“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: Top Five Favorite Season Three (2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three (2012) of HBO’s “BOARDWALK EMPIRE”



“BOARDWALK EMPIRE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON THREE (2012) EPISODES

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1. (3.11) “Two Imposters” - In this nail biting episode, Atlantic City political boss Enoch “Nucky” Thompson goes on the run, when nemesis “Gyp” Rossetti and his crew take over the city.; forcing Nucky to seek Albert “Chalky” White’s help. Following Rossetti’s takeover of the city, Gillian Darmody forces henchman Richard Harrow to leave her whorehouse.



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2. (3.09) “The Milkmaid’s Lot” - Wounded from the bombing of Babette’s in the previous episode, a feverish Nucky struggles to maintain control of his family and operations. Meanwhile, Margaret Thompson plots to runaway with her lover and Nucky’s henchman, Owen Sleater.



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3. (3.12) “Margate Sands” - In this bloody finale, Richard Harrow takes matters into his own hands, as he attempts to get young Tommy Darmody out of Gillian’s whorehouse, now occupied by Rossetti’s men. Chalky White, Al Capone help Nucky engage in a bloody battle to regain control of Atlantic City on the latter’s behalf.



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4. (3.01) “Resolution” - Nucky, his family, friends and business colleagues bring in the New Year of 1923; while former Treasury agent Nelson Van Alden finds himself as a Chicago door-to-door salesman in this colorful season premiere.



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5. (3.07) “Sunday Best” - The Easter holiday is the scene of a family reunion between Nucky and Eli’s families. “Gyp” Rossetti spends a despondent holiday with his family, while Richard takes young Tommy to dine with Julia Sagorsky and her hostile father.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

As I had stated in my review of “IRON MAN 3″, I had assumed that the release of the 2012 blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS” would signal the end of Marvel’s multi-film saga about the group of comic book heroes and their government allies, S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only did “IRON MAN 3″ prove me wrong, but also the recent television series,“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the second movie about the God of Thunder, “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”

Like the 2011 movie, “THOR”, this latest film begins thousands of years ago. Back in day (or year); Bor, the father of Odin, clash with the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim and their leader Malekith, who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. After conquering Malekith’s forces, Bor hides the Aether within a stone column. He was also unaware that Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim, and a handful of Dark Elves have managed to escape by going into suspended animation. 

Many years later, Thor and his fellow Asgardians (which include his friends Lady Sif, Fandral and Volstagg) help their comrade Hogun repel marauders on the latter’s homeworld, Vanaheim. It proves to be the last battle in a war to pacify the Nine Realms, which had fallen into chaos following the destruction of the Bifröst. And in London, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster is led by her intern Darcy Lewis and the latter’s intern, Ian, to an abandoned factory where objects have begun to disobey the laws of physics by disappearing into thin air. Jane is teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether. Both the Asgardians and Jane’s former mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig learn on separate occasions that the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms, is imminent. While the event approaches, portals (one of which Jane had fallen into) linking the worlds appear at random. Heimdall alerts Thor of Jane’s recent disappearance, leading the latter to search for her on Earth. When she inadvertently releases an unearthly force upon a group of London policemen, Thor takes her to Asgard. Unfortunately, the Asgardian healers do not know how to treat her. Odin, recognizing the Aether, warns Jane’s infection will kill her given enough time, and that the Aether’s return heralds a catastrophic prophecy. Unbeknownst to Odin, the re-emergence of the Aether also ends the Dark Elves’ suspended animation and revives their determination to use the substance to darken the universe.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” has proven to be a major box office, since its release nearly a month ago. This is not surprising, considering the enormous success of Marvel’s Avenger saga. “IRON MAN 3″, set six months after the events of the 2012 film, also proved to be a big hit. Some people have claimed that the first film about Thor was superior. As much as I had enjoyed “THOR”, I cannot say that I would agree. It reeked just a bit too much of a superhero origin tale. Personally, I found the plot for “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” more satisfying.

