Sunday, February 28, 2016
Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s:
FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s
1. American Gangster (2007) - Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.
2. Munich (2005) - Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel's retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.
3. Rush (2013) - Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.
4. Casino (1995) - Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.
5. Super 8 (2011) - J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.
6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) - Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré's 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.
7. Apollo 13(1995) - Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.
8. Nixon (1995) - Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.
9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) - Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.
10. Frost/Nixon (2008) - Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost's interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
"VANITY FAIR" (2004) Review
William Makepeace Thackery's 1848 novel about the life and travails of an ambitious young woman in early 19th century has generated many film and television adaptations. One of them turned out to be the 2004 movie that was directed by Mira Nair.
"VANITY FAIR" covers the early adulthood of one Becky Sharp, the pretty and ambitious daughter of an English not-so-successful painter and a French dancer during the early years from 1802 to 1830. The movie covers Becky’s life during her impoverished childhood with her painter father, during her last day as a student at Miss Pinkerton’s Academy for Young Ladies, where she meets her only friend Amelia Sedley – the only daughter of a slightly wealthy gentleman and her years as a governess for the daughters of a crude, yet genial baronet named Sir Pitt Crawley. While working for the Crawleys, Becky meets and falls in love with Sir Pitt’s younger son, Captain Rawdon Crawley. When Sir Pitt proposes marriage to Becky, she shocks the family with news of her secret marriage to Rawdon. The couple is ostracized and ends up living in London on Rawdon’s military pay and gambling winnings. They also become reacquainted with Amelia Sedley, who has her own problems. When her father loses his fortune, the father of her beau, George Osborne, tries to arrange a marriage between him and a Jamaican heiress. Leery of the idea of marrying a woman of mixed blood, he marries Amelia behind Mr. Obsorne's back, and the latter disinherits him. Not long after George and Amelia's marriage, word reaches Britain of Napoleon's escape from Elba and control of France. Becky and Amelia follow Rawdon, George, and Dobbin, who are suddenly deployed to Brussels as part of the Duke of Wellington's army. And life for Becky and those close to her prove to be even more difficult.
The first thing I noticed about "VANITY FAIR" was that it was one of the most beautiful looking movies I have ever seen in recent years. Beautiful and colorful. A part of me wonders if director Mira Nair was responsible for the movie's overall look. Some people might complain and describe the movie's look as garish. I would be the first to disagree. Despite its color - dominated by a rich and deep red that has always appealed to me - "VANITY FAIR" has also struck me as rather elegant looking film, thanks to cinematographer Declan Quinn. But he was not the only one responsible for the film's visual look. Maria Djurkovic's production designs and the work from the art direction team - Nick Palmer, Sam Stokes and Lucinda Thomson. All did an excellent job of not only creating what I believe to be one of the most colorful and elegant films I have ever seen, but also in re-creating early 19th century Britain, Belgium, Germany and India. But I do have a special place in my heart for Beatrix Aruna Pasztor's costume designs. I found them absolutely ravishing. Colorful . . . gorgeous. I am aware that many did not find them historically accurate. Pasztor put a bit more Hollywood into her designs than history. But I simply do not care. I love them. And to express this love, the following is a brief sample of her costumes worn by actress Reese Witherspoon:
I understand that Witherspoon was pregnant at the time and Pasztor had to accommodate the actress' pregnancy for her costumes. Judging from what I saw on the screen, I am beginning to believe that Witherspoon's pregnancy served her role in the story just fine.
Now that I have raved over the movie's visual look and style, I might as well talk about the movie's adaptation. When I first heard about "VANITY FAIR", the word-of-mouth on the Web seemed to be pretty negative. Thackery's novel is a long one - written in twenty parts. Naturally, a movie with a running time of 141 minutes was not about to cover everything in the story. And I have never been one of those purists who believe that a movie or television adaptation had to be completely faithful to its source. Quite frankly, it is impossible for any movie or television miniseries to achieve. And so, it was not that surprising that the screenplay written by Julian Fellowes, Matthew Faulk and Mark Skeet would not prove to be an accurate adaptation. I expected that. However, there were some changes I could have done without.
