Sunday, January 31, 2016
"THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" (1987) Review
The year 1987 marked EON Productions' release of its 15th entry in the Bond franchise – "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". The movie featured the first of two times in which actor Timothy Dalton portrayed the famous British spy, James Bond. I first saw "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" on the night of July 31, 1987 – the date of its original U.S. release. My family and I saw it at the Grauman Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The theater was so packed that we ended up seated near the screen. I had a bad headache by the time the movie ended. Yet, watching the movie that night was one of the most enjoyable movie going experiences of my life.
The movie’s title comes from the 1966 short story, ”The Living Daylights” in which Bond is assigned to assassinate a KGB sniper out to kill a MI-6 agent trying to escape from the Soviet Bloc in Berlin. The movie’s director, John Glen, along with screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, took aspects of that short story and used it to set the movie's plot in motion. "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" begins with a military exercise on Gilbratar in which three 00 agents – including Bond – test the British base by infiltrating it. One of the agents is killed by a KGB agent, who leaves a clue behind with the following words, ”Smiert Spionam". The phrase, which means ”Death to Spies”, is repeated by Soviet general Georgi Koskov (portrayed by Jeroen Krabbe), after Bond helps him defect from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia. The Fleming short story was used as source for the defection sequence. But whereas the female sniper turns out to be a genuine killer in Fleming’s version; in the movie, she turns out to be Czech celloist, Kara Milovy. Kara pretends to be a sniper in order to convince MI-6 that Koskov’s defection is genuine. The movie later reveals that Koskov actually had Kara impersonate a sniper in order to set her up to be killed by MI-6, namely Bond. And why? It turns out that Koskov is a military renegade who had allied himself with an American arms dealer named Brad Whittaker. Both men have been using KBG funds to profit from drug dealing, instead of purchasing arms for the Soviet Army. When another Soviet general, Leonid Puskin becomes suspicious, Koskov and Whittaker frame the general for the murder of 002 on Gilbratar in order to MI-6 into terminating him. Thanks to Bond’s suspicions and his alliance with Kara, the CIA and Afghan freedom fighters named the Mujahedeen, he prevents Koskov and Whittaker’s plans from coming to fruition.
First of all, "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" is not a perfect movie. It has its flaws. The movie’s main flaw came in the form of the new Aston Martin Volante used by Bond during his escape from the Soviet authorities in Czechoslovakia to Austria. The car was equipped with all of the essential weaponry that included rocket launchers and lasers mounted in the hubcaps. Now if this had been”GOLDFINGER”, ”THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” or even ”TOMORROW NEVER DIES” this would not seem out of place. But a gadget laden Aston Martin did seem out of place in a taunt thriller like "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". And Dalton’s Bond did not seem like the type of guy who would feel comfortable driving such a vehicle, nor spouting bon mots, while driving it.
The Aston Martin sequence emphasized another problem with "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" - namely the humor that accompanied this scene. Some critics had complained of Timothy Dalton’s lack of humor during his tenure as Bond. Actually, Dalton did have a sense of humor – but one that seemed subtle, dry and slightly dark. It was not the type of humor that drew belly laughs like Roger Moore’s. Most of the movie managed to display Dalton’s type of humor very well . . . except during the Aston Martin sequence that featured Bond and Kara’s escape from the Soviet authorities and troops. During this sequence, the producers obviously had not only decided to burden Dalton’s Bond with a gadget-filled car, but also jokes that seemed to fit Roger Moore’s style of humor. I hate to say this but Dalton simply lacked Moore’s talent for broad humor. And it showed during this sequence.
Another problem with the movie turned out to be the character of Brad Whittaker, an American arms dealer. Granted, Joe Don Baker turned in a very competent performance. But his character contributed very little to the story. True, his business as an arms dealer served as a catalyst to the story, but as a Bond villain he came off as somewhat weak. Quite simply, he hardly did anything. The movie’s entire plot – using MI-6 to kill off the suspicious Pushkin in order to continue misuse of KGB funds – turned out to be General Koskov’s brain child. It was Koskov who had plotted to get rid of Pushkin. It was Koskov who plotted to get rid of Kara. It was Koskov who plotted to frame Bond for Pushkin’s murder. And I suspect that it was Koskov who had originally created the scheme to misuse KGB funds for drug dealing in the first place. Frankly, I think that Whittaker should have met the same fate as minor villain Hai Fat from ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”. He should have met an early death. Then again, if that had happened, I would have lost the opportunity to enjoy Bond's final confrontation with Whittaker in the latter's Tangier home. Only in that final scene did Baker's Whittaker shine as a villain. Instead of arranging some ridiculous death that would have given 007 an opportunity to escape, Whittaker did not hesitate to try to kill Bond in the most brutal manner possible.
