home in the Meadows".

What else can I say about "HOW THE WEST WAS WON"?  It is an entertaining movie.  I cannot deny this.  It featured first rate performances by the leads Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker and George Peppard.  It featured beautiful photography shot by a team of cinematographers led by William Daniels.  And it featured some gorgeous music, which included a superb score written by Alfred Newman.  But it is a flawed movie tainted by historical inaccuracy and a story that would have been served best in a television miniseries.  I am still astounded that it managed to earn a Best Picture Academy Award.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fifty Years of THE BEACH BOYS



The Beach Boys ( Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson; their cousin Mike Love; and friend Al Jardine) first formed as a band in 1961 in Hawthorne, California. However, a year would pass before their first hit song. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the group's road to success. Below are links to at least three of their songs: 


FIFTY YEARS OF THE BEACH BOYS

"Surfin' Safari" (1962)

"I Get Around" (1964)

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" (1966)

"Good Vibrations" (1966)

Friday, April 20, 2012

"SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS" (2011) Review



"SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS" (2011) Review

 Following the success of his 2009 movie, "SHERLOCK HOLMES", Guy Ritchie returned to helm a sequel about 19th century detective Sherlock Holmes' battle with his famous arch nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. Both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their roles of Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Loosely adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1893 short story called, "The Final Problem", "SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS" picks up sometime after the end of the 2009 movie. Thanks to Irene Adler's disclosure of the master criminal, Sherlock Holmes has been investigating Moriarty's activities. The latter brings him to the attention of Irene, who is still working as an agent for the professor. He follows Irene to an auction, where she delivers a package to a Dr. Hoffmanstahl as payment for a letter he was to deliver to Moriarty. The package holds not only money, but a bomb that would have killed Hoffmanstahl, if Holmes had not intervened. Unfortunately, Hoffmanstahl is assassinated upon leaving the auction house. And when Irene meets with Professor Moriarty to explain the events, he poisons her, deeming her compromised by her love for Holmes. 

Holmes reveals to his friend and colleague, Dr. Watson, that Moriarty might be connected to a series of murders, terrorist attacks and business acquisitions. During Watson's bachelor party, Holmes meets with the Gypsy fortune-teller Simza, the intended recipient of the letter he had taken from Adler. It was sent by Simza's brother Rene, who has been working for Moriarty. Holmes defeats an assassin who had been sent to kill her. Later, Holmes meets with Moriarty after Watson's wedding to Mary Morstan. Moriarty informs Holmes that he murdered Adler and will kill Watson and Mary if Holmes' interference continues. After Holmes help Watson and Mary fight off attack by Moriarty's men aboard a train during their honeymoon, the two men travel to Paris to find Simza. Their journey to Paris, Germany and Switzerland lead them to uncover a plot by Moriarty to instigate a world war and profit from it. This plot will be set off by an assassination at a peace conference in Switzerland. 

Although the movie was a hit at the box office, it received mixed reviews from the critics. A good number of them and moviegoers claimed that although it was entertaining, it was not as good as the first movie. In my review of "SHERLOCK HOLMES", I made it clear that I enjoyed it very much. And I still do. But after watching "SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS", I realized that the villain's plot featured in the first movie struck me as a little . . . illogical. Using the illusion of sorcery to assume control of the British Empire? James Moriarty's plot to assume control of the arms market in Europe and instigate a world war for profit strikes me as a lot more logical. And James Moriarty made a scarier villain than Lord Blackwood. 

Another advantage that this sequel has over the first film, was the change of location in the second half - from Paris to Germany and later, Switzerland. I loved it. The color, squalor and grandeur that production designer Sarah Greenwood, cinematographer Philippe Rousselot and the visual effects team created for Victorian London in "SHERLOCK HOLMES", were not only re-created for the same setting in this new movie, but for also late 19th century Paris, Germany and Switzerland. My only quibble about the movie's German setting is that Kieran and Michele Mulroney's script failed to inform moviegoers the name of the German town where Holmes, Watson and Simza found themselves. 

