Thursday, January 31, 2013

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1971) Review

vlcsnap-23893


"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1971) Review

For some reason, I still find it hard to believe that until recently, very few people were aware that the first adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel, "Sense and Sensibility", dated as far back as 1971. After all, people have been aware of other Austen adaptations during this same period or earlier. Even the Wikipedia site fails to mention it, except in connection with one of the cast members. What was about this four-part miniseries that eluded so many Austen fans? 

In "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", a wealthy landowner named Mr. Dashwood dies, leaving his two daughters and second wife at the mercy of his son by his first marriage, thanks to the rules of inheritance. When the son fails to financially help his sisters and stepmother, the trio are forced to live at a meager cottage, thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Dashwood's cousin. The miniseries follows the love lives of the sisters, while they deal with their new penniless status.

I could have went into greater detail about Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. But what would have been the point? Austen's novel and the other adaptations have made both their story and characters well known to fans. Everyone knows that the Dashwood sisters' penniless state have made them undesirable as potential mates among the English upper-class. And many know that Elinor Dashwood is the older and more sensible sister, who kept her emotions suppressed behind a facade of stoic behavior. They also know that Marianne is the younger sisters, whose romantic enthusiasm led to emotional excesses and irrational behavior. Was there something unique about this adaptation of Austen's novel? Hmmm. Other than it was probably the first version of the 1811 novel and the first of four versions to exclude the character of the youngest Dashwood sister, Margaret. 

Overall, I believe that "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" turned out to be an entertaining and well-paced television miniseries. But it was not perfect. One, I felt that screenwriter Denis Constanduros made a few missteps in his adaptation. I wish that Constanduros had included a scene featuring John Dashwood's last conversation with his dying father. I felt that his eventually betrayal of his promise, due to his wife's capriciousness would have possessed more bite. I also felt that Constanduros could have included more scenes featuring Marianne and John Willoughy's courtship. The period between their first meeting and Willoughby's decision to end their romance seemed to go by in a flash. It happened too soon for me to understand Marianne's grief over his rejection of her. Although there were a good deal of exterior shots of the English countryside, I wish there had been more exterior shots of early 19th century London, during the sisters' trip. The London sequences made the miniseries feel more like a filmed play. And why on earth did Constanduros allowed Elinor to pay a visit to Edward Ferrars' London rooms alone? What was he thinking? He should have allowed Elinor to summon Edward to Mrs. Jennings' home in order to deliver Colonel Brandon's news about a new job. I have one last major problem. Why on earth did costume designer had Elinor and Marianne wearing identical traveling outfits? They were not twin sisters. And no siblings from an upper-class family - especially of the female gender - would be caught dead in this manner:

vlcsnap-23153 

What was costumer designer Charles Knode thinking?

I also had some problems with the casting and performances. I had a real problem with actress Ciaran Madden's performance as Marianne Dashwood. How can I put it? It was over-the-top. I realize that she was at least 25 years old at the time this production was filmed. But did she and director David Giles really thought an exaggerated performance was necessary to portray the emotional 17 year-old Marianne? Was that their idea of portraying an emotional adolescent? And why would actor Michael Alderidge use a strong, regional accent for his portrayal of Sir John Middleton? I realize that his mother-in-law and wife came from a middle-class background. But Sir John and his cousin Mrs. Dashwood, did not. Both actresses who portrayed the Steele sisters - Frances Cuka and Maggie Jones - seemed at least a decade-and-a-half too old for their roles. And Kay Gallie's Fanny Dashwood seemed like such a major disappointment. Her Fanny struck me as too passive-aggressive and nervous in compare to the other actresses who portrayed the role.

But despite some disappointments, I must admit that "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" turned out to be a pretty good production. Hell, I like it a lot more than I do the 1981 television version. Thanks to Constanduros's script and Giles' direction, the four-part miniseries struck me as well paced - aside from Marianne and Willoughby's courtship. Aside from the traveling outfits, I must admit that I found Knode's costume designs both colorful and elegant. And like the 1995 movie, I was happy to see that the screenplay allowed Marianne to become aware of Colonel Brandon before her meeting with Willoughby . . . allowing the pair's eventual romance in the last episode very credible.

There were also some very good performances in "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY". I found myself surprisingly impressed by Richard Owens' performance as Colonel Brandon. At first, I barely paid attention to him. But I must admit that his performance actually grew on me and I thought he did a credible job of slowly revealing Brandon's passion for Marianne. Despite his strong regional accent, I must admit that Michael Aldridge was perfectly cast as Mrs. Dashwood's gregarious cousin, Sir John Middleton. And despite her age, Frances Cuka did a very good of conveying Lucy Steele's manipulations regarding Edward, Elinor and the Ferrars family . . . even if I found it a bit obvious. I was very impressed by Milton Johns' performance as Elinor and Marianne's spineless older half-brother John Dashwood. In fact, I feel that he gave one of the better performances in the miniseries. Robin Ellis gave a solid performance as Edward Ferrars. However, I must admit that I was not that impressed by his screen chemistry with Joanna David's Elinor. In an ARTICLE I had written about Jane Austen's rogues, I stated that I found Clive Francis' portrayal of the caddish John Willoughby unmemorable. I take it back. On a second viewing, I found myself surprisingly impressed by his performance. I think I may have been distracted by the so-called Regency wig he was wearing . . . or the speed of the Marianne-Willoughby courtship. But I thought he gave a very complex performance.

But there were two performances in "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" that I found outstanding. One of them belonged to Joanna David, who was perfect - well . . . almost - as Elinor Dashwood. She was one of the few performers who managed to restrain from "playing to the second balcony" as many other stage-trained actors tend to do. Mind you, there were moments when she seemed incapable of projecting Elinor's passionate nature behind the sensible facade. But more than any other person in the cast, she did a superb job in carrying the miniseries on her shoulders. The other outstanding performance turned out to be Patricia Rutledge's portrayal of the vivacious Mrs. Jennings, Sir John's mother-in-law. She was in her early 40s at the time and technically, too young for the role. But I cannot deny that Rutledge seemed like the very personification of the verbose and interfering, yet warm-hearted widow. Of the four Mrs. Jennings I have seen, only Elizabeth Spriggs from the 1995 movie seemed her equal.

