Tuesday, September 30, 2014



Years ago, I used to watch a great deal of old movies on late night television. My two favorite channels that offered these movies were Turner Network Television (TNT) and the American Movies Classic (AMC), which used to air movies without any commercial breaks. On TNT, I had stumbled across a Western movie originally released by MGM Studios in 1953 called "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" (1953) and fell in love with it. After watching my recently purchased DVD copy of the movie, I could see why it became a favorite of mine. 

Directed by John Sturges during the first decade of his directorial career, "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" told the story of a Union Army officer that served as the second-in-command of a prisoner-of-war camp located in the Arizona Territory in 1863. The movie’s opening pretty much set the stage of what kind of character Captain Roper was, as it depicted him dragging an escaped Confederate prisoner back to Fort Bravo. The fact that Roper was on horseback and his prisoner – a Lieutenant Bailey – was on foot pretty much established the Union officer as a hard-nosed and ruthless man. That flint-like personality was exacerbated by his cynicism, revealed in his reactions to the other characters’ disapproval of his treatment of Bailey. However, chaos soon arrived in the form of one Carla Forrester, a Texas belle who arrived at Fort Bravo to serve as maid-of-honor at the wedding of Alice Owens, the daughter of Fort Bravo’s commanding officer, Colonel Owens. Carla was also there to ensure the escape of the prisoners’ ranking officer, her fiancé Captain John Marsh and a few of his men. In order to keep their Union jailers distracted, Carla set out to seduce and romance the fort’s most feared man – Captain Roper.

When I first saw "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO", I never thought I would become such a diehard fan of the movie. Do not get me wrong. It was not the best or innovative Western I had ever seen. Screenwriters Frank Fenton and an unaccredited Michael Pate had created a solid character study about conflicts – both political and personal – between the Union and Confederate troops in the Civil War Southwest, and the conflict between the Apaches and everyone else. The movie even had a happy ending – somewhat. Yet, Sturges, Fenton and Pate managed to lift a solid tale into something more fascinating by infusing a great deal of emotion and complexity in the main characters And it were these complex characters that truly made "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" for me. The characters seemed to seethe with an array of emotions that eventually burst forth as the movie unfolded. Many of these emotions seemed to center around the story’s main character.

One of those characters happened to be Carla Forrester. And Eleanor Parker managed to do a top-notch job in portraying the bundle of contradictions that simmered underneath her ladylike façade. Parker portrayed Carla as a cool Southern belle with impeccable manners and a talent for seduction. Her Carla also possessed the ruthlessness to browbeat a reluctant pro-Southern storekeeper into helping Marsh and his men escape; a boldness that allowed her to chase after Roper in an age where women were valued for being passive; and a great deal of passion for Marsh and later, Roper. One of the more interesting aspects of Parker’s performance was expessing Carla’s struggles to suppress her feelings for Roper. Recently, I learned that Parker had earned the nickname Woman of a Thousand Faces. Judging from her portrayal of Carla Forrester, I would say that she deserved the name.

I have been a fan of John Forsythe since his years as Charlie Townsend’s voice in "CHARLIE’S ANGELS" (1976-1981) and his work on the ABC nighttime soap opera "DYNASTY" (1981-1989). But I must admit that I found his performance in "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" somewhat perplexing. On one hand, Forsythe did a excellent job in portraying John Marsh’s patience, intelligence and slightly caustic nature - especially in scenes that featured Marsh's exchanges with his fellow Confederate prisoners. However, there seemed to be something not quite . . . right about the character. I do not know if the fault lay with Forsythe’s performance or Fenton and Pate’s screenplay. The problem with the Marsh character or Forsythe’s acting seemed to be Marsh’s successful ability to suppress his emotions. There were times when I wondered if the only true feelings that Marsh seemed able to truly express, centered around his desire to escape. And when he finally did express his his jealousy toward Carla’s feelings about Roper – it came off as slightly unconvincing. Either Forsythe had failed to sell it . . . or Fenton and Pate failed to allow Marsh to express his jealousy until it was too late in the story.

