Thursday, December 7, 2017
Below are images from the 2017 comedy-thriller, "THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD". Directed by Patrick Hughes, the movie stars Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson:
"THE HITMAN'S BODYGUARD" (2017) Photo Gallery
Monday, December 4, 2017
"THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY" (1979) Review
As I have stated in many previous movie reviews, I am a sucker for period drama. However, I am an even bigger sucker when said drama turns out to be something different from the usual narrative for this kind of genre. In the case of the 1979 movie, "THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY", it turned out to be one of those rare kind of films.
Like Michael Crichton's 1975 novel, "The Great Robbery", "THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY" is a fictional account of a famous robbery known as the "Great Gold Robbery of 1855". Before one thinks that the movie is a faithful account of this historical event or a faithful adaptation of Crichton's novel . . . you are bound to be disappointed. Not only did Crichton play a little fast and loose with history in his novel, he also wrote the movie's screenplay and made even more changes to the tale.
"THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY" began with a failed attempt by some nameless criminal to rob the gold used to pay the British troops fight in the Crimean War being shipped monthly on the London-to-Folkestone train. This failed robbery, which ended with the criminal's death, had been masterminded by a successful criminal named Edward Pierce. Finally realizing that the gold is guarded in two safes with two locks each, Pierce and his mistress, Miriam, recruit a pickpocket and screwsman named Robert Agar to make copies of the safes' four keys. They also set about attaining copies of the keys by exploiting the weaknesses of two key holders - bank president Edgar Trent and bank manager Henry Fowler.
When they discover that the other two keys are locked in a cabinet, inside the office of the South Eastern Railway at the London Bridge train station, Pierce and Agar recruit a cat burglar named "Clean Willie" to help them break into rail office and make impressions of the keys. At first, Pierce is able to execute his plan with very few problems. But obtaining the keys inside the South Eastern Railway office and recruiting "Clean Willie" end up producing major obstacles that he and his accomplices are forced to overcome.
I would not claim that "THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY" is a favorite movie of mine. But I must admit that every time I watch it, I usually end up enjoying it very much. And I cannot deny that it proved to be different than the usual period drama. Although "THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY" is a literary adaptation that also features a historical event, it is not the usual period piece. I mean . . . how many period dramas are about a real-life crime? Especially a crime that had occurred before the 20th century? If there is another movie with a similar narrative, I have yet to come across it.
Even more interesting is that Crichton utilized great details to show audiences how the crime was planned and carried out. Yes, I realize that Crichton had made changes to his portrayal of the 1855 gold robbery, but I still cannot help but admire that he portrayed this crime in such a detailed manner. And this allowed me to enjoy the film even more, for it provided audiences a detailed look into the criminal and business worlds of the Victorian Age during the 1850s. This was especially the case in the movie's second half in which the protagonists schemed to get their hands on copies of the third and fourth set of keys inside a London railway station. And if I must be honest, I enjoyed the movie's first half even more - especially those scenes that featured the robbers' attempts to acquire copies of the first two keys. Since those two keys were in the hands of bank executive Trent and bank manager Fowlers, the movie allowed peeks into the lives of an early Victorian family and a Victorian bachelor, all from the upper-middle-classes. These scenes included one featuring Pierce's wooing of Trent's only daughter, while riding along Hyde Park's Rotten Row, a popular riding spot for upper and middle-class Londoners; and another featuring Miriam's seduction of the always lustful Fowler inside an exclusive London bordello.
Another aspect of "THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY" that I enjoyed was its production values. Crichton and producer John Foreman had gathered a first-rate crew for this movie. There were four aspects of the movie's production values that I enjoyed . . . somewhat. I certainly had no problem with Maurice Carter's production designs for the movie. I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating Victorian London - especially in crowd scenes like the Rotten Row sequence, the bordello and the railway station. I also enjoyed Jerry Goldsmith's score. Although I did not find it particularly memorable, I thought it blended well with various scenes throughout the movie and was original enough in a jaunty way. I have slightly mixed feelings about Anthony Mendleson's costume designs. On one hand, I thought many of them - especially those for the male characters - wonderfully recaptured the fashion styles of the mid-1850s. My feelings regarding his designs for the female characters were another matter. There were some designs that I admired very much - especially those for the Pamela Trent and Emily Trent characters. Yet, I found those designs for Lesley-Anne Down's character rather theatrical. I also have mixed about Geoffrey Unsworth's cinematography. On one hand, I found many of the film's wide shots - especially in many of the exterior shots - rather colorful and beautiful. Unfortunately . . . I also noticed that Unsworth's photography seemed to project this hazy film, indicating that the movie was a period drama. Personally, I found this . . . haze rather annoying and a bit detrimental to the movie's sharp colors.
