Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"BABYLON 5" RETROSPECT: (1.11) "Survivors"

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"BABYLON 5" RETROSPECT: (1.11) "Survivors"

For the first time during its five-season run, the award-winning science-fiction series, "BABYLON 5", focused on the major supporting character of Security Chief Michael Garibaldi. The name of the episode was Season One's (1.11) "Survivors". And I never realized until now, how much it foreshadowed future events in the series' major story arc, until recently. 

"Survivors" begins with the news network, ISN, announcing President Luis Santiago's intention to pay a visit to Babylon 5 during his tour of Earth Alliance outposts. The president also intends to present a new wing of starfuries (fighter planes) to the station. While Garibaldi and Babylon 5's second-in-command, Lieutenant-Commander Susan Ivanova, discuss Santiago's upcoming visit, the station is rocked by an explosion inside its Cobra landing bay. An injured crewman named Nolan is tended in Medlab by medical officer, Dr. Stephen Franklin; while Garibaldi, Ivanova and Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (the station's commanding officer) discuss the possibility of sabotage. Santiago's security detail, led by one Major Lianna Kemmer, arrives on Babylon 5. Kemmer, who knew Garibaldi when she was a child, treats him coldly and demands that her detail investigate the Cobra Bay explosion. She and her aide Cutter, interrogate the badly wounded Nolan against Dr. Franklin's wishes and manages to extract one name from him - Garibaldi's - before his death. Kemmer demands that Sinclair put Garibaldi on suspension. And when Cutter finds the Cobra Bays blueprints and a bag of Centauri ducats inside Garibaldi's quarters, Kemmer tries to arrest the security chief. But the latter makes his escape and tries to learn who had framed him.

Judging from the episode's initial plot, one might be led to wonder what the title had to do with it. I mean . . . "Survivors" . . . in a tale about a political assassination plot? Once the episode moved into the details of Garibaldi's history with Lianna Kemmer, I understood . . . completely. Babylon 5's security chief had been a twenty-something Earthforce security guard at the ice-mining station on Europa, when he first met a shuttle pilot named Frank Kemmer and his family. Garibaldi had also developed a drinking problem to deal with the strains of working at the station. Garibaldi managed to make a few enemies on Europa, who decided to retaliate by rigging his friend's shuttle pod to explode. Frank Kemmer was killed, Garibaldi was blamed and retreated further into the bottle. He eventually became estranged from Frank's wife and daughter, Lianna, when he left Europa without any further word to them. Lianna grew resentful and angry over Garibaldi's disappearance from the Kemmers' lives. This continuing resentment spilled over into her willingness to quickly assume his guilt on the word of a dying terrorist. The presence of Lianna brought back painful memories of Europa for Garibaldi. His situation grew even worse after being named as a collaborator in the bombing and stripped of his position on the station. Once viewers became of Garibaldi's history with Lianna, it became easy for me to see that the episode's title referred to both characters.

I read a few reviews of "Survivors" online and noticed that most critics seemed to regard this episode as either a filler or an opportunity to flesh out the Michael Garibaldi character. On a certain level, they might be correct. The events of "Survivors" were never referred to again in the few episodes that followed, aside from a brief mention of the Cobra Bay bombing and President Santiago's visit. And yet . . . I noticed something else. This episode also featured some major foreshadowing that not only played out by the end of this first season, but also as late as Season Five. One of the episode's foreshadows featured Garibaldi's alcoholism, which will rear its ugly head in future episodes. Many fans have never been able to deal with it. They were barely able to tolerate his alcoholism, as long as he was able to overcome it by the end of this episode. But when he succumbed to it again, they complained. Loudly. Apparently, they could not deal with him succumbing to it . . . again. And I never understood their attitude. Surely, they understood the struggles for any addict not to succumb again. But it seemed as if they could not deal with a guy like Garibaldi possessing such a major problem in the first place.

