Sunday, April 29, 2018
"POLDARK" SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT
Last winter, I began watching the BBC's 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham's literary series about the life of a British Army officer and American Revolutionary War veteran, following his return to his home in Cornwall. The first four episodes proved to be adaptation of the first novel in Graham's series, 1945's "Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787". Episodes Five to Eight focused on the series' second novel, 1946's "Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790".
Episode Four ended with Ross Poldark, a Cornish landowner and mine owner, discovering that his young kitchen maid, the 17 year-old Demelza Carne, is pregnant with his child. Abandoning his plan to reunite with his former fiancée, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, who had married his cousin Francis Polark; Ross decides to marry Demelza and take responsibility for their unborn child. Episode Five opened up six to seven months later with the birth of their daughter, Julia Poldark. Ross and Demelza decide to hold two christenings - one for his upper-crust family and neighbors and one for her working-class family. Unfortunately, fate upsets their plans when Demelza's family crash the first christening. Episode Five also featured the introduction of new characters - a young doctor named Dwight Enys, who quickly befriends Ross; Keren Daniels, a young traveling actress who married a local miner named Mark Daniels; and George Warleggan, the scion of the Warleggan family, who became Ross' archenemy.
The four episodes that formed the adaptation of "Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall" pretty much focused on the first two years of Ross' marriage to Demelza. Their relationship seemed to thrive, despite the unromantic reasons why they got married in the first place. It was nice to see Ross and Demelza quickly settled into becoming an established couple. This was especially apparent in first christening for Ross and Demelza's newborn, Julia, attended by Ross' family and upper-class neighbors. However, this sequence also revealed that Ross and Demelza still had a long way to go, when Demelza's religious and fanatical father and stepmother crashed the first christening. I enjoyed the sequence very much, even if it ended on an irritating note - namely Demelza and Mr. Carne's shouting match that played merry hell on my ears. Although there were times when their relationship threatened to seem a bit too ideal, I have no other problems with it.
From a narrative point of view, the only hitch in Ross and Demelza's relationship - so far - proved to be Demelza's determination to help her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark's renew the latter's disastrous relationship with a Captain Andrew Blamey . . . behind Ross' back. Following Blamey and Francis' disastrous encounter in the second (or third) episode, Ross made it clear that he had no intention of helping Verity and Blamey's romantic situation. Demelza, being young, romantic and naive; decided to intervene and help them continue their courtship. Her efforts were almost sidetracked when Francis and Elizabeth's son, Geoffrey Charles, was stricken with Putrid Throat. Ross' new friend, Dr. Enys, had recruited Verity to nurse Geoffrey Charles, believing that Elizabeth was incapable of serving as her son's nurse. I must be honest . . . I found this plot line a bit contrived. One, it seemed like a theatrical way to inject tension into Verity's romance with Captain Blamey and their plans to elope. And two, Elizabeth has never struck me as the type of woman incapable of nursing her own son, let alone anyone else. Nevertheless, Demelza's efforts proved to be successful in the end when Verity and Captain Blamey finally eloped in Episode Seven.
Verity and Captain Blamey's elopement also produced an ugly reaction from her brother Francis, who had been against their relationship from the beginning. That ugly reaction formed into an emotional rant against his sister that not only spoiled his wife Elizabeth and son Geoffrey Charles' Christmas meal, but concluded with him succumbing to Putrid Throat. I will say this about Francis Poldark . . . his presence in Episodes Five to Eight proved to be a lot stronger than it was in the first four episodes. Viewers learned in the conclusion of Episode Six that he had betrayed the shareholder names of Ross' new Carnmore Copper Company, an smelting organization formed to break the Warleggans' monopoly on the mining industry in that part of Cornwall.
I am a little confused by why so many claim that Clive Francis had portrayed the character as less of a loser than Kyle Soller did in 2015. For example, in an article posted on the Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, the writer made this description of Francis in Episode Eight of the 1975 series - "I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.".
