Monday, December 30, 2013

"LOST": A Tale of Two Fathers

"LOST": A Tale of Two Fathers

Back in Season 2, "LOST" aired an episode called "What Kate Did". The episode revealed the crime that led castaway Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly) to being a fugitive for three years - she had murdered her father, Wayne Jensen (James Horan), and used his death to collect insurance for her mother, Diane (Beth Broderick). The episode also revealed Kate's reason for her act of murder. She had just learned that Wayne - a man she had presumed to be her stepfather - was actually her father. 

Kate had made it perfectly clear that she disliked Wayne Jensen. She held him responsible for her mother's break-up with Sam Austen, the man she had longed believed was her father. She certainly disliked the fact that he was an alcoholic who physically abused Diane. And she found his habit of occasionally leering at her disgusting and beneath contempt. Many believed that Kate had been a victim of sexual abuse. And that Wayne had been the perpetrator. But "What Kate Did" hinted that Wayne may not have abused Kate. In this scene, Kate talks to an unconscious fellow castaway, Sawyer (Josh Holloway), whose body she believes has been temporarily possessed by her late father:

"Can you hear me? Sawyer? Wayne? [Sawyer stirs] I'm probably crazy and this doesn't matter, but maybe you're in there somehow. But you asked me a question. You asked me why I -- why I did it. It wasn't because you drove my father away, or the way you looked at me, or because you beat her. It's because I hated that you were a part of me -- that I would never be good. That I would never have anything good. And every time that I look at Sawyer -- every time I feel something for him -- I see you, Wayne. It makes me sick.".

Judging from her comments, it seems quite apparent that Wayne had never sexually abused her. Kate did accuse him of leering at her, which he proved in a flashback at the beginning of the episode. However, there are fans that still insist that Wayne may have abused her. They are entitled to their opinions. Frankly, I have doubts that Kate had ever been abused. But if she had . . . Wayne Jensen would not be on the top of my list of suspects.

When "What Kate Did" first aired during the 2005-2006 television season, I had also viewed an episode of "HOUSE" called“Skin Deep”. I noticed how Dr. Gregory House (portrayed by Hugh Laurie) had correctly guessed that a 15 year-old female patient, who happened to be a model, had been molested by “her” possessive father. How did House come to this conclusion? He noticed the close relationship between the model and her father. He noticed how the former seemed overtly concerned with pleasing said father. 

This scene also brought about memories of the movie, "DOLORES CLAIRBORNE". Based on a Stephen King novel, it told the story about a Maine woman (played by Kathy Bates) who murders her husband (David Straitharn) in order to stop him from continuing his sexual abuse of their daughter (Jennifer Jason-Leigh). What I had found interesting was that the daughter over-idealized her abusive father. And he (in flashbacks) over-idealized his mother, who may have sexually abused him.

Both that particular episode of "HOUSE" and "DOLORES CLAIRBORNE" led me to suspect that if Kate had been sexually abused, her abuser could possibly be her step-father, Sgt. Sam Austen (Lindsey Ginter). After all, Kate has expressed nothing but contempt for Wayne. Yet, she had a tendency to idealize her step-father. And in an odd way, she may have extended or projected this same tendency to idealize over to other men who probably reminded her of Sgt. Austen - Tom Brennan (MacKenzie Astin), her husband Kevin Callis (Nathan Fillon) and leader of the island castaways, Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox). 

Below is a link to a web page that lists traits of those (especially adult women) who may have suffered sexual abuse as a child - Beyond Victim. Included on the web page is a small list of the following traits of victims of sexual abuse: 

*You feel powerless in important relationships and are terrified of honest confrontations. Yet you try to control and manipulate other people.

*If you were sexually abused by your father, you also may have felt unconsciously empowered by him; you are his special girl and you can do and be whatever you choose (as long as you don't replace daddy with a new man in your life with whom you can be truly intimate). Your troubled relationships with men present a sharp contrast to other areas of your life.

*You over-idealize your father and fail to see his destructive side while seeing the negative side of your mother and ignoring her positive attributes. Consequently, you over-value and misperceive men while devaluing and discounting women. (Or you may over-idealize your mother and see your father as totally bad. this pattern is common with men who were sexually abused by either their mothers or their fathers.)

