Thursday, May 30, 2013
"THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL" (2008)
Back in 1951, Robert Wise directed a science-fiction film about a humanoid alien visitor who comes to Earth with a warning. The film, starred Michael Rennie and Patricia Neal. Fifty-seven years later, Scott Derrickson directed a remake of the classic that stars Keanu Reeves and Jennifer Connolly.
Based upon Harry Bates' short story, "Farewell to the Master", this updated version of ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” ditched the Cold War theme and settled upon humanity’s environmental impact upon Earth. Another change in this latest version centered around the main character, Klaatu (Keanu Reeves). In the 1951 version, Klaatu (portrayed by Michael Rennie) started as a “humane” and ended up as a slightly cold alien who threatens the humans during a United Nations conference, with “the big stick” – threatening annihilation if the nations refused to find a way to settle the Cold War. Klaatu experiences a reversal of characterization in this new version. He starts out as cold and tough, with very little hope for humanity. Due to his interactions with Dr. Helen Benson (Jennifer Connolly), Professor Barnhardt (John Cleese) and Helen’s stepson Jacob (Jaden Smith), Klaatu becomes more humane and compassionate over humanity’s situation.
I wish I could point more of the similarities and difficulties between the two versions. But if I must be honest, my memories of the 1951 version are not that sharp. It has never had much of an impact upon me. It just happened to be one of many decent movies that I did not find particularly mind boggling. Even when I became older. And If I must be honest, I can say the same about this version. In the end, ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” (2008) seemed like nothing more than a solid, yet entertaining science-fiction story with a message about a real life crisis in present-day Earth. Namely our endangered environment. Everything about this movie seemed solid - Scott Derrickson’s direction, David Scarpa’s screenplay and the cast led by Reeves and Connolly.
However, there were some exceptional standouts in both the cast and the crew. Jeffrey A. Okun’s visual special effects struck me as being impressive. I especially liked the updated design of Klaatu’s starship and the fact that it, along with Gort, was biologically based. As for the cast, I was impressed by two performers – young Jaden Smith, who portrayed Helen Benson’s stepson and Kyle Chandler as John Driscoll, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Kathy Bates). Smith did an excellent job of conveying young Jacob’s anger over his father’s death and resentment toward being “stuck” with his stepmother. And Chandler provided another example of his talent for portraying ambiguous and sometimes, dark characters with his portrayal of the frightened and desperate Driscoll.
Other than that, I found nothing really exceptional about this version of ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” . . . anymore than I did about the previous 1951 version. If you are looking for something exceptional, you will be disappointed. If you are simply looking for a solid story that is also entertaining, then ”THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL” is your movie.
Monday, May 27, 2013
"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (2.14) “Pardon My Past”
”Pardon My Past” is an episode from Season Two of the TV series, ”CHARMED” (1998-2006). In it, one of the Charmed Ones – Phoebe Halliwell - is haunted by a spirit in her past life. The past life turned out to be one P. Russell, a first cousin of the sister’s great-grandmother.
To find out why she is being haunted by P. Russell’s spirit, Phoebe visits 1924 and diiscovers that P. Russell was a pyrokinetic witch who had been romanced by a warlock named Anton. While in the past, Phoebe also acquired a glimpse into the past lives of her sisters – Prue and Piper. She discovers that they were former relatives of P. Russell and out to destroy her and all the latter’s future lives before any of them can become completely evil. Prue and Piper must then stop their past lives' curse in the present before Phoebe falls victim to it and dies.
This episode was the second, following Season 1’s ”That 70s Episode” that revealed their family’s past history. And like many of these episode . . . it had a lot of flaws. Let us take a look at them, shall we?
Flaws in “Pardon My Past”
*Ownership of the Manor – In this episode, it was revealed that the parents of the sisters’ grandmother – Penelope Johnson Halliwell – had been living in the manor in 1924. Yet, according to the Season 1 episode - ”Is There a Woogy in the House?” - the Halliwells (which happened to be Penny’s in-laws) had purchased the manor following the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.
The Ages of Phoebe Halliwell and P. Russell - While perusing the Warren family tree, Phoebe had this to say about her past life:
”I think that this one is me. (She points to P. Russell) She died February 17th, 1924. The same age I am also."
How was this possible? According to the family tree, P. Russell lived during the period July 1894-February 17, 1924. She was 29 years old when her cousins killed her. The episode ”Pardon My Past” occurred between February 16-18, 1924; and February 16-18, 2000. Phoebe was born on November 2, 1975; making her 24 years old at the time, not 29 years old.
