Friday, November 29, 2013
Below are images from the historical drama, "12 YEARS A SLAVE". Based upon Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography, ""Twelve Years a Slave" and directed by Steve McQueen, the movie stars Chiwetel Ejiofor:
"12 YEARS A SLAVE" (2013) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" (2012) Review
When I learned that "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" had earned a good number of nominations and acclaim during the Fall/Winter of 2012-2013, I found myself scratching my head in confusion. I had never heard of the film. I spent a good deal of that movie season paying more attention to the likes of "ARGO" and "LINCOLN". So when the movie earned a good number of Academy Award nominations, my first reaction turned out to be . . . "What was the big deal?"
Written and directed by David O. Russell, "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" was based upon Matthew Quick's 2008 novel, "The Silver Linings Playbook". Since I never read the novel, let alone heard of it, I would not be able to compare the movie to the novel. The movie is about a bipolar man named Patrick "Pat" Solitano Jr., who moves in with his parents in Philadelphia after being released from a psychiatric hospital. Pat is determined to get his life back on track, stop his dependence on medication and reconcile with his estranged wife Nikki, who had obtained a restraining order against him after he had violently attacked the man with whom she was having an affair. While attending a dinner party held by his friends, Ronnie and Veronica, Pat meets Veronica's sister - a young widow suffering from sex addiction and depression over the death of her police officer husband. Pat and Tiffany begin an odd friendship over their shared neuroses. Learning that both Tiffany and Veronica know Nikki, Pat asks the former to deliver a letter he had written to Nikki. In return, Tiffany asks him to be her partner in a dance contest.
Matters seem to go well for Pat until his father Pat Sr. asks him to attend a Philadelphia Eagles football game as a "good luck charm". The latter had bet all of his money on the game. His father's request leads Pat to skip practice with Tiffany. However, he is dragged into a fight with racist thugs who were attacking his Indian-born psychiatrist and brother. When the Eagles lose the game, Pat Sr. becomes furious. Tiffany who is also angry, arrives at the Solitano home and berates Pat for missing the dance practice. She also points out that the Eagles win a game whenever she and Pat spend time together. Convinced that Pat being with Tiffany is actually good luck, Pat Sr. makes a parlay with his gambling friend that if the Eagles win their game against the Dallas Cowboys, and if Pat and Tiffany score at least a 5 out of 10 in their dance competition; he will win back double the money he lost on the first bet.
Although "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" received a good deal of acclaim, there have been some critics who have dismissed the film as a mediocre, yet slightly entertaining romantic comedy. And some have pointed out the unlikeliness of a comedic romance between two characters with serious neuroses. Before I actually viewed the film, I believed I would end up in the latter camp. But when I finally saw the film . . . my skepticism disappeared. What can I say? I found myself drawn to both the characters and the story. A good number of years have passed since I last enjoyed a romantic comedy. It seemed to be a genre that Hollywood rarely seems willing to explore, unless situated in the middle of an action-adventure story, or in a television sitcom. I noticed that "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" has been described as a comedy-drama. When one considers a movie featuring main characters with mental disorders, I could see why any moviegoer would expect a good deal of drama injected into this story. I am not saying that the movie's narrative skirted over its dramatic issues. It made Pat's emotional problems clear, especially his unwillingness to get over his wife Nikki, his parents' wary regard for him, his tendency to run away from his feelings for Tiffany, and the latter's own romantic frustrations with him. And yet, the style of David O. Russell's directions, along with the cast's performances made the film seem more like a straight comedy, instead of a comedy-drama. Did this bother me? Not at all.
"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" featured some genuinely great moments. I do not think I will ever forget that amateurish, yet odd dance number performed by leads Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. Nor do I think I can forget those scenes featuring their characters' odd encounters, while jogging. But my favorite scenes include the first attempt by Pat's friend Danny McDaniels to leave the Baltimore psychiatric hospital, Pat's wild and loud quarrel with his equally loud father during the early hours of the morning, Pat's funny sessions with his analyst Dr. Cliff Patel, and Pat Sr. making that final bet with his friend Randy. But if I had to pick my favorite scene, it would be Pat and Tiffany's first meeting at the dinner party hosted by Pat's friend Ronnie and Tiffany's sister Veronica. From the moment the two leads lock eyes upon each other, until he escorted her home, it was a blast to watch. The scene features one of my favorite "boy-meets-girl" moments in any Hollywood film.