I am not saying that Kate was definitely a victim of sexual abuse. I honestly do not know. Over eight years have passed since "What Kate Did" aired and the producers of "LOST" never conveyed any further revelations abut that particular storyline. I do find it interesting that Kate's feelings toward Sam Austen seemed to follow a pattern similar to that of sexual abuse victims harbor toward their perpetrators - as described above. Kate not only tend to over-idealize Jack, a man who not only reminded her of Austen, she ended up becoming a victim of his emotional abuse on a few occasions.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"SAN FRANCISCO" (1936) Review

"SAN FRANCISCO" (1936) Review

I just recently watched the 1936 disaster film, ”SAN FRANCISCO”, which starred Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy and Jack Holt. Released 30 years after the actual event, the movie is basically about a Barbary Coast saloonkeeper (Gable) and a Nob Hill impresario (Holt) who became rivals for the affections of a beautiful singer (MacDonald), both personally and professionally in 1906 San Francisco. The story culminated in the deadly April 18, 1906 earthquake that devastated the city. 

In the movie, a gambling hall tycoon named Blackie Norton (Gable) hires an impoverished but classically-trained singer from Colorado named Mary Blake (MacDonald). Mary also attracts the attention of a wealthy Nob Hill patron named Jack Burley (Holt), who believes that she is destined for a better career as an opera singer. Mary becomes a star attraction at Blackie’s saloon, and a romance develops between them. Complications arise when she is also courted by Burley. He also offers her an opportunity to sing in the opera. Meanwhile, Blackie's childhood friend, Roman Catholic Father Tim Mullen (Tracy), keeps trying to reform him, while the other nightclub owners attempt to convince Norton to run for the City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors in order to protect their crooked interests. Despite Father Tim's best efforts, Blackie remains a jaunty Barbary Coast atheist until the famous 1906 earthquake devastates the city. He "finds God" upon discovering that had Mary survived.

Basically, ”SAN FRANCISCO” is an excellent movie filled with vitality, good performances and great music. Director Woody Van Dyke did an excellent job of capturing the color and energy of San Francisco during the Gilded Age. He was ably supported by the movie’s Assistant Director (Joseph M. Newman) and montage expert (Slavko Vorkapich). Composer Bronislaw Kaper and lyricist Gus Kahn wrote the now famous title song, performed by MacDonald. One of the best moments in the film occurred when MacDonald’s character announces her intention of performing the song in the movie’s Chicken’s Ball, producing applause and cries of joy from the audience. As for the famous earthquake itself . . . I am amazed that after seventy years or so, I still find it impressive. To this day, the earthquake montage is considered one of the standards that all disaster films are compared with. In fact, Assistant Director Newman won a special Academy Awards for his work.

Robert Hopkins (who received an Oscar nomination) wrote the story for ”SAN FRANCISCO” and the famous Anita Loos wrote the screenplay. Hopkins and Loos created a good, solid story. But I have to be honest that I found nothing remarkable about it. It seemed like your basic Gable programmer from the 1930s that easily could have been set during any time period in American history . . . well, except for the actual earthquake. I do have one major problem with the movie’s plot – namely its religious subplot in which Father Mullen spends most of his time trying to redeem Blackie. Quite frankly, it struck me as heavy-handed and a little out of place. Perhaps Hopkins and Loos had intended for the scene in which Blackie found Mary offering compassion to some of the earthquake’s survivors to be a tender and emotional moment. It could have been . . . if they had left out the heavy religious theme. 

The only good thing about the religious aspect of the story was Spencer Tracy’s presence in the film. One cannot deny that he gave the best performance in the movie. Well, he and veteran actress, Jessie Ralph, who portrayed Jack Burley’s Irish-born mother. But Tracy’s presence also meant that one had to deal with the movie’s religious subplot. And as much as I liked Tracy in the film, I think it could have done without him. Jeanette MacDonald gave a solid performance as the saloon hall singer-turned opera diva, Mary Blake. However . . . I found MacDonald’s singing more remarkable than her character. Pardon me for saying this but Mary is one boring woman. Rather typical of the female characters that Gable’s characters had romanced in his movies during the mid and late 1930s. I find it amazing that two dynamic men like Blackie and Burley were so dazzled by her. Both Clark Gable and Jack Holt gave solid performances as the two rivals wooing for Mary’s hand. Ironically, despite the differences in their characters’ backgrounds, they were chillingly alike. Both were charming, gregarious and extremely underhanded men. Quite frankly, I found it amazing that Mary could prefer one over the other. 

