Sunday, September 30, 2012

Top Ten Favorite "WEST WING" Episodes

Below is a list of my ten (10) favorite episodes from the award winning television series, "WEST WING" (1999-2006). Here they are:


1. (2.01) “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen – Part 1” - In this superb continuation of the Season 1 finale, the Bartlet Administration is in chaos after an assassination attempt on the President. Josh Lyman, C.J. Cregg, Sam Seaborn, and Toby Ziegler flash back to the formation of the Bartlet campaign.

2. (1.19) “Let Bartlet Be Bartlet” - A memo written by Mandy Hampton outlining a strategy to defeat Bartlet for re-election is uncovered by the press, leading to tension between her and the rest of the staff. Chief of Staff Leo McGarry begins to renew the staff and the President's fighting spirit by suggesting they begin taking risks.

3. (4.01) "20 Hours in America - Part I" - Josh, Toby and Josh's assistant Donna Moss are stranded in Indiana when the presidential motorcade leaves a campaign stop without them, leaving Sam to staff the President alone. Leo is informed that Qumar has reopened the investigation into the death of its defense minister, Abdul ibn Shareef.

4. (2.18) "17 People" - Toby is told about the President's multiple sclerosis, becoming the 17th person to know, and he and the President have a heated row over the matter. Meanwhile, the President considers an extensive security alert for the nation's airports, and staffers struggle to punch up a speech the President is set to give at the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

5. (6.13) “King Corn” - The presidential candidates journey to Iowa, where Democrats Vice President Robert Russell and Congressman Matt Santos, and Republican Senator Arnold Vinick, are all told by their handlers that when they appear before the corn growers association they must support subsidies for ethanol as fuel, regardless of their true feelings.

6. (1.06) “Mr. Willis of Ohio” - West Wing staffers court votes for a new census-taking methodology bill and the President's youngest daughter Zoey has an unfortunate encounter in a Georgetown bar.

7. (3.22) “Posse Comitatus” - In this third season finale, Bartlet makes a life-or-death decision regarding a foreign diplomat who is a known terrorist. The flirtation between C.J. and her Secret Service bodyguard, Simon Donovan, is limited by their professional relationship and then cut short by tragedy. Josh defeats influential women's rights activist Amy Gardner in the welfare-bill battle and their relationship is left uncertain. Bartlet meets with his campaign opponent, Governor Robert Ritchie of Florida, at a Catholic fundraiser.

8. (6.02) “The Birnam Wood” - Israeli-Palestinian peace talks at Camp David result in a momentous peace accord. President Bartlet fires White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry, who was strongly against the talks. Moments later, Leo suffers a massive heart attack. ("The Birnam Wood" is a reference to the warning given to Macbeth in the Shakespeare play of the same name, in which he is warned that "Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him.")

9. (4.21) “Life on Mars” - On his first day at work, new Associate Counsel Joe Quincy uncovers a scandal of mammoth proportions, sending shockwaves through the administration. As he researches the possibility of classified Mars report, he discovers the Vice President John Hoynes' affair with a Washington socialite, and the President must make a decision.

10. (3.13) “Night Five” - Bartlet consults a psychiatrist, Dr. Stanley Keyworth, for a troubling sleep disorder and receives a sobering personal assessment. C.J. lobbies vigorously to help secure the release of a White House reporter who has been taken hostage while on assignment in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Toby clashes again with his ex-wife Congresswoman Andrea Wyatt over a speech for the United Nations that takes radical Islam to task.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

"THE INCREDIBLE HULK" (2008) Photo Gallery

"THE INCREDIBLE HULK" (2008) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery from the new Marvel comics film - "THE INCREDIBLE HULK" - starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth and William Hurt:

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"SAD CYPRESS" (2003) Review

”SAD CYPRESS” (2003) Review

Adapted from Agatha Christie’s 1940 novel, ”SAD CYPRESS” is a story about Hercule Poirot’s efforts to discover the truth behind the case of a young woman facing conviction for the murder of her ailing wealthy aunt and a lodge keeper’s daughter who has become her aunt’s companion. Directed by David Moore, this 90-minute movie starred David Suchet as the Belgian detective.