I can only recall at least three or four sequences that might be considered action-oriented. Three of them involved the "Clean Willie" character and I found them well shot by Crichton. The fourth action sequence - the actual train robbery - was also well shot by Crichton. The problem is that I am not a big fan of the actual robbery sequence. What can I say? It bored me. I could explain that I am becoming less tolerant of action sequences in my old age. But if I must be honest, I never really liked this sequence when I first saw it when I was a lot younger. There is nothing like an actual action sequence on top a train to bore the living daylights out of me. It was not Crichton's fault. This is simply a case of my personal preferences.
I certainly had no problems with the cast. Sean Connery was the perfect embodiment of middle-age debonair as the charismatic, clever and occasionally ruthless criminal mastermind, Edward Pierce. I would not exactly regard this role as a challenge for him. But he seemed to be enjoying himself. The role of Pierce's mistress, Miriam, seemed to be quite rare for Lesley-Anne Down. I can only recall her portraying a similar character in another heist film that released the same year. Personally, I thought she did a great job portraying Miriam not only as a sexy paramour for Pierce, but also as an equally intelligent and talented partner-in-crime.
The movie also featured some interesting performances from Malcolm Terris as the lustful bank manager Henry Fowler with a penchant for prostitutes. Michael Elphick was effective as the cool and collected bank guard Burgess, who accepts Pierce's bribe to be a part of the heist. Gabrielle Lloyd gave an interesting performance as Edgar Trent's rather stuffy and plain daughter Elizabeth whom Pierce pretends to court. And Pamela Salem gave a sly performance as Elizabeth's stepmother Emily Trent, who hides her lust for Pierce with a cool attitude and pointed comments. Other fine supporting performances came from Alan Webb, Wayne Sleep, Robert Lang and André Morell.
"What about Donald Sutherland?" many might be thinking. Why was he left out of the praise? Trust me, he was not. If I must be honest, Sutherland gave my favorite performance in the film. I really enjoyed his colorful take on the witty and sly pickpocket/screwsman Robert Agar. However, I do have one complaint to make . . . and it not about Sutherland's performance. As I had just stated, I found it very enjoyable. But I had read somewhere that the real Agar was more or less the brains behind the bank robbery. Also, Crichton had somewhat "dumbed down" the character in his 1975 novel and in the movie. I noticed, while watching the film that Sutherland's Agar seemed to flip-flop between an intelligent criminal and a buffoon. Personally, I found this inconsistent and unnecessary . . . especially for a successful criminal like Agar.
Yes, I have a few quibbles regarding "THE FIRST GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY". And if I must be honest, it is not a great favorite of mine. But I certainly do not regarding it as a mediocre piece of filmaking. In fact, I thought it was not only an excellent movie, but also rather original for a period piece. Michael Crichton may not have been that faithful to what actually happened during the "Great Gold Robbery of 1855", but I found his fictionalized account rather exciting. And the movie was topped by fine performances from a cast led by Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down.
Thursday, November 30, 2017
"ROGER MOORE AS JAMES BOND"
I always found it odd that many Bond fans tend to dismiss Roger Moore’s performances as a non-threatening Bond. While watching the "Special Features"segment for my "CASINO ROYALE" DVD, I saw the "Bond Girls Are Forever" segment in which Jane Seymour described her character’s relationship with Moore’s Bond. From what she and Maud Adams had said, I got the distinct impression that in his own way, Moore’s Bond was just as ruthless as the other Bonds.
Unlike his fellow Bond actors, Moore’s ruthlessness usually did not involve grittiness of any kind or overt menace. Judging from Seymour’s description of Moore’s Bond and my own memories, I suspect that Moore’s ruthlessness was a lot more subtle, but equally cold-blooded. I believe that Moore had portrayed Bond as a manipulative and cold-blooded cad, who would use anyone to achieve his goal … while smiling in their faces or whispering soft words. And thinking about this made me realize that Moore’s portrayal of Bond had more than just tongue-in-cheek humor. He had portrayed a Bond that turned out to be very unique from the others. Perhaps the other Bonds have used or manipulated others (think of Bond’s use of Solange in "CASINO ROYALE"), but they have never done it with such cold-blooded style as Moore.
