Wednesday, July 28, 2021

"THE BEGUILED" (2017) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "THE BEGUILED", the 2017 adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel. Directed by Sofia Coppola, the movie starred Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst: 



"THE BEGUILED" (2017) Photo Gallery




















































Saturday, June 19, 2021

"SHANE" (1953) Review

 




"SHANE" (1953) Review

The history behind the production for the 1953 classic Western, "SHANE" is a curious one. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Westerns ever made in Hollywood. And director George Stevens' first choices for the film's two male leads never panned out. Yet, despite the expenses and Stevens' initial bad luck with his casting choices, "SHANE" became one of the most famous Westerns ever made in Hollywood. 

"SHANE" was based upon Jack Schaefer's 1949 novel of the same title. Many film historians and critics believe the narrative's basic elements were based upon a historical event, the 1892 Johnson County War. Although this was never acknowledged by Stevens, Schaefer or the film's screenwriter, A.B. Guthrie Jr. And yet . . . the film's setting turned out to be the same one for the famous cattlemen-homesteaders conflict, Wyoming. The plot for "SHANE" proved to be simple. An experienced gunfighter named Shane, weary of his violent past, arrives at a county in Wyoming Territory and befriends a homesteader/rancher named Joe Starrett and the latter's family. Despite Starrett's revelation of a conflict between homesteaders like himself and a ruthless and powerful rancher named Rufus Ryker, Shane accepts a job as Starrett's ranch hand. Before long, Shane not only finds himself emotionally drawn to the Starretts, but also pulled into the range war that is raging.

Anyone with any knowledge about old Hollywood or American Western films will automatically tell you that "SHANE" is highly regarded and much-beloved movie. The American Film Institute (AFI) has list it as one of the top three (3) Hollywood Westerns ever made and it is ranked 45 on the list of top 100 films. The movie earned six Academy Award nominations and won an award for Best Cinematography (in color). Many people believe Alan Ladd should have received an Academy Award for his performance as the mysterious "former" gunslinger Shane and consider the role as his best performance. How do I feel?

I cannot deny that "SHANE" is a first-rate movie. Who am I kidding? It is an excellent look at violence on the American frontier. And thanks to George Stevens' direction, it is also brutal. Unlike many previous movie directors, Stevens did not stylized the violent deaths depicted in the film. A major example of this peek into life on the frontier is a scene that featured the brutal death of Frank "Stonewall" Torrey, a small rancher portrayed by Elisha Cook Jr., who was killed by Jack Wilson, a villainous gunslinger portrayed by Jack Palance:


Contrary to what one might originally believe, I do not believe "SHANE" preached against violence. Yes, the screenplay written by Guthrie questioned the constant use of violence to solve problems. But the movie made it clear that sometimes, one has no choice but to fight. Does this rule apply to the situation in "SHANE"? Hmmmm . . . good question. 

Another aspect of "SHANE" that I found fascinating was Shane's attempts to put his violent past behind him in his interactions with the Starrett family. Whether Shane was working or riding beside Joe, befriending Joey and struggling to suppress his obvious sexual desire for Marian; it seemed pretty obvious that he had developed close feelings for the entire family. And it would also explained why he would hang around, despite the danger of being dragged into a range war. 

I cannot deny that "SHANE" featured some first-rate performances. I also cannot deny that Alan Ladd was in top form as the soft-spoken gunslinger who tried to hang up his gun belt, while staying with Starretts. I have always believed that Ladd was an underrated actor. Many critics have regarded his role as Shane as a singular example of how excellent he was as an actor. Do not get me wrong. I also admire his performance as Shane. It was a prime example of his skills as a movie actor. But I have seen other Ladd performances that I found equally impressive. Van Heflin's portrayal of the determined small rancher, Joe Starrett, struck me as equally impressive. I could never really regard his character as complex, but Heflin made it easy for me to see why Shane had no problems befriending Joe . . . or why other ranchers regarded him as their unofficial leader. Jean Arthur had been lured out of an early retirement by Stevens for the role of Marian Starrett. I thought she did a superb job of conveying her character's complicated feelings for Shane. Thanks to Arthur's performance, Marian seemed to be torn between her love for Joe, her attraction to Shane and her revulsion toward his violent past. 