The story began with a doctor from a small town named Peter Lord who hires Hercule Poirot to clear the name of a young woman Elinor Carlisle. Elinor is facing trial for the murder of a young woman named Mary Gerard, the beautiful companion of her late aunt, Mrs. Laura Welman. Through interviews and flashbacks, Poirot learns that Elinor was engaged to Mrs. Welman’s nephew by marriage, Roddy Welman. Unfortunately for Elinor, Roderick (or Roddy) falls in love with Mary. Realizing that marriage to Roddy would be useless, Elinor ends the engagement, freeing him to pursue Mary. But her resentment toward her aunt’s companion fails to fade. And when Mary dies from poisoning during an afternoon tea, suspicion falls upon Elinor and she is arrested for murder. When Poirot and the authorities discover that Mrs. Welman had died of poisoning and was the real mother of Mary Gerard, Elinor is charged with the murder of her aunt.

I have one complaint about ”SAD CYPRESS”. The revelation of the murderer produced a contrived ending to an otherwise first-rate murder mystery. I am not joking. The method in which the two crimes were committed and how Poirot came to the truth seemed rather unbelievable.

With that out of the way, I did find the rest of ”SAD CYPRESS” to be very satisfying. Hell, it was more than satisfying. One, Poirot found himself with a case that seemed nearly hopeless for Elinor Carlisle. Two, it was a case that featured two murders committed in the distant past. I have a soft spot for murder stories that come close to resembling historical mysteries. Three, not only did Poirot play a major role in this story – much stronger than he did in ”THE HOLLOW”, but so did the Elinor Carlisle character. One would think that the Mary Gerard character had a major impact upon the story. And she . . . plot wise. But for me, Elinor Carlisle had a stronger impact. On the surface, she seemed like a pleasant and well-bred young woman who kept her emotion in check. But that was simply a façade. Despite her reserved nature, Elinor’s raging emotions seemed to be felt or sensed by those around her. The impact of her personality gave the story an emotional punch that I found rewarding.

The producers of ”SAD CYPRESS” certainly selected the right actress to portray Elinor Carlisle. Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh was the right woman to project an air of English gentility that masked the personality of a passionate woman who loved just a little too heavily. Especially in scenes that required little or no dialogue, Dermot-Walsh did a superb job in displaying great pathos. Also superb was David Suchet as Poirot. I must admit that ”SAD CYPRESS” featured what I believe to be one of Suchet’s better performances in the role. In this particular movie, his Poirot projected a large array of emotions – frustration, patience, perplexity and cunning – that I have rarely seen in many other Poirot movies.

The rest of the cast struck me as pretty solid. Rupert Penry-Jones proved once again what a chameleon he could be in his dead-on portrayal of Elinor’s fiancé, the supercilious, yet proud and shallow Roderick Welman. Phyllis Logan gave a complex performance as one of the nurses, Nurse Hopkins. Paul McGann was vibrant as the passionate Dr. Peter Lord, the local doctor who was in love with Elinor Carlisle. Kelly Reilly portrayed the story’s catalyst, Mary Gerard. But the character struck me as so bland that I felt Reilly could hardly do anything with the role.

Production designer Michael Pickwoad did a solid job of supporting the movie’s setting of 1937-38 rural England. And Sheena Napier’s costume designs seemed historically accurate and colorful without being too theatrical. Thanks to a first-rate cast led by David Suchet and Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh , along with Dave Moore’s adaptation of Christie’s emotional tale of jealousy and greed, ”SAD CYPRESS” turned out to be one of the better versions of a Christie murder mystery I have seen in the past decade.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Two "The Yellow Apron" Commentary

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Two "The Yellow Apron" Commentary

Set during the 1810s and 1820s, the second episode of the NBC miniseries, ”CENTENNIAL”, continued the story of French-Canadian trapper, Pasquinel; his Scottish-born partner, Alexander McKeag; and their relationship with Clay Basket, the daughter of an Arapaho warrior. ”The Yellow Apron” explored how jealousies, resentments and desire nearly broke apart their tenuous relationship.

”The Yellow Apron” began in 1809, with Clay Basket giving birth to the first of hers and Pasquinel’s three children, Jacques. The story quickly jumped to 1811, with the birth of their second child, Marcel. By the time the story begins in earnest in 1816, Pasquinel is still obsessed in finding the gold that Lame Beaver had stumbled upon in the last episode. Because of his obsession, he asks McKeag to make the visit to the Bockweiss household in St. Louis for more goods to trade with the Plains tribes. Upon his arrival in St. Louis, McKeag learns that Bockweiss is anxious over his son-in-law’s failure to make the trip. He also learns that Lise Bockweiss Pasquinel has given birth to Pasquinel’s daughter, Lisette. And all of this happened within the episode’s first nine to ten minutes.