That was not the Francis Poldark I saw in Episode Eight. Come to think of it, that was NOT the Francis I saw between Episodes Three and Eight. Well . . . I do recall Francis engaging in self-pitying behavior. I also recall Francis being half-hearted in his attempt to reconcile with Elizabeth, his occasionally self-defensive attitude and anger at Verity for eloping. The only sign of wit I can recall was Francis' clumsy and slightly insulting reaction at the Warleggan ball to news of prostitute Margaret's recent wedding. And although I enjoyed Clive Francis' performance, there were moments when he was guilty of some really histrionic acting - especially in Episode Eight, when his character went into a rant against Verity's elopement during his family's Christmas dinner. Either these fans and critics had failed to notice how much of a loser Francis Poldark was in the 1975 series, they remembered the actor's performance in the episodes that followed Episode Eight, or they were blinded by nostalgia for the 1975 series. Clive Francis' portrayal of the character struck me as much of a loser as Soller's portrayal.
The renewal of Verity and Captain Blamey's romance was not the only relationship shrouded in secrecy. As I had earlier pointed a traveling actress named Keren had abandoned her tawdry profession life to remain in the area and marry local miner, Mark Daniels, after meeting him at the second christening for the newborn Julia Poldark. I admire how the production went out of its way to portray Keren's growing disenchantment with life as a miner's wife and her marriage to Mark. In doing so, screenwriter Mark Wheeler allowed audiences to sympathize with Keren's emotions and understand what led her to pursue an extramarital affair with the neighborhood's new physician, the quiet and charming Dr. Dwight Enys. Although this sequence featured solid performances from Richard Morant and Martin Fisk as Dwight Enys and Mark Daniels; the one performance that really impressed me came from Sheila White, who portrayed the unfortunate Keren Daniels. However, I was not particular thrilled by how the affair ended. Mark Daniels deliberately murdered Keren, when he discovered the affair. What really riled me was that both Ross and Demelza went out of their way to help Mark evade justice. Their actions seemed to justify and approve of Mark's violent action against his wife. The entire scenario smacked of another example of misogyny in this saga.
Episode Six of "POLDARK" not only introduced the character of George Warleggan, it also featured one of my favorite segments in the series, so far - the Warleggan ball. I thought Wheeler and Paul Annett did a solid job in this particular sequence. It was not perfect, but it proved to be an elegant affair, capped by a tense situation when Ross engaged in a gambling showdown with the Warleggans' cousin Matthew Sanson, before exposing the latter as a cheat. One aspect of the ball sequence that really impressed me were the costumes and the music provided by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts, which helped maintained the sequence's atmosphere. I also enjoyed both Robin Ellis and Milton Johns' performances as Ross Poldark and Matthew Sanson in the card game sequence. Both actors did a very good job of injecting more tension in what was already a high-wired situation. By the way, both actors, along with Clive Francis, had appeared in the 1971 adaptation of "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY".
There were other moments and sequences that I enjoyed. Aside from the Warleggan ball, I was very impressed by two other scenes. One featured Demelza's attempt to play matchmaker for Verity and Captain Blamey in Truro. Well, the sequence began with Demelza playing matchmaker before all three became swept into a food riot that led to a violent brawl between some very hungry townsmen and local military troops trying to prevent the men from breaking into Matthew Sanson's grain storehouse. I found the entire scene rather well shot by director Paul Annett. I was also impressed by Annett's work in Episode Seven that featured Ross' attempt to help Mark Daniels evade arrest for Keren's murder. I may not approved of what happened, but I was impressed by Annett's direction. But I feel that the director did his best work in Episode Eight, which featured the wreck of the Warleggans' ship on Poldark land. It began on a high note when the Paynters and other locals began pillaging the ship's cargo for much needed food, clothing and other materials. But it really got interesting when a riot broke out between the Poldark workers, miners from a nearby estate and the local troops who tried to stop them. Again, Annett really did a first-rate job in making the sequence very exciting, despite the fact that it was shot in the dark.
