Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Top Ten Favorite "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" Episodes

Below is a list of my top ten favorite episodes from ITV1's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT", which stars David Suchet as Hercule Poirot:


1. "Triangle at Rhodes" (1989) - While on holiday on the Greek island of Rhodes, Hercule Poirot stumbles across a love "triangle" and murder, involving two couples.

2. "Problem at Sea" (1989) - While vacationing with Arthur Hastings on a Mediterranean Sea cruise, Poirot investigates the murder of the aggressive and demanding Mrs. Clapperton.

3. "The Plymouth Express" (1991) - Poirot and Hastings investigate the brutal murder of a wealthy Australian's daughter aboard the Plymouth. A forerunner of Christie's 1928 novel, "The Mystery of the Blue Train".

4. "Dead Man's Mirror" (1993) - Poirot and Hastings investigate the murder of the bullying millionaire, who had outbid the Belgian detective on an antique mirror.

5. "The Yellow Iris" (1993) - Poirot's investigation into the death of a British heiress spans from Buenos Aires to London, during a period of two years.

6. "The Case of the Missing Will" (1993) - Poirot investigates the death of a British millionaire and his missing will.

7. "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb" (1993) - Poirot and Hastings investigate a series of mysterious deaths related to the opening of the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.

8. "The Third Floor Flat" (1989) - A new tenant, who had just moved into Poirot's apartment building, is found murdered.

9. "The Mystery of the Spanish Chest" (1991) - A peeress asks for Poirot's assistance, when she comes to fear for the safety of her unhappily married friend.

10. "The Affair at the Victory Ball" (1991) - Poirot and Hastings investigate the murder of a peer at a costumed event called the Victory Ball, and his connection to an actress with a drug addiction.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"EMMA" (1972) Review

"EMMA" (1972) Review

I am aware of at least four adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel, "Emma". But I have noticed that the one adaptation that rarely attracts the attention of the novelist's fans is the 1972 BBC miniseries, "EMMA".

Directed by John Glenister and adapted by Denis Constanduros, "EMMA" told the story of the precocious younger daughter of a wealthy landowner that resides near the village of Highbury. Emma Woodhouse imagines herself to be naturally gifted matchmaker, following her self-declared success in arranging a love match between her governess and Mr. Weston, a village widower. Following their marriage, Emma takes it upon herself to find an eligible match for her new friend, a young woman named Harriet Smith. However, Emma's efforts to match Harriet with Highbury's vicar, Mr. Elton, end in disaster. Also the return of two former Highbury residents, Jane Fairfax and Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill, and her continuing efforts to find a husband for Harriet leads Emma to question her talents as a matchmaker and her feelings for long time neighbor and friend, George Knightley.

Aired in six episodes, this "EMMA" was given the opportunity to be a lot more faithful to Austen's novel. Many critics and fans would view this as an example of the miniseries' ability to delve deeper into the story's plots and characterizations. I do not know if I would agree. The 1815 novel seems such a strong piece of work that even a 90 to 120 minute film could do justice to the story by adhering to the main aspects of the plot. Mind you, I have complained about Andrew Davies' adaptation of the novel in the 1996-97 television movie. But even I cannot consider that a failure.

I do have a few complaints about "EMMA". The majority of my complaints have to do with the casting. But there were some aspects of the production that I found less than satisfying. Director John Glenister's direction of major scenes such as the Westons' Christmas party and the Crown Inn ball failed to impress. The sequence featuring the Westons' Christmas party lacked the holiday atmosphere that I found in the other versions. And I failed to noticed any sense of a change in the weather that led the Woodhouses and the Knightleys to depart from Randalls (the Westons' estate) earlier than they had intended. As for the Crown Inn ball, it struck me as somewhat rushed. Dialogue seemed to dominate the entire sequence . . . to the point where only one dance was featured to the tune of the miniseries' theme song. Both Glenister and screenwriter Denis Constanduros made such a big effort in building up the ball in the previous episode or two. But when it came to the actual execution, it simply fell flat and rushed for me. Even worse, they failed to provide the audience with the Emma/Knightley dance, which could have provided the first real hint of romantic feelings between the pair. And what happened to Jane Fairfax and Mr. Elton at the Box Hill picnic? Where were they? Frank Churchill's flirting with Emma during the picnic had led to Jane's eventual breakdown and observations of the Eltons' quick marriage. The Box Hill sequence played an important part in Jane and Frank's relationship. But without Jane in the scene, the importance of their storyline was somewhat robbed.

