Thursday, July 31, 2014
Below are images from "THE FOUR FEATHERS", the 1977 television adaptation of A.E.W. Mason's 1902 novel. Directed by Don Sharp, the movie starred Beau Bridges, Jane Seymour and Robert Powell:
"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1977) Image Gallery
Monday, July 28, 2014
Notes and Observations of "STAR WARS: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back"
The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”. I hope that you enjoy them:
*Exactly who was in command of the Rebel Alliance base on Hoth – Leia or General Rieekan?
*What was Leia doing on Hoth with the Rebel Alliance military personnel? Why wasn’t she with the other political Rebel leaders?
*Ah yes! The ”I’ just as soon kiss a Wookie!” dialogue between Leia and Han. Charming, although slightly . . . childish.
*How . . . or should I say when did Han and Leia reach the point in which they became attracted to one another?
*It was interesting to see how Obi-Wan’s ghost faded with the emergence of Han on a tauntaun.
*”Why, you stuck up,... half-witted... scruffy-looking ...nerf-herder!” - Another charming, yet childish exchange between Leia and Han.
*Jealousy and ambition seem quite obvious within the Imperial command structure, if General Ozzel’s glare at Piett is anything to go by.
*I find it interesting that the exchange between Luke and Han before the commencement of the Battle of Hoth would be the last between them for at least a year.
*Vader’s ability to strangle Ozzel with the Force from such a large distance seemed very impressive for someone whose strength with the Force has been weakened.
*The pilots’ point of view of the Battle of Hoth seemed like another cliché of a World War II dogfight . . . like the Battle of Yavin.
*Luke was made commander of the Rebel pilots because he had destroyed the Death Star . . . with Han’s help? What about Wedge, who was also a competent pilot and more experienced?
*The Imperial AT-AT Walkers remind me of the Oliphaunts from the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” saga.
*Wasn’t Leia taking her duty just a bit too seriously by delaying her departure from Hoth?
*I noticed that Han never seemed to follow the ladies first rule. When he, Leia and Chewie and Threepio had escaped both from Hoth and the exogorth in the asteroid field, he made sure that he boarded the Millennium Falcon first. Not exactly a man of the Old Republic.
*Han really revealed how much of a hot shot pilot he was in this movie.
*”Into the belly of the beast” - This metaphor seemed to fit the Falcon’s entry into exogorth even more than Luke, Han and Leia’s brief adventures inside the Death Star’s trash compactor.
*The audience got a brief glimpse of the price Anakin paid for his past mistakes – namely his scalded head.
*”Feel like what?” - Yoda’s first words in any ”STAR WARS” movie.
*”Great warrior? Hmmm . . . wars do not make one great.” - Ironic words from the very being who led the first attack, during the first battle of the Clone Wars. His words also revealed the true Yoda behind the comic façade. I think Luke may have been too impatient or full of himself to notice.
*”You like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life.” - One can only assume that Leia’s age – 22 years – and limited experience with men would explain why she bought that bilge pouring from Han’s mouth.
*”He’s just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.” - Surely these words must have hinted to Palpatine that Vader had been aware of Luke for some time?
*I see that Clive Revill has been replaced by Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor Palpatine in this version of the movie. Which makes sense, considering that McDiarmid is more identified with the role.
*”This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away . . . to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” - I believe that Yoda had just described himself and many other Jedi Masters and Knights of the Old Republic, nearly a quarter of a century ago. If he and Obi-Wan could learn to overcome this distraction from the future, why not Luke? Why was Yoda so reluctant to teach Luke? Is it Luke he doubts? Or himself as a teacher?
*”If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.” - I hope that Yoda was trying to say that a person will always be affected by his or her earlier decision to take a dark path or commit dark acts. Because if he was trying to say that a person will always remain evil, after taking the dark path, I must say that I disagree.
*Han used a neat trick to evade the sensors of Captain Needa’s starship, after the Falcon left the asteroid field.