Past Life for Leo Wyatt? - According to Phoebe, she had spotted Leo’s past life in 1924 and he was P. Baxter’s (Past Piper) lover. I am curious. How is this possible? The series has claimed that Leo had been born in May 1924. But again, this is not possible. According to the Season 1 episode, ”Love Hurts”, Leo had been a medical student when he joined the Army in 1942:
”No. World War II. I left med school and enlisted as a medic. I wanted to help save people not shoot them. The last thing I remember, I was bandaging a soldier's head wound and I felt a sharp pain and the next thing I know I was floating surrounded by White Lighters."
If Leo had been at medical school at the time when the U.S. entered World War II, he should have at least older than 22 years old when he joined the Army. Which means that he should have already been alive at the time of P. Russell’s death in 1924.
Phoebe’s Theory - How did Phoebe get the idea that she was going to die within a day because of her encounter with her past spirit? From the moment she had encountered P. Russell’s spirit on the very anniversary that the latter was killed, Phoebe made this assumption:
”So, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to die today too, right?”
Even before she found out about the curse placed on P. Russell’s future selves, Phoebe came to the conclusion that she was doomed to die:
”Phoebe: Not much time. By midnight, I’ll be dead again.
Piper: By midnight? How do you know that?
Phoebe: Midnight, a full moon, what’s the difference? It’s always one or the other, right? I know I won’t make it to February 18th unless…
Leo: You go back to the past again and find some answers.
How on earth did she come to this conclusion without knowing the facts? Or was this another example of the Halliwells producing theories out from their respective asses?
Phoebe’s Ability - Phoebe had asked Leo why she did not have a power like P. Russell’s – pyrokinesis. This is what Leo had told her:
”Well, if you screw up your regrets. Your past self must have abused the power. That’s why it was taken away from you.”
What the hell? How did Leo come to this conclusion? Although Past Piper (P. Baxter)’s ability – slow down others – was a variation of Piper’s ability, Past Prue (P. Bowen)’s ability turned out to be cyrokinesis (freezing ability), which had nothing to do with Prue’s abilities of telekinesis or astral projection. Nor did P. Russell’s ability (pyrokinesis) have anything to do with Phoebe’s ability of precognition. And why is Phoebe’s precognition ability considered a REGRESSION of P. Russell’s fire ability? Phoebe is a seer. She has the ability to summon information on the past, the present and the future through visions. Information is power. Both of her parents have told Phoebe that many magic practitioners would kill to be a seer. Apparently, Phoebe never believed them. Even the Source did not want Phoebe’s precognition ability . . . despite the fact that he had depended upon two seers. Which only tells me that even intelligent individuals like Phoebe and the Source can be incredibly stupid.
The Warlock – Anton - So, Anton (who was P. Russell’s lover) was supposed to be a warlock? How is that possible? It is quite apparent that Anton had never aged in the 76 years between 1924 and 2000. It was established in the first episode that warlocks were merely witches who had gone bad:
”A bad witch or a warlock . . .”
Despite what Leo had believed, witches ARE mortals. If Piper could die from a bullet wound in an alternate timeline, then witches are mortals. And if witches are mortals, then warlocks should also be mortals. Which means that either Anton should have aged or he was something other than a warlock. Also . . . the sisters and Leo have declared many times that evil cannot love. Yet, Anton was in love with P. Russell and had remained in love with her for a long time.
Phoebe’s Warning in the Book of Shadows - Apparently, all of Phoebe's future lives are doomed to die in their early 20's unless they can somehow stop P. Bowen and P. Baxter’s curse from affecting them. They end up saving present Phoebe by putting the necklace on her, but the rest of her future lives are still doomed to die in their early 20's. Thus, Phoebe wrote a warning in the Book of Shadows to warn her future selves about this. What if Phoebe’s future selves do not end up as a member of the Warren family line? Had anyone stopped to think of this?
Gordon Johnson’s Piano Talent . . . or Lack Of - Greg Vaughn, as the Charmed Ones’ great-grandfather, Gordon Johnson, is shown playing the piano in 1924. Unfortunately, it appears that Vaughn lacked the talent to fake playing the piano. One can easily see that his fingers do not even reach the keys.
The Confusing Warren Family Tree - This episode marked the only appearance of the Warren family (which began with Charlotte and Melinda Warren) tree. I came across some interesting entries that seem contradictory:
-Grams’ age: According to the family tree, Penelope Johnson (the sisters’ grandmother) was born in 1937. She gave birth to her only daughter, Patricia Halliwell, in 1950. Are we expected to believe that Grams gave birth to Patty at the age of 13? I rather doubt it. The family tree also stated that Grams had died on March 3, 1968. Gee, they got the date of Grams' death wrong by 30 years.