"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" is not the best adaptation of Jane Austen's 1811 novel, despite being the first. And it possessed certain aspects in both the script and casting that I found questionable. But thanks to David Giles' direction, Denis Constanduros' screenplay, and superb performances especially from Joanna David and Patricia Rutledge; I feel that it turned out to be a pretty damn good adaptation in the end. I would highly recommend it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"LOST" RETROSPECT: (5.09) "Namaste"



Below is an article I had written about the Season Five episode of "LOST" (2004-2010) called (5.09) "Namaste":


"LOST" RETROSPECT: (5.09) "Namaste"

"Namaste" is a term used commonly on the Indian subcontinent that is used as a greeting and a parting valediction between individuals. I suppose that this word might be the proper title for this ninth episode from Season Five from ABC's "LOST"(5.09) "Namaste" served as a crossroad for the series' fifth season. It served as a closure for some of the season's story arcs and a beginning for others.

The episode opened where the sixth episode, (5.06) "316" ended, with former castaways Dr. Jack Shephard, Kate Austen and Hugo "Hurley" Reyes disappearing from Ajira Flight 316 (destination - Guam) and reappearing on the Island. Following their harrowing reappearance, they are spotted by one their former castaways, who had remained on the island, Jin-Soo Kwon. The season's eighth episode, (5.08) "La Fleur", revealed that Jin; along with James "Sawyer" Ford ("Jim La Fleur"), Dr. Juliet Burke, Miles Straume, and Daniel Faraday; had ceased their time skipping and landed in the year 1974. They spent the next three years as members of the Dharma Initiative. When Jin informed Sawyer of Jack, Kate and Hurley's arrival in 1977, Saywer races from the Dharma compound to greet his former castaways.

Sawyer explains to the three newcomers that they had ended up in the 1970s. And in order to remain at the Dharma compound, he lied to the organization's leaders that he was captain of a research vessel, whose crew was searching the wrecked slave ship, the Black Rock. He then arranges for the trio to join the Dharma Initiative as new recruits. Jack becomes a janitor, Kate joins the motor pool, where Juliet works. And Hurley becomes a cook. Sawyer manages to achieve this after Juliet forges their necessary documentation.

Back in the 21st century, pilot Frank Lapidus manages to land the Ajira 316 airliner on the runway constructed by members of the Others, Kate and Sawyer (who were prisoners) back on Season Three, on the Hydra Station island. Along with Frank, Sun-Kwa Kwon and Benjamin Linus (former Others leader), other survivors include a man named Caesar, who assumes leadership of the surviving Ajira passengers and a bounty hunter named Ilana Verdansky, who had been escorting former Oceanic castaway Sayid Jarrah into custody. Ben sets out for the main island to reunite with the Others. Sun decides to join him in order to find Jin. And Frank accompanies them in order to protect Sun from Ben. However, she knocks Ben out, leaving him behind on the Hydra island. Sun and Frank encounter a figure in Christian Shephard's image, who informs them that Jack, Kate and Hurley have time traveled back to 1977. He also informs Sun that Jin is with them.

I found nothing particularly unique about "Namaste". But I must admit that I still found it interesting and solid entertainment. I found the present day sequences featuring Sun, Ben and Frank less interesting. Ben's intention to leave the Hydra island in order to reunite with Richard Alpert and the rest of the Others did not seem very interesting to me. Even Ben's attitude regarding his intention seemed like the logical conclusion. Which is why I found Sun's reaction to him rather over-the-top. One, she did not have insist upon joining him. If she really wanted to leave Hydra island for the main one, she could have made the trip on her own. Instead, she insisted upon joining Ben, before whacking him over the head with a paddle. Many "LOST" fans cheered. I simply rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of it all and a confirmation of her vindictive nature. When she and Frank later discovered that Jack, Kate, Hurley and Jin were all in 1977, I found the scene . . . well, uninteresting. The only interesting aspect of this story line was that it explained the finale of (3.07) "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" - with the Man in Black (in John Locke's form) looking down at his unconscious form.

The scenes set in 1977 managed to rouse my interest. The interactions between the main characters seemed filled with a great deal of emotions - overt or otherwise. Much of that emotion was centered around James "Sawyer" Ford. Ever since the Season Four episode, (4.09) "The Shape of Things to Come", many "LOST" fans have been pushing him as the series' hero. Sawyer's "hero" status was solidified - as far as many were concerned - in "La Fleur", when he found a way to ensure that he and his fellow castaways would become part of the Dharma Initiative and became romantically involved with Juliet Burke. Within three years, Sawyer became the Dharma Initiative's Head of Security. In a way, I can see why many fans had put Sawyer on a pedestal by mid-Season Five. Yet, I found some of his interactions with the other characters and his own decisions rather questionable. I am not accusing screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Brian K. Vaughan of bad writing. On the contrary, I thought they handled Sawyer's role in this episode very well. But I suspect that so many fans were viewing Sawyer through rose-colored glasses that they failed to see the warts behind the heroic image. Not even Jack Shephard during the series' first season was regarded in such a high light.

Many fans anticipated the reunion between Sawyer and his former bed partner, Kate Austen; believing that the latter was over Jack. Mind you, not all fans believed this, but a good number did. The episode's last five to ten minutes featured a moment in which the two exchanged subtle looks. That look would prove to be the beginning of the end of Sawyer's romance with Juliet . . . but in a way he did not anticipate or liked. Even worse, Kate's little moment of flirtation was a return to an old habit of hers - using Sawyer to erase her romantic problems with Jack. Fans marveled at how he and Juliet had arranged for Jack, Kate and Hurley's initiation into the Dharma Initiative. And many cheered at his criticism, near the end of the episode, of Jack's earlier leadership of the Oceanic 815 castaways. I felt impressed by the former and unimpressed by the latter. My recent viewing of this episode led me to realize a few things. One, three years as the "Sheriff of Dharma Land" had allowed Sawyer to develop an ego the size of a basketball. Note some of his criticism directed at Jack:

SAWYER: [Chuckles] I heard once Winston Churchill read a book every night, even during the Blitz. He said it made him think better. It's how I like to run things. I think. I'm sure that doesn't mean that much to you, 'cause back when you were calling the shots, you pretty much just reacted. See, you didn't think, Jack, and as I recall, a lot of people ended up dead.

