Monday, October 16, 2017

"THE GLASS KEY" (1935) Review




"THE GLASS KEY" (1935) Review

Years ago, I watched the 1942 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's 1930-31 novel called "The Glass Key". At the time, I had no idea that there had been a previous adaptation. Then I stumbled across one - produced and released by the same movie studio, Paramount Pictures, back in 1935. 

"THE GLASS KEY" told the story of Ed Beaumont, a gambler and the brainy aide of a crooked political boss named Paul Madvig. The latter plans to support the political campaign of the corrupt Senator John T. Henry and marry the latter's daughter Janet. Unfortunately, the senator's son, Taylor Henry, is a gambling addict who is in debt to a gangster named Shad O'Rory, a gangster whose club Paul intends to put out of business. Also, Taylor has been romancing Paul's younger sister, Opal Madvig, much to the political boss' dismay. When Ed finds Taylor's dead body not far from Paul's home, everyone begins to suspect him of murder. Ed begins an investigation to discover Taylor's true killer, much to the displeasure of not only O'Rory, but also the Henry family and Paul.

I have read a few reviews of "THE GLASS KEY". Most of the reviews seemed to be of the opinion that it is more of a film noir than the 1942 version. To be honest, I did not make a big deal of trying to determine how much of a noir movie it was. I was too busy trying to maintain my interest in the story. What can I say? The plot seemed pretty damn good. And screenwriters Kathryn Scola and Kubec Glascom, along with dialogue scribe Harry Ruskin did a very solid job of adapting Hammett's novel. Sure, they made a few nips and tucks in the narrative. But overall, I had no real problems with the story. 

The performances in "THE GLASS KEY" struck me as pretty solid. I thought the most memorable performances came from Edward Arnold as political boss Paul Madvig, Claire Dodd as Janet Henry, Guinn Williams as the O'Rory thug Jeff, and Ray Milland as the privileged and weak senator's son, Paul Henry. All gave very interesting performances. Rosalind Keith, Charles Richman and Robert Glecker also gave solid performances as Opal Madvig, Senator Henry and Shad O'Rory. One would notice that I have not said anything about lead actor George Raft. Before one assumes that I have a low opinion of his performance . . . I do not. I thought he did a pretty solid job, even if there were moments he came off as slightly wooden. He certainly did a pretty good job in carrying the film.

So, if I had no problems with the movie's narrative and the acting . . . why did I find it so difficult to maintain my interesting in the film? I have to lay most of the blame on director Frank Tuttle. I found his direction of the film rather dull and lifeless. Boring. It is a miracle that the cast managed to rise above his insipid direction. In fact, I find it a crime that a director could make a movie with a first-rate narrative and an eighty minute running time so dull and slow. Even the famous scene in which Ed Beaumont suffered a beating at the hands of Jeff the Thug came off as slightly dull.

Another problem I had with "THE GLASS KEY" proved to be its production values. Just because a movie has been labeled as a film noir does not mean I had to spend most of the film trying to make out the shapes and figures on the screen. There were plenty of moments when I could barely make out the images on the screen, due to Henry Sharp's photography. I found it incredibly dark at times. Sharp's dim photography was not helped by Hans Dreier and A. Earl Hedrick's art direction for this film. I was less than impressed by the film's production designs and art direction. The entire film looked as if it had been produced as an off-Broadway stage play. I have seen Warner Brothers B-movies released three or four years earlier that looked more prestigious. When one combines dark photography with less-than-mediocre production designs, well . . . it does not look good for a movie based upon a first-rate novel by Dashiell Hammett.

"THE GLASS KEY" had plenty of virtues to offer - solid and excellent acting from a cast led by George Raft, and first-rate adaptation of Hammett's novel. It seems a pity that those virtues seemed wasted by the movie's mediocre production values, a slow pacing and limpid direction by Frank Tuttle. Oh well. It has been years since I saw the 1942 version of Hammett's story. It would be interesting to see how it fares in compare to this film.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

"POLDARK" Series Two (2016): Episodes Five to Ten




"POLDARK" SERIES TWO (2016): EPISODES FIVE TO TEN

Sometime ago, I had expressed my feelings about "POLDARK", the 1975 adaptation of Winston Graham's 1953 novel, "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793". Needless to say, my opinions were not overall positive. Then I focused my attention of Debbie Horsfield's recent adaptation of the novel. Considering the writer/television producer's boast that this new adaptation would be more faithful to Graham's literary saga, I found myself wondering how she would handle the writer's most contoverisal entry in his series. 

