Sunday, December 31, 2017
"ARGO" (2012) Review
Ben Affleck must be at a lucky point in his career. His third directorial effort had recently been released in theaters and is already a commercial and critical hit . . . like his two previous films. And he never struck me as the type who would direct and star in a film about the CIA rescuing American diplomats from the Middle East, let alone co-produce it. But he did and the result is the movie, "ARGO".
"ARGO" began in early November 1979, when Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took most of the civilian and military staff hostage in retaliation for American offering refuge for the deposed Shah of Iran. At least six staff diplomats managed to get out of the embassy and seek refuge at the home of Canada's ambassador, Ken Taylor. With the six diplomats' situation kept secret, the C.I.A. assigns one of their operatives, one Tony Mendez, to find a way to get the diplomats out of Iran before they could be discovered. After dismissing several proposals, Mendez creates a cover story that the escapees are Canadian filmmakers, scouting "exotic" locations in Iran for a science-fiction film.
Mendez and his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O'Donnell, contact John Chambers, a Hollywood make-up artist who has previously crafted disguises for the C.I.A., in addition to his work in the "PLANET OF THE APES" film series. Chambers puts them in touch with a film producer named Lester Siegel. Mendez, Chambers and Siegel set up a fake film studio and successfully establish the pretense of developing Argo, a "science fantasy" in the style of "STAR WARS" in order to lend credibility to the cover story. Meanwhile, the escapees grow frantic inside the ambassador's residence. Shredded documentation from the American embassy is being reassembled, providing the militants with evidence that there are embassy personnel unaccounted for.
I am going to cut to the chase. I enjoyed "ARGO" very much. What am I saying? I really enjoyed this movie. So far, it is one of the better ones I have seen this year. Once again, Affleck knocked it out of the ballpark with a first-rate thriller that gave audiences a peek into the efforts of the C.I.A. to save those six diplomats who managed to get captured by the militants. Affleck, along with screenwriter Chris Terrio, did an excellent job in setting up the entire story from beginning to end.
One of the movie's gem scenes featured the actual storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979. It is quite obvious that Affleck, along with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, used a hand-held camera style to film this particular sequence. And although I am not a fan of this particular style, I must say that it suited this particular sequence very well, projecting an effective sense of chaos and panic. "ARGO" featured other memorable scenes, including Mendez's efforts to recruit both Chambers and Siegel for his mission, a tense encounter between Taylor's Iranian maid and intelligence officers looking for the diplomats, the humor-filled setup of the Argo Operation in Hollywood, frustrating moments in which Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came close to shutting down Mendez's operation, the final escape from Iran by air and a nail-biting sequence in which the same group hit the streets of Tehran for a "location scouting mission" in order to maintain their cover.
There is so much about this movie that I enjoyed that it would take an essay for me to explain in great detail. I do not have the patience for such a project, but I do have to comment on the movie's technical aspects. Not only did Rodrigo Prieto did an excellent job in re-creating the violence and confusion of the American embassy takeover, he also captured the muted glamour and insanity of Hollywood with vivid color. I could see that a great deal of his work benefited from some outstanding editing from William Goldenberg. In fact, I really have to hand it to Sharon Seymour and her production designing team for their re-creation of the 1979-1980 period in American and Iranian history. Seymour and her team were ably assisted by Peter Borck
and Deniz Göktürk's art direction, along with Jacqueline West's realistic looking costume designs.
But "ARGO" would have never worked by Affleck's outstanding direction and the talented actors and actresses that were part of the cast. Not only was I impressed by Affleck's direction, but also his subtle performance as C.I.A. operative Tony Mendez, who did not need guns and fighting skills to accomplish his task - merely brains and nerves of steel. John Goodman was marvelous as the witty and slightly cynical make-up artist, John Chambers. He also had great chemistry with both Affleck and Alan Arkin, who portrayed the sardonic and prickly Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel. I was not that kind to Bryan Cranston in my review of "TOTAL RECALL". But it was great to see his magic again, in his fiery and funny portrayal of Mendez's C.I.A. supervisor, Jack O'Donnell.
