Thursday, April 28, 2011

"LOST" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "Whatever the Case May Be"




"LOST" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "Whatever the Case May Be"

I had never meant to write an article on (1.12) "Whatever the Case May Be", the Season One episode of ABC’s ”LOST”. Honestly. But after I recently re-watched the episode, I realized that I had to say or write something about it.

”Whatever the Case May Be” happened to be the second episode that featured Kate Austen as a main character. While frolicking in what looked like a spring, Kate and fellow castaway James “Sawyer” Ford came across another chunk of Oceanic Airlines 815’s fuselage section and several dead passengers. Kate also discovered a silver Halliburton case that she asked Sawyer to retrieve for her. The case belonged to the recently dead U.S. Marshal Edward Mars, who had been escorting Kate back to United States soil in order for her to face criminal charges. Being Kate, she decided to tell Sawyer that he could keep the case . . . before making several attempts to get her hands on it by theft. The case not only contained Marshal Mars’ firearms and some money, but also a sentimental object that meant very much to Kate.

How much did that object mean to Kate? As shown in the episode’s flashbacks, it meant so much to her that she staged a bank robbery (in which she pretended to be a potential loan customer and victim) in New Mexico in order to acquire it from one of the bank’s safety deposit box. It seemed that Marshal Mars had placed it there to entrap Kate. As for the object of Kate’s desire, it turned out to be a toy airplane that once belonged to a former childhood sweetheart named Tom Brennan, whose death she was partially responsible for, as shown in a later episode called (1.22) “Born to Run”. Not only was Kate willing to stage a bank robbery in New Mexico and steal the Marshal’s case on the island for it, she was also willing to manipulate and lie to castaway leader Jack Shephard in order to get her hands on it.

Several “B” plots also abound in this episode. One of them featured on Charlie Pace’s continuing melancholy and guilt over Claire Littleton’s kidnapping at the end of (1.10) “Raised By Another”. In short, Charlie sat around and moped over Claire, while the other castaways moved their belongings to another beach in order to prevent everything and everyone from a rising tide that threatened to wash over their camp. In the end, Rose Nadler helped him snapped out of his gloom with tough words and a prayer. John Locke and Boone Carlyle focused on finding ways to open the hatch they had discovered near the end of (1.11) “Even the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” and met with failure. And Sayid Jarrah asked Boone’s stepsister, Shannon Rutherford, to help him translate longtime castaway Danielle Rousseau’s maps and notes, which are written in French. His request attracted Boone’s jealous attention.

Did I like ”Whatever the Case May Be”? No, I did not. In my opinion, it was one of the worst episodes from Season One. In other words, I thought it was a piece of crap. One, the entire storyline about Kate’s efforts to get her hands on the toy airplane struck me as an exercise in irrelevancy. The fact that this particular episode was resolved in ”Born to Run”, the next Kate-centric episode, not only convinced me of the uselessness of this storyline, but also the flaky nature of Kate’s personality. Look, I understand that she had felt guilty for inadvertently causing Tom Brennan’s death. But was it really necessary to set in motion a bank robbery in New Mexico or piss off Jack and Sawyer for that damn toy plane? I do not think so.



Kate’s quest for the toy airplane produced two sequences that really annoyed me. One, her attempts to steal the Halliburton case from Sawyer left me shaking my head in disbelief. At one point, I felt as if I was watching two adolescents behaving like ten year-olds. Both of them seemed ridiculous and immature in their efforts to steal the case from each other . . . not sexy. And why did Kate hand over the case to Sawyer in the first place? She could have maintained the lie that the case belonged to her. Nor did she have to tell Sawyer what was inside the case. At least she would have been spared resorting to childish efforts to get the damn thing. The quest for the toy airplane also produced one of the most ludicrous flashbacks in the series’ history, and one of the dumbest bank robberies in movies or television. The fact that Kate had staged the robbery for the airplane makes me want to upchuck. And if she knew that Marshal Mars had placed the airplane inside the bank, why did she have to enter the bank, unmasked? Why not simply act as one of the masked robbers? And if the whole thing was a trap set up by Marshal Mars, where in the hell was he? Where was the stakeout? And what were Damon Lindelof and Jennifer Johnson thinking when they wrote this episode?

And if the main plot seemed ludicrous beyond belief, the subplots were no better. After discovering the infamous hatch to the Swan Station at the end of the previous episode, (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, John Locke and Boone Carlyle decided to keep their discovery a secret. Well . . . Locke did. Boone rather idiotically decided to follow his lead. To this day, I am amazed that so many ”LOST” fans had continued to regard Locke as the castaways’ wise mentor by this point in Season One, considering that his decision to keep the hatch a secret struck me as incredibly stupid. Oh well. Perhaps Lindelhof and Johnson needed this secretive behavior as fodder for future storylines. Another subplot featured Sayid Jarrah and Shannon Rutherford’s efforts to translate the charts and notes that he had stolen from Danielle Rousseau in (1.09) “Solitary”. The storyline regarding the charts and notes amounted to nothing. But it did initiate the romance between the former Iraqi soldier and California dance student. We finally come to the subplot regarding Charlie Pace’s guilt and despair over Claire Littleton’s kidnapping and Rose Nadler’s attempts to help him deal with the latter. One, I found subplot boring. And two, Rose’s attempts to revive him from his despair struck me as a perpetration of the ”Religious Black Woman” cliché. Not only could I have done without this subplot, I could have also done without her dialogue.