Brandon deWilde had received an Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his role as the Starretts' young son, Joe Jr. (Joey). Do not get me wrong. I thought deWilde gave a very good performance as the impressionable, yet energetic young Joey. But an Oscar nod? Honestly, I have seen better performances from a good number of child actors - then and now. Another Best Supporting Actor nomination was given to Jack Palance for his role as the villainous gunslinger, Jack Wilson. When I re-watched this movie for the last time, there seemed to be two faces to Palance's performance. Most of his appearances featured the actor projecting the stone-faced villainy of his character. But there were moments when Palance managed to convey the more human side of Wilson - whether it was his boredom toward his employer's other minions or weariness at the idea of facing another person to kill. It is strange that I had never noticed this before. 

I also have to give kudos to Elisha Cook Jr. as the doomed Frank Toomey, who spent most of the movie aggressively expressing his anger at Ryker's attempts to drive him and other small ranchers out of the valley. And yet . . . Cook's best scene featured Toomey's last moments, when he began to silently express regret at his quick temper and his realization that he was about to meet his death."SHANE" also featured some first-rate performances from Emilie Meyer as the ruthless and greedy Rufus Ryker; Ben Johnson as one of Ryker's ranch hands, whose early encounter with Shane made him see the light; and the likes of Ellen Corby, Edgar Buchanan, Douglas Spencer and Edith Evanson.

Despite my admiration for "SHANE", George Stevens' direction and A.B. Guthrie Jr.'s screenplay . . . the movie is not a particularly favorite of mine. I like the film, but I do not love it. There are certain aspects of "SHANE" that prevents me from fully embracing it. One is Loyal Griggs' cinematography. I realize that he had won an Academy Award for his work. And I must say that he did an excellent job in capturing the beauty of the movie's Wyoming and California locations. But I found his use of natural lighting for the interior shots very frustrating, especially since I could barely see a damn thing in some shots. Another aspect of "SHANE" that annoyed me was its message regarding violence. I have no problem with any story declaring the use of violence in certain situations. My problem is that I did not find the local ranchers' situation with Ryker dire enough that they had to insist upon fighting it out. Granted, if they had agreed to sell their land to Ryker and leave, it would have meant his victory. I do not know. Perhaps I did not care. Or perhaps this feeling came from my contempt toward the Frank Toomey character, who had stupidly decided to give in to his anger and aggression by facing Ryker and Wilson.

Another aspect of "SHANE" that annoyed me was the Joey Starrett character. I have seen my share of on-screen precocious children in movies and television. But there was something about Joey Starrett that truly got under my skin. I do not blame Brandon deWilde. He was only following Stevens' direction. But before the movie's last reel, I found myself wishing that someone would push dear Joey into the mud . . . face first. If there was one aspect of "SHANE" that truly annoyed me, it was bringing the U.S. Civil War into the narrative. I can only recall three characters who were established as Civil War veterans - Shane, Frank Toomey and Jack Wilson. Of the three, guess which one fought with the Union? That is correct. The evil and slimy Wilson. And to make matters worse, Guthrie's screenplay had Shane utter these words to Wilson before shooting him - "I've heard that you're a low-down Yankee liar." In other words, "SHANE" became another example of Hollywood's subtle, yet never-ending reverence for the Confederate cause. And considering that only three characters in this film were established as war veterans, why on earth did Schaefer, Guthrie or Stevens had to drag the damn war into this story in the first place? It was so unnecessary.