JACK: I got us off the Island.

SAWYER: But here you are... [sighs] right back where you started. So I'm gonna go back to reading my book, and I'm gonna think, 'cause that's how I saved your ass today. And that's how I'm gonna save Sayid's tomorrow. All you gotta do is go home, get a good night's rest. Let me do what I do.


One, Sawyer had forgotten that not all of Jack's decisions were bad . . . and not all of his decisions were good. He also seemed unaware that his decision to include himself, Miles, Juliet, Jin and Daniel into the Dharma Initiative was a bad idea. And he should have never given Jack, Kate and Hurley the opportunity to become part of the Dharma Initiative. Sawyer did not save Jack, Kate and Hurley's lives. He merely dragged them into his own deception. And his decisions will prove to be bad ones by the end of Season Five. His belief in his own leadership skills proved to be nothing more than a reflection of his skills as a con artist. Like the Oceanic Six, he and his four companions had been living a lie for the past three years . . . a lie that would eventually catch up to them. I also suspect that Sawyer (and Juliet) were responsible for the newcomers' new positions. Sawyer's rant and his arrangement of Jack's new position as a janitor only convinced me that despite his words, his insecurities regarding the spinal surgeon have not abated.

However, Sawyer was not the only one who made bad decisions. Hurley decided that he wanted the comforts of the Dharma Initiative, instead of the discomforts of the jungle. It was a bad decision on his part. And both Jack and Kate made the mistake of agreeing with Hurley's decision. I could not help but wonder if Juliet had regretted assisting Amy Goodspeed through a difficult birth. The Goodspeeds' new child turned out to be Ethan Rom, a future follower of Ben Linus in 2004. I feel that Juliet had made the right choice. But . . . I have great difficulty in believing that Ethan was 27 years old in 2004 (the first season), especially since the actor who had portrayed him, William Mapother, was 39 to 40 years old during the series' first season . . . and looked it.

The episode ended with the revelation of Sayid Jarrah's whereabouts. He did not appear on the island with Jack, Hurley and Kate. And he was not seen among the Ajira survivors in 2007. Instead, he also ended up in 1977, discovered by Jin Kwon seconds before they encountered the Dharma Initiative's borderline psychotic head researcher, Stuart Radzinsky. Jin had no choice but to place Sayid under arrest for being a possible Hostile (the Others), the enemies of the Dharma Initiative and longtime island residents. At the end of the episode, Sayid met the 14 year-old version of Benjamin Linus, the man who manipulated him into becoming a hired gun in the latter's war against rival Charles Widmore. This meeting will prove to have grave consequences for the Losties. So much for Sawyer saving Sayid's ass. "Ain't life a bitch?"

Thanks to screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Brian K. Vaughan, "Namaste" is a pretty good episode that brought a great deal of closure to the first half of Season Five and initiated the story arcs for the rest of that season and the sixth and final season. The emotional complexities - especially in regard to James "Sawyer" Ford - proved to be very interesting in the 1977 sequences. But I was not that particularly impressed by the 2007 scenes. Despite my disappointment in the latter, I managed to enjoy the episode in the end.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"HIS DARK MATERIALS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS" (2007) Review






"HIS DARK MATERIALS:  THE GOLDEN COMPASS" (2007) Review

I might as well make one thing clear . . . I had never read Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy, "His Dark Materials", BEFORE the movie's release a year ago. But this did not deter my interest in seeing the movie based upon the first novel, "THE GOLDEN COMPASS". And quite frankly, I am glad that I had seen it.

Directed by Chris Weitz, "THE GOLDEN COMPASS" opened with the beginning of the "HIS DARK MATERIALS" saga. In it, a young girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), lives at Jordan College (of Oxford University) in an alternate dimension of Great Britain. She saves er uncle, world explorer/scholar Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) from being poisoned by the Magisterium (the dimension's religious ruling body) after he has revealed his discovery of elementary particles called Dust - something that the ruling body consider a threat to their authority. After her uncle departs upon an expedition to the North to find more Dust, Lyra befriends another scholar and explorer named Mrs. Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) during a dinner held at Jordan College. While visiting Mrs. Coulter in London, Lyra learns that her hostess is a member of the Magisterium and has participated in the kidnapping of young children, including two of her friends - a kitchen servant named Roger, and a Gyptian boy named Billy Costa. She also discovers that Mrs. Coulter wants her hands on the last alethiometer, a device that resembles a golden compass. This device, which was given to Lyra by Jordan College's Master, is able to reveal the answer to any question asked by the user.

After escaping Mrs. Coulter's London flat, Lyra is rescued by the Gyptians, who plans to rescue Billy and the other children. They take Lyra to the Norweigian town of Trollsund, where she meets an aeronaut named Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot). She also meets Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) who is a queen of the witches, and an armoured bear named Iorek Byrnison (voice of Ian McKellan). With her new friends, Lyra embarks upon an adventure that leads her to a conflict between her friend Iorek and the false king of the amored bears, Ragnar Sturlusson (voice of Ian McShane); and to Bolvangar, an experimental station in the North where the Magisterium are severing the Gyptian children from their daemons. Before the movie ends Lyra learns that Lord Asriel has been captured by Magisterium spies and that Mrs. Coulter plans to assassinate him. She, Roger, Scoresby and Serafina set out to rescue the endangered explorer by the end of the movie.

Like any other movie, good or bad, "THE GOLDEN COMPASS" has its flaws. There were three of them that I found noticeable. One, the movie's plot seemed rather vague on Lord Asriel's fate after he was captured by the Magisterium's spies in the North. Serafina gave a brief explanation to Scoresby near the end, as they set out to find Asriel. But still . . . I found it vague. Two, the editing by Anne V. Coates seemed a bit choppy in a few spots. And most importantly, the movie's pacing . . . at least in the first third, seemed very rushed. Some people have complained that too many aspects of the story had been stuffed in the script. I personally feel that Weitz had simply rushed the story. By the time Lyra and the Gyptians reached Trollsund, the director seemed to have finally found a natural pace.