I must admit that it was interesting to watch someone like Garibaldi, an authority figure who knew more about the in and outs of Babylon 5 than anyone else, find himself stripped of his authority, neutralized from his friends and hunted down by an authority higher than the station's commander, Sinclair. What made it even more interesting is that Garibaldi's situation led him back to the bottle and at his lowest, before he could climb out of the gutter. It was also interesting to watch both Sinclair and Ivanova try their best to help Garibaldi. The commander came to Garibaldi's rescue in a brief, yet rousing fight; while the latter was being beaten down by bounty hunters. And I found Ivanova's subtle, yet brief threat to Lianna, when the latter tried to enforce her authority in the station's Command and Control Center rather amusing. But in reality, there was very little they could do. It was Garibaldi who had to climb out of the bottle, do his own investigation and convince Lianna that he was an innocent man.

"Survivors" featured solid performances from the likes of Michael O'Hare, Claudia Christian, Richard Biggs, Tom Donaldson, David L. Crowley, Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik. But the real stars of this episode were Jerry Doyle as Garibaldi and Elaine Thomas as Lianna Kemmer. At first, I was not that sure about Thomas. She seemed stiff and a little uncomfortable in her early scenes. But once her character's determination to hunt down Garibaldi became prominent, Thomas really grew into the role. And she did a marvelous job in her final scene. Jerry Doyle gave an outstanding performance as the increasingly besieged Garibaldi. Not only was he very effective in portraying his character's growing desperation to escape the situation he found himself in, Doyle was surprising effective in portraying Garibaldi's alcoholism. And I have noticed that portraying a drunken character does not seemed to be an easy thing to do.

I would never count "Survivors" as one of my favorite "BABYLON 5" episodes. I would not count it as one of my favorite Michael Garibaldi episodes. But I must admit that I have always managed to enjoy myself, while watching it. Unlike many other "BABYLON 5", I have never been put off or outraged over the show's portrayal of Garibaldi's alcoholism. It gave Jerry Doyle an opportunity to really strut his stuff. And show runner J. Michael Straczynski managed to reap narrative gold out of this character trait - not only in this episode but also in future ones.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

"AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" (2007) Review

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"AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" (2007) Review

Not long ago, I had written a review of an Agatha Christie television movie called "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL". It was a 1987 adaptation of the writer's 1965 novel. Twenty years later, ITV aired its own version that starred Geraldin McEwan as Miss Jane Marple. 

But I am not interested in comparing the two adaptations. Instead, I want to discuss only one of them - the recent 2007 televised film. The movie began with a flashback to the early 1890s in which a young Jane Marple stayed at the fashionable London hotel, Bertram's, with a relative. Sixty years later, the elderly resident of St. Mary Mead's pay another visit to the hotel and discovers that its interior has not really changed over the years. Miss Marple is there She is there to meet an old friend named Lady Selina Hazy, who is visiting for the reading of a will of her millionaire second cousin, who had been declared dead after being missing for seven years and owned Bertram’s. Also there for the reading of the hotel owner's will are his ex-wife Bess, Lady Sedgwick; and daughter Elvira Blake. Bertram's Hotel also seemed to be used as a center to smuggle Nazi war criminals and their stolen treasure; and for jewel thieves.

Christie's 1965 novel is not considered one of her stronger ones and I can see why. The story's murder mystery is rather weak and easy to solve. They mystery behind the hotel proved to be more interesting. The 1987 television movie with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple closely followed the novel. Despite a sluggish pacing, it still proved to be entertaining. Screenwriter Tom McRae decided to "solve" the matter of Christie's narration by "improving" it with major changes. And you know what? It sucked. Big time. Without a doubt, "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" - at least this 2007 version - is one of the worst Christie adaptations I have ever seen. Period. 