Many fans have viewed Jack’s behavior toward Kate in this episode as abusive and controlling. Perhaps. Perhaps not. I found his reaction to Kate’s revelation about her tracking skills in ”All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” as controlling and abusive. Frankly, I thought he was being a prick. However, I completely understood his behavior with Kate in this episode. Honestly? Kate had manipulated him and lied to him for the sake of case and a toy airplane. Instead of keeping the case in the first damn place and explaining to Jack why she wanted it opened, Kate behaved like an erratic child. And Jack treated her like one, in a fit of disgust and anger. Boone continued his verbal abuse of Shannon’s self-esteem in this episode. I realize that she had behaved abominably to him, back in Australia. I also realize that Shannon can be a bitch. But she had done nothing to earn such constant and persistent abuse. So . . . Boone behaved like a prick. Sawyer did not treat anyone with such abuse. I found his efforts to open the case rather childish, but that is all. But I thought that Kate treated him in an abusive manner in an effort to get her hands on the case. I realize that she did not want him to know about her criminal past. But as I had stated earlier, she could have continued to claim the case as hers and recruit Jack’s help to open the damn thing. Instead, she allowed Sawyer to take the case. The she resorted to stealth and physical abuse to get it back. Kate had behaved like a prick . . . or a female version of one.

"Whatever the Case May Be" had one or two virtues. Actually, it had one. Larry Fong’s photography of the Hawaiian jungles and beaches remained fresh and beautiful as ever. But with so much infantile and stupid behavior by the characters, and incompetent writing by Damon Lindelhof and Jennifer Johnson, is it any wonder that I hold this episode in deep contempt?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"SOURCE CODE" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new science-fiction thriller, "SOURCE CODE". Directed by Duncan Jones, the movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright:


"SOURCE CODE" (2011) Photo Gallery




























Monday, April 25, 2011

"THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU" (2011) Review




"THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU" (2011) Review

Matt Damon made his second (or perhaps third) foray into the science-fiction/fantasy genre, when he starred in his latest film called "THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU". The movie turned out to be a loose adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s 1954 short story, "Adjustment Team".

Adapted and directed by George Nolfi, "THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU" is about an aspiring politician named David Norris, whose encounter with a talented modern dancer sparks a romance between the two. However, members of a mysterious force called the Adjustment Bureau keep interfering with their romance, explaining that Norris’ political career would be affected by his romance with Elise Sellas, the young dancer. They also explained that Elise’s future as a famous dancer would also be affected. At first, David agrees to stay away from Elise, when Richardson (one of the “angels” of the Adjustment Bureau) tells him that he will be “reset” or lobotomized, if he tells anyone about the Bureau. But three to four years later, David finds it difficult to forget Elise. And with the help from Harry Mitchell, the Bureau “angel” that has been overseeing his life, David sets out to fight the Bureau’s abilities to control his choices and form a permanent relationship with Elise.

"THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU" struck me as one of those pleasant and whimsical movies that I usually find mildly interesting. Both Matt Damon and Emily Blunt gave believable performances as the politician and dancer who find themselves attracted to one another. If I must be honest, the two had a very strong screen chemistry. The movie also gave moviegoers an interesting glimpse into the possibility of a supernatural force that determined the paths of all individuals. And the movie presented this premise in an interesting way that perfectly balanced reality with fantasy. An interesting aspect of the movie’s plot is that the Adjustment Bureau “angels” used doorways to instantly teleport from one location to another. And in order for them to accomplish this, each “angel” has to be wearing the Bureau’s signature fedora hat.

However, I had some problems with the movie. I never understood how both David and Elise managed to remember each other after three years. At the beginning of the movie, they had briefly met inside the men’s bathroom at a local hotel. The following morning, they met again aboard a public bus and spoke for a few minutes. Three years passed before they laid eyes upon each other again . . . and they clearly remembered one another. Why do I find that implausible? And the Bureau’s decision to finally let David and Elise alone, because; a) they somehow "discovered" that the two were always meant to be together struck me as a bit saccharine, and b) they fought so hard to stay together struck me as rather saccharine. Every time I think of that final scene, flashes of the movie, "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" enters my mind. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that "THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU" might be a slight remake of the 1945 movie. But at least "STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN" had more of a punch than "THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU". And that is my final complaint about the movie. It simply lacked punch. It failed to blow my mind. It was a nice movie that I would have enjoyed more, watching on my television screen.

The performances in the movie were pleasant, but did not strike me as particularly memorable. Well . . . I take that back. I was impressed by two performances. One came from Anthony Mackie, who portrayed David Norris’ personal Bureau “angel”, Harry Mitchell. With very few lines, Mackie did a first rate job in conveying Harry’s increasing disenchantment with the Bureau’s policy of controlling the choices of others with an intensity that struck me as perfectly balanced. I was also impressed by Terence Stamp’s portrayal of Thompson, one of the senior members of the Bureau, who is called to deal with David, when the latter proves to be troublesome. Stamp was commanding, intimidating, slightly ruthless and very convincing in his character’s arguments to keep David and Elise apart. As I had stated earlier, both Matt Damon and Emily Blunt gave charming performances as the two protagonists. During the scenes in which Damon’s David Norris flirted with Blunt’s Elise Sallas, I was struck by the similarities in Damon’s flirtations with Vera Farmiga in "THE DEPARTED" and Minnie Driver in "GOOD WILL HUNTING". And I began to wonder if Damon had a standardized method for on-screen romances. I also enjoyed John Slattery’s performance as another one of the Bureau’s “angels”, Richardson. But if I must be honest, his character struck me as another variation on his Roger Sterling character from "MAD MEN". It would be nice to see him in another kind of role.

"THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU" is a charming and clever movie. It benefitted from solid performances from a first-rate cast and a solid adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story by George Nolfi. But in the end, I found it slightly disappointing. It failed to pack a punch that this kind of story would have the potential to deliver.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter One




"EL DORADO WEST"

RATING: [PG]
SUMMARY: Benjamin and Alice Fleming, siblings of a free black Ohio family, head west to California during the Gold Rush.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.


From the Journal of Benjamin Fleming


Chapter One - The Proclamation


December 16, 1848
It has been confirmed! Gold discovered in California. I can hardly contain my excitement. My staid family, on the other hand, seemed quite capable of doing just that.


"Foolish nonsense!" my father declared during supper, later that evening. According to him, folks have been claiming gold in California for ages. Including Spanish explorers who went there to search for the gold weapons of the Black Amazons. When I told him that an Army officer had brought a sample of the gold to Congress, he remained unconvinced.

I suspect that Papa's antipathy toward this gold discovery came from his activities as an abolitionist. As the son of a former slave, he naturally became an enemy of slavery. The entire family felt the same, of course. And like many abolitionists, my father had been against the recent war against Mexico. This same war had enabled the United States to grab Texas, New Mexico and California. As far as Papa was concerned, the war had been nothing but an excuse for the slave power to spread slavery into the West. He wanted nothing to do with any of the territory we had acquired from Mexico. Including California.


January 21, 1849
Thomas Russell left for New York City this morning. He was the first from Cleveland's colored community to depart for the California gold fields. From New York, he plans to board one of the clipper ships that will take him around the tip of South American and north to San Francisco. The journey should take him six months.

"An utter fool," my older brother Randolph declared after I had informed him. He was another like Papa who saw the acquisition of California and other former Mexican territories as some slaveocracy plot. Perhaps they were both right. Perhaps the South did plan to make California a slave state like Texas. Yet, both Papa and Randolph have forgotten that part of California lay north of the Missouri Compromise line - the same region where gold had been discovered.

Whatever Papa or Randolph may have felt about Mr. Russell's decision, mattered not to me. I admired him for taking the initiative to pull up stakes to seek a new life. I wished I could do the same. Unfortunately, there was no real need for me to seek gold. The Flemings were financially secured. Papa owned two livery stables and a hotel in the city. I managed one of the stables. On one hand, I enjoyed the work for I love horses. But I have become weary of Cleveland. The frontier spirit that had first permeated the city before my birth had waned after four decades. Papa had enough money to outfit a journey to California. But he would have never given me the money, considering his feelings on the subject.


End of Chapter One

Saturday, April 23, 2011

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Three "The Wagon and the Elephant" Commentary




"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Three "The Wagon and the Elephant" Commentary

The third episode of "CENTENNIAL", "The Wagon and the Elephant", picks up at least fifteen to sixteen years after the last episode ended. This episode also shifted its focus upon a new central character; a young Mennonite from Lancaster, Pennsylvania named Levi Zendt.

The story begins in the early spring of 1845, in which young Levi Zendt irritates his more conservative family by forgetting to appear on time for Sunday supper with a local minister. This infraction proved to be nothing in compare what follows. Encouraged by the flirtations of a local Mennonite girl named Rebecca Stolfitz, Levi kisses her after they deliver market scrapings to a local orphanage. Unfortunately, Rebecca becomes aware that the orphanage’s head mistress is observing them and accuses Levi of attempted rape. The accusation not only leads Levi to be shunned by the Mennonite community, but also by his older brothers – include Mahlon, who had plans to marry Rebecca. The only people who know the truth are two late adolescent girls – Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. After befriending Elly, Levi decides to leave Lancaster and head west to Oregon. He also makes a surprise visit at the orphanage and asks Elly to accompany him on the journey west, as his bride. During their journey west, Levi and Elly quickly fall in love. Upon their arrival in St. Louis, they meet three other men who will play major roles in their future – Oliver Seccombe, an Englishman with plans to write a book about the American West; Army Major Maxwell Mercy, the husband of Lisette Pasquinel, who has been assigned to find and establish an Army fort on the Plains; and the venal mountain man Sam Purchas, who acts as a guide to the wagon train that the Zendts accompany.

"The Wagon and the Elephant" is without a doubt, my favorite of all the twelve episodes featured in "CENTENNIAL". I love it. I am not saying that it is perfect. But I love it. I do have a few quibbles about the episode. One, I was not that impressed by Helen Colvig’s costumes for the female characters. I am willing to give leeway to the costumes worn by Stephanie Zembalist, Barbara Carrera and Christina Raines; considering their characters’ social positions. But the costumes worn by actress Karen Carlson and numerous female extras portraying middle and upper-class females seemed a bit . . . cheap. It seemed as if Colvig failed to put much effort into their costumes, in compare to the female costumes featured in "Only the Rocks Live Forever" and "The Yellow Apron". Another complaint I have is the presence of white families in the sequence that featured Major Mercy and McKeag’s efforts to negotiate with various tribes for help in establishing an Army fort. This particular incident occurred after the Zendts, Oliver Seccombe, Sam Purchas and the rest of the wagon train continued its journey west. Which meant that Mercy and McKeag’s meeting with the Pasquinel brothers and other tribal leaders must have occurred in mid-to-late August. Any westbound white emigrants still at Fort Laramie (Fort John) during that time of the year, had probably left western Missouri a good deal later than any emigrant with common sense would. The presence of those white families at Laramie in that particular sequence made not only lacked any logic, but was also historically incorrect.

But these are minor quibbles in what I otherwise consider to be a superb episode. I have admitted in past reviews of my love for tales featuring long distance traveling. This theme was featured in "The Wagon and the Elephant" in a manner that more than satisfied me. The episode covered the Zendts journey from Pennsylvania to (present day) Northern Colorado with plenty of drama and action that left me breathless. Although this chapter in James Michner’s saga was set in 1844 in the novel, producer-writer John Wilder had decided to set it one year later. Why? Who knows? And frankly, who cares? After all, this minor change did no harm to the story. But I never understood why he made the change in the first place. Another aspect about this episode is that after watching it, I realized that it served as the first half of a two-part tale that introduced Levi Zendt into the saga. The incidents in "The Wagon and the Elephant" severed Levi from everything that was familiar to him in Pennsylvania – family, home, and all of his assets. By the end of the episode, McKeag spoke of how Levi’s losses and upheavals brought him to a crossroad in his life.

After watching "The Wagon and the Elephant", I was amazed at the number of memorable moments featured in it. Those moments included:

*A tardy Levi and the rest of the Zendt family entertain the Reverend Fenstermacher for Sunday supper

*Rebecca Stolfitz falsely accuses Levi of attempted rape

*The elderly Mrs. Zendt encourage Levi to leave Lancaster and head west

*Levi and Elly meet Oliver Seccombe for the first time

*Oliver introduce Sam Purchas to the Zendts and Major Mercy

*Purchas exchange the Zendts’ team of gray horses for oxen

*Levi’s conversation with Sergeant Lykes about "seeing the elephant"

*The wagon trains’ encounter with Jacques and Michel Pasquinel

*Maxwell Mercy introduce himself to McKeag, Clay Basket and Lucinda as Pasquinel’s son-in-law at Fort Laramie

*Mercy and McKeag’s meeting with the Pasquinel brothers, Broken Thumb, Lost Eagle and other tribal leaders

*Purchas’ attempted rape of Elly

*The Zendts’ decision to part from the wagon train and return east

*McKeag and Levi form a trading partnership

*Elly’s encounter with a rattlesnake

I could go into detail on the scenes mentioned above, but that would require an entire article on its own. The fact that this episode featured so many memorable scenes made it a favorite of mine. However, there are two or three scenes that I had failed to mention. Two of them featured private and intimate discussions between Levi and Elly, conveying their deepening love for one another. But my favorite scene featured Levi’s arrival at the local orphanage to ask Elly for her hand in marriage and to accompany him on his journey to Oregon. With John Addison’s score and the first-rate performances by Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist and Leslie Winston; director Paul Krasny created a magical and emotionally satisfying scene that still makes my skin tingle . . . and tears fall.

But it was not only Krasny’s direction and Jerry Ziegman’s script that made this episode so memorable. "The Wagon and the Elephant" also featured some superb performances. They came from the likes of Richard Jaeckel, who was given a chance to shine in his “seeing the elephant” speech; John Bennett Perry, who effectively portrayed Levi's overbearing older brother, Mahlon Zendt; Leslie Winston, who shone in two scenes as Elly's vivacious best friend, Laura Lou Booker; Stephen McHattie, who gave a first hint of his brilliant portrayal of the mercurial Jacques Pasquinel; Chad Everrett, who provided a great deal of strength as Major Maxwell Mercy; and Irene Tedrow, who gave a very warm portrayal of the compassionate Mrs. Zendt. Before portraying Sam Purchas in this episode, Donald Pleasence had portrayed a mountain man in the 1965 comedy, "THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL". In "CENTENNIAL", he ended up portraying a very unpleasant frontiersman, namely the venal Sam Purchas. Although Pleasence’s Purchas was not what I would call a complex character, I must admit that he was memorable and the British actor portrayed him with a great deal of relish. Richard Chamberlain continued his role as Alexander McKeag in this episode. Although his role had been diminished, he still continued his superb portrayal of the character. And Timothy Dalton made his first appearance as Oliver Seccombe, the Englishman that ended up falling in love with the West . . . for better or worse. Even in "The Wagon and the Elephant", Dalton would skillfully provide a great deal of charm and moral ambiguity in what I believe turned out to be one of his best roles ever.

However, "The Wagon and the Elephant" truly belonged to Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist as Levi and Elly Zendt. Years ago, I had learned that these two had worked together at least four times. It seemed a pity that they did not work more often together, because these two were magic. They took a couple that seemed unrequited (at least from Elly’s point of view) at the beginning of their marriage and created one of the most loving and believable romances in the entire miniseries. They really were quite wonderful. I wish I could say more about their excellent performances . . . but I suspect that I have said enough.

In fact, I believe I have said enough about "The Wagon and the Elephant". I mean . . . what else can I say? Producer John Wilder took a first rate script written by Jerry Ziegman, an excellent cast led by Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist and one of my favorite themes – long distance travel – to create what has become my favorite episode in "CENTENNIAL".