Mind you, this second God of Thunder movie did not strike me as perfect. It had a few flaws. Although I applaud director Alan Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau’s expansion of the Asgard setting beyond the royal palace and the Bifröst, the latter’s photography for that particular setting seemed to lack Haris Zambarloukos’ dazzling and colorful photography from the 2011 film. Instead, there seemed to be a slightly dull cast to Morgenthau’s photography of Asgard. Thor’s friends did not particularly project that same screen chemistry that I found so enjoyable in the first film. Aside from one major scene in which Thor plotted Jane’s escape from Asgard, they rarely had any scenes together. And Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun had even less scenes. I wonder if this was due to the actor’s major role in the upcoming movie, “47 RONIN”

Aside from these nitpicks, I enjoyed “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” very much. As I had earlier stated, I found it more enjoyable than the first film. Thanks to the screenplay written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the movie provided a stronger narrative, beyond a simple origin tale. The three screenwriters explored the consequences of past events from both “THOR” and “THE AVENGERS” - Loki’s actions in both movies; Thor’s original destruction of the Bifröst, which led to chaos in the Nine Realms and his long separation from Jane Foster, the latter’s inability to move on, and the impact upon Erik Selvig from being possessed by Loki. However, the movie also explored how a past event in the Asgardians’ history – their conflict with the Dark Elves – managed to once again, have a negative impact upon Earth. For a movie that was juggling a good number of subplots, along with a major plot, I thought the writers and director Alan Taylor did a first-rate job in balancing it all in the end. 

Taylor has limited experience as a movie director, but he has a long history as a television direction. Despite his longer experience with television, I must admit that I found myself more than pleased with his direction of “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And I was also very impressed. I was especially impressed by his handling of certain action scenes, like the Dark Elves’ invasion of Asgard, the fight scene between Queen Frigga and Malekith, the escape from Asgard, and Thor and Loki’s confrontation against Malekith and the Dark Elves. But the one action scene that really impressed me turned out to be Thor and Jane’s attempt to prevent Malekith’s use of the Aether against Earth and the rest of the universe. This scene not only benefited from Taylor’s direction, but also Dan Lebental and Wyatt Smith’s editing. The movie’s action sequences were nicely balanced by some of its dramatic and comedic scenes. I especially enjoyed Thor and Loki’s quarrel over the latter’s past actions, Thor’s reunion with Jane, and Darcy and Ian’s attempt to free Erik from a mental institution. One particular scene featured a quarrel between Thor and Odin over how to deal with the threat of the Dark Elves. It strongly reminded me of the two men’s quarrel over the Frost Giants in the first film . . . but with an ironic twist. Instead of Odin being the mature and reasonable one, this time it is Thor.

My only complaint about the movie’s performances has to do with Tadanobu Asano. Due to his limited appearance in the film, he never really had a chance to give a memorable performance. I hope to see more of him in the next film. Both Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson gave competent performances as Thor’s two other friends – Lady Sif and Volstagg. Instead of Josh Dallas, this movie featured Zachary Levi in the role of Thor’s fourth friend, Fandral. Levi had been originally cast in the role for the 2011 film. But due to his commitments to NBC’s “CHUCK”, Dallas got the role. But the latter’s commitment to ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” forced Marvel and Disney to give the role back to Levi. Aside from the initial shock of seeing him in a blond wig, I must admit that Levi made a very dashing Fandral. I was very happy to see Kat Dennings reprise her role of Jane’s intern, Darcy Lewis. She was as funny as ever. She also had an extra straight man in the form of Jonathan Howard, who portrayed “her” intern, Ian Boothby. The movie also featured a very funny cameo by Chris Evans, who portrayed Loki disguised as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

Christopher Eccleston may not have made the most witty villain from the Marvel canon, but I found his portrayal of Malekith very scary . . . in an unrelenting way. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje struck me as equally impressive as Malekith’s lieutenant, Algrim. It was a pity that I could barely make him out in his new appearance as the Kurse. Renee Russo’s role as Queen Frigga was expanded in this second film and I am so thankful that it was. Not only did she have a marvelous dramatic scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but watching her sword fight against Eccleston’s Malekith reminded me of her role in the “LETHAL WEAPON” films. Idris Elba repeated his masterful portrayal of Asgard’s gatekeeper, Heimdall. I especially enjoyed him in two scenes – Heimdall’s efforts to prevent the Dark Elves’ attack and his discussion with Thor about helping Jane leave Asgard against Odin’s will. More importantly, audiences get to see him in even more scenes. Stellan Skarsgård was very hilarious in his portrayal of Dr. Erik Selvig in this film. I realize that one should not laugh at the idea of someone suffering from a mental trauma, but I could not help it. I do not think I have ever seen Skarsgård so entertaining in a Marvel film. Anthony Hopkins did a marvelous job in conveying Odin’s increasing fragile rule over Asgard and control of his emotions. This was especially apparent in the scene featuring Odin and Thor’s disagreement over the Dark Elves.