Series Two of the new "POLDARK" stretched out in ten episodes. While the first four adapted the 1950 novel, "Jeremy Poldark: A Novel in Cornwall, 1790-1791" the last six episodes adapted "Warleggan". Episode Five focused on the last months of the life of Francis Poldark, protagonist Ross Poldark's cousin - his emotional reconciliation with his wife, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark; his duties as a local magistrate; and his excitement over his investment in the Poldark family's revived Wheal Grace. In the end, it was Francis' interest in Wheal Grace and a possible copper lode that led him down into the mine and to his death by drowning.

Despite its tragic ending, I must confess that Episode Five might possibly be my favorite one from Series Two. In a way, it represented the "calm before the storm" that eventually overwhelmed the lives of Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth and other characters. Unlike certain fans of the saga, I never had a problem with the "storm" that overwhelmed the main characters in this chapter of the saga. I never had a problem, as long as it was well-written. And I believe Episode Five was truly a fantastic one, thanks to Debbie Horsfield's writing and Kyle Soller's last and superb performance as Francis Poldark. Episode Five also featured an engagement party in which Ray Penvenen held for his niece Caroline and her foppish fiance, a politician named Unwin Trevaunance. During this party, Elizabeth had quietly confessed in a misguided moment that she still harbored feelings for Ross and sometimes regret marrying Francis in the first place. It was a moment that would rear its ugly head, later in the season. As for the episode itself, it seemed to be the only one featuring the adaptation of "Warleggan" that really impressed me. Because Horsfield's adaptation of the "storm" proved to be very disappointing to me. And I truly missed Soller's presence in the series after this.

Following Francis' death, Episodes Six to Ten focused on a collection of story arcs:

*Ross's continuing financial struggles
*Ross' continuing attempts to wield riches from the Wheal Grace mine
*the courtship between Ross' close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys and heiress Caroline Penvenen
*Elizabeth's financial struggles to manage the debt-ridden Trenwith estate
*Antagonist George Warleggan's attempts to woo the widowed Elizabeth
*Ross and Elizabeth's close relationship and its effect upon Demelza


Despite the six hundred pounds investment he had received from his cousin Francis for Wheal Grace, Ross continued to struggle with finding a cache of copper. And because of this failure, his financial problems continued to persist for the next several episodes. At one point, Ross found himself on the brink of financial disaster when his nemesis George Warleggan had purchased the promissory note he had signed after borrowing money from his banker, Harris Peascoe. Worse, Wheal Grace proved to be an unsafe working environment and collapsed, causing the deaths of two workers. And all because Ross was desperate to find the copper he believed would alleviate his financial woes. 

Many fans and critics seemed to lack the patience to watch Ross struggle financially. They seemed more interested in his personal - especially his romantic - life. In a way, I could understand. But I thought Debbie Horsfield handled his financial struggles rather well. However, I was annoyed by two things. One, his mine workers seemed very reluctant to blame him for the Wheal Grace accident. I get the feeling that Horsfield seemed reluctant as well. I admire the fact that she allowed Ross to feel remorse for the accident. But I found it unrealistic that not one Poldark miner was willing to blame Ross, let alone resent him for failing to provide a safe working environment for them. This whole scenario smacked of some management-worker fantasy in order to make Ross look good in the eyes of the fans. As icing on the cake, Horsfield made sure - in a ham-fisted scene - that series villain George Warleggan criticized Ross over the Wheal Grace disaster. If it had been someone else, chances are the audience would be more inclined to criticize Ross. 

Unsure over the value of Wheal Grace, Ross made a quick trip to the Isles of Scilly to seek out the fugitive Mark Daniels, the miner who had murdered his wife near the end of Series One. I wish I could say that I found this sequence rather interesting. But to be honest, it lacked the pathos of the 1975 adaptation. Frankly, I have to blame actor Matthew Wilson. For me, he simply failed to convey Mark's guilt and grief over his wife's murder with any real poignancy or effectiveness. The only interesting aspect of this story arc proved to be Ross' return to Cornwall, where he found himself in the middle of a situation between the local smugglers using his cove as a landing spot and the militia. Frankly, I found it more than satisfying and rather exciting. The sequence ended on an exciting note with the death of informer Charlie Kempthorne. Ross managed to avoid the consequences of that night and his role in the smuggling by committing perjury in court and buying witnesses to do the same on his behalf. Unfortunately, poor Dwight Enys not only angered his blue-blooded fiancée by failing to rendezvous for their elopement, the local court fined him fifty pounds for starting a bonfire - which had alerted the smugglers to the presence of the militia. 