Despite some flaws – the most obvious being the religious subplot that turned out to be as subtle as a rampaging elephant - ”SAN FRANCISCO” is a first-class, rousing movie filled with music, drama, laughs and one of the best special effect sequences in movie history. I heartily recommend it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013



Below are images from "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING", the 1997 television adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1749 novel. The miniseries starred Max Beesley and Samantha Morton: 


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Friday, December 20, 2013

TIME MACHINE: Battle of Shiloh



April 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Shiloh. The battle was fought between April 6-7, 1862; around Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee. It was one of the first major battles in the Western Theater of the U.S. Civil War. 

In southwestern Tennessee, the Union Army under Major-General Ulysses S. Grant had found his command camped at Pittsburg Landing, on the west bank of the Tennessee River. Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston wanted to launch surprise attack on Grant's forces and destroy it. Johnston's second-in-command, Pierre G. T. Beauregardadvised against such an attack, fearing that the sounds of Confederate soldiers marching and test-firing their rifles after two days of rain had cost them the element of surprise. Johnston refused to accept Beauregard's advice and told him that he would "attack them if they were a million". Despite General Beauregard's well-founded concern, the Union forces did not hear the sounds of the marching army in its approach and remained blissfully unaware of the enemy camped three miles away. 

In the early morning of April 6, 1862; Johnston's Confederate forces launched a surprise attack on Grant's forces at Pittsburg Landing. The Confederates achieved considerable success on the first day, due to the Union Army's state of unpreparedness for an attack. The assault was very fierce and some of the numerous inexperienced Union soldiers of Grant's army fled for safety to the Tennessee River. Others fought well but were forced to withdraw under strong pressure and attempted to form new defensive lines. Many regiments disintegrated. The companies and sections that remained on the field attached themselves to other commands. General William T. Sherman,
who had been so negligent in preparation for the battle, became an important rallying figure for Union troops. He appeared everywhere along his lines, inspiring his raw recruits to resist the initial assaults, despite staggering losses on both side. His division bore the brunt of the initial attack, and despite heavy fire on their position and their right flank crumbling, they fought on stubbornly. The Union troops slowly lost ground and fell back to a position behind Shiloh Church.

Although the Confederates seemed to be emerging as victors of the battle, a minor mishap and Grant's stubborn refusal to crumble under in defeat, led to an eventual victory for the Union. Around 2:30 p.m., General Johnston was leading a charge against a Union camp near a peach orchard, when he took a bullet behind his right knee. Johnston did not believe the wound was serious at the time and instead, sent his personal physician to tend some captured wounded Union soldiers. Although he did not feel anything, the bullet (possibly fired by friendly fire) had in fact clipped a part of his popliteal artery. Within minutes, his boot filled up with blood and Johnston's staff saw that he was on the verge of fainting. It did not take long before he finally died and command of the Confederate forces fell upon General Beauregard.

General Grant was about ten miles down river at Savannah, Tennessee, that morning. On April 4, he had been injured when his horse fell and pinned him underneath. He was convalescing and unable to move without crutches. Grant heard the sound of artillery fire and raced to the battlefield by boat, arriving about 8:30 a.m. He worked frantically to bring up reinforcements that seemed near enough to arrive swiftly, which included Lew Wallace's division from Crump's Landing. However, he would wait almost all day before the reinforcements arrived. Wallace's slow movement to the battlefield became particularly controversial. Several factors saved the Union forces on April 6. One, their forces under General Benjamin Prentiss managed to hold back a Confederate frontal assault for seven hours at a place called the Hornet's Nest. Two, Grant kept his cool and did not cave in to the possibility that his army might be destroyed. But more importantly Beauregard failed to take advantage of the Union's exposed flanks as they pulled back toward Pittsburg Landing, and continued focusing his troops at the Hornet's Nest.