And there were performances, or should I say . . . casting that seemed rather off to me. Fiona Walker made an interesting Mrs. Augusta Elton. In fact, she was downright memorable. However, her Mrs. Elton came off as rather heavy-handed . . . to the point that she seemed more like an over-the-top 1970s divorcee, instead of a vicar's pushy and ambitious wife of Regency England. She seemed to lack both Juliet Stevenson and Christina Cole's talent for sly and subtle humor. Belinda Tighe gave a solid performance as Emma's older sister, Isabella Knightley. But she seemed at least a decade-and-a-half older than Doran Godwin's Emma. Donald Eccles would have made a perfect Mr. Woodhouse, if he had not come off as slightly cold in a few scenes. I find it odd that many Austen fans had complained of Godwin's occasionally chilly performance. But Eccles seemed even more chilly at times, which is how I never would describe Mr. Woodhouse. At least Godwin's Emma became warmer and slightly funny in the miniseries' second half. It seemed as if the arrival of Augusta Elton allowed Godwin to inject more warmth and humor into the role. I also had a problem with Ania Marson as the reserved Jane Fairfax. I understand that Jane went through a great deal of stress and fear, while awaiting for a chance to finally marry Frank. But Marson's performance struck me as . . . odd. The intense look in her eyes and frozen expression made her resemble a budding serial killer.

I really enjoyed Robert East's portrayal of the mercurial Frank Churchill. Although I felt that East did not seem effective in his portrayal of Frank's penchant for cruel humor and at times, his handling of the character's many traits seemed a bit off balanced, I still believe that his performance was overall, first-rate. Timothy Peters was excellent as Mr. Elton. In fact, he was spot on. Of all the characters featured in Austen's novel, Mr. Elton seemed to be the only that has been perfectly cast in all four productions I have seen. I really enjoyed Debbie Bowen's performance as the slightly naive Harriet Smith. In fact, I believe she was the perfect embodiment of Harriet. One of the funniest scenes in the entire miniseries featured Harriet's efforts to make up her mind on which color ribbons she wanted to purchase. And Constance Chapman made an excellent Miss Bates. She perfectly conveyed all of the character's likeability and verbosity that made her irritable to Emma. And the scene that featured Emma's attempt to apologize for the insult during the Box Hill picnic was beautifully acted by Chapman.

But I was impressed by John Carson's performance as George Knightley. Perhaps he seemed a bit old for the role, at age 45. But he perfectly conveyed all of Mr. Knightley's warmth, dry humor and love for Emma. And surprisingly, he and Doran Godwin had a strong screen chemistry. I also have to give credit to Doran Godwin for a first-rate portrayal of Emma Woodhouse. Mind you, there were times in the first three episodes when she seemed a bit too chilly for the gregarious Emma. But Godwin did an excellent job in developing the character into a more mature young woman, who became mindful of her flaws. And as I had stated earlier, her Emma also became warmer and slightly funnier upon the introduction of Augusta Elton.

There were also aspects of the miniseries' production that I enjoyed. Aside from the Weston Christmas party, I was very impressed by Tim Harvey's production designs. The miniseries' photography seemed crisp and colorful, even after 39 years. I found this impressive, considering that most BBC television miniseries between 1971 and 1986 seemed to fade over the years. I also liked Joan Ellacott's costume designs - especially for Emma and Jane. However, I noticed that the high lace featured in some of Emma's dresses seemed a bit theatrical and cheap . . . as if they came off outfits found in some minor costume warehouse.

Yes, I do have some quibbles regarding the production and casting for "EMMA". After all, there is no such thing as perfect. But the good definitely outweighed the bad. And for a miniseries with six episodes, I can happily say that it failed to bore me. Personally, I think it is the best Jane Austen adaptation from the 1970s and 1980s I have ever seen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"AMERICAN GANGSTER" (2007) Photo Gallery

Below are photographs from the 2007 crime drama directed by Ridley Scott, "AMERICAN GANGSTER". It stars Denzel Washington as drug lord Frank Lucas and Russell Crowe as police officer Ritchie Roberts:

"AMERICAN GANGSTER" (2007) Photo Gallery

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"SHADOW OF THE MOON" (1957; 1979) Book Review

"SHADOW OF THE MOON" (1957; 1979) Book Review

I first became aware of British author, M.M. Kaye back in the early 1980s, when I read her famous 1978 bestseller, "THE FAR PAVILIONS". Intrigued by the author’s portrayal of the British and Indian societies in 19th century, I read another one of her novels – namely "SHADOW OF THE MOON".

