Saturday, August 30, 2014
"THE FOUR FEATHERS" (1977) Review
I have heard of the 1977 adaptation of A.E.W. Mason' 1902 adventure film. But I never thought I would see it. Recently, it occurred to me to rent the movie from Netflix, because I have yet to run across it at any store that sells DVDs. I did rent"THE FOUR FEATHERS". Needless to say, it produced some rather interesting feelings within me.
Anyone familiar with Mason's tale knows that "THE FOUR FEATHERS" is the story about a 19th century British Army officer named Harry Faversham, who harbor plans to resign from his commission in the Royal North Surrey Regiment and live out the rest of his days with future wife Ethne Eustace. During a ball held at his family estate, telegrams for Harry and three of his friends - Jack Durrance, William Trench and Thomas Willoughby - ordering them to report for duty, due to their regiment being shipped out to the Sudan to participate in the Mahdist War. Being the first to receive the telegrams, Harry had them destroyed so that he would not have to report for duty a day before his resignation from the Army was due to be official. Realizing what Harry had done, his father ostracized him, his three friends gave him white feathers that labeled him as a coward, and Ethne breaks off their engagement and also hands him a white feather. Also, Harry's best friend, Captain Durrance, becomes a rival for Ethne. Haunted by his efforts to avoid combat, Harry travels to the Sudan to help his friends any way possible and return their feathers.
"THE FOUR FEATHERS" attracted a good deal of critical acclaim, after it aired on British and American television. The movie also earned a Primetime Emmy nomination. And if I must be honest, I find that particularly surprising. I have seen this movie twice. Granted, it seemed pretty decent as far as television movies go. But . . . an Emmy nomination? "THE FOUR FEATHERS"? It just did not strike me as being that memorable. The Wikipedia site claimed that it was a very faithful to Mason's 1902 novel. Actually, it was no more faithful than any other adaptation I have seen. But I do feel that the movie's critical acclaim might be overrated.
The movie can boast its virtues. "THE FOUR FEATHERS" provided a small, but detailed peek into Harry Faversham's childhood that gave audiences a good idea behind his aversion to continuing his military career. It also featured at least two excellent action sequences - the skirmish that led to the destruction of Durrance's company and his blindness, and Harry and Trench's escape from the prison-of-war camp at Omdurman. Dramatic scenes abound in the film, especially one that featured the breakup of Harry and Ethne's engagement and the former's final confrontation with his militant father, retired General Faversham.
And I cannot deny that some very good performances were also featured in "THE FOUR FEATHERS". David Robb, Harry Andrews and Robin Bailey all gave solid performances. I found Simon Ward's portrayal of William Trench rather intense, but believable. Both Robert Powell and Jane Seymour were excellent as Jack Durrance and Ethne Eustace. Beau Bridges proved to be an enjoyable surprise in his portrayal of the lead character, Harry Faversham. I recall reading one review of this movie, in which the critic praised the rest of the cast, but put down Bridges' performance. Apparently, he found the idea of an American portraying a Victorian British military officer unbelievable. I have seen Americans portray British characters before. And quite honestly, I thought Bridges did an excellent job by giving a subtle performance and avoiding histronics . . . unlike his performance in the 1976 film, "SWASHBUCKLER".
