Thursday, July 31, 2014

"THE WAY WE LIVE NOW" (2001) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "THE WAY WE LIVE NOW", the 2001 television adaptation of Anthony Trollope's 1875 novel. Directed by David Yates, the four-part miniseries starred David Suchet, Shirley Henderson, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Macfadyen:


"THE WAY WE LIVE NOW" (2001) Photo Gallery

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" (1963) Review

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"FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" (1963) Review

Have you ever heard the song, "What a Difference a Day Makes"? Well, the song's title kept going through my head, while viewing 1963’s "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE", which was based upon Ian Flemnig's 1957 novel. It seemed such a difference from the very inferior "DR. NO" (and would prove to be quite a difference in my eyes to 1964’s "GOLDFINGER").

Not only do I consider "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" to be one of the finest Bond films in the franchise, I also view it as Connery’s best. In fact, as with 1965’s "THUNDERBALL", his acting was superb in this film. James Bond not only seemed mature, but . . . [gasp] human. All one has to do is examine his interactions with leading lady Daniela Bianchi to notice this. Connery has never been so human as he was in this movie. And sadly, he was never this human again.

Connery was supported by a first-class supporting cast. Italian-born actress Daniela Bianchi portrayed the Soviet cipher clerk assigned to seduce him, Tatiana Romanova. What started as an assignment for Tania, ended up as full-blown love affair. Although, Bianchi had her dialogue dubbed by Zena Marshall (from "DR. NO"), she did an excellent job in projecting Tania’s wide range of emotions – including her disgust at ex-Soviet turned SPECTRE agent, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya).

Speaking of Lenya . . . my goodness, I am speechless! What can I say? The woman was superb! I found her creepy in her scenes with Bianchi and Walter Gotell, yet fearful in the scenes featuring SPECTRE’s leader, Ernst Stavos Blofeld. In fact, she gave one of the best performances by any actor or actress portraying a Bond villain/villainess. And I must say the same for the highly revered Robert Shaw. Not only did his Donovan Grant turned out to be the template for many Bond henchmen to come (with only Andreas Wisniewski from "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" coming close), Shaw and Connery provided one of the best dramatic moments and fight sequences in the entire franchise.

Hollywood character actor, Pedro Armendariz, portrayed Bond’s Turkish contact, Kerim Bey. Sadly, the role of Bey would prove to be Armendariz’s last one. After finishing his scenes, he committed suicide, rather than suffer any longer from cancer. But fortunately for many Bond fans, Kerim Bey would prove to be his greatest role. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell were competent as usual. And the movie would serve as the debut of Desmond Llewellyn as MI-6’s Quartermaster.

The plot for "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" centered around SPECTRE’s scheme to lure James Bond into stealing a valuable Soviet decoding machine, and unknowingly deliver it into their hands. In the process, Agent 007 is to suffer a disgraceful death, in revenge for the death of Dr. No. The movie not only had the good luck to be based upon one of Ian Fleming’s few well-written novels, the screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood, did an excellent job of translating it to the screen. Rich with atmosphere and mystery, "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" almost seemed like the perfect spy thriller – a far cry from the schizophrenic and inferior "DR. NO". A few changes had been made, but overall they seemed to serve the story very well.

Did I find "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" perfect? No. I have a few complaints. One of my complaints happened to be the Bond-Grant confrontation aboard the westbound Orient Express. From a dramatic viewpoint, it gave Connery and Shaw to exercise their acting chops. From a storytelling viewpoint, it made no sense. It just did not make any sense to me that Grant would take his time preparing to kill Bond, once he got the drop on the British agent. While Grant was busy searching through the unconscious Bond’s jacket and putting on his gloves, I found myself screaming at my TV screen – "What in the hell are you waiting for? Kill him!" I also found the two action sequences that preceded Bond and Tania’s arrival in Venice a bit too much. I had the feeling that the writers added an extra action sequence in order to fill in the movie’s running time. I could have done with either the helicopter sequence or the Adriatic Sea boat chase.

But you know what? Not even these flaws could deter my love for "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE". It is one of the few James Bond films that do not adhere to the franchise's rather silly formula. The movie also possessed a first-rate espionage thriller seeped in Cold War politics. And it featured excellent direction from Terence Young, memorable performances from a talented supporting cast and Sean Connery's best performance as James Bond.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top Ten Favorite HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:



TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. "The Civil War" (1990) - Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.



2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. "The Supersizers Go/Eat" (2008-2009) - Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).



3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. "MGM: When the Lion Roared" (1992) - Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).



4 - Africans in America

4. "Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery" (1998) - Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.



5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. "Queen Victoria's Empire" (2001) - This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.



6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. "Motown 40: The Music Is Forever" (1998) - Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.



7 - Ken Burns The War

7. "The War" (2007) - Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States' participation in World War II.



8 - Manor House

8. "The Edwardian Manor House" (2002) - This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.



9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. "Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency" (2011) - Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain's Regency era between 1810 and 1820.



10 - Ken Burns The West

10. "The West" (1996) - Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.



HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004) - Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.

Friday, July 25, 2014

"EDGE OF TOMORROW" (2014) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "EDGE OF TOMORROW", the 2014 adaptation of Hiroshi Sakurazaka's 2004 novel called "All You Need Is Kill". Directed by Doug Liman, the movie stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt.



"EDGE OF TOMORROW" (2014) Photo Gallery

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

"SKYLINE" (2010) Review



"SKYLINE" (2010) Review
In the wake of James Cameron’s blockbuster, ”AVATAR”, Hollywood has begun its own spurt of alien invasion movies and television series. One of the first movies to reach the theaters is a story directed and produced by the Brothers Strause called ”SKYLINE”.  
 