First published in 1957, "SHADOW OF THE MOON" was re-released 22 years later to cash in on the success of "THE FAR PAVILIONS". Like the latter, the novel was set in 19th century India. "SHADOW OF THE MOON" told the story of Winter de Ballesteros, the only daughter of an aristocratic Spaniard whose family lived in India and the beloved granddaughter of an English earl. Orphaned at the age of six, Winter is forced to leave India and live with her mother’s family in England for the next eleven years. Betrothed at an early age to Conway Barton, the nephew-in-law of her great-aunt and an official of the East India Company, serving as Commissioner of the Lunjore District, Winter finally leaves England to return to India in order to marry him. Barton’s military aide, Captain Alex Randall of the British East India Company (aka "John Company"), is assigned to act as escort for Winter’s return journey to the East.

Unfortunately for Winter, she encountered two misfortunes after her arrival in India – the discovery that her new husband is a debauched and overweight drunk who had married her for her fortune; and that she had fallen in love with Alex Randall. She is unaware that Alex has also fallen in love with her. While Winter struggled with her love for Alex and her unhappy marriage, events slowly came to a boil that lead to the outbreak of the Sepoy Rebellion in which the Indian soldiers of the Bengal Army rose against the British between May 1857 and June 1858. The violent outbreak of sepoy troops against the rule of the British East India Company forced both Winter and Alex to experience the violence that explodes throughout most of India and acknowledge their feelings for one another.

For a novel that is supposed to be about the famous Sepoy Rebellion of 1857-58, most of it seemed to be set before the rebellion’s actual outbreak. The novel’s first six chapters focused upon Winter’s parents and her childhood in both India and England. The next thirty-four (34) chapters focused upon Winter and Alex’s journey to India, the introduction of Anglo society in India, Winter’s marriage to Conway Barton in Lunjore, the growing tensions between the British rulers and those who have much to resent them, Winter and Alex’s growing feelings for one another . . . well, you get the picture. By the time Winter, Alex and other British residents encounter the rebellion in Lunjore, Chapter 40 had arrived. Only Chapters 40 through 51 featured the actual rebellion.

Ironically, this does not bother me. I suspect that "SHADOW OF THE MOON" is basically a romantic drama with a historical backdrop. M.M. Kaye was born in India to a family that had served the British Raj for generations. She spent most of her childhood and early years of marriage in India, which made her a strong authority on the Anglo-Indian and Indian societies of the British Raj. "SHADOW OF THE MOON" is filled with strong historical facts about Great Britain during the first five decades in the 19th century, the East India Company, the Anglo-Indian and Indian cultures in the 1850s, and the politically charged atmosphere leading up to the Sepoy Rebellion and facts about the rebellion itself.

Reading the novel made it easy for me to see why M.M. Kaye had gained such fame as a historical novelist. Along with Alexandre Dumas, Susan Howatch, John Jakes, George MacDonald Fraser, James Michener, Ken Follet and Cecelia Holland, I consider her to be among the best historical novelists. Not only is "SHADOW OF THE MOON" filled with interesting facts about the British Raj in the 1850s, it is a well-written romantic drama about two people who managed to find love despite the obstacles of a loveless marriage and political turmoil. The two main characters – Winter and Alex – are well written characters that managed to avoid the usually clichés found in many inferior romantic paperback novels. Well . . . Winter and Alex’s characterizations managed to avoid most of the clichés. There are a few clichés about them that seem very familiar:

*Winter’s age spans between 17 and 19 in most of the novel. Most heroines of historical tend to be between the ages of 16 and 17.

*The age difference between Winter and Alex is 13 years – which is typical for the heroine and hero of most historical romances.

*The heroine, Winter, spends most of the novel stuck in an unhappy marriage with a much older man.

Despite these minor clichés, Winter and Alex turned out to be two very interesting and well-rounded characters. Surprisingly, I can say the same of the supporting characters, whether they be British or Indian. A few characters stood out for men – notably Alex’s cynical Indian orderly Niaz; a sharp-tongued British socialite named Louisa “Lou” Cottar; an intelligent and intensely political Indian nobleman who becomes a dangerous enemy of the British Raj by the name of Kishan Prisad; Lord Carylon, an arrogant and temperamental English aristocrat with a strong desire for Winter; and Conway Barton, the latter’s corrupt and narrow-minded husband, who lacks a talent for political administration.