-Piper’s birth year: According to the family tree, Piper was born in August 1973. Yet, in one S1 episode, Piper had identified herself as a Gemini. Also, in the S1 episode, ”Thank You For Not Morphing”, Victor clearly made it apparent that she was three years older than Phoebe, who was born in 1975. The S3 episode, ”Coyote Piper” supports Victor’s words with its revelation that Piper had graduated from Baker High in 1990, making her birth date of 1972 very plausible. And I doubt that young Piper was less than two years old in S1’s ”That 70s Episode”.
-The name of the Charmed Ones’ grandfather: According to the family tree, the name of the sisters’ maternal grandfather happened to be Jack Halliwell. Yet in the S6 episode, ”Witchstock”, he is renamed Allen. All I can say is . . . what happened to Jack?
I wish I could say that ”Pardon My Past”’s glimpse into the Warren family line was interesting. But it was filled with so many inconsistencies that I cannot help but harbor a little contempt for the writer who had penned this episode.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Below are images from "MIDNIGHT", the 1939 comedy, starring Claudette Colbert and Don Ameche. Mitchell Leisen directed:
"MIDNIGHT" (1939) Photo Gallery
Thursday, May 23, 2013
"STATE OF PLAY" (2003) Review
Three years ago, a political thriller starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck was released in the movie theaters. The movie turned out to be based upon a six-part BBC miniseries of the same name - "STATE OF PLAY".
Created by Paul Abbott and directed by David Yates, "STATE OF PLAY told the story of a London newspaper's investigation into the death of a young woman named Sonia Baker, who worked as a researcher for a Member of Parliament named Stephen Collins. The miniseries also focused on the relationship between Collins and the newspaper's leading journalist, Cal McCaffrey, who used to be his former campaign manager.
"STATE OF PLAY" was so well received that it garnered a Best Actor BAFTA award for Bill Nighy, for his role as McCaffrey's editor, Cameron Foster. The miniseries also earned BAFTAs for Best Sound and Best Editing (Fiction/Entertainment); and it won awards major awards from the Royal Television Society, Banff Television Festival, Broadcasting Press Guild, Cologne Conference, Directors Guild of Great Britain, Edgar Awards, and the Monte Carlo TV Festival. When the 2009 movie was released, critics generally gave it positive reviews, but claimed that it failed to surpass or be as equally good as the miniseries. After seeing the latter . . . well, I will eventually get to that.
The miniseries began with the murder of a young man named Kelvin Stagg in what seemed to be a drug-related killing, along with the coincidental death of Collins' researcher, Sonia Baker. When Cal McCaffrey and his colleagues at The Herald - Foster, his son Dan, Della Smith and others, they discover that the deaths were connected via Collins' parliamentary investigation of links between an American oil company and corrupt high-ranking British ministers. Cal and his fellow journalists also have to deal with finding a publicist associate of Sonia's named Dominic Foy, who may have a great deal of information on how she became Collins' researcher in the first place. And another subplot dealt with Cal renewing his interest in Collins' recently estranged wife, Anne.
I cannot deny that "STATE OF PLAY" is a first-rate miniseries. Paul Abbott created an excellent thriller filled with murder, romance, infidelity, witty dialogue and political intrigue. One of the best aspects of Abbott's screenplay was how the varied subplots managed to connect with the main narrative. Even Cal's romance with Anne Collins proved to have strong connections to his search for the truth regarding Sonia's death - especially in Episode Three. The romance provided Another aspect of "STATE OF PLAY" that I admired was the pacing established by director David Yates. Another interesting relationship that materialized from the investigation was the friendship between The Herald reporter Della Smith and Scotland Yard's DCI William Bell. Regardless of the number of episodes in the production, Yates and Abbott's screenplay made certain that the viewer remained fixated to the screen. Like the 2009, the miniseries did an excellent job of delving into the British journalism and political scene. More importantly, it featured first-rate action sequences. For me, the best one proved to be Scotland Yard's attempt to capture Kelvin Scaggs and Sonia Baker's killer in the third episode.
