Tuesday, November 24, 2020

"BARBARY COAST" (1935) Review

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"BARBARY COAST" (1935) Review

I have seen a good number of television and movie Westerns in my time. But I find it rather odd that it is hard - almost difficult - to find a well known story set during the California Gold Rush era. And I find that rather surprising, considering many historians regard it as one of the most interesting periods in the history of the American Old West.

Of the movies and television productions I have come across, one of them is the 1935 Western, "BARBARY COAST". Directed by Howard Hawks and adapted from Herbert Asbury's 1933 book, the movie told the story about one Mary Rutledge, a young woman from the East Coast who arrives in 1850 San Francisco to marry the wealthy owner of a local saloon. She learns from a group of men at the wharf that her fiancé had been killed - probably murdered the owner of the Bella Donna restaurant, one Louis Chamalis. Upon meeting Chamalis at his establishment, Mary agrees to be his companion for both economic and personal reasons. She eventually ends up running a crooked roulette wheel at the Bella Donna and becoming Chamalis' escort. But despite her own larceny, Mary (who becomes known as "the Swan), becomes disenchanted with Chamalis' bloody methods of maintaining power within San Francisco's Barbary Coast neighborhood. He even manages to coerce a newspaper owner named Colonel Cobb, who had accused Chamalis of a past murder, into keeping silent. During a morning ride in the countryside, Mary meets and falls in love with a handsome gold miner named Jim Carmichael. Life eventually becomes more difficult for Mary, as she finds herself torn between Jim's idyllic love and Chamalis' luxurious lifestyle and his obsessive passion for her.

Judging from my recap of "BARBARY COAST", it is easy to see that the movie is more than just a Western. It seemed to be part crime melodrama, part romance, part Western and part adventure story. "BARBARY COAST" seemed to have the makings of a good old-fashioned costume epic that was very popular with Hollywood studios during the mid-to-late 1930s. If there is one scene in the movie that truly personified its epic status, it is one of the opening sequences that featured Mary Rutledge's arrival in San Francisco and her first meeting with Louis Chamalis. Mary's first viewing of the socializing inside the Bella Donna is filled with details and reeked with atmosphere. Frankly, I consider this scene an artistic triumph for both director Howard Hawks and the movie's art director, Richard Day.

"BARBARY COAST" went through four screenwriters and five script revisions to make it to the screen. The movie began as a tale about San Francisco's Barbary Coast, but ended up as a love triangle within the setting. This was due to the Production Code that was recently enforced by Joseph Breen. The latter objected to the original screenplay's frank portrayal of the San Francisco neighborhood's activities. By changing the screenplay into a love story in which the heroine finds redemption through love for a decent sort, the filmmakers finally managed to gain approval from Breen. Although Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were credited as the movie's writers, screenwriters Stephen Longstreet and Edward Chodorov also worked on the script, but did not receive any screen credit. Personally, I had no problems with this choice. Thanks to Hawks' direction, moviegoers still managed to get a few peeps on just how sordid and corrupt San Francisco was during the Gold Rush.

The movie also benefited from a first-rate cast led by Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson and Joel McCrea. I would not consider their performances as memorable or outstanding, but all three gave solid performances that more or less kept the movie on track. I found this a miracle, considering the emotional rifts that seemed to permeate the set during production. As it turned out, Robinson and Hopkins could barely stand each other. However . . . there were moments when Robinson and McCrea's performances were in danger of being less than competent. Robinson nearly veered into the realm of over-the-top melodrama while conveying his character's jealousy in the movie's last twenty minutes. And McCrea came off as a bit of a stiff in most of his early scenes. Only with Walter Brennan, did the actor truly conveyed his sharp acting skills. As for Hopkins . . . well, she gave a better performance in this movie than she did in the film for which she had earned an Oscar nomination - namely "BECKY SHARP".