Thursday, April 21, 2011

"JANE EYRE" (1983) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "JANE EYRE", the 1983 television adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. The miniseries starred Zeulah Clarke and Timothy Dalton:


"JANE EYRE" (1983) Photo Gallery















































Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"UNKNOWN" (2011) Review




"UNKNOWN" (2011) Review

I have noticed that during the past few years, Hollywood has released a minor political thriller during the first or second month of a new year. And to my surprise, I discovered that I found all of them quite entertaining. The latest political thriller to hit the movie screens during the winter season is film starring Liam Neeson called "UNKNOWN".

Based upon Didier van Cauwelaert’s 2003 French novel published in English as "Out of My Head", "UNKNOWN" is about an American scientist named Dr. Martin Harris, who arrives in Berlin with his wife, Elizabeth, to attend a science conference held at an upscale hotel. Upon their arrival at the hotel, Dr. Harris discovers that one of his suitcases had been left behind at the airport. While Elizabeth checks into the hotel, Martin hires a taxi to take him back to the airport. Unfortunately, the taxi becomes involved in a serious accident en route, and Martin’s life is saved by the driver. Several days later, Martin wakes up from a coma and returns to the hotel. He discovers that his wife has checked into the hotel with another man assuming his identity. Not only is Martin taken aback by this turn of events, he becomes aware of a mysterious stranger that has made one or two attempts upon his life. Martin recruits the help of the taxi driver, an Eastern European immigrant named Gina; and a former Stasi agent named Ernst Jürgen to help him learn the truth behind the deception being perpetrated with his wife and the man assuming his identity.

I really did not know how I would react to ”UNKNOWN”, when I first saw the trailer. It struck me as one of those movies in which the best parts were featured in the previews. I had also suspected it would be another ”TAKEN” or ”FROM PARIS WITH LOVE”, a lightweight thriller with a great deal of action and a simplified plot. As much as I had liked those two movies, I never really found them that impressive. On the other hand, ”UNKNOWN” seemed to possess more substance as a complex political thriller. The movie had mysteries and plot twists that took me by surprise, before its denouement.

Director Jaume Collet-Serr certainly did justice to Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell’s screenplay. Whether they did justice to the novel is another matter, considering that I have never read it. But ”UNKNOWN” featured exciting and well-dramatized scenes that provided both depth and atmosphere to the movie. One of my favorite scenes featured the recently hospitalized Martin’s attempt to connect with one of the conference’s other scientists, a Professor Bressler. Unfortunately for Martin, the man impersonating him happened to be at Professor Bressler’s laboratory. And both Martin Harrises’ attempts to prove themselves as the real McCoy were both strangely humorous and frustrating . . . at least for Martin and the audience. The meeting between Martin’s longtime colleague, Professor Rodney Cole and Ernst Jürgen, the former Stasi agent, proved to be fascinating and tense, thanks to the first-rate performances by Frank Langella and Bruno Ganz. And Martin’s first attempt to reunite with his wife, Liz, came off as rather creepy, due to both January Jones and Aidan Quinn’s skillful acting.

However, I found myself greatly impressed by Collet-Serr’s direction of two major action scenes. One of those scenes featured the finale in which Martin attempts to prevent an assassination attempt that proved to be one of the plot’s surprising twists. I also enjoyed the action sequence at a Berlin hospital that began with the murder of a nurse and the first attempt on Martin’s life. But I must admit that I believe Collet-Serr did justice to what I consider to be the movie’s best sequence – another murder attempt on Martin’s life at Gina’s apartment that segued into an exciting car chase through Berlin’s streets.

”UNKNOWN” provided some first-rate performances by a cast that included Aidan Quinn, Bruno Ganz, Sebastian Koch, and Frank Langella. Diane Kruger proved to be a surprisingly effective action heroine that racked up a higher body count than the rest of the cast. January Jones gave one of the most enigmatic performances I have ever seen in quite a while. She effectively kept me speculating upon the reasons behind her character’s failure to acknowledge Martin as her husband. However, the movie really belonged to Liam Neeson, whose portrayal of the beleaguered scientist proved to be the movie’s backbone. Neeson perfectly captured all the emotions that his character experienced throughout the story, without missing a beat. My only complaint is that I found his American accent a bit stiff and formal.

I really had no idea on how I would accept ”UNKNOWN”, once I saw it. The only reason I went to see it in the first place was because I had nothing else to do. I am glad that I saw the movie. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it for a second time. And I enjoyed it even more.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" (1973) Book Review




"FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" (1973) Book Review

Serving as the fourth entry in George MacDonald Fraser’s The Flashman Papers, this 1973 novel continued the story of Harry Flashman, a character previously from the 1857 novel, "Tom Brown’s Schooldays" and now a British Army officer in Fraser’s novels. This particular novel, "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", recalled Flashman’s experiences during the Crimean War (1854-1856) and Imperial Russia’s expansion into Central Asia.

One could say that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" could almost serve as a prequel to Fraser’s 1975 novel about the Sepoy Rebellion, "FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME". Almost. But it seemed quite obvious to me that the latter is a sequel to the 1973 novel. At least two supporting characters from this novel reappeared in "FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME". And the theme of Imperial Russia’s attempts to wrestle control of India from Great Britain in the 1975 novel, began in this novel.

