Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Saturday, October 25, 2014
"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (2008) Review
The year 2008 marked the fourth adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1811 novel, "Sense and Sensibility". First aired on the BBC, this three-part miniseries had been adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by John Alexander.
"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" told the story of the two older of three sisters and their financial and romantic travails in early 19th century England. Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, along with their mother and young sister, Margaret; found themselves homeless and in financial straits following the death of their father. Their elder half-brother, John Dashwood, had promised their father he would financially compensate them, since the Norland Park estate was entailed to the male heir. Unfortunately, John possessed the backbone of jelly and allowed his venal wife Fanny to convince him into withholding any financial assistance from the Dashwood women. Fanny received a shock when her younger brother, Edward Ferrars, paid a visit and ended up becoming romantically involved with Elinor. Before their romance could flourish; Elinor, her sisters and her mother were forced to leave Norland Park. They settled at a cottage in Devon, owned by Mrs. Dashwood’s cousin, Sir John Middleton.
Upon settling in Devon, the Dashwoods became acquainted with the gregarious Sir John, his chilly wife and his equally extroverted mother-in-law, Mrs. Jennings. Marianne attracted the attention of two potential suitors – Sir John’s neighbor and former Army comrade, Colonel Christopher Brandon; and a handsome young blade named John Willoughby. Being seventeen and emotionally volatile, Marianne preferred the handsome Willoughby over the more stoic Colonel Brandon. And Elinor began to wonder if she would ever lay eyes upon Edward Ferrars again.
Unlike Ang Lee and Emma Thompson’s 1995 adaptation of Austen’s novel, John Alexander and Andrew Davies had decided to be a little more faithful to Austen’s novel. They included Lady Middleton, the autocratic Mrs. Ferrars and both Steele sisters – Lucy and Anne – to the story. They also included Edward Ferrars’ brief visit to the Dashwoods’ cottage, the dinner party at Mrs. Ferrars’ London house and a contrite Willoughby’s conversation with Elinor. But for me, being faithful to a literary source does not guarantee a superior production. If Alexander and Davies called themselves creating a production more faithful and superior to the 1995 movie, I do not believe they had succeeded. I am not saying that this”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” was a terrible production. On the contrary, I believe it was first-rate. I simply believe that the 1995 movie was a better adaptation.
This three-part miniseries had a lot going for it. Both Davies and Alexander beautifully captured most of the heart of soul of Austen’s tale. And aside from a few scenes, it was wonderfully paced. ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” captured the financial and social dilemma faced by the Dashwood females, upon the family patriarch’s death. The miniseries’ style permeated with warmth, solidity and color. The production designs created by James Merifield did an excellent job in sending viewers back to early 19th century England. But I must give kudos to cinematographer Sean Bobbitt, who received a well deserved Emmy nomination for his beautiful photography. The Devon, Hertfordshire and Surrey countryside looked rich and lush in color. I also enjoyed Michele Clapton’s colorful costumes, which earned a BAFTA nomination. Were they historically accurate? I do not know. I am not an expert in early 19th century fashion. However, I do have a question. Was ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” set during the decade of 1800-1809? Or was it set between 1810 and 1819? According to the family tree briefly shown in the following photo, the movie was set around 1800-1801:
There were some aspects of ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” that did not appeal to me. As much as I had enjoyed Merifield’s production designs, I found it disappointing that the majority of the London sequences featured interior shots. Which meant that viewers failed to get a truly rich view of early 19th century London. But most of my quibbles were about a few scenes that struck me as unnecessary. The miniseries opened with a young couple making love in the candlelight. Viewers easily surmised the identities of the pair – John Willoughby and Colonel Brandon’s young ward, Eliza. Perhaps this was Davies’ way of foreshadowing Willoughby’s character and his near seduction of Marianne. This was the first scene I found unnecessary and heavy-handed. There are some stories in which the use of foreshadowing as a literary device work very well. This particular scene failed to work for me. Another scene that struck me as unnecessary was Edward Ferrars’ brief visit to Barton Cottage. This scene was lifted from the novel and was used to foreshadow Elinor’s discovery of his engagement to Lucy Steele. Again, the use of foreshadow failed to work for me. I would have preferred that the audience’s knowledge of the Edward-Lucy engagement had been revealed as a complete surprise to them, as well as to Elinor.