The movie also featured competent performances from the likes of Walter Brennan, Frank Craven, Harry Carey, and Donald Meek. But if I had to give a prize for the most interesting performance in the film, I would give it Brian Donlevy for his portrayal of Louis Chamalis' ruthless enforcer, Knuckles Jacoby. Superficially, Donlevy's Knuckles is portrayed as the typical movie villain's minion, who usually stands around wearing a menacing expression. Donlevy did all this and at the same time, managed to inject a little pathos in a character who found himself in a legally desperation situation, thanks to his loyalty toward his employer.

But you know what? Despite some of the performances - especially Brian Donlevy's and the movie's production values, I did not like "BARBARY COAST". Not one bit. There were at least two reasons for this dislike. One, I was not that fond of Omar Kiam's costume designs - namely the ones for Miriam Hopkins. The problem with her costumes is that Kiam seemed incapable of determining whether the movie is set in 1850 or 1935. Honestly. A peek at the costume worn by the actress in the image below should convey the contradicting nature of her costume:

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The other . . . and bigger reason why I disliked "BARBARY COAST" is that the plot ended up disappointing me so much. This movie had the potential to be one of the blockbuster costume dramas shown in movie theaters during the mid-to-late 1930s. If only Joseph Breen and the Censor Board had allowed the filmmakers to somewhat follow Asbury's book and explore the colorful history of San Francisco from the mid-1840s to the California Gold Rush period of the early-to-mid 1850s. Despite the colorful opening featuring Mary Rutledge's arrival in San Francisco and the subplot about the Louis Chamalis-Colonel Cobb conflict, "BARBARY COAST" was merely reduced to a 90 minute turgid melodrama about a love triangle between a gold digger, a villain with a penchant for being a drama queen, and stiff-necked gold miner and poet who only seemed to come alive in the company of his crotchety companion. To make matters worse, the movie ended with Mary and Jim Carmichael floating around San Francisco Bay, hidden by the darkness and fog, while evading the increasingly jealous Chamalis, before they can board a clipper ship bound for the East Coast. I mean, honestly . . . really?

I have nothing else to say about "BARBARY COAST". What else is there to say? Judging from the numerous reviews I have read online, a good number of people seemed to have a high regard for it. However, I simply do not feel the same. Neither director Howard Hawks; screenwriters Ben Hetch and Charles MacArthur; and a cast led by Miriam Hopkins, Edward G. Robinson and Joel McCrea could prevent me from feeling only disappointed. Pity.




Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Five Favorite Episodes of "STAR TREK VOYAGER" Season Two (1995-1996)

 


Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two 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 TWO (1995-1996)



1. (2.11) "Manuevers" - After a team of the Kazon-Nistrim warriors steal some Federation technology during a raid against U.S.S. Voyager, Commander Chakotay goes after them on his own and is captured. Martha Hackett and Anthony De Longis guest-starred.





2. (2.21) "Deadlock" - While attempting to evade the organ-stealing Vidiians, a duplicate Voyager is created after it passes through a spatial scission; leaving one of the duplicate ships under attack and the other impervious to attack. Nancy Hower and Simon Billig guest-starred.





3. (2.20) "Investigations" - Lieutenant Tom Paris leaves Voyager and joins a Talaxian space convoy. But when he is kidnapped by former crew mate Seska and the Kazon-Nistrim, Neelix tries to flush out the traitor on board who has been colluding with them. Raphael Sbarge, Martha Hackett and Simon Billig guest-starred.





4. (2.05) "Non-Sequitur" - While on an Away mission, Ensign Harry Kim mysteriously wakes up and finds himself back in 24th century San Francisco, with no record of him ever joining Voyager's crew. Louis Giambalvo, Jennifer Gatti and Mark Kiely guest-starred.





5. (2.19) "Lifesigns" - Voyager picks up a dying Vidiian woman and the Doctor saves her life by placing her consciousness in a holographic body. As the pair attempts to find a cure for the Phage killing her and her species, he falls in love. Susan Diol, Raphael Sbarge and Martha Hackett guest-starred.





