Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" (1990) Review

 red-october



"THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" (1990) Review

I will be the first to admit that I have never been an ardent reader of Tom Clancy's novels. Many who know me would find this strange, considering my penchant for the movie adaptations of his stories. The first I ever saw was "THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER", the 1990 adaptation of Clancy's 1984 novel of the same title. 

The last remnants of the Cold War - at least the one between the United States and the Soviet Union - were being played out when "THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" hit the screen. Realizing this, director John McTiernan, screenwriter Larry Ferguson (who also had a role in the film) and producer Mace Neufeld decided to treat Clancy's story as a flashback by setting the movie in the year Clancy's novel was published. The movie begins with the departure of the new Soviet submarine, the Red October, which possesses a new caterpillar drive that renders it silent. In command of the Red October is Captain Marko Ramius. Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the U.S. Navy submarine called the U.S.S. Dallas has a brief encounter with the Red October before it loses contact due to the Soviet sub's caterpillar drive. This encounter catches the attention of C.I.A. analyst Jack Ryan, who embarks upon studying the Red October's schematics. 

Unbeknownst to the C.I.A., Captain Ramius has put in motion a plan for the defection of his senior officers and himself. They also intend to commit treason by handing over the Red October to the Americans. Unfortunately, Ramius has left a letter stating his intentions to his brother-in-law, a Soviet government official. This leads the Soviet ambassador in Washington D.C. to inform the Secretary of Defense that the Red October has been lost at sea and requires the U.S. Navy's help for a "rescue mission". However, Ryan manages to ascertain that Ramius plans to defect. When the Soviets change tactics and claim that Captain Ramius has become a renegade with plans to fire a missile at the U.S. coast, Ryan realizes that he needs to figure out "how" Ramius plans to defect before the Soviet or U.S. Navies can sink the Red October.

I might as well put my cards on the table. After twenty-three years, "THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" holds up very well as a Cold War thriller. What prevented it from becoming a dated film were the filmmakers' decision to treat Clancy's tale as a flashback to the last decade of the Cold War. I have never read Clancy's novel. In fact, I have only read two of his novels - "Patriot Games" and "Clear and Present Danger". Because of this, I could not judge the movie's adaptation of the 1984 novel. But there is no doubt that "THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" is a first-rate - probably superb thriller. Screenwriters Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart made another first-rate contribution to the script by not rushing the narrative aspect of the story. The movie is not some fast-paced tale stuffed with over-the-top action. Yes, there is action in the film - mainly combat encounters, a murder, hazardous flying in a rain storm and a shoot-out inside the Red October's engine room. And it is all exciting stuff. However, Ferguson and Stewart wisely detailed the conversations held between Ramius and his fellow defectors, Ryan's attempts to figure out Ramius' defection plans and his efforts to convince various high-ranking U.S. Naval officers not to accept the Soviets' lies about the Red October's captain. 

"THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" also features some excellent performances. Sean Connery gave one of his best performances as the Red October's enigmatic and wily captain, Markus Ramius. Alec Baldwin was equally impressive as the slightly bookish, yet very intelligent C.I.A. analyst, Jack Ryan. A part of me believes it is a pity that he never portrayed the role again. The movie also boasted fine performances from James Earl Jones as Ryan's boss, C.I.A. Deputy Director James Greer; Scott Glenn as the intimidating captain of the U.S.S. Dallas, Bart Mancuso; Sam Neill as Ramius' very loyal First Officer, Vasily Borodin; Fred Dalton Thompson as Rear Admiral Joshua Painter; Courtney B. Vance as the Dallas' talented Sonar Technician, Ronald "Jonesy" Jones; Tim Curry as the Red October's somewhat anxious Chief Medical Officer (and the only one not part of the defection) Dr. Yevgeniy Petrov; and Joss Ackland as Ambassador Andrei Lysenko. Stellan Skarsgård made a dynamic first impression for me as Viktor Tupolev, the Soviet sub commander ordered to hunt and kill Ramius. And Richard Jordan was downright entertaining as the intelligent and somewhat manipulative National Security Advisor Dr. Jeffrey Pelt. The movie also featured brief appearances from the likes of Tomas Arana, Gates McFadden (of "STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION") and Peter Firth (of "SPOOKS").