Worse luck for the Confederate Army appeared at Pittsburg Landing on the evening of April 6. Reinforcements underGeneral Don Carlos Buell arrived. Beauregard had been forewarned at the possibility of Buell's arrival, but he decided to accept the report that the Union commander was on his way to Decatur, Alabama. By the morning of April 7, Beauregard had no idea that his forces were outnumbered by both Grant and Buell's forces. As he prepared to finish Grant by the banks of the Tennessee River, Beauregard and his men found themselves surprised by a strong counterattack by the Union Army.

Beauregard launched a series of counterattacks from the Shiloh Church area by the early afternoon, hoping to ensure control of the Corinth Road. Although the Union Army's right was temporarily driven back by these assaults, Union troops seized the road junction of the Hamburg-Purdy and East Corinth Roads, driving the Confederates into Prentiss's old camps. Beauregard's final counterattack was flanked and repulsed when Grant moved Colonel James C. Veatch's brigade forward. Realizing that he had lost the initiative and that he was low on ammunition and food and with over 10,000 of his men no longer in action, Beauregard knew he he was in serious trouble. He withdrew the Confederate forces in an orderly fashion back to Corinth, Mississippi. The exhausted Union soldiers did not pursue much past the original Sherman and Prentiss encampments.

By the late afternoon of April 7, the battle had ended. Long afterwards, Grant and Buell quarreled over Grant's decision not to mount an immediate pursuit with another hour of daylight remaining. Grant cited the exhaustion of his troops, although the Confederates were certainly just as exhausted. Part of Grant's reluctance to act could have been the unusual command relationship he had with Buell. Although Grant was the senior officer and technically was in command of the overall Union forces in that part of the Western theater, Buell made it quite clear throughout the two days that he had been acting independently.

Newspapers vilified Grant for allowing his army to be caught offguard on the morning of April 6. Journalists began spreading the false rumor that he had been drunk during the battle. Many credited Buell for taking command of the Union forces on April 7. Sherman was hailed as a hero. Grant's career suffered a temporary setback when head of all Union forces in the Western theater, General Henry W. Halleck combined and reorganized his armies and demoted Grant to the powerless position of second-in-command. Halleck remained in charge, until he was promoted as general-in-chief of all Union forces and called back to Washington D.C. Beauregard was relieved of command of the Confederates' Army of Mississippi around late May/early June 1862. Braxton Bragg assumed his old position.

For more details on the Battle of Shiloh, I recommend the following books:

*"Shiloh 1862: The Death of Innocence" by James Arnold

*"Shiloh, 1862" by Winston Groom

*"Shiloh: The Battle That Changed the Civil War" by Larry J. Daniel

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"JUMPER" (2008) Review

"JUMPER" (2008) Review

Doug Liman ("THE BOURNE IDENTITY" and "MR. AND MRS. SMITH") directed this film adaptation of Steven Gould's science-fiction thriller about a young man who discovers that he has a teleportation ability as a teenager and finds himself the target of a group of bounty hunters known as Paladins. The movie stars Hayden Christensen, Samuel L. Jackson, Rachel Bilson, Jamie Bell, Michael Hooker and Diane Lane. 

I really did not know what to expect of this movie. I have never read Gould's novel and the sequels that followed. The movie trailer looked promising. But with the film being released in February and the critics being lukewarm . . . I really was not expecting much. Lo and behold, I ended up enjoying "JUMPER" a lot.

Liman did a good job in keeping the story interesting and well paced. Hayden Christensen (dubbed "wooden" by the critics) gave a subtle, yet entertaining performance as an immature young man, whose experiences with the Paladins forced him to finally grow up. And Christensen seemed to have good chemistry with his co-stars Rachel Bilson and Jamie Bell. I have to admit there were times I could not understand Bell's accent, but at least he gave an entertaining, yet flashy performance. Samuel L. Jackson was particularly scary as Roland Cox, the bounty hunter (also called Paladin) who belonged to an organization that did not approve of teleporters or "Jumpers". These religious fanatics believed that people like Christensen and Bell had no right to such abilities. Only God. Hmmmm.