"ARGO" also featured some wonderful supporting performances as well. Kyle Chandler made two brief, but very memorable appearances and President Jimmy Carter's foul-mouthed Chief of Staff, Hamilton "Ham" Jordan. It is a pity that his role was not longer. I was also impressed by those who portrayed the besieged diplomats - the always entertaining Tate Donovan, Clea DuVall, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé. Scoot McNairy and Rory Cochrane were especially memorable as a paranoid Joe Stafford and the hilariously sarcastic Lee Schatz. Victor Garber gave solid support as Ken Taylor, the Canadian ambassador who gave the diplomats refuge. And Sheila Vand was marvelous in the tense scenes that featured the Taylors' Iranian housekeeper, Sahar. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Zeljko Ivanek, Richard Kind, Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton and Philip Baker Hall.
Naturally, "ARGO" is not a perfect movie. Not all of it is historically accurate. This was very obvious in one shot that featured a dilapidated HOLLYWOOD sign that overlooks the Los Angeles Basin. The sign was restored to its former glory in November 1978, 14 to 15 months before Tony Mendez's arrival in Southern California. And I found Mendez and the diplomats' encounter with the Iranian airport security guards and escape from the country somewhat contrived and manipulative.
Flawed or not, I cannot deny that I found "ARGO" to be one of the most satisfying movies of the year. I enjoyed it that much, thanks to a first-rate script by Chris Terrio, superb direction by Affleck and an excellent cast that included John Goodman, Bryan Cranston and Alan Arkin. In the end, "ARGO" strikes me as another triumph for Affleck and his two co-producers, George Clooney and Grant Heslov.
Monday, December 25, 2017
Below are images featuring my favorite costumes worn by two Southern Belle characters in fiction - Scarlett O'Hara from Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel and its 1939 movie adaptation, "GONE WITH THE WIND"; and Ashton Main from John Jakes' 1982-1987 literary trilogy and its 1985-1994 television adaptation, "NORTH AND SOUTH" Trilogy:
SOUTHERN BELLE FASHIONISTAS
I may have mixed feelings about the 1939 movie, “GONE WITH THE WIND”, I cannot deny that I really liked some of the costumes designed by Walter Plunkett for the story's protagonist, Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler. Here are my five (5) favorite costumes:
Wedding Dress - The dress that Scarlett wore when she married Charles Hamilton
Christmas 1863 Dress - Scarlett wore this outfit when she bid good-bye to Ashley Wilkes at the end of his army furlough around the Christmas 1863 holiday.
Wedding Announcement Dress - She wore this dress when she informed her sisters and the Wilkes about her marriage to second husband, Frank Kennedy.
Businesswoman Dress - Scarlett wore this outfit in one scene featuring her role as manager of her second husband Frank Kennedy’s sawmill.
Post-Honeymoon Visit to Tara Dress - Scarlett wore this dress when she and third husband Rhett Butler visited Tara following their honeymoon.
Sawmill Visit Dress - Scarlett wore this dress when she paid a visit to Ashley Wilkes, who was manager of the sawmill she had inherited from Frank Kennedy.
I am a fan of the ABC adaptations of John Jakes’ “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy. Among my favorite costumes worn by the character, Ashton Main Huntoon Fenway, and designed by Vicki Sánchez, Robert Fletcher and Carol H. Beule. Here are my favorite costumes:
Mont Royal Ball Gown - Ashton Main wore this gown at the ball held at her family’s plantation during the summer of 1854.
Wedding Gown - Ashton wore this gown when she married her first husband, James Huntoon in 1856.
Richmond Ball Gown - Ashton Huntoon wore this ballgown when she met Elkhannah Bent at a reception held in Richmond, Virginia in July 1861.
Day Dress - Ashton wore this dress during her first visit to Elkhannah Bent’s Richmond home during the summer of 1861 and when she was married to salesman Will Fenway in 1866-67.
Huntoon Reception Dress - Ashton wore this dress at a reception she and her husband James Huntoon had hosted at their Richmond home in November 1861.
Evening Dress - Ashton wore this dress during an evening visit to Bent’s Richmond home in August 1862.
Travel Dress - Ashton wore this dress during a visit to her family’s plantation, Mont Royal, in August 1863.
Factory Visit Dress - Ashton wore this dress when she paid a visit to her husband Will Fenway’s Chicago piano factory in 1868.
Friday, December 22, 2017
"THE RAIN CHRONICLES" [PG] - Book I
RATING: [PG] For mild language. Very mild.
