Monday, August 15, 2016
Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1810s and 1820s:
FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1810s and 1820s
1. "Sense and Sensibility" (1995) - Ang Lee directed this superb adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel about two sisters in love and financial straits. Adapted by Emma Thompson, the movie starred both her and Kate Winslet.
2. "Persuasion" (1995) - Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds starred in this entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen's 1818 novel about the reunion between two former lovers. Roger Michell directed. - Tie
2. "Persuasion" (2007) - I am also a big fan of this equally entertaining adaptation of Austen's 1818 novel about the two former lovers, Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth. Adrian Shergold directed. - Tie
3. "The Revenant" - Oscar winner Alejandro G. Iñárritu directed this fascinating and harrowing adaptation of Michael Punke's 2003 novel about mountain man Hugh Glass' struggles to survive a bear attack after being left for dead by two fellow trappers in the 1820s. Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio and Oscar nominee Tom Hardy starred.
4. "Vanity Fair" (2004) - I rather enjoyed this surprisingly first-rate adaptation of William Thackery Makepeace's 1848 novel about the rise, fall and rise of an ambitious early 19th century Englishwoman. Directed by Mira Nair, the movie starred Reese Witherspoon.
5. "The Deceivers" (1988) - Pierce Brosnan starred in this exciting adaptation of John Masters' 1952 novel about a British Army officer's discovery of the Thugee cult. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, the movie co-starred Saeed Jaffrey and Helena Michell.
6. "The Journey of August King" (1995) - Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this first-rate adaptation of John Ehle's 1971 novel about a North Carolina farmer, who unexpectedly finds himself helping a young slave escape from her master.
7. "Northanger Abbey" (2007) - Felicity Jones and J.J. Feild starred in this delightful adaptation of Jane Austen's 1817 novel about a young girl's misadventures during a visit to the resort town of Bath and at a family's mysterious estate. Jon Jones directed.
8. "Davy Crockett and the River Pirates" (1956) - Fess Parker and Buddy Ebsen starred in this superior sequel to the first Davy Crockett television movie about the adventures of the frontiersman and his friend George Russel along the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
9. "Emma" (1996-97) - Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong starred in this solid adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel about the matchmaking efforts of a wealthy young woman in early 19th century England. The movie was adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence.
10. "Brother Future" (1991) - Phil Lewis starred in this entertaining historical/science-fiction movie about a Detroit teen who is hit by a car and wakes up to find himself a slave in 1822 Charleston. Directed by Roy Campanella II, the movie co-starred Carl Lumbly and Moses Gunn.
Thursday, August 11, 2016
"THE MONUMENTS MEN" (2014) Review
A rarely known aspect of World War II was recently explored in this recently released war film. "THE MONUMENTS MEN" told the story about a group of men, established under the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program in 1943, to recover pieces of art stolen by the Nazi, before they could be destroyed on the orders of Adolf Hitler.
Produced and written by George Clooney and Grant Heslov, and directed by Clooney; "THE MONUMENTS MEN" began in 1943 in which art conservation specialist and museum director Frank Stokes convinces U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt to allow him to assumble an Army unit compromising of museum directors, curators, and art historians to search for stolen art treasures of the Western world and return it to the rightful owners. Stokes, portrayed by Clooney, assemble six other men:
*Lieutenant James Granger, U.S.A.
*Lieutenant Donald Jeffries, British Army
*Sergeant Richard Campbell, U.S.A.
*Sergeant Walter Garfield, U.S.A.
*Lieutenant Jean Claude Clermont, French Army
*Private Preston Savitz, U.S.A.
Stokes also recruited a U.S. Army enlisted soldier named Sam Epstein to act as his interpreter and driver. And in occupied France, In occupied Paris, an art curator named Claire Simone is forced to allow Nazi officers like Viktor Stahl to oversee the theft of art for either Adolf Hitler's proposed Führermuseum in Linz, German; or as the personal property of senior commanders like Herman Goering. She is nearly arrested for helping her Maquis brother unsuccessfully recapture such items. And later, all seems lost when Claire discovers that Stahl is taking all of her gallery's contents to Germany, while the Allies approach Paris. Stokes' unit is split up for various objectives throughout Western Europe. While most of them are frustrated by the Allies' combat units, which refuse to restrict their tactical options for the sake of preserving architecture; Granger, who ends up in occupied Paris, meets Simone and discovers that she will not cooperate with the Allies, whom she suspects of also being art looters.