One outstanding sequence featured a gunfight between Holmes, Watson and Mary and Moriarty's men, disguised as British Army troops. Not only did I find it very exciting, I especially enjoyed that last shot of a half-destroyed train racing forward, with Holmes and Watson staring ahead. But the real outstanding sequence featured the heroes' flight from Moriarty's German arsenal through heavy woods. Yes, Rousselot used slow motion photography during this sequence. A good number of people did complain about it. But you know what? Not only did it fail to bother me, I actually enjoyed it. And watching this sequence made me realize that I would love to see a war movie directed by Ritchie. 

As in the first movie, the cast was outstanding. Rachel McAdams returned to give a beguiling, yet brief performance as the doomed Irene Adler. As much as I love this movie, I am PISSED OFF that Ritchie had her character killed. Paul Anderson was very effective as Moriarty's henchman, villainous marksman Colonel Sebastian Moran. By the way, this same character was used by late author George MacDonald Fraser in two of his books, the 1971 novel "Flash For Freedom!" and the 1999 novella "Flashman and the Tiger". Geraldine James made an amusingly brief appearance as Holmes' beleaguered landlady, Mrs. Hudson. Stephen Fry gave a hilarious performance as Holmes' equally brilliant and arrogant older brother, Mycroft. His scenes with Kelly Reilly especially had me in stitches. I was happy to see that Reilly had more to do in this movie, first as one of Moriarty's intended victims, and later as an assistant to Mycroft, as they help Holmes and Watson stop the master criminal. I am a little mystified that Eddie Marsan maanged to receive such a high billing as Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade in the end credits by only speaking one line. 

Noomie Rapace was passionate in her portrayal of the Gypsy Simza, who is determined to prevent her brother from makingt the mistake of getting caught up in Moriarty's plot. Jared Harris made a subtle and scary villain in his portrayal of Professor James Moriarty. At first, he did not seem that threatening - almost mild mannered. I supposed this was due to Ritchie and the Mulroneys' decision to give the character a position in society as a reputable scholar within Europe's diplomatic community. Bit by bit, Harris revealed Moriarty's greed and penchant for sadism. 

I am trying to find the words about Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law's portrayals of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. I really am. But what can I say? I know . . . they were perfect. They really were. I am not claiming that they were the best to ever portray the two characters. Frankly, I cannot name any one screen team as the best to portray Holmes and Watson. Some might claim Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Others might claim Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke, or the recent television pairing of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I refuse to claim that Downey Jr. and Law were better than the other three teams. But I do not believe any of them were better than Downey Jr. and Law. What was their best scene together? Hmmm . . . I find I cannot name one particular scene. Every time they were together, they were magic. 

Do I have any complaints about the movie? Well, I did not care for Irene Adler's death, considering the character was a favorite of mine. I found the fight scene between Holmes and Irene's bodyguards a bit confusing and contrived. I wish that Ritchie and the Mulrooney had clarified the name of the German town where Moriarty's arsenal was located. And I finally wish that after the mental strategies of their upcoming fight on one of the balconies at Reichenbach Castle, Holmes and Moriarty's actual fight had lasted a lot longer before the detective pulled his surprise move. 

I believe I have said all I could about "SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS". Even though I had a few complaints, I ended up enjoying the movie anyway. Hell, I loved it. The movie became my favorite 2011 movie. Although I had slight doubts, once again, Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law managed to create magic for another Sherlock Holmes adventure.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"THE PACIFIC" (Episode Five) Commentary



I wrote this commentary on the fifth episode of "THE PACIFIC":


”THE PACIFIC” (Episode Five) Commentary

Episode Five began with war hero John Basilone in the middle of a war bond drive with Hollywood actress, Virginia Grey. Everything seemed to be hunky-dory with the Marine. Many servicemen seemed recognize his face on sight. And the good sergeant is also enjoying more passionate moments with the actress. This brief scene into the life of Basilone also featured his reunion with his younger brother George, already a Marine sergeant. The younger Basilone tried to express hope that he would be able to live to the older sibling’s name and reputation. But John immediately warned him not to bother. The last thing Basilone wants is his younger brother getting killed in combat over some reckless attempt to live up to his reputation.