However, I must admit that "THE GOLDEN COMPASS" had turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. Honestly, it is quite good. The story was intriguing. Chris Weitz did a decent job in adapting Pullman's novel for film, even if he did rush the first third of the story. I simply adored Henry Braham's photography and Ruth Myer's costume designs - especially Nicole Kidman's elegant, 1930s style costumes. But I must commend Richard L. Johnson. Chris Lowe and Andy Nicholson for their sumptious art direction - especially their view of London in Pullman's world. And Dennis Gassner deserves an Oscar nomination for his production design, as far as I am concerned.

The actors were first rate. What does one expect from a cast with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Elliot, Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay? I especially have to give kudos to Craig who seemed like the embodiment of the ruthless, yet enthusiastic scholar Lord Asriel. And Nicole Kidman brought great style, charm and ruthlessness to the role of the villainous Mrs. Coulter. But she also gave the character a much needed pathos, when the lady revealed to our young heroine that she was the latter's mother. It was quite thrilling to see Eva Green as a woman of action in her portrayal of the queen witch, Serafina Pekkala. Ian McKellan and Ian McShane were excellent as the feuding armored bears. And Jim Carter (who is married to HARRY POTTER actress Imelda Staunton) was most intimidating as the Gyptians' king, John Faa. Seeing Sam Elliot's portrayal as the charming aeronaut, Lee Scoresby, reminded me why I have remained a fan of his for so long. His scenes with young Dakota Blue Richards really crackled. He seemed like the embodiment of a fine wine that has aged very well.

"THE GOLDEN COMPASS"'s center . . . the character that held the movie together was none other than first-time British actress, Dakota Blue Richards. This young lady was a find. She was absolutely perfect as the charming, yet bold and cunning Lyra. Some Washington D.C. critic had compared her unfavorably to another actress named Dakota - namely Dakota Fanning. Granted, the latter is an excellent actress, but so is Miss Richards. She managed to convey all of Lyra's complex traits without turning the character into an adult in a child's body. She was simply superb.

I am sure there are fans of Pullman's novels who are disappointed that the movie did not turn out to be an exact adaptation of the literary version. All I can say is I am sorry, but I have never heard of any movie being an exact adaptation of its literary source. And if you are hoping to find one in the future, you will be disappointed. Yes, "THE GOLDEN COMPASS" has its flaws. What movie does not? But it certainly has enough virtues, including a superb leading actress, that made it enjoyable . . . at least for me.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"THE MUMMY" (1999) Review





"THE MUMMY" (1999) Review

As a rule, I dislike horror movies or thrillers very much. Not only do I dislike today’s slasher films, I am NOT a fan of the old horror classics that feature actors like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Lon Chaney Jr., and Boris Karloff. In other words, the slasher films disgust me and the old horror classics tend to creep me out. 

One of those old horror classics happened to be the 1932 movie, ”THE MUMMY”, starring Karloff. It told the story of an ancient Egyptian priest named Imhotep that became a mummy and ended up terrorizing Cairo. Seventy-six years later, director Stephen Sommers remade the old classic into a half-horror/half-adventure tale in the style of Indiana Jones about how members of a treasure-seeking expedition in 1920s Egypt, revived Imhotep, who wrecked havoc upon the expedition camp and Cairo. I had been prepared to ignore this remake, until a relative informed me that this version had been filmed in the style of an Indiana Jones movie. Being a fan of the Lucas/Spielberg movies, I lowered my guard and saw the movie.

Looking back at my decision, eleven years later, I am glad that I had seen ”THE MUMMY”. My relative had been right. The movie felt more like an action-adventure film, with a touch of horror. Well, more than a touch. After all, this was a tale about an Egyptian mummy that came back to life. But I loved every minute of the film. Well . . . almost. But I believe that it was a perfect blend of action, the supernatural, adventure, comedy and romance. My two favorite sequences featured the Medjai (descendants of Pharaoh Seti I’s palace guards) attacking the Nile River steamboat conveying the heroes from Cairo to Hamunaptra, site of the treasure they sought and Imohtep’s remains; and Imohtep’s reign of terror in Cairo, as he sought the three Americans and the Egyptologist who possessed the canopic jars that held the mummy’s preserved organs. I especially enjoyed this last sequence, because I feel that it managed to evoke the surreal and mysterious atmosphere of the old 30s horror films more than any other sequence in the movie.

Another one of the movie’s major virtues turned out to be its cast. Brendan Fraser did a great job in portraying the aggressive soldier-of-fortune, Rick O’Connell. He must have been at least 30 years old around the time he shot ”THE MUMMY”. And I must say that he also managed to project a strong and masculine screen presence, with a touch of sly humor. Creating screen chemistry with Fraser was Rachel Weisz, who portrayed the inexperienced yet enthusiastic archeologist, Dr. Evelyn Carnahan. I really enjoyed how she injected a mixture of charm and spirit into the very ladylike Evelyn. And John Hannah rounded out the golden trio as Jonathan Carnahan, Evelyn’s humorous yet slightly decadent older brother. Hannah was very funny as Evelyn’s self-serving brother, who seemed more interested in making a quick buck, instead of doing hard work.

Kevin J. O’Connor, a favorite of Sommers, gave a sly and hilarious performance as the Hungarian born Beni Gabor, Rick’s amoral former Foreign Legion comrade that becomes Imohtep’s willing minion. O’Connor was especially hilarious in a scene that featured Beni’s attempts to save himself from Imohtep’s wrath by invoking God’s help in different languages. Actor Oded Fehr provided a great deal of dash and intensity as Ardeth Bay, the leader of Medjai. Actors Stephen Dunham, Corey Johnson, and Tuc Watkins provided plenty of their own comic relief as the three American adventurers seeking treasure from Hamunaptra. Jonathan Hyde provided a stable contrast to their lunacy as the Egyptian archeologist who serves as their expedition’s Egyptology specialist. Patricia Velásquez gave a brief, but very memorable performance as Anck-Su-Namun, the ancient Egyptian courtesan that happened to be the love of Imohtep’s life. Speaking of Imohtep, Arnold Vosloo literally made a name for himself as the imposing and ruthless high priest and future mummy, who becomes obsessed with reuniting with his love through any means possible.

