Friday, February 24, 2017
"ALICE IN WONDERLAND" (2010) Review
I never understood director Tim Burton’s decision to name his 2010 film, "ALICE IN WONDERLAND". I mean . . . why did he do it? This movie was not another adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". It was a sequel set thirteen years after the original story. So why use the shortened version of the title from Carroll’s original title?
Many of you might be wondering why I had just made a big deal about this movie’s title. For me, it represented an example of what I consider to be the numerous missteps that prevented me from embracing Burton’s new movie. Before I continue, I should confess that I have never been a Tim Burton fan. Never. I can only recall two of his movie that knocked my socks off – 1994’s "ED WOOD" and the 2007 Golden Globe winner, "SWEENY TODD". I wish I could include "ALICE IN WONDERLAND" in that category, but I cannot. The movie simply failed to impress me.
As I had stated earlier, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” was a sequel to Carroll’s original story. Thirteen years after her original adventures in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has become a nineteen year-old young woman on the verge of accepting a wedding proposal from one Hamish Ascot, the son of her late father’s partner, Lord Ascot. Unfortunately, Hamish is a shallow and self-absorbed young man with very little character. Salvation arrived during Hamish’s very public marriage proposal, when Alice spotted a familiar figure – the same White Rabbit who had previously lured her to Wonderland – scampering across Lord Ascot’s estate.
History repeated itself when Alice fell down into the rabbit hole. However, she soon discovered that Wonderland (or Underland) had changed during her thirteen years absence. The Red Queen had managed to wreck havoc and assume control over most of Underland, thanks to her new ”champion” - a dragon known as the Jabberwocky. Only the realm of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen, has remained beyond the red-haired monarch’s reach. However, that situation threatened to change if the White Queen fails to acquire her own champion. A scroll called “the Oraculum” predicted that Alice will not only be the White Queen’s champion, but she will also defeat the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror. But due to her stubborn belief that Underland was and still is nothing but a dream, Alice was reluctant to take up the mantle of the White Queen’s champion.
Judging by the plot I had just described, ”ALICE OF WONDERLAND” should have been an enjoyable movie for me. Granted, Linda Woolverton’s script seemed like a typical ”slay the dragon” storyline that has been used in numerous fantasies. But it still had enough adventure, intrigue and personal angst for me to find it appealing. So, why did it fail to light my fire? Production designer Robert Stromberg created an interesting mixture of Gothic and animated styles for the film’s visuals in both the England and Wonderland sequences. Anthony Almaraz and his team of costume designers created lush and colorful costumes for the cast. And Dariusz Wolski’s photography brought out the best in the movie’s visual styles.
”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” could also boast some first-rate performances from the cast. Johnny Depp gave a wonderfully complicated performance as the Mad Hatter. His Mad Hatter was an interesting mixture of an extroverted personality and pathos, punctuated by bouts of borderline insanity. The Red Queen might possibly be one of Helena Bonham-Carter’s best roles. She struck me as the epitome of childishness, selfishness and cruelty. Crispin was slick, menacing and subtly funny as the Red Queen’s personal henchman, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway’s delicious portrayal of the White Queen reminded me of a Disney princess on crack. I really enjoyed it. Both Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James (who were both in the 1985 miniseries, ”JEWEL IN THE CROWN”) gave solid performances as Alice’s potential in-laws - the kindly Lord Ascot and his shrewish and bullying wife, Lady Ascot. And Alan Rickman gave voice to the Blue Caterpillar in a deliciously sardonic performance. Despite my positive opinion of most of the film’s technical aspects and performances, it still failed to impress me. Why?
First of all, the movie rested upon the shoulders of Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska as the lead character, Alice Kingsleigh. I understand that Ms. Wasikowska has recently received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a suicidal teen in HBO’s ”IN TREATMENT”. It seemed a pity that she failed to be just as impressive as Alice in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Some people have labeled her performance as ”subtle”. I would call it ”insipid”. Or perhaps just plain boring. I swear I have never come across such a bland and boring performance in my life. No only did Wasikowska managed to make Alice’s battle against the Jabberwocky seem dull, she still came close to putting me to sleep in her character’s moments of triumph in the movie’s finale.