In the end, a series of events helped Ross and Demelza rise above their poverty-stricken state. One, Caroline Penvenen secretly provided Ross with two thousand pounds, enabling him to pay off the promissory note that George had purchased from Harris Peascoe and prevent the former from eventually taking possession of the Nampara estate. Ross finally struck a lode withing the Wheal Grace . . . but it proved to be tin, not copper. And a neighbor to whom Ross had lent money years ago repaid his debt and allowed Ross to become an investor in his business. By Episode Ten, I came to the conclusion that Ross was not exactly an exceptional businessman and estate manager. It seemed pretty obvious that sheer blind luck was responsible his rising fortune by Episode Ten.

I realize that I had earlier stated that Episode Five was the last time I truly enjoyed Series Two. Well . . . perhaps not. I had no troubles watching the circumstances involving Ross, Elizabeth, Demelza and George unfold. And unlike the 1970s series, this current series did not rush through a good deal of the narrative in order to reach the sequence involving Ross' return to Cornwall on the night of the smugglers' conflict with the militia. I suspect that is due to the fact that the 1975 adaptation of "Warleggan"had stretched through four episodes and the 2016 adaptation stretched through six.

Amidst the turmoil that seemed to engulf the Poldark family and George Warleggan, the romance between the lowly-born Dr. Dwight Enys and upper-class heiress Caroline Penvenen continued its rocky path. Although the pair finally managed to admit their love for one another and become engaged (behind the back of Caroline's uncle, Ray Penvenen). They even managed to form a plan to elope on the night of Ross' arrival from France. However, their plans went nowhere when Dwight ditched them in order to warn the smugglers that a local named Charlie Kempthorne had ratted them out to Captain McNeil and the militia. Do not get me wrong. I do believe that Luke Norris and Gabriella Wilde have some kind of chemistry together. The problem is that I found it difficult to really care about their relationship. The problem was . . . Wilde. She did not strike me as a charismatic actress. There were times when I found her performance rather stiff and rote-like. Even when her character had expressed disappointment and anger over Dwight's failure to rendezvous for an elopement, Wilde did not seemed to be selling these emotions with any real conviction. Series Two ended on a happy note for Dwight and Caroline, when Ross arranged their reconciliation before Dwight was scheduled to set sail with the Royal Navy. Sometime earlier, the War of the First Coalition had started, the first of several conflicts between Great Britain and France for the next twenty years or so.

Ross and Demelza were not the only members of the Poldark family who struggled financially. With Francis dead, Elizabeth and the other inhabitants at Trenwith found themselves in a financial bind. The six hundred pounds that Francis had received from George Warleggan were invested in Wheal Grace. This left Elizabeth cash poor and unable to hire a bailiff to manage the Trenwith estate. She could not manage it, due being only trained to manage a household as mistress of the house. Thanks to Ross' never ending infatuation with her, he seemed willing to help her manage the estate every now and again. He even provided her and Geoffrey Charles with six hundred pounds from the money he had acquired through the sale of his remaining shares of Wheal Leisure. I believe these acts were Ross' way of attempting to rekindle the romance between himself and Elizabeth, now that Francis was gone. Ross became so focused upon Elizabeth that he failed to notice Demelza's growing awareness and concerns over his visits to Trenwith. But Ross was not the only one interested in romance with Elizabeth. George Warleggan, who has harbored romantic feelings for her since the beginning of the series, finally decided to make his move with her. At first, he used tentative steps - the occasional friendly visit to Trenwith, offering her advice on handling the estate's employees and tenants and presenting gifts to young Geoffrey Charles. The only fly in George's ointment was Francis' great-Aunt Agatha Poldark, who disliked him just as much as he disliked her.

As much as I had enjoyed parts of the adaptation of "Warleggan", it was not perfect. And where did it all go wrong for me? Well, the first hint occurred when Demelza complained to her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey about Ross ignoring her in favor of visits to Elizabeth. And what did Verity do? Talk to Ross about Demelza, which would have been the sensible and direct thing to do? No. She visited Elizabeth at Trenwith and gently convinced her sister-in-law to spend less time with Ross. Sigh. How passive-aggressive. And sexist. Matters grew worse with Horsfield's ridiculous portrayal of Elizabeth as some incompetent woman incapable of maintaining the Trenwith estate matters. This was utterly ridiculous. As a woman and a member of the upper-class, Elizabeth was probably trained by her mother to be the wife of a landowner - namely manage the household of an estate manor. She was never trained to manage an estate or a mine. The same could be said for Verity and Caroline. And although Demelza, who was born into the working-class, could manage a smaller house without servants; also knew nothing about managing an estate. But thanks to Horsfield, only Elizabeth's lack of experience in this matter was emphasized.

