Sunday, March 30, 2014
TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1929-1968)
The summer of 2013 marked the 45th anniversary of the assassination of Civil Rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. King was a clergyman, a prominent leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1950s and 1960s and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who became known for his advancement of civil rights by using civil disobedience.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia on January 15, 1929; Dr. King was the son of Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. and Alberta Williams King. Both he and his father's legal birth names was Michael King. However, his father changed their names after a 1934 trip to Gernamny to attend the Fifth Baptist World Alliance Congress in Berlin. During this trip, King Sr. decided that he and his son would be called Martin Luther in honor of the German reformer, Martin Luther. Dr. King Jr. graduated from Morehouse College in 1948 with a B.A. degree in sociology. He then enrolled in Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1951. He married Coretta Scot in 1953 and both became the parents of four children. In 1954, King became the pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
Dr. King's reputation as a Civil Rights activist came to the fore in 1955 over the case involving Rosa Parks' arrest for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger aboard a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King led a 385 days boycott of the city's transportation system in protest against Parks' arrest and the Jim Crow Laws that demanded she sit in the back of the bus. The Montgomery Bus Boycott brought national attention to King and his civil rights activities. Over the next twelve-to-thirteen years, he led other movements that protested against U.S. society's treatment of African-Americans and other oppressed groups. He led the March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom in August 1963 and gave the famous "I Have a Dream" speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and openly opposed the Vietnam War from 1965 to his death.
In early 1968, King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to support the city's African-American sanitation workers who had staged a walkout in protest against lower wages than white workers and longer hours. On April 3, 1968, King returned to Memphis On April 3, King returned to Memphis to address a gathering at the Mason Temple (World Headquarters of the Church of God in Christ). His airline flight to Memphis had been delayed by a bomb threat against his plane. King and his entourage, which included the Reverend Jesse Jackson, booked into Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel. On that day, King delivered the last speech of his life, while a thunderstorm raged outside the Mason Temple. The address is now known as the "I've Been to the Mountaintop" Address. Here are some of the words of his last speech:
"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats... or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. [applause] And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! [applause] And so I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!"
On Thursday, April 4, 1968; King was standing on the Lorraine Motel's second floor balcony, when a single .30 bullet fired from a Remington 760 Gamemaster struck King. He fell violently backwards onto the balcony unconscious. Shortly after the shot was fired, witnesses saw James Earl Ray fleeing from a rooming house across the street from the Lorraine Motel where he was renting a room. King was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital, where doctors opened his chest and performed manual heart massage. He never regained consciousness and they pronounced dead at 7:05 p.m. He was 39 years old.
Authorities found a package that included a rifle and binoculars with Ray's fingerprints on them. A worldwide manhunt began for Ray and British authorities arrested him two months later at London's Heathrow Airport. Ray was quickly extradited back to Tennessee and charged with King's murder. He confessed to the assassination on March 10, 1969. However, he later recanted this confession three days later. He was sentenced to a 99-year sentence. After an attempt to break from prison in 1977, Ray spent the rest of his life trying to withdraw his guilty plea. He died in prison on April 23, 1998, at the age of 70.
Despite pleas from other civil rights activists, King's assassination led to a series of riots in more than 100 U.S. cities. The city of Memphis quickly settled the strike on favorable terms to the sanitation workers. A crowd of 300,000 attended King's funeral in Atlanta, Georgia. The King family and others believe that the assassination was carried out by a conspiracy involving the US government, and that James Earl Ray was a scapegoat. This conclusion was affirmed by a jury in a 1999 civil trial.
Friday, March 28, 2014
"PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF" (2010) Review
Last fall, I discovered there was another literary children’s fantasy franchise other than ”HARRY POTTER” that became a best seller. Well, I am certain there are more than two of these franchises that I am not aware of. But I certainly became aware of the PERCY JACKSON franchise when I saw the trailer for ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF”.
The ”PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS” series had been created by a best-selling mystery writer named Rick Riordan. The novels centered around a New York City boy named Percy Jackson who discovered he was a demigod – the offspring of a mortal woman named Sally Jackson and the Greek god Poseidon. He also discovered that his best friend, a physically disabled young man named Grover Underwood was really a satyr assigned to be his protector.