For the first time in a Marvel film, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain, but a more morally complex character, thanks to his relationships with Asgard’s royal family – especially Thor and Frigga. Hiddleston was as playful and witty as ever. And I especially enjoyed his interactions with Chris Hemsworth. In fact, I can say the same about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Thor’s love, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster. Personally, I found her funnier and her chemistry with Hemsworth a lot stronger in this second film. And I was especially happy to see her take a more active role in helping Thor defeat the main villain. As for Chris Hemsworth, he continued to roll as the God of Thunder, Thor. He did a marvelous job in developing his character into more complex waters, especially in regard to his relationships with Jane, Loki and Odin. And one of my favorite scenes in the movie featured Thor’s silent reaction to his discovery that Jane had a date with another man. I hope that one day, people will truly appreciate what a first-rate actor he can be.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” had a few flaws. What movie does not? But thanks to Alan Taylor’s direction, an excellent cast led by a talented Chris Hemsworth and a very complex script written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it not only turned to be very entertaining, but also better than the previous film. At least for me.

Gumbo

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GUMBO

Gumbo is a dish that is not only popular throughout Deep South states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina; but is available to many Americans at restaurants that featured Gulf State cuisine throughout the country. For me, my first real introduction to gumbo was at a food stand inside Los Angeles’ Farmers Market called “The Gumbo Pot”. It is probably one of my favorite dishes ever . . . if prepared properly. 

It is believed that gumbo was first introduced in southern Louisiana sometime during the 18th century. No one knows exactly where in Louisiana or when it first appeared in the Americas. It is basically a stew that consisted of stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables that usually included celery, bell peppers and onions (known as the“holy trinity”). Gumbo is often categorized by the type of thickener used. Cooks usually used the African vegetable okra, the Choctaw spice filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves), or roux. The name of the dish either came from the Bantu word for okra - “ki ngombo” or the Choctaw word for filé - “kombo”.

Gumbo combines the ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures like West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw. Gumbo may have been based on traditional West African or native dishes, or may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse. Some believed that gumbo is a reinterpretation of traditional West African cooking. West Africans used the vegetable okra as a base for many dishes, including soups, often pairing okra with meat and shrimp, with salt and pepper as seasonings. In Louisiana, the dish was modified to include ingredients introduced by other cultural groups. Surviving records indicate that by 1764, African slaves in New Orleans mixed cooked okra with rice to make a meal. Some believe that gumbo may have been derived from traditional French soups, particularly the fish stew bouillabaisse. When the Acadians moved to Louisiana in the mid-18th century, they were unable to find many of their traditional ingredients for the soups they usually made for the winter months, so they substituted fish, turnips and cabbage with shellfish and ingredients from other cultures. Culinary experts like Celestine Eustis insisted that gumbo was an early dish for native tribes. It was first described in 1802 and was later listed in various cookbooks in the second half of the 19th century. Gumbo gained more widespread popularity in the 1970s, after the United States Senate cafeteria added it to the menu in honor of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. It is now the official state dish of Louisiana.

There are many types of variations on gumbo. Among them are:

*Gumbo Ya-Ya
*Seafood Gumbo
*Chicken and Sausage Gumbo


Considering there are so many different types of gumbo dishes out there, I tried to find a recipe of the most basic kind prepared in Louisiana. Below is a recipe found on the Smithsonian Institute magazine website, from an article written by Southern Louisiana native, Lolis Eric Elie. The recipe came from his mother:

Creole Gumbo

Ingredients

• 5 quarts water
• 1 dozen fresh crabs, raw, boiled or steamed 
• 2 pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve the shells and heads to make seafood stock) 
• 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1 inch rounds (1 pound each of two different sausages is optimal)
• 3/4 pound Creole hot sausage (if available), cut into 1 inch rounds 
• 2 pounds okra cut into rounds
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
• 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 5 stalks celery, chopped 
• 1 bunch green onions, tops and bottoms, chopped
• 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
• 1 pound crab meat, picked and cleaned of shells and cartilage 
• 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
• 4 bay leaves 
• 4 tablespoons filé powder 
• Salt and pepper to taste 
• 6 cups steamed white rice


Preparation

Clean the crabs, removing the lungs, heart and glands and other parts so that only the pieces of shell containing meat (including the legs, swimmers and claws) remain. Refrigerate the meaty parts of the crabs. Put the portions of the crabs that have been removed into a 6- or 8-quart stockpot. Add the shrimp heads and shells and 5 quarts water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat. 