SUMMARY: By some twist of fate, Rain Robinson from Season 3's "Future's End", ends up on Voyager. Told from Rain, B'Elanna and Janeway's POV. Book 1.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: Tom, B'Elanna and all other characters related to Star Trek Voyager belong to Paramount, Viacom and the usual Trek Powers to Be. Dammit!
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've always wondered if there would have been a Paris/Torres romance if Rain Robinson had ended up on Voyager.
RAIN ROBINSON - May 2, 1996:
It began with a simple touch. Can you believe it? A simple touch. One little act that would change my life for good. Why did I do it? Was it my natural curiosity, first sparked by that radiation signal I had detected at the Observatory? Or was it a pair of warm blue eyes that led me to give in to such an impulse? Maybe the latter. Who knows?
It was the signal started everything. Signs of Gamma emissions that drew the attention of my sponsor at the Observatory and all-round creep, Henry Starling. It also attracted the attention of the owner of those blue eyes - Tom Paris - and his two oddball friends, Tuvok and Mr. Leisure Suit. Thanks to Tom and his friends, I discovered that Mr. Starling could not be trusted and wanted me dead. Tom and Tuvok wanted him for another reason. Something to do with a ship in Starling's possession. A timeship, I believe. Despite what Tom may think, I was paying attention. Tom and I eventually chased Starling's pet thug into the desert, outside L.A. The poor bastard ended up blown to bits by some strange aircraft. One that I suspect Tom was very familiar with.
Tom Paris. I once told him that he reminded me of Howdy Doody, but in a sexy way. He still does. Strange guy, very good-looking and charming, but also very smart. Nor did he seem turned off by my own brains and my big mouth. In short, I wanted him to stay. But he couldn't. He had to return to from wherever he came from.
So there we stood in the middle of the desert, facing each other. Tom said that he had never met anyone quite like me and probably never will. Then he kissed me. Properly. Not like others who usually gave wet, sloppy kisses or timid ones. A real, honest-to-God kiss with the pair of the warmest lips I had ever felt. When he eventually turned his back on me, something inside could not give him up. A strange, blue light enveloped him and with my usual impulsiveness, I touched his shirt and found myself caught up in the light. One moment we had been surrounded by the California desert, the next inside the strange aircraft, which had even stranger technology. Before Tom or anyone else could spot me, I ducked behind some console and out of sight.
"Chakotay to Voyager," a soft, deep voice called out. "We've picked up Tom. All are accounted for."
A husky, female voice that sounded slightly familiar, responded, "Acknowledged Commander. Report to the Bridge as soon as you return. Janeway out."
Voyager? The only other Voyager I could recall was a satellite probe that had ended up missing years ago. Judging from Ms. Janeway's voice, Voyager seemed to be more than a satellite. Instinct also told me that it was not on this earth. Okay, actually it was my stomach that conveyed the message. Especially after the way it bounced to my throat after the craft rose further in the air. How far we traveled? I have no idea.
We finally arrived at our destination and I ducked my head behind the console once more. Tom, Tuvok and the others filed out of the aircraft. The moment their voices vanished, I decided it was safe to leave my hiding place. Upon leaving the aircraft, I found myself alone, surrounded by similar aircrafts - much to my relief. It looked as if I was in the middle of an airplane hangar. Or something similar. I glanced to my left and nearly passed out with shock. Instead of a solid wall, I faced a blanket of space - namely outer space. Good grief! Where in the hell did I end up?
* * * *
LIEUTENANT B'ELANNA TORRES - STARDATE 50316.95:
We did it. Believe it or not, Voyager managed to save Earth's future by preventing that greedy bastard, Henry Starling, from traveling to the 29th century and destroying it. Idiot. The man was an idiot whose greed led him to his destruction. Well, the Captain actually destroyed him and the timeship. It was either that or allow him to destroy Earth.
My adventures with Chakotay nearly proved to be just as interesting. It seemed that Voyager's two senior ex-Maquis would end up meeting their counterparts in 20th century Arizona. Although I must say that I found it difficult to consider those Neanderthals as freedom fighters. Their goals seemed a lot less noble and more self-serving than our own.