So much occurred in ”The Yellow Apron”. The episode saw the birth of Pasquinel’s four children – his children by Clay Basket (Jacques, Marcel and Lucinda) and his daughter by Lise (Lisette). McKeag has to deal with Jacques’ dislike of the Scots trapper and suspicion of Clay Basket’s love for him. Clashes with both the Native American world and the white world leave scars on Jacques, deepening his dislike of McKeag and leaving a mark on his psyche. Both McKeag and Clay Basket continue their struggle to keep their feelings for one another in check. And both have to contend with Pasquinel’s desire for gold and his penchant for leaving them all behind in order to be with his St. Louis wife, Lise. And Lise has to struggle between her own love for the French-Canadian trapper and her growing jealousy for his love of the West and a suspicion that he may have Native American wife. And although he seems very fond of Clay Basket, it is obvious that he is more divided by his feelings for Lise, the West and his desire for gold.

The episode’s last half hour spirals into a series of heartbreaking and bittersweet events. Jacques tries to kill McKeag in a fit of anger over a dispute regarding beaver traps. After the attack, McKeag leaves Pasquinel and the latter’s Arapaho family. After spending a winter inside a hut encased by a snowdrift, McKeag hooks up with a group of trappers that include Jim Bridger and James Beckwourth. They travel to a rendezvous for other mountain men. There, McKeag has an emotional reunion with Pasquinel. But McKeag’s lingering resentment toward his former partner makes the reunion short-lived. After one last trip to St. Louis, Lise convinces McKeag to reconcile with Pasquinel. Unfortunately, McKeag’s efforts to reconcile with his former partner come too late. Minutes earlier, Pasquinel is attacked and killed by a band of Ute warriors after finding the gold he had sought for so long. Despite the tragedy, McKeag and Clay Basket are now free to be together. And the Scots trapper agrees to claim Lucinda as his own. The episode ended with a shot of the gold nuggets that Pasquinel finally discovered, but failed to claim as his own due to his death. However, that final shot struck an ominous note . . . as conveying to the audience that not only will the nuggets be discovered again, but also bring havoc to the region. Especially for Pasquinel's Arapaho family and other Native Americans.

I must admit that I found ”The Yellow Apron” is probably one of the most bittersweet episodes in this miniseries. And possibly one of the most epic. The latter is not surprising, considering that most of the episode spans nearly fifteen years. But what I really enjoyed about it was that it touched upon an era of the Old West that is rarely covered in Hollywood films or television. I say . . . rarely. There have been movies about trappers and mountain men of the early 19th century, but most Hollywood productions tend to focus upon the West between the 1840s and the 1880s. The episode featured the growing conflict between the Native Americans and whites (both mountain men and the military) that set foot on their lands. This conflict was apparent in an effective scene in which McKeag, Pasquinel and the latter’s Arapaho family visited a fort along the Missouri River, where they clash with a group of hostile American soldiers. Viewers also had an opportunity to enjoy a scene that featured a rendezvous between trappers and traders from many nations and Native Americans. Thanks to some detailed and colorful direction by Virgil W. Vogel, the scene not only went into detail over what transpired at a rendezvous – trading, horse and foot racing, target shooting, singing, dancing, gambling and other activities.

A yellow apron figured into a session of dancing, initiated by a mountain man playing a bag pipe. This incident led to an emotional reunion between Pasquinel and McKeag. Considering the acrimony (at least on McKeag’s part) that led to their separation, watching the two former friends dance away the bitterness proved to be one of the most poignant moments in the entire miniseries. The scene also proved to be one of the finest moments on screen for both Richard Chamberlain and Robert Conrad. In fact, this particular episode provided some of the best acting in the entire miniseries. Not only did Chamberlain and Conrad did some of their best work, so did the likes of Barbara Carrera and Sally Kellerman, who both did excellent jobs in conveying the emotional difficulties in being Pasquinel’s wife. I also have to commend the late Vincent Roberts’ portrayal of Jacques Pasquinel in his early teens. I thought he did a top notch job of conveying the young Jacques’ dislike and resentment toward McKeag without resorting to any over-the-top acting.

Directed by Virgil Vogel, ”The Yellow Apron” is without a doubt, one of my favorite episodes in the miniseries. Personally, I thought it conveyed the complex friendship between Pasquinel and Alexander McKeag with more depth than even ”Only the Rocks Live Forever”. Not only did it boast some first-rate performances, especially from Richard Chamberlain and Robert Conrad, but also provided one of the most memorable scenes in the entire miniseries.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1981) Screencaps Gallery


Below are images of "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", the 1981 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel. Directed by Rodney Bennett and adapted by Alexander Baron, the miniseries starred Irene Richards and Tracey Childs:

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1981) Screencaps Gallery