*”Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.” - A favorite line of mine.
*It was very clever of Han to attach the Falcon to an Imperial starship before disguising it as garbage to be disposed with the other. Unfortunately for him, Boba Fett had witnessed a similar trick pulled by Obi-Wan near Geonosis, some 25 years ago. Even worse, it is a shame that Han was so busy congratulating himself over his trick that he failed to realize that Fett was tracking him.
*”Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future... the past. Old friends long gone.” - I wonder if Yoda was thinking of Mace Windu.
*According to LucasFilm, it took the Falcon three months to reach Bespin without a hyperdrive. If only Lucas and the others had made this clear in the movie.
*The Falcon was practically escorted to one of the landing platforms on Cloud City. I wonder why.
*Great entrance for Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.
*Was CP-30 really that dense in that he would be so easily distracted from the group by the sound of an R2 unit?
*”Stopped they must be. On this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor”. - Did that mean Yoda had never intended for Luke to help Anakin find redemption?
*Apparently, the original deal between Vader and Lando did not include Han being turned over to Boba Fett. And later, Vader broke his word and insisted that Leia and Chewie accompany him. Interesting. It is a miracle that the Sith Lord did not renege on the deal even further by destroying Bespin and its population.
*And why did Han and Leia fail to understand the situation that Vader had placed Lando? Were they too blinded by anger?
*I find it interesting that not once did Vader set eyes upon C3-P0, his own creation. Why? Because Chewbacca had the droid strapped to his back.
*How stupid were Leia and Chewbacca? It was obvious that Lando had released them from Vader’s stormtroopers. Yet, all they could do was lose their tempers. Chewbacca immediately began to strangle Lando and Leia encouraged the Wookie. Because their temper tantrums, they prevented Lando from rescuing Han from Boba Fett.
*I must admit that I found the dialogue during the Bespin duel rather irritating. The most important thing about the duel seemed to be Vader’s revelation as Anakin Skywalker . . . after the fighting stopped.
*Vader’s reaction to Luke and Leia’s escape from Bespin was an excellent moment of silent acting on David Prowse’s part. With his use of body language, he managed to express Vader’s regret over losing Luke . . . and the beginning of Anakin Skywalker’s resurgence.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
"THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD" (2000) Review
As many fans of Agatha Christie are aware, one of her most highly acclaimed and controversial novels is "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd". I had checked the Internet to see how many adaptations had been made from well-regarded tale. I was surprised to learn there were at least seven adaptations, considering its difficult plot twist. The third to the last adaptation proved to be the last adaptation was the 103-minute television movie that aired on ITV's "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT" in 2000.
"THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD" seemed like your typical Christie novel. After retiring to the small village of King's Abbott, Belgian-born detective Hercule Poirot stumbles across a mystery in which an old friend of his, an industrialist named Roger Ackroyd has been murdered. Sometime earlier, another friend of Ackroyd, a widow named Mrs. Ferrars, had committed suicide when she is suspected of killing her husband. Another murder occurs before Poirot, with the help of Chief Inspector Japp and local physician Dr. James Sheppard, solves the murder.
Screenwriter Clive Exton made some changes to Christie's novel. He deleted a few characters, changed Poirot's relationship with Ackroyd from simply neighbor to old friend, and added Chief Inspector Japp to the cast of characters. This last change greatly affected the story's narrative. Christie's novel was narrated by the Dr. Sheppard character. By having Japp replace him as Poirot's closest ally, Exton nearly made Dr. Sheppard irrelevant. Exton ended up doing the same to a character in 2001's "MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA", when he added Arthur Hastings to the story, allowing the story's true narrator, Nurse Amy Leatheran to become irrelevant. However, the addition of Japp to "THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD" transformed Christie's story from a unique tale, to something . . . well, rather typical. With the addition of Japp, the story became another typical Christie murder mystery set in a small village. Pity.