Two more scenes also failed to impress me. Austen’s novel had hinted a duel between Willoughby and Brandon over the former’s seduction of young Eliza. Davies’ screenplay included the duel, after Willoughby’s rejection of Marianne and the birth of his and Eliza’s child. This duel would have served better following Willoughby’s seduction. In fact, I wish that Davies had not included it at all. For a brief moment, I found myself confused on whether the duel was fought over Eliza or Marianne. The scene also seemed to be an indication of Davies and Alexander’s attempt to inject some overt masculinity into Austen’s tale. The last scene that Davies carried over from the novel featured Willoughby’s expression of remorse to Elinor, over his treatment of Marianne. I must admit that I found that scene a little contrived and unnecessary. Willoughby’s reasons behind his abandonment of Marianne and his embarrassment at the assembly ball seemed pretty obvious to me. And in the 1995 version, the expression on Greg Wise’s face fully expressed Willoughby’s remorse more effectively than any of Austen’s (or Davies’) words.
Despite my misgivings, I must admit that ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” possessed a first-rate cast. Both Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield gave solid performances as the story’s two heroines – Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Morahan nicely portrayed the sober and level-headed aspects of Elinor’s personality. Yet at the same time, she conveyed subtle hints of the character’s emotions behind the mask. I found it difficult to believe that Morahan’s Elinor was 19 to 20 years-old in this story. She looked and behaved like a person who was at least 5 to 10 years older. Morahan had a tendency to utilize this ”deer-in-the-headlights” expression, whenever Elinor was surprised. Wakefield gave a decent performance as the volatile Marianne. She portrayed the character as written by Austen – an emotional and thoughtless adolescent with a kind heart. Were young females in their late teens really expected to behave in a mature manner, consistently? My only problem with Wakefield was there were a few moments when her performance seemed mechanical with hardly any style or true skill.
The miniseries received fine support from the likes of Janet Teer as the emotional Mrs. Dashwood, Mark Williams as the jovial Sir John Middleton, Jean Marsh as Mrs. Ferrars, Mark Gatiss as the vacuous John Dashwood and young Lucy Boynton as Margaret Dashwood. In his first scene, Dan Stevens seemed to hint that his interpretation of Edward Ferrars might prove to be a little livelier than past interpretations. It was a hint that failed to flourish. His Edward proved to be just as mild. At least his performance was adequate. When the miniseries first aired in Britain nearly three years ago, the media had declared Dominic Cooper as the new sex symbol of British costume drama. After seeing his performance as John Willoughby, I found this hard to swallow. But he did give a first-rate performance. But there were performances that failed to impress me. One, I had a problem with the Steele sisters. Anna Madeley’s performance as the subtle, yet catty Lucy Steele seemed perfectly fine with me. But I found Daisy Haggard’s broadly comic take on Anne Steele ridiculously overdone. And I never could understand why one Steele sister spoke with a well-bred accent (Lucy) and the other with a regional accent that strongly hinted of the lower classes. Very inconsistent. I also had a problem with Rosanna Lavelle as Sir John’s cold wife, Lady Middleton. She barely seemed to exist. In fact, I never understood why Davies did not follow Emma Thompson’s example by deleting the character altogether. Linda Bassett gave a friendly performance as Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton’s mother. But her portrayal lacked that deliciously meddlesome trait that prevailed in Austen’s novel and the 1995 movie. And I also found Bassett’s accent questionable. I could not tell whether her character was from amongst the upper or middle class.
At least two performances in ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” managed to impress me. One of those performances belonged to Claire Skinner, who portrayed the Dashwood sisters’ bitchy sister-in-law, Fanny Ferrars Dashwood. Skinner was truly superb as the venal and manipulative Fanny, who seemed more than determined to not only rule her husband, but also make her sisters-in-law miserable for the sake of her ego. My favorite Fanny scene featured that delicious montage in which she wore down John’s determination to help his sisters and stepmother financially. The other outstanding performance came from David Morrissey’s portrayal of the stoic Colonel Brandon. As much as I admire Morrissey’s skills as an actor, I have found some of his performances a little too theatrical at times. I certainly cannot say the same about his performance in ”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”. He perfectly captured the quiet nuance of his character; and at the same time, expressed Brandon’s passion for Marianne through facial expressions and body language.
”SENSE AND SENSIBILITY” may have been marred by scenes that I found unnecessary, and lacked a witty sense of humor and something of an edge; but it still turned out to be an intelligent and solid adaptation of Austen’s novel. And fans of Austen’s novel can thank Andrew Davies’ script, John Alexander’s direction, Sean Bobbitt’s photography and a solid cast lead by Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
TIME MACHINE: BATTLE OF CHICKAMAUGA
September 2013 marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chickamauga, during the U.S. Civil War. Fought in southwestern Tennessee and northeastern Georgia, the battle served as the last Union offensive in that region between September 19-20, 1863. It was the first major U.S. Civil War battle to be fought in Georgia.