Despite its vast array of virtues, ”THE MUMMY” had its share of flaws. One, some of the humor and so-called wit struck me as rather silly and sophomoric. I also found it annoying that the Rick O’Connell character seemed inclined to constantly use a gun for every situation – especially when they worked fruitlessly against supernatural beings like mummies. Costume designer John Bloomfield did a piss poor job with Rachel Weisz’s costumes. I realize that Westerners in the far reaches of the British Empire tend to dress more conservatively than their fellow citizens in Great Britain. But that was no excuse for why Evelyn wore an outfit and hairstyle dated a decade older than the movie’s 1920s setting:



However, my biggest problem with the movie happened to be the final showdown between the heroes and Imohtep inside the temple at Hamunaptra. How can I put this? Director Stephen Sommers added new meaning to the phrase ”over-the-top”. Not only did the action and special effects struck me as excessive, but it almost seemed to go on with no end in sight.

Despite my misgivings of ”THE MUMMY”, I still enjoyed the movie very much. It is a fun movie filled with memorable characters, humor, suspense and some genuine fright. For me, it turned out to be one of the better summer blockbusters of the late 1990s.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING" (2005) Photo Gallery



Below are photos from the 2005 biopic about Mangal Pandey, the Indian soldier who served as the catalyst for the 1857-58 Sepoy Rebellion against the British called "THE RISING: BALLAD OF MANGAL PANDEY". Directed by Ketan Mehta, the movie starred Aamir Khan and Toby Stephens: 


"MANGAL PANDEY: THE RISING" (2005) Photo Gallery























































Friday, January 18, 2013

"The Best Man" (PG) - 2/2


Here is the second part of "The Best Man":


"THE BEST MAN" 




PART THREE – DANNY

'How long does it take to walk down the aisle?' Captain Danny Walker pondered silently.

As he waited for his bride in front of the chapel's altar, an assortment of emotions besieged him. One, Danny felt nervous as hell. After all, he was about to become a married man - and a father in less than two months. A father. He could not believe it! Somehow, he and Evelyn managed to create a new life during that passionate evening inside the hangar at Wheeler Field.

Recalling that particular event brought upon another emotion. Happiness. Danny felt as if he could walk on air. Evelyn Johnson was about to become his wife - Mrs. Daniel Walker. Never did Danny imagine he would find someone special in his life. Especially someone as kind and beautiful as Evelyn. And to think that it took a sad period . . .

Danny's thoughts came to a screeching halt. The happiness he felt gave way to anxiety. Seeing Evelyn's slightly pregnant form, Danny began to wonder how she really felt about him. Did she really love him? Or had she merely agreed to marry him, because of the baby? Danny fervently hoped the former. Yet, a small and dark suspicion niggled in the back of his mind. A suspicion that his bride might still harbor feelings for her former love . . . and his best friend.

The idea induced Danny to give the best man a quick glance. Rafe seemed . . . well he seemed fine. Calm. Danny frowned at the other man's expressionless face. An odd expression for someone to have at a wedding. But this was Rafe. Who was about to witness the marriage between his best friend and former girlfriend.

A wave of guilt washed over Danny. He tried to fight the feeling, but the guilt refused to vanish. Okay, so he had pursued Evelyn. Danny did not believe he had committed a crime. After all, Rafe had been dead. 'Yeah, for only three months.' With a single-minded ruthlessness, Danny squelched the silent retort. This was no time to feel guilty over certain events that he had no reason to feel guilty about.

His eyes focused upon the woman who glided down the aisle with the Naval officer. Despite being over seven months pregnant, Evelyn looked downright beautiful in her cream-colored gown. Considering her present physical condition, it would have been ludicrous for her to wear white. Danny quickly dismissed the thought. He only wanted to focus upon the moment. And on the bride. Her flushed skin and glittering dark eyes. Danny felt thrilled that she seemed to be as focused upon as he was upon her. Ever since Rafe's return, he had feared . . .

Danny shot another glance at his best man. Like everyone else, Rafe seemed focused upon the bride. Yet, the glance revealed that Rafe was not looking at Evelyn, but past her shoulder. At the pew, beyond. Danny did not know whether to feel relieved at not detecting any embarrassing emotions in Rafe's eyes, or annoyed that the latter was deliberately ignoring Evelyn. And what about Evelyn? Was she straining not to sneak a glance at her former love? If one could regard Rafe as former. But the moment Danny clapped eyes upon Evelyn, he could see that she had eyes for no one but him. His body nearly sagged with relief.

That relief soon became anticipation as the bride finally reached the altar. Commander Hayes handed over Eveyln's arm to Danny. The latter smiled at his future wife. She returned the smile. Evelyn's dark eyes glittered with the same anticipation that he felt. Then Danny shot a second glance at the best man. Rafe's eyes had shifted from the pew to the altar. Again, those eyes avoided Evelyn. Squelching another flash of guilt that threatened to overwhelm him, Danny focused his attention to the minister, who began the ceremony. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the presence of God, and of this company . . ."

The minister droned on about love and marriage during perilous times. Obviously, the man had decided to ignore Evelyn's pregnant state. Finally, the minister came to the first important question. "Daniel Walker, do you take Evelyn Johnson to be your wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love her, to honor and cherish her, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to be to her in all things a good and faithful husband as long as you both shall live?"

Danny stared deeply into his bride's dark eyes. "I do." His voice resonated throughout the small chapel.

Then it became Evelyn's turn to answer the same question. For a second, Danny feared an embarrassing pause that would follow - indicating the bride's doubts and possible true feelings about this wedding. But she did not hesitate. Evelyn quickly and firmly answered, "I do."

Collective sighs filled the chapel. Repeating the minister, Danny added, "I, Daniel Walker, take thee, Evelyn Johnson, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part. According to God's holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge thee my faith." Evelyn, following the minister's words, pledged the same vow.

The minister continued with a wedding prayer, as his voice filled the chapel. When he finished, he turned to Rafe. "The ring please?"