The movie began with strange lights appearing over the city of Los Angeles. These lights drew people like moths to a flame, allowing an extraterrestrial force to swallow as many members of the entire human population as possible, off the face of the Earth. Among the people affected by the appearance of this alien invasion force is a couple from New York City named Jarrod and Elaine, who are in town to visit Jarrod’s friend, a wealthy man named Terry who is celebrating his birthday at his Marina del Rey high rise. During the party, Elaine revealed that she was pregnant. And it turned out that Terry was having an affair with his assistant, behind his wife’s back.

The following morning, bright blue lights descended from the sky, entrancing anyone who looks at them. The light turned their victims’ eyes milky white and inflamed their blood vessels, so that they stand up on the skin. Held captive by the light, humans are immobilized and engulfed by the aliens. Jarrod nearly suffered this fate, until Terry tackled him to the ground. Jarrod returned to normal shortly after. He and Terry investigated the light from the roof of the high rise, where they saw several alien ships descend over the blue lights and vacuum up thousands of entranced humans.

I must admit that I had no real desire to see ”SKYLINE”, when I first saw the trailer. It struck me as the typical science-fiction story that featured the alien invasion of Earth for minimal reasons. In the case of the aliens in ”SKYLINE”, their reasons for attempting to destroy the human population by using their brains to insert into alien husks and increase their own population. I had assumed that Hollywood would be more open to the idea of Humans invading alien worlds, after the success of ”AVATAR”, but ”SKYLINE” seemed to indicate that this will not happen in the near future. Despite my disappointment of the movie’s theme, my family and I went to see the movie. Did we enjoyed it? No. Not one bit.

Some critic by the name of Matthew Sorrento complimented the movie for re-fashioning the modern alien invasion motif as the hopeless siege that it should be, allowing humanity to be overwhelmed and defeated. I must admit that this was the only original aspect of Joshua Cordes and and Liam O'Donnell’s plot. Otherwise, ”SKYLINE” failed on so many levels. Before I castigate ”SKYLINE” to the great beyond, I must admit that on a technical level, I found Michael Watson’s cinematography impressive. The skyline of Santa Monica and Marina del Rey never looked better. It seemed a pity that the movie failed to go beyond the rooftop of the Marina del Rey high-rise condominium where one of the directors, Greg Strause, lived (located on Lincoln Boulevard). And I was also impressed by the special effects that featured the aliens and their ships, created by visual effects house Hydraulx (owned by the movie’s directors, the Brothers Strause). However, that achievement is tainted by allegations by Sony Pictures and the producers of the 2011 filim ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” that the Strause brothers used their knowledge from working on the latter film, for their own film - ”SKYLINE”. I do not know how this conflict was resolved. But I can say that ”BATTLE: LOS ANGELES” proved to be a much better film.

Overall, ”SKYLINE” was not a good film. It sucked, if I must be brutally honest. One, the epic scope of the story was limited to a high rise in Marina del Rey, a neighborhood southwest of the Los Angeles city limits. Because of this limited setting, moviegoers never learned that other parts of the Earth had also been invaded, until the very end of the movie. I wonder if the Brothers Strause and the two screenwriters wanted to use this as a surprising plot twist. If they did, it failed. Only a dummy would have assumed that the alien invasion was limited to Southern California. Another problem that the movie suffered was lack of character development. I will hand it to screenwriters Cordes and O’Donnell for setting up possible character conflicts. One of those conflicts arose between Jarrod and Elaine over her pregnancy. He was reluctant to face fatherhood and she felt resentment toward his reluctance. Elaine also expressed fear over the possibility of Jarrod accepting a job offer from his friend, Terry and relocating to Los Angeles. And Terry’s relationship with his girlfriend Candice seemed to be on the rocks, due to an affair with his assistant Denise. But none of these conflicts were ever explored with any depth, due to them being shoved aside for the sake of the main story – the alien invasion. And the movie never revealed the professions of the main characters. If it did, it escaped my notice.

The acting in ”SKYLINE” seemed solid, but not spectacular. Eric Balfour did a solid job as the movie’s main protagonist. I could say the same about Brittany Daniel as Terry’s girlfriend, Candice and Crystal Reed as Denise. However, I must admit that I was very unimpressed by David Zayas’s portrayal of the building’s concierge, Oliver. I found his performance reeking with over-the-top machismo – especially in the movie’s last half hour. The only two performances that almost impressed me came from Scottie Thompson, who portrayed Elaine; and Donald Faison, who portrayed Terry. I especially felt that Faison’s talents were wasted in this film.

What else can I say about ”SKYLINE”? The cinematography and special effects were impressive. Most of the acting seemed solid, yet unspectacular. But the movie suffered from a setting limited to a Southern California high-rise. It also suffered from a badly written movie with a vague ending and undeveloped characters and plotlines. I gave it a second chance by renting a DVD copy. Not long after viewing the last scene, I immediately regretted my action. It was that big of a disappointment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Five Favorite Episodes of "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." Season One (2013-2014)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel's "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.". Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.:


TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D." SEASON ONE (2013-2014)

1 - 1.17 Turn Turn Turn

1. (1.17) "Turn, Turn, Turn" - All hell breaks loose when the events of "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER" leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.



2 - 1.21 Nothing Personal

2. (1.20) "Nothing Personal" - Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.



3 - 1.13 - T.R.A.C.K.S.

3. (1.13) "T.R.A.C.K.S." - The team's search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.



4 - 1.10 The Bridge

4. (1.10) "The Bridge" - Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike's son.



5 - 1.15 Yes Men

5. (1.15) "Yes Men" - The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.



HM - 1.22 Beginning of the End

Honorable Mention: (1.22) "Beginning of the End" - In the first season's finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.