But I must remember that I'm no longer with the Maquis. I'm an officer and chief engineer aboard a Starfleet vessel. And have been for the past two years. That scenario almost ended, thanks to Henry Starling. Who knows how our lives may have ended on 20th century Earth. I remember Chakotay expressing an interest in becoming an anthropologist at some North American university. I cannot imagine me finding it so easy to blend in. What in the hell could a half-Klingon with forehead ridges do in the 20th century? Before Earth had ever made any contact with another alien species?
I had no doubt how Tom Paris would have fared. Probably spend his time exploring his favorite period in history. And with that Rain Robinson woman he had befriended, as his companion. I finally saw her. While our shuttle hovered above the California desert. I still remember the way he kissed her before we beamed him aboard.
Stop! What in the hell is wrong with me? Why am I thinking about Tom Paris, of all people? And why would I even care about his latest conquest? So what if he had once propositioned me? Big deal! I had immediately informed him on how I really felt about a date with him on the holodeck. Or did I? Would an hour or two, sailing on Lake Como had been that bad? Oh hell! Why bother contemplating on that now? Paris has not made an attempt for another date, since. And he'll probably spend the next few days or so, remembering the charms of Miss Rain Robinson. Yet, in the end, he will forget her. Like he has forgotten the other women in his life.
"Senior staff to the Conference Room," I heard Chakotay's voice announce over the Comm system. Another senior staff meeting? We just had one not long after our return to Delta Quadrant. Oh well. Maybe the Captain had decided to plan a celebration for saving Earth's future.
Kahless! What a day! A surprise awaited the senior staff when we reported to the Conference Room. Captain Janeway was furious! I have never seen her look that angry since the time the Vidiians had stolen Neelix's lungs. I still remember what those bastards did to me. But I'm digressing.
Upon our return to the Delta Quadrant, the Captain and Chakotay discovered that Captain Braxton, that stupid p'tak from the 29th century, had failed to realize the new passenger we had picked up during our time travels. It seemed that we - and I mean myself, Chakotay, the Doctor and Tuvok - had not only transported Paris to the shuttle, but also another passenger, from the California desert. That extra passenger turned out to be none other than Tom's friend, Rain Robinson. Tom had no idea that Miss Robinson had decided to hitch a ride when we beamed him up. In fact, no one had even spotted her on the ship - until after our return to the Delta Quadrant. A Security detail caught her roaming around Deck Seven.
Typical Braxton. The idiot was so determined to return us to our proper time and place in history that he failed to account for a 20th century woman aboard Voyager. So much for his temporal magic. What an idiot!
When I said that the Captain was angry, I was not joking. She castigated Miss Robinson for sneaking aboard the ship. She almost accused Tom of helping his friend, until Miss Robinson took full responsibility and insisted that she had acted alone. Janeway, however, did chastise Paris and the rest of us for our "lack of diligence" - her words, not mine.
Rain Robinson. What an odd name for a Human! Now, she was a permanent member of Voyager's crew. Like Neelix and Kes, she decided to remain a civilian. The Captain assigned her to Stellar Cartography, since she was an astronomer. Now I ask you, exactly what good is a 20th century astronomer aboard a 24th century starship? Personally, I suspect that no one has any idea, including the Captain and Miss Robinson. I bet that Tom Paris doesn't care. Now that he has his lady love by his side. Of course, I must admit that Miss Robinson seemed a little displeased when the Captain ordered Tom to act as her escort aboard ship. Any other woman would be thrilled.
* * * *
RAIN ROBINSON - April 26, 2373:
Oh. My. God! Ohmigod! I can't believe it! I'm on a spaceship nearly 380 years in the future! In the future, for crying out loud! Oh God! What have I done? No wonder that Captain Janeway was pissed! Kathryn Janeway. Now there is a woman Gloria Steinem would love to meet. Personally, I think she is a bit uptight. All right, she's a little pissed that I decided to hitchhike on her ship and I don't blame her. But Jeez! By the time she finished lecturing me, I felt like I was seventeen again being nagged to death by my mother. I really think that woman needs to get laid.
According to the Captain, what we are traveling on is a starship. Namely a space-traveling vessel that is part of some organization called Starfleet. And Starfleet happens to be the military arm of another organization called the Federation of United Planets or something. Like a futuristic version of the United Nations, only it's an alliance between different planets. Although most of Voyager's crew consists of Humans, there are some who came from other planets. Agen . . . uh, Lieutenant Tuvok happens to be one. He came from a planet called Vulcan. With those ears and his HAL-like personality, I'm not surprised.