I noticed that Paul Wheeler, who wrote the transcripts for these four episodes and Episode Eleven, made several changes from Graham's novel. To be honest, I can only recall one major change that did not bother me one whit. In Episode Seven, young Geoffrey Charles Poldark was stricken with Putrid's Throat before Verity had the chance to elope with Captain Blamey. Once Verity and Elizabeth helped the boy recover, she finally took the opportunity to elope. Yes, I am aware that Verity had eloped before the Putrid fever outbreak, but I see that Wheeler was trying to create a little tension for her situation. When Francis was struck with Putrid's Throat on Christmas, Demelza arrived at Trenwith to help Elizabeth nurse him. The two women engaged in a warm and honest conversation that showcased both Jill Townsend and Angharad Rees as talented actresses they were. However, this conversation never occurred in the novel. In fact, the literary Elizabeth Poldark also came down with Putrid's Throat. But this change did not bother me, due to the excellent scene between Townsend and Rees.
Unfortunately, I had problems with some of Wheeler's other changes. One change originated back in Episode Four with the "Demelza gets knocked up" storyline that led to hers and Ross' shotgun wedding. I had assumed that the Trenwith Christmas party sequence, which followed Ross and Demelza's wedding, would appear in Episode Five. After all, it was one of my favorite sequences from the 1945 novel. But the sequence never appeared - not in Episode Four or Episode Five. Instead, the latter opened with Julia Poldark's birth and the christening. And I felt very disappointed.
Another change involved Ross' former employee, Jim Carter. Back in Episode Three, Jim was tried and convicted for poaching on another landowner's estate. In Episode Six, Ross received word that Jim was severely ill inside Bodmin Jail. With Dwight Enys' help, the pair break the younger man out. But instead of dying during Dwight's attempt to amputate an infected limb, Jim survived . . . until Episode Seven. This change allowed Ross to indulge in a speech on the inequities suffered by the poor and working-class in British. Personally, I had difficulty feeling sympathetic, considering that he had fired Jud and Prudie Paynter, earlier in the episode. Mind you, Jud had deserved to be fired for his drunken behavior and insults to Demelza. But Prudie did not. She tried to stop Jud and ended up fired by Ross (who found her guilty by matrimony to the perpetrator). And I ended up regarding Ross as nothing more than a first-rate hypocrite.
Because Jim Cater had survived Episode Six, Ross did not attend the Warleggan ball angry and in a drunken state. Instead, he remained a perfect and sober gentleman throughout the sequence. Which was a pity . . . at least for me. Perhaps Wheeler had decided that Prudie's fate was sufficient enough to expose Ross' less pleasant side of his personality, I did not. The card game between Ross and Sanson provided some tension during the ball sequence, thanks to the skillful performances of Robin Ellis, Milton Johns and Ralph Bates. But it was not enough for me. I thought a good deal of the sequence's drama was deleted due to "our hero" not having an excuse to get drunk and surly. I suspect that Wheeler, along with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, wanted to - once again - maintain Ross' heroic image.
The Warleggan ball also featured another change. At the end of Episode Six, George Warleggan revealed to his father, Nicholas, that he knew the names of Ross' Carnmore Copper Company. The revelation left me feeling flabbergasted. In the novel, Francis had not exposed the shareholders' names to George until after Verity and Blamey's elopement. He had believed Ross was responsible for arranging it and betrayed the latter in retaliation. Since Francis had obviously betrayed Ross before Episode Six's final scene in the 1975 series, I found myself wondering why he had betrayed his cousin's company in the first place. Why did he do it? Someone had hinted that Francis felt jealous over Elizabeth's feelings for Ross. Yet, the relationship between those two had been particularly frosty since the revelation of Demelza's pregnancy back in Episode Four. If Francis had been experiencing jealousy, what happened before the end of Episode Six that led him to finally betray Ross and the Carnmore Copper Company shareholders? It could not have been for money. Although George Warleggan had paid back the money that his cousin had cheated from Francis and the other gamblers at the ball, he did not dismiss Francis' debt to the Warleggan Bank. If only Wheeler had followed Graham's novel and allowed Francis to betray Ross following Verity's elopement. This would have made more sense. Instead, the screenwriter never really made clear the reason behind the betrayal. Rather sloppy, if you ask me.