Following his successful Tullahoma Campaign, General William Rosecrans, who commanded the Union's Army of the Cumberland, set out to force the Confederate Army of Tennessee, under General Braxton Bragg out of Chattanooga, Tennessee. In early September 1863, Rosecrans consolidated his forces scattered around Tennessee and Georgia and forced the Army of Tennessee out of Chattanooga. Bragg and his troops were forced south of the city and the Union troops followed them. The two armies engaged in a brief clash at Davis's Cross Roads. Bragg became determined to reoccupy Chattanooga by meeting a part of Rosecran's army, defeat it and move back into the city.
On September 17, his army marched north, intending to attack the Union's isolated XXI Corps. While Bragg marched north on September 18, his cavalry and infantry fought with Union cavalry and mounted infantry. The actual Battle of Chickamauga between the Army of the Cumberland and the Army of Tennessee began in earnest on September 19, 1863; near Chickamauga Creek in northwestern Georgia. This small body of water flows into the Tennessee River. Although the Confederate troops engaged in a strong assault, they could not break the Union line.
General Bragg resumed his assault on the following day, September 20. In late morning, Rosecrans received erroneous information that he had a gap in his line. While moving units to close the alleged gap, Rosecrans had accidentally created an actual gap, directly in the path of a Confederate eight-brigade assault on a narrow front by Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Longstreet's attack drove one-third of the Union army, including Rosecrans himself, away from the field. Other Union forces spontaneously rallied to create a defensive line on Horseshoe Ridge, forming a new right wing for the line of Major General George H. Thomas, who assumed overall command of remaining Federal forces. Although the Confederates launched costly and determined assaults, Thomas and his men held until twilight. The actions of Thomas earned him the nickname of "The Rock of Chickamauga. He led the Union forces to Chattanooga, while the Confederates occupied the surrounding heights and commenced upon a siege of the city.
Unable to break the Confederates' siege of Chattanooga, General Rosecrans was relieved of his command of the Army of the Cumberland on October 19, 1863. He was replaced by General Thomas. During the siege, General Bragg commenced upon a battle against those subordinates he resented for failing him in the campaign. This conflict led to General D.H. Hill being relieved of his command and General Longstreet's corps being sent to fight in the Knoxville Campaign against General Ambrose Burnside. These actions seriously weakened Bragg's army at Chattanooga. General Bragg's siege of Chattanooga remained in effect for two months, until General Ulysses S. Grant broke it during the Chattanooga Campaign in late November.
For more information on the Battle of Chickamauga, read the following books:
"The Chickamauga Campaign [Civil War Campaigns in the Heartland] (2010) Edited by Steven E. Woodworth
"The Battle of Chickamauga: The Fight for Snodgrass Hill and the Rock of Chickamauga" (2012) by Robert L. Carter
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Here is a gallery of photos from the 1996 movie adaptation of "EMMA". Based upon Jane Austen's novel, the movie starred Gwenyth Paltrow, Jeremy Northam and Toni Collette. Douglas McGrath directed:
"EMMA" (1996) Photo Gallery
Friday, October 17, 2014
"WANTED" (2008) Review
Based upon the comic miniseries by Mark Millar, ”WANTED” is the story of Wesley Gibson, a meek Chicago accountant who discovers that the father he had never known was part of a thousand year-old secret society of assassins called The Fraternity. Upon being informed that his father had been murdered, and longing for a different life outside a hated job and unfaithful girlfriend, Gibson joins The Fraternity in order to find his father’s killer.
From what I had learned about the two versions of "WANTED", the movie version turned out to be quite different from the comic book version. In the former, The Fraternity consisted of assassins whose victims end up being selected by ”Fate” to be hunted and killed. Due to The Fraternity’s founders being a group of weavers, "Fate" chose the order’s victims through a series of codes embedded in the material woven by The Fraternity members. This business of The Fraternity’s victims being chosen by "Fate" never played a part in Millar’s comic story. This is because the assassins turned out to be out-and-out villains. Including Wesley.
There were positive and negative aspects of "WANTED". I was impressed by the performances of both James McAvoy as Wesley Gibson and Morgan Freeman as Sloan, The Fraternity’s leader. Angelina Jolie, as usual, displayed her strong screen presence as Fox, one of the order’s assassins. Unfortunately her character seemed to possess little depth, despite the small flashback about her childhood, provided by screenwriters Michael Brandt, Derek Haas and Chris Morgan. Her character seemed more like an action icon, instead of a character with any real depth. Others such as Terence Stamp, Common, Marc Warren and Konstantin Khabensky provided solid support as a rogue agent and members of The Fraternity. But I found nothing memorable about their performances. Two performances really impressed me. Despite his brief appearances as another rogue agent of The Fraternity, Thomas Kretschmann certainly made an impression as a memorable adversary, who seemed determined to get his hands upon Wesley. And I was also impressed by Lorna Scott's portrayal of Wesley's overbearing boss, Janice. Although her portrayal seemed a bit over-the-top, somehow it seemed to fit her role like a glove.
As for the movie’s action, it strongly reminded me of "THE MATRIX", with its outrageous stunts occasionally shown in slow motion. But "THE MATRIX" is now at least nine years old. And quite frankly, I am beginning to find this form of action a bit outdated. The screenwriters tried to surprise the audience with plot twists, especially the one regarding the character of Cross. But to be honest, I managed to spot these plot twists before they were even revealed. And I ended up being spoiled and not taken by surprise. The story for "WANTED" struck me as pretty solid, but with a strong streak of a melodrama. However, a part of me wished that the screenwriters, director Timur Bekmambetov and the producers should have ditched the idea of The Fraternity’s method of choosing potential victims (and so-called "bad guys") via a textile loom. I found it rather ludicrous.
In the end, "WANTED" proved to be a solid adaptation of Millar's comic story. I found it solid, but not particularly memorable. As far as I am concerned, I wish the production team involved with the movie had stuck with the more dangerous choice of adhering more closely to Millar’s comic book version. I suspect that this would have made a more interesting film.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
"LOST" RETROSPECT: (1.01-1.02) "The Pilot"
The pilot episode of some of my favorite television series have rarely impressed me . . . if not at all. There are a few exceptions to the rule. And one of those exceptions happened to the be pilot episode for ABC-TV's "LOST".
Created by J.J. Abrams, Jeffrey Leiber and Damon Lindelof, "LOST" aired on television for six seasons, between 2004 and 2010. As many fans know, "LOST" told about the survivors of a commercial passenger plane crash on a mysterious South Pacific island, while flying between Sydney and Los Angeles. While television viewers got to know these survivors during their time on the island, but also through flashbacks revealing their past. The series' first episode aired in two parts on September 22, 2004.
(1.01) "Pilot (Part 1)" introduced the series' leading character, a spinal surgeon named Dr. Jack Shephard, who wakes up in the middle of the jungle following the crash of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815. He stumbles onto the beach and finds the chaos left behind from Oceanic 815's crash. As everyone knows, the plane broke into three pieces before crashing on the island. Jack and most of the survivors ended upon with the fuselage. The cockpit and the plane's first-class section ended deep into the jungle with no survivors, save the pilot. And the tail section fell into the ocean on the other side of the island. Jack and some of the survivors like John Locke and Hugo "Hurley" Reyes help other passengers with injuries or dodging burning pieces. After helping some of the passengers, Jack goes to another part of the beach to tend to his own injury, when he meets Kate Austen. She sews up his injury, while the two bond. Many other things occur during the episode. Survivors either form friendships or get on each others' nerves. During their first night on the beach, everyone becomes unnerved by sounds of a monster deep in the jungle. The following day, Jack heads toward the cockpit to retrieve the plane's transceiver and is accompanied by Kate and musician Charlie Pace. They retrieve the transceiver and encounter the badly injured pilot, who informs them that the plane had lost radio contact six hours into the flight and veered off course. Before he can share any further information, he is seized by a strange being and killed. Jack, Kate and Charlie make a run for it.
(1.02) "Pilot (Part 2)" continue Jack, Kate and Charlie's flight from the monster that killed the pilot. During their absence, the dog of 10 year-old survivor Walt Lloyd finds a pair of handcuffs. A Middle Eastern survivor name Sayid Jarrah comes under suspicion from a Southern-born passenger named "Sawyer". Jack and his two companions make it back to the beach with the transceiver. Sayid, Kate, "Sawyer", Charlie and a step-brother-sister team named Boone Carlyle and Shannon Rutherford trek to the high ground to use the transceiver. Instead of contacting help, they manage to interpret a message sent earlier by a French woman on the island. One of the badly wounded survivors on the beach turn out to be a U.S. marshal demanding the whereabouts of his prisoner, a woman. Flashbacks reveal that the prisoner is Kate.
I will not deny that "LOST" is one of my favorite television series. It is not on my list of the top ten favorite shows. But it is on my list of top twenty favorites. Despite my favoritism toward "LOST", I cannot deny that it also possessed some seriously flawed writing. But it was not on display in the two-part pilot. Well . . . somewhat. A few of the occurrences in this episode ended up contradicting the series' future narrative.
It is ironic that the first villainous character to make his/her appearance in the series turned out to be the main villain - the Smoke Monster aka the Man in Black. The survivors heard its "roar" during their first night on the island. And he killed the Oceanic 815's pilot while the latter discussed the plane's location with Jack and Kate. In fact, the Smoke Monster killed another survivor in an early Season Three episode - Mr. Eko. While many fans are still debating the reason behind the MIB's murder of Mr. Eko, no one has figured out why the pilot was killed. Especially after Season Six revealed the list of candidates for the island's new caretaker. I suspect that the MIB was simply being portrayed as a supernatural monster before the writers had decided to portray him as a villain with a purpose.
I have two more complaints about the episode. Some of the characterizations struck me as one-dimensional. This was especially the case for Shannon Rutherford, who was portrayed as some bitchy Valley Girl; Jin Kwon, who was written as a cliché of the oppressive Asian husband; Sun Kwon, who was portrayed as the typically oppressed Asian wife; and James "Sawyer" Ford, who was not only unlikable, but also the one-dimensional Southern white male. In Sawyer's case, not only was his character portrayed in the worst clichéd manner possible, poor Josh Holloway was stuck with some pretty bad dialogue - especially in Part 2. He fared a lot better as the series progressed. Speaking of dialogue - yeech! Yes, I thought it was pretty bad. It was more than bad. I found it somewhat infantile and unmemorable.
Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Despite some of the one-dimensional characterization and bad dialogue, there were some pretty good performances. For me, one of the best performances came from Matthew Fox, who dived right into the role as the series' lead character, Dr. Jack Shephard. Fox gave early hints of the complicated and deeply flawed character later revealed in future episodes. Fox's early revelation of Jack's flaws must have been subtle, for the later revelation of his flaws seemed to have taken many by surprise. Dominic Monaghan gave a funny and charming performance as the drug-addicted musician, Charlie Pace. And yet, his performance was skillfully shaded with hints of his character's drug addiction. Thanks to Naveen Andrews' subtle, yet intense performance and good writing, the character of Sayid Jarrah rose above the usual clichés featuring Middle Eastern characters. Emilie de Ravin was a delight as the pregnant Australian survivor, Claire Littleton. As for Evangeline Lilly, she did a pretty good job as Kate Austen, the survivor trying to hide her status as a Federal prisoner. However, I had some difficulty accepting her as the take charge type, as the script tried to portray her in Part 2. Terry O'Quinn was perfectly mysterious as John Locke, but viewers had to wait for another two episodes before he began to shine in the role. And Harold Perrineau gave a skillful performance as Michael Dawson, the inexperienced father of 10 year-old survivor, Walt Lloyd.
I felt that the narrative for "The Pilot", which was written by Abrams and Lindelof, proved to be a well-written adventure. The story covered all of the elements for a story about survivors on a tropical island. The addition of the Smoke Monster injected a little horror and a great deal of mystery that would become the series' hallmark. One of the aspects of "The Pilot" that I found particularly interesting was that it started with a close-up of Jack Shephard's eye - post crash. In other words, this story did not start with the crash. Audiences were not treated to scenes aboard Oceanic Flight 815 and the actual crash, except during flashbacks. Very unusual. There were other scenes that I still find fascinating after nine years. My God! Has it been nine years? Those scenes include Jack, Kate and Charlie's escape from the cockpit, following the pilot's death; the discovery of Danielle Rousseau's message in Part 2; the encounter with the polar bear; and the survivors' first awareness of the Smoke Monster's existence. But the one scene that many consider outstanding - including myself - is that opening shot of the fuselage wreckage on the beach and the chaos that surrounded it. I must admit that not only did J.J. Abrams really outdid himself in this particular scene, it is probably one of his best directed sequences in his entire career.
Despite a few hiccups regarding dialogue and some one-dimensional characterizations, "LOST" provided one of the best series openings I have ever viewed on television, thanks to some superb direction by J.J. Abrams, a damn fine cast and a well written teleplay. It is a pity that the series has never been able to maintain such excellent consistency during the rest of its six seasons on the air.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Below is a gallery from the Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated drama, "ATONEMENT". Based upon Ian McEwan's novel, the film starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan; and was directed by Joe Wright:
"ATONEMENT" (2007) Photo Gallery