At least four members of the cast for "SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" earned Academy Award nominations. But the rest of the cast also gave excellent or really exceptional performances. The movie featured some really solid performances from Shea Whigham (Jake Solitano), Julia Stiles (Veronica Maxwell), Anupam Kher (Dr. Cliff Patel) and Dash Mihok (Officer Keogh). Chris Tucker went against his usual splashy style for a very funny, yet subtle performance as Pat's fellow hospital inmate, Danny McDaniels, who keeps making attempts to escape and who immediately noticed the chemistry between Pat and Tiffany. I do not recall ever seeing John Ortiz in a comedic role before, but I must admit that he was rather funny as Ronnie, Pat's high strung friend, who is beginning to question his relationship with Veronica Maxwell.
And the four cast members who ended up receiving Academy Award nominations, truly deserved them, as far as I am concerned. Jackie Weaver earned a much deserved Best Supporting Actress nomination as Pat's sane mother Dolores, who seemed to be caught between a rock and a hard place between a bipolar son and a temperamental and slightly obsessive husband. Robert De Niro gave one of his best performances in his later career as Pat Solitano Sr., a temperamental and slightly obsessive man, who is wary of his younger son; yet even more obsessed over the Philadelphia Eagles. He deservedly earned his first Academy Award nomination in 21 years. Bradley Cooper, who worked with De Niro for the second time, earned an equally deserved Academy Award nomination as the movie's main character, Pat Solitano Jr. - a man struggling with both a bipolar condition and a failed marriage. What I liked about Cooper's performance is that he effectively portrayed a very volatile personality without crossing the line into hamminess. Jennifer Lawerence earned her second Academy Award nomination as Tiffany Maxwell, the troubled young widow, who seemed hellbent upon being the new woman in Pat's life. Lawrence eventually won her Oscar - for Best Actress. Before I saw this film, I found myself wondering if she deserved it. After seeing her performance in this movie, I think I would have made it a tie between her and Jessica Chastain. Lawrence was a revelation as the strong-willed, yet emotional Tiffany.
It is a pity that I never saw this movie when it was in the theaters during the fall of 2012. I really wish I had. I think it is one of the best comedies I have seen in years. David O. Russell did justice to the story as the film's screenwriter and director. And it boasted some superb performances from the likes of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. If I had seen"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK" when it first arrived in the theaters, it would have made my list of favorite movies of 2012.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Below is an article the popular Thanksgiving dessert, Pumpkin Pie.
As many Americans know, Pumpkin Pie is a sweet dessert, traditionally eaten during the fall and early winter seasons. They are especially popular during the Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in the United States and Canada. Many view the pumpkin as a symbol of harvest time. The pie consists of a custard made from an actual pumpkin, canned custard or packaged pie filling made from the plant. The pie's color usually range from orange to brown and is baked in a single pie shell, rarely with a top crust. Pumpkin pie is generally flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger.
The pumpkin is a native of the North American continent. The oldest evidence of its existence were pumpkin-related seeds that dated between 7000 and 5500 BCE, has been found in Mexico. Despite the discovery of its seeds in Mexico, the pumpkin was first exported to France in the 16th century. From there, it was introduced to Tudor England. The English quickly accepted the flesh of the "pompion" as a pie filler. Following its introduction to England, pumpkin pie recipes could be found in 17th century English cookbooks such as Hannah Woolley's 1675 book, "The Gentlewoman's Companion".
English immigrants such as the Pilgrims eventually introduced the pumpkin pie to the New England region. Recipes for the pie did not appear in American cookbooks until the early 19th century. During this same period, the dessert finally became a common addition to the Thanksgiving dinner. Meanwhile, the English method of cooking the pumpkin took a different course. The English pumpkin pie was prepared by stuffing the actual pumpkin with apples, spices and sugar, before baking it whole. The dessert, which more or less remained traditional in the United States, inspired songs and poems. Nineteenth century activist Lydia Maria Child referenced the pumpkin pie in her 1844 song, "Over the River and Through the Wood". And in 1850, John Greenleaf Whittier wrote a poem called "The Pumpkin".
Below is a recipe for a fresh pumpkin pie from the Full Circle website (which was adapted from a recipe found onwww.rwood.com:
Your favorite pie crust dough, enough for one 9-inch shell.
1 pie pumpkin
1 1/2 cups organic cream
1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds, place the pumpkin halves in a pan, shell side up, and bake for 1 hour or until the pumpkin is tender, exudes liquid and the shell starts to sag.
Pour off accumulated liquid, scrape the pulp from the shell and purée it with a potato masher or in a blender. Measure 2 cups of the purée and set it aside. Reserve any additional pumpkin for another use.
Place your pie dough on a lightly floured surface and, starting from the center out, roll the dough to about 2 inches larger than the size of the pan. Loosen the pastry, fold it in half, lift it and unfold it into the pan. Press it into place, trim off the excess dough and crimp the edges.