Oh God! This is wonderful. I'm a 20th century woman stuck on a 24th century space . . . starship. And I'm attracted to a man who happens to be over 300 years younger than me. Great! Now I understand why Tom's dialogue seemed a bit . . . . well, dated at times. I mean, who uses "groovy" in 1996? Or spy against the KBG? I wonder if I was just another assignment to Tom? Or someone to be used to stop that creep, Henry Starling, from blowing up the future? I have a bad feeling that I had stowed away on that shuttle for nothing. And that Tom Paris saw nothing more than some loud, annoying woman whose company he had to endure. Just like the others. Damn!
As for my position here on Voyager, Captain Janeway assigned me to some place called Stellar Cartography. Apparently, it's where the crew map the unexplored regions of space. Hmm, sounds like my cup of tea. My first assignment is to catch up on 377 years of astronomy, astrophysics and Earth history. Easier said than done. Then again, I do like an interesting challenge. Hell, it's a lot better than roaming the ship with nothing to do. Janeway asked if I would like to become part of the ship's Starfleet personnel. Let's just say it took a great deal of effort not to laugh in her face. Instead, I merely smiled and said, "Thanks, but no thanks." What the hell? I was never the military type and I'll be damned if anyone caught me wearing one of those god-awful leisure suits.
END OF BOOK I
Thursday, December 7, 2017
"REAP THE WILD WIND" (1942) Review
I really do not know what to say about Cecil B. DeMille. His movies have always produced mixed feelings within me. But there are a few that I would have no trouble watching over again. And one of them is his 1942 film, "REAP THE WILD WIND".
Following the success of Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel, "Gone With the Wind" and its 1939 cinematic adaptation, Hollywood spent nearly two decades trying to repeat the success of the latter. This campaign began with Warner Brothers' 1938 film, "JEZEBEL" and probably ended with MGM's 1957 epic, "RAINTREE COUNTY". Among the "moonlight-and-magnolias" films that hit the movie theaters during this period was "REAP THE WILD WIND", which DeMille both produced and directed.
"REAP THE WILD WIND" was based upon Thelma Strabel's 1940 novel, which was serialized in "The Saturday Evening Post" magazine. The movie tells the story of an antebellum Florida belle named Loxi Claiborne, who runs a Key West salvage business founded by her late father. Following his death, she assumed control of the business to keep her family financially secure. Loxie's mother deplores her participation in such rough business and would prefer her to follow the example of her Cuban-American cousin, Drusilla Alston, by behaving like a well-bred Southern belle. Loxie eventually finds romance when a hurricane forces a ship called The Jubilee to founder off the Key West coast, leading her crew to rescue its master, Captain Jack Stuart. Because Loxi and her crew did not arrive first to the scene, another salvage crew led by Lexi's Yankee-born business rival, King Cutler, acquires the wrecked Jubilee's cargo. It is also revealed that Cutler had hired Jack's first officer to deliberately wreck the ship. And unbeknownst to Loxie and Cutler, her cousin Drusilla and his younger Dan have fallen in love. Loxi and Jack fall deeper into love, as she nurses him back to health. When they both realize that Jack might be fired by Charleston lawyer Steve Tolliver, who serves as manager of the Devereaux Lines, the shipping company that owns the Jubilee; Loxi schemes to win a plum captain's position for Jack by seducing Steve and convincing him not to fire Jack. Instead, a surprising romantic triangle ensures, when Loxi finds herself becoming attracted to Steve. And this romantic triangle, leads to surprising tragedy for several of the movie's characters.
The 1942 movie not only benefited from Hollywood's fascination with the Old South, but also from Cecil B. DeMille's "Americana" phrase that may have began with 1936's "THE PLAINSMAN" and ended with either the 1947 movie, "UNCONQUERED" or the 1952 Best Picture, "THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH". Who knows? What I find interesting is that I ended up enjoying "REAP THE WILD WIND", despite its shortcomings. And it certainly had plenty of those. One flaw that caught my interest was the ridiculous trial in which Jack Stuart faced prosecution for deliberately wrecking the pride of the Devereaux Shipping Lines - the Southern Cross. I found it ludicrous for a few reasons. One, Steve Tolliver was a Charleston maritime lawyer. How on earth was he able to serve as prosecutor for a criminal case that originated and was held in another city and state - namely Key West? And it seemed wrong for Steve to be prosecuting a man for a crime that personally involved him. The trial also featured the testimony of a free black sailor named Salt Meat. Were free blacks allowed to serve as a witness for the prosecution . . . against a white defendant? I rather doubt it.