Tim Burton’s direction of ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” proved to be just as uninspiring to me, as Wasikowska’s performance. Actually, I found myself thinking of the 1992 movie, ”DEATH BECOMES HER”. I was not comparing the visual effects between the two movies. Meryl Streep had uttered a word in the 1992 movie that perfectly described my opinion of Burton’s direction. Flaccid. ”FLA-A-A-A-CI-I-ID!” How did a director with Burton’s reputation managed to take a solid fantasy adventure and make it one of the most boring films in recent Hollywood history is beyond me. His direction lacked any pep. Or spark. I had felt as if I was watching a piece of limp lettuce in action. I even began to wonder if Burton’s dull direction had affected Wasikowska’s performance. Then I remembered that actors like Depp and Bonham-Carter managed to rise above his direction. I might as well dump the blame of Wasikowska’s performance on her shoulders. Or perhaps Alice was simply a dull character. After all, Wasikowska has proven to be a superb actress in future movies. As for Tim Burton . . . what is there to say? His direction simply disappointed me.
I might as well say something about the movie’s 3-D effects. They were not only disappointing to me, but also a waste of time and the extra cash I had to pay for the movie tickets. I did not care for the 3-D effects in ”AVATAR”, but it was an example of technical wizardry in compare to the 3-D photography shown in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Speaking of ”AVATAR”, I have one last thing to say in regard to 3-D . . . ’Damn you, James Cameron!”. Seriously. I would like to take the man’s head and bash it through a wall for introducing 3-D to the movie going experience. In the two movies I have seen it in, I found it unimpressive. Worse, I had to pay extra movie because movie theaters are more willing to show the 3-D versions of movies like ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”, instead of the 2-D versions.
In short, "ALICE IN WONDERLAND" had all of the hallmarks of a solid and entertaining movie experience for me. It was the continuation of a classic fantasy adventure. Talented actors like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover and Anne Hathaway gave first-rate performances. And I must admit that the movie’s production designs and photography gave it a unique visual style. But all of that could not save a movie hindered by pedestrian 3-D effects, a dull and insipid performance by Mia Wasikowska and an even more insipid direction by Tim Burton. Frankly, I think it is a miracle that this movie managed to become a box-office hit.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Below are images from the historical drama, "12 YEARS A SLAVE". Based upon Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography, ""Twelve Years a Slave" and directed by Steve McQueen, the movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor:
"12 YEARS A SLAVE" (2013) Photo Gallery
Friday, February 10, 2017
Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of "STAR TREK VOYAGER". Created by Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor; the series starred Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway:
FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "STAR TREK VOYAGER" SEASON ONE (1995)
1. (1.11) "State of Flux" - Captain Kathryn Janeway and other senior members of Voyager's crew Janeway attempt to flush out a spy who is sending information to a group of aggressive Delta Quadrant species called the Kazon-Nistrim. Martha Hackett and Josh Clark guest-starred.
2. (1.14) "Faces" - When Lieutenant B'Elanna Torres, Lieutenant Tom Paris and Ensign Pete Durst are captured by Vidiians during an Away mission, Torres is split into her human and Klingon halves in order for her captors to use her DNA to find a cure for their species. Brian Markinson guest-starred.
3. (1.01-1.02) "Caretaker" - While searching for a Maquis ship with a Starfleet spy aboard in the series premiere, the U.S.S. Voyager is swept into the Delta Quadrant, more than 70,000 light-years from home, by an incredibly powerful being known as the "Caretaker". Gavan O'Herlihy and Basil Langston guest-starred.
4. (1.04) "Time and Again" - While investigating a planet just devastated by a polaric explosion, Janeway and Paris are engulfed by a subspace fracture and transported in time to before the accident. Nicolas Surovy guest-starred.
5. (1.07) "Eye of the Needle" - Voyager's crew discover a micro-wormhole leads to the Alpha Quadrant and makes contact with a Romulan ship on the other side with ironic consequences. Vaughn Armstrong guest-starred.
Friday, February 3, 2017
Here is a VOYAGER story set around early Season 2:
"BLINDED BY THE HEART"
St. Valentine's Day. Tonight, Voyager's crew celebrated that particular holiday for the first time, since their arrival in the Delta Quadrant, nearly a year ago. Despite its Terran origins, Valentine's Day had become popular throughout the Alpha Quadrant and not only did the Human crewmembers gather inside Sandrine's to celebrate, so did many of the ship's small percentage of non-Terran occupants. In celebration of the holiday, red streamers and pictures of hearts and Cupid decorated the tavern. A buffet table set against the far wall, groaned under the weight of delectable dishes and drinks.