Cook the sausages in a skillet in batches over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the pieces are slightly brown and much of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausage and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard the excess fat remaining in the skillet before cooking the next batch of sausage.

Once all the sausage has been cooked, wipe the excess oil from the skillet, being careful not to scrub away those bits of sausage that have stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and then add the okra. Lower the heat to medium and cook the okra until it is slightly brown and dried, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes. 

While the okra cooks, place the 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a 12-quart stockpot. Heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, a tablespoon at a time slowly add the 1/2 cup flour to prepare the roux, stirring constantly. Once all the flour has been added, continue heating and stirring the roux until it becomes a medium brown color, somewhere between the color of caramel and milk chocolate, about 10-15 minutes. Add the onions to the roux, stirring constantly. Once the onions are wilted, add the garlic, parsley, celery, green onions and bell pepper. Strain the seafood stock into the large stockpot. Add the browned sausage and bay leaves and bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook.

Once the okra is cooked, add it to the gumbo pot. Continue cooking the gumbo for 60 minutes. Add the reserved crabs and shrimp and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove the gumbo from the heat and stir in the Creole seasoning and filé powder. Let the gumbo rest for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cools, oil should form on the top. Skim the oil with a ladle or large spoon and discard. Stir in the picked crab meat. Taste the gumbo and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve the gumbo ladled over steamed rice.


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“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of the BBC America series “COPPER”. Created by Tom Fontana and Will Rokos, the series stars Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh: 


“COPPER”: Top Five Favorite Season One (2012) Episodes

1-1.02 Husbands and Fathers

1. (1.02) “Husbands and Fathers” - In this brutal episode, New York City detective Kevin “Corky” Corcoran set about rescuing child prostitute/abused wife Annie Sullivan from a Manhattan brothel and her perverse customer, a wealthy businessman named Winifred Haverford.



2-1.09 A Day to Give Thanks

2. (1.09) “A Day to Give Thanks” - Following the reappearance of his missing wife Ellen in an asylum, Corky tracks down her former lover in order to learn what really happened to their dead daughter, while he was in the Army. Meanwhile, Confederate agents blackmail Robert Morehouse’s wealthy father into helping their plot to set New York City on fire, following the re-election of Abraham Lincoln. 



3-1.06 Arsenic and Old Cake

3. (1.06) “Arsenic and Old Cake” - Corky investigate the death of the dentist of one of his men, who died by arsenic poisoning. Widow Elizabeth Haverford tries to discipline an unruly Annie and return the latter to her abusive husband, a Mr. Reilly. An exhibition boxing match between a young African-American and an Irish-American local politician end with racial tension.



4-1.03 In the Hands of an Angry God

4. (1.03) “In the Hands of an Angry God” - Corky investigates the death of a notoriously racist Irish immigrant and clashes with his African-American friend, Dr. Matthew Freeman when a local black minister becomes the prime suspect. 



5-1.07 The Hudson River School

5. (1.07) “The Hudson River School” - Annie struggles with escape from the abusive Mr. Reilly. Elizabeth turns to Robert, when Corky reacts violently to the news that she had turned Annie over to Mr. Reilly.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1992) Review

Many critics tend to look upon Agatha Christie’s later novels with less favor. Among those novels viewed with less than any real enthusiasm was her 1962 novel, “The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side”. I find this interesting, despite the fact that one movie and two television adaptations have been made from this story. 

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” delved into the world of Hollywood movies through the new tenants of Gossington Hall, the former home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry. After the death of Colonel Bantry, Mrs. Bantry sold the manor to Hollywood movie star Marina Gregg and her husband, director Jason Rudd. Marina and Jason host a fête for the citizens of St. Mary Mead. Miss Jane Marple is one of the guests. Another is Heather Badcock, an annoying housewife and St. John Ambulance helper with a penchant for being self involved. During the reception inside the manor, Heather dies after drinking a poisoned cocktail. When the local police and Scotland Yard investigate Heather’s death, they realize that the cocktail had been meant for Marina Gregg. And they have plenty of suspects:

*Jason Rudd

*Dr. Gilchrist – Marina’s personal doctor

*Ella Zeilinsky – Jason’s lovesick secretary

*Lola Brewster – Hollywood starlet and Marina’s rival

*Ardwyck Fenn – Hollywood producer and Lola’s husband

*Margot Bence – Professional photographer and Marina’s former adopted daughter

*Arthur Badcock – Heather’s milequoast husband, who might had a reason to kill her

It is quite obvious that T.R. Bowen’s screenplay for “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” remained faithful to Christie’s 1962 novel. However, I did notice a few differences. The main police investigator, Dermot Craddock, turned out to be Miss Marple’s nephew, as he was in the 1980 adaptation with Angela Landsbury. And Marina and Jason’s Italian butler, Giuseppe Murano, had been murdered in the novel. In this movie, he was regulated to a minor supporting character and survived. Most fans would view the movie’s close similarity to Christie’s novel as a sign of its superiority as an adaptation. Faithfulness to the source material is not a sign of superior adaptation for me. I will admit that “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”is a pretty damn good adaptation. But I feel it had a few problems.

One of my problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” is the casting of Judy Cornwell as Heather Badcock. Upon reading Christie’s novel, I had the impression that Heather must have been at least in her mid-30s or early 40s when she was killed, and in her 20s when she first met Marina Gregg during World War II. However, Judy Cornwell was in her early 50s when this movie was made and looked it. And since “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” took place in the 1950s – at least a little over a decade before Heather and Marina’s first meeting – I found it hard to accept Cornwell as the clueless Heather. I was also not that enamored of the scene featuring the revelation of the murderer very unsatisfying. But if I must be honest, the killer revelation scenes have never impressed me in most of the Miss Marple movies that starred Joan Hickson. They tend to be rather badly written. And what made revelation in this movie unsatisfying was T.R. Bowen and director Norman Stone’s decision to have Miss Marple reveal the killer’s identity to a cab driver, who was driving her to Gossington Hall. What on earth were they thinking? Talk about ruining a pretty good movie with a bad ending.

My biggest problem with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” turned out to be Detective Inspector Dermot Craddock’s character background. As I had stated earlier, Bowen’s screenplay revealed Craddock as one of Miss Marple’s nephew, repeating the 1980 film’s characterization of him. If this had been John Castle’s first appearance as Detective-Inspector Craddock, I would not be making this complaint. But the actor first portrayed the character in 1985′s “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”, which also starred Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. And in that movie, Miss Marple and Craddock were strangers who had met for the first time, not blood relations. This was truly sloppy writing on Bowen’s part.

Fortunately, I still managed to enjoy “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” very much. I have to attribute this to Norman Stone’s lively direction. Most of the Jane Marple adaptations that starred Hickson had a tendency to drag in many parts. Aside from a few productions, I usually have difficulty staying alert, while watching them. I can thankfully say that I had no such problems with “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. Not only did the movie benefited from Stone’s pacing, but also Bowen’s screenplay, and the cast. But I suspect that the movie’s subject matter – Hollywood in Britain – really helped to make“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” a lively affair. Not only did the story delved into the world of small town life in mid-20th century Britain, but also the Hollywood movie system during the same era. The movie featured some humorous interactions between the citizens of St. Mary Mead and its Hollywood visitors, along with a tension-filled dinner party featuring Marina, Jason, the latter’s secretary Ella Zeilinsky, producer Ardwyck Fenn and rival starlet Lola Brewster. Mind you, the movie lacked the entertaining bitch fest from the 1980 film, the script still managed to provide a few moments of bitchery from Marina, Ella and Lola. “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” also featured an amusing subplot featuring a companion hired by Miss Marple’s other nephew to take care of her. It seems the companion Miss Knight possessed a condescending manner that irritates the elderly woman.

I have to say that I found the movie’s production values very impressive. Merle Downie and Alan Spalding did an excellent job of re-creating 1950s Britain through their production designs. I suspect they had to add a bit of glamour to the movie, due to the story’s subject matter. The costumes for Hickson’s Miss Marple movies have always been first-rate. And Judy Pepperdine did a marvelous job in not only creating costumes for the St. Mary Mead citizens, but also the Hollywood characters. Cinematographer John Walker contributed to the movie’s sleek look with his colorful, yet sharp photography.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” featured Joan Hickson’s last performance as Jane Marple. Needless to say, she proved to provide her usual above-average performance. I was especially impressed by her comedic skills in the scenes featuring Miss Marple’s exasperation with the condescending Miss Knight. Claire Bloom gave a complicated and very skillful performance as the talented, yet high-strung Marina Gregg. I did not find this surprising. Only a first-rate actress like Bloom could portray a high-maintenance character like Marina, without resorting to hamminess. I was equally impressed by Barry Newman, who was marvelous as Marina’s husband, Jason Rudd. He did an excellent job of portraying an emotional and passionate character with great subtlety. Despite my annoyance at Dermot Craddock being written as one of Miss Marple’s nephews, I must admit that I was happy to see John Castle back in the role. I really enjoyed his performance as the intelligent and cool Craddock in “A MURDER IS ANNOUNCED”. When he failed to appear in 1987′s“4.50 TO PADDINGTON”, I must admit that I felt very disappointed. Thankfully, my disappointment was eradicated by his appearance and performance in this film.

Aside from the 1980 miniseries, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” and one or two other films, I have rarely seen Elizabeth Garvie in other film or movie productions. I certainly enjoyed her portrayal of Ella Zeilinsky, Jason Rudd’s sarcastic, yet love struck secretary. I may have had issues with Judy Cornwell being cast as Heather Badcock, but I have to admit that she did a pretty damn good job in portraying the self-involved woman. David Horovitch returned as Superintendent Slack. I found his appearance in the movie unnecessary, since he was not in the novel, but I must admit that Horovitch gave a rather funny performance. Margaret Courtenay was even funnier as the condescending companion, Miss Knight, who treated Miss Marple like a brainless child. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Glynis Barber, Ian Brimble, Norman Rodway and Gwen Watford. However, I found Constantine Gregory’s portrayal of Hollywood producer Ardwyck Fenn to be ridiculously over-the-top. One, he seemed to think that all Hollywood producers sounded and acted like gangsters from an old Warner Brothers film. And two, his American accent sucked. It is a pity that he did not study the American-born Newman, when he had the chance.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” had its flaws. But they were only a few. Overall, I found it entertaining and well-paced, thanks to Norman Stone’s direction and the movie’s production values. In the end, it proved to be a well made epilogue to Joan Hickson’s tenure as the cinematic Jane Marple.


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“A ROOM WITH A VIEW” (1985-86) Review

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“A ROOM WITH A VIEW” (1985-86) Review

Ah, Merchant and Ivory! Whenever I hear those particular names, my mind usually generates images of Britons in Edwardian dress, strolling along a London street, across a wide lawn or even along some city boulevard in a country other than Great Britain. In other words, the images from their movie, “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” usually fills my brain. 

Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory produced and directed this adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel, which first hit the theaters in Great Britain during the early winter of 1985. Four months later, the movie was released in American movie theaters. Forster’s tale is basically a coming-of-age story about a young Edwardian woman, who finds herself torn between her superficial and snobbish fiancé and the free-thinking son of a retired journalist, whom she had met during her Italian vacation. The movie begins with the arrival of young Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Charlotte Barlett to a small pensionein Florence, Italy. Not only does Lucy have a reunion with her family’s local clergyman, the Reverend Mr. Beebe; she and Charlotte meet a non-conformist father and son pair named Mr. Emerson and his son, George. The Emersons agree to exchange their room – which has a view – with the one occupied by Lucy and Charlotte. Lucy becomes further acquainted with George after the pair witness a murder in the city’s square and he openly expresses his feelings to her. Matters come to a head between the young couple when George kisses Lucy during a picnic for the pensione‘s British visitors, outside of the city. Charlotte witnesses the kiss and not only insists that she and Lucy return to the pensione, but also put some distance between them and the Emersons by leaving Florence.

A few months later finds Lucy back at her home in Windy Corners, England. She had just accepted a marriage proposal from the wealthy, yet intellectually snobbish Cecil Vyse; much to her mother and brother Freddy’s silent displeasure. Matters take a turn for the worse when George and Mr. Emerson move to an empty cottage in Windy Corners, she soon learns that both George and his father have moved to her small village, thanks to Cecil’s recommendation. With George back in her life, Lucy’s suppressed feelings return. It is not long before she is internally divided between her feelings for George and her growing fear that Cecil might not be the man for her.

What can I say about “A ROOM WITH THE VIEW”? It was the first British-produced costume drama I had ever seen in the movie theaters. Hell, it was the first Merchant-Ivory production I had ever seen . . . period. Has it held up in the past twenty-eight years? Well . . . it is not perfect. The problem is other than Julian Sands’ performance, I cannot think of any real imperfections in the movie. A view have pointed out that its quaintness has made it more dated over the years. Frankly, I found it fresh as ever. Who am I kidding? I loved the movie when I first saw it 28 years ago, and still loved it when I recently watched it.

One would think that the movie’s critique of a conservative society would seem outdated in the early 21st century. But considering the growing conservatism of the past decade or so, perhaps “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” is not as outdated as one would believe, considering its Edwardian setting. Mind you, I found some the Emersons’ commentaries on life rather pretentious and in George’s case, a bit long-winded. But I cannot deny that their observations, however long-winded, struck me as dead on. More importantly, Foster’s novel and by extension, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s screenplay, makes Foster’s observations more easy to swallow thanks to a very humorous and witty tale. Another aspect that I enjoyed about “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” was how Foster’s liberalism had an impact on the love story between Lucy and George. I find it interesting how Foster managed to point out the differences between genuine liberals like the Emersons and pretenders like Cecil Vyse, who use such beliefs to feed his own sense of superiority.

While watching “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”, it seemed very apparent to me, that it is still a beautiful movie to look at. The movie not only won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; but also two technical awards for the movie’s visual style. Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar, Elio Altamura served as the team for the movie’s art direction and won an Academy Award for their efforts. The art designs they created for the movie’s Edwardian setting is stunning. I can also say the same about the Academy Award winning costume designs created by Jenny Beavan and John Bright. Below are two examples of their work:

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And Tony Pierce-Roberts earned a much deserved Oscar for his beautiful and lush photography of both Tuscany in Italy and various English locations that served as the movie’s settings.

One of the best aspects of “A ROOM WITH A VIEW” has to be its cast of entertaining, yet flawed characters. First of all, the movie featured rich, supporting characters like Lucy’s charming, yet gauche brother Freddy; the very verbose and open-minded Reverend Beebe; the always exasperated Mrs. Honeychurch; the indiscreet and pretentious novelist, Eleanor Lavish (in some ways another Cecil); and the snobbish and controlling Reverend Eager. And it is due to the superb performances of Rupert Graves, the always entertaining Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, the even more amazing Judi Dench and Patrick Godfrey that allowed these characters to come to life.

Both Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot earned well-deserved Academy Award nominations for their unforgettable performances as Charlotte Barlett, Lucy’s passive-aggressive cousin; and George’s brash and open-minded father, Mr. Emerson. Charlotte must be one of the most fidgety characters ever portrayed by Smith, yet she conveyed this trait with such subtlety that I could not help but feel disappointed that she did not collect that Oscar. And Elliot did a marvelous job in portraying Mr. Emerson with the right balance of humor and pathos. Daniel Day-Lewis did not earn an Oscar nomination for his hilarious portrayal of Lucy’s snobbish and pretentious fiancé, Cecil Vyse. But he did win the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor. Although there were moments when I found his performance a bit too mannered, I cannot deny that he deserved that award.

The role of Lucy Honeychurch made Helena Bonham-Carter a star. And it is easy to see why. The actress did an excellent job of not only portraying Lucy’s quiet, yet steady persona as a well-bred Englishwoman. And at the same time, she also managed to convey the character’s peevishness and a passive-aggressive streak that strongly reminded me of Charlotte Barlett. The only bad apple in the barrel proved to be Julian Sands’ performance as the overtly romantic, yet brooding George Emerson. Too be honest, I found a good deal of his performance rather flat. This flatness usually came out when Sands opened his mouth. He has never struck me as a verbose actor. However, I must admit that he actually managed to shine in one scene in which George openly declared his feelings for Lucy. And with his mouth shut, Sands proved he could be a very effective screen actor.

Looking back on “A ROOM WITH A VIEW”, I still find it difficult to agree with that blogger who stated that it had become somewhat dated over the years. Not only does the movie seem livelier than ever after 28 years or so, its theme of freedom from social repression still resonates . . . something I suspect that many would refuse to admit. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, along with Oscar winner screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala created a work of art that has not lost its beauty and its bite after so many years.

“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” (1984) Book Review

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“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” (1984) Book Review

Several years ago, I once posted a list of my top ten favorite historical fiction novels of all time. Susan Howatch’s 1984 novel,“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” made the list. In fact, I would go as far to say that it would have also made the list of my top favorite novels . . . period. I love it that much. 

Back in the 1970s, Howatch wrote several family sagas in which the main characters were based upon members from a certain group from Britain’s Royal Family known as House of Plantagenet, which ruled the country between 1154 and 1485. The characters from 1971′s “PENMARRIC” were based upon the Plantagenet line that began with King Henry II and ended withKing John. 1974′s “CASHELMARA” featured characters based the line that began with Edward I and ended with his grandson,Edward III“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” also featured a character based upon Edward III, but he turned out to be a supporting one. The novel’s main characters were based on his children, two of his grandsons and a great-grandson, starting withEdward, the Black Prince and ending with Henry V“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” followed the fortunes of the Godwins, an Anglo-Welsh upper-class family that lived on an estate called Oxmoon, located near Gower in South Wales. The novel is divided into six major chapters, narrated by the following:

*Robert Godwin – oldest son in the family and a successful barrister who becomes a Member of Parliament
*Ginevra “Ginette” Godwin – Robert’s wife, distant cousin and childhood obsession, who was previously married to an Irishman named Conor Kinsella
*John Godwin – third son in the family and a diplomat with the Foreign Office
*Christopher “Kester” Godwin – Robert and Ginerva’s second son, who becomes master of Oxmoon upon his grandfather’s death
*Henry “Harry” Godwin – John’s oldest living son and Kester’s rival
*Henry “Hal” Godwin – Harry’s oldest son and a musician

“THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” spanned at least fifty to sixty years – from 1913 to the late 1960s or early 1970s, covering at least four generations and two world wars. Although the novel is told from the point of view of six major characters, it also featured other never-to-be-forgotten characters from the Godwin family. The ones that really come to mind are Robert and John’s complicated parents – the emotionally unstable Bobby and his very disciplined wife Margaret; Declan Kinsella, Ginette’s oldest son from her first marriage; Bronwen Morgan, John’s mistress and third wife; Robert and John’s youngest brother, the somewhat coarse and unimaginative Thomas Godwin; and Harry’s first wife, the sexy and not-so-bright Belinda “Bella” Stourham Godwin, who becomes obsessed with conceiving a girl after an aborted teenage pregnancy.

What I found amazing about “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” is that it more or less continued the de Salis family saga from“CASHELMARA”, but with different characters. A family scandal involving Bobby’s mother and a sheep farmer named Owen Bryn-Davies ends up having a major impact upon the Godwin family. Both Bobby and Margaret spend most of their married lives trying to overcome the past with an ideal family life, living up to the twin creeds - “doing the done thing” and “drawing the line”. Unfortunately, Bobby’s ability to project an ideal image also leads him to become an emotional time bomb, with a penchant for womanizing. This penchant also leads to another family scandal – one that not only has an impact on Robert and Ginette’s relationship, but also on the question of Oxmoon’s true master, which culminates into an ugly rivalry between cousins Kester and Harry.

It is a skill to Ms. Howatch’s talents that I found the novel’s first two chapters fascinating. She did an excellent job in creating the novel’s setting and characters, and delving into the fascinating, yet problematic marriage between Robert and Ginette. But the chapters featuring John, Kester and Harry’s narrations prove to be the novel’s highlights. Howatch allows the readers to see how Bobby and Margaret’s efforts to maintain an ideal family fractured John’s personality – almost transforming him into some kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde. The ironic thing is that his “Hyde” persona proved to be a lot more beneficial for him. But John’s fractured personality, along with his twisted efforts to live up to his parents’ (actually, I should say his mother’s) creeds of “doing the done thing” and “drawing the line” seemed to have a negative impact on both his son Harry and nephew Kester.

The last chapter, which featured Hal’s narration, proved to be less fascinating than the previous chapters. This particular chapter featured a murder mystery within the family and Hal’s efforts to revive the family fortunes. Mind you, this story line did not strike me as compelling as the previous chapters, but I had no problems with it. But I did have a problem with two aspects of the novel. One, Howatch had an annoying habit of labeling certain characters via their nationalities. Celtics – especially the Welsh and the Irish – seemed to be described as emotional or almost fey. And the English are described as emotionally stunted, yet rational and clear-minded. I found this penchant rather infantile for a first-rate novelist like Howatch. Nor did I care for some the dialogue she had created for Bronwen. It almost seemed as if Howatch tried to transform John’s Welsh mistress (later third wife) into some kind of Celtic mystic. And I really found it annoying. It is a miracle that Bronwen managed to remain one of my favorite characters.

Although I can honestly say that “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” is not perfect, I can also state that it is also one of my favorite novels of all time. In fact, I became so fascinated with it after my last reading that I found myself re-reading some of of the passages over and over again, until I realized that I need to put it down. It really is one of the best family sagas I have ever read . . . period. And I am amazed that there has been no television adaptation of this novel. A movie adaptation would be out of the question. The time constraints on the latter would make an adaptation out of the question. But as a television adaptation . . . “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” could prove to be as exceptional as the novel itself.

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