With a somewhat weak villain such as Whittaker, one would expect THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS to fall apart. But it did not, thanks to the movie’s other main villain – Soviet General Georgi Koskov. Many Bond fans tend to dismiss Koskov as another weak villain. I cannot dismiss him. Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe did a fantastic job in creating a character that seemed extroverted, charming and very likeable on the surface . . . and intelligent, devious, ruthless and cold-blooded underneath. This subtle duality in his personality came to the fore in his relationship with Kara Milovy. He obviously had some kind of affection toward the blond cellist . . . enough to purchase a famous Stradivarius cello for her. Yet, when his deception threatened to be exposed, he cold-bloodedly arranged for her to be mistaken as a KGB assassin by Bond, so that the latter would kill her. After all, Kara knew about his relationship with Whittaker. Honestly? I would prefer to face an obvious villain like Auric Goldfinger than to be unexpectedly stabbed in the back by the likes of Georgi Koskov.
Not only did Jeroen Krabbe contributed to the quality of "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS", but so did the rest of the cast, including the London-born actress of Dutch-Georgian ancestry – Maryam D’Abo, who portrayed the effervescent cellist, Kara Milovy. She seemed like a sister in spirit to Tatiana Romanova, the Bond leading lady of "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE". Only Kara struck me as a character with a bit of a temper and a little more backbone. D’Abo infuses Kara with a fresh naivety and passion that has not been since Daniela Bianchi in "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE". Even better, she and Dalton managed to create a magnetic, yet natural screen chemistry. But D’Abo has never been that popular with Bond fans. Apparently, she seemed too ladylike and not sexy enough for them. Another Bond fan had complained that once Bond learned all he could about Koskov from Kara in Vienna and ended up captured by Koskov in Tangiers, her character became irrelevant to the story. This could be true. But if Kara had become irrelevant after Tangiers, what were the writers supposed to do with her? Leave her there? I doubt that Koskov would have allowed a living Kara loose on the world to expose him. No wonder he had brought her along to Afghanistan. But even there, Kara proved to be more than “comic relief” as someone had put it. Thanks to her, Kamal Khan and his Mujahedeen fighters attacked the Soviet airbase and distracted the military personnel long enough to save Bond and give him the opportunity to steal the plane loaded with Whittaker and Koskov’s opium. Kara Milovy may not be the most popular of Bond leading ladies, but thanks to D’Abo’s performance, she is certainly one of my favorites.
I must admit that I found myself rather impressed by the rest of "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" cast. Robert Brown proved to be a more interesting 'M' than he did in either "OCTOPUSSY" and "A VIEW TO A KILL". His stuffy head of MI-6 proved to be an excellent contrast to Dalton’s sardonic Bond, with whom he constantly butted heads. Although Robert Shaw had set the standards for the blond, muscle-bound henchman/killer in "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE", many have failed to be as memorable as him. As far as I am concerned, only one has come close . . . namely Andreas Wisniewski as Necros, Whittaker and Koskov’s hired killer. Like Shaw before him, Wisniewski had very little dialogue – in fact, probably less than the British actor. But he managed to project menace, intelligence and style without coming off as some muscle-bound clone like the Hans character in "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE" and the Stamper character in "TOMORROW NEVER DIES". Also included in the cast was legendary character actor, John Rhys-Davies, portraying Soviet General Leonid Pushkin, whose suspicions of the Whittaker-Koskov partnership helped set the plot in motion. Unlike many of his other well-known roles, Rhys-Davies portrayed a more restrained personality. But he managed to project his usual strong presence. Rhys-Davies and Dalton played off each other very well in the famous Tangier hotel room scene, in which Pushkin nearly became one of Bond’s victims. Art Malik from "THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN" and the recent updated "UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS" played Kamran Shah, leader of a local Mujardeen unit. In a way, Malik’s character reminded me of Georgi Koskov – a strong and intelligent man who used a benign persona to hide his true self. And Malik portrayed Shah with a giddy mixture of authority, charm, and mischievous wit. John Terry became the sixth actor to portray Bond's CIA buddy, Felix Leiter. Unfortunately, he barely had a few moments on the screen - not enough to establish a strong on-screen presence. Too bad. He and Dalton had a nice, friendly chemistry and Terry, as he later proved in his career, was a first-rate actor.