Overall, Episodes Five to Eight of "POLDARK" struck me as an interesting and very entertaining set of episodes. This is not surprising, considering that they were basically an adaptation of "Demelza - A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790". Director Paul Annett and Paul Wheeler did a very solid job in adapting Graham's novel. Yes, I had some quibbles with Wheeler's screenplay - especially his handling of the Francis Polark character. But overall, I believe the two men, along with the cast led by Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees did an first-rate job. On to Episode Nine and the adaptation of the next novel in Graham's series.
Thursday, April 26, 2018
"The Rain Chronicles" [PG] - Book III
Rain Robinson of ”Future’s End” ends up on Voyager, following her adventures with Tom Paris and Tuvok in late 20th century Earth. Here is Book III.
RAIN ROBINSON - May 27, 2373:
Today, I began my first shift in Stellar Cartography. It did not turn out too bad. I barely managed to keep up, but at least I didn't make a fool of myself. Even better, I also made two friends, who didn't seem to mind answering my questions every five or ten minutes.
My new friends happened to be sisters, twin sisters - Jenny and Megan Delaney. They seemed very friendly, a lot of fun to be with and a big help. Let's face it. My knowledge of astronomy and stellar cartography is at least 300 years outdated. Thanks to Jenny, Megan and some late-night study sessions with the ship's computer, I managed to catch up to the latest findings within two weeks. There is still a lot I don't know. But, if all goes well, I should be able to keep up with them and the rest in Stellar Cartography by the end of the year. One last thing I like about the Delaneys - they seemed to be among the few on this ship who don't seem full of themselves. In other words, they don't look upon me like some cavewoman from prehistoric times.
Megan is the quiet one. Dimples usually form on her cheeks whenever she smiles. I also believe that she once dated Tom Paris, some two years ago. Okay, I must admit that I felt a little . . . no, a lot jealous when I first heard this news. Until I also learned that Megan and Tom had put their relationship behind them, a long time ago. And now, they only consider themselves as good friends. In fact, Megan has now developed an interest in another crewman, whose name has escaped me.
Unlike Megan, Jenny does not have dimples when she smiles. And she also seemed more like the outgoing type. Very talkative and with a lot of jokes. In many ways, she reminded me of Tom. After learning about the holodecks from Jenny, I wonder if she would be interested in creating programs from some of my old favorite "B" movies. She seemed like the type who would enjoy them. There is one thing about Jenny Delaney that I cannot fathom. Namely, her interest in one Ensign Harry Kim. She seems to like him. A lot.
What Jenny sees in him, I have no idea. I suppose one could say that he is very good-looking and smart. Despite his quiet nature, he also seemed to have a sly sense of humor. I almost grew to like him. Until I encountered one of his less admirable traits. Like a lot of people on this ship, Harry Kim has this smug superiority that tends to manifest itself whenever the subject of Starfleet or the Federation comes up. He seemed proud . . . almost a little too proud over humanity's "evolvement" over the past 300 years.
One time, he came so proud and smug over the subject that I could not help but respond in a bitchy manner. Let's just say that Mr. Kim did not take kindly to my manner. Hey! What can I say? When I hear bullshit, I can't seem to keep my mouth shut.
* * * *
LIEUTENANT B'ELANNA TORRES - Stardate 50394.19:
I have a strong suspicion that Harry does not like Rain Robinson very much. At least, not anymore. However, that was not always the case.
When she first came aboard, Harry tried to make Rain feel at home. Typical Harry. Mister Collector-of-Lost-Souls. Both Tom and I had been amongst those lost souls during Voyager's first year in the Delta Quadrant. Rain became another. Both she and Harry seemed destined to become good friends. Until that little conversation between them in the Mess Hall.
It happened about a week following Voyager's encounter with the Q Continuum's civil war. Harry, Tom, Rain, Ken Dalby, Megan Delaney, Golwat and I had gathered around one of the Mess Hall's large tables, following dinner. Tom, Rain and I were recounting our adventures on 20th century Earth.