This episode also marked Eugene Sledge’s baptism of fire, as he join Robert Leckie and his other fellow Marines of the First Division land on Peleliu for a major assault in September 1944. Three months earlier, Sledge had arrived on Pavuvu, where he had a joyful reunion with his childhood buddy, Sid Phillips and engaged in a brief conversation with Leckie on the meaning of war. But the privations of Pavuvu proved to be minor for Sledge, when the First Marines land on the hellish beaches of Peleliu.

Around the same time Sledge arrived on Pavuvu, Leckie returned to How Company and enjoyed a happy reunion with his three buddies – Chuckler, Runner and Hoosier. In typical Leckie fashion, he kept silent about his experiences at the psych ward on Banika and his encounter with the mentally unstable Ronnie Gibson. But he did find the time for a brief conversation in which he expressed his slightly more cynical views on what the war really meant. Sledge’s expression seemed to hint a reluctance to consider Leckie’s view. Peleliu will end up providing a different lesson for the Mobile, Alabama native. As for Leckie, Peleliu – at least in this episode – provided both some pain and a great personal fear.

Producers Gary Goetzman, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks made it clear that the Battle of Peleliu (which was fought between September and November 1944) would be shown in three episodes. Episode Five featured the First Marines Division landing on the island. And director Carl Franklin did a superb job in conveying the horrors that Leckie, Sledge and their fellow Marines had experienced in landing on the island and establishing a beach hold. The most interesting aspect of that landing came from Sledge’s point-of-view, as the camera followed him from his boarding of the amtrack (amphibious tracked vehicles) to the fury of battle on the beach.

With Sledge finally experiencing combat for the first time, the miniseries introduced new characters - Merriell "SNAFU" Shelton (Rami Malek); Bill Leyden (Brendan Fletcher); R.V. Burgin (Martin McCann); and Captain Andrew "Ack Ack" Haldane (Scott Gibson). Burgin barely uttered a word in this episode. I cannot even remember Leyden’s face. And Haldane seemed to be an officer in the tradition of Richard Winters of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. Shelton is another matter. Judging from the comments on the Web, I suspect that many viewers had been looking forward to experiencing Malek’s performance as Shelton, as much as seeing Sledge experience combat for the first time. And the actor did not fail to deliver. He gave a riveting, yet eccentric performance as the slightly soulless Shelton.

As I had stated earlier, Peleliu provided a great deal of pain and anxiety for Leckie. One, his breakdown in Episode Four led Hoosier to fret over him during the Peleliu landing – much to his annoyance. The two eventually got separated from Chuckler and Runner before disaster happened. Poor Hoosier became seriously wounded in the leg. Although Leckie managed to summon a medic, poor Hoosier lost consciousness before he was carried away. Both Leckie and the audience were left in a state of anxiety over the Marine’s fate. Leckie finally managed to hook up with Runner. Unfortunately, both men seemed to be at a loss over Chuckler, who has yet to make an appearance. And they, along with Sledge and the rest of the First Marines Division were poised to begin the assault on the airfield on Peleliu.

In the end, Episode Five proved to be a solid and very interesting look into Eugene Sledge’s arrival in the Pacific Theater’s war zone. It also provided a peak into John Basilone’s experiences as a war hero on the homefront and what might possibly be the beginning of the end of Robert Leckie’s circle of friends. The episode provided some interesting moments. I enjoyed hometown friends Sledge and Phillips’ immediate reconciliation and its interruption by Sledge’s company commander, Captain Andy Haldane. For some reason, it reminded me of a scene from 1994’s ”FORREST GUMP” depicting the lead character’s arrival in Vietnam. Their reunion became more serious as Phillips tries to warn Sledge that combat was not as they had imaged when they were kids. Leckie’s reunion with his friends brought a smile to my face. I have grown accustomed to all four of them that much. Did anyone notice the grizzled sergeant who was practicing bayonet thrusts when Sledge first arrived on Parvuvu? Keep an eye on him. The episode also featured a poignant moment when Sledge discovered that Phillips had left Parvuvu for leave, back home in Mobile.