Increase the temperature of the oven to 425°F. In a large mixing bowl lightly beat the eggs. Add the purée and the remaining ingredients and stir to blend. Pour the mixture into the dough-lined pan.
Bake for 15 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake an additional 45 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Below are images from "THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO", the 1934 adaptation of Alexandre Dumas, père's 1844 novel. Directed by Rowland V. Lee, the movie starred Robert Donat and Elissa Landi:
"THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO" (1934) Photo Gallery
Saturday, November 23, 2013
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" (1992) Review
Many critics tend to look upon Agatha Christie's later novels with less favor. Among those novels viewed with less than any real enthusiasm was her 1962 novel, "The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side". I find this interesting, despite the fact that one movie and two television adaptations have been made from this story.
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" delved into the world of Hollywood movies through the new tenants of Gossington Hall, the former home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry. After the death of Colonel Bantry, Mrs. Bantry sold the manor to Hollywood movie star Marina Gregg and her husband, director Jason Rudd. Marina and Jason host a fête for the citizens of St. Mary Mead. Miss Jane Marple is one of the guests. Another is Heather Badcock, an annoying housewife and St. John Ambulance helper with a penchant for being self involved. During the reception inside the manor, Heather dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. When the local police and Scotland Yard investigate Heather's death, they realize that the cocktail had been meant for Marina Gregg. And they have plenty of suspects:
*Dr. Gilchrist - Marina's personal doctor
*Ella Zeilinsky - Jason's lovesick secretary
*Lola Brewster - Hollywood starlet and Marina's rival
*Ardwyck Fenn - Hollywood producer and Lola's husband
*Margot Bence - Professional photographer and Marina's former adopted daughter
*Arthur Badcock - Heather's milequoast husband, who might had a reason to kill her
It is quite obvious that T.R. Bowen's screenplay for "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" remained faithful to Christie's 1962 novel. However, I did notice a few differences. The main police investigator, Dermot Craddock, turned out to be Miss Marple's nephew, as he was in the 1980 adaptation with Angela Landsbury. And Marina and Jason's Italian butler, Giuseppe Murano, had been murdered in the novel. In this movie, he was regulated to a minor supporting character and survived. Most fans would view the movie's close similarity to Christie's novel as a sign of its superiority as an adaptation. Faithfulness to the source material is not a sign of superior adaptation for me. I will admit that "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" is a pretty damn good adaptation. But I feel it had a few problems.
One of my problems with "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" is the casting of Judy Cornwell as Heather Badcock. Upon reading Christie's novel, I had the impression that Heather must have been at least in her mid-30s or early 40s when she was killed, and in her 20s when she first met Marina Gregg during World War II. However, Judy Cornwell was in her early 50s when this movie was made and looked it. And since "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" took place in the 1950s - at least a little over a decade before Heather and Marina's first meeting - I found it hard to accept Cornwell as the clueless Heather. I was also not that enamored of the scene featuring the revelation of the murderer very unsatisfying. But if I must be honest, the killer revelation scenes have never impressed me in most of the Miss Marple movies that starred Joan Hickson. They tend to be rather badly written. And what made revelation in this movie unsatisfying was T.R. Bowen and director Norman Stone's decision to have Miss Marple reveal the killer's identity to a cab driver, who was driving her to Gossington Hall. What on earth were they thinking? Talk about ruining a pretty good movie with a bad ending.
My biggest problem with "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" turned out to be Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock's character background. As I had stated earlier, Bowen's screenplay revealed Craddock as one of Miss Marple's nephew, repeating the 1980 film's characterization of him. If this had been John Castle's first appearance as Detective-Inspector Craddock, I would not be making this complaint. But the actor first portrayed the character in 1985's "A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED", which also starred Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. And in that movie, Miss Marple and Craddock were strangers who had met for the first time, not blood relations. This was truly sloppy writing on Bowen's part.
Fortunately, I still managed to enjoy "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" very much. I have to attribute this to Norman Stone's lively direction. Most of the Jane Marple adaptations that starred Hickson had a tendency to drag in many parts. Aside from a few productions, I usually have difficulty staying alert, while watching them. I can thankfully say that I had no such problems with"THE MIRROR CRACK'D". Not only did the movie benefited from Stone's pacing, but also Bowen's screenplay, and the cast. But I suspect that the movie's subject matter - Hollywood in Britain - really helped to make "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" a lively affair. Not only did the story delved into the world of small town life in mid-20th century Britain, but also the Hollywood movie system during the same era. The movie featured some humorous interactions between the citizens of St. Mary Mead and its Hollywood visitors, along with a tension-filled dinner party featuring Marina, Jason, the latter's secretary Ella Zeilinsky, producer Ardwyck Fenn and rival starlet Lola Brewster. Mind you, the movie lacked the entertaining bitch fest from the 1980 film, the script still managed to provide a few moments of bitchery from Marina, Ella and Lola. "THE MIRROR CRACK'D" also featured an amusing subplot featuring a companion hired by Miss Marple's other nephew to take care of her. It seems the companion Miss Knight possessed a condescending manner that irritates the elderly woman.