I also believe that Exton damaged Christie's original narrative even further with other major changes. One, he revealed major hints of the killer's identity before Poirot could expose the former. And once the killer was exposed, audiences were subjected to a theatrical and rather silly chase scene throughout Ackroyd's factoy, involving the police. And if I must be honest, I found myself wondering why on earth Poirot had decided to retire as a detective and move to the country in the first place. How long had he been gone before his reunion with Chief Inspector Japp?
Was there anything I like about "THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD"? I thought it was a tasteful movie, thanks to Rob Harris' production designs that beautifully recaptured rural England in the mid-1930s. His work was ably complimented by Katie Driscoll's art direction, and Charlotte Holdich's costume designs. In fact, I can honestly say that the latter did a first-rate job in not only creating costumes for that particular era, but specifically for each character. Although some of Exton's narrative changes robbed the story of its famous plot twist and featured a badly-handled revelation of the murderer, I will give kudos to the screenwriter for creating a plausible murder mystery that made it somewhat difficult for any viewer not familiar with Christie's novel, to guess the killer's identity . . . to a certain point.
The movie also featured some solid performances. David Suchet gave his usual competent performance as Hercule Poirot. He had one rather amusing scene in which the Belgian detective struggled with the vegetable marrows in his garden. I could say the same about Philip Jackson's performance as Inspector Japp. Both Oliver Ford-Davies and Selina Cadell were amusing as the much put upon Dr. James Sheppard and his very nosy sister, Caroline. I read somewhere that the Caroline Sheppard character may have been a forerunner of the Jane Marple character. Malcolm Terris gave a very emotional performance as the story's victim, Roger Ackroyd. Both Daisy Beaumont and Flora Montgomery were also effectively emotional as Ursula Bourne and Flora Ackroyd (the victim's niece) - the two women in the life of Ralph Paton, Ackroyd's stepson and major suspect. Speaking of the later, Jamie Bamber gave a solid performance as Ralph. But honestly, he did not exactly rock my boat. However, I was impressed by Roger Frost's portrayal of Ackroyd's butler, Parker. I thought he did a very good job in portraying the different aspects of the competent, yet rather emotional manservant.
Looking back, I really wish that Clive Exton had maintained Christie's narrative style for this television adaptation of her 1926 novel. I believe it could have been possible. By changing the narrative style and adding the Chief Inspector Japp character to the story, Exton transformed "THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD" from a unique story to a typical Christie murder mystery. Pity.
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Below is a gallery of photos from the 2007 Paul Thomas Anderson film, "THERE WILL BE BLOOD", starring Daniel Day-Lewis (who won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his performance), Paul Dano, Dillon Freasier, Ciarán Hinds and Kevin J. O'Connor:
"THERE WILL BE BLOOD" (2007) Photo Gallery
Monday, July 14, 2014
"STARDUST" (2007) Review"
When I had first saw the poster, I could not drum any interest in seeing "STARDUST", directed by Matthew Vaughn. In fact, my interest remained dormant after viewing the trailer. Just today, someone had suggested that we see it, considering there was no other movie in the theaters we were interested in seeing. I said "no thanks". It did not end there. This "someone" literally had to coerce me into seeing the film. And you know what? I am glad that he did.
Based upon Neil Gaiman's novella, "STARDUST" tells the story of a young 19th century Englishman named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who becomes in involved in a series of adventures in magical kingdom located beyond the wall of his hometown of . . . Wall. His adventures resulted from his love of a young neighbor named Victoria (Sienna Miller) and his desire to find and retrieve a fallen star named Yvaine (Claire Danes) in order to prove his worthiness as a future husband. Tristan has no idea that his mother (Kate Magowan) is not only a citizen of this magical kingdom, but is also a royal princess who is enslaved by a witch named Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill). He does not realize that his two surviving uncles - Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) and Prince Primus (Jason Flemyng) - are in search of a ruby that will give either of them the throne to the kingdom. A ruby that had caused Yvaine to fall from the sky and is now worn by her. And Tristan is also unaware of a witch named Lamia who seek Yvaine. With the latter's heart carved out, Lamia and her two sisters will be able to regain their youth and power.