But the one scene that caught me by surprise centered on a brief conversation between Leckie and Sledge, inside the former’s tent. That the producers would feature a meeting between the two did not surprise me. After all, ”THE PACIFIC” is a historical drama, not a documentary. There were bound to be some historical inaccuracies. I have yet to see a historical drama that DID NOT have historical inaccuracies – including the much lauded ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. What I found surprising about this scene was that actors James Badge Dale and Joseph Mazello made it clear in this ARTICLE that they did not have any scenes togethers. Guys? Lying is a big “no, no” to me.

The episode finally shifted to the First Marines Division’s landing on Peleliu and it was a doozy. The scene featuring Sledge’s beach landing struck me as surreal, especially in that brief moment when the sun shone in the Marine’s eyes as the amtrack conveying his regiment prepared to leave the ship and hit the water. The actual beach landings for both Sledge and Leckie were graphic and rather scary. The scene in which Sledge witnessed Shelton removing gold teeth from a Japanese soldier struck me as an ominous sign of more darkness for the naïve Sledge to encounter. But the biggest heartbreak – at least for me – was the moment when Leckie witnessed Hoosier being seriously wounded by Japanese artillery.

The acting, as usual, was up to par. Joseph Mazello gave a excellent performance as the intense, yet naïve Sledge. In fact, I have to point out that the actor really knows how to use his eyes to convey his character’s emotional state. I could probably say the same about James Badge Dale, who continued to give consistently first-rate performances as Robert Leckie. Both he and Mazello were perfectly understated in their one scene together. Jon Seda, whom we have not seen since Episode Three was solid as war hero John Basilone. I especially enjoyed his performance in a scene with Mark Casamento, who portrayed his younger brother George. As Sid Phillips, Ashton Holmes gave one of his better performances by perfectly balancing his character’s joy at seeing childhood friend Sledge and war weariness at trying to explain the realities of combat to his buddy. Many fans had been anticipating Rami Malek’s debut as Sledge’s very eccentric comrade, Merriell “SNAFU” Shelton. And Malek managed to brilliantly live up to Shelton’s reputation as an eccentric and somewhat cold-blooded warrior. However, I felt a slight disappointment that the Shelton character had already arrived at this emotional point upon his introduction. Considering that his character was already a veteran of the Cape Gloucester campaign, I am not surprised. But the audience will never get to witness Malek develop his character to that point, as we got to witness Ronnie Gibson develop from a rather nervous Marine, to a slightly demented warrior and emotional wreck.

Episode Five was a pretty damn good episode. Audiences managed to witness a full-fledged battle sequence in the daylight for the first time since this episode aired. But I have one major complaint. It ended too soon. I realize that the Peleliu campaign will stretch out in two more episodes, but I still believe that this particular episode should have had a longer running time. Other than that I am looking forward to Episode Six.

Monday, April 9, 2012

"THE HOLLOW" (2004) Review




"THE HOLLOW" (2004) Review

I have never been a fan of Agatha Christie’s 1946 novel, "The Hollow". Many would find my opinion surprising, considering its reputation as one of the author’s best works and a fine example of the "country house murder" story. But I cannot help how I feel. I simply never warmed up to it.

The 1946 novel eventually became a successful London play in 1951. And in 2004, producers of the "Agatha Christie’s POIROT" series adapted the novel into a ninety-minute television movie in 2004, with David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. I have seen "THE HOLLOW" at least twice. Yet, my opinion of the story has not improved one whit for me.