Becky Sharp has always been one of the most intriguing female characters in literary history. Among the traits that have made her fascinating were her ambitions, amorality, talent for manipulation and sharp tongue. As much as I enjoyed Reese Witherspoon's performance in the movie - and I really did - I thought it was a mistake for Fellowes, Faulk and Skeet to make Becky a more "likeable" personality in the movie's first half. One, it took a little bite not only out of the character, but from the story's satirical style, as well. And two, I found this change unnecessary, considering that literary fans have always liked the darker Becky anyway. Thankfully, this vanilla-style Becky Sharp disappeared in the movie's second half, as the three screenwriters returned to Thackery's sharper and darker portrayal of the character. I was also a little disappointed with the movie's sequence featuring Becky's stay at the Sedley home and her seduction of Amelia's older brother, Jos. I realize that as a movie adaptation, "VANITY FAIR" was not bound to be completely accurate as a story. But I was rather disappointed with the sequence featuring Becky's visit to the Sedley home at Russell Square in London. Perhaps it was just me, but I found that particular sequence somewhat rushed. I was also disappointed by Nair and producer Jannette Day's decision to delete the scene featuring Becky's final meeting with her estranged son, Rawdy Crawley. This is not out of some desire to see Robert Pattinson on the screen. Considering that the movie's second half did not hesitate to reveal Becky's lack of warmth toward her son, I felt that this last scene could have remained before she departed Europe for India with Jos.
Despite my complaints and the negative view of the movie by moviegoers that demanded complete accuracy, I still enjoyed "VANITY FAIR" very much. Although I was a little disappointed in the movie's lighter portrayal of the Becky Sharp, I did enjoy some of the other changes. I had no problem with the addition of a scene from Becky's childhood in which she first meets Lord Steyne. I felt that this scene served as a strong and plausible omen of her future relationship with the aristocrat. Unlike others, I had no problems with Becky's fate in the end of the movie. I have always liked the character, regardless of her amoral personality. And for once, it was nice to see her have some kind of happy ending - even with the likes of the lovesick Jos Sedley. Otherwise, I felt that"VANITY FAIR" covered a good deal of Thackery's novel with a sense of humor and flair.
I have always found it odd that most people seemed taken aback by an American in a British role more so than a Briton in an American role. After all, it really depends upon the individual actor or actress on whether he or she can handle a different accent. In the case of Reese Witherspoon, she used a passable British accent, even if it was not completely authentic. More importantly, not only did she give an excellent performance, despite the writers' changes in Becky's character, she was also excellent in the movie's second half, which revealed Becky's darker nature.
Witherspoon was ably assisted with a first-rate cast. The movie featured fine performances from the likes of James Purefoy, Deborah Findley, Tony Maudsley, Geraldine McEwan, Eileen Atkins, Douglas Hodge, Natasha Little (who portrayed Becky Sharp in the 1998 television adaptation of the novel), and especially Romola Garai and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Amelia Sedley and George Osborne. But I was especially impressed by a handful of performances that belonged to Bob Hoskins, Rhys Ifans and Gabriel Byrne. Bob Hoskins was a delight as the slightly crude and lovesick Sir Pitt Crawley. Rhys Ifans gave one of his most subtle performances as the upright and slightly self-righteous William Dobbins, who harbored a unrequited love for Amelia. Jim Broadbent gave an intense performance as George's ambitious and grasping father. And Gabriel Byrne was both subtle and cruel as the lustful and self-indulgent Marquis of Steyne.
In the end, I have to say that I cannot share the negative opinions of "VANITY FAIR". I realize that it is not a "pure" adaptation of William Makepeace Thackery's novel or that it is perfect. But honestly, I do not care. Despite its flaws, "VANITY FAIR" proved to be a very entertaining movie for me. And I would have no problem watching it as much as possible in the future.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" (2009) Review
I have no idea how many times Emily Brontë's 1847 novel, "Wuthering Heights" was adapted for the movie or television screens. I do know that I have seen at least three versions of the novel. Although the 2009 television adaptation is not the latest to have been made, it is the most recent I have seen.
The beginning of "WUTHERING HEIGHTS" veers away from Brontë's novel in two ways. One, the television production is set forty years later than the novel. Instead of beginning at the turn of the 19th century, this movie or miniseries begins in the early 1840s before it jumps back thirty years. And two, the character of Mr. Lockwood, who appeared in both Brontë's novel and William Wyler's 1939 version, did not make an appearance in this production. The novel and the 1939 film used Earnshaw housekeeper Nelly Dean's recollections to Lockwood as a flashback device. This production also uses Nelly as a flashback device, only she ends up revealing her memories to Cathy Linton, the daughter of Edgar Linton and Catherine Earnshaw . . . and Heathcliff's new daughter-in-law.
Do not get me wrong. I personally had no problems with these changes. With or without the Lockwood character, Nelly Dean is used as a flashback. There were other changes from the novel. Heathcliff left Wuthering Heights and Yorkshire and returned three-and-a-half years later, six months after Catherine's marriage to Edgar. In the 2009 production, Heathcliff returned on the very day of their wedding. Well . . . I could deal with that. What I found interesting is that screenwriter Don Bowker seemed dismissive of the 1939 film adaptation, claiming that the movie's screenwriter succeeded because "with classic Hollywood ruthlessness they filleted out the Cathy/Heathcliff story and ditched the rest of the plot. It's a great film but it does the novel a disservice." I realize that many fans of Brontë's novel would probably agree with him. I do not. Wyler's film may not have been as faithful as this production, but I do not accept Bowker's view that it"filleted out" the Catherine/Heathcliff story or did the novel any disservice. This version included the second generation story arc and to be quite honest, I was not that impressed.