As much as I enjoyed "STATE OF PLAY", I cannot deny that I found it somewhat flawed. Which is why I cannot accept the prevailing view that it was superior to its 2009 remake. Despite Yates' pacing of the story, I feel that "STATE OF PLAY" could have been shown in at least four episodes. There were some subplots that could have used some trimming. One of them, at least for me, turned out to be the search for Dominic Foy. Actually, it took Cal, Della, Dan and the others very little time to find Dominic. But every time they found him, they lost him. This happened at least three or four times. By the time they managed to get Foy inside a hotel room for a little confession, I sighed with relief. The subplot threatened to become . . . annoying. Another subplot that threatened to become irrelevant was Cal's dealings with Kelvin Skaggs' older brother and mother, Sonny and Mrs. Skaggs. Johann Myers gave an intense performance as the volatile Sonny Skaggs. But the constant temper tantrums over how the press portrayed Kelvin eventually became boring. There were other sequences and subplots I could have done without - especially a road encounter between one of the reporters' informants and oil company thugs in the last episode. And why have Stephen Collins investigate an American oil company, when it could have been easier to use a British or British-based oil company? After all, there are several oil companies operating in the United Kingdom, including the infamous BP. Although I admire Yates' direction of the sequence featuring the capture of Sonia's killer, Robert Bingham, I wish it had happened in the last episode. Otherwise, his death occurred too soon in my opinion.
John Simm did an excellent job in leading a first-rate cast for "STATE OF PLAY". Despite working with the likes of Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, Polly Walker; he not only held his own. He carried the miniseries. Period. However, he was ably supported by superb performances from his co-stars. Morrissey was also commanding, yet complex as MP Stephen Collins. Although there were a few moments when his performance seemed a bit too . . . theatrical for my tastes. Nighy's award-winning performance as Cal's editor also seemed a little theatrical. However, he got away with it, because I feel he is a lot better with injecting a little theatricality into his acting.
Although Kelly MacDonald had made a name for herself before portraying Della Smith, she gave an excellent, yet emotional performance that resonated just right. Kelly MacDonald also managed to create a surprisingly balanced chemistry with Philip Glenister, who did an excellent job in portraying the intimidating Scotland Yard inspector. Unlike MacDonald, James McAvoy was not quite well-known when he portrayed freelance journalist, Dan Foster. But he certainly displayed the very qualities that would eventually make him a star in his sly and cheeky performance. Polly Walker did an excellent job in portraying the woman who nearly came between Cal and Stephen, the latter's estranged wife, Anne Collins. However, Marc Warren gave one of the best performances in the miniseries as Dominic Foy, the sleazy and paranoid publicist with ties to Sonia Baker. Watching him veer between paranoia, cowardice and opportunism was really a joy to watch. "STATE OF PLAY" also benefited from fine supporting performances from the likes of Geraldine James, Benedict Wong, Deborah Findlay, Tom Burke, Johann Myers, James Laurenson and Amelia Bullmore.
I cannot deny that "STATE OF PLAY" is a first-rate miniseries filled with intrigue, thanks to Paul Abbott's screenplay and energy, due to David Yates' direction. It also benefited from superb acting, thanks to a cast led by John Simm and David Morrissey. But it also possessed flaws that perhaps made its acclaim just a bit overrated. I read somewhere that Abbott planned to write a sequel of some kind, featuring Simms. I hope so. Despite its flaws, "STATE OF PLAY" certainly deserved a follow-up of some kind.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
"THE THREE MUSKETEERS" (1993) Review
Alexandre Dumas' classic 1844 novel, "The Three Musketeers" must have been one of the most adapted stories in film and television history. I do not know exactly how many adaptations have been filmed. But I have seen at least four of them - including Disney Studios' version, released in 1993.
Directed by Stephen Herek, "THE THREE MUSKETEERS" is not a faithful adaptation of Dumas' novel. David Loughery's script utilized some elements of the novel, including most of the characters and d'Artagnan's first meeting with his three friends and fellow musketeers. But in the end, he created his own story. In "THE THREE MUSKETEERS", a young Gascon named d'Artagnan hopes to follow in the footsteps of his late father and join the King of France's Musketeers in 1625 France. Unfortunately for d'Artagnan, several factors stand in his way. One, he makes an enemy out of a local aristocrat named Gerard and his brothers, who believe he has defiled the honor of their sister, and is pursued by them all the way to Paris. Two, upon his arrival in Paris, he discovers that the Musketeers have been disbanded by King Louis XIII's chief minister, the power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu. And three, his encounters with Musketeers Athos, Aramis and Porthos results in him accepting a duel from each man.
Fortunately, d'Artagnan's hostility toward the trio is short-lived and he ends up helping them battle Richelieu's guards, who arrive to arrest Athos, Aramis and Porthos. But after they leave him, d'Artagnan is arrested by more guards and Richelieu's lackey, Captain Rochefort. While in prison, he meets the Cardinal and overhears a conversation between the latter and spy Milady de Winter. She is ordered to deliver a signed treaty to France's primary enemy, the Duke of Buckingham of England. Cardinal Richelieu plans to undermine the King's authority, before assassinating him, taking the throne and Queen Anne as consort. When Athos, Aramis and Porthos rescue d'Artagnan from execution, the four men set out to expose Richelieu as a traitor of France and save King Louis XIII from death.