I cannot say that the movie had a terrible story. The latter revolved around the murder of a successful and Harley Street doctor (in other words, expensive) named John Cristow, who specialized in disease research. The murder occurred at a weekend house party held by Sir Henry and Lady Angkatell at their estate called the Hollow. Dr. Christow was a brilliant and charismatic man who was having a passionate affair with his wife’s cousin, a sculptor named Henrietta Savernake. His plain and not so-intelligent wife, Gerda, was unaware of his affair with Henrietta. But she did become aware of his past with an actress named Veronica Cray, who found fame as a Hollywood star and was staying at a cottage on the Angkatell estate. And there were other members of the Angkatell family that became caught up in several affairs of the heart - like Edward Angkatell, a distant cousin of Henry and entailee of the family's beloved house, Ainswick, who was in love with Henrietta. Also staying at another cottage on the Angkatell estate was Hercule Poirot, who was on hand to solve Dr. Cristow’s murder.

As I had stated earlier, my opinion of Christie’s story had not improved after watching "THE HOLLOW". What can I say? I found it difficult to care about most of the characters. Despite his intelligence and dedication to his profession, I never liked the John Cristow character. In fact, I rather despised him, which made it difficult for me to care whether his murderer would be caught. Only one of the main suspects was portrayed in an unsympathetic light. Yet, the character failed to distract me from my dislike of the other characters – save one. And even though the murderer’s revelation came via a double-bluff, I found the plot’s details difficult to remember to endure, let alone remember. Yeah, I disliked the story that much.

Despite my dislike of "THE HOLLOW", I must admit that it could boast some pretty good performances. I was especially impressed by Megan Dodds as Henrietta Savernake, Jonathan Cake as John Cristow, Claire Price as Gerda Cristow, and Sarah Miles as Lucy, Lady Angkatell. The one bad apple in the bunch turned out to be Lysette Anthony, who gave an over-the-top performance as Veronica Cray, Dr.Cristow’s former lover turned Hollywood starlet. David Suchet did an admirable job as Poirot, but for once, his performance did not strike me as memorable.

I have mixed feelings about the movie’s production values. Michael Pickwoad did a solid job with his production designs, even if James Aspinall’s photography did not do much justice to it. But Sheena Napier’s costume designs and the hairstyles left me feelings confused. Although Christie’s novel was published in the mid-1940s, this movie seemed to be set in the 1930s. Yet, there were times I could not tell via the costumes and hairstyles whether the movie was set in the 30s or 40s. Very confusing.

When I saw "THE HOLLOW", I had hoped my negative feelings toward Christie’s 1946 novel would change for the better. Unfortunately, it failed. Perhaps I might watch "THE HOLLOW" once a year in the hopes that I will learn to appreciate the story. Then again . . . perhaps not.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"JANE EYRE" (1983) Review





"JANE EYRE" (1983) Review

As long as I can remember, both the Hollywood and British film industries have trotted out Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, "Jane Eyre" in order to make a movie or television adaptation of it. Looking back, I realize that I have seen at least six adaptation of the novel in my life time.

One of those adaptations turned out to be the 1983 BBC miniseries, "JANE EYRE". Directed by Julian Amyes and adapted by Alexander Baron, the eleven-part miniseries starred Zelah Clarke in the title role and Timothy Dalton as Edward Rochester. Following Brontë’s novel, "JANE EYRE" told the story of a plain young English woman in early 19th Britain – from her abusive childhood to her position as a governess at an imposing manor in the Yorkshire countryside. Jane’s story began at Gateshead, where she suffered abuse at the hands of her widowed aunt-in-law and three cousins. After a clash with her cousin John, Mrs. Reed has Jane enrolled at Lowood Institution, a charity school for girls. Jane spends the next eight years under the tyrannical rule of Lowood’s headmaster, the self-righteous clergyman Mr. Brocklehurst – six years as a student and two as a teacher.