One of the first sentences that Miss Marple observes when she arrives at Bertam's after many years is that the hotel had not changed . . . even after sixty years. And yet that was NOT the impression I encountered. In Christie's novel and the 1987 film, the elderly sleuth noticed that the hotel's quiet and elegant atmosphere had remained intact after many years. I NEVER got that impression in this 2007 film . . . certainly not with the noisy bustling going on upon her arrival. To make matters worse, McRae's script had Louis Armstrong and his band break out into a jam session in one of the hotel's ballroom. He is joined by one of the writer's fictional characters, an American-born black jazz singer Amelia Walker. WTF????? I cannot image Louis Armstrong staying at some quaint little London hotel like Bertram's. The screenplay also had the Lady Sedgwick character receiving clumsily written death threats, Nazi war criminals and their hunters disguised as hotel guests. The screenplay even featured an extra murder victim - a hotel maid named Tilly Rice. It also made the actual murder of Bertram's commissionaire a lot more complicated than necessary. And to make matters even more worse, McRae added another maid character named Jane Cooper, who becomes a younger version of Miss Marple - another talented amateur sleuth. And she acquired a love interest of her own - an Inspector Larry Byrd, a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress. He also replaced the much older Chief Inspector Fred Davy character, as the story's main police investigator. The screenplay allowed the young Miss Cooper to reveal most of the hotel's mysteries before Miss Marple exposed the actual killer. 

I do not mind if changes were made to Christie's story. I can think of a good number of Christie adaptations in which changes were made to her original novels and ended up being well-made movies. But I feel that those changes needed to be well-written or be necessary as an improvement to the author's original tale. "At Bertram's Hotel" was not a perfect or near-perfect novel. But the changes made for this particular adaptation did not improve the story. On the contrary, the changes made for "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" transformed Christie's rather eccentric tale into one big convoluted mess. The only positive change that emerged in this adaptation was a shorter running time of ninety-three (93) minutes. Thanks to this shorter running time, "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL"managed to avoid the occasionally sluggish pacing of the 1987 movie.

The performances in "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" proved to be a mixed bag. I had nothing against Geraldine McEwan's portrayal of the quiet, yet intelligent Miss Jane Marple. She was her usual more than competent self. I enjoyed her performance so much that I wish that the screenplay had not seen fit to saddle her with the Jane Cooper character. Yes, I hated the idea of another amateur sleuth in this tale. But I must admit that Martine McCutcheon gave a very good performance as Jane. But the producers of"AGATHA CHRISTIE'S MISS MARPLE" want another amateur sleuth that badly, create another series for her . . . or him. Francesca Annis managed to rise above the material given to her and gave a very funny and entertaining performance as Miss Marple's old friend, Lady Selina Hazy. However, why do most or all of Miss Marple friends tend to look more glamorous . . . and older than her? Stephen Mangan gave a solid and intense performance as Inspector Larry Byrd. More importantly, he managed to portray a post-traumatic stress victim without engaging in excessive acting. I was not particularly thrilled by McRae and director Dan Zeff's changes to the Lady Sedgwick character. They replaced Christie's vivacious and elegant socialite/adventuress into a hard-nosed and somewhat cold businesswoman. However, I cannot deny that actress Polly Walker gave a more than competent performance as Lady Sedgwick, despite the changes to the character. 

Naturally, there were the performances that either failed to impress me, or I found troubling. I was not that impressed by Emily Beecham's portrayal of the young Elvira Blake. I simply found it unmemorable. I can say the same for Mary Nighy's portrayal of Elvira's friend, Brigit Milford; Vincent Regan's performance as hotel commissionaire Mickey Gorman; Nicholas Burns' portrayal of twin brothers Jack and Joel Britten; and Charles Kay as one Canon Pennyfather, who struck me as a dull and stuffy character. Ed Stoppard portrays a Polish race car driver named Malinowski, who is suspected by many of being a former Nazi. He gave a pretty good performance, although there were a few moments when he dangerously veered into hammy acting. The role of Amelia Walker proved to be singer Mica Paris' second and (so far) last dramatic role. Mind you, she gave a pretty good performance, but the moment she opened her mouth, I immediately knew she was not an American. I found her accent rather exaggerated at times. I have always been impressed by Peter Davidson in the past. But I must admit that I did not care much for his portrayal of hotel employee Hubert Curtain. I found it unnecessarily exaggerated . . . especially in one scene.

What else can I say? "AT BERTRAM'S HOTEL" does featured a good deal of atmosphere. Unfortunately, it struck me as the wrong kind of atmosphere for this particular story. And some of the good performances featured in this movie - especially by Geraldine McEwan, Francesca Annis and Polly Walker - could not save the movie from the shabby screenplay written by Tom MacRae. Honestly, I found the whole thing a mess. I only hope that there will be a better written adaptation some time in the future.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM" (2008) Photo Gallery


Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 2008 costumed action fantasy called "THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM".   Directed by Rob Minkoff, the movie starred Jackie Chan and Jet Li:


"THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM" (2008) Photo Gallery

















































































Sunday, November 8, 2015

"West to Laramie" [PG] - 1/4




”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Summary: A Philadelphia matron and her companion travel west by stagecoach to attend the wedding of her son, an Army officer, in pre-Civil War West.
Rating: PG




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”WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 1


November 14, 1859

Mrs. Anne Middleton
63 46th Street
Philadelphia, PA


Dear Mother,

I am sure you will be happy to learn of the latest fortune to be bestowed upon me. I have the pleasure to announce my engagement to Miss Penelope Hilland, the only daughter of Major and Mrs. Ronald Hilland of Akron, Ohio.

Penelope and I have agreed to have our wedding on June 3 of next year at the fort’s chapel. I will be granted a three-month furlough between June and September. Unfortunately, Major Hilland will be unable to attend any ceremony held in the East, due to military duties. Penelope and I have decided to make the trip east as part of our honeymoon. Since Major Hilland is unable to travel, we hope that you and Addie will make the trip west to attend the wedding. I would not dream of getting married without my family in attendance.

I understand that the new Central Overland Stage Line between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California has recently opened. You and Addie can travel from Philadelphia to St. Joseph by train. From there, you can reach Fort Laramie by stagecoach. From what I understand, traveling by stage should be more comfortable that it would in the East. A new type of coach is now in use. You should not have to worry about Indians. Our boys are keeping them busy and making sure they cause no trouble for the white settlers here on the plains.

Please try to make the trip. Nothing would please me more than to have my family witness my beginning with the most wonderful girl in this world. Tell everyone – especially Addie – hello for me. I hope to see you both next spring.

Your loving son,


Robert

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February 7, 1860


First Lieutenant Robert Middleton, U.S.A.
Fort Laramie, Nebraska Territory


Dear Robert,

My heart glowed at the news of your upcoming marriage to Miss Hilland. It is wonderful to hear that you have finally met a young lady with whom you can share the rest of your life. I also have news to share. Addie and her husband, Harold, are expecting a child sometime in July. This means that Addie will be unable to make the trip. Instead, my companion – Patricia North – will accompany me. I am sure it will be nice for you to finally meet her. I informed her that we will travel by train and stagecoach. She merely implied in her usual pessimistic manner that the trip might not be as comfortable as you had described in your letter.

We will depart from Philadelphia during the last week of April. We should arrive at Fort Laramie within a week-and-a-half. Please convey my greetings to your fiancée and her parents. I anticipate in finally seeing the West for the first time . . . and you after so many years.



I love you always,



Mother

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Major Problems of "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986)

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THE MAJOR PROBLEMS OF "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986)

In the eyes of many fans of the trilogy of miniseries based upon John Jakes’ saga, "The NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy", the only miniseries not worthy of the entire saga is the third one - "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III". I wish I could agree with them. After all, the production values for ”BOOK III” had not been as impressive as the other two. And of the three miniseries, "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" had the best costume designs. But looking at the three miniseries from the prospective of a writer, I have finally come to the conclusion that it was "BOOK II" (set during the Civil War), and not "BOOK III" that ended up being a lot more disappointing to me.

None of the three miniseries were exact copies of the novels from which they had been adapted. Changes were made in all three. Despite some flaws, I had no problems with most of the changes in ”BOOK I” and ”BOOK III”. But I found some of the changes in ”BOOK II” to be very questionable. In fact, some of these changes really did nothing to serve the miniseries’ story, except pad it unnecessarily in order to ensure that it would last six episodes.