Fans of Dumas' novel will probably be unhappy with this adaptation, considering that it failed to be a faithful one. I must admit that when I first saw "THE THREE MUSKETEERS", I was surprised and a little disappointed myself. And there were a few aspects of the movie that I disliked. The addition of Gerard and his brothers into the story really annoyed me in the end. Mind you, I found the aristocrat's determination to confront d'Artagnan at the beginning of the movie tolerable. But once d'Artagnan reached Paris, with Gerard still in hot pursuit, the subplot became an annoying running joke that refused to die. And it did not. I like Paul McGann as an actor . . . but not that much.
Even worse, McGann's Gerard seemed to have more screen time than any of the major female characters. Although I never viewed Queen Anne as a "major character", I felt otherwise about Milady de Winter and d'Artagnan's lady love, Constance Bonacieux. I did not mind when Loughery's script transformed Julie Delpy's Constance from the Queen's dressmaker to maid/companion. But I did mind that her role was reduced to a few cameo appearances. The same almost happened to Rebecca De Mornay's portrayal of Milady de Winter. I personally found the reduction of the latter role rather criminal. Milady has always been one of the best villains in literary history. And nearly every actress who has portrayed her, did justice to the role. I can say the same about De Mornay, who was excellent as Milady. Unfortunately, Loughery's script gave her very few opportunities to strut her stuff.
Despite the change in Dumas' story and the reduction in the females' roles, I cannot deny that "THE THREE MUSKETEERS" proved to be a first-rate and entertaining movie. It had romance - well, a little of it. The best romance in the film proved to be the long simmering one between Athos and Milady, whose marriage had earlier ended in failure. And I found the one between d'Artagnan and Constance rather charming, if brief. The movie featured some great action, including a marvelous chase scene in which the Musketeers are being pursued by Rochefort and the Cardinal's men; d'Artagnan's first sword fight, in which he allied himself with the Musketeers; Milady de Winter's capture at Calais; and especially the final fight sequence in which the Musketeers prevent Richelieu's plans for the King's assassination.
Tim Curry made an entertaining, yet splashy Cardinal Richelieu. He came close to being all over the map, yet he still managed to keep his performance controlled. And Michael Wincott's sinister portrayal of Captain Rochefort was superb. Rebecca De Mornay was superb as Milady de Winter, despite the role being reduced. And her Milady has always struck me as the most complex in all of the adaptations. Julie Delpy and Gabrielle Anwar were charming as Constance and Queen Anne. I wish I could say the same about Hugh O'Connor as King Louis XIII, but I must admit that I was not that impressed. He was eighteen years old at the time and probably a little too young and stiff to be portraying the 24 year-old monarch.
But the highlight of "THE THREE MUSKETEERS" proved to be the four actors who portrayed d'Artagnan and his three friends - Athos, Aramis, and Porthos. They were perfect. Chris O'Donnell captured every aspect of d'Artagnan's youthful personality - the earnestness, cockiness, and immaturity. Watching the movie made me realize that he has come a long way in the past twenty years. And he had great chemistry with the three actors who portrayed the Musketeers. Kiefer Sutherland was perfect as the commanding, yet cynical and disillusioned Athos, who regretted ending his marriage to Milady. The producers of this film certainly picked the right man to portray the smooth-talking ladies' man, Aramis. And whatever one might say about Charlie Sheen, he did a superb job in the role. Oliver Platt was a delight as the brash and extroverted Porthos. Quite frankly, he made a better figure for comic relief than McGann's Gerard. However, the best thing about the four actors' performances was that they all perfectly clicked as a screen team. All for one and one for all.
Yes, "THE THREE MUSKETEERS" was not perfect. What movie is? And it is certainly not the best adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' novel. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining. And I have no regrets in purchasing a DVD copy of this film. If one can keep an open mind over the fact that it was not a close adaptation of the 1844 novel, I think it is possible to find it very enjoyable.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Eight "The Storm" Commentary
The eighth episode of "CENTENNIAL" is a bit of a conundrum for me. Of the eight episodes so far, it seemed to be the only one in which the time span struck me as rather confusing. Which is a pity, because I found it rather interesting.
"The Storm" had the potential to be one of the better episodes of the miniseries. Unfortunately, it seemed marred by a good deal of mistakes that left the time span rather confusing. The previous episode, "The Shepherds" ended with Levi Zendt leaving Centennial to visit his hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. And since the episode opened with Levi's arrival in Lancaster, I can only assume that the episode began in the fall of 1881. Levi did not return to Centennial until the onset of winter. And this led me to assume that the episode spanned a few months around the late fall and early winter of 1881. However, certain aspect in the episode seemed to hint that several years, instead of a few months, had passed between Levi’s arrival in Lancaster and the winter storm that finally struck Centennial.