Since many of the celebrants had arrived as couples, it came as a surprise to many when three members of the Senior Staff arrived at the same time. Dubbed the 'Three Musketeers' because of their close friendship, Tom Paris, Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres were usually seen together during their off-duty hours. Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant had begun with a friendship between Paris and Kim, and another friendship between Kim and Torres. Ever since Paris and Torres' incarceration by the Vidiians four months ago, Kim had finally succeeded in forging his friendships with the pair into one shared by all three. They did everything together - eat their meals inside the Mess Hall, relax inside the holodecks or simply enjoy each other's company inside private quarters. However, tonight was Valentine's Day, a holiday for romance. It seemed incongruous for a get together between three friends.
"God, we must really look out of place, tonight," Tom Paris commented. After B'Elanna eased into one of the booths, he sat in the seat opposite her. By sitting near the edge, he forced Harry to occupy the seat next to the half-Klingon engineer. "I bet we must be the only ones without a date." He glanced at the pair opposite him. "I stand corrected. I must be the only one."
Tom's last words drew a glare from B'Elanna. Harry's face turned red with embarrassment. "B'Elanna and I aren't . . ." the latter began. His flush deepened. "I meant . . ."
"What Harry is trying to say, Hotshot, is that we're not on a date," B'Elanna retorted. "We're only here . . . as friends."
"Right." Tom nodded.
B'Elanna continued, "Besides, weren't you suppose to have a date, tonight?"
Tom shrugged his shoulders. "Megan couldn't make it. She learned that she had duty during Beta shift, and I couldn't find anyone else to replace her." He referred to Ensign Megan Delaney, one half of a pair of twin sisters assigned to Stellar Cartography. Tom and Megan had been dating on and off for over six months. Neither really considered the other as a serious love interest. Merely convenient companionship for a lonely night.
"Too bad," B'Elanna replied with an insincere expression stamped on her face. "I was really looking forward to her company."
Tom bit back a sigh. For some unexplainable reason, B'Elanna seemed to regard Megan and Jenny Delaney as a pair of nymphomaniacs, cutting a wide swath throughout the ship's male occupants. "B'Elanna, Megan is not the type of person you seem to think she is. She's a very nice person." B'Elanna snorted. "And rather quiet, I may add. Right Harry?"
The Operations Chief nodded. "Tom's right, B'Elanna. You've got Megan all wrong. She is nice. And sweet." A soft expression crept into his face. Tom stared.
"And the other sister?" B'Elanna added sarcastically. "Is she also . . . nice?"
Tom quickly came to Jenny Delaney's defense. "Hey! Jenny's all right. Maybe a bit too outgoing for your tastes, Torres. But she's certainly is no slut, if that's what you think."
"I never said she was a . . ." B'Elanna paused under Tom's hard stare. "Okay, maybe I had misjudged Jenny. And Megan."
Harry smiled and nodded at Tom. "It wouldn't be the first time." B'Elanna scowled, much to Tom's delight.
An attractive, middle-aged blond woman appeared before the trio. It was Sandrine, the holographic proprietress of the tavern. She jovially greeted the friends. "Ah! Mes amies! Bonsoir and welcome to our St. Valentine's celebration!" Her blue eyes swept over the three friends and her smile transformed into a frown. "What's this? Only three of you? Today is Valentine's Day! A day of romance and passion! You're supposed to be with a loved one. A mate. Not with friends!"
B'Elanna rolled her eyes. Tom explained about his aborted date with Megan Delaney. Sandrine's eyes focused on the two engineers. "And you two? Are you here as a couple?"
Before Tom could answer, B'Elanna sharply replied, "No!" And in a softer tone, continued, "No, Harry and I are here simply as friends. I don't have a . . . loved one here on the ship."
"Neither do I," Harry said.
Tom gave Sandrine one of those "See what I'm up against?" looks. Then he ordered the drinks. "Saurian brandy for all three of us." B'Elanna opened her mouth to protest and he added, "It's Valentine's Day. I don't think Scotch whiskey neat is an appropriate drink for this holiday."
"Ah Thomas! Good taste as usual," the Frenchwoman said with a smile. "Pardon. I'll be back." And she walked away to fetch their drinks.
B'Elanna leaned forward, a slight scowl fixed on her face. "I happen to like Scotch whiskey neat, Paris. A lot. And I don't like others selecting my drinks without my permission."