This particular movie is an adaptation of the series’ first novel, "The Lightning Thief". Following the discovery of his true identity, a fury disguised as a substitute teacher attacked him during a field trip, while accusing him of stealing the powerful lightning bolt that belonged to his uncle - Zeus, the ruler of Mount Olympus and god of the sky and thunder. He also discovered that one of his other teachers – Mr. Brunner, was the centaur, Chiron at a place for demigods called Camp Half-Blood. His other uncle, Hades, informed Percy that he has his mother in captivity, and is willing to exchange her for Zeus’ lightning bolt. He also learned that he has two weeks to return the lightning bolt or a war will commence between Zeus and his father Poseidon – a war that might have negative repercussions on the mortal world. In the hopes that Hades can convince Zeus of his innocence of the theft, Percy sets out to find to find an entrance to the Underworld, along with three pearls that can help him make a quick exit from that domain. Grover and the demigod daughter of Athena named Annabeth Chase accompany him.
I did not harbor any high expectations before I saw "PERCY JACKSON: THE LIGHTNING THIEF". As I had stated earlier, I have never read any of Riordan’s novels. And considering it had been released during the pre-summer season, I did not expect to enjoy it very much. And yet . . . I did. Much to my surprise. I found the story to be an engaging and entertaining story filled with family drama, humor, actor and dazzling special effects. More importantly – at least for me – the movie’s running time seemed perfect. Not too short and not too long. I also enjoyed the three main characters’ encounters with a variety of characters from Greek mythology during their journey that included a Mintaur, Medusa, and the Lotus Eaters. Most importantly, Percy’s quest to find entry to the Underworld and the three pearls resulted in a travelogue that took the heroes from Manhattan to Los Angeles, via New Jersey, Nashville and Las Vegas. And I just love road trips in movies.
"PERCY JACKSON: THE LIGHTNING THIEF" does not have the same quality of special effects that had enhanced theHARRY POTTER films. Why did I mention HARRY POTTER? Well, the director of this movie, Chris Columbus, had also directed the first two HARRY POTTER films. And yet, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS had a slightly more mature style. I suppose that was due to its main characters being four or five years older than the three main HARRY POTTER characters in their early films. I understand that the Percy Jackson character was younger in the literary version of ”The Lightning Thief”. Since I have never read the novel . . . or intend to, I do not care.
The cast of "PERCY JACKSON: THE LIGHTNING THIEF" struck me as pretty solid. Columbus did a good job in steering the actors through the movie. And Logan Lerman, who portrayed Percy, turned out to be better than I had expected. But aside from four performances, I found nothing exceptional about the cast. Who are these four exceptional performers? One of them turned out to be Uma Thurman, who gave a deliciously wicked performance as Medusa, the gorgon who used her eyes to turn humans and other beings into stone for her garden collection. I also enjoyed Steve Coogan’s rather wild and sexy take on the god, Hades. And I must say that I found him surprisingly sexy. And Rosario Dawson also gave a sexy performance as Persephone, the parthenogenic woman who became Hades’ bored and put upon consort in the Underworld. In fact, one of her sexiest moments occurred when she flirted with a very interested Grover. Speaking of Grover, Brandon T. Jackson gave a hilarious performance as the satyr who happened to be Percy’s best friend. I found him brave, resourceful, witty and an absolute hoot.
"PERCY JACKSON: THE LIGHTNING THIEF" was not the best fantasy film I have ever seen. In some ways, it came off as a poor man’s HARRY POTTER. This is especially apparent in the film’s depiction of Camp Half-Blood, the training camp located off Long Island for children with a Greek god as a parent. It looked so half-assed that I could only shake my head in disbelief. And its production values were certainly not of the same quality as any of the POTTER films or many others I can recall. But I found the movie enjoyable to watch and would have no qualms about seeing it again.
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Below are images from "DEATH IN THE CLOUDS", the 1992 television adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1935 novel. The television movie starred David Suchet as Hercule Poirot:
"DEATH IN THE CLOUDS" (1992) Photo Gallery
Thursday, March 20, 2014
"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE ONE "June-July 1861" Commentary
Judging from past articles I have written about the "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy, one would surmise that of the three miniseries that have aired in the past decades (two in the 1980s and one in the 1990s) that I seemed to have the most problem with the second miniseries in the trilogy, namely "BOOK II". And if I have to be honest, one would be right.