Longing for greener pastures, Jane advertises her services as a governess, and receives a reply from a Mrs. Alice Fairfax, housekeeper of Thornfield Hall. She takes the position and becomes governess for Adele Varens, the young French ward of Thornfield’s master, Mr. Edward Rochester. After meeting Mr. Rochester, Jane develops a close friendship with him . . . and the two eventually fall in love. But a secret involving strange laughs, a mysterious fire and an attack on Rochester's house guest, Mr. Mason threatens any chance of marital bliss for the governess and her employer.

I first saw "JANE EYRE" years ago on a video cassette copy that featured no opening or closing credits between episodes. So, it eventually came as surprise to me that the 1983 miniseries had aired in eleven thirty-minute installments. I found myself wondering why the BBC had decided to air the miniseries in this fashion. Why not air it in five one-hour episodes? Or six fifty-minutes episodes? Regardless of the manner in which the BBC had aired "JANE EYRE", I cannot deny that in the end, I found it very satisfying.

Before I wax lyrical over "JANE EYRE", I have to acknowledge some of its aspects that I found unappealing. Many fans probably loved the idea of this adaptation being so close to Brontë’s novel in compare to many other adaptations. And while I am relieved that Alexander Baron’s screenplay did not rush the story in a manner similar to the 1997 television adaptation, there were times when I found this miniseries a bit too loyal to the novel. I might as well confess that I am not particularly fond of the sequences that featured Jane’s years at Lonwood and her time spent with St. John Rivers and his two sisters. The Lowood sequences bored me senseless. I understand that Jane’s interactions with the school’s headmaster was a message on the oppression of a patriarchal society, I practically struggled to prevent myself from hitting the Fast Forward button of my DVD remote. I could say the same about Jane’s time with the Rivers family. While I had initially found her relationship with St. John Rivers fascinating, I heaved a mighty sigh of relief by the time Jane returned to Thornfield Hall. Sometimes, a film or television production can be too faithful to a literary source . . . to the point of dragging the story’s pacing to a near halt.

I have one last complaint to reveal - namely the characterization of Edward Rochester's mysterious wife from the West Indies, Mrs. Bertha Rochester. I realize that Baron and director Julian Amyes were trying to be as faithful to the novel as possible. Unfortunately, Bertha's characterization turned out to be another example of the dangers of a movie or miniseries being too faithful to a literary source. I was surprised to experience a glimmer of sympathy toward the character, while watching the 1997 movie. I felt no such glimmer in this version . . . merely irritation. I cannot blame actress Joolia Cappleman. She must have been following the script or Amyes' direction. But for years, I have harbored the feeling that the characterization of Bertha . . . and Adele's dancer mother, for that matter, may have been examples of Brontë's xenophobia toward the French or anyone who was not British. Bertha's characterization struck me as completely one-dimensional and created in a manner to garner sympathy toward the controlling Rochester, who had just attempted to drag Jane into a bigamous marriage. Considering that the 1966 novel, "Wide Sargasso Sea" had been around for seventeen years around this time, could it have hurt both Amyes and Baron to portray Bertha in a slightly more sympathetic light?

Michael Edwards did a solid job in his production designs for "JANE EYRE". I was especially impressed by his use of Deene Park, located near Corby, Northamptonshire; for the Thornfield Hall sequences. And his recreation of the Yorkshire countryside in 1830s England during those scenes featuring Jane's attempts to find shelter and food following her flight from Thornfield struck me as tolerably convincing. Cinematographers David Doogood, John Kenway and Keith Salmon's photography seemed pretty solid, despite the miniseries being shot in video film. Speaking of the 1830s, I still find it surprising that this is the only adaptation of "Jane Eyre" that is set during this decade. The other five versions I have seen were all set during the early or mid 1840s. I must admit that Gill Hardie's costumes ably reflected that particular decade.