I had just finishing describing my and Chakotay's encounter with those Arizona terrorists. Rain immediately added, "You must have come across one of those groups of right-wing terrorists. They're people who feel that the government was slowly taking over their rights as citizens."
Ken nodded. "Freedom fighters, right?" he asked.
A snort left Rain's mouth. "Yeah, right. Freedom for white Americans. Especially if they're men. As far as they're concerned, everyone else deserves to be oppressed."
"I noticed how they seemed to view both Chakotay and myself with a lot of hostility," I added, remembering those stares. Curious, but hateful. "I guess it was a good thing Tuvok and the Doctor came to our rescue."
Harry shook his head. "You were very lucky, Maquis. Quite frankly, I'm glad I had remained on the ship." Then he faced Rain and made his big mistake. "I guess you're lucky, also. Now that you don't have to live in the 20th century, any longer."
"Lucky?" Rain's dark eyes narrowed. "How am I lucky?"
Harry continued, "Well, maybe not completely lucky. After all, you're stuck in the Delta Quadrant with the rest of us. But once we return to Earth, you'll find yourself in a better world. No wars, poverty, diseases and crime. It's paradise." His face lit up. Good old Starfleet. Optimistic, as always.
Another long pause followed. Rain continued to stare at Harry. Hard. "Hmmmph," she finally said. "I guess the Earth of today is probably a better place to live. However, I doubt very much that you can still call it paradise. There's no such place. At least not on this plane of existence."
"I see what you're getting at," Harry said with a dismissive laugh. Unbeknownst to him, Rain's body stiffened. "You're speaking from some kind of spiritual point of view. Which is fine for those who are religious. But from our point of view, Earth is paradise. You just have to see it for yourself." He looked as if he was ready to plant the Federation flag on the next planet.
A smirk threatened to tug the edges of Rain's lips. "No kidding," she said in a voice that dripped with sarcasm. "You know, I've been reading about your Federation in the ship's computer. Earth is like you said. Somewhat."
Golwat frowned. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"Well . . . there are no wars. At least on Earth. But I've noticed that your Federation has been involved in plenty of wars elsewhere. From what I've read, you were just involved in a war with some species called Cardassan . . . uh, Cardasaiann . . ."
"Cardassians," Tom added.
Rain shot him a grateful look. "Yeah. Thanks. Didn't your Federation just have a war with these Cardassians about . . . oh, five years ago?"
Again, Tom provided the correct answer. "Six or seven years ago." This time, Rain ignored him.
"But we're now at peace with the Cardassians," Harry explained. "The Federation signed a treaty with them about three years ago." Ken Dalby frowned. As a fellow ex-Maquis, I didn't blame him. Personally, I think the Federation should have dealt with the Cardassians when they had the chance.
And in typical Dalby fashion, Ken expressed what the rest of us former Maquis felt. "Not only did the Feds sign a treaty with the Cardies, they handed over their DMZ colonies in order to settle that treaty. A treaty that didn't have a chance of working out."
Rain nodded. "Yeah. I've read about that, too. Sort of reminds me of a certain event that happened on Earth, before my time."
None of us seemed to have any idea what Rain was talking about. Including Mr. Twentieth Century himself. A confused looking Harry asked her to be specific.
"I read how your Federation gave up those colonies to ensure peace with these Cardas-si-ans. It reminded me of how the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, allowing the latter to continue his conquest of smaller European nations in 1938. Chamberlain did all of this to avoid a war and yet, World War II began a year later."
Tom cried out, "I remember reading about that!" He failed to notice the dark glance from Harry. "Now that I think about it, you're right."
The 'Fleeters, with the exception of Megan Delaney, looked very upset. Especially Harry. Dalby naturally looked pleased by Rain's analogy. As for Tom . . . Let's just say that he seemed more enthralled by Miss Robinson herself, instead of what she had to say.
"You simply can't compare the Federation to this Chamberlain fellow," Harry declared in heated tones. "Especially since the Federation is still at peace with the Cardassians."
Rain shot back, "How do you know?"