But the real problem I had with "REAP THE WILD WIND" were the one-dimensional characterizations that permeated the story. At least four of the movie's characters proved to be complex - Loxi Clairborne, Steve Tolliver and Dan Cutler and especially Captain Jack Stuart. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for many of the other major characters. One of those one-dimensional characters proved to be the movie's main villain, King Cutler. Many stories about the Antebellum South have featured villains that were usually the following - an expatriate Yankee, a slave ship captain or a plantation overseer. Sometimes, the villain would be a combination of two or all three. Cutler turned out to be a sea captain and Loxi's rival . . . who shipped slaves on the side. He was also the personification of one-dimensional evil. The Drusilla Alston character proved to be your typical Southern belle of the Old South . . . a second-rate Melanie Wilkes, but with only the mild manners. And of course, "REAP THE WILD WIND" had to feature not only its share of African-American stereotypes, but also a virtual rip-off of the Mammy character from "GONE WITH THE WIND" in the form of the Clairbornes' maid, Maum Maria. Loxi's rival for Steve's affections, Ivy Devereaux, proved to be another cliché - namely the bitchy and spoiled Southern belle. The movie also features another cliché, Captain Philpott, who was not only Loxi's ship master, but also the personification of the "salty" sea captain. Even worse, he was forced to spout "I'm a good Yankee" in nearly every other scene he was in . . . as if being a New Englander was not only a crime to the other (and Southern-born) characters in the movie, but also to moviegoers from all over the country.
Thankfully, "REAP THE WILD WIND" still had plenty of virtues that managed to overcome its flaws. One, it is a beautiful looking film, thanks to cinematographers Victor Milner and William Skall's outstanding work with Technicolor. Below are examples of their work:
Milner and Skall were not the only ones that contributed to the movie's visual style. Roland Anderson and Hans Dreier, along with George Sawley's set decorations and Natalie Visart's colorful costume designs certainly maintained the movie's early 1840s setting. But I have to commend Edward Overstreet and Barney Wolff's special effects; along with the visual effects team of Farciot Edouart, Gordon Jennings, William L. Pereira, and Louis Mesenkop did a stupendous job with the movie's two special effects scenes - the hurricane at the beginning of the film, the giant squid that both Steve and Jack encountered underwater. The Hollywood community must have took notice of the film's visual style. Milner and Skall earned Oscar nominations for their photography. Anderson, Dreier and Sawley all earned nominations for Best Art Direction. And the visual team of Edouart, Jennings, Pereira and Mesenkop won Oscars for the movie's visual effects. The nominations and wins were all well deserved, as far as I am concerned.
I must admit that despite the barrage of one-dimensional characters, "REAP THE WILD WIND" proved to be a first-rate story. It was nicely balanced with romance, drama and adventure. It featured a fascinating heroine who proved to be a complex character and not some one-note cliché. Even the love triangle proved to be interesting, especially since two parties of the triangle - Loxi and Jack - ended up underestimating Steve a great deal. I found that fascinating. And although I originally found the love story between Drusilla and Dan a bit sacchrine, it proved to have great consequences in the end. I read somewhere that the screenwriters - too numerous for me to list - made many alterations to Strabel's novel. Since I have never read the novel, I see no point in comparing the two. I only hope that Strabel's novel proved to be as exciting and well-paced as the 1942 movie.
Despite my complaints about the one-dimensional characterizations in the film, I must admit that the cast managed to give some pretty good performances. Raymond Massey injected a great deal of energy and style into his portrayal of the villainous King Cutler. Despite being saddled with a remake of the Mammy character, Louise Beavers was equally entertaining as Maum Maria. There was one scene in which her character complained of Loxi taking her for granted that had me on the floor laughing, thanks to Beavers' sharp performance. Both Susan Hayward and Martha O'Driscoll were solid as the two one-dimensional Southern belles, but it seemed obvious to me that they were better than the material given to them. And also Lynne Overman proved to be entertaining as Loxi's loyal Yankee Captain Philpott. DeMille managed to capture another aspect of "GONE WITH THE WIND" by casting Oscar Polk (who portrayed Pork in the 1939 film) in the role of the free black sailor, Salt Meat. And Polk made the best of it in a well-acted scene in which he described the sinking of the Southern Cross during Jack's trial.