Tom dismissed her protests with a wave of his hand. "C'mon B'Elanna! It's Valentine's Day. There's just something unromantic about drinking Scotch whiskey on an evening like this."
"Romantic?" B'Elanna turned to Harry. "Can you believe this guy, Starfleet?"
Harry shook his head. "Don't look at me, Maquis. After nearly a year, I still don't understand how the man's mind works."
Sandrine returned with their drinks. After she served them, she spotted a couple entering the tavern and excused herself. Tom glanced at the newcomers. "I can't believe it!" he exclaimed. "Isn't that Jenkins and Hamilton together?"
Both Harry and B'Elanna looked, while the couple was being escorted by Sandrine to an empty booth. "What about them?" the latter asked.
"Look at them! They're together! On Valentine's Day! I can't believe they've been seeing each other all this time and I never even noticed. After all, they're both in my division. And I can usually tell when two people are interested in one another."
Again, B'Elanna rolled her eyes. "Tom, has it ever occurred to you that Jenkins and Hamilton are together for one date? And since when did you develop empathic powers when it came to romance?"
Slowly, Tom returned his gaze to the engineer. A cynical expression masked her exotic looks. "And since when did you become such a cynic, Torres? What's the matter? Don't you believe in romance?"
The doors to the tavern swung open, heralding the arrival of Voyager's command team. All eyes fell upon the ship's auburn-haired captain and her swarthy First Officer. Tom noticed how B'Elanna's eyes lit up at the sight of Chakotay. And how her olive skin flushed with a tinge of pink.
Good God! Tom thought with a slight shake of his head. Is that infatuation still going on? He had never known B'Elanna during his brief stint with the Maquis. Either she had joined Chakotay's cell sometime after his capture by Starfleet. Or Chakotay simply kept the pair apart. Yet, the moment he saw the former Maquis captain and the Klingon/Human hybrid together, Tom quickly became aware of the latter's feelings toward the former. Surprisingly, Tom had disapproved. He never considered unrequited love and hero-worship a healthy mix. Something he now knew from personally experience. Tom believed that B'Elanna could do a lot better for herself. Someone who would suit her - like a certain Operations chief.
"Not the romantic type, huh Torres?" The knowing tone in Tom's voice drew a glare from B'Elanna. He turned to his other friend. "What about you, Harry? Is there a true love in your life?" The moment the question left his lips, Tom knew the younger man's answer. "Wait! Let me guess. Libby."
A deep flush colored Harry's cheeks. "What's wrong with Libby?" he demanded.
"Nothing," Tom answered, his blue eyes wide with innocence. "Except that she is 70,000 light years away."
Harry protested. "There's still a chance we might return home in less than 70 years! Right B'Elanna?"
"Huh?" The half-Klingon tore her eyes away from Janeway and Chakotay. Tom rolled his eyes in exasperation. "What did you say, Harry?"
Tom spoke up. "He thinks we might get back to the Alpha Quadrant in less than seven decades. Tell me Harry, how long are you willing to count on that?" A retort seemed to hover on the Ops chief's lips, but not a sound came out. "Thought so."
Her attention no longer focused on the First Officer, B'Elanna returned her gaze to Tom. "What about you, Paris? Do you have a true love?"
Years of emotional turmoil had taught the pilot to keep his feelings and secrets to himself. The Paris mask usually came to the fore whenever asked a too personal question. Or got too close. But this was Harry and B'Elanna. The first two people Tom could truly call his friends. And they did not deserve the Paris mask. "Susie Crabtree."
Both B'Elanna and Harry cried, "Who?"
Tom continued, "You asked about my true love. Her name was Susie Crabtree."
Confusion appeared on Harry's face. "That's funny. I thought you were in love with . . ." A swift kick in the shin by Tom closed his mouth. The pilot knew exactly whom Harry was about to mention. He did not want anyone else to know about his current feelings for the ship's assistant nurse.
The half-Klingon's brows formed a frown. "Who are you two talking about? Certainly not this Susie Crabtree. Sounds like a name for a Starfleet admiral's daughter. Or one of those social butterflies in the diplomatic circles. Which one was she?"
"Neither," Tom replied, annoyed by B'Elanna's condescension. "Susie was . . ." Memories of a beautiful young woman from his youth popped into his head. "Well, actually, she was a fellow cadet I had dated during my first year at the Academy." He sighed from sheer pleasure, producing a smile from Harry and a grimace from B'Elanna.