Danny watched Rafe dig immediately into his trouser pocket for the wedding ring. The older man's hand trembled as he handed it to the groom. Despite the blank, almost bleak expression on his face.

"Repeat after me," the minister said to Danny. "With this ring, I thee wed. With my body, I thee honor. With this ring I give to you in token and pledge of my constant faith and abiding love." Danny repeated the minister's words. He smoothly placed the ring on Evelyn's finger. Then he watched as she retrieved a ring from Barbara and repeated the same words. Her hands trembling, she inserted the second ring on Danny's finger.

The minister concluded, "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. Forasmuch as Daniel Walker and Evelyn Johnson have consented together in holy matrimony, and have witnessed the same before God and this company and have pledged their love and loyalty to each other, and have declared the same by the joining and the giving of rings, I, therefore, by the authority of the state, pronounce that they are husband and wife, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ." He gave Danny a flourished smile. "The Groom may now kissed the Bride."

Danny stared deeply into Evelyn's eyes. She smiled. Then he leaned forward and kissed her with as much passion as he could muster. Once their lips parted, everyone inside the chapel rushed forward to congratulate the newly wedded couple. Everyone, except for the best man.

* * * * 




PART FOUR – EVELYN"Congratulations . . . Mrs. Walker," the Army pilot said with a cheerful grin. "Danny is sure one lucky guy."

Evelyn smiled at the latest well-wisher, as she shook his hand. "Thank you, uh . . .?"

The grin became wider. "Adam. Lieutenant Adam Zelinski. I'm with your husband's squadron."

"Oh yeah." 

Lieutenant Zelinski shook Evelyn's hand one last time before moving on. She sighed with relief. He was the last one to come up to Evelyn to give his congratulations, thank goodness. With another heartfelt sigh, she glanced around the living room. She had just given the performance of a life time and did not have an award to show for her efforts.

Evelyn now looked forward to some refreshments after a long and difficult day. Actually, the day was not over yet. The clock on the wall only read 1:55, in the afternoon. With all of the wedding preparations and emotional turmoil she had endured, the day seemed to have dragged since the moment the alarm clock woke her.

The phonograph inside the beach house that she now shared with Barbara, Sandra, and Martha, blasted "Blueberry Hill". Evelyn winced. Not exactly one of her favorites, especially in her present mood. But the song happened to be a favorite of Sandra's. Which meant that after today, Evelyn would no longer be forced to hear it whenever the urge hit the red-haired nurse.

Tonight. The implications of that word finally hit Evelyn. Starting tonight, she and Danny will share a bed together for the first time as husband and wife. Dear God! Evelyn closed her eyes for a brief moment. How did she ever get into this predicament? What had she been thinking during that evening inside the hangar at Wheeler Field?

"Evelyn!" Barbara's voice cut into the bride's thoughts. "Honey, why are you standing around like a lamp post? Shouldn't you be mingling around? Having a good time?"

Evelyn took a deep breath. "I am having a good time. After all, I'm a married woman, now. Right?"

Barbara gave the other woman a hard stare. "Yeah," she said in a lackluster tone. "Right. Say, why don't we try . . .?"

The sound of a giggling female caught the attention of the two friends. They glanced at the direction from where the sound originated. Barbara frowned. Evelyn's heart leapt about ten inches. Next to the refreshment table stood one of the Navy nurses who had been invited to the reception - Ensign Lara McColl. And the very attractive nurse seemed to be enjoying the attention of one Captain Rafe McCawley. The best man. Even worse, Rafe seemed to be enjoying Ensign McColl's company, as well. Another fit of giggles left Ensign McColl's mouth. Evelyn struggled to fight the rising anger and despair within her. And the urge to punch the young nurse in the jaw.

"I wonder what they're talking about," Barbara muttered.

Evelyn tried to sound nonchalant. "Who knows? Knowing Lara's IQ, probably the latest edition of 'The Cat in the Hat'." Unfortunately, her words came out more bitter than she had intended.

Barbara gave Evelyn another one of those long looks. "Ev, honey, you're not jealous, are you?"

"Whatever gave you that silly idea? Or have you forgotten that I'm now a married woman?" Evelyn flashed the gold wedding ring on her swollen finger. "Happily married."

More giggles from the refreshment table punctuated Evelyn's words. She saw Rafe lean forward and whisper into Lara McColl's ear. Hot jealousy rose within Evelyn. Then she saw the silver flask in Rafe's hand. Probably filled with alcohol.

Barbara coughed slightly. "I don't mean to rain on your parade, Ev. But isn't 'happily married' a bit premature? Especially since you've only been married for . . . oh, almost three hours?"

An exasperated sigh left Evelyn's mouth. She shot a quick glare at her friend. "Thank you for pointing that out, Barbara." Glancing at the refreshment table, she added, "I think I need a drink." She started toward the table.

Barbara followed closely behind. "Uh, Ev . . . what are you doing?" But Evelyn did not bother to listen. 

The two friends reached the table, where they found Rafe regaling the strawberry blond nurse with tales of his exploits in England, last year. Now, why would anyone find that topic, funny? Evelyn didn't. "Hi," she greeted the pair. Lara nearly jumped two inches off the floor. Rafe gave Evelyn a polite smile. "What are you two talking about?" As if she did not know.

"England," Rafe answered shortly. "I was telling Ensign McColl here, about the time I served with the Eagle Squadron."

The Eagle Squadron. Every time someone mentioned it or England, Evelyn wanted to rant against fate. Scream at the world for snatching away any chance of real happiness, when Rafe volunteered to fight with the RAF. A polite smile formed on Evelyn's lips. "You must have some very interesting stories to tell."

"Yeah, I do." Rafe's dark brown eyes penetratred Evelyn's. A wave of heat engulfed her body. "There's one about me being shot down over the English Channel. Now, that's a real hoot."

Evelyn felt her lower lip tremble. 'I will not cry,' she told herself. 'I will not cry.' Taking a deep breath, Evelyn calmly continued, "Was that the story you were telling Lara?"

"Actually, Rafe was talking about this little pub in England," Lara answered. "Where he met this real wacky guy."

Rafe interrupted, "Tom Finch."