Roger Moore had first been considered for the role of James Bond back in 1961 or early 1962, about a year before he began his six-year run as another British literary icon … Simon Templar aka "THE SAINT". He eventually took over the Bond role from Sean Connery in 1972 and his first movie became 1973’s "LIVE AND LET DIE". Moore would spend the next twelve years portraying the British agent. And during that period, he would gain the reputation of being a lightweight Bond – one who resorted to jokes, light charm and gadgets, instead of ruthlessness and sheer grit. A reputation – in my opinion – that I believe was unfairly dumped on him.
Whereas other actors who have portrayed Bond (Connery, Dalton and Craig, especially) tend to show the agent’s more ruthless side in gritty action sequences and overt violence, Moore’s take on Bond’s ruthlessness tend to be a little more subtle. Moore has shown Bond’s grittier side in movies like "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN" and "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY". However, his grittiness more plausible in the 1981 film, in which he did not seem bent upon impersonating Connery like he did in the 1974 film. However, subtlety and caddish behavior seemed to be the hallmark of Moore’s performance. And here are a few examples (if you know of any more, please let me know):
*In "LIVE AND LET DIE", he deliberately tricked Solitaire into believing they were destined to be lovers, so that he could have sex with her and manipulate her into revealing all about Kanaga’s operation. One of the low moments in Bond’s career.
*Also in "LALD", Bond unceremoniously shoved a shark pellet into Kanaga’s mouth, causing the latter to expand before blowing up. Rather cruel way to kill someone.
*In "THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN", he seduced fellow MI-6 agent, Mary Goodnight into spending the night with him. But when Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders, comes knocking at his door, he forced Goodnight to hide in a nearby closet, while he has sex with Anders. Hmmmm . . .
*Also in "TMWTGG", Bond offered a young Thai boy to fix his boat engine for money. When the boy and asks for his payment, Bond shoved the kid into the water. That was . . . pretty shitty.
*In "THE SPY WHO LOVED ME", Bond started to enjoy the favors of a young woman that was hired to distract him at Fekkish’s home. But when he saw that Sandor is about to kill him, he used the young woman as a human shied. This is debatable, since there are those who believe that she simply became an accidental target.
*Also in "TSWLM", Bond shoved Sandor off a roof, after the latter grudgingly gives him the information that he needs. And later, he shot an unarmed Karl Stromberg in the chest . . . four times.
*In "MOONRAKER", Bond sexually seduced one of Drax’s employees, Corine Dufour, so that she could lead him to Drax’s personal safe for information. This action eventually led to Corine’s death at the jaws of a pair of Dobermans. I can only assume that Bond never realized the consequences of his actions.
*Finally in "FOR YOUR EYES ONLY", Bond shot Emile Loque in the shoulder, forcing the Belgian hitman to swerve to the edge of a cliff. In what is considered to be a very celebrated scene, Bond slowly sauntered over and kicked Loque’s car over the cliff.
I tried to think of any real cold-blooded acts on Bond’s part, in Moore’s last two films - "OCTOPUSSY" and "A VIEW TO A KILL", but I was unable to. Perhaps by 1982 or 1983, Moore had slowly become aware of the fact that his Bond was a lot more cold-blooded than he had originally intended. Or perhaps his Bond had matured into a man who realized that he did not need to resort to cold-blooded and caddish acts to complete his assignment. Who knows?
But I hope that this puts an end to the idea that Roger Moore’s Bond was simply some light and sophisticated man who seemed more concerned with jokes and beautiful women. Because from what I have seen from most of Moore’s films, his Bond seemed quite capable of being ruthless. Perhaps he was not as gritty as the likes of Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, but Moore’s Bond could be quite a dangerous and cold-blooded man.
R.I.P. Sir Roger Moore (October 14, 1927 - May 23, 2017)
Monday, November 27, 2017
Below are images from "FORT APACHE", the 1948 adaptation of James Warner Bellah's 1947 short story, "Massacre". Directed by John Ford, the movie starred John Wayne and Henry Fonda:
"FORT APACHE" (1948) Photo Gallery
Thursday, November 23, 2017
"HALLOWE'EN PARTY" (2010) Review
Many years have passed since I last read Agatha Christie's 1969 novel, "Hallowe'en Party". Although it is not considered one of Christie's better novels, the story possessed a style that struck me as rich and atmospheric. I never forgot it. So, when I learned about ITV's 2010 adaptation of the novel, I could not wait to see it.