I have to say that EON Productions has been lucky in its choice of the six actors who managed to bring their own sense of style to the role of James Bond . . . and I mean all of them. And all were smart enough to portray Bond in a way that suited them, instead of adhering to what the public or the producers wanted them to play Bond. That said, I want to say a few things about Timothy Dalton. Even though I was a major fan of Roger Moore, I realized by the mid-80s that it was time for him to retire from the role. With great fondness, I said adieu and breathlessly anticipated Timothy Dalton's debut in "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". When movie first came out, the media pointed out that Dalton had read all of Fleming’s novels, along with a biography of the author to get a vibe on the James Bond character. It is possible that many fans and critics, used to Roger Moore’s more humorous portrayal, found it difficult to accept Dalton’s grittier Bond. Personally, I feel all of that research had paid off. Dalton’s Bond was a tense and serious man with occasional flashes of grittiness, dark humor and a human heart – very close to Fleming’s literary portrayal of the character. Judging from the success of previous Bond actors, perhaps it was not necessary for Dalton to portray the role in such a serious manner. But hey! It worked for him. Many fans may not have appreciated his efforts twenty-five years ago, but now they do.
In the past twenty-six-and-a-half years since "LICENSE TO KILL"'s release, I have come to appreciate Dalton's contribution to the Bond franchise even more. Whoever said that he was the right Bond at the wrong time was probably right. The man was ahead of his time . . . not just for the Bond franchise, but for many espionage films. People have also stated that Dalton had made a great impact on the franchise. Again, I believe that Dalton not only influenced Daniel Craig's debut as Bond in the early 21st century, but many other espionage characters. Pierce Brosnan was not above utilizing Dalton's darker take on Bond, every now and then. I also suspect that Dalton might be partially responsible for the influx of edgy, angst-filled spy or action/adventure characters that have emerged over the years - characters portrayed by the likes of Matt Damon, Matthew McFaydden, Kiefer Sutherland, Harrison Ford and possibly even Richard Chamberlain and Robert DeNiro. Even the Tangier hotel scene between Dalton and D'Abo in "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" seemed to have been copied in many action movies in the years that followed - including one between Dalton and Carey Lowell in "LICENSE TO KILL" and Harrison Ford and Allison Doody in "INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE". But no one did it better than Dalton and D'Abo, as far as I'm concerned.
Screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson, created a taunt thriller, reminiscent of past Bond movies like "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" and "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY". Instead of the usual super villain bent upon controlling a major world market or the world itself, or the super terrorist groups up to its elbows in gadgets, Maibaum and Wilson took Fleming’s short story and created a tale of emotions, greed and betrayal. What I especially like about "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" is that it featured a series of excellent scenes and moments:
-the entire defection sequence starting from Kara's appearance in the window and ending with Koskov's departure from Austria
-Necros' attack on the MI-6 safe house
-Bond and Pushkin's confrontation in Tangiers
-the fake assassination of Pushkin
-Bond and Kara's confrontation in Tangiers
-Bond and Kara's escape from the Soviet military jail in Afghanistan
-the Mujardeen's attack on the Soviet air base
-Bond and Whittaker's confrontation in Tangiers
Thanks to the above scenes and the script, the story came close to feeling like a real spy thriller, instead of a quasi-fantasy/action-adventure flick. As I had stated before, the movie’s only misstep seemed to be the use of the gadget-laden Aston-Martin and the insertion of humorous dialogue not suited for Dalton’s acting style in the Czechoslovakia-to-Austria chase sequence. In fact, the sequence's style seemed out of place for such a taunt thriller like "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". Despite that particular sequence, the cast and the story, combined with John Glen’s competent direction and Alec Mills’ cinematography made "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" one of the finest – in my opinion – Bond movies in the franchise.
Returning back to that night in Hollywood, I remember that the audience went wild over "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS". They especially seemed to take pleasure in the scene in which Bond and Kara managed to escape across the border into Austria. I had enjoyed the movie so much that I saw it at least six or seven more times in the theaters before it was released on video. And for me that is a personal record – especially in regard to the James Bond franchise.
Friday, January 29, 2016
Thursday, January 28, 2016
Below are images from Season Two of the AMC Series, "HELL ON WHEELS". Created by Joe and Tony Gayton, the series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Common and Dominique McElligott:
"HELL ON WHEELS" SEASON TWO (2012) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
"JANE EYRE" (1973) Review
When I began this article, it occurred to me that I was about to embark upon the review of the sixth adaptation I have seen of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. I have now seen six adaptations of "Jane Eyre" and plan to watch at least one or two more. Meanwhile, I would like to discuss my views on the 1973 television adaptation.
For the umpteenth time, "JANE EYRE" told the story of a young English girl, who is forced to live with her unlikable aunt-by-marriage and equally unlikable cousins. After a clash with her Cousin John Reed, Jane Eyre is sent to Lowood Institution for girls. Jane spends eight years as a student and two as a teacher at Lowood, until she is able to acquire a position as governess at a Yorkshire estate called Thornfield Hall. Jane discovers that her charge is a young French girl named Adele Varens, who happens to be the ward of Jane's employer and Thornfield's owner, Edward Rochester. Before she knows it, Jane finds herself falling in love with Mr. Rochester. But the path toward romantic happiness proves to be littered with pitfalls.
After watching "JANE EYRE" . . . or least this version, I hit the Web to learn about the prevailing view toward the 1973 miniseries. I got the impression that a number of Brontë fans seemed to regard it as the best version of the 1847 novel. I can honestly say that I do not agree with this particular view. Mind you, the miniseries seemed to be a solid adaptation. Screenwriter Robin Chapman and director Joan Craft managed to translate Brontë's tale to the screen without too many drastic changes. Yes, there are one or two changes that I found questionable. But I will get to them later. More importantly, due to the entire production being stretch out over the course of five episode, I thought it seemed well balanced.
I was surprised to see that "JANE EYRE" was set during the decade of the 1830s. It proved to be the second (or should I say first) adaptation to be set in that period. The 1983 television adaptation was also set during the 1830s. Did this bother me? No. After all, Brontë's novel was actual set during the reign of King George III (1760-1820) and I have yet to stumble across an adaptation from this period. Both this production and the 1983 version do come close. But since "Jane Eyre" is not a historical fiction novel like . . . "Vanity Fair", I see no reason why any movie or television production has to be set during the time period indicated in the story.
The movie also featured some solid performances. I was surprised to see Jean Harvey in the role of Jane's Aunt Reed. The actress would go on to appear in the 1983 adaptation of the novel as Rochester's housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As for her portrayal of Aunt Reed, I thought Harvey did a solid job, even if I found her slightly theatrical at times. Geoffrey Whitehead gave an excellent performance as Jane's later benefactor and cousin, St. John Rivers. However, I had the oddest feeling that Whitehead was slightly too old for the role, despite being only 33 to 34 years old at the time. Perhaps he just seemed slightly older. The 1973 miniseries would prove to be the first time Edward de Souza portrayed the mysterious Richard Mason. He would later go on to repeat the role in Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 adaptation. Personally, I feel he was more suited for the role in this adaptation and his excellent performance conveyed this. I do not know exactly what to say about Brenda Kempner's portrayal of Bertha Mason. To be honest, I found her performance to be something of a cliché of a mentally ill woman. For me, the best performance in the entire miniseries came from Stephanie Beachum, who portrayed Jane's potential rival, the haughty and elegant Blanche Ingram. I do not think I have ever come across any actress who portrayed Blanche as both "haughty" and lively at the same time. Beachum did an excellent job at portraying Blanche as a likable, yet off-putting and arrogant woman.
Many fans of the novel do not seem particularly impressed by Sorcha Cusack's portrayal of the title character. A good number of them have accused the actress of being unable to convey more than a handful of expressions. And they have accused her of being too old for the role at the ripe age of 24. Personally . . . I disagree with them. I do not regard Cusack's performance as one of the best portrayals of Jane Eyre. But I thought she did a pretty damn good job, considering this was her debut as an actress. As for her "limited number of expressions", I tend to regard this accusation as a bit exaggerated. Yes, I found her performance in the scenes featuring Jane's early time at Thornfield a bit too monotone. But I feel that she really got into the role, as the production proceeded. On the other hand, many of these fans regard Michael Jayston's portrayal of Edward Rochester as the best. Again, I disagree. I am not saying there was something wrong with his performance. I found it more than satisfying. But I found it difficult to spot anything unique about his portrayal, in compare to the other actors who had portrayed the role before and after him. There were a few moments when his performance strayed dangerously in hamminess. Also, I found his makeup a bit distracting, especially the . . . uh, "guyliner".