It grew worse. Horsfield treated viewers to this ridiculous sequence involving George Warleggan hiring some local thugs to frighten Elizabeth by squatting on Trenwith land. He hoped that this would finally drive Elizabeth to being opened to the idea of becoming Mrs. George Warleggan. I found this incredibly heavy-handed and unnecessary. In the novel, Elizabeth had already begun considering George as a potential spouse, thanks to her financial situation. Apparently, Horsfield thought Elizabeth required a more direct (and heavy-handed) reason to depend more on George. And why did she not turn to Ross? Well . . . she did. She had sent a note to Ross explaining the situation. And here, matters became very silly and childish. The Poldarks' housekeeper, Prudie Paynter, did not bother to hand over the note to Demelza. Ross was at the Isles of Scilly at the time. The entire scenario smacked of a scene from a teen romance novel. A desperate Elizabeth appeared at Nampara asked for Ross' whereabouts. Prudie kept her mouth shut and said nothing about keeping the note. And a cold and obviously jealous Demelza merely informed Elizabeth that the note was never received and Ross was away on business. Both Demelza and Prudie were so busy regarding Elizabeth as "the enemy" that they were obviously too stupid to notice Elizabeth's desperate air. In the end, the latter turned to George to deal with the squatters. From George hiring thugs to squat on Trenwith land to Elizabeth's desperate visit to Nampara - this was one of the silliest and unnecessary sequences I have ever seen in this series.

Then came Episode Eight, which I now regard as the nadir of this "POLDARK" series . . . so far. Earlier in the episode, Demelza encountered Elizabeth in Truro, where the following exchange occurred:

Elizabeth: I’ve been meaning to call upon you to thank you for your kindness these past few months.

Demelza: In lending you my husband?

Elizabeth: . . . in a manner of speaking.

Demelza: Oh, you’re welcome to him, just so long as you remember where he belongs and send him back to me when you’re done with him.


While many viewers were hooting with laughter at Elizabeth's expense or raising their fists in the air crying, "Demelza! You go girl!", I merely rolled my eyes in disgust. One, this scene was never in "Warleggan". Two, once again, Debbie Horsfield managed to slut shame Elizabeth in preparation for what happened later in the episode. And three, she managed to make Demelza look like a passive-aggressive bitch. Good going, Ms. Horsfield!

But what happened between Demelza and Elizabeth was nothing in compare to what was to come. Mrs. Chynoweth, Elizabeth's mother, fell ill and the latter realized she would have to care for her mother. At long last, George proposed marriage, promising both his riches and to clear the Trenwith estate of any debts for Geoffrey Charles. A very desperate Elizabeth accepted and very reluctantly, wrote a letter to Ross, informing him of her engagement. For once, Prudie did not withhold this second letter from Elizabeth and handed it over to Ross. Well, we all know what happened. He lost his temper and ignoring Demelza's pleas, rode over to Trenwith in the middle of the night to end Elizabeth's engagement to George.

The one good thing I could say about this scene between Ross and Elizabeth is that it featured outstanding performances from both Aidan Turner and Heida Reed. I found it interesting that only a few people managed to notice. Otherwise, I loathed it. The novel's version of this scene was ugly enough, considering what Ross did to Elizabeth. But Horsfield's version of the scene was uglier. As in the novel, Ross broke into the house, ignored Elizabeth's protests and confronted her inside her bedroom. He tried to slut shame hr Then he forced himself upon her with kisses and later, forced her on the bed with the intent to rape her. Before he could rape her, Elizabeth embraced Ross, signalling her consent to have sex with him. What made this scene so ugly to me? By having Elizabeth consent at the last moment, Debbie Horsfield seemed to be endorsing the concept of "Rape Fantasy". I had never felt so disgusted in my life.

With the exception of one particular scene, Horsfield provided others following the Ross/Elizabeth scene that either annoyed or disgusted me. Upon Ross' return to Nampara the following morning, Demelza greeted him with a punch to the face and a great deal of hostility. The only aspect of this scene that would have made me cheer was Eleanor Tomlinson's first-rate performance. In the end, I could not because this scene was never in the novel. Worse, Horsfield used this scene to transform Demelza from a passive-aggressive bitch to an anachronistic character. Sigh! In the novel, Elizabeth was reluctant to proceed with her marriage to George, due to the trauma of being raped. At the same time, she wanted Ross to explain himself and apologize . . . which never happened. In Episode Nine, Horsfield attempted to solidify Elizabeth's guilt by having her spend her days at Trenwith, waiting for Ross to leave Demelza for her, thanks to Agatha Poldark's ludicrous suggestion that Ross might actually do this. Despite Caroline Blakiston's very skillful performance, Agatha Poldark proved to be very annoying to me, throughout this entire season. In the end, Elizabeth married George. 