Judging from what I have read about Gould's novel, I can see that the film adaptation was not completely faithful. Not that it bothers me. I have never read the novel. And Hollywood - along with other film industries - never possessed the habit of being completely faithful to the literary source. But I must admit that screenwriters David S. Goyer, Jim Uhls and Simon Kinberg did a pretty good job with their adaptation. Mind you, I believe that the movie could have been a little longer than 90 minutes. But it seems a little clear that the writers have set up a possible sequel in case the movie proves to be successful. However, I do wish they had cleared up two matters - 1) the fate of David Rice's father after the latter had been assaulted by Cox; and 2) the fate of David's former nemesis - high school bully Mark, after David had left him in a jail. But at least the story did not end in an abrupt manner that had left moviegoers slightly puzzled, liked the end of 2005's "MR. AND MRS. SMITH".

"JUMPER" is not exactly the best action film I have ever seen. It is basically a good solid movie that will keep you entertained to the end. On the whole, I give it at least three out of four stars.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"SHERLOCK HOLMES" (2009) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos from Guy Ritchie's 2009 movie about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary detective called "SHERLOCK HOLMES". The movie stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams and Mark Strong: 

"SHERLOCK HOLMES" (2009) Photo Gallery

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

"WESTWARD HO!": Part Five - "INTO THE WEST" (2005)

Below is Part Five to my article about Hollywood's depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon "Manifest Destiny", the second episode of the 2005 television miniseries, "INTO THE WEST":

"WESTWARD HO!": Part Five - "INTO THE WEST" (2005)

I. Introduction

Steven Spielberg had served as executive producer for a miniseries about the history of the Old West, during a period that spanned from the mid-1820s to 1890-91. If this premise sounds familiar, it should. It bears a strong resemblance to the main plot for "HOW THE WEST WAS WON". Only the story for "INTO THE WEST" centered on two families - a family of wheelwrights from western Virginia and a family from the Lakota nation.

"INTO THE WEST" aired as a six-part miniseries during the summer of 2005. The second episode, "Manifest Destiny", focused on wagon journey from Independence, Missouri to California in 1841. The first episode, "Wheel to the Stars", introduced some of the saga's main characters - such as Jacob Wheeler, the son and grandson of Virginia wheelwrights; Thunder Heart Woman, the Lakota woman with whom he will fall in love and marry; his younger brother Jethro Wheeler, who was too frightened to follow Jacob on the latter's first journey to the West; and Thunder Heart Woman's three brothers, Loved By the Buffalo, Dog Star and Running Fox. This episode ended with Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman's marriage at her family's village.

"Manifest Destiny" picked up seven to eight years later with Jacob's return to Wheelerton, Virginia, with a pregnant Thunder Heart Woman and their four year-old daughter, Margaret Light Shines in two. With the exception of Jethro, the rest of the Wheeler family - including Jacob's three cousins, Naomi, Rachel and Leah - greet Thunder Heart Woman and Margaret with a chilly intolerance. After the birth of Jacob and Thunder Heart Woman's new son, Abraham High Wolf, Jacob learns of the death of the famous explorer and trapper Jedediah Smith.

Jacob realizes that Wheelerton is no longer home to him and decides to return to the West. This time, Jethro, Naomi, Rachel and Leah decide to accompany him and Thunder Heart Woman. The Wheelers spend at least three years traveling west, until they reach Independence, Missouri in the fall of 1840. The family decides to travel to California and is forced to wait until the following spring of 1841 to start their journey. The Wheelers join a wagon party led by one Stephen Moxie. The Wheelers, along with their fellow emigrants experience bad weather, accidents, Native Americans, romance and tragedy during their journey to California.

II. History vs. Hollywood

With television miniseries like "CENTENNIAL" and "THE CHISHOLMS" as examples, one would think that Hollywood had finally learned to inject as much historical accuracy in its period dramas as possible. But "INTO THE WEST" - at least as far as "Manifest Destiny" is concerned - seemed to be an exception to the rule. Screenwriters William Mastrosimone and Cyrus Nowrasteh managed to toss historical facts to the wind, when they wrote this episode.