And while I found the production's quality solid, I did not find it particularly dazzling. I can only assume that as a television production, it would not be on the same quality as a theatrical release. The movie's costume designs by Olga Lehmann seemed a little more impressive. I especially enjoyed her costumes for Jane Seymour, despite my confusion over whether the costumes reflected the 1870s or the 1880s. But if I must be honest, I have seen other television productions a lot more impressive. I was also disappointed to find that the story's jingoistic portrayal of the British Empire somewhat off-putting, especially for a television movie that had aired in the 1970s. I would even add that the sympathetic portrayal of Harry's anti-military attitude struck me as a bit hypocritical, considering that the movie's conservative view of British imperialism. I must also admit that I found myself slightly repelled at the sight of white English actors portraying Sudanese soldiers. Did the producers really find it that difficult to find non-white actors to portray the Sudanese? Speaking of white actors portraying African ones:
Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The above photo is an image of British actor Richard Johnson portraying a Sudanese Arab named Abou Fatma, who assists Harry in his efforts to save his friends. Johnson gave a nice, solid performance as Fatma, but . . . why? Why??? Why on earth did the producers cast Johnson in this role? He looked like a performer in a 19th century minstrel show . . . or a cast member from "THE BIRTH OF A NATION". This kind of wince-inducing casting may have been common in the film industry during the first half of the 20th century. But "THE FOUR FEATHERS" aired on television around 1977/78. Nearly a year after the ABC miniseries, "ROOTS". What in the hell were the producers and casting director Paul Lee Lander thinking?
Do not get me wrong. "THE FOUR FEATHERS" is a pretty solid adventure movie that can boast a first-rate cast led by Beau Bridges. But I do feel that the movie is critically overrated. I did not find it that impressive, dramatically or production wise. I found the casting of white actors portraying non-white characters rather repulsive. And the movie's sympathetic portrayal of the character's anti-military stance in comparison to its pro-conservative portrayal of British imperialism struck me as hypocritical. Still . . . it was not a bad movie.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Below are photos from Robert DeNiro's 2006 espionage saga about the rise and personal fall of a C.I.A. official between the 1940s and the early 1960s. Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie starred:
"THE GOOD SHEPHERD" (2006) Photo Gallery
Saturday, August 23, 2014
"HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III" (1994) - EPISODE TWO Commentary
Despite the tragic ending of the last episode, Episode Two of "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III"proved to be even darker. Bent continued his crime spree by assaulting an Illinois farm girl and kidnapping Charles' son, Gus in St. Louis. Charles' decision to become an Army scout in order to hunt down Scar led to his breakup with Willa Parker. Worse, he witnessed the massacre of a peaceful Cheyenne village by U.S. troopers led by Captain Venable. Madeline's conflict with Cooper, Gettys LaMotte and the local Ku Klux Klan resulted in tragedy for one of the Mont Royal workers.
Overall, Episode Two was pretty first-rate. I only had a few quibbles. Stanley and Isobel Hazard (Jonathan Frakes and Deborah Rush) made a re-appearance in the saga without any explanation of how they avoided conviction for war profiteering. I guess anyone can assume that they were exonerated. Keith Szarabajka continued his over-the-top portrayal of Harry Venable. Even Gary Grubbs, usually a very dependable performer, indulged in some hammy acting during a scene that featured the KKK's ambush of two Mont Royal workers. And aside from a few scenes of solid acting, Lesley Anne Down continued her exaggerated take on the Southern belle.
Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Ashton discovered that manipulating her second husband, Will Fenway, might proved to be difficult in a well-acted scene between Terri Garber and Tom Noonan. Genie Francis appeared like a breath of fresh air, when her character, Brett Main Hazard attended Constance's funeral. This episode also featured an outstanding performance by Stan Shaw, in a scene about Isaac's attendance of a political conference for freed slaves in Charleston. By the way, this particular conference actually happened and was hosted by activist Francis Cardoza, portrayed by Billy Dee Williams. Both Kyle Chandler and Rya Kihlstedt continued their strong screen chemistry, as they played out Charles and Willa's stormy relationship. And James Read did an exceptional job in portraying George Hazard's grief over the murdered Constance.
But the episode's three showcases featured the KKK's attack upon the two Mont Royal workers - Isaac and Titus, the U.S. Calvary's massacre of a peaceful Cheyenne village and a kidnapping. Thanks to Peerce's direction, I found all three scenes very chilling. Grubbs' hammy acting was unable to spoil the scene featuring the KKK attack. And I could say the same about Szarabajka in the cavalry massacre scene. One last chilling moment featured Bent's latest attack upon the Hazards and the Mains - namely his kidnapping of young Gus. The entire sequence was swiftly shot, but Peerce's direction and Casnoff's performance left chills down my spine.