Before one starts believing that I view "THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" as perfect, I must admit there were a few aspects of it that I found a bit troublesome for me. The movie has a running time of 134 minutes. Mind you, I do not consider this as a problem. However, the pacing seemed in danger of slowing down to a crawl two-thirds into the movie. It took the Dallas' encounter with the Red October to put some spark back into the movie again. And could someone explain why Gates McFadden portrayed Ryan's wife, Dr. Cathy Ryan, with a slight British accent? Especially since she was an American-born character?

Despite these minor quibbles, "THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER" is a first-rate spy thriller that has withstood the test of time for the past 23 years. And I believe the movie's sterling qualities own a lot to John McTiernan's excellent direction, a well-written script by Larry Ferguson and Donald E. Stewart, and superb performances from a cast led by Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin.





Friday, June 4, 2021

Maqluba

 Maqluba


Below is a short article about a casserole dish known as Maqluba: 


MAQLUBA

Maquluba is a traditional casserole dish of the Arab Levant. It is traditional in many countries throughout the Middle East. The ingredients for the dish can vary from one recipe to another. However, it basically consists of meat, eggplant, and various vegetables; which are all cooked under a layer of rice. The ingredients are placed in a pot, which is flipped upside-down, when served. This is why the dish is called Maqluba, which means "upside down". Maqluba is traditionally accompanied by yogurt and/or cucumber salad.

I first learned about Maqluba, while watching the BBC series, "THE SUPERSIZERS EAT . . . MEDIEVAL". According to the episode, the dish certainly existed around the 12th and 13th centuries, when European soldiers first stumbled across it, while they fought in the Middle East, during The Crusades

Below is a recipe for Maqluba that mainly features chicken and rice from the Mina website:

Maqluba

Ingredients

1 ½ cups Rice, divided
¼ cup Olive oil, divided
1 Large eggplant
1 Large zucchini
Salt and pepper 
1 Onion, chopped
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 lb Lean Ground Chicken
½ tsp Cinnamon
Pinch Nutmeg
1 tsp Allspice 
1 tsp Garam masala
1 Large tomato, sliced 
1 (19 oz) Can chickpeas, drained
2 ½ cups Chicken broth


Directions

SOAK rice in water for 30 minutes or until ready to use.

CUT eggplant and zucchini lengthwise into ¼ inch thick strips. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sauté until tender, about 1-2 minutes per side and set aside.

HEAT 1 tbsp olive oil in the same pan and add onion and garlic. Sauté for 2-4 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and spices and cook for 8-10 minutes, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon until golden brown.

DRAIN rice and set aside.

GREASE a 16 cup heavy bottomed pot with olive oil. Layer zucchini and eggplant alternately in the bottom of the pot and up the sides. Top eggplant and zucchini in bottom of pot with sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle ½ cup (125 mL) rice over the tomatoes followed by chicken mixture, chickpeas and any remaining eggplant or zucchini. Press to compact. Sprinkle in remaining rice and press down again. Pour in chicken stock and cover.

BRING the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on low for 45-50 minutes. If mixture gets too dry before the rice is finished cooking add additional chicken broth or water and simmer until absorbed and rice is cooked.

REMOVE from the heat and let rest, covered for 15 minutes.

REMOVE lid from the pot and place a large platter upside down over the pot. Carefully invert the mixture onto the platter and serve.

Tips: The mixture may not hold its shape completely but that’s okay, simply patch it up before serving. It’s delicious either way.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with plain yogurt on the side. Garnish with pine nuts and chopped parsley.


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Sunday, May 30, 2021

"JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK" (2016) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK", the 2016 adaptation of "Never Go Back", Lee Childs' 2013 novel. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher:



"JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK" (2016) Photo Gallery

















































Sunday, May 2, 2021

"EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS" (1992) Review

 




"EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS" (1992) Review

I honestly do not know what to say about "EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS". I had heard so much about this adaptation of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel. Yet, I have never seen it in the movie theaters. In fact, it took me a long time to finally come around viewing it. When I finally saw it, the movie produced a reaction I did not expect to experience. 