Regardless of my frustrations, I must admit that "SHANE" is a first-rate Western. Director George Stevens, screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. and the excellent cast led by Alan Ladd did an exceptional job in creating a Western that many would remember for decades. If only I had enjoyed it more than I actually did.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Floating Island

 


Below is an article about the French dessert known as Floating Island



FLOATING ISLAND

Many people might find this odd, but the first time I ever heard about the French dessert, Floating Island, was in the 1994 comedy called "MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY". I have not thought about it for a while, until I came across a few passages about the dish on The Food Timeline website. 

The Floating Island is a meringue that floats on crème anglaise, or a vanilla custard. The meringues are prepared from whipped egg whites, sugar and vanilla extract. The crème anglaise is prepared with the egg yolks, vanilla, and hot milk. There is some confusion about the name of the dessert. In French cuisine, the terms Oufs à la Neige, also known as "Eggs in Snow", which originated in Elizabethan England, and Ile Flottante aka Floating Island, are sometimes used interchangeably. The difference between the two dishes is that the Floating Island (Ile Flottante) sometimes contains islands made of "layers of alcohol-soaked dessert biscuits and jam".

The dish originated in eighteenth-century France. However, no particular chef has been credited as its inventor. Below is a recipe for the Floating Island from the Epicurious.com website:


Floating Island

Ingredients

Sauce
2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
2 cups whole milk
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar

Meringues

2 cups whole milk
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar

Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water


Preparation

For Sauce
Scrape seeds from vanilla bean halves into heavy small saucepan; add beans. Add milk and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and steep 10 minutes.

Whisk yolks and sugar in heavy medium saucepan until thick, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in warm milk mixture (including vanilla beans). Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves path on back of spoon when finger is drawn across, about 9 minutes (do not boil). Strain custard into small bowl. Cover and chill until cold, at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

For Meringues
Lay smooth kitchen towel on work surface. Pour milk into medium (10-inch) skillet. Bring milk to simmer over medium heat.

Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large bowl until foamy. Add salt and beat until whites hold soft peaks. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until whites are stiff and glossy. Scoop some meringue (about twice the size of an egg) onto large oval spoon. Using another large spoon and gently transferring meringue from spoon to spoon, shape meringue into smooth oval. Drop oval into milk. Quickly shape 2 or 3 more meringues, dropping each into milk. Simmer meringues 1 minute. Using heatproof rubber spatula, turn meringues over in milk. Simmer 1 minute longer (meringues will puff up while poaching). Using slotted spoon, transfer meringues to towel (meringues will deflate slightly as they cool). Repeat process, shaping and then poaching enough meringues to make total of 12. Transfer meringues to waxed-paper-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 3 hours.

For Caramel
Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy small saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring to boil, brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush to dissolve any sugar crystals. Boil until syrup is pale golden color, occasionally swirling pan, about 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Let syrup cool until thick enough to fall from tines of fork in ribbons, about 8 minutes. (If caramel becomes too thick, rewarm slightly over low heat, stirring constantly.)

Spoon some sauce into center of each plate. Arrange 2 meringues on each. Dip fork into caramel and wave back and forth over meringues so that caramel comes off in strands that harden like threads, and serve.

Friday, May 7, 2021

"BROKEN LANCE" (1954) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from the 1954 Western, "BROKEN LANCE". Directed by Edward Dmytryk, the movie starred Spencer Tracy, Robert Wagner, Jean Peters and Richard Widmark:



"BROKEN LANCE" (1954) Photo Gallery

a1 Broken Lance DVD Review Spencer Tracy Edward Dmytryk Broken Lance


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Sunday, April 18, 2021

"MALEFICENT" (2014) Review

 



"MALEFICENT" (2014) Review

I am probably the last person on this earth who would associate Angelina Jolie with a Disney film, let alone one made for children. Then again, I have never seen Jolie in another movie like her recent film, "MALEFICENT".