Harry asked, "What happened?"
"Huh? Oh, uh we broke up." Tom paused. The not-so-happy memories replaced the happy ones. "Actually, she dumped me."
A smirk appeared on B'Elanna's lips. "She got to know the real you, huh Paris?"
Tom did not bother to acknowledge the engineer's smirk. Or the slightly insulting tone in her voice. "Nope. Just the opposite," he said quietly. "Susie claimed I wouldn't let her."
Silence fell between the trio. Harry took a swallow of brandy. B'Elanna's gaze slowly shifted back to Chakotay. And Tom quietly observed his two friends. Starfleet and Maquis.
"God, what a pathetic bunch we make when it comes to romance!" he said with a slight laugh. "Here I am reminiscing over a failed romance. Harry is still pining for a girl he probably won't see in a long time. And you, B'Elanna . . . apparently you don't have a romantic bone in your body."
B'Elanna shrugged her slight shoulders. "So sue me. What can I say? It's the Klingon in me."
"Don't shit me, Torres. I may not know much about Klingons, but I do know they happen to be among the most passionate species in the Alpha Quadrant. Maybe they're not the types to express themselves in poems or romance novels," Tom failed to notice the slight quirk of B'Elanna's lips, "but I do know they are very romantic. So give me another excuse."
B'Elanna heaved an exasperated sigh. "How about this one? I haven't found the right man and I probably . . . never . . . will."
Tom detected the longing in her words, but decided not to comment upon it. Instead, he gave the engineer an understanding smile. "You never know, Torres. The right man may be closer than you think."
Someone at the piano began to play, "La Vie En Rose". Several couples headed for the dance floor, including Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. Aware of the intense scrutiny toward the pair, Tom commented, "I must say. Those two really look good together. Don't you agree?"
B'Elanna's sharp gaze fell upon the pilot. Harry's eyes remained glued to the dance floor. "I don't know," he said in a wary tone. "I guess. I mean they do make a pretty good command team."
Tom chuckled. "I wasn't talking about work, Harry." His words produced a startled glance from the young ensign. B'Elanna looked away. Tom decided it was time to make a suggestion. "That sounds like a nice tune," he continued. "Say Harry, why don't you give B'Elanna a spin on the dance floor?"
Two pairs of dark eyes stared at the pilot as if he had made a far out suggestion. Then they stared at each other. A red flush crept up Harry's cheeks. To Tom's satisfaction, he proved to be a brave soul and stood up. "Uh, would you . . . um, would you like to dance, B'Elanna?"
The engineer hesitated momentarily. After sparing another glance at Janeway and Chakotay, she nodded. "Sure Harry. Why not?" She stood up and allowed Harry to lead her to the dance floor. Soon, they were in each other's arms, gliding around the room. Tom sat back into his chair and smiled.
"What are you smiling about, cherie?" Sandrine slid into the booth, opposite Tom.
Tom nodded at his two friends. "Them. Don't they look great together?"
"Hmm." The proprietress barely acknowledged the pair with a glance. "I suppose so."
"You suppose?" Tom almost felt outraged. "Of course they do! Look at them. Starfleet and Maquis. They've practically been joined at the hip since we first entered the Delta Quadrant. Now if Harry can only put Whatshername behind him and B'Elanna end her crush over Chakotay, they can take their relationship to the next level." Tom smiled. "With a little help from me, of course."
Sandrine glanced at the two friends once more and responded with another lackluster, "Hmmm." She surreptiously studied the table's wooden surface.
"What?" Tom demanded.
"Nothing cherie, except . . ."
A sigh left Sandrine's mouth. "I'm sorry, Thomas, but I suspect you might be making a big mistake. I just don't . . . I really cannot see your two friends as lovers. Friends perhaps, or siblings. Definitately not lovers."
"Wha . . ." Tom glanced at Harry and B'Elanna. Despite the prudent amount of space between them and B'Elanna's occasional glances at the First Officer, he saw a couple with a great potential for romance. All they need to do is overcome a few roadblocks. Tom had always prided himself on being able to spot a potential romance. A trait that made him a matchmaker at heart. "Are you trying to say that you don't feel any chemistry between B'Elanna and Harry?"
The Frenchwoman shrugged. "Well . . . perhaps there is some chemistry between them."
"But not of the romantic kind," Sandrine continued. Tom's face fell. "I'm sorry, cherie, but I think you're wasting your time. I cannot see your friends as lovers. Besides, I believe your B'Elanna may have just a little too much bite for young Harry."