Unlike the more famous 1939 William Wyler film, "EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS" proved to be an adaptation of Brontë's entire novel. Unlike the famous Wyler film or the 1847 novel, this movie was set during the second half of the eighteenth century. Directed by Peter Kosminsky, the movie began with the arrival of a gentleman named Lockwood, who seeks to rent a Yorkshire estate called Thrushcross Grange from its owner - a middle-aged man named Heathcliff. The latter lives at another local estate called Wuthering Heights. While visiting Wuthering Heights, Lockwood has an encounter with what he believes is a ghost . . . the ghost of a woman named Cathy. This drives Heathcliff racing out of the manor house and housekeeper Nelly Dean to recount to Lockwood on what drove Heathcliff to behave in that manner.

The story jumps back to some twenty to thirty years later in which an earlier owner of Wuthering Heights, Thomas Earnshaw, returns from a trip to Liverpool with a young boy who or who might not be a gypsy in tow named Heathcliff. The latter manages to befriend Earnshaw's daughter Catherine "Cathy". However, Earnshaw's son Hindley develops a deep dislike of the newcomer. He fears that Heathcliff has replaced him in his father's affections. Several years later, Earnshaw dies. Hindley marries a woman named Frances and becomes the new owner of Wuthering Heights. He allows Heathcliff to remain at Wuthering Heights . . . but only as a servant. The one bright spot in Heathcliff's life is his friendship with Cathy, which has developed into a romance between the pair. When Cathy and Heathcliff discover the Earnshaws' neighbors, the Lintons, giving a party at Thrushcross Grange, Cathy is attacked by a dog when she and Heathcliff climb the garden wall. The Lintons take Cathy in to care for her and order Heathcliff to leave the Grange. Cathy becomes entranced by Edgar Linton, along his wealth and glamour; while Edgar falls in love with her. Edgar's marriage proposal to Cathy and her acceptance leads to a major fallout between her and Heathcliff. The latter disappears without a trace for several years. And his return leads to jealousy, obsession and in the end, tragedy for him, the Earnshaws and the Lintons.

"EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS" proved to be rather popular with moviegoers. Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of the brooding Heathcliff and the film's adaptation of the entire novel left this film highly regarded by fans of period dramas. On the other hand, the majority of films critics were not impressed with this movie. Why they felt this way about the movie? I have no idea. I have yet to read a single review written by a professional film critics. I am simply aware that "EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS" was not that popular with them. While many movie fans are inclined to quickly accept the views of film critics, I decided to see the movie for myself and form my own judgement.

When I first saw this film, I was surprised that it was set during the late 1700s and around the beginning of the 1800s. James Acheson, who had designed the Oscar winning costume designs for 1988's "DANGEROUS LIAISONS", created the costumes for "WUTHERING HEIGHTS". And frankly, I believe he did a marvelous job in re-creating the fashions for the movie's setting as shown in the images below:

  

Another aspect of "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" that impressed me proved to be the performances. I do not know what led Peter Kominsky and the Casting Department to choose Ralph Fiennes for the role of Heathcliff, but I believe that fate or something divine led them to select the right actor for this role. Honestly, he did a fantastic job in portraying such an emotionally and morally chaotic character like Heathcliff. Some people were a bit put off by Juliette Binoche as both Cathy Henshaw and Catherine Linton. They had a trouble with her slight French accent. I have to be honest . . . I could barely notice her accent. But I thought she did an excellent job in portraying Cathy's vain and capricious personality, along with daughter Catherine's no-nonsense, yet compassionate nature. The movie also featured some excellent performances from Sophie Ward as Isabella Linton, Simon Shepherd as Edgar Linton, Janet McTeer as Nelly Dean, Jeremy Northam as Hindley Earnshaw, Jason Riddington as Hareton Earnshaw, and Jonathan Firth as Linton Heathcliff. Overall, I thought the cast was pretty solid.

And yet . . . I must confess that I am not a fan of this adaptation of Brontë's 1847 novel. I honestly do not care that the movie was a faithful adaptation that covered not only Heathcliff and Cathy's generation, but that of the younger generation. I am not a fan. One of my problems with this film was Kominsky's direction. He did a fine job in directing the actors. But I found his overall direction of the film rather problematic. Quite frankly, I thought the entire movie seemed like a rush job. Perhaps he was hampered by Anne Devlin's screenplay. The latter tried to shove Brontë's entire narrative into a movie with a running time of one hour and forty-five minutes. I am sorry, but that did not work. Watching this film, I finally understood why William Wyler only shot the novel's first half back in 1939.