A smug smile appeared on Ken's face. Golwait quietly excused herself. Megan remained seated. As for Harry - he opened his mouth to speak, but not a word came out. It didn't surprise me. After all, it has been two years since we were all thrown into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker. A lot could have happened in the Alpha Quadrant during that period. I never realized until this moment on how much Harry put the Federation on a pedestal.
"By the way," Rain added, "you also claimed that there was no poverty on Earth and . . ."
Harry nodded. "That's right."
". . . no crime. And yet," Rain continued, "you mean to tell me there is absolutely no crime on Earth? Including murder?"
Poor Harry. He looked as if he had walked into a trap. "We're not violent!" he declared.
"But you still have murder. Right? I mean, money isn't the only motive for all crimes. There are so many other emotions to deal with - lust, hatred, fear, you name it. I noticed that the Federation has a legal system."
Tom quietly added, "And prison." A faraway look had crept into his blue . . . I mean, his eyes. The ghost of prison in New Zealand seemed to have returned. I wonder if Rain knew about that aspect of his past? Or Caldik Prime?
Rain continued, "Look, what I'm trying to say is that this picture of Earth as 'Paradise' simply strikes me as being unrealistic. It might be a hell of a lot better than it was in my time. But from what I've read, it seemed far from perfect. And you've seemed to acquire a whole new set of problems over the past three centuries. Face it, there's no such thing as paradise. Your Federation just might be spouting propaganda."
Needless to say, Harry did not take Rain's little speech very well. I don't think even Golwat appreciated it and she wasn't Human. Since both were regular Starfleet officers and Federation citizens, naturally both took Rain's words very personal. Megan didn't. Which surprised me. Perhaps the Delaneys had a more realistic view of the world than your average Federation citizen. I know that Tom did. And Dalby, not surprisingly, gleefully agreed with Rain.
And me? I may have been a Starfleet officer for the past two years, but I've also been around. Like Dalby and Tom, I've seen too much of the Universe's dark side to view the Federation as paradise. Klingons believed that paradise awaits them in Sto-vo-kor. The Klingon afterlife. Judging from Rain's comments about no paradise on this plane of existence, I suspect that she would agree with them.
END OF BOOK III
Monday, April 23, 2018
Below are images from "A POCKETFUL OF RYE", the 1985 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1953 novel, "A Pocket Full of Rye". The movie starred Joan Hickson as Miss Jane Marple:
"A POCKETFUL OF RYE" (1985) Photo Gallery
Thursday, April 19, 2018
"GETTYSBURG" (1993) Review
In 1974, author Michael Shaara’s novel about the famous three-day battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was published. Titled "The Killer Angels", it told the story of the Gettysburg battle from the viewpoint of certain military leaders – Confederates James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee and Lewis Armistead and Union leaders John Buford and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. The novel went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. But despite this accolade, Shaara never really made any money from the novel. Nor did he live long enough to reap the benefits of his creation in the years to come – including the movie adaptation called "GETTYSBURG".
Released in the fall of 1993, ”GETTYSBURG” starred Tom Berenger as Longstreet, Jeff Daniels as Chamberlain, Sam Elliot as Buford Richard Jordan as Armistead, and Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee. The movie was directed by Ron Maxwell and produced by Ted Turner. And despite being over four hours long (the running time is officially four hours and fourteen minutes), managed to surprisingly maintain my interest without me falling asleep. And that is something that the 1939 Oscar winner, "GONE WITH THE WIND" cannot boast. True, one could say that "GETTYSBURG" is a movie filled with a great deal of combat in compare to Margaret Mitchell’s story, which featured no combat at all. But despite being a story about a famous battle, "GETTYSBURG"featured a lot more narrative drama than it did combat action sequences. And yet, director Maxwell managed to keep the movie at a good pace – with the exception of one period in the story.