I have to say that I found the movie's production values very impressive. Merle Downie and Alan Spalding did an excellent job of re-creating 1950s Britain through their production designs. I suspect they had to add a bit of glamour to the movie, due to the story's subject matter. The costumes for Hickson's Miss Marple movies have always been first-rate. And Judy Pepperdine did a marvelous job in not only creating costumes for the St. Mary Mead citizens, but also the Hollywood characters. Cinematographer John Walker contributed to the movie's sleek look with his colorful, yet sharp photography.
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" featured Joan Hickson's last performance as Jane Marple. Needless to say, she proved to provide her usual above-average performance. I was especially impressed by her comedic skills in the scenes featuring Miss Marple's exasperation with the condescending Miss Knight. Claire Bloom gave a complicated and very skillful performance as the talented, yet high-strung Marina Gregg. I did not find this surprising. Only a first-rate actress like Bloom could portray a high-maintenance character like Marina, without resorting to hamminess. I was equally impressed by Barry Newman, who was marvelous as Marina's husband, Jason Rudd. He did an excellent job of portraying an emotional and passionate character with great subtlety. Despite my annoyance at Dermot Craddock being written as one of Miss Marple's nephews, I must admit that I was happy to see John Castle back in the role. I really enjoyed his performance as the intelligent and cool Craddock in "A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED". When he failed to appear in 1987's "4.50 TO PADDINGTON", I must admit that I felt very disappointed. Thankfully, my disappointment was eradicated in his appearance and performance in this film.
Aside from the 1980 miniseries, "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE" and one or two other films, I have rarely seen Elizabeth Garvie in other film or movie productions. I certainly enjoyed her portrayal of Ella Zeilinsky, Jason Rudd's sarcastic, yet love struck secretary. I may have had issues with Judy Cornwell being cast as Heather Badcock, but I have to admit that she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the self-involved woman. David Horovitch returned as Superintendent Slack. I found his appearance in the movie unnecessary, since he was not in the novel, but I must admit that Horovitch gave a rather funny performance. Margaret Courtenay was even funnier as the condescending companion, Miss Knight, who treated Miss Marple like a brainless child. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Glynis Barber, Ian Brimble, Norman Rodway and Gwen Watford. However, I found Constantine Gregory's portrayal of Hollywood producer Ardwyck Fenn to be ridiculously over-the-top. One, he seemed to think that all Hollywood producers sounded and acted like gangsters from an old Warner Brothers film. And two, his American accent sucked. It is a pity that he did not study the American-born Newman, when he had the chance.
"THE MIRROR CRACK'D" had its flaws. But they were only a few. Overall, I found it entertaining and well-paced, thanks to Norman Stone's direction and the movie's production values. In the end, it proved to be a well made epilogue to Joan Hickson's tenure as the cinematic Jane Marple.
Friday, November 22, 2013
TIME MACHINE: ASSASSINATION OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY (1917-1963)
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, in Dallas, Texas. Kennedy was fatally shot by a sniper, while traveling with his wife First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally, and wife Nellie Connally, in a presidential motorcade.
With the 1964 Presidential Election looming in the following, President John F. Kennedy wanted to travel to Texas for the following reasons:
*the Kennedy-Johnson ticket barely won the state in 1960 and Kennedy wanted to help mend political fences among the leading Texas Democratic party members
*Kennedy wanted to begin his quest for reelection in November 1964; and
*Kennedy wanted to help raise more campaign fund contributions for the Democratic Party
President Kennedy, along with Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson (formerly a senator from Texas) and Governor Connnally met in El Paso, Texas on June 5, 1963; to agreed upon the details for a presidential visit in Texas. President Kennedy's trip to Texas was first announced to the public in September 1963. And the exact motorcade route for Dallas was finalized on November 18 and announced to the public a few days before November 22. U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson visited Dallas on October 24, 1963 to mark United Nations Day. He was jeered, jostled, hit by a sign and spat upon during the visit. Stevenson, along with several other people, advised Kennedy to avoid Dallas during his Texas visit, but the President refused their advice.