Another major problem I had with the film is Brontë's novel . . . or the second half. I am not a major fan of the 1847 novel. But if it had ended liked Wyler's movie, I would have been satisfied. Personally, I have always found the second half of the novel rather boring; especially with Heathcliff running around like some damn mustache-twirling villain. And the taint of borderline incest certainly did not help, considering that Catherine Linton spent most of her screen time being torn between two men that happened to be her first cousins.

My final problems with "EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS" are rather aesthetic. As much as I enjoyed James Acheson's costumes, I cannot say the same about the hairstyles worn by the cast. Exactly who was in charge of the film's hairstyles? Because that person seemed unable to surmise that the film was set in the late 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. Some of the cast had modern hairstyles. And a good deal of the women cast members looked as if they were wearing rather bouffant wigs. One last problem I had with "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" was Mike Southon's cinematography. I suppose the 1990s ushered in the age of naturalistic lighting for period dramas. The problem is that I could barely see a damn thing! Especially in the movie's interior shots. I find it rather difficult to enjoy a movie or television production in which the lighting is so dark that I found myself depending more on the dialogue than the images on the screen. Worse, even some of the exterior shots seemed a little darker than usual. Was this a case of Southon adding to the film's Gothic setting? I have no idea. And honestly, I do not care, considering that . . . again, I could barely see a damn thing. 

I wish I could say that I enjoyed "EMILY BRONTE'S WUTHERING HEIGHTS". I really do. There were some aspects of the film that I liked - namely James Acheson's costumes and some first-rate performances from a cast led by Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes. But I found the movie's running time too short for an effective adaptation of Emily Brontë's novel. Either the film should have been longer . . . or it should have followed the example of the 1939 film and only adapt the novel's first half. Overall, I found this movie rather disappointing.




Friday, April 16, 2021

Favorite Episodes of "ARROW" Season Two (2013-2014)

 


Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season Two of the CW series, "ARROW". Created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg; the series stars Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen aka the Arrow: 




FAVORITE EPISODES OF "ARROW" SEASON TWO (2013-2014)



1. (2.21) "City of Blood" - In the wake of a family tragedy, Oliver Queen aka the Arrow, considers surrendering to his former friend-turned-enemy, Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke. But the latter decides to unleash his assault upon Starling City, regardless.





2. (2.14) "Time of Death" - Oliver introduces his former-and-current lover Sara Lance aka Black Canary to Team Arrow, as they investigate the crimes of a brilliant thief and tech expert, William Tockman aka the Clock King. Meanwhile, the Lance family hosts a welcome home dinner for Sara that turns disastrous.





3. (2.17) "Birds of Prey" - Helena Bertinelli aka the Huntress returns to Starling City, when her gangster father is arrested. She creates a hostage crisis in order to make another attempt on her father's life.





4. (2.09) "Three Ghosts" - After a fight with Cyrus Gold, aka the Acolyte, Oliver is drugged and left for dead. Other members of Team Arrow - John Diggle and Felicity Smoak - receive help from visitor Barry Allen, a CSI from Central City, to administer a cure for the vigilante.





5. (2.20) "Seeing Red" - After being given the mirakuru formula by Deathstroke, former pickpocket and Thea Queen's boyfriend, Roy Harper, goes into a rage-filled rampage across Starling City. Oliver and Sara clash over what to do with him.





Honorable Mention: (2.15) "The Promise" - Oliver and Sara deal with an unexpected visit from Deathstroke to the Queen family's mansion. Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal what led to the beginning of the villain's hatred toward Oliver.



Tuesday, April 13, 2021

"HOUSE OF CARDS" Season One (2013) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from Season One of "HOUSE OF CARDS", Netflix's television remake of the 1990-1995 BBC miniseries trilogy that was based upon Michael Dobbs' 1989 novel. Produced and developed by Beau Willimon, the series stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright:




"HOUSE OF CARDS" SEASON ONE (2013) Photo Gallery

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