It is odd that I would choose the second miniseries as the most problematic of the three. "BOOK II" is set during the four years of the Civil War – a historical conflict that has heavily attracted my attention for so many years that I cannot measure how long. "BOOK III", which had aired at least eight years after the second miniseries, was set during the early years of Reconstruction and has a reputation among the "NORTH AND SOUTH" fans as being inferior to the other two. But for some reason, I have more of a problem with "BOOK II". So I have decided to examine each of the six episodes of the 1986 miniseries to determine why this chapter in the "NORTH AND SOUTH" trilogy is such a problem for me.
Without a doubt, Episode One of "BOOK II" is my favorite in the entire miniseries. It re-introduced the main characters from the first miniseries in the story. It also set the stage for the main characters’ experiences during the war for the rest of the miniseries. It featured an excellent opening shot on the streets of Washington D.C. that introduced both Brett Main Hazard, and the slave Semiramis. It also featured a well shot sequence that centered around a colorful ball at the Spotswood Hotel in Richmond, attended by Ashton and James Huntoon, and Elkhannah Bent. Most importantly, it featured one of my favorite battle scenes in the miniseries – namely the Battle of Bull Run that was fought near Manassas, Virginia on July 18, 1861. If I have to be frank, this interpretation of Bull Run remains my favorite. Director Kevin Connors filmed the entire sequence with great style and skill and composer Bill Conti injected it with a brash, yet haunting score that still give me goose bumps whenever I watch it. Even better, the sequence ended with actress Wendy Kilbourne uttering one of the best lines in the entire trilogy.
I certainly have no problems with the miniseries' production values. Jacques R. Marquette's photography struck me as rather beautiful and colorful. This was especially apparent in the opening Washington D.C., the Spotswood Hotel ball and Bull Run sequences. If I have one complaint, I wish the photography had been a little sharper. I feel that a sharper look would have allowed the miniseries' photography to look more colorful. Joseph R. Jennings and his production designs team did an excellent job in re-creating the United States during the Civil War era, especially in many interior shots. Bill Conti continued his excellent work as composer for the saga's production. But if there is one aspect of the miniseries' production values that really blew my mind were the costumes designed by Robert Fletcher. I was especially impressed by the following costumes:
I do have a few quibbles about Episode One. First of all, it introduced Charles Main’s role as a cavalry scout for the Confederate Army. Considering that he started out as a Captain in this miniseries, it made no sense to me that he and another officer - a first lieutenant - would be participating scout duties without the assistance of enlisted men. I guess one could call it as an example of the story being historically inaccurate. And I wish someone would explain why the Mains' neighbors (or doctor) sent word to Brett Main Hazard in Washington D.C. about the injuries her mother Clarissa Main had suffered when Mont Royal's barn was set on fire by Justin La Motte. Would it have been a lot easier (and quicker) to send word to Orry Main or Ashton Main Huntoon, who were both in Richmond, Virginia?
I find the idea of both George Hazard and Orry Main serving as military aides to their respective political leaders - Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis - very improbable. Following their graduation from West Point in 1846, the two friends had only served at least 18 months in the U.S. Army before resigning for personal reasons. Yet, after the outbreak of a civil war some thirteen years later, the audience is supposed to believe that both were able to secure such high positions within their respective armies? Especially when one considers the fact that neither were politically active between 1848 and 1861? I find this aspect of George and Orry's characters very illogical . . . even for a work of fiction. By the way, the regiment that Billy Hazard had transferred to - the Volunteer Sharpshooters - did not fight at the Battle of Bull Run. In fact, the Sharpshooters regiments did not begin recruitment until November 1861.
My last major quibble featured the character of Elkhannah Bent. What was he doing with the portrait of Madeline Fabray LaMotte’s mother? The audience knew that he had procured it from an expensive whorehouse in New Orleans that he had visited in the last miniseries. But Bent had no idea that Madeline was romantically involved with one of his nemesis, Orry Main, until after Ashton Main Huntoon informed him. He only knew that she was the wife of the Mains' neighbor, Justin LaMotte. So, why did he bother to get his hands on the painting at a time when he was ignorant of the romantic and emotional connection between Orry and Madeline?