Tom struggled to hide his disappointment. He was sure that Sandrine, a matchmaker herself, would agree with him about Harry and B'Elanna. Apparently not.
The music stopped. Harry, B'Elanna and other couples disengaged. B'Elanna headed back to the booth, while Harry surged toward the buffet table. "Cherie!" Sandrine greeted the half-Klingon. "Did you enjoy yourself?"
B'Elanna gave the holographic woman a polite smile. Although she had grown used to the tavern's odd characters, she still regarded them with little enthusiasm. The pianist began playing another song. "La Mer." It was one of Tom's favorite 20th century songs.
"Thomas, why don't you dance with B'Elanna?" Sandrine said to the pilot. "That sounds like a lovely song."
A doubtful B'Elanna opened her mouth to protest. "I don't know. I just finished dan . . ."
Realization hit Tom Paris like a wet glove. Sandrine did not know it, but she had just given him the opportunity for a private talk with B'Elanna. Without any interruptions from her or Harry. "That sounds like a great idea," he replied, gently grabbing the Chief Engineer's hand. "C'mon B'Elanna. A little dance won't hurt."
"But . . ." Before the half-Klingon could further protest, Tom steered her toward the dance floor. He glanced past B'Elanna's shoulder toward Sandrine and winked. The 'Great Kim/Torres Matchmaking Scheme' was about to commence.
* * * *
Sandrine caught Tom's wink and smiled. Ah Thomas, she thought to herself. Such a big heart behind that cynical mask. The dear boy possessed a heart so big that it blinded him from the obvious - that his matchmaking scheme for his friends will fail. Or end in some kind of disaster. Young Harry Kim and that B'Elanna were not made for each other - at least not romantically.
On the other hand, Sandrine already had a candidate in mind for Lieutenant Torres' heart. And she was dancing in his arms at the moment. Sandrine admired the way Thomas lead the engineer across the floor. Such a graceful dancer. And unlike young Harry, he held B'Elanna close in his arms with an intimate and easy manner that expressed his personality. Not only that, the half-Klingon had failed to spare Commander Chakotay one glance since joining Thomas on the dance floor.
Sandrine looked at the young couple once more. Then Thomas made a comment that produced a mixture of amusement, exasperation and fascination on Lieutenant Torres' face that the hologram found beguiling. Ah yes! Sandrine nodded. They certainly do look well together.
"Thomas likes his women with a little bite." - Sandrine to Ricki ("The Cloud")
Monday, January 30, 2017
"LIFE WITH FATHER" (1947) Review
Warner Brothers is the last studio I would associate with a heartwarming family comedy set in the 19th century. At least the Warner Brothers of the 1940s. And yet, the studio did exactly that when it adapted Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse's 1939 play, "Life With Father", which happened to be an adaptation of Clarence Day's 1935 novel.
If I must be frank, I am a little confused on how to describe the plot for "LIFE WITH FATHER". But I will give it my best shot. The movie is basically a cinematic account in the life of one Clarence Day, a stockbroker in 1880s Manhattan, who wants to be master of his house and run his household, just as he runs his Wall Street office. However, standing in his way is his wife, Vinnie, and their four sons, who are more inclined to be more obedient of their mother than their father. You see, Vinnie is the real head of the Day household. And along with their children, she continues to demand that Mr. Day overcome his stubbornness and make changes in his life.
Thanks to Donald Odgen Stewart's screenplay, "LIFE WITH FATHER" focused on Mr. Day's attempt to find a new maid; a romance between his oldest son Clarence Junior and pretty out-of-towner named Mary Skinner, who is the ward of his cousin-in-law Cora Cartwright; a plan by Clarence Jr. and second son John to make easy money selling patent medicines; Mrs. Day's health scare; Mr. Day's general contempt toward the trappings of organized religion; and Mrs. Day's agenda to get him baptized. Some of these story lines seem somewhat disconnected. But after watching the movie, I noticed that the story lines regarding Clarence Junior and John's patent medicine scheme were connected to Clarence Junior's romance with Mary and Mrs. Day's health scare. Which played a major role in Mrs. Day's attempt to get her husband baptized. Even the baptism story line originated from Cousin Cora and Mary's visit.
