Sunday, December 31, 2017

"ARGO" (2012) Review

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"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

Southern Belle Fashionistas

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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.

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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: 

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Mont Royal Ball Gown - Ashton Main wore this gown at the ball held at her family’s plantation during the summer of 1854.



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Wedding Gown - Ashton wore this gown when she married her first husband, James Huntoon in 1856.



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Richmond Ball Gown - Ashton Huntoon wore this ballgown when she met Elkhannah Bent at a reception held in Richmond, Virginia in July 1861.



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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.



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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.



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Evening Dress - Ashton wore this dress during an evening visit to Bent’s Richmond home in August 1862.



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Travel Dress - Ashton wore this dress during a visit to her family’s plantation, Mont Royal, in August 1863.



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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




"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.
 

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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 14, 2017

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I", the 1985 television adaptation of John Jakes' 1982 novel. Directed by Richard T. Heffron, the six-part miniseries starred James Read and Patrick Swayze:


"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) Photo Gallery











































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