The President and the First Lady arrived in San Antonio, Texas on November 21, 1963. There, they visited the Brooks Air Force Base. Later, they attended a Testimonial dinner at the Rice Hotel in Houston, honoring Congressman Albert Thomas, before finally arriving at Fort Worth, where they stayed at the Hotel Texas.
The following day on November 22, the presidential couple attended a Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the hotel in Fort Worth. Later, they boarded Air Force One, which conveyed them and the rest of the presidential entourage to the Love Field airport in Dallas, at 11:40 p.m. (CT). President Kennedy was scheduled to give a speech at a steak luncheon held at the the Dallas Business and Trade Mart. They proceeded to Dealey Plaza in a motorcade that conveyed them from the airport. Kennedy, the First Lady, Connally and his wife were in the second convertible with driver Secret Service Agent William Greer and Advance Agent and SAIC Roy Kellerman (also Secret Service). At 12:29 p.m., the President's motorcade entered Dealey Plaza after a right turn from Main Street onto Houston Street. Over two dozen known and unknown amateur and professional still and motion-picture photographers captured the last living images of President Kennedy. As the motorcade slowly approached the Texas School Book Depository, shots were fired at President Kennedy's limousine after it made the turn from Houston onto Elm Street, around 12:30 p.m. (CT). Most witnesses heard three shots.
As seen in the film clip shot by private citizen Abraham Zapruder, the third shot struck President Kennedy in the head. Governor Connally was also seriously wounded. During the shots a witness named James Tague was also wounded, when he received a minor wound on his right cheek. After the President had been shot in the head, Mrs. Kennedy began to climb out onto the back of the limousine, though she later had no recollection of doing so. Secret Service Agent Clint Hill believed she was reaching for something. Hill jumped onto the back of the limousine, while at the same time, Mrs. Kennedy returned to her seat. He clung to the car as it left Dealey Plaza and rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Dallas Police Office Marion Baker confronted Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine veteran and employee at the Texas Book Depository, inside the building's second floor lunchroom, over a minute after the last shot was fired. Baker claimed that he had heard the first shot, as he approached the book depository and the Dallas Textile Building. When building superintendent Roy Truly identified Oswald as an employee, the latter was released. Meanwhile, President Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital around 1:00 p.m. His body was given the last rites by a Catholic priest. The doctors had to operate on Governor Connally at least two times that day. Fifteen minutes after the President was declared dead, Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit was shot dead, not far from Oswald's rooming house. At least thirteen people saw a man shoot Tippit. Five of the witnesses identified Oswald in police lineups, and a sixth identified him the following day. Four others identified Oswald from a photograph. Vice-President Johnson, his wife Lady Bird Johnson and other members of the presidential entourage returned to Air Force One at Love Field. Mrs. Kennedy, and several Secret Service agents escorting the President's body, eventually joined them. Before Air Force One departed for Washington D.C., Federal judge Sarah T. Hughes swore Vice-President Johnson in as the country's 36th President.
Oswald was arrested by the Dallas police at the Texas Theater (movie theater) that afternoon. And around 7:10 p.m. that evening, he was charged with the murder of Officer Tippit. Shortly after 1:30 a.m., on November 23, Oswald was formally charged with the murder of President Kennedy. He declared that he was innocent and had been framed for the murders. Oswald was interrogated during his two days at the Dallas Police Headquarters. On November 24, 1963; Oswald was being led through the building's basement for his transfer to the county jail, when he was murdered by nightclub owner Jack Ruby. Oswald was rushed to Parkland Memorial Hospital, but died at 1:07 p.m. (CT). Ruby was charged and convicted with his murder. The state funeral for President John F. Kennedy was held on the following day, November 25, 1963. Following at service at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
President Johnson initiated the Warren Commission, chaired by Chief Justice Earl Warren of the Supreme Court to investigate the assassination. The investigation lasted for ten months, between November 1963 to September 1964. It concluded that President Kennedy had been assassinated by lone gunman Lee Harvey Oswald. It also concluded that Jack Ruby also acted alone, when he killed Oswald before the latter could stand trial. Despite the findings of the Warren Commission, many believe to this day that President Kennedy was killed, due to a government conspiracy and that Oswald had been framed. In contrast to the Warren Commission's conclusions, the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded in 1978 that Kennedy was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. But they do believe that Oswald was a part of the conspiracy.
The following books can provide more information and speculations on the John F. Kennedy Assassination:
*"Who Really Killed Kennedy?: 50 Years Later: Stunning New Revelations About the JFK Assassination" (2013) by
*"LIFE The Day Kennedy Died Remembers" by the Editors of LIFE Magazine
*"Five Days in November" by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin