Monday, April 30, 2012

Fifty Years of THE BEACH BOYS

The Beach Boys ( Brian, Dennis and Carl Wilson; their cousin Mike Love; and friend Al Jardine) first formed as a band in 1961 in Hawthorne, California. However, a year would pass before their first hit song. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the group's road to success. Below are links to at least three of their songs: 


"Surfin' Safari" (1962)

"I Get Around" (1964)

"Wouldn't It Be Nice" (1966)

"Good Vibrations" (1966)

Friday, April 27, 2012

"SPIDER-MAN" (2002) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "SPIDER-MAN", the 2002 adaptation of Marvel Comics' superhero.  Directed by Sam Rami, the movie starred Tobey Maguire as the web slinger:

"SPIDER-MAN" (2002) Photo Gallery

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"EL DORADO WEST" [PG] - Chapter Eighteen

 The following is Chapter Eighteen of my story about a pair of free black siblings making the journey to California in 1849:

 Chapter Eighteen – Monuments of the Trail 

June 18, 1849 
The past several days have been uneventful since our departure from Ash Hollow. Mrs. Robbins and I have maintained a close eye upon both Mr. Cross and Miss Watkins, since that evening we found them . . . together inside one of the caves. Perhaps their meeting proved to be a single occurrence. I hope so, for their sake. Mr. Cross and Miss Watkins' employer, Mr. Anderson, have detested each other since our crossing of the Big Blue River.

 Today marked the first time our wagon train encountered anything of interest. Mr. Wendell pointed out two rock formations that struck me as somewhat imposing. One of them seemed shaped like a government building of some kind. Mr. Wendell informed us that travelers called it "Courthouse Rock". The other formation is called "Jail Rock". Why? I have no idea. One of the Palmer brothers commented that it resembled nothing more than a towering lump of rock. During our noon halt, some of us ventured toward the rocks for a closer look. I must admit that "Courthouse Rock" looked even more magnificent up close. As for Jail Rock . . . it looked imposing, but I decided that I could not agree more with Mr. Palmer. 

 By the time we paused for the evening halt, our wagon train camped just south of another rock formation called "Chimney Rock". It resembled a narrow pillar atop a large mound of rock. A party had been organized to explore around its base. Mr. Wendell offered to act as my escort, but Benjamin forbade me to be alone in his company, especially in the late afternoon and early evening. I reminded Benjamin that Mr. Wendell and I will be in the company of others. He still forbade me to join the expedition. In the end, I had to suggest that he accompany Mr. Wendell and me. He agreed. Is it just me or is my brother becoming something of a tyrant? I hope not. 

June 19, 1849 
While eating breakfast, I notice something rather interesting. I saw Mr. Gibson observing Mr. Cross, while the other ate. He also seemed to be interested in the activities of Miss Watkins. It occurred to me that Mrs. Gibson had revealed what transpired between Mr. Cross and Miss Watkins back at Ash Hollow. I wonder if Mrs. Robbins had told her husband. If Benjamin ever learns about the two, it will not be from me. 

June 20, 1849 
The wagon train encountered another rock formation along the trail. This one is called "Scott's Bluff". It was named after a trader named Hiram Bluff, who had died nearby some twenty years ago. Mr. James decided that the bluff would serve as the perfect location for our noon halt. 

I must admit that I found Scott's Bluff to be a magnificent sight to behold. It seemed much more impressive than the formations that we had encountered during the past two days. It reminded me of a castle or a massive citadel in the middle of the Plains. I wonder how many other natural wonders await us on the trail.

End of Chapter Eighteen

Monday, April 23, 2012

"HOW THE WEST WAS WON" (1962) Review

"HOW THE WEST WAS WON" (1962) Review

This 1962 movie was among the last of the old-fashioned "epic" films that was released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).  Filmed using the Cinerama widescreen process, it featured an all-star cast directed by at least three directors.  

After making the decision to use the Cinerama wide-screen process, MGM decided to produce a cinematic adaptation of LIFE magazine's 1959 series of articles about the history of the American West.  Screenwriters James R. Webb and John Gay (uncredited) achieved this by focusing the film on two to three generations of family that migrated westward from western New York, to Southern Ohio, to California and finally to the deserts of Arizona.  The story stretched out in a period of fifty (50) years from the late 1830s to the late 1880s.  According to Wikipedia, the movie was set between 1839 and 1889.  Yet, Webb and Gay's script never indicated this.  The movie consisted of five segments that were directed by three directors, Henry Hathaway, John Ford and George Marshall.