Despite some adult themes found in this new film, I honestly believe that "MALEFICENT" is basically a movie for children. It is not just based upon Charles Perrault's 1697 fairy tale, "La Belle au Bois Dormant", but also the Disney Studios' 1959 animated adaptation, "SLEEPING BEAUTY". Only this film is told with a twist. Some would say with a feminist twist. Linda Woolverton's screenplay features the story's main villainess, the evil and vindictive fairy, Maleficent, as the movie's main protagonist. The film begins with Maleficent as a young and powerful fairy who serves as the main protector of a fairy realm called Moors that borders a human kingdom ruled by ruthless monarch named King Henry, who covets it. Maleficent befriends a young boy named Stefan, who works as a kitchen servant for the king.

The years pass as Maleficent and Stefan's friendship grows to something close to a romance. But King Henry's latest attempt to invade Moors leads him to offer his daughter's hand in marriage and his kingdom to the man able to kill Maleficent. Ambitious and longing to rise above his station, Stefan sets out to collect the bounty on his old friend. Unable to kill her because of their friendship, Stefan drugs Maleficent and burns her wings off with iron (a substance lethal to fairies) and presents the latter to King Henry as proof of her death. Stefan eventually marries King Henry's daughter, Princess Leila, and eventually assumes the throne following his father-in-law's death. When Maleficent learns about the birth of Stefan and Leila's infant daughter, Aurora, she appears uninvited at the christening and places a curse on the infant princess. On her sixteenth birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a death-like sleep. After Stefan is forced by Maleficent to beg for his daughter, she alters the curse with the addition that it can be broken by true love's kiss. Stefan arranges for Aurora to be raised by three pixie fairies - Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit. And despite her initial dislike of Aurora, Maleficent begins to secretly care about the girl, when the neglectful pixie fairies fail to take properly care of her.

There is a good number of elements for "MALEFICENT" that I found very admirable. I believe it is one of the more visually stunning films I have seen in recent years. A great deal of credit has to go to Dylan Cole and Gary Freeman's production designs. The pair did an excellent job in recapturing medieval life . . . at least in a fantasy world. Dean Semler's photography of parts of rural England, which served as King Stefan's realm, added to the movie's visual style. But the work from the special effects team, especially for creation of the fairy realm and other sequences that featured magic, truly enhanced the movie's visual style. I also have to add a word about Anna B. Sheppard's costume designs for the film. I could wax lyrical on how beautiful they looked. But there are times when I believe that images can speak louder than words:

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I will not claim that Sheppard's costumes are an accurate reflection of medieval fashion. But . . . hey! I cannot deny that I found them beautiful.

As for the plot for "MALEFICENT", I cannot deny that it proved to be something of a conundrum for me. Woolverton's screenplay and Robert Stromberg's direction clearly seemed to hint that it is basically a movie for children. The dialogue, the movie's style of humor and especially its use of the three fairy sisters as the movie's comic relief practically screams "Kiddie Film" to me. And yet . . . Woolverton's screenplay also featured elements that seemed to indicate a movie with strong adult themes. The most obvious element proved to be the theft of Maleficent's wings. Unless I am mistaken, the entire scene struck me as a metaphor for rape. Think about it. Stefan drugs Maleficent (a stand-in for any rape drug) to knock her unconscious. Using iron - an indication of violence - he physically violates her by burning off her wings. The relationship that develops between Maleficent and Aurora not only proved to be unexpected, but is given a feminist twist. Aside from Maleficent's relationship with her aide Diaval, a raven whom she had saved by transforming him into a human; the male-female relationships in this movie proved to be either ineffective or disastrous. Even the use of "True Love's Kiss" had a twist I had failed to foresee . . . until several minutes before it actually occurred.

There have been other productions - both television and film - that mixed elements of children's stories and adult themes. ABC Television's "ONCE UPON A TIME" seemed to use a great deal of adult themes in its twist on fairy tales. Yet, the series continues to maintain some semblance of childlike morality in its portrayal of magic. J.K. Rowling's "HARRY POTTER" literary (and film adaptations) series becomes increasingly ambiguous as the saga progresses. And aside from the first film, George Lucas' "STAR WARS" film saga strikes me as a case study of moral ambiguity with touches of humor and characterizations for children. But these science-fiction/fantasy sagas seem capable of balancing humor and storytelling for children with adult themes.

I cannot say the same about "MALEFICENT". The movie's childish humor - courtesy of the three fairy sisters - struck me as heavy-handed and not at all funny. I also believe the movie's 97-minute running time made it difficult for Woolverton's script to maintain that balance between children and adult themes. More importantly, the movie's running time forced Stromberg and Woolverton to rush the story forward at a unnecessarily fast pace, especially during the movie's last half hour. Other aspects of the plot - Maleficent's background, her relationships with both Stefan and Diaval, and especially her developing relationship with Aurora. But there are two aspects that struck me as rushed - namely Aurora's relationship with the fairy sisters (which barely seemed to exist) and the last half hour in which the sleeping curse is played out. I cannot help but wonder if Disney's penchant for cinematic penny-pinching forced Stromberg and Woolverton to rush the movie's climatic act.

I certainly had no problems with the movie's performances. Angelina Jolie was outstanding as the movie's protagonist, the fairy Maleficent. Being the top-notch actress that she is, Jolie effortlessly captured every nuance of Maleficent's character - both the good and the bad. I have been a great admirer of Sharlto Copley in the past - with the exception of his villainous turn in the 2013 sci-fi movie, "ELYSIUM". Thankfully, his complex portrayal of this movie's villain, King Stefan, reminded me of his skill at portraying complex roles. At first, Elle Fanning seemed to be stuck with a role that struck me very sweet, kind . . . and boring. Fortunately for her, the Princess Aurora character became more interesting in the movie's second half and Fanning got the chance to show off her acting chops - especially in the scene in which Aurora confronts Maleficent about the curse.

The movie also featured solid performances from Sam Riley as Maleficent's confidant Diaval, Kenneth Cranham as King Henry and Hannah New as Queen Leila. I have been longtime fans of Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple. But I have to be honest - I was not that impressed by their portrayals of the three fairy sisters. It was quite obvious to me that Staunton, Manville and Temple did their best to make the three sisters - Knotgrass, Flittle and Thistlewit - interesting. Nor can I accuse them of bad acting. They were obviously giving it their all. There are times when external forces have a way of affecting an actor or actress' performance, whether due to bad direction or bad writing. In the case of the three actresses who portrayed Aurora's fairy guardians, I suspect their performances were sabotaged by Linda Woolverton's writing. The screenwriter's sense of humor struck me as subtle as a stampeding buffalo. I also believe that her screenplay may have hampered Brenton Thwaites' performance as Prince Philip. How can I put it? Thwaites gave a bland and boring performance, because he was forced to portrayed a bland and boring character. The 1959 animated version of the prince had more zing than this latest version. And I blame Woolverton's screenplay, not the actor.

Do not get me wrong. I rather liked "MALEFICENT". I found it to be a visually stunning film with some strong moral ambiguity in its plot and in some of the major characters, and a solid cast led by outstanding performances from Angelina Jolie and Sharlto Copley. I also enjoyed the feminist twist on the "Sleeping Beauty" tale. But due to some flawed characterizations and a failure to balance both the children and adult theme in its plot, I can honestly say that I did not love "MALEFICENT".




Wednesday, March 31, 2021

"The Curious Affair of B'Elanna Torres' Age"

 




"THE CURIOUS AFFAIR OF B'ELANNA TORRES' AGE"

Over the years there have been many complaints about the inconsistency regarding characters and stories in STAR TREK series, "STAR TREK VOYAGER" (1995-2001). I will not deny that the series has been guilty of the occasional inconsistency. To be frank, all of the five TREK series and many of the franchise's movies are guilty of the same. However, I was shocked and surprised to learn that some of the websites that provide information on the entire franchise turned out to be just as inconsistent.

While perusing the MEMORY ALPHA WIKI website several years ago, I was surprised to discover a major discrepancy featuring one of the major characters on "VOYAGER", namely that of the Chief Engineer, B’Elanna Torres. According to the site, B’Elanna was born in 2349, the same year as Voyager's Operations Chief, Harry Kim. It also included that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, right after her last meeting with her mother, Miral Torres. Two years later in 2368, B’Elanna allegedly resigned from Starfleet Academy and not long afterwards, joined Chakotay’s cell in the Maquis. There is another source that confirms this – namely Jeri Taylor’s 1998 Voyager novel, "Pathways". Personally, I had major problems with this summation.

One, I found it hard to believe that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis sometime between 2368 (the year that Chakotay had resigned from Starfleet and joined the Maquis) and 2369. If this is true, then she would have first met the ship's Chief Pilot, Tom Paris, in the Maquis. But the television series had never hinted that B’Elanna and Tom knew each other before Voyager was hurled into the Delta Quadrant in early 2371. The early Season Two episode, (2.05) "Non-Sequitur" made it clear that Tom had served his full sentence of eighteen months in a Federation prison – in an alternate timeline that Harry Kim found himself in. According to the episode and the stardate, Tom had been released from prison in September 2371. Which means that Tom had been captured and imprisoned by the Federation in March 2370. And another Season Two episode, (2.17) "Dreadnought", made it clear that Voyager’s encounter with Cardassian missile occurred nearly on the second anniversary of B’Elanna’s first encounter with the missile – not long after she had joined Chakotay’s cell. According to the stardate, "Dreadnought" occurred in the summer of 2372, which means that B’Elanna had joined Chakotay’s cell sometime during the late spring of 2370.

Also, it is not possible that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, after seeing her mother for the last time. According to the late Season Five episode, (5.26) "The Equinox, Part I", B’Elanna had not seen her old Academy boyfriend, Maxwell Burke, in ten years. "The Equinox" was probably set around the end of 2375 or the beginning of 2366, which means that she and Burke had last seen each other in 2365. I am also convinced that it is possible B’Elanna had last met with her mother after resigning from Starfleet Academy and not before joining it, as was indicated in Taylor's novel. Although there is no episode that claimed B’Elanna had last spoken to her mother after leaving Starfleet, the Season Six episode, (6.03) "Barge of the Dead" certainly did not make it clear that she had joined Starfleet Academy after her last meeting with Miral – despite what Wikipedia and Jeri Taylor had claimed.

There is one last reason why I found it difficult to accept that B’Elanna was born in 2349. It happened to be the same birth year as her close friend, Harry Kim. If the two friends had been born in the same year, this meant that both had entered Starfleet Academy around the same time. And both would have immediately been placed on the Engineering track. Their chances of meeting for the first time at the Academy would have been pretty good. Yet, the series premiere episode, (1.01-1.02) "Caretaker" made it pretty clear that B’Elanna and Harry had met for the first time, while in the Ocampan settlement in 2371.

It is the series itself that still makes it easy for me to refute the claim that B’Elanna Torres had joined the Maquis in 2368 or that she had been born in 2349. In regard to the first claim, the stardates provided in episodes like "Non-Sequitur" and "Dreadnought" seemed to contradict Wikipedia or Jeri Taylor that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis in 2368. And episodes like "Caretaker""The Equinox" and "Barge of the Dead" gave enough evidence to refute the claim that B’Elanna had been born in 2349.

About an hour ago, I had examined the Wikipedia page for B'Elanna's character. Changes had been made. The site no longer claimed that B’Elanna had been born in 2349. Instead, it claimed that she had been born in 2346. I do not know if this is true, but it seems a lot more plausible than its earlier claim. But I would not be surprised if these changes were removed by the site’s webmaster. No matter. I am now satisfied.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021