I certainly had no problems with the episode's performances. The cast, more or less, gave solid performances. But I was especially impressed by a handful. Two of the better performances came from Parker Stevenson and Genie Francis, who portrayed the recently married Billy and Brett Hazard. I was especially impressed by one scene in which the two nearly quarreled over Billy's decision to transfer from the Corps of Engineers to Hiram Berdan's Sharpshooters Regiment. Terri Garber and Philip Casnoff literally burned the screen in their portrayal of the early stages of Ashton Main Huntoon and Elkhannah Bent's affair. This episode featured another quarrel . . . one between George Hazard and his sister, Virgilia, who had arrived in Washington D.C. to become a nurse. Both James Read and Kirstie Alley were superb in that scene. And finally, I have to single out Forest Whitaker, who did a superb job in expressing the resentful anger that his character, Cuffey, felt toward his situation as a slave and toward his owners, the Mains.
Although Episode One featured some stumbling blocks that I have already mentioned, I must say that it turned out rather well. For me, it is probably the best episode in the entire 1986 miniseries. Not only did it featured some excellent performances, it was capped with a superb sequence featuring the Battle of Bull Run, directed with skill by Kevin Connor.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
"THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" (1997) Review
The year 1963 saw the release of Tony Richardson's Academy Award winning adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1749 novel,"The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling". Another thirty-four years passed before another adaptation of the novel appeared on the scene. It turned out to be the BBC's five-episode miniseries that aired in 1997.
"THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" is a comic tale about the life and adventures of an English foundling, who is discovered in the household of a warm-hearted landowner in Somerset named Squire Allworthy. The latter adopts the child and Tom Jones grows up to be a lusty, yet kindly youth; who falls in love with one Sophia Western, the only child of Allworthy's neighbor, Squire Western. Tom is raised with the squire's nephew, a falsely pious and manipulative young man named Mr. Blifil. Because the latter is Allworthy's heir, Sophia's father wishes her to marry Mr. Blifil, so that the Allworthy and Western estates can be joined as one. Unfortunately for Squire Western and Mr. Blifil, Sophia is in love with Tom. And unfortunately for the two young lovers, Tom is discredited by Mr. Blifil and his allies before being cast away by Squire Allworthy. In defiance of Squire Western's wishes for her to marry Mr. Blifil, Sophia (accompanied by her maid, Honour) runs away from Somerset. Both Tom and Sophia encounter many adventures on the road to and in London, before they are finally reconciled.
Actually, there is a lot more to "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING". But a detailed account of the plot would require a long essay and I am not in the mood. I have noticed that the 1997 miniseries has acquired a reputation for not only being a first-rate television production, but also being superior to the 1963 Oscar winning film. As a five-part miniseries, "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" was able to adhere more closely to Fielding's novel than the movie. But does this mean I believe that the miniseries is better than the movie? Hmmmm . . . I do not know if I can agree with that opinion.
I cannot deny that "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" is a well made television production. Director Metin Hüseyin did an excellent job of utilizing a first-rate production crew for the miniseries. Cinders Forshaw's photography was well done - especially in Somerset sequences featured in the miniseries' first half. Roger Cann's production designs captured mid-18th century England in great detail. And Rosalind Ebbutt's costumes designs were not only exquisite, but nearly looked like exact replicas of the fashions of the 1740s. The look and style of "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" seemed to recapture the chaos and color of mid-18th century England.
"THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" could also boast some first-rate performances. The miniseries featured solid performances from the likes of Christopher Fulford and Richard Ridings as Mr. Blifil's allies, Mr. Square and Reverend Thwackum; Kathy Burke, who was very funny as Sophia's maid, Honour; Celia Imrie as Tom's London landlady, Mrs. Miller; Peter Capaldi as the lecherous Lord Fellamar; Tessa Peake-Jones as Squire Allworthy's sister Bridget and Benjamin Whitrow as the squire. The episode also featured solid turns from the likes of Kelly Reilly, Camille Coduri, Matt Bardock, Roger Lloyd-Pack, and Sylvester McCoy. Max Beesley was solid as Tom Jones. He also had good chemistry with his leading lady, Samantha Morton, and did a good job in carrying the miniseries on his shoulders. However, I do feel that he lacked the charisma and magic of Albert Finney. And there were times in the miniseries' last two episodes, when he seemed in danger of losing steam.