Honorable Mention: (2.08) "Persistence of Vision" - When Voyager enters a new region of space, the crew begins to experience hallucinations from their past and of their desires. Carolyn Seymour, Warren Munson and Marva Hicks guest-starred.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

"MALEFICENT" (2014) Photo Gallery

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Below are images of "MALEFICENT", the new Disney adaptation of Charles Perrault's 1697 tale, "Sleeping Beauty". Directed by Robert Stromberg, the movie stars Angelina Jolie:


"MALEFICENT" (2014) Photo Gallery

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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

"THE MASTER" (2012) Review

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"THE MASTER" (2012) Review

Paul Thomas Anderson seemed to be one of those filmmakers who embody what critics would categorize as a modern day "auteurist" that release a movie every few years to dazzle moviegoers and critics with his or her personal creative vision. During his sixteen years as a director and filmmaker, he has made four short films and six feature movies. One of the six feature films is his latest, "THE MASTER".

Believed by many to be an exposé on Scientology, "THE MASTER" tells of the story of a World War II Navy veteran named Freddie Quell, who struggles to adjust to a post-war society. Freddie uses sex and alcohol to escape his personal demons. But when his drinking and violent behavior leads him to lose jobs as a department store photographer and a field worker on a cabbage farm, Freddie ends up in San Francisco, where he stows aboard a yacht that belongs to one Lancaster Dodd, a leader of a philosophical movement known as "The Cause". Dodd sees something in Quell and accepts him into the movement. But Freddie's drunken and violent behavior fails to abate and Dodd's wife, daughter and son-in-law begin to express doubt that the latter can help the World War II veteran.

What can I say about "THE MASTER"? Did it turn out to be the exposé on Scientology that many believed it would become? Not really. Despite its title, "THE MASTER" seemed to be more about Freddie Quell than Lancaster Dodd and "the Cause". The movie did feature practices that are believed to be similar to those practiced by members of Scientology. But the movie's deeper focus on Freddie's personal demons has led me to believe that the Church of Scientology has nothing to fear. In the end, "THE MASTER" seemed to be more of a character study of the very disturbed Freddie Quell, along with a secondary study of Lancaster Dodd . . . and their friendship. And Paul Thomas Anderson revealed these two character studies in a movie with a running time of 143 minutes.

There were aspects of "THE MASTER" I found very admirable. The movie featured outstanding performances from Joaquin Phoenix, who gave a volatile portrayal of the disturbing Freddie Quell. I was also impressed by Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd. His performance not only hinted in subtle ways, his understanding of Freddie's demons, but the possibility that he once possessed similar demons. And Amy Adams was memorable as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster's second or third wife, who not only seemed more dedicated to "the Cause" than her husband; but also seemed to understand both him and Freddie with a frankness the two men seemed unwilling to face. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Dern, who portrayed a hardcore devotee to Dodd; Rami Malek, Dodd's quiet and unassuming son-in-law who assumes a dislike of Freddie; Ambyr Childers, Dodd's daughter, who hides a lusty attraction to Freddie; Jesse Plemons, who portrays Dodd's disenchanted son; Madisen Beaty, who portrays Freddie's love of his life; and Kevin J. O'Connor, a devotee of "the Cause" who is not impressed by Dodd's writing.

I was also impressed by the movie's production designs. David Frank and Jack Fisk did an excellent job in re-creating America during the post-World War II era and the beginning of the 1950s. Mark Bridges' costumes were tasteful and at the same time, projected an accuracy of the era. And cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. captured Anderson's direction and the movie's setting with some impressive photography.

So, did I enjoy "THE MASTER"? No. In fact, I dislike the movie . . . intensely. There is nothing more boring than a 143 minute character study, in which the main character does not evolve or devolve. Freddie Quell never changes. Perhaps this was the lesson that Anderson was trying to convey. But honestly, he could have done this with more solid writing, a shorter running time and with less pretentiousness. And I have never seen a movie with so much pretentiousness since Joe Wright's movie, "HANNA". While watching an early scene that featured Freddie dry humping a nude woman made from sand on a beach, I began to suspect that my patience might be tested with this film. I had no idea my patience would eventually slipped into sheer boredom. One cannot image the relief I felt when the movie finally ended.