Aside from a few clichés that are a part of Winter and Alex’s characterizations, I have a few other quibbles regarding the novel . . . or Kaye’s writing style. First of all, she had a tendency to describe a historical event or character in a slightly grandiose manner. One example featured the death of a famous military figure named John Nicholson. Kaye also had a bad habit of announcing an important sequence before it unveiled . . . taking away any moment of surprise for the reader. This was apparent in the following passage:

"'Two more days to go', thought Alex that night, leaning against the wall and watching a quadrille danced at the Queen’s Birthday Ball.

But there were no more days. Only hours."

In the following chapter, Winter, Alex and a host of other characters experience firsthand, the horror of the rebellion in Lunjore. I would have preferred if the beginning of the Lunjore rebellion had taken me by surprise.

Despite Kaye’s occasional forays into over-the-top prose, she created a sweeping and detailed novel filled with romance, adventure, historical accuracy and well-written characters. Although "THE FAR PAVILIONS" is considered her masterpiece, I must admit that "SHADOW OF THE MOON" remains my most favorite novel she has ever written.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Altered Lives" [PG-13] - Prologue

This is the first in a series of stories set between "REVENGE OF THE SITH" and "A NEW HOPE". Also, this particular story is more or less an Alternate Universe version of the last half-hour of "REVENGE OF THE SITH".


RATING: PG-13 - Violence
SUMMARY: The lives of Anakin, Padme and many others take an alternate course during Anakin's duel with Obi-Wan on Mustafar.
FEEDBACK: - Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: All characters and things STAR WARS belong to Lucasfilm. All non-original dialogue in this story is credited to "Revenge of the Sith", which is based upon the story and screenplay by George Lucas. The characters, Romulus Wort and Wo-Chen Puri, are my creations.



27BBY - Coruscant

Inside the Jedi Temple's great training hall, Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, his padawan and other members of the Order watched two padawans engage in a practice lightsaber duel. Although the two combatants happened to be adolescents, both moved with the skill and speed of an experienced adult swordsman.

Obi-Wan felt impressed by one particular combatant - a tall and muscular fifteen year-old named Romulus Wort. The Jedi Knight could not help but admire how the young, dark-haired Wort managed to utilize his footwork and speed to keep his opponent on the defense. He turned to the padawan's Jedi mentor and said, "Master Puri, I cannot help but feel that the Force is truly strong with your padawan."

A hint of a smile touched the lips of the stocky, bronze-skinned Belascan who stood next to Obi-Wan. "Yes, Romulus has become quite skilled with the lightsaber." The smile disappeared, as he sighed. "Unfortunately, being strong with the Force does not automatically make one the perfect Jedi. I am afraid that my young padawan needs work in other areas - like his impatience and temper."

Obi-Wan shot a quick glance at his apprentice. The lanky, fourteen year-old regarded the fighters through narrowed eyes. "Yes," Obi-Wan said, "those are traits that many of us needed to be mindful of when we were of Romulus' age. But I am surprised that you would say such a thing about your own padawan. He has always struck me being nearly ideal. Along with Ferus Olin." There had been times when Obi-Wan had longed for the less troublesome Romulus Wort or the near perfect Ferus Olin as his padawan.

"Oh come, Master Kenobi." Puri regarded the younger Knight with slight amusement. "I have yet to meet the ideal Jedi Knight. Although, I do believe there are many within the Order who might consider themselves . . . ideal."

The younger Knight felt his face turn hot with embarrassment. Somehow, Puri's words had cut Obi-Wan to the quick. He did not view himself ideal or perfect, but he liked to believe that the Jedi Order did consider him loyal and dependable. Would anyone consider such a viewpoint as arrogant?

A lightsaber's hum broke Obi-Wan out of his thoughts. He looked up in time to see Romulus aggressively attack the other padawan before knocking the latter's lightsaber to the floor. Many of the onlookers clapped or cheered. Including Obi-Wan. "Good job!" he declared enthusiastically. "Good job!"

Puri nodded approvingly at his padawan. "I agree. But I wonder how he will do against young Skywalker, here." He smiled reassuringly at Anakin. "Whom I am certain is just as skilled."