I do not think I will go any further into the story, because it is simply too damn complicated. It is not confusing. Trust me, it is not. But I do feel that in order to know the entire story, one would simply have to see the film. I have never read Gaiman's novella, so I have no idea how faithful Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn's script was to the story. But I do feel that Goldman and Vaughn's adaptation resulted in an exciting, yet humorous tale filled with surprisingly complex characters and situations.
The acting, on the other hand, was first-class. It could have been easy for Charlie Cox and Claire Danes to fall into the usual trap of portraying the leads, Tristan and Yvaine, as a pair of simpering and and over emotional young lovers - a cliche usually found in many romantic fantasies over the years. Instead, Cox and Danes seemed to be having a good time in portraying not only the ideal personality traits of the two lovers, but their not-so-pleasant sides through their constant bickering and mistakes. Vaughn filled the cast with some of his regulars like the always competent and dependable Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng, along with Sienna Miller, who did a surprisingly good job of portraying Tristan's bitchy object of desire, Victoria. Mark Strong was excellent as the ruthless and sardonic Prince Septimus. Robert DeNiro did a surprising turn as Captain Shakespeare, a flaming drag queen who pretends to be a ruthless and very macho captain of a pirate ship in order to maintain his reputation. DeNiro was very funny. But by the movie's last half hour, the joke surrounding his deception threatened to become slightly tiresome. But the movie's true scene stealer turned out to be Michelle Pfieffer as the evil and treacherous Lamia, the oldest and most clever of the three sister witches. At times seductive, funny, malevolent and creepy, Pfieffer managed to combine all of these traits in her performance, allowing her to literally dominate the movie and provide one of the most creepiest screen villains to hit the movie screens in the past decade. Margaret Hamilton, look out!
As much as I had enjoyed "STARDUST", I had a few problems with the movie. I have already pointed out how the joke surrounding Captain Shakespeare's sexual orientation threatened to become overbearing. I also found the movie's running time to be a bit too long. This problem could be traced to an ending so prolonged that it almost rivaled the notoriously long finale of "LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING". And the fact that the movie's style seemed to be similar to the 1987 movie, "THE PRINCESS BRIDE", did not help. Another problem I found with the movie was its "happily ever after" ending that left me feeling slightly disgusted with its sickeningly sweet tone. But what really irritated me about "STARDUST" was Jon Harris's editing. It seemed so choppy that it almost gave the movie an uneven pacing.
But despite the movie's disappointing finale and Harris' editing, "STARDUST" proved to be a very entertaining movie. Using a first-class cast and an excellent script, director Matthew Vaughn managed to pay a proper homage to Neil Gaiman's novella. He also proved that his debut as a director ("LAYER CAKE") was more than just a fluke.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
"HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III" (1994) - EPISODE ONE Commentary.
If there is one chapter in John Jakes' NORTH AND SOUTH saga that is reviled by the fans, it the television adaptation of the third one, set after the American Civil War. First of all, the theme of post-war Reconstruction has never been that popular with tales about the four-year war. More importantly, fans of Jakes' saga seemed to have a low opinion of "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III", the 1994 adaptation of Jakes' third North and South novel, published back in 1987.
My opinion of the 1994 miniseries slightly differs from the opinions formed by the majority of the saga's fans. The three-part miniseries failed to achieve the same level of production quality that its two predecessors had enjoyed. But unlike the second miniseries, 1986's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II", this third miniseries was more faithful to Jakes' original novel - as I had pointed out in a previous article. And to my surprise, I discovered that some aspects of the miniseries were an improvement from the novel.