"The Rivers", which was directed by Henry Hathaway, focused on the Prescott family's journey from western New York to Southern Ohio, in an attempt to reach the Illinois country via the Erie Canal and the Ohio River.  During their journey, they meet a mountain man named Linus Rawlins, who falls in love with eldest daughter, Eve; encounter murderous river pirates; and are caught in some dangerous rapids during their trip down the Ohio River.  The last part of their journey ends in Southern Ohio, when the patriarch and matriarch of the Prescotts are drowned and Eve decides to remain there.  She eventually marries Linus and her younger sister, Lilith decides to head to St. Louis.

In "The Plains", Lilith Prescott is a dance hall entertainer in St. Louis, when she receives news of an inheritance - a California gold mine - from a former patron.  In order to join a California-bound wagon train, Lilith becomes the traveling companion of a middle-aged woman named Agatha Clegg.  She also becomes the romantic object of two men - the hard-nosed wagonmaster Roger Morgan (who has a ranch in California) and a professional gambler named Cleve Van Valen.  Lilith eventually forms an attachment to Cleve.  But when her inheritance turns out to be a bust upon their arrival in California, Cleve abandons her.  He eventually reconciles with her on a Sacramento River steamboat and the two marry.  Hathaway also directed.

John Ford directed "The Civil War", a short segment about the experiences of Zeb Rawlins' (Eve and Linus' elder son) at the Battle of Shiloh during the Civil War.  Although Zeb survives, his father was killed during the battle, and his mother died before his return to the family's Ohio farm.  Zeb decides to remain in the Army after the war.

"The Railroad" was about Zeb's experiences as an Army officer during the construction of the railroad during the late 1860s.  He tries and fails to keep the peace between the construction crew led by a man named Mike King and the local Arapaho tribe.  The Arapho incites a buffalo stampede through the railroad camp after King breaks another promise.  And Zeb resigns from the Army.  George Marshall directed.

Hathaway directed the final segment, "The Outlaws", which featured Zeb's last days as a law officer, as he tries to prevent a group of outlaws led by a man named Charlie Gant from stealing a shipment of gold.  After he is successful, Zeb and his family join his widowed aunt Lilith on a trip to her new Arizona ranch.

"HOW THE WEST WAS WON" was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture.  It won three won - Best Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Sound.  It is also considered a favorite of director Ron Howard.  I might as well be honest.  I have always liked "HOW THE WEST WAS WON".  If I had not, I would have never purchased the DVD set.  But I cannot see how it was ever nominated for Best Picture, let alone won the Best Screenplay Oscar.  It was NOT that great.  To me, "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" was a mediocre epic that featured a small handful of excellent performances, great photography and a superb score.

The fifty year period that spanned "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" struck me as more suitable for a television miniseries, instead of a movie - even if it had a running time of 162 minutes.  There was too much going on in this film and its time span of fifty years was simply too long.  The 2005 miniseries, "INTO THE WEST" had a similar premise, but it had the good luck to be aired in a six-part miniseries that ran for 552 minutes.  And because of the lack of balance between the story's premise/time span and its running time, the story about the Prescott-Rawlins family seemed half-empty . . . and rushed.

The best of the five segments are the first two directed by Henry Hathaway - "The River" and "The Plains", which featured the Prescotts treks from New York, to Ohio.  Although not perfect, thanks to some plot inconsistency and historical inaccuracy.  What makes these two segments superior to the other three is that are longer and if I must be frank, more substantial.  I could not decide between the two segments on which was my favorite.  I enjoyed viewing the family's journey down the Ohio River and the exciting battle with the river pirates.  On the other hand, both Debbie Reynolds and Gregory Peck's performances made "The Plains" very enjoyable for me.