Charles Larson's screenplay made it clear that Levi's visit to Pennsylvania did not last that long. In fact, his wife Lucinda and his son, Martin, expressed surprise that he had returned home to Centennial before the winter. And considering that it took seven days to journey by rail from the West Coast to the East Coast; Levi's journey from Colorado to Pennsylvania should have taken less than seven days. In total, his entire trip should have lasted less than a month. And yet . . . there were signs in the episode that several years had passed since the end of "The Shepherds". One, the character of Amos Calendar seemed to have aged by a decade. Seriously. While Levi was in Pennsylvania, the Findlay Perkins character had arrived in Centennial. Around the time of his arrival, Oliver and Charlotte Seccombe were behaving like a couple that had been married for several years, instead of honeymooners. More importantly, a semi-manor made of brick (or stones) had replaced the clapboard ranch house that served as Venneford Ranch's main house. I doubt very much that Seccombe was able erect a small manor house within a month or two. Also, the winter storm that struck the Western Plains occurred in 1886-1887. Levi's journey to Pennsylvania should have occurred five years later. Larson's handling of the episode's time span seemed so sloppy that I could only shake my head in disbelief.
But the episode's time span was not the only thing that troubled me. The first thirty minutes of "The Storm" featured a number of flashbacks I have not seen since "Only the Rocks Live Forever". The flashbacks in that first episode made sense. It was the only episode that featured the character of Lame Beaver in the main narrative, yet at the same time, allowed viewers access to the character's past. Because "The Storm" featured the deaths of Levi Zendt and Mule Canby, viewers were subjected to flashbacks featuring Levi's journey to the West in "" and the Skimmerhorn cattle drive in "The Longhorns". Instead of providing background to the characters of Levi and Mule, these flashbacks only dragged the episode's first half hour.
Thankfully, "The Storm" was not a complete waste of time. It featured some first-rate drama and performances. The episode marked the first appearances of the Wendell family. So far, the family has managed to charm most of Centennial's citizens with their good manners, verbal skills and acting talent. They have also attracted the suspicion of one Sheriff Axel Dumire. As I had stated earlier, the character of Mule Canby, last seen wounded and hauled to a military fort by R.J. Poteet in "The Longhorns". He has become a trick shot artist for a circus, with Nacho Gomez as his assistant. Their reunion with former members of the Skimmerhorn drive - Jim Lloyd, John Skimmerhorn and Amos Calendar - provided the episode with a very warm and emotional moment before Canby's tragic death in a tent fire.
There were two story arcs in "The Storm" that proved to be the highlights of the episodes. One story arc featured Levi and Lucinda's frustrations with their younger offspring, the unhappy and unstable Clemma. Following his return to Centennial, Levi was surprised by the appearance of his daughter, who was supposed to be going to school in St. Louis. Instead, the couple learned of their wayward daughter's lurid exploits that included prostitution, jail time and marriage to a bigamist. In a memorable speech, Levi reminded Lucinda that despite the disappointments and unhappy times, they had also experienced many positive things in their lives - including their marriage and the growth of Centennial. Unfortunately, this poignant moment was spoiled by Clemma's decision to leave town on the first available eastbound train - a decision that led to Levi's death near the rail tracks during the winter storm.
The storm also featured in a tense plot arc that spelled the possible doom of Oliver Seccombe's career as a rancher. His handling of the Venneford Ranch's accounts had led his London bosses to send a Scottish accountant named Findlay Perkins to check the books. Both John Skimmerhorn and Jim Lloyd tried to explain to the accountant that the region's method of free-range cattle ranching made it impossible to precisely account for every cow or bull on the ranch. Being a very perceptive man, Findlay was still able to discover that Seccombe had been mishandling the ranch's profits in order to build the new house for his wife, Charlotte. Before Findlay could return to Britain, the storm struck the region, forcing him to remain at Venneford. One of the episode's highlights proved to be the tense scenes between Findlay and the Seccombes, as they waited out the storm.
The episode's biggest virtue proved to be the outstanding performances by the cast. Just about everyone in this episode gave top-notch performances. But there were a few I would consider to be the best. One of them came from Gregory Harrison, who made his last appearance as former emigrant-turned-merchant, Levi Zendt. Timothy Dalton and Lynn Redgrave were superb as the besieged Oliver and Charlotte Seccombe, anxious over their future with Venneford Ranch and forced to deal with the likes of Findlay Perkins. Clive Revill gave an excellent performance as the Scottish accountant. And his scenes with Dalton and Redgrave were filled with delicious tension and humor. It was nice to see Greg Mullavey as the always gregarious Mule Canby. And I truly enjoyed the tensions between Brian Keith's suspcious Sheriff Axel Dumire and the wonderfully scheming Wendells, portrayed by Anthony Zerbe, Lois Nettleton and Doug McKeon. But the stand-out performance came from Adrienne LaRussa's excellent portrayal of the sad and conflicted Clemma Zendt. LaRussa was superb in conveying all aspects of Clemma's personality, which included her spiteful teasing of Jim Lloyd, and her insecurities. But she gave an Emmy worthy performance in the scene in which she conveyed Clemma's pathetic life back East to the Zendts.
It is a pity that "The Storm" was marred by a questionable time span and unnecessary flashbacks. The episode had the potential to be one of the best in the 12-part miniseries. It marked the death of a major character and also a change in Centennial's history with the end of free-range ranching and the Wendells' arrival. But some outstanding performances and the winter storm featured still made it one of the more interesting episodes, in the end.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Below are images from "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", the 1971 television adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel. Adapted by Denis Constanduros and directed by David Giles, the four-part miniseries starred Joanna David and Ciaran Madden:
"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1971) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
"BODY OF LIES" (2008) Review
Based upon David Ignatius’ 2007 novel, ”BODY OF LIES” tells the story of a CIA operative assigned to track down a Middle Eastern terrorist responsible for a series of bombings in Europe. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie stars Leonard DiCaprio and Russell Crowe. When I first saw the trailer for ”BODY OF LIES” nearly five years ago, I thought it would be about a CIA operative in the Middle East that ends up clashing with his handler over an assignment. As it turned out, the trailer ended up being misleading. In the end, I had no choice but to sit back and see what the movie’s plot would lead me. Despite Warner Brothers’ very misleading trailer.
Leonard DiCaprio portrayed a CIA operative named Roger Ferris. He is assigned by his handler, Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) to track down a terrorist by the name of Al Salim. Upon following up a lead, Ferris' asset (who he has become good friends with) is killed in a car blast in a car chase and he is sent to Jordan. There, Ferris makes contact with Hani Salaam (Mark Strong), head of the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, or GID. Salaam tells Ferris to never lie to him. Hoffman finds an Al Salim safe house in Jordan and tells Ferris to conduct a surveillance operation on it. Meanwhile, Hoffman organizes another operative to conduct an operation without Ferris' consent. The other agent screws the operation up and blows his cover after saying something compromising to a terrorist from the safe house. The terrorist takes off running, intent on relaying information that the safe house is being watched. Ferris chases him down and kills him by stabbing him, getting bitten by dogs in the process. Hani covers up the killing by passing it off as a robbery and Ferris accuses Hoffman of running "side operations”, telling Hoffman to lay off. Meanwhile, Ferris meets a nurse named Aisha (Golshifteh Farahani), who treats his wound. He eventually falls in love with her – an act that proves to have consequences later in the movie.
As I had stated earlier, ”BODY OF LIES” proved not to be about a clash between Ferris and Hoffman over a case. It proved to be about the deceptions perpetrated by those in the intelligence community, dedicated to the "war on terrorism". Unfortunately, the deceptions used by Hoffman upon both Ferris and Salaam ended up affecting the careful alliance established between the latter two. Even Ferris got into the game when he failed to inform Salaam about the con job he and Hoffman had created to flush out Al Salim. In the end, both Americans end up getting the surprises of their lives.
Despite my initial misgivings that I had been deceived by the movie’s trailer, ”BODY OF LIES” turned out to be an intriguing and entertaining movie. Although the story’s three main characters – Ferris, Hoffman and Salaam – are supposed to be allies in the fight against terrorism and in the hunt for Al Salim, they spend more time in conflict against each other than against the story’s main antagonist. This especially seemed to be the case of Hoffman, who comes across as a manipulative and controlling man who keeps his secrets a little too close to his chest – to the detriment of Ferris. Screenwriters William Monahan (Oscar winner for ”THE DEPARTED”) and Ignatius, who also wrote the novel, created a pretty solid screenplay. However, I would not say there was anything exceptional about it – except for the finale. Perhaps the story’s lack of anything sensational had led to the movie’s failure at the box office. Or perhaps Warner Brothers’ misleading trailer was the real culprit.