"And this Tom Finch used to tell him some of the nuttiest stories," Lara finished. The young nurse never looked more prettier than she did at that moment, Evelyn brooded. Her green eyes sparkled with delight. And her cheeks flushed deep pink. She made Evelyn feel even more gauche.

"Sounds like a delightful guy," Barbara murmured sarcastically.

Rafe shot her a dark look. "As a matter of fact, Tom was a pretty swell guy," he shot back. "Makes me wish I was back at the Blue Swan." His remark caused further discomfort for Evelyn.

Discomfort became jealousy when Lara patted Rafe's arm. Then she planted a light kiss on his cheek, causing more consternation within Evelyn's breast. "Oh, you don't mean that, Rafe," Lara cooed. "If that had happened, we would have never met. And I would have never heard about the wonderful Blue Swan."

A wry smile twisted Rafe's mouth. Evelyn looked away - and saw Barbara roll her eyes. Which brought a smile on the bride's lips. A figure appeared before the group and Evelyn's smile disappeared. So did Rafe's. "Hey everyone," Danny greeted the four people. "What's going on?" He leaned forward and pecked Evelyn's cheek. Instead of the usual warmth any bride would feel toward the groom, Evelyn only felt acute embarrassment. Especially with everyone, including Rafe, looking on.

Evelyn briefly closed her eyes and heaved an inward sigh. It was time for another performance.

* * * * 



PART FIVE – GOOZ

Rafe stood in the middle of the living room and raised his champagne glass. The other occupants did the same. "Here's to Danny and Evelyn," he announced in a too cheerful voice. "May they have many happy years to come! To Danny and Evelyn!"

"To Danny and Evelyn!" the others repeated, and everyone sipped their champagne.

Gooz Shannon watched the best man gulp the contents of the champagne glass in one swallow. It seemed like watching a performance, the laconic pilot thought. The too cheerful voice, the wide smile and the warm words to the bride and groom. And yet, Gooz noticed the pain in Rafe's eyes. He shook his head. Poor bastard.

While he continued to sip his champagne, Gooz saw Rafe reach for the bottle and pour more liquor into his glass. That poor bastard had been drinking steadily for the past two days. Even before the bachelor's party, last night. Gooz wondered if Rafe's personal problems would eventually lead him to alcoholism. That would be a crying shame for a talented pilot like Rafe. What the poor bastard needed was another woman. A serious relationship with a woman who could help him forget Evelyn John . . . Walker.

Gooz's eyes strayed toward Ensign Lara McColl. He recalled seeing Rafe flirt with the strawberry-blond Navy nurse. Personally, Lara did not strike Gooz as his first choice as a companion for Rafe. She seemed too vacuous and shallow for the more solid pilot. But she could be that perfect first step for Rafe to recover from Evelyn. If only one could lure the Tennesseean from the nearest bottle.

The bride and attendants started upstairs for the former to change into traveling clothes. It was Red who had discovered a small beach hotel on the other side of Oahu. Both the pilots and the nurses pooled their resources to offer a romantic getaway for the bride and groom to spend their honeymoon. Gooz took this time to approach Rafe. "Hey there, buddy! How you holding up?"

"Holding up?" Rafe gave the other man a hard stare. Then he broke into laughter that left Gooz feeling very uncomfortable. "Am I holding up? Hell, I'm doing just fine and dandy. Can't you tell?" 

Gooz could tell. Rafe's voice had begun to slur from too much booze. He cleared his throat, as he contemplated his next words. "Say Rafe, why don't we leave and head back to the barracks. Maybe a little rest would do you some good."

"I'd say a good shot of bourbon or whiskey might do the trick," Rafe slurred back. He wiggled the bottle of champagne in his hand. "This bubbly ain't doing much for me."

Gooz gently removed the bottle from Rafe's hand. "Drinking yourself into oblivion ain't gonna help you forget about Evelyn, Rafe."

The other man shot Gooz a dark look. "What the hell are you get . . .?"

"C'mon Rafe! I'm not blind. None of us are. The Hula-La has been like your second home since we got back from China. Let her go. Evelyn made her choice - even if circumstances forced her to make it. You gotta accept that."

A Latin beat followed the swing number that blasted from the gramaphone. "Perfido"Nice tune, Gooz thought. But it not exactly one of his favorites. "Huh," Rafe grunted. "That's sounds like 'Perfido'. Did you know that it's one of Evelyn's favorite tunes?"

Gooz sighed. Trying to get Rafe to forget about Evelyn seemed like a hopeless task. Then again, he had not been in New York to witness the beginning of the romance. Not until that fight between Rafe and Danny at the Hula-La on the night before the Pearl Harbor attack, did Gooz realize how serious Rafe had been about Evelyn.

A strawberry-blond in a Navy uniform loomed before Gooz's eyes. Perhaps it was time to test that theory about a new woman in Rafe's life. He only hoped that Ensign McColl will not have a problem in dealing with a drunken pilot. 

"Say," the laconic pilot began, "isn't that the girl you were talking to, earlier?" Gooz pointed at the beautiful nurse.

Rafe weaved slightly. "That's the beau . . . beautiful Lar-r-r-ra McColl," he slurred. "Well, not as beautiful as Evelyn." Gooz suppressed a frustrated sigh. "Then nobody is more beau . . . beautiful that Ev . . . Evelyn."

Gooz decided to go along with this line of conversation. "True. But at least . . . Lara, is it? At least Lara is available. You know?"

Dark brown eyes bored into Gooz's. For what seemed like forever. As Rafe opened his mouth to speak, someone announced the reappearance of the bride and groom. Both Gooz and Rafe turned around and watched the newly married couple descend the staircase. The guests cheered and threw rice at the pair. Gooz glanced at the happy couple. Well, the groom looked happy. Not even the sun has ever looked as bright as Danny's smile. When Gooz stared at Evelyn, he noticed that her happiness did not exactly match her husband's. In fact, her smile seemed . . . strained. Forced. Then Evelyn's dark eyes fell upon Rafe. If Gooz had not kept his focused upon her's, he would have never caught the flash of deep love and regret. At that moment, he realized that Evelyn's feelings for Rafe matched those of the Tennessee-born pilot's.