But the worst of the three segments is the third one directed by John Ford - namely "The Civil War".  I hate to say this, but John Wayne did not make an effective William T. Sherman.  The recently deceased Henry Morgan did a slightly better job as Ulysses S. Grant - frankly, by saying as little as possible.  As for the segment, the screenwriters and Ford did not even bother to feature any plausible battle scenes of Shiloh.  Instead, the audience was subjected to a quick montage of Civil War scenes from other MGM movies - probably 1957's "RAINTREE COUNTRY".  The only good thing about this segment was the beginning scene, when Zeb said good-bye to his mother and younger brother . . . and the last scene, when he said good-bye and handed over his share of the family farm to his brother.

I enjoyed the work of the cinematography team led by the legendary William H. Daniels very much.  I noticed that a great deal of the movie was shot on location in many of the national parks in the United States.  However, the Cinerama process took away some of the grandeur with the curved lens, which made it impossible for Daniels and the others to film any effective close ups.  And has anyone ever notice that whenever two of the actors seemed to facing each other, their lines of sight seemed to be slightly off?  It must have been hell for the actors to face off each other in a scene, while being unnaturally positioned for the camera.

There were certain aspects of "HOW THE WEST WAS WON" that made it enjoyable for me.  Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, George Peppard, Gregory Peck, Thelma Ritter, Henry Fonda, Lee J.Cobb and Eli Wallach gave the best performances, as far as I am concerned.  Spencer Tracy did a top-notch job as the film's narrator.  But I especially have to commend Reynolds, Baker and Peppard for damn near carrying this film.  Without them, this movie would have folded like a sheet of paper.  There were some performances that did not ring true to me.  According to one scene that featured Linus Rawlings' grave, Eve's husband and Zeb's father was born in 1810.  I hate to say this, but James Stewart was too old - at the age of 53 or 54 - to be portraying a 29 year-old man.  He gave an entertaining performance, but he was too damn old.  Karl Malden, who portrayed Eve and Lilith's father, struck me as a bit too hammy for my tastes.  So were Robert Preston, who portrayed the gauche wagonmaster Roger Morgan; and Richard Widmark, who portrayed the railroad boss Mike King.  Everyone else was . . . okay.

What was the best thing about "HOW THE WEST WAS WON"?  The music.  Period.  It . . . was . . . superb.  Every time I hear the first notes of Alfred Newman's score at the beginning of the movie, I feel goosebumps.  I love it that much.  As much as I enjoyed John Addison's score for "TOM JONES", I find it mind boggling that it beat out Newman's score for "HOW THE WEST WAS WON".  I just cannot conceive this.  Newman also provided 19th century music from the era for the movie and it was used beautifully . . . especially in "The Plains" segment.  With Reynolds portraying a dance hall performer, she provided moviegoers with entertaining renditions of songs like "What Was Your Name in the East?", "Raise a Ruckus" and the movie's theme song, "Home in the Meadows".

What else can I say about "HOW THE WEST WAS WON"?  It is an entertaining movie.  I cannot deny this.  It featured first rate performances by the leads Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker and George Peppard.  It featured beautiful photography shot by a team of cinematographers led by William Daniels.  And it featured some gorgeous music, which included a superb score written by Alfred Newman.  But it is a flawed movie tainted by historical inaccuracy and a story that would have been served best in a television miniseries.  I am still astounded that it managed to earn a Best Picture Academy Award.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"STATE OF PLAY" (2003) Review

"STATE OF PLAY" (2003) Review

Three years ago, a political thriller starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck was released in the movie theaters.  The movie turned out to be based upon a six-part BBC miniseries of the same name - "STATE OF PLAY".  

Created by Paul Abbott and directed by David Yates, "STATE OF PLAY told the story of a London newspaper's investigation into the death of a young woman named Sonia Baker, who worked as a researcher for a Member of Parliament named Stephen Collins.  The miniseries also focused on the relationship between Collins and the newspaper's leading journalist, Cal McCaffrey, who used to be his former campaign manager.

"STATE OF PLAY" was so well received that it garnered a Best Actor BAFTA award for Bill Nighy, for his role as McCaffrey's editor, Cameron Foster.  The miniseries also earned BAFTAs for Best Sound and Best Editing (Fiction/Entertainment); and it won awards major awards from the Royal Television Society, Banff Television Festival, Broadcasting Press Guild, Cologne Conference, Directors Guild of Great Britain, Edgar Awards, and the Monte Carlo TV Festival.  When the 2009 movie was released, critics generally gave it positive reviews, but claimed that it failed to surpass or be as equally good as the miniseries.  After seeing the latter . . . well, I will eventually get to that.