Below are some examples of the questionable plotlines I found in "BOOK II":


*Around the end of Episode I, Brett Main Hazard (Genie Francis) – a South Carolina belle who had recently married Pennsylvania-born army officer, Billy Hazard (Parker Stevenson) - and her maid, Semiramis (Erica Gimpel), had left Washington D.C. just before the Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861). The former had received a written note about Madeline LaMotte (Lesley Anne Down)’s kidnapping by her estranged husband (David Carradine) and the injuries that Brett’s mother – Clarissa Main (Jean Simmons) – had suffered following a barn fire at the Main’s South Carolina plantation, Mont Royal. Brett and Semiramis finally reached Mont Royal in November 1861. I have a lot of problems with this.

1) Why was the message about Clarissa and Madeline sent to Brett in
Washington D.C. and not to Brett’s older brother, General Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) in Richmond? It would have been easier to reach him, since Richmond was inside Confederate territory.

2) Would it have been easier for Brett and Semiramis remain in Richmond and wait for
Orry to depart for South Carolina? What was the point of them leaving him a message and continuing their journey south? They would have reached Mont Royal a lot sooner.

3) Why did it take them three to four months to reach South Carolina? It took them at least less than a week to travel from Washington D.C. to Richmond, Virginia – despite being delayed by Union troops. They were on horseback. So why did it take them an additional three-and-a-half months to reach Mont Royal in South Carolina?



*Episode One revealed that both George Hazard and Orry Main served as military aides for their respective political leaders - Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. Between Episode One and early Episode Three, George provided information to Lincoln on battle results and on the President's behalf, interviewed General Ulysses S. Grant in Tennessee, to see if the latter was the right man to take over the Army of the Potomoc in Virginia. George became a field commander right before the Battle of Gettysburg. Orry not only provided battle results and other information to Davis, he also served as some kind of quartermaster and investigator of corruption within the Confederacy. He became a field commander right before the Battle of Fort Steadman in Episode Six. I had a lot of problems with this.

1) Although both George and Orry had graduated from West Point's Class of 1846 and served in the Mexican-American War, they only served for a duration of at least eighteen months. Both men, due to personal reasons, had left the Army by the late winter/early spring of 1848. How on earth did both managed to acquire such high positions - militarily and politically - at the start of the Civil War, thirteen years later? Even the younger members in their families - Billy Hazard and Charles Main - had more military experience before the war - nearly five years apiece.

2) Neither George or Orry had acquired any further military experiences or participated in any political movements or organizations in their respective home states of Pennsylvania and South Carolina, during those thirteen years between 1848 and 1861.

3) Although George primarily served as an adviser for Lincoln before becoming a field commander, Orry served in a confusing mixture of duties that included military adviser, quartermaster, and investigator. What the hell? It almost seemed as if the screenwriters could not make up their minds on what capacity Orry had served in the Confederate Army, before becoming a field commander during the war's final month.

4) In the early summer of 1863, George became an artillery commander in the Army of the Potomoc. I am aware that he had graduated from West Point near the top of class, ranking sixth. But in 1846, George decided to choose the Infantry in which to serve. His only previous military experience before the Battle of Gettysburg was fifteen months as a junior infantry officer. How on earth did he end up in artillery, with no previous experience in that particular field?

George and Orry's military experiences during the war smacked of a great deal of bad continuity, lack of logic and confusion.


*In Episode Three, despondent over being unable to see Brett for two years, Billy decides to go AWOL, following the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) and head south to South Carolina to see Brett. Upon his arrival at Mont Royal, he stays there less than 24 hours and leaves to return to the Army. He returned to duty in Hiram Burdam (Kurtwood Smith)’s Sharpshooter regiment in late April/early May 1864, in time to participate in the Battle of the Wilderness. And I had problems with this.