Demelza, on the other hand, made the misguided decision to punish Ross by attending a house party given by that old lech, Sir Hugh Bodrugan and engage in revenge sex with Captain McNeil of the militia. Remember that one scene of which I had no problems? Well, it was not Sir Hugh's party. Unlike the 1975 version, it seemed to lack any atmosphere whatsoever of a debauched late Georgian party. Instead, the party sequence seemed to consist of every man admiring Demelza's beauty and desiring her, transforming her into television's ultimate Mary Sue. In the end, Demelza and McNeil retired to a room, where she decided that she did not want to engage in revenge sex, after all. Unlike the 1975 version, which featured McNeil attempting to rape Demelza, this version closely followed Graham's novel by having McNeil deciding not to force himself on her. For once, Horsfield did the right thing. Like Graham, she was willing to show that unlike Ross Poldark, here was a man capable of not forcing himself on a woman. 

Unfortunately, Episode Ten returned to the revised crap that Horsfield had inflicted upon Graham's saga. Like the producers of the 1975 series, Horsfield had Demelza contemplating leaving Ross for his infidelity and lack of remorse. Worse, she planned to return to her father's home . . . with young Jeremy. Was this scene in Graham's novel? I do not remember. I do know that she would have never gotten away with taking Jeremy with her to Tom Carne's home. As a man and a member of the landed gentry in the late 18th century, Ross could have easily used the courts to stop her. And I doubt very much that he would have tolerated Jeremy being raised in his father-in-law's household. He detested Tom Carne's bullying and religious fanaticism too much. Once again, Horsfield transformed Demelza into an anachronistic character. And like the 1975 series, Horsfield allowed Trenwith to be threatened by a mob after George had the estate closed off from its tenant farmers. This sequence began with Demelza confronting the newly married Elizabeth in the woods and slut shaming the latter for what happened on the night of May 9, 1793. Again, this was not in Graham's novel. I found it misogynistic and unnecessary. And I suspect that Horsfield added another ham-fisted scene to solidify Elizabeth guilty of adultery in the viewers' eyes.

In the end, the mob led by Jud Paynter did not burn down Trenwith. Demelza arrived at the Warleggans' home to warn them about the mob. Horsfield had Ross behave like romance novel hero and appear at Trenwith - on a white horse (ugh!) - to prevent Demelza from getting swept up by the mob and to prevent the latter from burning Trenwith and harming the Warleggan newlyweds. By the time Episode Ten ended with another scene straight from a romance novel. It featured Ross and Demelza reconciling near the edge of a cliff . . . again. Ugh. 

Episodes Five to Ten, which featured the adaptation of Graham's 1953 novel, "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793", had started on such a promising note. But since the novel was controversial, due to the saga's protagonist becoming a rapist, producer Debbie Horsfield and the BBC slowly transformed the adaptation of the novel into a pile of shit. Like their 1975 predecessors, Horsfield and the BBC lacked the balls to closely adhere to Winston Graham's ambiguous portrayal of Ross Poldark. The worst they were willing to do was simply portray him as an adulterer. Because of this, Episodes Five to Ten of Series Two for "POLDARK"seemed to be filled with heavy-handed revisions of Graham's novel and a rape fantasy scene that left me feeling completely disgusted.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE" (2000) Photo Gallery



Below are images from "THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE", the 2000 adaptation of Steven Pressfield's 1995 novel, "The Legend of Bagger Vance: A Novel of Golf and the Game of Life". Directed by Robert Redford, the movie starred Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron: 


"THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE" (2000) Photo Gallery


































































































Friday, October 6, 2017

"THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" (1991) Review

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"THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" (1991) Review

The late Joan Hickson starred as Miss Jane Marple in her 11th movie that featured the elderly sleuth, created by Agatha Christie. The movie in question was "THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS", an adaptation of Christie's 1952 novel. 

While paying a visit to her old friend, the American-born Ruth Van Rydock, Miss Jane Marple is asked to visit the other woman's younger sister, Carrie Louise Serrocold. All three women were friends at the same school in Italy when they were girls. Ruth is worried that something is very wrong at Stonygates, the Victorian mansion where Carrie Louise lives with her husband Lewis Serrocold. She fears that Carrie Louise may be in danger of some kind. Ruth asks Miss Marple to find out what is going on. Miss Marple learns that Stonygates has been converted into a home for delinquent boys by Serrocold, who is devoted to the idea of reforming these boys. Christian Gulbrandsen, Carrie Louise's stepson from her first marriage and a member of the Stonygates Board of Trustees, everyone assumes he is there for a business meeting with Serrocold. The latter finally admits to Miss Marple that Later that evening, the visiting Ruth decides to show an old film of her, Carrie Louise and Miss Marple in Italy; when one of Stonybrook's boys, an uber-nervous type named Edgar Lawson interrupts the festivities to accuse Serrocold of being his real father. While they quarreled in another room, the fuse to the house blows out. Within minutes, Gulbrandsen's visit takes a tragic turn when he is found dead - shot in the head - inside his bedroom. Miss Marple, along with Chief Inspector Slack, scramble to find Gulbrandsen's murderer.

From the articles I have read on the Web, "THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" seemed to be highly regarded by many of Christie's fans. I wish I could share their sentiments, but I cannot. I am not saying that the movie was terrible. It seemed pretty decent to me. But it did not exactly rock my boat. At the moment, I cannot put my finger on it. There is something . . . weak about the plot. One, I did not find the setting of a Victorian manor converted into a home for delinquent boys that intriguing. I suppose one has to blame Christie for creating this setting in the first place. I suspect that she was out of her league. And two, the mystery itself - the murder of Christian Gulbrandsen - did not seem particularly complicated. Judging from the title and the details that led to his murder, I did not find it particularly difficult to guess the murderer's identity. And three, I thought the movie finished on a slightly weak note. After a murder attempt was made on another character, my attention to the movie gradually began to fade. I was not sleepy. My interest simply began to fade.

I also had a few problems with the cast. The characters of Carrie Louise Serrocold and Ruth van Rycock were portrayed by actresses Jean Simmons and Faith Brook. I had no problems with their performances. I thought both were first rate - especially Simmons, who captured Carrie Louise's vague and slightly fey personality just right. But both actresses were at least a good twenty years younger than Joan Hickson. And I found the idea of their characters coming from the same generation as Miss Marple rather ludicrous. I also had a problem with Todd Boyce's portrayal of Walter Rudd, Carrie Louise's American-born grandson-in-law. At first, I thought he was English born, because I found his American accent rather questionable. I was surprised to learn that he was born in Toledo, Ohio. His family had moved to Australia when he was 16. I think what really annoyed me was that whenever he opened his mouth to speak, I heard a few bars of Western music - to indicate that the character in question was an American. (Pardon me, while I indulge in an eye roll) Thankfully, the music ceased about halfway into the film and I found Boyce's performance a lot more enjoyable from then on.

"THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" also had its virtues. I must admit that the cast was first rate. Joss Ackland gave one of his more sympathetic performances as the well-meaning philanthropist who fears for his wife's safety. I have already commented upon Simmons, Brooks and Boyce. I was also impressed by Christopher and Jay Villiers, who gave enjoyable performances as the Restarick brothers - Carrie Louise's stepsons from her second marriage. I could say the same about Holly Aird, who portrayed Carrie Louise's granddaughter, Gina Rudd. And for the first time, I actually enjoyed David Horovitch's performance as recurring police sleuth, Chief Inspector Slack. However, I never understood the need to bring him back. I do not recall his character appearing in the novel. As for Joan Hickson, she was perfect as Jane Marple . . . as usual. In fact, she was a real class act in this film.

Personally, I feel that "THEY DO IT WITH MIRRORS" is somewhat overrated by today's Christie's fans. I found the plot rather unoriginal and a bit weak in the last thirty minutes. But it had a first-rate cast and decent production values. If you want a pleasant movie for a rainy Sunday afternoon, it might be the ticket for you.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Five Favorite Episodes of "THE MUSKETEERS" Season Two (2015)



Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season Two of "THE MUSKETEERS", the BBC's historical action-drama based on Alexandre Dumas, père's 1844 novel. Created by Adrian Hodges, the series stars Tom Burke, Santiago Cabrera, Howard Charles and Luke Pasqualino: 


FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "THE MUSKETEERS" SEASON TWO (2015)



1. (2.07) "A Marriage of Inconvenience" - In this episode, France's premier minister and former spy, Comte de Rochefort, uses an assassin to kill of members of King Louis XIII's council and advance his position at court; while he learns the truth about Queen Anne's past relationship with Musketeer Aramis.





2. (2.10) "Trial and Punishment" - In the season finale, Musketeers Athos and d'Artagnan rescue Constance from the executioner's sword; and with Treville they help Porthos to capture the Spanish spymaster Vargas. Meanwhile, Louis has signed Anne's death warrant, leading to a confrontation between Rochefort and the Musketeers.



 

3. (2.02) "An Ordinary Man" - Wanting to experience the life of an ordinary citizen, the King Louis accompanies the Musketeers on the streets of Paris . . . before he and Musketeer d'Artagnan are kidnapped by slave traders.





4. (2.09) "The Accused" - After being rebuffed by the Queen, Rochefort produces a fake letter from her to her brother, the King of Spain, in an effort to frame her for treason. Meanwhile; the royal physician, Dr. Lemay and the Queen's aide, Constance Bonacieux; are implicated in an attempt to poison the King.





5. (2.03) "The Good Traitor" - An ex-general from the Spanish army arrives in Paris to plead for help in rescuing his daughter, held by Spanish agents in Paris; in exchange for a coded formula and cypher machine of a deadly new gunpowder that the Spanish also want.

Monday, October 2, 2017

“DUNKIRK” (2017) Review

“DUNKIRK” (2017) Review

Looking back the World War II drama called “DUNKIRK”, I realized that I had made a few assumptions about it. One of those assumptions was that the movie would be a call back to those old war epics of the 1960s and 1970s that featured a running time between two to three hours long and an all-star cast. I was proved right … on one matter. 

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, “DUNKIRK” is about simply about one thing … the British Expeditionary Force (BEF)’s evacuation from Dunkirk, France. The BEF, along with the French Army had been forced to retreat to the city next to the English Channel in early June 1949, after failing to halt the German Army invasion of France. Although British, French and other European forces found themselves trapped at Dunkirk, Nolan’s movie mainly focused on the British troops awaiting evacuation.

Nolan wanted to convey the evacuation from three perspectives:

*the beach (“The Mole”)
*the English Channel (“The Sea”)
*aerial combat (“The Air”)


“The Mole” focused upon the efforts of a young British soldier named Tommy to survive as long as he could and get himself evacuated from Dunkirk as soon as possible. Tommy is eventually joined by a silent soldier who called himself “Gibson”, another soldier called Alex and a group of Scottish soldiers who make several attempts - using a wounded soldier, a ship that ends up being torpedoed by a German U-boat, and a Dutch trawler - to escape the beach in front of Dunkirk over a period of a week.

“The Sea” featured the experiences of a Mr. Dawson of Weymouth, England; along with his son Peter and the latter’s best friend George Mills as part of an armada of British civilian boats sent across the English Channel to help evacuate the trapped at Dunkirk. The experiences of the Moonstone’s crew, which takes place over a period of a day, included the journey across the Channel; their rescue of a shell-shocked Army officer, who was the sole survivor of a wrecked ship; an unexpected and tragic mishap between the officer and George; and the crew’s rescue of a downed R.A.F. pilot named Collins.

“The Air” followed the experiences of Collins, his fellow pilot Farrier and their leader, “Fortis Leader”. Due to the amount of fuel in their Spitfire fighter planes, the trio only have an hour to protect the evacuating troops from the Luftwaffe. “Fortis Leader” is immediately shot down during a dogfight. During the same fight, Farrier assumes command and his fuel gage is shattered. But when Collins is shot down during another dogfight, Farrier is left alone to protect the evacuating troops from the air … using a reserve tank of gas.

Another assumption I had formed before seeing this film was that the story was told in chronological order. Only I had failed to pay attention to the three different time spans that Nolan had conveyed at the beginning of each segment. So, after watching Mr. Dawson and his small crew rescue the shell-shocked officer, I was taken aback at the sight of the same officer preventing Tommy, Gibson and Alex from boarding his doomed ship from the mole (a long pier) later in the film. It was my sister who reminded me of the time differences of each segment. In other words, from their perspective, Tommy and his fellow evacuees had met the officer (who was far from shell-shocked at the time) later in the week they had spent on the French beach. From Mr. Dawson’s perspective, Peter and George had rescued the officer not long after their departure from England.

A part of me wondered if utilizing this non-linear narrative to tell this story was really necessary. Then it occurred to me … it is only natural that soldiers like Tommy would spend at least a week trapped on the beach. It was natural that the crew of the Moonstone would spend only a day traveling between England and France, across the Channel. And it was especially natural that pilots like Farrier and Collins would only spend at least an hour in the air, considering that they were limited by their fuel supply. And if Nolan had told his story in a rigid linear manner, he would have lacked enough time to focus on “The Sea” and “The Air”segments. Looking back on how Nolan handled the time span of his story, I found it very clever. More importantly, a sense of urgency seemed to increase as the three segments eventually converged near the end of the movie.

I also noticed that “DUNKIRK” had a running time of 106 minutes. This is completely different from other World War II dramas with an all-star cast. And yet, I was not even aware of this shorter running time. I became so engrossed in the film that I barely noticed how long or short it was. And if I must be frank, I am rather glad that the movie only ran less than two hours. I do not think I could have handled more than two hours of that film. It was so damn tense … and nerve wracking. The movie featured so many interesting and tense scenes.

Among those scenes include Flight Officer Collins being shot down over the English Channel and his efforts to free himself from his damaged Spitfire before he can drown. Another scene that nearly had me biting my nails featured Tommy, “Gibson” and Alex trying to escape a damaged ship after it had been torpedoed. A real nail biter proved to be the rescued shell-shocked officer’s encounter with the crew of the Moonstone. I found that sequence both tense and tragic. Ironically, the three most tension-filled scenes occurred in the movie’s last twenty to thirty minutes. One of those scene featured Tommy’s efforts to defend “Gibson”, who had revealed himself as a French soldier, from Alex and a group of Scottish troops inside a damaged Dutch trawler under fire by German troopers. I also found Farrier’s last dogfight against a German fighter rather tense to watch. Ironically, this dogfight led to another tense scene featuring Tommy and the other soldiers, as they try to reach a minesweeper and later, the Moonstone amidst burning fuel from the Messerschmitt shot down by Farrier.

There are other aspects of “DUNKIRK” that I admire. One of them turned out to be Hoyte van Hoytema’s photography, as shown in the images below:
I thought his cinematography was absolutely spectacular. And I hope that van Hoytema will receive an Oscar nomination for his work. I was also impressed by Lee Smith’s editing. Between Nolan’s direction and Smith’s editing, the movie marched at a pace that really impressed me … especially the scenes mentioned in the previous paragraph. Nathan Crowley is another I believe should be considered for an Oscar nomination. As the film’s production designer, I thought he did an excellent job in re-creating wartime Northern France and Southwestern England, circa 1940. Jeffrey Kurland did a solid job in creating costumes that reflected both the film’s characters and settings. But they did not particularly blow my mind. As for Hans Zimmer’s score, I found it … okay, I simply do not recall it. What can I say?

I found the performances featured in “DUNKIRK” very admirable. The movie featured solid performances from Kenneth Branaugh and James D'Arcy, who seemed to have formed a pretty good screen team as a pair of British senior officers awaiting evacuation. Mark Rylance gave an admirable performance as the patient, yet commanding Mr. Dawson, owner of the Moonstone. Aneurin Barnard managed to effectively convey the emotions of the French soldier “Gibson” with barely a line or two. Jack Lowden was very effective as the strong-willed Flight Officer Collins. I could also say the same about Barry Keoghan’s performance as Peter Dawson’s eager friend George Mills, who volunteered to accompany the Dawsons to Dunkirk.

But one of the performances that truly impressed me came from Harry Styles as the belligerent soldier Alex, who did a great job of expressing his character’s willingness to cross the moral line for the sake of survival. I also enjoyed Tom Glynn-Carney’s portrayal of the growing maturity of Mr. Dawson’s son, Peter. Cillian Murphy gave a superb performance as the shell-shocked Army officer whom the Moonstone crew rescues from a sinking ship. Tom Hardy seemed to have even less lines than Aneurin Barnard. But with very little lines and a great deal of facial expressions, he was marvelous as the R.A.F. pilot Farrier, whose seemed determined to protect the evacuating troops as long as possible within a space of an hour. The role of the everyman soldier, Tommy, proved to be Fionn Whitehead’s third or fourth role in his career. Yet, this barely 20-something kid did a superb job in carrying most of “The Mole” segment on his shoulders. With a few lines and some great silent acting, Whitehead managed to convey Tommy’s growing desperation to escape the Dunkirk beach … but with his moral compass intact.

I do have one complaint about “DUNKIRK”. Although I realized that “DUNKIRK” was basically about the evacuation of the BEF, a part of me wish that Nolan had did more to set it up. Nolan flashed a brief paragraph about Allies’ retreat to Dunkirk before starting the film. I did not expect the director to go into details about the events that led to the retreat. But damn! He could have spared more than one measly paragraph.

Otherwise, I was very impressed with “DUNKIRK”. Very impressed. Despite my fears that it would prove to be another one of those two-to-three hour World War II epics with a cast of thousands, the movie proved to be something different. Nolan took the World War II epic trope and nearly turned it on its ears with a smaller running time and a non-linear narrative that emphasized the importance of time. It also featured a superb cast led by the likes of Fionn Whitehead, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance. Is it the best World War II movie I have seen? I cannot answer that question for it would be subjective. But it may prove to be one of my favorites. 

Saturday, September 30, 2017

"YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE" (1967) Photo Gallery


Below are images from "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE", the 1967 adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1964 novel.  Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as James Bond aka 007:  


"YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE" (1967) Photo Gallery