I certainly cannot accuse William Demarest and William Campbell for giving unconvincing performances. The pair portrayed two of the Confederate prisoners – the wise "old" man Sergeant Campbell and the cocky young Cabot Young. The pair seemed to be engaged in some kind of verbal warfare that I found a lot of fun. Yet, it also seemed to hint some kind of mild dislike between the two – until the ending revealed their true feelings for each other. Two other performances caught my attention – John Lupo as the cowardly Confederate officer Lieutenant Bailey and Richard Anderson (of "THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN" and "THE BIONIC WOMAN" fame) as the soon-to-be husband of Alice Owen, Lieutenant Beecher. What made these two characters interesting was that each man – in his own way – seemed capable of some kind of courage. Although a physical coward, Bailey possessed the courage to openly admit his limitations. And Beecher had no qualms about openly expressing his disapproval of Roper’s ruthlessness, despite being the captain’s subordinate.

While writing this review, it occurred to me that I had yet to comment on William Holden’s performance as the hard-nosed Captain Roper. The same year (1953) that MGM released "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO", Paramount released Billy Wilder’s movie,"STALAG 17" - the movie that featured Holden’s Oscar winning performance. If I had my way, I would have given Holden the Oscar for his performances in both movies. What I found amazing about his portrayal of Roper is that in the hands of a lesser actor, the character could have easily ended up one-dimensional. Ironically, most of the supporting characters seemed to view him as a one-dimensional hard ass. Yet, Holden managed to effectively convey Roper’s complexity by perfectly balancing the character’s ruthlessness with an intelligent, witty and passionate man. In the end, he actor did a superb job in combining the many aspects of Roper’s personality into a complex and interesting character.

MGM’s Oscar winning costume designer Helen Rose added color to the movie with some lush costumes befitting the movie’s early 1860s setting. Unfortunately, Rose made one serious misstep with a yellow evening gown worn by Eleanor Parker:

The gown seemed more befitting of a movie set in the early 1950s, instead of the 1860s. It is not surprising that Rose had received her Oscar nominations and wins for movies in a modern setting. I also have to commend cinematographer Robert Surtees for capturing the Southwest landscape (Southern California and New Mexico) without overwhelming the performers. Surtees also made use of the Ansco cameras to give the movie a rich and lush aura, allowing the desert to seem more colorful than usual.

Surprisingly, Frank Fenton and Michael Pate’s script for "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" seemed to bear a small, yet striking resemblance to John Ford’s 1939 classic, "STAGECOACH". Both movies are basically character studies of a group of people in a Western setting – namely the Southwest – that included action against the Apaches in the final acts. And the Apaches in both films proved to be nothing more than plot devices to drive the characters’ situations forward. However, Sturges and the two screenwriters gave the Apaches’ roles a twist by portraying them as an organized military unit, instead of a bunch of rampaging "savages", during a sequence that featured Roper, Carla, Beecher, Marsh, Bailey, Campbell and Young under besiege by the Apaches’ "bombardment" of arrow similar to Henry V’s use of English and Welsh longbowmen at the Battle of Agincourt. And unlike the John Wayne and Claire Trevor characters in "STAGECOACH", this movie left the fate of Roper and Carla’s future romance in the air. After all, she had assisted in the Confederates’ escape.

It is a shame that "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" has never been considered when top Hollywood Westers are discussed. Or even when John Sturges’ career is discussed. Frankly, I believe the movie deserves to be considered. Sturges had taken Frank Fenton and Michael Pate’s sharp screenplay and a top notch cast to create a tense and complex Western that I feel is one of the best I have seen to come out of the Hollywood studio era.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - Episode Four "April 1864 - December 1864" Commentary

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE FOUR "April-November 1864" Commentary

Episode Four of the 1986 miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK 2" picked up at least seven to eight months after Episode Three left off. The miniseries arrived at a point in which the Civil War began to embark upon its last year. And yet, the miniseries itself had reached its mid point. I found it odd that producer David Wolper, director Kevin Reynolds and the production’s screenwriters would portray the war’s last year (in reality, eleven months) within three episodes. Oh well. 

The episode began with a strong sequence that featured George Hazard's capture by John Mosby’s Rangers, while he and his men were transporting artillery guns and units to the front. The episode would return to George’s travails as a prisoner of war at Libby Prison in two more sequences. This first half hour also featured the beginning of Charles Main’s affair with Augusta, Billy Hazard’s return to the Sharpshooters’ regiment and the Battle of the WildernessEpisode Four also portrayed the marriage woes of Ashton and James Huntoon, along with Elkhannah Bent’s attempt to woo Huntoon into his conspiracy against Confederate President Jefferson Davis; Madeline Main’s first meeting with former army officer Rafe Beaudine and her efforts to raise food and money for war refugees in Charleston; and Virgilia Hazard’s feud with her nursing supervisor, Mrs. Neal.