Episode One of "BOOK THREE" struck me as a solid return to John Jakes' saga. Not only did it re-introduce some of the old characters from the previous two miniseries, but also introduced new characters. Ironcially, one of the new characters turned out to be the oldest Main sibling - Cooper Main. As many fans know, his character was left out of the first two miniseries. Why? I do not know. But Cooper was introduced as a humorless man, embittered by the South's defeat. And Robert Wagner gave one of the best performances in the miniseries in his portrayal of the deeply bitter Cooper. Another praiseworthy addition turned out to be Rya Kihlstedt, who portrayed Charles Main's new love interest, actress Willa Parker. Not only did Kihlstedt did a great job in portraying the idealistic Willa, she had great chemistry with Kyle Chandler, who took over the role of Charles Main. Many fans had howled with outrage over Chandler assuming the role of Charles, following Lewis Smith's portrayal in the previous miniseries. So did I. But after seeing Chandler do a superb job of conveying Charles' post-war angst and desperation to find a living to support his son, my outrage quickly disappeared and I became a fan of the actor. James Read gave a solid performance as a grieving George Hazard, who seemed to be having difficulty in dealing with the death of his best friend, Orry Main, at the hands of their former enemy, Elkhannah Bent. Cliff De Young made a surprisingly effective villain as Gettys LaMotte, the manipulative and vindictive leader of the local Ku Klux Klan.
Unfortunately, there were performances that failed to impress me. I got the feeling that director Larry Peerce harbored an odd idea on how a 19th century upper-class Southern woman would behave. This was quite apparent in the performances of Lesley-Anne Down as Madeline Fabray Main and Terri Garber as Ashton Main Huntoon. The performances of both actresses struck me as unusually exaggerated and melodramatic - something which they had managed to avoid in "BOOK I" and "BOOK II". Fortunately for Garber, she occasionally broke out of her caricature, when portraying Ashton's more sardonic nature. Down only got worse, when her voice acquired a breathless tone in several scenes, which director Larry Peerce seemed to associate with Southern upper-class women. Fortunately, Down ignored the Southern belle cliche in one effective scene and gave a deliciously sardonic performance in which Madeline revealed the difficulties of maintaining a ravaged plantation in the post-war South to an outraged George. Being a fan of character actor Keith Szarabajka from his stint on "ANGEL" and other television and movie appearances, I was shocked by his hammy performance as a vengeful Kentucky-born Union officer named Captain Venable, whose family had been ravaged by Confederate troops. His performance was one of the most wince-inducing I have witnessed in years.
Episode One possessed some bloopers that left me scratching my head. Cooper's sudden appearance in the miniseries was never explained by the screenwriters. Neither was the introduction of former slave Isaac, who was portrayed by Stan Shaw. And I am still curious about how Gettys LaMotte learned about Madeline's African-American ancestry, let alone the other neighbors in the parish. I do not recall Ashton or Bent telling anyone.
Fortunately, Episode One was filled with excellent scenes and moments. One of the scenes that really seemed to stand out featured George and Madeline's argument about the state of post-war Mont Royal. Charles' hilarious introduction to a Cheyenne village involved marvelous acting by Chandler and Rip Torn, who portrayed mountain man Adolphus Jackson. One other scene that had me on the floor laughing featured Ashton, who became a prostitute in Santa Fe, kicking a smelly would-be customer out of her room. The episode featured very chilly moments. One of them featured Gettys LaMotte's creepy rendition of the KKK theme song (I forgot that De Young was also a singer). Another was the murder of Adolphus Jackson and his nephew Jim by a Cheyenne warrior named Scar. But the best scene in the entire miniseries (and probably the entire trilogy) was Elkhannah Bent's murder of Constance Hazard, George's wife. I found it subtle, creepy and beautifully shot by Peerce. Also, Philip Casnoff and Wendy Kilbourne acted the hell out of that scene.
Despite some bloopers that either left me confused or wincing with discomfort - including some hammy performances by a few members of the cast - I can honestly say that "HEAVEN AND HELL: BOOK III" started off rather well. In fact, I believe it started a lot better than I had originally assumed it would.