Ronald Maxwell had not only directed ”GETTYSBURG”, but also wrote the screen adaptation of Shaara’s novel. I must admit that Maxwell did a pretty good job in closely following the novel. Although there were times when I wish he had taken a few short cuts. Actually that time occurred in the series of conversations leading up to the final action sequence – namely Pickett’s Charge up Cemetery Ridge on the third day. It simply lasted too damn long. I had found Chamberlain’s discovery of his first sergeant’s death, Longstreet’s instructions to Pickett and the latter’s brigade commanders, and Longstreet’s gloomy prediction about the Charge dramatically satisfying. But honestly . . . I could have done without Armistead’s speech about Virginians to the English observer – Lieutenant Colonel Fremantle (James Lancaster), Armistead’s last conversation with Richard Garnett, Chamberlain’s conversation with Hancock and the sequence featuring the Confederate troops cheering Lee. It was only during this last act that the movie threatened to bore me.
There had been complaints that ”GETTYSBURG” had failed to make any allusions to the slavery issue. Well, whoever made those complaints had obviously failed to see the movie. Not only did Longstreet commented about the slavery issue to Fremantle – before the latter immediately changed the subject – but an encounter with a runaway slave led to an interesting conversation about race, slavery and bigotry between Chamberlain and the 20th Maine’s First Sergeant Kilrain (Kevin Conway). There were other aspects of the movie that I had also enjoyed – Buford’s commentary about the importance of the Gettysburg location, the aforementioned Longstreet’s prediction about Pickett’s Charge and Lee’s ironic comments about being a military commander. And I also enjoyed some of the movie’s more comic moments – Chamberlain’s efforts to prevent his brother Tom (C. Thomas Howell) from being too informal in the presence of the 20th Maine men and the conversation between Pickett and his commanders about Darwinism.
But ”GETTYSBURG” is, first and foremost, a war movie about a specific battle. And like many other war movies, it is filled with battle sequences. On the whole, I found them pretty satisfactory. One must remember that this movie had been released at least five years before Spielberg’s World War II drama, ”SAVING PRIVATE RYAN”. Which meant one should not expect the battle scenes to be particularly detailed in its violence in the same manner as the 1998 movie. In other words, most of the battles seemed to feature a great deal of musket fire, explosions, and bodies either falling to the ground or being blown sky high – something one would see in television miniseries like ”NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” or ”THE BLUE AND GRAY”. The most graphic scene I can recall occurred during a non-combatant scene that featured the field hospital filled with both bodies and body parts, where Longstreet visited one of his division commanders, John Bell Hood. However, I must commend at least two battle sequences. The actual charge up Cemetery Ridge had a great sweep, enhanced by Kees Van Oostrum’s photography from a helicopter. That effectiveness of that sweep was nearly ruined when the Confederate troops finally reached the Union position. There, the scene became nothing more than a confusing mess of both Union and Confederate troops merely shoving each other around. Too bad. Another memorable battle sequence featured Chamberlain and the 20th Maine’s conflict with the 15th Alabama regiment on Little Round Top. The battle started in a generic manner as the two regiments exchanged musket fire. But once the 15th Alabama came across the 20th Maine’s position, the violence became rather detailed and spilled into hand-to-hand combat and short-range firing. I can even recall one Union soldier slamming the butt of his musket into the crotch of a Confederate. And the 20th Maine’s charge down Little Round Top turned out to be as exciting as the charge made by Pickett’s division up Cemetery Ridge.
But it was the cast that really impressed me – especially the performances of Tom Berenger, Martin Sheen, Richard Jordan, Kevin Conway, Stephen Lang and especially Jeff Daniels. Berenger did an excellent job of portraying the very human James “Pete” Longstreet, Lee’s "Old Warhorse". But his most poignant moment occurred when his Longstreet regretfully ordered Pickett to commence his charge without uttering a word. I was amazed at how the actor allowed Longstreet to age within seconds during this sequence. Martin Sheen portrayed Robert Lee beyond the historic icon as a brilliant, yet obviously flawed man. Both Conway and Lang gave vibrant performances as the Irish-born Buster Kilrain and George Pickett. Lewis Armistead turned out to be Richard Jordan’s last role and many have claimed that it was one of his best. I heartily agree. In fact, one of his finest moments on screen occurred when his Armistead rallied his troops up Cemetery Ridge by sticking his hat on his sword (which actually happened, by the way). Unfortunately, Jordan died of a brain tumor nearly three months before the movie’s theatrical release. For me, the heart and soul of ”GETTYSBURG” turned out to be Jeff Daniel’s masterful portrayal of the talented Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain. Not only did he managed to portray the Union leader as a flesh-and-blood human being, he also gave one of the best speeches – in which he attempted to convince the remnants of the mutinous 2nd Maine to join his regiment – on the silver screen. It seemed a shame that Daniels had never received an acting nomination or award for his performance.