I have mixed feelings about Episode Four. I did not harbor a low opinion of it, as I did Episode Two and Episode Five. But I did not love it. I thought it began on a strong note with George’s capture and the Battle of the Wilderness. It also ended on a strong note with George’s experiences at Libby Prison and Virgilia’s troubles with Mrs. Neal. I must admit that I had a problem with the episode’s second act. Aside from the interesting scene that featured George’s arrival at Libby Prison and the revelation of the state of the Huntoon marriage, I had a bit of a struggle staying awake. One again, the 1986 miniseries managed to provide a battle sequence interesting enough to maintain my interest and impress me at the same time. Director Kevin Connor did an excellent job with this sequence by shooting it in a documentary style that gave it a stark and realistic look. And he was aptly supported by Jacques R. Marquette’s photography. For once, Marquette’s hazy photography served the narrative very well. The episode also benefited from Robert Fletcher’s lovely costumes, as shown in the images below:

northandsouth2 - 4a northandsouth2 - 4b

I found General Ulysses Grant’s angry response to his staff’s fears over Robert E. Lee, following the Wilderness battle particularly enjoyable. What is interesting about this moment is that it actually happened. And I noticed that actor Anthony Zerbe not only used Grant’s actual words, but also improvised a few words into the speech. Actually, I felt it was the episode’s highlight, thanks to Zerbe’s performance. Another positive aspect of Episode Four turned out to be Ashton and James Huntoon’s marriage woes. Terri Garber and Jim Metzler did an excellent job of conveying how Ashton’s infidelity, Huntoon’s political failures and the war had put a toll on a marriage that had been loveless from the start. The venomous conflict between Virgilia Hazard and her supervisor, Mrs. Neal proved to be very interesting, thanks to Kirstie Alley and Olivia De Havilland’s excellent performances. I found both ladies unsympathetic, until Mrs. Neal decided to harass Virgilia, while the other was having trouble staying awake after long hours of work. I found the older woman's attitude simply bitchy. I also noticed that despite Mrs. Neal’s accusations of Virgilia’s poor ministrations to Confederate patients, the miniseries failed to substantiate her claims. And I found myself wondering if Mrs. Neal simply disliked Virgilia for the latter’s abolitionist leanings and marriage to a former slave. 

Kirstie Alley had another chance to shine in a sequence that involved Virgilia's reconciliation with none other than Orry Main, who had been injured and captured by Union troops. No only did Alley give an excellent performance in this poignant sequence, but so did Patrick Swayze. I also have to give kudos to both James Read and Wayne Newton for the crackling hostility they managed to produce between George Hazard and his Libby Prison tormentor, Captain Thomas Turner. In fact, I never thought I would say this, but Newton made a damn fine villain. He nearly put Philip Casnoff, David Carradine and Terri Garber to shame. His performance certainly gave the Libby Prison sequence a creep factor that I found very effective. And if you look carefully, you might find actor Billy Drago (of "THE UNTOUCHABLES" fame) as one of the Union prisoners.

I do have several problems about this episode. One, I wish that Charles and Augusta's affair had begun a lot sooner than three years after they first met. In other words, I wish the screenwriters had followed Jakes’ original portrayal of their relationship. I believe this could have given Charles and Augusta’s affair more depth and paced a lot better. The portrayal of their affair developed into a major problem in Episode Six. Their affair began in the aftermath of one of the battles during the Wilderness Campaign. And for the likes of me, I could never understand what Charles was doing there, while wearing a heavy overcoat in the middle of May. The screenplay never explained why he was there. 