The production values for "JANE EYRE" seemed solid. I felt a little disappointed that interior shots seemed to dominate the production, despite the exterior scenes of Renishaw Hall, which served as Thornfield. Some might argue that BBC dramas of the 1970s and 1980s were probably limited by budget. Perhaps so, but I have encountered other costumed productions of that period that have used more exterior shots. I had no problem with Roger Reece's costume designs. But aside from the outstanding costumes for Stephanie Beacham, there were times when most of the costumes looked as if they came from a warehouse.
Earlier, I had commented on the minimal number of drastic changes to Brontë's novel. I am willing to tolerate changes in the translation from novel to television/movie, if they were well done. Some of the changes did not bother me - namely Bessie's visit to Jane at Lowood and the quarrel between Eliza and Georgiana Reed, during Jane's visit at Gateshead Hall. But there were changes and omissions I noticed that did not exactly impress me. I was disappointed that the miniseries did not feature Jane's revelation to Mrs. Fairfax about her engagement to Mr. Rochester. I was also disappointed that "JANE EYRE" did not feature Jane begging in a village before her meeting with the Rivers family. Actually, many other adaptations have failed to feature this sequence as well . . . much to my disappointment. And I was a little put off by one scene in which Mr. Rochester tried to prevent Jane from leaving Thornfield following the aborted wedding ceremony with over emotional kisses on the latter's lips. Not face . . . but lips. I also did not care for the invented scenes that included a pair of doctors telling Reverend Brocklehurst that he was responsible for the typhus outbreak at Lowood. What was the point in adding this scene? And what was the point in adding a scene in which two society ladies discussed John Reed during a visit Thornfield?
Overall, "JANE EYRE" proved to be a solid adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's novel, thanks to director Joan Craft and screenwriter Robin Chapman. Everything about this production struck me as "solid", including the performances from a cast led by Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston. Only Stephanie Beachum's portrayal of Blanche Ingram stood out for me. The production values struck me as a bit pedestrian. And I was not that thrilled by a few omissions and invented scenes by Chapman. But in the end, I liked the miniseries. I did not love it, but I liked it.
Monday, January 25, 2016
Below is an article about the British snack known as Scotch Egg:
When I first learned about the dish known as Scotch Egg, I had assumed that it had originated in Scotland. Silly me. Basically a snack, the Scotch Egg is usually served at picnics or inside pubs. Today, the Scotch Egg can be found at supermarkets, corner shops and motorway service stations throughout Great Britain. Here in the United States, they can be found at British-style pubs and eateries. They are usually served with hot dipping sauces such as ranch dressing, hot sauce, or hot mustard sauce.
Many food historians claim that the exact origin of the Scotch Egg is unknown. Many believe that it might be a descendant of a form of the Mughlai dish called "nargisi kofta". However, the London Department store, Fortnum & Mason, claims it was inspired by the "nargisi kofta" and invented the Scotch Egg in 1738.
The recipe for the Scotch Egg first appeared in the 1809 edition of Mrs. Rundell's 1806 cookbook, "A New System of Domestic Cookery". Mrs. Rundell and later 19th-century cookbook authors usually instructed their readers to served the Scotch Eggs hot and with gravy.
Below is a recipe from the Allrecipes.com website:
1 quart oil for frying
2 pounds pork sausage
4 cups dried bread crumbs, seasoned
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Heat oil in deep-fryer to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Place eggs in saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil. Cover, remove from heat, and let eggs sit in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool and peel.
Flatten the sausage and make a patty to surround each egg. Very lightly flour the sausage and coat with beaten egg. Roll in bread crumbs to cover evenly.
Deep fry until golden brown, or pan fry while making sure each side is well cooked. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Cut in half and serve over a bed of lettuce and sliced tomatoes for garnish. If mustard is desired it looks beautiful over this.