I suspect that true art lovers - especially those enamored of European art - might find "THE MONUMENTS MEN" to be an emotional and satisfying tale in which the Allies not only persevered over the Nazi Army, but also saved a great deal of important art work from being destroyed. And there are those who were probably disappointed that "THE MONUMENTS MEN" was not some kind of stylish caper film in the style of Steven Soderbergh's "OCEAN'S ELEVEN" trilogy. How did I feel about "THE MONUMENTS MEN"? I found it entertaining, emotional, and surprisingly old-fashioned. Then again, this is a World War II drama about the preservation of famous Western art, in which the ages of the main stars range from early 40s to early 60s. More importantly, "THE MONUMENTS MEN" was released in February - a movie season that usually feature mediocre or bad films.
I could never regard "THE MONUMENTS MEN" a great film. I found the pacing uneven . . . especially in the movie's first half. I felt that both Clooney's direction and the script's depiction of the men's separation following their basic training rather confusing. I was especially confused by the whereabouts of the Donald Jeffries character. One minute he was in France with Stokes and Epstein. And in his next scene, he is in Belgium with no explanation in the movie's narrative of how he got there. Come to think of it, both Campbell and Savitz end up in Belgium . . . without Jeffries. Or was it Italy? Very confusing. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I found Matt Damon's performance rather flat. It almost seemed as if he was phoning it in - especially in the movie's first half. In some way, I think Clooney tried too hard to make the movie so profound that it ended up feeling . . . hmmm . . . flacid.
Thankfully, the movie's second half managed to be an improvement on the first. Especially since the Monument Men encountered more danger and their efforts to find the stolen art seemed to improve. Actually, the second half featured some action sequences that managed to inject some energy into the film's story. Audiences finally get to see the dangers that the Monuments Men faced in order to achieve their goal - Nazi troops in a Belgian convent, straying into the middle of a battleground that became deadly, an encounter with a lone armed German soldier, and a close encounter with a land mine. The second half also featured a few excellent scenes - including Campbell's reaction to a recorded letter from home during Christmas, Savitz's exposure of Stahl, Granger and Claire's near-romantic encounter inside her apartment, and Stokes' interrogation of one of the S.S. officers responsible for the attempted destruction of some of the stolen art.
Technically, "THE MONUMENTS MEN" is a beautiful and elegant looking film of the old-fashioned kind. First of all, I have to compliment Phedon Papamichael's sharp and colorful photography of England and Germany, which stood in for World War II-era Western Europe. Production designer James D. Bissell and his team did an admirable job in re-creating Western Europe during that period. I was especially impressed by his work, along with Bernhard Henrich's set designs in the sequences that featured the Allied camps near the Normandy beaches and the German mine, site of the first batch of art recovered. Louise Frogley's costume designs struck me as solid reflections of the years 1943-45. However, I must admit that I was not particularly impressed by Alexandre Desplat's score. I simply did not find it that memorable.
The performances in "THE MONUMENTS MEN" also struck me as solid, despite the star power featured in this film. I really do not see anyone receiving an award, let alone a nomination, for their work in this film. Hell, I would be surprised if anyone's performance was particularly singled out by critics or moviegoers alike. However, I did notice that Clooney, as a director, allowed each major character a chance to shine in a particular scene. Clooney got a chance to shine in the scene featuring Stokes' interrogation of the German officer. Both Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett generated a good deal of heat in the scene featuring Granger's near romantic dinner with Claire Simone. Bill Murray gave one of the most poignant performances in a scene featuring Campbell's silent reaction to a recording he had received from his family for Christmas. Bob Balaban was marvelous in the scene in which Savitz exposed Claire's former "supervisor" Stahl as a Nazi and thief with cold precision. Both John Goodman and Jean Dujardin, who had previously worked together in the Oscar winning film, "THE ARTIST", managed to create a strong chemistry in two scenes that featured Garfield and Claremont's encounter with a German sniper and their accidental wondering into a battlefield. But I feel that the best acting moment came from Hugh Bonneville, who did a marvelous job in conveying Jeffries' passion and sense of danger in a scene featuring the character's encounter with Germans at a Belgium convent.
Look, "THE MONUMENTS" is no classic. And I do not think it is the best movie I have seen this winter. It might be a bit too old-fashioned for the tastes of some (I can endure it). And if I must be brutally honest, the first half of Clooney and Grant Henslov's script came off as limpid and confusing. But a strong second half and some golden moments by a talented cast led by Clooney more or less saved "THE MONUMENTS" for me.
Monday, August 8, 2016
Below are images from Season Two of HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". Created by Terence Winter, the series stars Steve Buscemi:
"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Two (2011) Photo Gallery
Monday, August 1, 2016
"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Twelve "The Scream of Eagles" Commentary
In my article about the penultimate episode of "CENTENNIAL", I briefly commented on my displeasure at the idea of watching the miniseries finale, "The Scream of Eagles". And after watching this episode, it is clear to me that it could have been an interesting and entertaining ninety minutes or so. But producer and screenwriter John Wilder made it impossible.
"The Scream of Eagles" picked up over forty (40) years after "The Winds of Death" in the late 1970s. A history professor named Lew Vernor has been hired by a magazine to examine the studies and work of a historian named Carol Endermann, whom they had earlier hired to research Centennial's history for an article. During his visit to Centennial, Vernor is given a tour of the region by Paul Garrett, the current owner of the Venneford Ranch. Not only does he become aware of the area's history, Vernor also becomes interested in a growing political showdown between Garrett and local landowner Morgan Wendell for the position of Colorado's new Commissioner of Resources, a position designed to balance the state's economic growth with environmental and historical preservation.
I realize that my memories of "The Scream of Eagles" was not as bad as I had remembered. The episode had the potential to be an interesting look at Northern Colorado during the late 20th century. More importantly, the political showdown between Garrett and Wendell, two men who have known each other since childhood, proved to be a lot more interesting than I remembered. Even an incident regarding the shooting of an American eagle by a character named Floyd Calendar - an act that Garrett opposed - played a part in the Garrett/Wendell election. There was no political rivalry between the literary Garrett and Wendell. The latter had already been elected for the position and Garrett had agreed to be his principal deputy. I can only assume that Wilder added the political rivalry to add some heat to the miniseries' final chapter. And it would have worked if it were not for one major problem . . . flashbacks.
Flashbacks first began making its annoying presence in the eighth episode, "The Storm". More flashbacks appeared in the ninth and tenth episodes. But flashbacks came back with a vengeance in this episode. Thanks to Wilder's script, "The Scream of Eagles" featured flashbacks from nearly every major incident or story arc featured in the saga - especially Levi Zendt's trek west and the Skimmerhorn cattle drive. I could not help but wonder if they were added to flesh out this last episode. After all, "CENTENNIAL" began with a two-and-a-half hour episode - "Only the Rocks Live Forever". Wilder probably felt it should end with an episode of the same length. "The Scream of Eagles" would have aired with a running time of at least 97 minutes without those flashbacks. And honestly, I feel the episode would have been a lot better without them.
"The Scream of Eagles" was also marred by its portrayal of Paul Garrett and Nate Pearson's family backgrounds. Wilder's script revealed that Garrett was the great-grandson of Jim and Charlotte Lloyd. This completely contradicted the fact that "The Winds of Death" skipped a generation in the Garrett-Lloyd family line, by naming Jim and Charlotte as Garrett's grandparents. Very confusing. But this was nothing in compare to the ancestry of local barber, Nate Pearson. Audiences are told in this episode that Nate was the grandson of Skimmerhorn Trail veteran and former slave, Nate Pearson from "The Longhorns" and "The Shepherds". Frankly, I found this impossible. The first Nate Pearson was at least 30 years old, with children between the ages of at least five and ten in 1868. Nate Pearson II was at least in his early 40s in this last episode set around 1977-78. I find it very hard to believe that one of Nate Pearson I's sons had conceived a child in the mid-to-late 1930s. That son would have been in his mid-to-late 70s at the time of Nate II's conception. This is truly sloppy writing.
The episode featured some solid acting from the likes of Andy Griffith and Sharon Gless, who portrayed Lew Vernor and Carol Endermann - the two outsiders researching Centennial's past. It also featured a very entertaining performance from James Best (who was less than a year away from CBS's "THE DUKES OF HAZZARD") as a helicopter pilot serving as a witness at Floyd Calendar's eagle poaching trial. Robert DoQui (known from "ROBOCOP") gave an emotional, yet slightly theatrical performance as local barber, Nate Pearson. Merle Haggard displayed his talent as a singer, while portraying another singer Cisco Calendar. Unfortunately, he was never given a chance to display any talent as an actor.
David Janssen, who had served as the miniseries' narrator in the previous eleven episodes, finally had his chance to shine as the episode's main character, Paul Garrett. However, I had a problem with the Garrett character. Janssen was not to blame. Wilder was. I found the Garrett character to be a little too ideal for my tastes. And I am no longer a major fan of ideal fictional characters. I felt that the best performance came from Robert Vaughan, who portrayed Garrett's rival, Morgan Wendell. Ever since the 1968 movie, "BULLITT", Vaughan has become increasingly known for his villainous or unpleasant roles. One could say that Morgan Wendell (son of Philip Wendell) was another one of his unlikable roles. The curious thing is that Vaughan portrayed Wendell as a charming and manipulative personality - a real politician. Morgan Wendell proved to be one of the most subtle and seductive villains he has ever portrayed. After watching the Paul Garrett/Morgan Wendell political debate, I realized that I found Wendell's arguments a lot more persuasive. Interesting.