Then we come to the problem of Billy’s return to his regiment after deserting for nearly ten months (he departed right after the Gettysburg battle in July 1863 and returned to his regiment either in late April 1864). The consequences he paid for deserting were ridiculous. Billy received a lecture from Colonel Hiram Burdan, passed over for a promotion to captain and threatened with court martial if he ever deserted again. What on earth were the writers thinking? Billy should have faced a court-martial or forced to resign his commission for being absent without leave for nearly ten months. Whoever had written this episode must have been completely ignorant of military protocol . . . or smoking something. And what was Berdan’s excuse for his leniency toward Billy? He needed all available men. Hogwash! This was the spring of 1864, when the Union Army's ranks were literally swollen for the remainder of the war, despite desertion. No other TV show, novel, play or etc., would have featured such a major writing gaffe. Then again, you never know. And why was Berdan still in command of the Sharpshooters in this episode? By keeping Berdan as Billy's commanding officer in this episode, the writers committed a historical gaffe. Berdan had decided to leave the Union Army by the late winter/early spring of 1864.

On the other hand, I found Madeline Main's efforts to help the poor – refugee slaves, free black and poor whites - in Charleston rather noble and dull as hell. Madeline’s first husband, Justin LaMotte, had contemptuously given her the nickname – "Madeline the Merciful" in the first miniseries. I hate to say this, but after viewing the beginning of this story line in Episode Four, I found myself sharing his contempt. Her actions were admirable, but I feel the writers went too far in portraying her in a noble light. Quite simply, one could easily accuse Madeline of harboring a savior complex – one that struck me as incredibly pretentious. This sequence also introduced a young former slave named Michael and his mother, who came from Tennessee. I really had a problem with this. Why on earth would Tennessee slave refugees head deep into Confederate territory, when they could have easily ended up in Union held cities like Nashville, Memphis and Vicksburg? However, this sequence featured a young Bumper Robinson as Michael, who managed to act circles around Lesley Anne Down (as if that were possible). And it also introduced the delicious Lee Horsley as a disgraced army officer-turned-wastrel named Rafe Beaudine, who came to Madeline’s aid against a band of scavengers. Horsley and Lesley Anne Down managed to create a sparkling screen chemistry that nearly put all of the other on-screen romantic pairings to shame.

In the end, Episode Four proved to be a mixed bag. It featured some excellent dramatic scenes and a well-shot battle sequence that helped me maintained my interest. On the other hand, it also featured some questionable writing that left me shaking my head with disappointment. It was not one of my favorite episodes, but was certainly not a disappointment either.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"EASTERN PROMISES" (2007) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery featuring photos of David Cronenberg's new crime thriller, "EASTERN PROMISES". The movie stars Viggo Mortensen, Naomi Watts, Vincent Cassel and Armin Mueller-Stahl: 

"EASTERN PROMISES" (2007) Photo Gallery

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"THE TERMINATOR" (1984) Review

”THE TERMINATOR” (1984) Review

Back in 1984, director James Cameron and his fellow co-writers, Gale Anne Hurd and William Wisher Jr., created a science-fiction thriller about a time traveling cyborg assassin in a movie called ”THE TERMINATOR”. Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Biehn, Linda Hamilton, Lance Henriksen and Paul Winfield. The movie not only spawned three movie sequels within the next quarter-of-a-century, but also a television series and video games. 

The story began in post-apocalypse world of 2029 where artificially intelligent machines controlled by a computer system called Skynet are bent upon the extermination of the human race. Two beings from this era are sent back to 1984 – a ”Terminator” or a cyborg assassin (Schwarzenegger) programmed to kill a young woman named Sarah Connor (Hamilton); and a human resistance fighter named Kyle Reese (Biehn) charged with protecting her. Sarah happened to be the future mother of the human resistance leader named John Connor. After the Terminator killed two women with the same name as hers, Sarah came to the conclusion that she might be next on the list of some serial killer. Both the Terminator and Kyle manage to track her to a West Los Angeles nightclub, where Kyle manages to save her from being killed by the cyborg. He eventually told Sarah the truth about her destiny and the reason behind the Terminator’s hunt for her.

What can I say about ”THE TERMINATOR”? That it is a first-rate science-fiction thriller that has every right to be considered a Hollywood classic? Well . . . yes. It is. For a movie that has a running time of 103 minutes, it is filled with action, pathos, romance, horror and history. Director James Cameron has stated that ”THE TERMINATOR” was inspired by two episodes from the 1960s television science fiction series, ”THE OUTER LIMITS” – "Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand" – both written by science fiction author Harlan Ellison. Cameron, Hurd and Wisher did such a great job with their story that Ellison threatened to sue them for plagiarism. The movie’s production company and distributor, Hemdale Film Corporation and Orion Pictures, gave him an"acknowledgement to the works of" credit on video and cable releases of ”THE TERMINATOR”, as well as a cash settlement of an undisclosed amount. 