The 1973 novel began with Harry Flashman enjoying the London social scene with his beautiful wife, Elspeth. With Great Britain on the brink of war against Russia on Turkey’s behalf, the cowardly Flashman believed that the only way to avoid combat was to have his Uncle Bindley secure him a post with the Board of Ordinance – the British Army’s armory. However, Flashman’s luck failed to hold (not surprisingly) and his meeting with the young German prince, William of Celle (a relation of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert) led him to become a staff galloper for Lord Raglan, the British Army’s Commander-in-Chief. The new position drew Harry against his will into the chaos of the Crimean War and in becoming a participant of one of history’s most infamous cavalry engagements – the Charge of the Light Brigade. This famous military action also led him to becoming a prisoner-of-war at the estate of a Cossack nobleman named Count Pencherjevsky

At Count Pencherjevsky’s estate, Starkosk, Flashman has a reunion with a former Rugby schoolmate, Harry "Scud" East. After the two English prisoners learned of Russia’s plans to invade India and kick the British out, they decided to make their escape following a serf uprising at Starkosk. Unfortunately for Flashman, a sleigh accident led to his recapture by the Russians and a political officer named Count Nicholas Ignitieff. Flashy’s incarceration at Fort Raim led him to an acquaintance with two famous Muslim freedom fighters from the state of Kokodad, Yakub Beg and Issat Kutebar. Luck finally caught up with Flashman, when he and his two new acquaintances are rescued by Yakub Beg’s mistress, Ko Dali’s daughter, and a band of Kokodans. Following the rescue, Harry participated in one last action against the Russians against his will . . . so to speak.

I must admit that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" turned out to be a well-structured and well-written novel. Unless I am mistaken, the novel was written into three parts – the London prelude, Flashman’s Crimean War experiences that included his time as a prisoner-of-war at the Starkosk estate, and finally his incarceration at Fort Raim and experiences with the Kokadans. Fraser began the novel on a strong note and finished it in a similar manner. My only sole complaint centered on Flashman’s journey to Starkosk and his time at the estate. In short, it seemed to me that the sequence threatened to bog down the pace. I suspect that Fraser’s in-depth look into Imperial Russian serfdom during this sequence is responsible. As much as I found it interesting, I also wondered if Fraser got caught up in his subject, which would seem ironic considering his failure to explore American slavery in the 1971 novel, "FLASH FOR FREEDOM!". As much as I had enjoyed Flashman’s time spent with Count Pencherjevsky and his family on the Starkosk estate, no one felt more relieved than me when he and "Scud" East finally escaped, thanks to a serf uprising. I had become rather weary of Flashman’s period as a prisoner-of-war.

Despite some of my problems with the novel, I cannot deny that "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" is a well-written novel. Fraser did an excellent job in recapturing London during the early and mid 1850s and Great Britain’s pro-war mood on the cusp of the Crimean War. He also expertly drew readers into the world of the British Army during the first months of the war. His description of the Army caps and hospitals at Alma just before the Battle of Balaclava literally had me cringing in my seat a bit:

"So the siege was laid, the French and ourselves sitting down on the muddy, rain-sodden gullied plateau before Sevastopol, the dismalest place on earth, with no proper quarters but a few poor huts and tents, and everything to be carted up from Balaclava on the coast eight miles away. Soon the camp, and the road to it, was a stinking quagmire; everyone looked and felt filthy, the rations were poor, the work of preparing the siege was cruel hard (for the men, anyway), and all the bounce there had been in the army after Alma evaporated in the dank, feverish rain by day and the biting cold by night. Soon half of us were lousy, as some wags said, who’d holiday at Brighton if he could come to sunny Sevastopol instead?"

Another memorable passage featured Flashman’s participation in the Light Brigade Charge. Fraser did a superb job in describing not only the Battle of Balaclava, but particularly the Light Brigade Charge. I found his description of the famous military charge filled with heady action, chaos and terror – especially from Flashman’s point-of-view:

"I had only a moment to look back – my mare was galloping like a thing demented, as I steadied, there was Cardigan, waving his sabre and standing in his stirrups; the guns were only a hundred yards away, almost hiddenin a great billowing bank of smoke, a bank which kept glaring red as though some Lucifer were opening furnace doors deep inside it. There was no turning, no holding back, and even in that deafening thunder I could hear the sudden chorus of yells behind me as the torn remnant of the Light Brigade gathered itself for the final mad charge into the battery. I dug my heels, yelling nonsense and brandishing my sabre, shot into the smoke with one final rip from my bowels and a prayer that my gallant little mare wouldn’t career headlong into a gun-muzzle, staggered at the fearful concussion of a gun exploding within a yard of me – and then we were through, into the open space behind the guns, leaping the limbers and ammunition boxes with the Russians scattering to let us through, and Cardigan a bare two yards away, reining his beast back almost on its haunches."

However, one of my favorite chapters in the novel featured Flashman and the Kokordans’ attempts to destroy the Russian gunboats filled with weapons to be used against the Kokordans and the invasion of India. Before this battle took place, Ko Dali’s daughter drugged the cowardly officer with hashish (bhang) in order to force him to overcome his fear for the operation. The scene of the cowardly Flashy acting like George Armstrong Custer on crack struck me as one of the funniest passages in the entire series:

"God, what a chaos it was! I was galloping like a dervish at Kutebar’s heels, roaring 'Hark forrard! Ha-ha, you bloody foreigners, Flashy’s here!', careering through the narrow spaces between the sheds, with the muskets banging off to our left, startled sleepers crying out, and everyone yelling like be-damned. As we burst headlong onto the last stretch of open beach, and swerved past the landward end of the pier, some stout Russian was bawling and letting fly with a pistol; I left off singing 'Rule, Britannia' to take a shot at him, but missed, and there ahead someone was waving a torch and calling, and suddenly there were dark figures all around us, clutching at our bridles, almost pulling us from the saddles towards a big go-down on the north side of the pier."