Anakin Skywalker's blue eyes lit up with gratitude, before he smiled at the older Jedi Knight. Obi-Wan felt a brief flash of jealousy. He could not recall his padawan ever regarding him with such open gratitude during their five years together.

The time finally arrived for the last practice duel for the day. Both Anakin and Romulus warily approached each other in the center of the hall. All of the onlookers fell silent. Obi-Wan understood why. The two padawans - along with Ferus Olin - were considered amongst the finest swordsmen of their generation. Yet, neither Anakin or Romulus had ever fought each other until today. The combatants lit up their lightsabers and the duel commenced.

Both padawans seemed to be evenly matched. As blue and green lightsabers clashed, Anakin and Romulus exhibited speed, excellent footwork and aggressive maneuvers. Despite Obi-Wan's efforts to indoctrinate Anakin into the more defensive Sonsei fighting style, his apprentice had adopted the more aggressive and bolder Djem So style. Apparently, so had Romulus Wort. And this surprised Obi-Wan. Puri's padawan had never struck him as the type who would adopt such an unorthodox fighting style.

The duel seemed to go on forever. Obi-Wan began to wonder if Anakin had finally met his match. But Wo-Chen viewed the duel with different eyes. "Master Kenobi, your padawan is very skilled. And very clever."

Obi-Wan frowned. "I'm sorry?"

"Haven't you noticed? Young Skywalker is wearing down my padawan," Puri continued. "Although both are using the Djem So style, your Anakin is not being as aggressive as he could be. Instead, he is merely deflecting Romulus' attacks, causing the latter to exert more effort."

"And wearing down your padawan in the process," Obi-Wan declared in astonished tones. He noticed how Romulus Wort's strikes have become more desperate and forced. Strange - he had never noticed that his apprentice was exploiting Romulus' impatience. Nor did he realize that Anakin was capable of such strategy.

Puri added in a whisper, "And now I'm afraid that poor Romulus will make a final, desperate move . . . and fail to reach his target. This will probably give Anakin the opportunity he needs." Sure enough, the dark-haired padawan's blade made a wide, sweeping arc in an attempt to knock Anakin's lightsaber from the latter's hands. And failed. His failure left him open to Anakin's attack. In several swift moves, the younger padawan tapped both of Romulus' hands, forcing the latter to cry out in pain and drop his lightsaber.

A hushed tone filled the wide hall before Jedi Master Plo Koon began to clap. Other onlookers did the same. Anakin seemed uplifted by the adulation.

"Good job," Wo-Chen declared the moment Anakin and Romulus rejoined their masters. "Both of you. Excellent match."

Romulus looked slightly embarrassed. "I'm sorry that I lost, Master. I should have concentrated more."

Puri sighed. "Or perhaps you should have been more patient and mindful of your surroundings, my young padawan." Romulus' pale face turned red. "However, I am still pleased by the skills you have displayed. You're improving faster than I had imagined." The padawan managed a wan smile, but Obi-Wan could see that the minor criticism had stung. Then Wo-Chen faced Anakin with an approving smile. "As for you, young Skywalker, well done. Well done! I cannot recall any member of the Order utilizing such strategy in a long time."

Anakin bowed. "Thank you, Master Puri. I . . ." For a brief second, he became speechless. Then, "Thank you."

Again, Wo-Chen smiled. Then he led his padawan toward the hall's exit. As Anakin turned to face Obi-Wan, the latter saw Romulus shoot a resentful glare at the younger padawan. Very disturbing.

"How well do you know Wo-Chen Puri, Master?" Anakin asked. "There is something about him that seems very familiar. He almost reminds me of Master Qui-Gon."

Obi-Wan's heart briefly lurched at the mention of his former master's name. "Yes, well that is not surprising. Qui-Gon and Wo-Chen were old friends," Obi-Wan explained. "And both . . . well, they both placed great emphasis on the Living Force. Especially Qui-Gon."


A deafening silence fell between master and apprentice. Realizing that he had not commented about the lightsaber match, Obi-Wan added, "By the way Anakin, good job with your match against Romulus."

"Thank you, Master."

Again, more silence followed. Obi-Wan felt perplexed. He could not understand why he seemed to be having so much trouble communicating with his padawan, right now. Could it be that he felt envious of Wo-Chen Puri's easy interactions with Anakin? He hoped not. "Well," he continued, "shall we get something to eat? It is time for supper and I'm starving."