I would not go as far to say that ”GETTYSBURG” is one of the best war movies ever made. Quite frankly, it is not. But it is one of the better Civil War movies I have ever seen. Not only did director/screenwriter Ronald Maxwell managed to adhere closely to Michael Shaara’s novel, but maintain a steady pace for a movie that turned out to be over four hours long. It presented its historical characters as human beings and not waxwork dummies that seemed prevalent in a good deal number of other Civil War movies. And more importantly, it provided a history lesson on one of the most famous battles during that particular period. I heartily recommend it.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Below is a short article about a casserole dish known as Maqluba:
Maquluba is a traditional casserole dish of the Arab Levant. It is traditional in many countries throughout the Middle East. The ingredients for the dish can vary from one recipe to another. However, it basically consists of meat, eggplant, and various vegetables; which are all cooked under a layer of rice. The ingredients are placed in a pot, which is flipped upside-down, when served. This is why the dish is called Maqluba, which means "upside down". Maqluba is traditionally accompanied by yogurt and/or cucumber salad.
I first learned about Maqluba, while watching the BBC series, "THE SUPERSIZERS EAT . . . MEDIEVAL". According to the episode, the dish certainly existed around the 12th and 13th centuries, when European soldiers first stumbled across it, while they fought in the Middle East, during The Crusades.
Below is a recipe for Maqluba that mainly features chicken and rice from the Mina website:
1 ½ cups Rice, divided
¼ cup Olive oil, divided
1 Large eggplant
1 Large zucchini
Salt and pepper
1 Onion, chopped
2 Cloves garlic, minced
1 lb Lean Ground Chicken
½ tsp Cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
1 tsp Garam masala
1 Large tomato, sliced
1 (19 oz) Can chickpeas, drained
2 ½ cups Chicken broth
SOAK rice in water for 30 minutes or until ready to use.
CUT eggplant and zucchini lengthwise into ¼ inch thick strips. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, sauté until tender, about 1-2 minutes per side and set aside.
HEAT 1 tbsp olive oil in the same pan and add onion and garlic. Sauté for 2-4 minutes or until tender. Add chicken and spices and cook for 8-10 minutes, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon until golden brown.
DRAIN rice and set aside.
GREASE a 16 cup heavy bottomed pot with olive oil. Layer zucchini and eggplant alternately in the bottom of the pot and up the sides. Top eggplant and zucchini in bottom of pot with sliced tomatoes. Sprinkle ½ cup (125 mL) rice over the tomatoes followed by chicken mixture, chickpeas and any remaining eggplant or zucchini. Press to compact. Sprinkle in remaining rice and press down again. Pour in chicken stock and cover.
BRING the mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on low for 45-50 minutes. If mixture gets too dry before the rice is finished cooking add additional chicken broth or water and simmer until absorbed and rice is cooked.
REMOVE from the heat and let rest, covered for 15 minutes.
REMOVE lid from the pot and place a large platter upside down over the pot. Carefully invert the mixture onto the platter and serve.
Tips: The mixture may not hold its shape completely but that’s okay, simply patch it up before serving. It’s delicious either way.
Serving Suggestion: Serve with plain yogurt on the side. Garnish with pine nuts and chopped parsley.
Saturday, April 7, 2018
Below are images from the new Western-mystery film, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT". Directed by Quentin Tarantino, the movie stars Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason-Leigh and Walton Goggins:
"THE HATEFUL EIGHT" (2015) Photo Gallery