1) It took Billy less than a month to travel from Southern Pennsylvania (Gettysburg) to Mont Royal in South Carolina. Yet, it took him at least eight to nine months to rejoin his regiment, who were back in Virginia by the time of his arrival. Why did it take him longer to travel from South Carolina to Virginia, than it did for him to travel from Southern Pennsylvania to South Carolina? He was on horseback.

2) Billy had been AWOL from the Army for at least nine to ten months (July 1863 – late April/early May 1864). Why did Colonel Burdan fail to punish him for abandoning his post without permission . . . for so long? In the spring of 1864, the Union Army was not exactly desperate for an increase in manpower, unlike the Confederate Army. In fact, Billy never even faced a court martial or trial of any kind for his actions. His only punishments were a stern lecture from Burdan and being passed over for a promotion to the rank of captain. This is illogical . . . even for a fictional story.


*Charles Main (Lewis Smith) and Augusta Barclay (Kate McNeil) first met each other while the former was on a scouting mission for the Confederacy and the latter was smuggling medicine in July 1861. They met again, the following year, when Charles appeared at her farm, wounded. In the spring of 1864, following the Battle of the Wilderness, they began a love affair that lasted until they said good-bye for the last time in February 1865. Two months later, following the surrender of the Confederate Army at Appomattox, Charles returned to Barclay Farm and learned that Augusta had died while giving birth to his son. Charles learned that Augusta’s South Carolina relatives had taken custody of Charles Augustus Main and returned to Charleston. There, Charles took custody of his son for the first time. I have a problem.

1) Charles and Augusta saw each other for the last time in February 1865. When Charles returned to her farm, two months later, her former servant – Washington (John Nixon) – informed him that she had recently died from giving birth to Charles’ son. Yet, Augusta certainly did not look pregnant, during Charles’ last visit two months ago - when the unborn baby should have been at least six to seven months old. And she was wearing a corset.


2) Following his discovery that he was a father, it did not take Charles very long to return to South Carolina and claim his child. Yet, the recently Charles Augustus Main looked at least between one to two years old. If that had been the child’s real age, Charles and Augusta’s son would have been born a year earlier – before they had consummated their relationship in May 1864.

*After being driven from Mont Royal by the discovery of a family secret by Ashton Main Huntoon (Terri Garber), Madeline Main (Lesley Anne-Down) settles in Charleston around July-September 1863. The following spring in May 1864, she meets a former slave/refugee named Jim (Bumper Robinson) and his sick mother. Because of this meeting, Madeline decides to offer aid to many of Charleston’s war refugees – whether they are ex-slaves or poor whites. She also learns about Jim and his mother’s personal history. Apparently, they were Tennessee slaves who were freed upon the arrival of Union troops at their former master’s plantation, who decided to make their way to Charleston.

1) WHAT IN THE HELL IS THIS? Why on earth would recently emancipated slaves make their way deep into Confederate territory? Did the writers of the miniseries honestly believe that slaves were that stupid? Jim and his mother were from Tennessee. They could have easily made their way to any of the following cities:

*Nashville, Tennessee – which fell to Union troops in February 1862
*Memphis, Tennessee – captured by the Union in June 1862
*New Orleans, Louisiana – fell to Union troops in April 1862
*Louisville, Kentucky – which remained in the Union throughout the war


Any of the above cities were closer to the plantation owned by Michael’s master and could have provided safe refuge for him and his mother. Certainly not Charleston, South Carolina, which was too far and still Confederate territory by the spring of 1864.

2) The writers could have written Michael and his mother as South Carolina slaves. And yet . . . they would have been wiser to head for Hilton Head, the only safe refuge for runaway slaves in South Carolina, until February 1865.


As I had stated earlier, the flaws mentioned in this article are merely samples of many I had spotted in "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". Do not get me wrong. I do not dislike the 1986 miniseries. But it featured flaws in its screenplay that makes me doubt the prevailing view among the saga's fans that it is superior to the last chapter in John Jakes' tale. Mind you, "HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III" is far from perfect. But the flaws featured in "BOOK II"makes it easy for me to regard it as my least favorite chapter in the trilogy.