But there were some performances that I found outstanding. Brian Blessed was deliciously lusty and coarse as Squire Western, Allworthy's neighbor and Sophia's father. I really enjoyed his scenes with Frances de la Tour, who was marvelous as Sophia's snobbish and controlling Aunt Western. Lindsay Duncan gave a subtle performance as the seductive Lady Bellaston. James D'Arcy was outstanding as Squire Allworthy's nephew, the sniveling and manipulative Mr. Blifil. Ron Cook gave the funniest performance in the miniseries, as Tom's loyal sidekick, Benjamin Partridge, who had earlier suffered a series of misfortunes over the young man's birth. Samantha Morton gave a superb performance as Tom's true love, Sophia Western. Morton seemed every inch the graceful and passionate Sophia, and at the same time, conveyed the strong similarities between the young woman and her volatile father. But the one performance I truly enjoyed was John Sessions' portrayal of author Henry Fielding. I thought it was very clever to use Sessions in that manner as the miniseries' narrator. And he was very entertaining.
The producers of the miniseries hired Simon Burke to adapt the novel for television. And I believe he did an excellent job. I cannot deny that the miniseries' running time allowed him to include scenes from the novel. Thanks to Burke's script and Hüseyin's direction, audiences were given more details on the accusations against Jenny Jones and Benjamin Partridge for conceiving Tom. Audiences also experienced Bridget Jones' relationship with her cold husband and the circumstances that led to the conception of Mr. Blifil. Judging from the style and pacing of the miniseries, it seems that Hüseyin was inspired by Tony Richardson's direction of the 1963 film. There were plenty of raunchy humor and nudity to keep a viewer occupied. More importantly, "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" proved to be a fascinating comic epic and commentary on class distinctions, gender inequality and social issues.
However, I still cannot agree with the prevailing view that the miniseries is better than the 1963 movie. Mind you, the latter is not perfect. But the miniseries lacked a cinematic style that gave the movie a certain kind of magic for me. And due to Hüseyin and Burke's insistence on being as faithful to the novel as possible, the miniseries' pacing threatened to drag in certain scenes. The scenes featuring Tom and Partridge's encounter with an ineffectual highwayman, their viewing of a puppet show, and a good deal from the London sequences were examples of the miniseries' slow pacing. I could not help feeling that "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING" could have easily been reduced to four episodes and still remain effective.
I also had a few problems with other matters. One, I never understood why Lady Bellaston continued her campaign to get Sophia married to Lord Fellamar, after Squire Western prevented the peer from raping his daughter. Why did she continued to make life miserable for Tom after receiving his marriage proposal . . . the same proposal that she rejected with contempt? And what led Sophia to finally forgive Tom for the incident with Mrs. Waters at Upton and his marriage proposal to Lady Bellaston? After he was declared as Squire Allworthy's new heir, Sophia refused to forgive Tom for his affair with Lady Bellaston. But the next shot featured Tom and Squire Allworthy returning to Somerset . . . and being greeted by Sophia, along with hers and Tom's children. WHAT HAPPENED? What led Sophia to finally forgive Tom and marry him? Instead of explaining or hinting what happened, Burke's script ended on that vague and rather disappointing note.
But despite my problems with "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING", I cannot deny that I found it very enjoyable. Director Metin Hüseyin and screenwriter Simon Burke did a first-rate job in bringing Henry Fielding's comic opus to life. They were ably assisted by an excellent production staff and fine performances from a cast led by Max Beesley and Samantha Morton.
Thursday, March 6, 2014
Here is a gallery featuring photos from the 2001 comedy, "HEARTBREAKERS", about a mother and daughter who are con artists. The movie starred Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Love-Hewitt, Gene Hackman, Ray Liotta, Jason Lee and Anne Bancroft:
"HEARTBREAKERS" (2001) Photo Gallery