By the end of Episode Two, I found myself wondering about the fandom's hostile attitude toward this third miniseries. Granted, the production values of "HEAVEN AND HELL" did not exactly matched the same level as the first two miniseries. But the miniseries' writing seemed to match and sometimes improve the quality of the writing found in the 1986 series. So far, so good.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
"THERE WILL BE BLOOD" (2007) Review
I really do not know what to say about Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2007 movie, "THERE WILL BE BLOOD". This movie, based upon Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel "Oil!", is about a ruthless oilman in California between 1898 and 1927. I cannot deny that this is basically an excellent film and that Daniel Day-Lewis gave one of the best performances of career. I cannot also deny that "THERE WILL BE BLOOD" was basically well written, produced and directed by Anderson. I enjoyed it very much and consider it to be one of the better films released in 2007 But for some reason, I cannot muster any real passion for it.
I must admit that there were times that I found the movie fascinating. One has to thank leading Daniel Day-Lewis’ riveting performance maintaining my interest. He portrayed the ruthless Daniel Plainview, a hard-working silver prospector who discovered an oil well, while prospecting for silver. On the very day he discovers his first oil well, one of his employees die in an accident and Plainview adopts the dead man’s infant son. By 1911, he is one of the most successful oil men in California. In order to convince many farmers and other small landowners to drill on their land, he uses his adoptive son, whom he names H.W. (Dillon Freasier), as his "partner" to project his status as a family man and a family businessman. Plainview is approached by a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) who sells Plainview an oil lead located on his family's property in Little Boston, California. Plainview and H.W. travel to Little Boston, and, pretending to be hunting quail, scout out the Sunday property and discover a good amount of seepage oil. Plainview attempts to buy the property without notifying Paul's father Abel (David Willis) of the oil, but Paul's twin brother, Eli (again Paul Dano), knows of the oil and raises the price to $10,000, the bulk of which he intends to put into the founding of his own Church. Plainview pays him $5000 up front and promises the other $5000 as a donation to the church. In order to ensure the monopoly on the Little Boston oil, Plainview buys the "ranches" of a number of the surrounding neighbors, with the exception of one property, which the owner, a Mr. Bandy (Hans Howes), was hesitant to sell.
As I had earlier stated, the heart and soul of "THERE WILL BE BLOOD" for me was Daniel Day-Lewis. His Daniel Plainview has to be one of the most fascinating characters in movie history. Certainly not in literary history, since Plainview was a character created for the screen by Anderson. I really do not know how to describe him. He seemed to be the epitome of those ruthless tycoons of the late 19th century and early 20th century. He is certainly not typical. Utilizing a John Huston accent, Day-Lewis captured all of the malevolence , cunning and emotional perversity of Plainview, as he draws the audience into the character’s unchecked greed for wealth and power. The ironic thing is that Plainview does not seem to care for the trappings of wealth. One example of this is his habit of sleeping on the floor, even when a comfortable bed is available. And even in that exclusive mansion he has built by the end of the film, he sleeps on the floor inside the mansion’s bowling alley. But the money and power, he definitely needs. And he needs an audience to witness his financial triumphs, judging how he had temporarily abandoned H.W. when the latter first lost his hearing in an accident and how he took under his wings, a man claiming to be a long lost brother named Henry Brands (Kevin J. O’Connor). Day-Lewis won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for his performance. Quite frankly, I was not surprised. It would have been a travesty if someone else had won.