I realize that "THE MASTER" had received a great deal of acclaim from critics and some moviegoers. But I simply failed to see the magic.  As I had predicted, the film managed to garner a good deal of acclaim and major award nominations.  But I could never get myself to cheer the movie for critical glory.  I disliked it too much. I still do.  Oh well. Perhaps there is another Anderson movie I might like in the future.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

"Disturbing Deaths"

 



"DISTURBING DEATHS"

Ever since I watched (3.01) "The Heart of the Truest Believer", the Season Three premiere for ABC's "ONCE UPON A TIME", I have been experiencing troubling thoughts about the series' writing. And those troubling thoughts centered around the deaths of two recurring characters. 

Anyone who had watched both the Season Three premiere and the Season Two finale, (2.22) "And Straight On 'Til Morning"would know to what I am referring. The latter episode saw two recurring characters, Greg Mendell and Tamara, attempt to destroy Storybrooke in an effort to rid the world of any magic. Before Regina Mills aka the Evil Queen and Emma Swan could foil their plans, they kidnapped the pair's son, Henry Mills, and took him to Neverland using a magic bean. Apparently, the leader of their anti-magic organization called "the Home Office", had ordered them to take Henry to Neverland, claiming that his presence was more important than destroying magic. 

Upon their arrival in Neverland, Greg and Tamara discovered that "the Home Office" had never existed. They had been tricked by Peter Pan and the Lost Boys to bring Henry to Neverland, because Peter wanted the boy he believed possessed the heart of the truest believer. Realizing that the Lost Boys wanted Henry, Tamara ordered him to run. Meanwhile, an entity called "The Shadow" ripped Greg's shadow from his body. One of the Lost Boys shot Tamara with an arrow, badly wounding her. While all of this occurred, the Charmings, Regina, Rumpelstiltskin aka Mr. Gold and Captain Killian Hook arrived in Neverland via the latter's ship, the Jolly Roger. Rumpelstiltskin left his companions behind and appeared on the island. He eventually found the wounded Tamara, ripped her heart and crushed it, killing her in the process. All of this happened before the end of the episode's first half.

My reaction to Tamara and Greg's fates really took me by surprise. I realized that the pair were merely recurring characters. But I never thought that the series' creators, Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, would get rid of them so soon. I, along with other regular viewers of "ONCE UPON A TIME", knew that Sonequa Martin-Green, the actress who had portrayed Tamara, was scheduled to resume her role on AMC's "THE WALKING DEAD", which had been upgraded from recurring to regular, during this new television season. But I had no idea that Horowitz would get rid of her character so soon. Too soon, in my opinion. If Horowitz and Kitsis realized they would not be able to employ Martin-Green for more than one episode, they could have recast the Tamara character with a new actress. Would it have really killed them?

Why do I have such a problem with Tamara and Greg's fates? It happened . . . too soon. And too fast. The writers of "And Straight On 'Til Morning" gave Greg and Tamara's kidnapping of Henry and journey to Neverland such a big buildup. To have them killed off - or in Greg's case - shadow ripped from his body in such a quick fashion left a bitter taste in my mouth. Unlike many fans, I never disliked the pair. But I have to admit that Horowitz and Kitsis really mishandled their characters. Their handling of Tamara proved to be even worse than their handling of Greg. Do the two creators plan to reveal how Peter Pan and the Lost Boys created an anti-magic organization in the first place? I hope so. After all, Greg was first contacted by "the Home Office" thirty years ago, after losing his father to Regina and Graham in Storybrooke. And what about Tamara? What led her to embrace this anti-magic agenda? When was she first contacted by "the Home Office"? Since Rumpelstiltskin had murdered her halfway through the episode, I now realize that viewers will never know the truth.

If I have to be honest, Tamara's death bothered me a lot more than Greg's. Greg merely had his shadow ripped from his body. Audiences do not really know whether he is still alive or not. Horowitz and Kitsis made it very clear that Tamara was killed. Now, this might have to do with the fact that Martin-Green was scheduled to appear on "THE WALKING DEAD" set. But as I had stated earlier, they could have simply hired another actress to replace her. And there are other aspects of Tamara's death that bother me. She was killed off before any attempt could be made to reveal her background. Audiences know how she became acquainted with both August W. Booth aka Pinocchio and Neal Cassidy aka Baelfire. Otherwise, we know nothing about her past. The writers did not even bothered to give her a surname. And judging from the comments I have read on the series' messageboards and forums, along with television critics from the WALL STREET JOURNAL blog, the HUFFINGTON POSTblog and DEN OF GEEK; no one really cared that Tamara's background and her surname were never revealed. Instead, they crowed with glee that the pair was quickly killed off. They especially crowed over the manner of Tamara's death - either deliberately dismissing her remorse with sarcasm or ignoring it altogether. Their attitudes did not merely bothered me, it angered me beyond belief.

I am coming to believe that Tamara's death merely confirmed what many critics have been complaining about "ONCE UPON A TIME" - their shabby handling of characters portrayed by non-white characters. Tamara was a prime example. Between her and Greg, the latter was given a background story, a surname and a questionable "death". Nor did the fans and critics regard him with the same vitriolic hatred leveled at Tamara. Horowitz and Kitsis could have developed Tamara's character in Season Three by recasting a new actress for the role. They did not bother. 

But Tamara was not the only example of the series' poor handling of non-white characters. I still cannot help but shake my head in disbelief over that fight scene between Snow White and Mulan in Season Two's (2.08) "Into the Deep" in which the less experienced princess quickly defeated the more experienced and non-white warrior. Mulan, who was portrayed as a young woman from a well-to-do Chinese family in the 1998 animated film, was portrayed as illiterate in another Season Two episode,(2.11) "The Outsider". Her illiteracy prevented her from being able to read Chinese characters. Yet, the very white Belle, was able to reach Chinese characters after reading a book. I just . . . I just could not believe this. Poor Lancelot, who was portrayed by African-American actor Sinqua Walls, was killed off in the Season Two episode, (2.03) "Lady of the Lake", his only appearance on the show. In fact, his character was already dead and being impersonated by Cora Mills aka Queen of Hearts. And Cinderella's Fairy Godmother, who was portrayed by an African-American actress, was killed by Rumpelstiltskin during the first three-to-five minutes of the Season One episode, (1.04) "The Price of Gold". Only Sidney Glass aka the Genie-in-the-Lamp and Regina, who are portrayed by Giancarlo Espocito and Lana Parrilla respectively, avoided such poor handling. Well . . . somewhat. Espocito could not reprise his role in Season Two, due to his obligations as a regular cast member of NBC's"REVOLUTION". However, he could have been replaced by another actor. It would take another essay to write about the handling of the Regina Mills character, especially in the last five to six episodes of Season Two. But I found it annoying that she was the only major character described as "the Villain" by ABC's promotion for Season Three, when there was a bigger villain worthy of the title - Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin.

I am amazed. I had started this article with the intent to complain about the series' handling of both Greg and Tamara in "The Heart of the Truest Believer". I am still upset over their fates and the piss poor reactions by the fans and critics. But I now realize that what pissed me even more was that the show's handling of Tamara merely confirmed my worst instincts about"ONCE UPON A TIME" and the creators Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis - their inability to write or maintain decent characterizations for those roles portrayed by minority actors and actresses. But I should not be surprised. Despite the Hollywood community's pretense at being liberals, in the end it is just as narrow-minded and conservative as the worst bigot or pop culture geek.

Friday, September 11, 2020

"VICTORIA" Season One (2016) Photo Gallery



Below are images from Season One of the ITV series, "VICTORIA". Created by Daisy Goodwin, the series stars Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria:



"VICTORIA" SEASON ONE (2016) Photo Gallery