George MacDonald Fraser did take historical liberties with one particular character – the novel’s main villain, Count Nicholas Ignatieff. The author described the Russian character in the following manner:

"And as our eyes met through the cigarette smoke I thought, hollo, this is another of those momentous encounters. You didn’t have to look at this chap twice to remember him forever. It was the eyes, as it so often is – I thought in that moment of Bismarck, and Charity Spring, and Akbar Khan; it had been the eyes with them, too. But this fellow’s were different from anything yet: one was blue, but the other had a divided iris, half-blue, half-brown, and the oddly fascinating effect of this was that you didn’t know where to look, but kept shifting from one to the other.

For the rest, he had a gingerish, curling hair and square, masterful face that was no way impaired by a badly-broken nose. He looked tough, and immensely self-assured; it was in his glance, in the abrupt way he moved, in the slant of the long cigarette between his fingers, in the rakish tilt of his peaked cap, in the immaculate white tunic of the Imperial Guards. He was the kind who knew exactly what was what, where everything was, and precisely who was who – especially himself. He was probably a devil with women, admired by his superiors, hated by his rivals, and abjectly feared by his subordinates. One word summed him up: bastard."


The above passage described Flashman’s opinion of Ignatieff during their first meeting on the road to Starkosk. They met for the second time, when Flashman and "Scud" East overheard Ignatieff, Czar Nicholas I and other Russian officials discuss plans to invade India during a secret meeting at Starkosk. And their third and final encounter happened after Flashman was recaptured, following his escape from Starkosk and attempt to reach the British lines on the Crimean peninsula. It was Ignatieff who tossed Flashman into the prison at Fort Raim. From what I have read, the real Ignatieff had never been quite the villain as portrayed in "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE". Fraser even admitted that he taken liberties with the character in order to provide the novel with a main villain. Mind you, I believe he could have done that a lot easier with a fictional character. Why he had decided to take a historical figure and change his character in order to make him an effective villain is beyond me.

After reading "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", it is easy to see why it remains very popular with many fans of Fraser’s novels. It is a well written comic-adventure tale filled with interesting characters – fictional and historical. The novel also featured two very unique passages, namely the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the usually cowardly Flashman behaving in a brave and aggressive man during a major battle. "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" also happened to be one of those rare Flashman novels that began and ended on a strong note. Not only does it remain popular with many Flashman fans, I personally consider it to be one of Fraser’s better works.


Monday, April 18, 2011

TIME MACHINE: Bombardment of Fort Sumter




TIME MACHINE: BOMBARDMENT OF FORT SUMTER

This month marked the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter, near Charleston, South Carolina. Following this attack, the United States found itself plunged into a civil war that lasted four years.

Following Abraham Lincoln's election as the 16th president of the United States in November 1860, several Southern states threatened to secede from the Union, fearful that a Republican administration would pose threats to the political, social and financial agendas of their region. The one thing they generally feared was that Lincoln and his administration would abolish slavery, undermining both their social and financial power.

Nearly two months after Lincoln's victory at the polls, South Carolina became the first state to declare its secession from the Union on December 20, 1860. Within a month, six more states seceded - Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. Not long after South Carolina's secession, the state demanded that the U.S. Army abandon its facilities in Charleston Harbor. Realizing that his command might be in danger, Major Robert Anderson moved his command from the indefensible Fort Moultrie, a more substantial fortress that controlled the entrance to Charleston Harbor. Lame duck President James Buchanan sent an unarmed merchant ship named the Star of the West to deliver supplies and reinforcement troops to Major Anderson's command on in early January. But on January 9, 1861; cadets from The Citadel, stationed at the Morris Island battery, fired upon the steamer as it tried to enter Charleston Harbor. The Star of the West was hit three times before it turned around at headed back to its home port in New York.

South Carolina authorities then seized all Federal property in the Charleston area, following the Star of the West incident. Only Fort Sumter remained outside its grasp. However, the commander eventually found itself besieged by South Carolina military forces throughout the winter of 1861. In late February, the Confederate States of America was formed, with Jefferson Davis (formerly a senator from Mississippi) named as its president. The following month, two events occurred. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as President of the United States. And Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, the first commissioned general officer of the Confederate Army, was placed in command of Confederate forces in Charleston. Beauregard immediately began strengthening the batteries around Charleston harbor, aimed at Fort Sumter. Conditions in the fort grew dire as Major Anderson found himself short of men, food, and supplies.

On April 4, President Lincoln had sent a naval expedition led by former captain Gustavus V. Fox, who had proposed a plan for nighttime landings of vessels smaller than the Star of the West. Fox's orders were to land at Sumter with supplies only. And if he was opposed by the Confederates, he was to respond with the U.S. Navy vessels following and to then land both supplies and men. This time, Major Anderson was informed of the impending expedition, although the arrival date was not revealed to him. President Lincoln informed South Carolina governor, Francis W. Pickens, that he planned to send supply ships to Fort Sumter. The Confederate government responded by sending an ultimatum to the Lincoln administration that Anderson and his men must evacuate Fort Sumter immediately. Anderson refused to surrender. On April 12, at 4:30 a.m., Confederates bombarded the fort from artillery batteries surrounding the harbor.