Mind you, Mastrosimone and Nowrasteh managed to begin the journey on the right note. The first known wagon party to attempt the journey to California (the Bartleson-Bidwell Party) did leave Westport, Missouri in 1841, the same year as the Wheelers' departure. "Manifest Destiny" did an excellent job in conveying the day-to-day chores performed by the emigrants. The wagons used by the Wheelers and other members of the Moxie wagon party were, thankfully, not the lumbering Conestogas seen in old Hollywood films. The episode also included the use of buffalo meat, dangers of cholera on the trail, river crossings and an accident caused by difficult terrain like the Windlass Hill around Ash Hollow. Unfortunately, the rest of the episode's portrayal of wagon train migration proved to have very little historical accuracy.

"Manifest Destiny" marked a return of an inaccurate portrayal of emigrant life that had not been seen for a while. Although none of the wagons featured in the episode are not Conestogas, all of them are being pulled by horses, instead of mules or oxen. I found it a miracle that none of the horses had dropped dead by the end of the episode. I also noticed that the emigrants in Moxie's party had to pay at least $80.00 or provide some valuable service (in Jacob and Jethro's case, provide wheelwright service) in order to join. However, I cannot say whether this is accurate or not. I have never come across such a thing during my studies of overland wagon travel. On the other hand, such transactions may have occurred.

One glance of the terrain featured in "Manifest Destiny" immediately alerted me to the fact that the episode had not been filmed anywhere near the locations from the actual Oregon and California trails. In fact, no famous landmarks from the two trails were shown in this episode. Not even a single fort. I discovered that the miniseries was either filmed in the Alberta Province of Canada and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. This does not surprised me. The actors in this episode spent a good deal of time wearing coats or cloaks. Since the wagon journey from Missouri to California usually spanned between mid-spring and early fall, I found the presence of outer wear unrealistic.

The Lakota characters featured in the six-part miniseries proved to be just as complex as the white characters. This is not surprising. After all, some of Jacob Wheeler's in-laws were among the main characters - especially his three brothers-in-law. However, when it came to the Hoxie wagon party's encounter with members of the Cheyenne nation, historical accuracy was once again tossed into the wind.

Among the travelers that joined the Moxie wagon party was a family of free blacks from Illinois named Jones. When Mrs. Jones died from cholera, they were forced to remain behind, until they could be certain that no one else in their party had contracted the disease. The Wheelers - with the exception of Naomi, who was traveling with her new husband - were forced to remain with the Jones, due to being the closest with the family. Soon, Jethro came down with cholera. But he managed to overcome his illness. After his recovery, Jacob rode ahead to find the wagon party. He discovered that the entire wagon train - except for Naomi, who was taken - had been killed by Native Americans. Jacob returned to the Wheeler and Jones wagons, which found themselves under attack by Cheyenne dog soldiers, the very party that wiped out the Moxie wagon train. In other words, the viewers were expected to believe that a band of Cheyenne dog soldiers were able to wipe out a fairly-sized and well-armed wagon party. Yet, the only damage they were able to inflict upon the Wheeler and Jones families was a lance through Jacob Wheeler's shoulder. Ri-i-ii-i-ight! This was one the most ludicrous piece of historical inaccuracy I had ever encountered in a period drama.

There were other minor historical inaccuracies, which had nothing to do with the Moxie wagon party that I found in"Manifest Destiny". One, Jedediah Smith did not die around 1836-37. He was killed in 1831. And according to Jacob, there were no battles or any real violence in California during the Mexican-American War. Wrong! A few months after the Americans had taken over the province, the Californios took up arms against their new rulers, resulting in a few battles mainly fought in Southern California.

It seems ironic that "Manifest Destiny" turned out to be the least historically accurate episode of "INTO THE WEST". I say that it is ironic, because this episode happens to be my favorite from the entire miniseries. "Manifest Destiny" gave a fairly accurate picture of the daily activities of emigrants on the overland trails. But it turned out to be like many films from the past - more Hollywood than history.

III. Conclusion

This marks the end of my look at Hollywood's depiction of emigrant wagon trains. The two movies and three miniseries were not the only productions to feature this setting. And if these articles have increased your interest in this subject, you might want to consider other movie and television productions about it.