The miniseries began with the murder of a young man named Kelvin Stagg in what seemed to be a drug-related killing, along with the coincidental death of Collins' researcher, Sonia Baker.  When Cal McCaffrey and his colleagues at The Herald - Foster, his son Dan, Della Smith and others, they discover that the deaths were connected via Collins' parliamentary investigation of links between an American oil company and corrupt high-ranking British ministers.  Cal and his fellow journalists also have to deal with finding a publicist associate of Sonia's named Dominic Foy, who may have a great deal of information on how she became Collins' researcher in the first place.  And another subplot dealt with Cal renewing his interest in Collins' recently estranged wife, Anne.

I cannot deny that "STATE OF PLAY" is a first-rate miniseries.  Paul Abbott created an excellent thriller filled with murder, romance, infidelity, witty dialogue and political intrigue.  One of the best aspects of Abbott's screenplay was how the varied subplots managed to connect with the main narrative.  Even Cal's romance with Anne Collins proved to have strong connections to his search for the truth regarding Sonia's death - especially in Episode Three.  The romance provided Another aspect of "STATE OF PLAY" that I admired was the pacing established by director David Yates.  Another interesting relationship that materialized from the investigation was the friendship between The Herald reporter Della Smith and Scotland Yard's DCI William Bell.  Regardless of the number of episodes in the production, Yates and Abbott's screenplay made certain that the viewer remained fixated to the screen.  Like the 2009, the miniseries did an excellent job of delving into the British journalism and political scene.  More importantly, it featured first-rate action sequences.  For me, the best one proved to be Scotland Yard's attempt to capture Kelvin Scaggs and Sonia Baker's killer in the third episode.

As much as I enjoyed "STATE OF PLAY", I cannot deny that I found it somewhat flawed.  Which is why I cannot accept the prevailing view that it was superior to its 2009 remake.  Despite Yates' pacing of the story, I feel that "STATE OF PLAY" could have been shown in at least four episodes.  There were some subplots that could have used some trimming.  One of them, at least for me, turned out to be the search for Dominic Foy.  Actually, it took Cal, Della, Dan and the others very little time to find Dominic.  But every time they found him, they lost him.  This happened at least three or four times.  By the time they managed to get Foy inside a hotel room for a little confession, I sighed with relief.  The subplot threatened to become . . . annoying.  Another subplot that threatened to become irrelevant was Cal's dealings with Kelvin Skaggs' older brother and mother, Sonny and Mrs. Skaggs.  Johann Myers gave an intense performance as the volatile Sonny Skaggs.  But the constant temper tantrums over how the press portrayed Kelvin eventually became boring.  There were other sequences and subplots I could have done without - especially a road encounter between one of the reporters' informants and oil company thugs in the last episode.  And why have Stephen Collins investigate an American oil company, when it could have been easier to use a British or British-based oil company?  After all, there are several oil companies operating in the United Kingdom, including the infamous BP.  Although I admire Yates' direction of the sequence featuring the capture of Sonia's killer, Robert Bingham, I wish it had happened in the last episode.  Otherwise, his death occurred too soon in my opinion.

John Simm did an excellent job in leading a first-rate cast for "STATE OF PLAY".  Despite working with the likes of Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, Polly Walker; he not only held his own.  He carried the miniseries.  Period.  However, he was ably supported by superb performances from his co-stars.  Morrissey was also commanding, yet complex as MP Stephen Collins.  Although there were a few moments when his performance seemed a bit too . . . theatrical for my tastes.  Nighy's award-winning performance as Cal's editor also seemed a little theatrical.  However, he got away with it, because I feel he is a lot better with injecting a little theatricality into his acting.