The movie also boasts some pretty good dark humor – especially in scenes featuring the two Los Angeles detectives (Winfield and Henriksen) determined to save Sarah’s life; and the criminal psychiatrist (Earl Boen), who manages to avoid the carnage at the police station where Sarah and Kyle were taken after their arrest. I also enjoyed some of the action sequences that were well staged by Cameron – Sarah and Kyle’s attempts to escape from both the police and the Terminator on the streets of Los Angeles, the cyborg’s attack upon the police station, its murder of Sarah’s roommate Ginger and the latter’s boyfriend; and the Terminator’s last confrontation with Sarah and Kyle. But my favorite scene featured the Terminator’s attempt to kill Sarah at Technoir, the West Los Angeles nightclub, and Kyle’s rescue. Not only did it bring back memories of the 1980s for me, I thought it was well staged and acted, despite very little dialogue. The entire sequence was enhanced by the Tahnee Cain & Tryanglz song,”"Burnin' in the Third Degree".

As much as I enjoyed ”THE TERMINATOR”, I had some problems with it. One problem I had were the Los Angeles location sites in the movie. I realize that Cameron did not have a large budget for the film. But did he have to shoot nearly every scene in the eastern half of downtown Los Angeles? Aside from a residential street, the exterior of Sarah’s West Los Angeles apartment, the location where the Terminator meets the three thugs (that include Cameron favorite, Bill Paxton) and the street outside of the Technoir nightclub, just about all of the exterior scenes were shot in the scummy part of downtown L.A. He even used that particular area to serve as West Los Angeles. And how on earth could Sarah Connor, who was a waitress, afford to live in a slightly upscale West L.A. apartment building? The only excuse I have is that her roommate Ginger Ventura (Bess Motta) had wealthy parents. And where did Sarah and Kyle go after their escape from the carnage at the police station? It looked as if they were leaving Los Angeles. Yet, when the Terminator managed to track them down to a motel, it looked as if they had returned to downtown Los Angeles. One last problem I had was – and I cannot believe I am saying this - the character of Kyle Reese. He seemed to have lost any common sense whatsoever, while being held by the police. Instead of keeping his mouth shut or spinning a lie about how he came to Sarah’s rescue from a killer at the Technoir, he tried to warn the cops about the Terminator and the future apocalypse . . . as if they could do anything about it. I can only assume that the last 24 hours and time travel had affected his brain patterns. Because I found his attempt to warn the cops rather stupid.

Arnold Schwarzenegger led the cast as the cybernetic killer, the Terminator. What did I think of his performance? Hmmm . . . by only saying a few words, he managed to convey the image of a ruthless and efficient killer. Otherwise, I found nothing spectacular about his performance. Michael Biehn was intense as the time traveling Resistance fighter, Kyle Reese. There were moments when he threatened to sail into the waters of hammy acting – his scenes at the police station are prime examples – but I thought he gave a first rate performance. I was really impressed by Linda Hamilton’s portrayal of Sarah Connor, the mother of future Resistance leader, John Connor. She managed to skillfully develop the role of Sarah from a slightly mild-mannered and girlish young Californian to a tough and wiser woman determined to survive the future for the sake of her unborn son. Earl Boen – who will end up appearing the next two movies – gave a snide and funny performance as police psychologist, Dr. Peter Silberman, who abandoned all semblance of delicacy to express his belief of Kyle’s lunacy. And both Paul Winfield and Lance Henriksen made a funny and sarcastic screen team as Ed Traxler and Hal Vukovich, the two L.A.P.D. detectives who traded insulting barbs, while trying their best to protect Sarah from being killed.

”THE TERMINATOR” is considered one of the best science-fiction movies of all time and among the two best films in the franchise. Do I believe that it deserved this kind of accolade? Well, it is one of my two favorite TERMINATOR films. As for it being one of the best science-fiction movies ever made . . . no. Not quite in my book. I do believe that it is one of the best movies that feature the topic of time travel. In the end, ”THE TERMINATOR” is an entertaining and original film that I never get tired of watching. Kudos to James Cameron for kick-starting a well-made franchise.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Controversial Finale: "BOARDWALK EMPIRE" (2.12) "To the Lost"



The Season Two finale of "BOARDWALK EMPIRE"(2.12) "To the Lost" has been viewed as an end of an era for a good number of the series' viewers and television critics. It marked an event that left some fans satisfied and others in a state of anger and resentment. But one cannot deny that this event – along with a few others – allowed the series to enter a new phase for its third season. 