Many would be surprised to learn that Michael Curtiz was the director of "LIFE WITH FATHER". Curtiz was not usually associated with light comedies like "LIFE WITH FATHER". Instead, he has been known for some of Errol Flynn's best swashbucklers, noir melodramas like "MILDRED PIERCE", the occasional crime drama and melodramas like the Oscar winning film, "CASABLANCA". However, Curtiz had also directed musicals, "YANKEE DOODLE DANDY" and "FOUR DAUGHTERS"; so perhaps "LIFE WITH FATHER" was not a stretch for him, after all. I certainly had no problem with this direction for this film. I found it well paced and sharp. And for a movie that heavily relied upon interior shots - especially inside the Days' home, I find it miraculous that the movie lacked the feel of a filmed play. It also helped that "LIFE WITH FATHER" featured some top notch performers.
William Powell earned his third and last Academy Award nomination for his portrayal as Clarence Day Senior, the family's stubborn and temperamental patriarch. Although the Nick Charles character will always be my personal favorite, I believe that Clarence Day is Powell's best. He really did an excellent job in immersing himself in the role . . . to the point that there were times that I forgot he was an actor. Powell also clicked very well with Irene Dunne, who portrayed the family's charming, yet manipulative matriarch, Vinnie Day. It is a testament to Dunne's skill as an actress that she managed to convey to the audience that despite Clarence Senior's bombastic manner, she was the real head of the Day household. Unlike Powell, Dunne did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Frankly, I think this is a shame, because she was just as good as her co-star . . . as far as I am concerned.
"LIFE WITH FATHER" also featured excellent performances from the supporting cast. Jimmy Lydon did a wonderful job portraying the Days' oldest offspring, Clarence Junior. Although Lydon was excellent portraying a character similar in personality to Vinnie Day, I found him especially funny when his Clarence Junior unintentionally project Mr. Day's personality quirks when his romance with Mary Skinner threatened to go off the rails. Speaking of Mary Skinner, Elizabeth Taylor gave a very funny and superb performance as the young lady who shakes up the Day household with a burgeoning romance with Clarence Junior and an innocent remark that leads Mrs. Day to learn that her husband was not baptized. Edmund Gwenn gave a skillful and subtle performance as Mrs. Day's minister, who is constantly irritated by Mr. Day's hostile stance against organized religion. The movie also featured excellent performances from Martin Milner, ZaSu Pitts, Emma Dunn, Derek Scott and Heather Wilde.
Another aspect of "LIFE WITH FATHER" that I found admirable was its production values. When it comes to period films, many of the Old Hollywood films tend to be on shaky ground, sometimes. For the likes of me, I tried to find something wrong with the production for "LIFE WITH FATHER", but I could not. J. Peverell Marley and William V. Skall's photography, along with Robert M. Haas' art direction, and George James Hopkins' set decorations all combined to the household of an upper middle-class family in 1885 Manhattan. But the one aspect of the film's production that really impressed me was Marjorie Best's costume designs. Quite frankly, I thought they were beautiful. Not only did they seem indicative of the movie's setting and the characters' class, they . . . well, I thought they were beautiful. Especially the costumes that Irene Dunne wore.
As much as I had enjoyed "LIFE WITH FATHER", I could not help but notice that it seemed to possess one major flaw. Either this movie lacked a main narrative, or it possessed a very weak one. What is this movie about? Is it about Clarence Junior's efforts to get a new suit to impress Mary Skinner? Is it about Mrs. Day's health scare? Or is it about her efforts to get Mr. Day baptized? I suspect that the main plot is the latter . . . and if so, I feel that is pretty weak. If this was the main plot in the 1939 Broadway play, then screenwriter Donald Odgen Stewart should have changed the main narrative. But my gut feeling tells me that he was instructed to be as faithful to the stage play as possible. Too bad.
I see now that the only way to really enjoy "LIFE WITH FATHER" is to regard it as a character study. Between the strong characterizations, and superb performances from a cast led by Oscar nominee William Powell and Irene Dunne, this is easy for me to do. It also helped that despite the weak narrative, the movie could boast some excellent production values and first-rate direction from Michael Curtiz. You know what? Regardless of the weak narrative, "LIFE WITH FATHER" is a movie I could watch over and over again. I enjoyed it that much.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Below are images from the 1968 historical drama, "THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE". Directed by Tony Richardson, the movie starred David Hemmings, Trevor Howard, John Gielgud and Vanessa Redgrave:
"THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE" (1968) Photo Gallery