Lieutenant Henry S. Farley, acting upon the command of Captain George S. James, fired a single 10-inch mortar round from Fort Johnson. James had offered the first shot to Virginia secessionist Roger Pryor. But the latter declined, stating that he could not fire the first gun of the war. The shell exploded over Fort Sumter as a signal to open the general bombardment from 43 guns and mortars at Fort Moultrie, Fort Johnson, the floating battery, and Cummings Point. General Beauregard ordered the guns fired in a counterclockwise sequence around the harbor, with 2 minutes between each shot. He wanted to conserve ammunition, which he calculated would last for only 48 hours. Edmund Ruffin, another Virginia secessionist, had traveled to Charleston in order to be present for the beginning of the war, and fired one of the first shots at Sumter after the signal round - a 64-pound shell from the Iron Battery at Cummings Point. The shelling of Fort Sumter from the batteries ringing the harbor awakened Charleston's residents, including diarist Mary Chesnut.

Major Anderson withheld his fire, awaiting daylight. His troops reported for roll call at 6 a.m. and then had breakfast. At 7 a.m., Captain Abner Doubleday fired a shot at the Ironclad Battery at Cummings Point. He missed. Given the available manpower, Anderson could not take advantage of all of his 60 guns. Although the Federals had moved as many of their supplies to Fort Sumter as they could manage, the fort was nearly out of ammunition at the end of the 34-hour bombardment. Because of the shortages, Major Anderson reduced his firing to only six guns - two aimed at Cummings Point, two at Fort Moultrie, and two at the Sullivan's Island batteries.

Ships from Gustave Fox's relief expedition began to arrive on April 12. Although Fox himself arrived at 3 a.m. on his steamer Baltic, most of the rest of his fleet was delayed until 6 p.m. One of the two warships, USS Powhatan, never did arrive. Unbeknownst to Fox, it had been ordered to the relief of Fort Pickens in Florida. As landing craft were sent toward the fort with supplies, the artillery fire deterred them and they pulled back. Fox decided to wait until after dark and for the arrival of his warships. But heavy seas made it difficult to load the small boats with men and supplies on the next day. Fox was left with the hope that Anderson and his men could hold out until dark on April 13.

On April 13, Fort Sumter's central flagpole was knocked down at 1 p.m., raising doubts among the Confederates about whether the fort was ready to surrender. Colonel Louis Wigfall, a former U.S. senator, had been observing the battle and decided that this indicated the fort had had enough punishment. He commandeered a small boat and proceeded from Morris Island, waving a white handkerchief from his sword, dodging incoming rounds from Sullivan's Island. He met with Major Anderson and indicated that the latter had did all that was possible to defend the fort. He suggested that Anderson surrender, before any blood was shed. Encouraged that Wigfall had used the word "evacuate" instead of "surrender", Anderson agreed to a truce. He knew that his command was low on ammunition and his men, hungry and exhausted. He ordered that one of his men raise Wigfall's white handkerchief on its flagpole as the former senator departed in his small boat back to Morris Island. The handkerchief was spotted in Charleston and a delegation of officers that included Beauregard; Stephen D. Lee; Porcher Miles, a former mayor of Charleston, and Roger Pryor; sailed to Sumter, unaware of Wigfall's visit. Anderson was outraged when these officers disavowed Wigfall's authority, telling him that the former senator had not spoken with Beauregard for two days. He threatened to resume firing. General Beauregard sent a second set of officers, offering essentially the same terms that Wigfall had presented. And the Anderson-Wigfall agreement was reinstated.

After 34 hours, Major Anderson agreed to evacuate on April 14, at 2:30 p.m. There had been no loss of life on either side as a direct result of this engagement. During the 100-gun salute to the U.S. flag - Anderson's one condition for withdrawal - a pile of cartridges blew up from a spark, killing 36 year-old Irish born Private Daniel Hough instantly and mortally injuring another member of the gun crew, Private Edward Gallway. Hugh and Gallway were the first fatalities of the American Civil War. The salute stopped at fifty shots. Gallway died a few days later at a hospital at Charleston. The rest of Anderson's troops spent the night aboard a Confederate steamer named the Isabel. The next morning, they were transported to Gustave Fox's relief ship Baltic, resting outside the harbor bar. Major Anderson carried the Fort Sumter flag with him North, where it became a widely known symbol of the battle and a rallying point for supporters of the Union.

The bombardment of Fort Sumter became the first military action of the American Civil War. Following the surrender, Northerners rallied behind Lincoln's call of arms to recapture the fort and preserve the Union. This call for 75,000 volunteers triggered four additional states - Arkansas, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina - to join the Confederacy. The ensuing war lasted four years. Fort Sumter officially returned to Union hands on April 14, 1865; with Robert Anderson in attendance (who was by then, retired). The war effectively ended on April 9, 1865; with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, in Virginia.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

"THE LINCOLN LAWYER" (2011) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the new legal thriller called "THE LINCOLN LAWYER". Based upon Michael Connelly's 2005 novel, the movie stars Matthew McConaughey, Ryan Phillippe and Marisa Tomei:


"THE LINCOLN LAWYER" (2011) Photo Gallery