Although Kelly MacDonald had made a name for herself before portraying Della Smith, she gave an excellent, yet emotional performance that resonated just right.  Kelly MacDonald also managed to create a surprisingly balanced chemistry with Philip Glenister, who did an excellent job in portraying the intimidating Scotland Yard inspector.  Unlike MacDonald, James McAvoy was not quite well-known when he portrayed freelance journalist, Dan Foster.  But he certainly displayed the very qualities that would eventually make him a star in his sly and cheeky performance.  Polly Walker did an excellent job in portraying the woman who nearly came between Cal and Stephen, the latter's estranged wife, Anne Collins.  However, Marc Warren gave one of the best performances in the miniseries as Dominic Foy, the sleazy and paranoid publicist with ties to Sonia Baker.  Watching him veer between paranoia, cowardice and opportunism was really a joy to watch.  "STATE OF PLAY" also benefited from fine supporting performances from the likes of Geraldine James, Benedict Wong, Deborah Findlay, Tom Burke, Johann Myers, James Laurenson and Amelia Bullmore.

I cannot deny that "STATE OF PLAY" is a first-rate miniseries filled with intrigue, thanks to Paul Abbott's screenplay and energy, due to David Yates' direction.  It also benefited from superb acting, thanks to a cast led by John Simm and David Morrissey.  But it also possessed flaws that perhaps made its acclaim just a bit overrated.  I read somewhere that Abbott planned to write a sequel of some kind, featuring Simms.  I hope so.  Despite its flaws, "STATE OF PLAY" certainly deserved a follow-up of some kind.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ranking of John Jakes' "KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES" Series

 Below is my ranking of the eight novels written during the 1970s by John Jakes, as part of his "Kent Family Chronicles" series:


 1. "The Bastard" (1974) - Set between 1770 and 1775; this novel introduces Philip Kent, the founder of the Kent family and bastard son of a French actress and an English peer. He settles in Boston after his father's family denies him his rightful inheritance and becomes involved with the Sons of Liberty and the 
independence movement from England.


2. "The Titans" (1976) - The novel follows the experiences of preacher-turned-journalist Jeptha Kent, family friend Michael Boyle and Jeptha's estranged oldest son, a Confederate cavalry officer named Gideon Kent; during the first year of the Civil War.


 3. "The Americans" (1979) - The last novel in the series, set during the 1880s, focuses on Gideon's only son, Will, who plans to become a doctor; his actress daughter Eleanor, who experiences tragedy during the Johnstown Flood; and his cousin/stepson Carter, who becomes involved in politics.


 4. "The Furies" (1976) - Philip Kent's granddaughter, Amanda, experiences the Siege at the Alamo, the California Gold Rush and the abolitionist movement in New York City between 1836 and 1852. Her cousin Jeptha Kent becomes estranged from his Virginia wife and sons, after he embraces the abolitionist cause.


 5. "The Seekers" (1975) - Considered the darkest chapter in the saga, the first half of the novel focuses on Philip's son, Abraham, and his experiences in the Ohio Valley as a soldier and later, as a settler in the 1790s. The second half focuses on Abraham's son, Jared, and his experiences during the War of 1812; and a fateful journey to the West in which he and his cousin Amanda are brutally separated.


 6. "The Warriors" (1977) - Jeptha's youngest son, Jeremiah Kent, endures the consequences of William Sherman's infamous march through Georgia as a Confederate soldier. The end of the Civil War finds family friend Michael Boyle as a worker on the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad in the Nebraska Territory; and Gideon Kent, whose work at a New Jersey rail yard and support of a union leads to a confrontation with his wealthy cousin Louis Kent, Amanda's son.


 7. "The Lawless" (1978) - After inheriting Jeptha Kent's fortune in 1871; Gideon becomes an avid newspaper owner, romances his cousin Louis' former wife Julia, and continues his involvement of the union cause. Meanwhile, his brother Matt experiences the start of the Franco-Prussian War in Paris; and his younger brother Jeremiah becomes a gunfighter and later, hired gun for an enemy of Gideon's.


 8. "The Rebels" (1975) - This second novel follows Philip Kent's experiences during the American Revolution. It also focuses on the son of a Virginia planter's son named Judson Fletcher, who will become the father of Philip's future daughter-in-law.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"THE HUNGER GAMES" (2012) Photo Gallery

Below are images of "THE HUNGER GAMES", the new adaptation of Suzanne Collins' 2008 novel. Directed by Gary Ross, the movie stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson:

"THE HUNGER GAMES" (2012) Photo Gallery