But four cast members had the opportunity to shine in roles that proved to be complex. Ray Milland did a great job in portraying the intelligent and somewhat sly Charleston lawyer, Steve Tolliver. I was impressed at how he skillfully balanced Steve's strong-willed nature and gentlemanly nature - a balance that kept the other two major characters offguard. One of those characters is Captain Jack Stuart, who thanks to the script and John Wayne's skillful performance, proved to be the most complex in the movie. Jack Stuart also proved to be Wayne's first character with an obvious dark side and he made the best of it. Paulette Goddard, who was one of the four final actresses considered for the Scarlett O'Hara role, was cast as the movie's main heroine, Loxi Clairborne. And she was excellent as the headstrong Loxi, whose heart seemed to be bigger than her sense. I was also impressed at how Goddard did an excellent job in conveying Loxi's reluctance to admit the latter's true feelings for Steve. More importantly, not only did she create a strong screen chemistry with Wayne; she and Milland proved to be a sizzling screen team. In fact, this was the second of their four screen pairings. Robert Preston, who has proven to be a favorite of mine, was excellent as King Cutler's younger brother, Dan. Preston did a great job in conveying Dan's torn feelings over his admiration for his more ruthless brother and his love for the ladylike Drusilla.
I am not going to pretend that "REAP THE WILD WIND" was the epitome of Cecil B. DeMille's career. It suffered from some unrealistic plot moments and plenty of one-dimensional characterizations. But the movie did benefit from a gorgeous visual style, an exciting and well-paced plot and some pretty damn good performances from a cast led by Ray Milland, Paulette Goddard and John Wayne. More importantly, all of this was crafted together with style, verve and excitement by Hollywood icon, Cecil B. DeMille.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
Below is an article I had written about a famous comfort food dish known as Macaroni and Cheese:
MACARONI AND CHEESE
Macaroni and Cheese is a famous dish known throughout Europe and other Western countries, especially the United States. My own memories of the dish date back to my childhood when my parents and grandmother used to serve it to me and my siblings . . . especially from the pre-packaged box form created by the company, Kraft. But I have eaten traditional homemade Macaroni and Cheese every now and then.
Although known today as an American comfort dish, Macaroni and Cheese was a dish made from Parmesan cheese and past that originated in Italy. Pasta and cheese casseroles have been recorded in cookbooks as early as the 14th century's "Liber de Coquina", one of the oldest medieval cookbooks. The dish also made its first appearance in England during the same century, in the famous English medieval cookbook titled "Forme of Cury".
The first modern recipe for Macaroni and Cheese appeared in Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 book "The Experienced English Housekeeper". Her recipe called for a Béchamel sauce with Cheddar cheese, which is mixed with macaroni pasta, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked. The dish also appeared in the famous Victorian cookbook, "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management" and included two recipes for the dish.
Many would be surprised to learn that the future third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson may have been responsible for the introduction of Macaroni and Cheese to Americans. He first sampled the dish in both in Paris and in northern Italy, and later incorporated the dish at his Virginia home, Monticello. As the country's third president, Jefferson served Macaroni and Cheese at a State dinner in 1802. Mary Randolph, sister to Jefferon's son-in-law Thomas Mann Randolph Jr., included a recipe for the dish in her 1824 cookbook, "The Virginia Housewife".
Below is a recipe for "Macaroni and Cheese" from the MyRecipe website:
Macaroni and Cheese
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (10-oz.) block extra sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (optional)
1/2 (16-oz.) package elbow macaroni, cooked
1. Whisk flour into butter
Preheat oven to 400°. Microwave milk at HIGH for 1 1/2 minutes. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute.
2. Whisk in warm milk
Gradually whisk in warm milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.