One of the changes that materialized in "To the Lost" turned out to be the marriage between Atlantic City's re-installed political boss, Enoch "Nucky" Thompson and his Irish-born mistress, the widowed Margaret Schroeder. Although both harbored feelings for each other, their marriage obviously seemed like one of convenience. Margaret had received a summons from Federal prosecutor Esther Randolph as a possible witness against Nucky for her husband’s murder back in Season One. By "To the Lost", Margaret had embraced religion as a reaction to her daughter becoming a victim of the polio outbreak. When Nucky learned about her summons, he asked her to marry him in order to prevent her from testifying against him and to avoid serving time in prison. Margaret agreed. But she had also hoped to convince Nucky to do the same – before and after the charges against him were dropped. To her disappointment, Nucky revealed no interest in embracing religion. Worse, he had signed over a piece of valuable property to Margaret, when he feared that the Federal government might confiscate his possessions. 

When Margaret learned about the murder of Alderman James Neary – an enemy of Nucky's – she immediately assumed he was behind the crime. As it turned out, she was wrong. Nucky's former protégée, Jimmy Darmody, committed the deed with friend Richard Harrow’s help, in an effort to win the political boss' forgiveness for his betrayal. However, Margaret went ahead and signed over Nucky’s land to the Catholic Church. The ironic aspect of Margaret’s reasoning behind her actions was that she harbored a secret of her own. In the season’s seventh episode, (2.07) "Peg of Old", she had sex with Owen Sleater, Nucky’s new bodyguard. This happened at a time when Nucky was facing an assassination attempt arranged by Jimmy. Margaret eventually found the nerve to confess her infidelity to the local priest and to God. Margaret seemed willing to judge Nucky for his lies – real and imagined. Yet, she failed to find the courage to confess her sin of infidelity to Nucky.

Albert "Chalky" White, the unofficial leader of Atlantic City’s African-American community, had to endure numerous difficulties during Season Two. The Ku Klux Klan attacked his bootleg operation in the season’s premiere episode, (2.01) "21", resulting in the deaths of several of his men. Chalky managed to kill one of the Klansmen during the attack. He ended up being charged with murder. Nucky's attorney managed to get him out of jail on bail, but Chalky still faced a trial. This ended when Jimmy managed to get the State Attorney’s office to drop the murder charges. Jimmy, along with Richard’s help, attacked a Klan gathering at gunpoint, shot two men and demanded the men who had attacked Chalky’s warehouse in "21". After delivering the men to Chalky and the latter’s new right-hand man, former jail cell nemesis Dunn Purnsley, Jimmy asked the former to contact Nucky on his behalf. This arrest would lead to the first of two meetings between Jimmy and Nucky and the former's controversial death that ended Season Two.

Like many other fans of "BOARDWALK EMPIRE", I had made the mistake of assuming that Nucky would eventually forgive Jimmy for his Season Two transgressions. After all, the Jimmy Darmody character was the second lead in the series. After watching"To the Lost", I realize that I had been living in a fantasy. So had Jimmy. The deaths of his wife Angela and father, the Commodore, in (2.11) "Under God's Power She Flourishes" had left him shaken to his core. I suspect this also led him to realize it would be in his best interest to seek forgiveness from Nucky. Jimmy engaged in a campaign to make up for his past transgressions – which included a murder attempt on Nucky. With Richard’s help, he nabbed the Klansmen who was responsible for the attack on Chalky’s bootlegging operation; set up both Alderman Jim Neary and Eli Thompson for election fraud, before faking Neary’s death as a suicide; and claimed that Eli was responsible for introducing the idea of a hit on Nucky. But all of this did not work. It was Richard who pointed out that no matter what Jimmy did, Nucky would never forgive him.