It is a shame that the Golden Globes and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science could not acknowledge Paul Dano for his performances as the twin brothers – Paul and Eli Sunday, and Dillon Freasier as the young H.W. Plainview. Dano, who had first impressed critics with his supporting role in 2006's "LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE", had studied evangelism for his role as the Sunday twins. The Paul Sunday character made a brief appearance near the beginning of the story, but Dano’s performance as the other twin Eli really impressed me. Dano’s performance revealed the malevolence and greed for wealth and power behind Eli’s meek and religious demeanor – traits that seemed to match Plainview’s. Anderson could not find a child actor to portray Plainview’s adoptive son, H.W., so he had hired the son of a Texas state trooper who had pulled over the movie’s casting agent for speeding. Like Dakota Blue Richards in "THE GOLDEN COMPASS", Dillon Freasier turned out to be find. Especially for Anderson and the movie. With very few words, the young actor managed to convey all of his character’s array of emotions experienced in the film – from his intelligence and warmth, to his suspicions and resentment of Plainview’s relationship with Henry Brands.
Most of "THERE WILL BE BLOOD" seemed to be set during 1911. Sinclair’s novel seemed to be a condemnation of the oil industry itself and a response to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal during the Warren G. Harding administration. Anderson does condemn the oil industry in California, especially in his revelation of how many small landowners were cheated out of millions of dollars through the manipulations of oil companies and tycoons. But for me, "THERE WILL BE BLOOD" seemed more like a character study than an expose on a major industry. But I must admit that it is a first-class movie and probably one of the better ones of 2007. Anderson paced the movie very well, making one ALMOST forget that this movie is fifteen minutes short of three hours. With actors like Day-Lewis, Dano, Freasier, Ciarán Hinds and Kevin J. O’Connor, Anderson managed to make the most of a first-class cast. Well, almost. Freasier gave a memorable performance as Day-Lewis' "son". Both Dano and O'Connor benefited from some choice scenes provided by Anderson. Unfortunately for Hinds, he seemed wasted in this film. In fact, my only memories are of him hanging around Day-Lewis' character, while the latter acted his ass off. I cannot say the same for Did it deserved its Academy Award nominations? Of course. But as excellent as the movie is . . . as first-rate as Day-Lewis’ performance was, it did not exactly rock my boat. Aside from Hinds' role in the movie, I have a few other problems.
As I had stated earlier, "THERE WILL BE BLOOD" seemed more like a character study, instead of an expose. And because of that, perhaps it could have been at least a half hour shorter. But when I said that Anderson had almost made me forget that this movie was nearly three hours long, I was serious. He ALMOST made me forget about the film’s running time. Until the story shifted to 1927. Frankly, I do not see why Anderson had even bothered. Following the time shift, the movie lost its epic scope. Even Plainview’s personality seemed to have lost some of its steam . . . until his last encounter with Eli Sunday. Speaking of those two, I believe that the make-up artist Kim Ayers may have done both Day-Lewis and Dano a bit of a disservice. Despite the fifteen to sixteen year difference between the two time shifts, I never really got the impression that either Plainview or Sunday had aged at all. There was barely a strand of gray in Day-Lewis’ hair and Dano still looked like a young man in his early twenties, despite the fact that Eli Sunday must have been at least in his mid-to-late thirties during this period. But the one thing I truly disliked about the film was its abrupt ending. One can say that the movie ended with the final confrontation between the two adversaries. But there is this feeling in my gut that Anderson had ended the movie in the middle of the story’s finale. He probably had a reason for ending it in this manner. Whatever reason he had, it has eluded me.
Despite the few quibbles I have with "THERE WILL BE BLOOD", I must admit that it is overall, an excellent film. It may not have rocked my boat, but I did find it fascinating. I also believe that it fully deserved the accolades and nominations that it had received, especially Daniel Day-Lewis' Academy and Golden Globe awards for Best Actor. And if you can deal with a two hour and forty-five minute character study, then I suggest that you watch the movie.
Thursday, August 14, 2014
Below are images from "MANSFIELD PARK", the 2007 television adaptation of Jane Austen's 1814 novel. The movie starred Billie Piper and Blake Ritson:
"MANSFIELD PARK" (2007) Photo Gallery