There were some problems I had with this production. I also found myself slightly confused by the passage of time between Heathcliff's departure and his return. I also felt equally confused by the passage of time between young Cathy's first meeting with Heathcliff and her marriage to the latter's son, Linton. The Nelly Dean character barely seemed to age. And once the miniseries or movie refocused upon the second generation, the story seemed to rush toward the end. Both Bowker and director Coky Giedroyc seemed reluctant to fully explore Heathcliff's relationships with his son Linton, his daughter-in-law Cathy and his ward Hareton. I could probably say the same about the friendship and developing romance between the younger Cathy and Hareton.
"WUTHERING HEIGHTS" is a visually charming production. But I can honestly say that it did not blow my mind. There was nothing particularly eye-catching or memorable about the production staff's work, whether it was Ulf Brantås' photography, Grenville Horner's production designs or Fleur Whitlock's art direction. If one were to ask my opinion on the miniseries' score, I could not give an answer, simply because I did not find it memorable. The most noteworthy aspect of"WUTHERING HEIGHTS", aside from its writing, direction and the cast is Fleur Whitlock's costume designs. I admire the way she made every effort to adhere to early 19th fashion from the Regency decade to the beginning of the Victorian era.
I had very little problems with the cast. Tom Hardy - more or less- gave a fine performance as the brooding Heathcliff. He certainly did an excellent job of carrying the production. My only complaint is that once his Heathcliff returned to Wuthering Heights as a wealthy man, there were times when he seemed to portray his character as a comic book super villain. His later performance as Heathcliff brought back negative reminders of his performance as Bane in the most recent Batman movie, "THE DARK KNIGHT". I was also impressed by Charlotte Riley's portrayal of Catherine Earnshaw, the emotional and vibrant young woman who attracted the love of both Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Riley gave a very skillful and intelligent performance. I only wish that she had not rushed into exposing Catherine's jealousy of Heathcliff's romance with her sister-in-law, Isabella Linton. Another remarkable aspect of Riley's performance is that she managed to generate chemistry with both Hardy and her other leading man, Andrew Lincoln. Speaking of Lincoln, I felt he gave the best performance in this production. There were no signs of hamminess or badly-timed pacing. More importantly, he did an excellent job of balancing Edgar's passionate nature and rigid adherence to proper behavior.
I have no complaints regarding the supporting cast. Sarah Lancashire was first-rate as the Earnshaws' housekeeper, Nelly Dean. I wish she had a stronger presence in the production, but I am more inclined to blame the director and screenwriter. Burn Gorman did an excellent job of balancing Hindley Earnshaw's jealous behavior and fervent desire for his father's love and attention. Rosalind Halstead gave a steady performance as Edgar's sister and Heathcliff's wife, Isabella Linton. However, I must admit that I was particularly impressed by one scene in which her character discovers the true nature of Heathcliff's feelings for her. As for the rest of the cast - all gave solid and competent performances, especially Kevin R. McNally as Mr. Earnshaw and Rebecca Night as Cathy Linton.
Overall, I enjoyed "WUTHERING HEIGHTS". Mind you, I believe it had its flaws. And I could never regard it superior to the 1939 movie, despite being slightly more faithful. But I would certainly have no troubles re-watching for years to come, thanks to director Coky Giedroyc and a cast led by Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley.
Saturday, February 6, 2016
Below are images from the 1979 adaptation of Henry James' 1878 short story, "The Europeans: A Sketch". Produced by Ishmail Merchant and directed by James Ivory, the movie starred Lee Remick, Robin Ellis, Lisa Eichhorn and Tim Woodward:
"THE EUROPEANS" (1979) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, February 2, 2016
"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Ten "The Winds of Fortune" Commentary
This tenth episode of "CENTENNIAL" called "The Winds of Fortune" marked the last one set in the 19th century. The episode also featured the end of several story lines - the troubles with the Pettis gang, Axel Dumire's suspicions of the Wendell family, Hans Brumbaugh's labor problems and Jim Lloyd's romantic problems with Charlotte Seccombe and Clemma Zendt.
The range war that the ranchers began in "The Shepherds" finally gasped its last breath in this episode. The last remnants of the Pettis gang (the killers hired by the ranchers to get rid of the farmers and shepherds) make one last attempt to exact revenge against Amos Callendar, Jim Lloyd and Hans Brumbaugh - the three men who had killed Frank and Orvid Pettis in revenge for the deaths of two friends. Naturally, it failed during a gunfight against Jim, Amos and the latter's son.