Now that I think about it, I found myself wondering why Jimmy never considered the possibility that Nucky was not the forgiving type . . . until it was too late. Surely he must have remembered Nucky's reaction when he and Al Capone had stolen Arnold Rothstein's whiskey shipment in the series' premiere, (1.01) "Boardwalk Empire". Nucky had been so angry that he fired Jimmy as his driver and demanded that the World War I veteran pay $3,000 as compensation for committing the robbery in his town and without his consent. Jimmy was forced to flee from Atlantic City to Chicago, when a witness to the heist reappeared. And even though Nucky asked Jimmy to return to help him deal with his war against Rothstein, he remained angry over the heist. Now if Nucky was unable to completely forgive Jimmy for the whiskey heist in Season One; his chances of forgiving the younger man for an attempted murder seemed pretty moot. And no one - including myself - seemed to realize this.

I am not condoning Nucky's murder of Jimmy. I believe that what he had done was wrong. But I must admit that I found some of the outraged reactions against the crime rather puzzling. Although some had expressed disappointment over Jimmy's sanction of the murder attempt on Nucky in "Peg of Old", the level of anger toward Jimmy seemed particularly mute in comparison to their anger toward Nucky for his actions in "To the Lost". This same television season also saw the death of lead actor Sean Bean in another HBO series, "GAME OF THRONE". Some had expressed surprise at the turn of events, but not anger. 

Some fans might point out that it was Nucky's younger brother and Atlantic City's sheriff, the resentful Eli Thompson, who had initiated the idea of killing Nucky. Jimmy even told Nucky of Eli's participation in the hit. I suspect that Nucky suspected that Jimmy had told the truth. But he had considered two things. One, Eli was his brother. And two, it was Jimmy who gave the final decision to have Nucky killed. In the end, even Eli failed to completely escape Nucky's wrath. Although his life was spared, the political boss forced him to plead guilty to the corruption charges and face at least two years in prison (or less with parole). Something tells me that Eli's career as Sheriff of Atlantic County had ended permanently.

Jimmy had also been wrong to order the hit on Nucky. Yet, the level of anger toward his act was barely minimal. Were these fans upset that Nucky had succeeded, where Jimmy had failed? Or was their anger due to the loss of the younger and good-looking Michael Pitt, who had NOT been the series' lead? Because no one had expressed similar sentiments over the older Bean's departure from "GAME OF THRONES". Was this major outrage over Jimmy's death had more to do with superficial preference than moral outrage? It is beginning to seem so to me.

I had enjoyed Michael Pitt's portrayal of the troubled Jimmy Darmody, during his two-year stint on "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". But unlike many other fans, I cannot accept the views of some that the series had jumped the shark with his character's death. I refuse to claim that the series' quality will remain the same, or get better or worse. I can only make that judgment after Series Three has aired. But the very talented Steve Buscemi remains at the lead as Enoch "Lucky" Thompson. And creator Terence Winter continues to guide the series. Considering the number of changes that marked "To the Lost", I am curious to see how the story will continue.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"STAGECOACH" (1939) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of photos from the 1939 Western classic, "STAGECOACH". Directed by John Ford, the movie starred Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Academy Award winner, Thomas Mitchell:

"STAGECOACH" (1939) Photo Gallery

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" (1998) Review


"OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" (1998) Review

As a rule, I have never been an ardent fan of Charles Dickens' novels. I suppose my aversion to his writing stemmed from being forced to read his 1838 tale, "Oliver Twist", while in my early teens. That was the last time I had read a Dickens novel, but several film and television adaptations of his work awaited me for many years down the road. And I did not warm up to them. 

After years of avoiding Dickens' novels or adaptations of his work, I finally decided to put my aversion of his writing aside and set my mind on watching "OUR MUTUAL FRIEND", Sandy Welch's 1998 adaptation of his last completed novel, published in 1864-65. Needless to say, "OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" proved to be a complicated tale. It featured at least three subplots - major and minor - and they all stemmed from the alleged death of the heir to a fortune created by his father, a former collector from London's rubbish.

"OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" began with a solicitor named Mortimer Lightwood, who narrates the circumstances on the death of his late client and the details of the latter's will to his aunt and a group of listeners at a London society party. According to Lightwood, Mr. Harmon made his fortune from London's rubbish. The terms of his will stipulated that his fortune should go to his estranged son John, who is returning to Britain after years spent abroad. John can inherit his father's money on the condition that he marry a woman he has never met, Miss Bella Wilfer. However, Lightwood receives news that John Harmon's body has been found in the Thames River. He and his close friend Eugene Wrayburn head toward the river to identify the body. And it was this sequence that led to the following subplots:

*Mr. Harmon's employees, Nicodemus and Henrietta Boffin inherit the Harmon fortune and take Bella Wilfer as a ward to compensate for her loss, following John Harmon's "death".