"Well I'll be damned!" Gooz muttered under his breath.

Rafe turned to Gooz. "Did you just say something?" Gooz shook his head and watched the couple head for the front door.

Some of the guests followed Danny and Evelyn outside, bombarding the pair with more rice. Neither Gooz or Rafe bothered to follow. Instead, the latter faced the former. A sickly smile stretched Rafe's mouth. "You know what, Gooz? You were right! Lara is a . . . avail . . . able, and I reckon I should ask her to join me for a late night drink."

Gooz watched Rafe take a deep breath and stride toward the strawberry-blond nurse. He shook his head and muttered under his breath, "Life can sure be a mess. Just one big goddamn mess!"


THE END

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"THE PACIFIC" - Episode Four "Cape Gloucester" Commentary


I wrote this commentary on the fourth episode of "THE PACIFIC":

"THE PACIFIC" - Episode Four "Cape Gloucester" Commentary

When I first saw the featurettes about "THE PACIFIC" on HBO, I noticed that the filmmakers and screenwriters had made a big deal about the miniseries’ ninth episode, which featured the battle on Okinawa. From what I had gathered, this particular episode might serve as the miniseries’ darkest. Then I saw Episode Four, which featured the U.S. Marines First Division’s experiences during the Battle of Cape Gloucester. And I realized that I had been wrong.

Very little combat played a role in Episode Four. One scene featured Robert Leckie’s brief confrontation with a Japanese scout patrol near the beginning of the episode. And another scene featured Company "H" repelling an intense banzai attack by the Japanese, a few minutes later. But as the documentary had hinted around the beginning of the episode, the Marines’ main conflict during the Cape Gloucester campaign seemed to be the environment – the thick jungle and the rain. And because of this environment, Leckie and his fellow Marines suffered a drop in morale.

Before watching this episode, I had no idea how depressing it would be. So much about this episode struck me as depressing . . . especially from Leckie’s point of view. One, both he and Sidney Phillips had the bad luck to witness Gibson’s murder of the Japanese soldier. Judging from the slightly demented expression on Gibson’s face, I suspect that neither Leckie nor Phillips was willing to interrupt the murder. But they both obviously found the experience disturbing. Eventually, the rain, the mud and the jungles of Cape Gloucester on New Britain got to Leckie and he found himself begging for someone to shoot him after he lost his shoes in the mud and fell down a slope. It got worse. Leckie found his confiscated Japanese chest stolen by a Marine officer. And instead of dismissing the chest lost, he stubbornly tried to get his chest back during a hostile confrontation. Leckie never got the chest back. Instead, the Marine officer transferred him from his duties as an intelligence scout to kitchen and latrine duties. The Marine officer also humiliated Leckie for wetting his trousers. But that was nothing in compare to Leckie witnessing the suicide of a Canadian-born Marine.

Company "H" of the First Marines Division was eventually sent to the island of Pavuvu for some rest and relaxation. Only, the island proved to be nothing like Melbourne. The Marines had to deal with pests like rats and crabs. Leckie’s sense of humor became increasingly irritating to Hoosier. And his bedwetting (enuresis) became even worse. At one point, "Chuckler" Juergens found Leckie lying on his cot, pissing uncontrollably and staring into space. Leckie had finally reached the nadir of his existence. The company’s doctor shipped Leckie to a Naval hospital located on Banika. Leckie discovered that the wing he had been assigned to was for psychiatric patients. Fortunately for him, the Naval doctor assigned to him – a Dr. Grant – realized that Leckie was simply suffering from enuresis and a case of exhaustion. By the end of the episode, he allowed the Marine to return to his company. Before that happened, Leckie made another discovery . . . Ronnie Gibson was also a patient at the hospital. Leckie learned from Dr. Grant that Gibson tried to steal a plane and later commit suicide, while Company "H" were on Pavuvu.

I doubt very much that Episode Four will ever be considered a personal favorite of mine. I simply found it too depressing. But I must admit that I also found it fascinating. And it is a credit to screenwriters Robert Schenkkan and Graham Yost, along with Yost’s direction that I managed to remain fascinated by it all. While watching Episode Four, it occurred to me that in some ways, it reminded me of the 2005 movie, "JARHEAD". The Marines in Sam Mendes’ movie were suffering psychological stress, due to their inability to relieve their built-up aggression via combat. The Marines in Episode Four were suffering from a number of factors – including no combat against the Japanese, who had decamped to Rabaul on the other side of New Britain.

For the umpteenth time, actor James Badge Dale managed to knock it out of the ballpark with his portrayal of Robert Leckie. In fact, I would say that this episode marked his best performance in the miniseries to date. He did a superb job in portraying Leckie’s emotional descent without any heavy-handed acting. I especially enjoyed his performance during a scene that featured Leckie’s confrontation with the officer who had stolen the Japanese chest. Badge Dale’s performance conveyed a delicious mixture of aggression, sarcasm and subtlety. I also have to give kudos to Tom Budge’s portrayal of the demented Gibson. Mind you, his performance was not as subtle as Badge Dale’s, but it was just as convincing. And I believe I will never forget that expression on his face, after his character had strangled that Japanese soldier. I also found Leckie’s stay at that Naval hospital equally depressing. It reminded me of a line that the Bill Guernere character had said about military hospitals in one of the episodes of "BAND OF BROTHERS". Thanks to this episode, I finally understand what he was trying to say. The Banika sequence also featured Matt Craven, who gave a wonderfully subtle performance as Leckie’s doctor, the slightly sarcastic Dr. Grant. Thinking about this episode, it occurred to me that the one character who managed to remain steady throughout the entire mess was Chuckler, thanks to Josh Helman’s solid performance. It is easy to see why Lieutenant Corrigan had promoted him to corporal following the Alligator Creek action on Guadalcanal in Episode One.

After watching Episode Four, I found myself dubbing it "Heart of Darkness – Part One", considering that the entire episode featured a little combat, a murder, a suicide, illness, rodents and crabs and a stay for Leckie at a Naval psych ward. And I had no idea I would be watching this before it aired. The reason I had dubbed it "Part One" is that I suspect that the Okinawa episode will proved to be just as depressing . . . or perhaps a little more.