In the end, "The Scream of Eagles" proved to be a lot more interesting than I remembered, thanks to the story arc featuring the political rivalry between Paul Garrett and Morgan Wendell. But it still could have been a lot better if Wilder had been a little more consistent and accurate with two of the characters' family bloodlines. And it could have been a lot less bloated without those damn flashbacks.
R.I.P. Andy Griffith (1926-2012)
Monday, July 25, 2016
Below is my review of the 1988 Sherlock Holmes comedy called "WITHOUT A CLUE":
”WITHOUT A CLUE” (1988) Review
In the mood for Victorian England, I had decided to watch another Holmes film called ”WITHOUT A CLUE”. Directed by Thom Eberhardt, the movie has the distinction of turning the Sherlock Holmes mythos on its ear by presenting a premise similar to the 1982-1986 NBC series, ”REMINGTON STEELE”.
Ben Kingsley portrayed Dr. John Watson, a late 19th century physician who had been forced to hide his talent as a criminal investigator by creating the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, while applying for a position at a conservative hospital. Watson failed to gain the position, but managed to solve a crime. To get close to the crimes that came under his notice and satisfy public demand to see Holmes in person, he hired an alcoholic unemployed actor named Reginald Kincaid – portrayed by Michael Caine – to play Holmes.
The movie opened with Watson and Kincaid helping the envious Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) and Scotland Yard solve an attempted robbery at a local London museum. By this time, Watson and Kincaid had been engaged in their deception for nearly a decade and the two have become increasingly weary of each other. But the disappearance of Bank of England £5 banknote printing plates and the printing supervisor Peter Giles (John Warner); along with the destruction of a paper mill by fire forced the pair to continue their deception once more. Their investigation led to a major counterfeiting case that threatened to disrupt the British Empire’s economy.
I suspect that ”WITHOUT A CLUE” might not be to everyone’s taste. The movie’s style of humor closely resembled that from the late Victorian/Edwardian music halls. Because of this, the humor ended up being considered flat or incomprehensible to some. I, on the other hand, loved ”WITHOUT A CLUE”. Not only did I appreciate the director and screenwriters’ attempt to compliment the movie’s style with its late Victorian setting; I also liked the fact that the setting also embraced the movie’s style of humor and dialogue. To be honest, I suspect that the humor might be late 20th century, but presented in a late Victorian theatrical style.
More importantly, I feel that screenwriters Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther had created a first-rate story in which Watson and Kincaid set out to solve the disappearances of the banknote plates and Giles. The story is filled with exciting action that included two shootouts, a major fire, an attempted kidnapping, deception, attempted murder and murder. At least twenty minutes into the movie, the script revealed the perpetuator behind the story’s series of crimes. And yet, it still managed to deliver a number of surprises that proved to be both ominous and hilarious.
It seemed a shame that Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley had never worked together again (unless I am proven wrong). The two actors produced such a marvelous screen chemistry that left me in stitches. Caine’s sly and hilarious portrayal of the alcoholic and womanizing fake Sherlock Holmes seemed like a perfect contrast to Kingsley’s uptight and long-suffering Dr. Watson. The two leads were ably supported by the very American Jeffrey Jones, who portrayed the pretentious and envious Inspector Lestrade; Lysette Anthony as the resolute, yet passionate daughter of the missing Peter Giles; Pat Keen as Dr. Watson’s loyal and very proper housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson; Matthew Savage as Dr. Watson’s young and intelligent assistant and leader of the Baker Street Boys; and Nigel Davenport, who portrayed the very aristocratic Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Smithwick. Paul Freeman, who became known as Indiana Jones’ arch-nemesis Rene Belloq, portrayed our heroes’ nemesis, the ruthless and intelligent Professor James Moriarty. What I especially enjoyed about Freeman’s performance was his elegant take on the role.
Although a fun and entertaining movie, ”WITHOUT A CLUE” does have its flaws. The movie’s Victorian style humor did come off as somewhat stagy in the first ten to fifteen minutes. This was especially apparent in the sequence that revealed Watson and Kincaid’s lifestyle at Watson’s home on Baker Street. At times, I felt as if I had been watching a stage play. And just before the final showdown, the pacing became so slow that it threatened to drag the movie. The heroes had just suffered a major setback in the case. They spent the period leading up to the finale, trying to figure out their next move. Despite this segment’s short running time, the movie's slow pacing during this period nearly led me to fall asleep.
As I had earlier stated, ”WITHOUT A CLUE” might not be for everyone. Some may not appreciate both director Thom Eberhardt and the screenwriters’ efforts to blend its Victorian setting a music hall style humor. However, I found the humor both sly and hilarious. And along with some great action, a story filled with plenty of twists and a first-rate cast led by Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, I would highly recommend it.