Leonardo DiCaprio once again proved why he has become one of the most talented actors of his generation. His Roger Ferris is a fierce, intelligent man with a sardonic streak a mile wide. He also has a talent for diplomacy, which is apparent in his dealings with Salaam and the Jordan Intelligence Department. Like Ferris, Russell Crowe’s Ed Hoffman is a fierce and dedicated opponent of terrorism. Unfortunately, he lacks Ferris’ talent for diplomacy and has a tendency to allow his arrogance to get the best of him. But I must admit that Hoffman is a fascinating character and one can thank Crowe’s superb acting and William Monahan’s writing for this. Crowe manages to hide Hoffman’s aggression, cold-bloodedness and arrogance behind a "good ole boy" façade that project a cheerful persona with a penchant for calling Ferris "buddy". Some of the movie’s more interesting scenes featured Hoffman giving Ferris cold-blooded instructions or advice on how to deal with the hunt for Al Salim, while interacting lovingly with his family. It was like watching compartimenlization at its most extreme.
The supporting cast included British actor Mark Strong as Hanni Salaam as the head of Jordan Intelligence. First impressed by Strong’s villainous turn in last year’s ”STARDUST”, my admiration for Strong increased by his portrayal of the intelligent and strong-willed Salaam, who refuses to be intimidated by Hoffman and the CIA’s firepower in his demand for respect by his Western allies. Iranian-born actress Golshifteh Farahani gave a solid performance as Aisha, the no-nonsense and witty nurse with whom Ferris falls in love.
”BODY OF LIES” is not as exceptional as one might expect it to be, considering the two leads, the director and the screenwriters. It is an entertaining, solid thriller filled with interesting and ambiguous characters. Through characters like Salaam and Aisha, the movie manages to avoid the usual clichés about Middle Eastern characters. The best thing I can say about it – aside from the excellent acting – is the plot twist that surprised me in the end. It may not be Oscar material, but it is certainly not crap.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Below is a list of my favorite movies and television miniseries set in Britain of the 19th century (1801-1900):
FAVORITE MOVIES/MINISERIES SET IN 19th CENTURY BRITAIN
North and South (2004) - This four-part adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's 1855 novel has become a major favorite of mine in the most unexpected way. Daniela Danby-Ashe and Richard Armitage are magic together, along with Sandy Welsh's take on this tale of romance, culture clash and labor politics.
Pride and Prejudice (1995) - Even after twelve years or so, this adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, which stars Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehrle, remains one of my all time favorites. I cannot describe it anymore than magic.
The Buccaneers (1995) - This adaptation of Edith Wharton's last novel about five American young women who marry into the British aristocracy is also another big favorite of mine. I especially enjoyed the performances of Carla Gugino, Cherie Lughi, James Frain and Greg Wise.
Without a Clue (1988) - This charming and witty comedy does a Remington Steele take on the Sherlock Holmes legacy in which the "famous detective" is a front for the real investigative brains of the "sidekick" Dr. Watson. Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley are magic together.
Jack the Ripper (1988) - This two-part miniseries chronicles the investigations of Scotland Yard inspector Fredrick Abberline of the infamous "Jack the Ripper" murders of the late 1880s. Excellent production and performances by Michael Caine, Lewis Collins and the supporting cast.
An Ideal Husband (1999) - A witty and charming adaptation of Oscar Wilde's play about a British politician who finds himself embroiled in blackmail, political corruption, and on the themes of public and private honour. The stellar cast includes Rupert Everett, Jeremy Northam, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Julianne Moore and John Wood.
Sense and Sensibility (1995) - This adaptation of another Jane Austen novel about two sisters who have difficulty finding love in Regency England. The movie starred Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Greg Wise and Gemma Jones. Thompson won an Oscar for her screenplay.
The Forsyte Saga (2002) - I have never seen the famous 1967 version, but I was very impressed by this version of John Galsworthy's novel. This multi-episode miniseries starred the excellent Damian Lewis, Gina McKee, Rupert Graves, Ioan Gruffudd, Colin Redgrave and Gillian Kearney.
Around the World in 80 Days (1956/1989) - I tried to decide which version of the Jules Verne novel about an Englishman traveling around the world on a bet was my favorite - the Oscar-winning 1956 movie or the 1989 three-part miniseries. I discovered that I liked both versions. Neither is perfect, but both had that something that really appealed to me. But I must admit that the '89 version has a slight edge. David Niven starred in the '56 version and Pierce Brosnan starred in the '89 miniseries.
Angels and Insects (1995) - This adaptation of A.s. Byatt's novella about a Victorian naturalist who becomes embroiled in the lives of an aristocratic family through marriage. Very interesting. The movie starred Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott-Thomas, Patsy Kensit and Jeremy Kemp.
Jane Eyre (1983) - Adapted from Charlotte Bronte's novel, this version about a destitute, but strong-willed governess who falls in love with her mysterious employer remains my favorite. Zeulah Clarke and Timothy Dalton are superb, together.