Directed by Charles Palmer and adapted by actor Mark Gatiss (who appeared in 2008's "APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH"), "HALLOWE'EN PARTY" begins with mystery author Adrianne Oliver visiting a friend named Judith Butler in the small village of Woodleigh Common. Because Mrs. Butler has a young daughter named Melinda, the two women accompany her to a children's Halloween party being held at the home of a widow named Rowena Drake. A young girl named Joyce Reynolds announce that she had once witnessed a murder. Everyone assumes she is lying. A few hours later, Joyce is found drowned in a tub filled with water and bobbing apples. Determined to learn the identity of Joyce's murder, Mrs. Oliver summons another friend, Belgian-born detective to Woodleigh Commons to solve the murder. During his investigation of Joyce's murder, Poirot uncovers a series of murders, mysterious deaths and disappearances that the thirteen year-old girl may have witnessed.
I might as well be perfectly frank. I do not consider "HALLOWE'EN PARTY" to be one of the better written Christie adaptations I have seen. Ironically, the fault does not lay with screenwriter Mark Gatiss. I believe he did the best he could with the material given to him. But I believe that Christie's 1969 novel was not one of her better works. I will be even franker. "HALLOWE'EN PARTY" nearly worked as a mystery. But looking back on it, I realized that it was one of those mysteries that I found easy to solve. Poirot's investigation into past murders, suspicious deaths and disappearances at Woodleigh Common made the story somewhat easy to solve. Even worse, the murderer was nearly revealed some ten minutes before Poirot revealed his solution to the case. Like 2008's "APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH" and 2010's "MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS", "HALLOWE'EN PARTY" also touched on the subject of religion. Thankfully, Gatiss managed to keep the subject of religion on a subtle level - including the topic of paganism.
"Hallowe'en Party" was published in 1969 and heavily reflected the late 1960s. I cannot deny that this television adaptation looked very handsome, thanks to Jeff Tessler's production designs, Cinders Forshaw's photography and Sheena Napier's costume designs. All three did an exceptional job of transporting viewers to a small English village in the late 1930s and capturing the mysterious atmosphere of Halloween. I only have two complaints about this. Despite the first-rate 1930s setting, I wish that the movie had been given the novel's original late 1960s setting. I believe this story was more suited for this particular setting. Also, I wish that both Palmer and Gatiss had not included sounds of children chanting "Snap, Snap, Snap", whenever a lone character seemed to be in a threatening situation. These chants brought back annoying memories of a handful of old "POIROT" movies from the 1990s that featured titles from nursery rhymes.
The saving grace of "HALLOWE'EN PARTY" proved to be the cast. David Suchet was in top form as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. I found his portrayal subtle, humorous and intelligent. Frankly, I consider his performance to be one of his better efforts in the past three or four years. Many "POIROT" fans have bemoaned the lack of Hugh Fraser as Arthur Hastings during the past decade. As much as I had enjoyed Fraser's portrayal, I did not miss him that much, thanks to Zoë Wanamaker's portrayal of Adrianne Oliver, a mystery author who became one of Poirot's closest friends. I have already seen Wanamaker's previous takes on the Adrianne Oliver character in other "POIROT" episodes. She was marvelous in those episodes and I can say the same about her performance in this one. Also, she and Suchet made a surprisingly effective and humorous screen team.
The supporting cast featured interesting performances from acting veterans. There was Timothy West, whose portrayal of Woodleigh Commons' vicar, struck me as wonderfully subtle and complex. Eric Sykes, whom I remembered from the "DARING YOUNG MEN" movies of the 1960s, was in fine form as the elderly solicitor Mr. Fullerton. Fenella Woolgar made a poignant Elizabeth Whittaker, a local schoolteacher who continued to mourn the death of a potential lover. Sophie Thompson gave an interesting, yet slightly melodramatic performance as the religious mother of the dead Joyce, Mrs. Reynolds. I must say that I was surprised that Julian Rhind-Tutt managed to keep it together and prevent his portrayal of landscape gardener, Michael Garfield, from becoming hammy. Mind you, Rhind-Tutt has been more than capable of giving a subtle performance in other productions. But Michael Garfield is somewhat of a showy character. The movie also benefitted from solid performances from the likes of Amelia Bullmore, Phyllida Law, Mary Higgins, Ian Hallard and Georgia King. However, I believe that Deborah Findlay gave the best performance in the movie, aside from Suchet and Wanamaker. She was subtle, yet superb as the ladylike, yet pushy widow Rowena Drake, whose home served as the setting for the opening murder.
I would not consider "HALLOWE'EN PARTY" to be one of the better Christie stories. As I had stated earlier, I believe its main flaws originated from the author's 1969 novel. However, both director Charles Palmer and screenwriter Mark Gatiss did the best they could. Their efforts were not able to overcome Christie's narrative flaws. But I believe they still managed to provide television audiences with an entertaining and atmospheric story, with the help of a first-rate cast led by David Suchet.