"Yes, Master."

With a nod, Obi-Wan led his padawan toward the hall's double doors. As they passed into the wide corridor, he recalled the resentful expression on Romulus Wort's face. And the fact that it seemed to be directed toward Anakin. He wondered if today's match had initiated a rivalry between the two padawans. Anakin already seemed to be in the middle of one with Ferus Olin. He did not require another. Even worse, a rivalry of any kind could lead a path to the Dark Side.

END OF Prologue

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"THE KENNEDYS" (2011) Review

"THE KENNEDYS" (2011) Review

The past thirty to forty years have seen a great deal of movies, documentaries and television productions about one of the most famous political families in the U.S., the Kennedys. But none of them have garnered as much controversy or criticism as this latest production, an eight-part television miniseries that aired last April.

Directed by Jon Cassar, "THE KENNEDYS" chronicled the family’s lives and experiences through the 1960s – mainly during President John F. Kennedy’s Administration. The miniseries also touched upon some of the family’s experiences and relationships before JFK first occupied the White House through flashbacks in Episode One, which also focused upon Election Day 1960. And Episode Eight covered the years between JFK’s assassination and the death of his younger brother, Robert F. Kennedy in June 1968. But the meat of the miniseries centered on the years between January 1961 and November 1963. Unlike most productions about the Kennedys, which either covered JFK’s public experiences as President or the family’s private life; this miniseries covered both the public and private lives of the family.

Much to my surprise, "THE KENNEDYS" attracted a great deal of controversy before it aired. The miniseries had been scheduled to air on the History Channel for American audiences back in January of this year. However, the network changed its mind, claiming that "this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.". Many, including director Jon Cassar, believed that the network had received pressure from sources with connection to the Kennedy family not to air the miniseries. Several other networks also declined to air the miniseries, until executives from the Reelz Channel agreed to do so. That network failed aired "THE KENNEDYS" back in April and other countries, including Canada and Great Britain also finally aired it. After viewing the miniseries, I do not understand why the History Channel had banned it in the first place.

The miniseries not only attracted controversy, but also mixed reviews from the critics. Well, to be honest, I have only come across negative reviews. If there were any positive commentary, I have yet to read any. For me, "THE KENNEDYS" is not perfect. In fact, I do not believe it is the best Hollywood production on the subject I have seen. The miniseries did not reveal anything new about the Kennedys. In fact, it basically covered old ground regarding both JFK’s political dealings with situations that included the Bay of Pigs, the Civil Rights Movement and the Cuban Missile Crisis. It also covered many of the very familiar topics of the Kennedys’ private lives – including the adulterous affairs of both JFK and Joseph Senior. Hell, even the miniseries' take on the Cuban Missile Crisis seemed more like a rehash of the 2000 movie, "THIRTEEN DAYS". In fact, the only aspect of this miniseries that struck me as new or original was the insinuation that First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy may have received amphetamine shots (also taken by JFK) from a Doctor Max Jacobson, to boost her energy for the numerous duties of her office. And I have strong doubts over whether this is actually true.

I have one other major complaint about the miniseries – namely the final episode. Episode Eight covered Jacqueline and Bobby’s lives during the remainder of the 1960s, following JFK’s death. For me, this was a major mistake. Although Part One mainly covered Election Day in November 1960, it also featured flashbacks of the family’s history between the late 1930s and 1960. But the majority of the miniseries covered JFK’s presidency. In my opinion, ”THE KENNEDYS” should have ended with JFK’s funeral, following his assassination in Dallas. I realize that the miniseries also featured the lives of Bobby, Jacqueline, Joseph Senior, Rose and Ethel’s live in heavy doses, it still centered on Jack Kennedy. By continuing into one last episode that covered Jacqueline and Bobby’s lives following the President’s death, it seemed to upset the miniseries’s structure. If that was the case, the setting for ”THE KENNEDYS” should have stretched a lot further than the 1960s.

But despite my complaints, I still enjoyed "THE KENNEDYS". For one thing, it did not bore me. The pacing struck me as top notch. And it lacked the dry quality of the more well-received 1983 miniseries, "KENNEDY". Although I believe that particular miniseries was superior to this new one, it sometimes felt more like a history lesson than a historical drama. It is possible that the additions of sequences featuring the family’s personal lives and scandals may have prevented me from falling asleep. But even the scenes that featured JFK’s presidency struck me as interesting – especially the scenes about the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Episode Three. I also enjoyed the flashbacks that supported the miniseries’ look into Joseph Kennedy Senior’s control over his children and the shaky marriage between JFK and Jacqueline. At least two particular flashbacks focused upon JFK’s affair with Hollywood icon Marilyn Monroe, and its near effect upon younger brother Bobby. One scene that really impressed me was Bobby’s first meeting with the starlet. Thanks to Cassar’s direction, along with Barry Pepper (Bobby Kennedy) and Charlotte Sullivan’s (Marilyn Monroe), the scene reeked with a sexual tension that left viewers wondering if the pair ever really had a tryst. Both Greg Kinnear and Katie Holmes gave outstanding performances in two particular scenes that not only featured the explosive marriage between the President and First Lady, but also the depths of their feelings toward one another. The miniseries also scored with Rocco Matteo’s production designs. I was especially impressed by his re-creation of the White House, circa 1961. I was also impressed by Christopher Hargadon’s costume designs. He did a first-rate job in not only capturing the period’s fashions for both the male and female characters, but also in re-creating some of Jacqueline Kennedy’s more famous outfits.

Aside from the pacing, the miniseries’ biggest strength turned out to be the cast. I have already commented upon Charlotte Sullivan’s excellent performance as Marilyn Monroe. But she her performance was not the only supporting one that impressed me. Kristin Booth gave a top-notch portrayal of Bobby Kennedy’s wife, Ethel. And she did this without turning the late senator’s wife into a one-note caricature, unlike other actresses. I was also impressed by Don Allison’s turn as future President, Lyndon B. Johnson. However, there were moments when his performance seemed a bit theatrical. I also enjoyed how both John White and Gabriel Hogan portrayed the rivalry between a young JFK and Joseph Junior during the late 1930s and early 1940s, with a subtlety that I found effective. However, both Tom Wilkinson and Diana Hardcastle really impressed me as the heads of the Kennedy clan – Joseph Senior and Rose Kennedy. They were really superb. Truly. I was especially impressed by Wilkinson’s handling of his New England accent, after recalling his bad American accent in 2005’s "BATMAN BEGINS". And I had no idea that Diana Hardcastle was his wife. Considering their strong screen chemistry, I wonder if it is possible for husband and wife to act in front of a camera together, more often.

The best performances, in my opinion, came from Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes and Barry Pepper as JFK, Jacqueline Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy, respectively. For some reason, Pepper’s portrayal of Bobby seemed to keep the miniseries grounded. He did a great job in capturing the former senator and Attorney General’s ability to maintain solidarity in the family; and also his conflict between continuing his service to JFK and the family, and considering the idea of pursuing his own profession. Greg Kinnear’s take on JFK struck me as different from any I have ever seen in previous movies or television productions. Yes, he portrayed the style, charm, intelligence and wit of JFK. He was also effective in conveying the President’s conflict between his lustful desires for other women, his love for his wife and any "alleged" guilt over his infidelity. There seemed to be a slightly melancholy edge in Kinnear’s performance that I have never seen in other actors who have portrayed JFK. But I feel that the best performance came from Katie Holmes in her portrayal of First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Personally, I thought it was worthy of an award nomination. However, I doubt that anyone would nominate her. Pity. I thought she did a superb job in capturing not only the style and glamour of the famous First Lady, but also the latter’s complex and intelligent nature.

I am well aware that most critics were not impressed by the miniseries. Hell, I am also aware that a good number of viewers have expressed some contempt toward it. I could follow the bandwagon and also express a negative opinion of "THE KENNEDYS". But I cannot. It is not the best production I have ever seen about the famous political family. It did not really provide anything new about the Kennedy family and as far as I am concerned, it had one episode too many. But I was impressed by Jon Cassar’s direction, along with the outstanding cast and first-rate production and costume designs. And thinking about all of this, I still do not understand why the History Channel went through so much trouble to reject the miniseries’ airing on its network.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

"CRANFORD" (2007) Photo Gallery

Below is a gallery of photos from the 2007 award-winning miniseries based upon three of Elizabeth Gaskell's novellas - "Cranford", "My Lady Ludlow", and "Mr Harrison's Confessions". Directed by Simon Curtis and Steve Hudson, the five-part miniseries' cast includes Simon Woods, Judi Dench, Eileen Atkins, Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon:

"CRANFORD" (2007) Photo Gallery