Despite my complaints, I still enjoyed "JANE EYRE" very much. Baron and Amyes did an excellent job of recapturing Brontë's saga. Their handling of Jane's romance with Rochester bridled with passion and intelligence. More importantly, they retained enough of Brontë's work to convey a very plausible development of Jane's character. Both director and screenwriter perfectly maintained Rochester's complex personality. His love for Jane and appreciation of her intelligence seemed apparent. Yet, Baron maintained a good deal of Rochester's sardonic humor and controlling nature. The meat of Brontë's novel has always been centered around Jane and Rochester's relationship. And the miniseries perfectly captured every delicious nuance of it. But I must admit that I was also impressed by the sequences featuring Jane's early years at Gateshead. Baron did a good job of capturing the miseries that Jane suffered at the hands of the Reed family. When I first saw "JANE EYRE", I had lacked the patience to appreciate the sequence in which Jane becomes a vagabond before meeting the Rivers family. This last viewing made me appreciate it, because it conveyed the suffering that Jane had endured after leaving Thornfield Hall - something that most adaptations seem to gloss over.

I cannot deny that the performances featured in "JANE EYRE" were top-notched. Both Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton created a strong screen chemistry as the two leads, Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester. Clarke's Jane seemed very submissive in Rochester's "commanding" presence . . . at least at first. There was an interesting scene in which Jane eagerly approached her employer, the morning following an evening of easy camaraderie between the two. Instead, Rochester responded in a brusque manner, producing a wounded puppy dog expression on Jane's face. Another scene that impressed me featured Jane's reluctant admission of her true feelings toward Rochester. The pair acted the hell out of that scene, leaving me convinced that I had witnessed their finest moment together. Some might view Rochester's failed attempt to prevent Jane's departure from Thornfield as that special moment. But the "admission of love" scene was the one that really impressed me.

Zelah Clarke did an excellent job in conveying Jane's emotional growth from a reserved and pious eighteen year-old governess to the strong-willed and more emotional woman. Her Jane Eyre struck me as slightly more reserved than other portrayals. Which seemed all the more amazing to me, as Clarke slowly revealed Jane's inner passions. Timothy Dalton gave, in my opinion, the best portrayal of the complex Edward Rochester. Mind you, he had his moments of theatricality. But in the end, Dalton superbly conveyed both the best and worst of Rochester's character with seamless skill. Some have declared Dalton as too handsome for the plain-looking Rochester. Considering that just about every actor who has portrayed the character was more attractive than the literary character. I found such arguments irrelevant.

Both Clarke and Dalton received solid support from the rest of the cast. Damien Thomas seemed very impressive as Richard Mason, Rochester's tenuously sane and nervous brother-in-law. I could also say the same about Andrew Bicknell's cool and commanding portrayal of St. John Rivers, the missionary wannabe. Blance Youinou was quite charming as Rochester's young French ward, Adele Valens. And Sian Pattenden was impressively believable as the hot-tempered young Jane Eyre.

I cannot say that "JANE EYRE" is perfect. Unlike other costume drama fans, I do not require that period movie or miniseries be an exact adaptation of its literary source. Although this adaptation of Brontë's novel might not be completely faithful, I do wish that screenwriter Alexander Baron had been even a little less faithful, especially in scenes featuring Jane's years at Lowood and her time spent with the Rivers family. But I cannot deny that this miniseries turned out to be an excellent adaptation. I would probably go so far to state that it might be the best adaptation of Brontë's novel. And we have Baron's writing, Julian Amyes' direction and superb performances from Zelah Clarke and Timothy Dalton to thank.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE" (1989) Photo Gallery












Below is a gallery of photos from the 1989 adventure classic, "INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE". Produced by George Lucas and directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie starred Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Alison Doody, John Rhys-Davies, Michael Byrnes, River Phoenix and Julian Glover:


"INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE" (1989) Photo Gallery



























































































Monday, April 2, 2012

"PERSUASION" (1971) Screencaps Gallery



Below are screencaps from "PERSUASION", the 1971 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's 1818 novel. Produced and directed by Howard Baker, and adapted by Julian Mitchell; the miniseries starred Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall:


"PERSUASION" (1971) Screencaps Gallery






















More images from "PERSUASION" can be found in this GALLERY.