The Pettis gang's revenge attempt also led to the closure of the story line that featured Sheriff Axel Dumire and the Wendell family. The gunfight at Amos' homestead allowed one Pettis killer to escape back to Centennial . . . but not for long. Dumire led a manhunt for the escaped killer. And in a dark alleyway, he and the Pettis outlaw mortally shot each other. While the outlaw died right away, Dumire suffered a slow death. Before expiring, he summoned young Philip Wendell for a last attempt to learn the truth about the now dead Mr. Sorenson. Although he failed, Philip expressed grief and remorse over his dead body.
Jim Lloyd and Charlotte Seccombe's courtship finally led to a marriage proposal from the former. But their engagement encountered troubled waters when Clemma Zendt returned to Centennial. Unable to get over his infatuation with the seemingly repentant Clemma, Jim breaks his engagement with Charlotte. The latter tries to bribe Clemma to leave town. But in the end, it took a lecture from Lucinda Zendt to convince the latter to leave. And Charlotte finally married her cowboy. Hans Brumbaugh's labor problems finally ended when political turmoil in Mexico finally drove Tranquilino Marquez to accompany his uncle, "Nacho" Gomez to Colorado. "Nacho" never made it, dying from a gunshot wound on the Skimmerhorn Trail. But Tranquilino and a few fellow Mexicans made it to the Brumbaugh farm and became permanent employees. Unfortunately for Tranquilino, good luck became bad during a trip to Denver, where he found himself imprisoned on a trumped up charge by a local bigot with a dislike for Latinos.
As you can see, a great deal happened in "The Winds of Change". Normally, I would have insisted upon a longer running time than 97 to 100 minutes. But screenwriter Charles Larson and director Harry Falk managed to keep the episode's pace flowing perfectly without any rush or dragging, whatsoever. Following James Michner's novel, they also managed to do an excellent job of connecting the final acts of the two story lines featuring the Pettis gang and the Wendells. At the same time, Jim Lloyd's romantic travails continued during this traumatic time for Centennial.
"The Winds of Fortune" featured at least three outstanding scenes that I need to point out. At least two of those scenes featured deaths of primary characters. Once again, Brian Keith and Doug McKeon knocked it out of the ballpark with their portrayals of Sheriff Axel Dumire and Philip Wendell in a poignant, yet ironic scene that featured the former's death. What I found particularly ironic about this particular scene is that the characters' deep affection for each other could not overcome Dumire's desire to know the truth about Mr. Sorenson's death or Philip's determination to protect his parents to the bitter end.
Another death scene featured "Nacho" Gomez's death on the Skimmerhorn Trail, while he and Tranquilino journey to Colorado. Although A Martinez was pretty solid as Tranquilino, Rafael Campos gave one last superb performance as the dying "Nacho" recalled the best period of his life - those months along the Skimmerhorn Trail. In fact, his character died near the very spot where he first met John Skimmerhorn in "The Longhorns". The last scene was the final confrontation between Clemma and Lucinda Zendt and Charlotte Seccombe. Between Charlotte's determination to pay off Clemma to get her out of Jim's life, and the latter's acidic crowing over her hold of said cowboy, the scene crackled with hostility, thanks to the superb acting of Lynn Redgrave and Adrienne La Russa. Christina Raines gave solid support as Clemma's disapproving mother, Lucinda.
The episode also boasted first-rate performances from William Atherton, who continued his superb portrayal of the solid, yet love sick cowboy Jim Lloyd. Another excellent performance came from Cliff De Young, who shined as ranch manager John Skimmerhorn, in one of his final scenes in which he expressed the blunt truth about the fickle Clemma. The episode also featured fine work from Alex Karras (Hans Brumbaugh), Jesse Vint (Amos Calendar) and delicious performances from both Lois Nettleton and Anthony Zerbe as the conniving Maude and Mervin Wendell.
"The Winds of Change" featured one major problem with me. Ever since "The Storm", the miniseries usually featured flashbacks that hinted a major character's upcoming death. Prolonged flashbacks from "The Longhorns" nearly grounded the episode to a halt, as a dying "Nacho" recalled the events of the Skimmerhorn drive. I could have tolerated one or two scenes. But the flashbacks nearly seemed to go on forever.
Despite the never-ending flashbacks, "The Winds of Change" proved to be another outstanding episode of "CENTENNIAL". Since it became the last episode to be set during the 19th century, it featured the conclusions of several story lines that have been going on since the saga shifted into the 1880s. It was a near perfect finale to what proved to be a rather interesting period of four to five episodes.