*John Harmon fakes his death and assumes the identity of John Rokesmith, the Boffins' social secretary, in order to ascertain Bella Wilfer's character.

*The man who found Harmon's "body" is a waterman and scavenger named Gaffer Hexam. He is later accused of murdering "Harmon".

*While accompanying his friend, Mortimer Lightwood, to identify Harmon's body, Eugene Wrayburn meets and falls in love with Hexam's daughter, Lizzie.

*Charley Hexam, Lizzie's younger brother, has a headmaster named Bradley Headstone, who becomes romantically and violently obsessed with Lizzie.

*A ballad-seller with a wooden leg named Silas Wegg is hired by the Boffins to read for them. When he finds Harmon's will in the dust, he schemes with a taxidermist named Mr. Venus to blackmail the newly rich couple.

*Mr. and Mrs. Lammle are a society couple who married each other for money and discovered that neither had any. They eventually set their sights on the Boffins to swindle.

I have seen many movies and read many novels in which disparate subplots eventually form into one main narrative. A major example of this is the 2002 novel and its 2008 adaptation, "MIRACLE AT ST. ANNA". But I cannot recall any form of fiction in which a particular narrative divides into a series of subplots in which one barely have anything in common with another. And I must say that I found this narrative device not only original, but rather disconcerting.

The problem I mainly have with "OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" is that I only enjoyed one major subplot - which dealt with Eugene Wrayburn, Lizzie Hexam and Bradley Headstone. I cannot deny that I found it very interesting and very tense, despite David Morrissey's occasional moments of histronics, when expressing Headstone's feelings for both Wrayburn and Lizzie; and actress Keeley Hawes' inability to express Lizzie's true feelings for Wrayburn until the last episode. And I suspect that director Julian Farino may have been at fault, instead of Hawes. Paul McGann's portrayal of the ambiguous Wrayburn struck me as the best performance not only in this particular subplot, but also in the entire miniseries.

Inheriting John Harmon's fortune attracted a good deal of greedy fortune hunters to the Boffins. Unfortunately, Silas Wegg's attempts to blackmail them ended on a whimper. It did not help that he spent at least two to three episodes (out of four) complaining about his lot in life and plotting with Mr. Venus. I was even less impressed with the poor and newly married Mr. and Mrs. Lammle's attempts to swindle money from the Boffins. In fact, I am still in the dark over how their attempt failed.

The subplot featuring John Harmon/Rokesmith and Bella Wilfer could have amounted to something. I found Harmon's gradual love for Bella very interesting to watch, thanks to Steven Mackintosh's subtle performance. And Anna Friel did a great job in developing Bella Wilfur from a materialistic and ambitious young woman, to one for whom love and morality meant more to her than material wealth. But the problem I have with this subplot? Bella did not learn the truth about John until some time after their wedding. Even worse, he had to resort to deception to find out whether Bella was worthy of his hand. I realize that when they first met, she was not exactly a pleasant woman. But he conducted their courtship, while deceiving her. Even worse, Bella forgave John a bit too easily, once she learned the truth. 

Aside from the excellent performances; including those from Peter Vaughn and Pam Ferris as the Boffins, Kenneth Cranham as Silas Wegg, Margaret Tyzack as the imperious Tippins, and Dominic Mafham as Mortimer Lightwood; "OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" has two other virtues that I found impressive. The four-part miniseries' visual style struck me as colorful and at the same time, epic. And I believe one has to thank David Odd for his excellent. And Mike O'Neil's Victorian costumes truly blew me away. Not only did I find them beautiful, but a near accurate reflection of Britain in the 1860s.

One might believe that I dislike "OUR MUTUAL FRIEND". Trust me, I liked it. But I did not love it. I suspect that Sandy Welch and director Julian Farino did the best they could in translating Dickens' tale to the screen. Perhaps they more than did their best and that was the trouble. The 1864-65 novel is not considered among the novelist' best. "OUR MUTUAL FRIEND" has yet to improve my opinion of Charles Dickens as a novelist. Perhaps a second viewing might do the job.