3. Whisk in cheese
Whisk in salt, black pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese, and, if desired, red pepper until smooth; stir in pasta. Spoon pasta mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt. baking dish; top with remaining cheese. Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Below is a gallery featuring images from "PERSUASION", the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen's 1817 novel. Directed by Roger Michell,the movie starred Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds:
"PERSUASION" (1995) Photo Gallery
Saturday, November 11, 2017
"THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" (1986) Review
The year 1920 witnessed the beginning of Agatha Christie's career as a mystery novel with the release of her first novel, "The Mysterious Affairs at Styles". The novel also introduced a new sleuth to the literary world, Belgian-born Hercule Poirot. Another seven years passed before Christie introduced her second most famous character, Miss Jane Marple, in a few short stories. But in 1930, Miss Marple appeared in her first full-length novel called "The Murder at the Vicarage".
Fifty-six years later saw the first adaptation of the 1930 novel - a 102 minutes television movie that starred Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" featured the elderly sleuth's investigation of the murder of a wealthy magistrate and former Army colonel in Miss Marple's town of St. Mary Mead. The magistrate, Colonel Protheroe is so disliked by most of the citizens of St. Mary Mead that even the local vicar, the Reverend Leonard Clement believes his death would be a great service to the village. Reverend Clements ends up eating his words when Colonel Protheroe's murdered body is found inside the vicar's study. While investigating Colonel Protheroe's murder, Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack unearth a good number of suspects; including the Colonel's new widow Anne Protheroe, her lover Lawrence Redding, the Colonel's only child Lettice Protheroe, the high-strung curate Christopher Hawes, St. Mary Mead's mysterious new citizen Mrs. Lestrange, small time poacher Bill Archer and even the good Reverend Clement himself. Anne Protheroe and Lawrence Redding each confess to the crime, convinced that the other was guilty. However, both Miss Marple and Detective Inspector Slack realize that both are innocent and continue their investigation of the murder.
When I first read Christie's 1930 novel, I must admit that it did not particularly move me. The plot seemed like a typical murder mystery set in a small village. There was nothing extraordinary about it, aside from Miss Marple's continuous relationship with Inspector Slack. Mind you, I have seen mediocre or bad adaptation of some first-rate Christie novels. And I have seen some excellent adaptations of her mediocre novels. The 1986 adaptation of "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" proved to be one of those productions in which my opinion of it matches the original novel. How can I say this? I found it a bore.
The best I can say about "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE" is that it is a close - but not completely accurate - adaptation of Christie's novel. Unfortunately, T.R. Bowen did nothing with the screenplay to improve on the story. And Julian Amyes' direction of the movie nearly put me to sleep. It was so boring and slow. Amyes tried hard to make the killer's revelation interesting. But not even that worked. Between John Walker's dim lighting of the scene and Amyes' snail like direction, I fell asleep and had to rewind back to the scene in order to learn the killer's identity. When a person falls asleep during a scene featuring the killer's revelation, it is time to go back to the drawing board - so to speak.
Also, the movie was not served well by most of the bland characters that populated the story. Most of them - aside from a few - struck me as dull and one-dimensional. Some of the best characters in a murder mystery tend to be the original victim. Unfortunately, Colonel Protheroe turned out to be one of those rare cases in which the main victim proved to be uninteresting. I found his character so one-dimensional. Not even Robert Lang's energetic performance could make it work. The character of Reverend Clement had been down-sized by the story's translation from the novel to the screen. Apparently, Bowen could not find a way to make his character a major part of the investigation . . . which occurred in Christie's novel. Only a handful of characters seemed interesting to me. And I have the performers to thank. Cheryl Campbell managed to inject some real energy into her portrayal of the vicar's younger and sexy wife, Griselda Clement. David Horovitch was at his sardonic best as the police inspector who tries his best to dismiss Miss Marple's sleuthing skills. Joan Hickson earned a BAFTA nomination for her performance as Jane Marple in this movie. I do not know if she truly deserved that nomination. But I must admit that I enjoyed her subtle, yet sly performance as the brilliant, amateur sleuth. I especially enjoyed her scenes with Horovitch's Slack.
I guess there is nothing else I can say about "THE MURDER AT THE VICARAGE". It is not one of my favorite Miss Marple productions. Actually, I feel it is one of my least favorites featuring the elderly sleuth. The original story simply did not strike me as interesting and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did very little to enliven it. Also Julian Amyes' slow-paced direction did not help matters. The only pleasures I managed to derive from this movie were the first-rate performances of Joan Hickson, David Horovitch and Cheryl Campbell.