“LOST” RETROSPECT :  (5.08) “LaFleur” 

 


“LOST” RETROSPECT :  (5.08) “LaFleur” 

Many fans of ”LOST” have claimed that its Season Five has been the series’ best since the first season. I have to be honest. I do not think I can agree with that sentiment. At least not for Season Five’s first five episodes. I have mixed feelings for it, just as I had for Seasons Two to Four. But there are elements of the fifth season that I have enjoyed so far. And many of those elements had a lot to do with the story arcs surrounding the island castaways left behind when the Oceanic Six departed the island at the end of Season Four.

”LaFleur”, the eighth episode of Season Five, picked up where (5.05) “This Place Is Death” left off – when John Locke turned the Frozen Donkey Wheel from ”(4.13) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part II” and vanished from the island and into the future. Following Locke’s departure, Sawyer, Juliet, Jin, Miles and Daniel are relieved to discover that they no longer have to endure the constant time jumps that have threatened their existence and ended Charlotte Lewis’ in ”This Place Is Death”. However, they are surprised to discover that the time jumps have stopped in 1974, when the Dharma Initiative has been in existence for at least four years. The five survivors decide to return to the beach and make camp, when they comes across a pair of Dharma Initiative members who have been captured by some of the island’s native inhabitants, known as the Others. Juliet and Sawyer kill the two Others and free Amy (Reiko Aylesworth), but her husband has been killed. The group returns to the Barracks, where Amy resides; however, she tricks them into walking through the sonic fence which surrounds the Barracks, knocking them unconscious. The rest of the episode focused upon how the five survivors ended up joining the Dharma Initiative in 1974 and the state of their lives, three years later in 1977.

Remember when I had stated that I had mixed feelings about the series’ Season Five? Well, some of those reasons had a lot to do with how Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindehof’s writers handled the story arcs surrounding the two groups of characters during this season. Of course, there are the members of the Oceanic Six who made it off the island – Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, Sayid Jarrah, Sun Kwon, Hugo “Hurley” Reyes and the infant Aaron Littleton. And there are the members of those left behind on the island, included James “Sawyer” Ford, Juliet Burke, John Locke, Jin Kwon, Miles Straume, Charlotte Lewis, Daniel Faraday, Bernard Nadler and his wife, Rose Henderson. Quite frankly, I did not care for the episodes that heavily featured the Oceanic Six. One, I never cared for their lie that left the infant Aaron in the hands of fugitive Kate Austen for nearly three years. Two, I simply did not care for their story arc in the first half of Season Five. I found it contrived, trite and a waste of my time. The story arc featuring those survivors left behind turned out to be a different kettle of fish.

On the other hand, I found myself enjoying the segments surrounding the ‘Left Behinders’ in episodes like (5.01) “Because You Left”(5.02) “The Lie” and ”This Place Is Death”. So, it is no surprise that after eight episodes, my favorite Season Five episodes turned out to be both (5.03) “The Jughead” and ”LaFleur”, which heavily featured Sawyer, Juliet and the gang. But . . . I am not here to discuss both episodes. Only ”LaFleur”.

What can I say? I loved the episode. I love it so much that I now consider it to be one of my ten favorite episodes of the entire series. And I never thought I would be saying this about a Sawyer-centric episode. Five days after it first aired, I found myself still thinking about it. I am sitting in front of my computer, trying to think of something meaningful or witty to say about this episode. But the words continue to elude me. I have a deep suspicion that my high opinion of ”LaFleur” had more to do with how this episode had such an emotional impact upon me.

Like the Left Behinders, I felt the relief they must have felt over the end of the time jumps, following Locke’s departure. Or the confusion and they had felt upon stumbling across Amy, her dead husband Paul and the two Others. I felt Daniel’s continuing grief over Charlotte’s death . . . or Amy’s grief over Paul’s death. I felt Richard’s curiosity during his conversation with Sawyer (from now on . . . James) about Locke’s appearance twenty years earlier. I felt Horace’s despair over his suspicions that his new wife, Amy, had yet to get over her grief for her husband now dead for three years. I felt James’ desperation to find help for Amy, who was in labor with Horace’s child . . . and Juliet’s reluctance to deal with another childbirth. I certainly felt James’ relief and happiness over the successful birth of Amy’s child and Juliet’s tearful joy. I felt James’ relief and disbelief in discovering that some of the Oceanic Six – Jack, Kate and Hurley – had made it back to the island. And I especially felt the friendship and love both James and Juliet had for one another.

But the above paragraph strikes me as being too simple a way to describe my enjoyment of ”LaFleur”. Foremost, I have to commend writers Elizabeth Sarnoff and Kyle Pennington for penning a well-written episode that revealed the Left Behinders’ experiences with the Dharma Initiative in two time periods without disintegrating into a big mess. The fact that Sarnoff and Pennington also managed to inject some character development – mainly James and Juliet – into a complicated plot has raised my admiration toward their work. Another thing that I liked about ”LaFleur” is that for some reason, it strongly reminded me of one of my favorite ”LOST” episodes of all time – (2.07) “The Other 48 Days”.

This episode is not an exact replica of the Season Two episode that revealed the backstory of the Tail Section passengers’ first 48 days on the island. But I feel that both “The Other 48 Days” and “LaFleur” allowed viewers to experience the interactions of a small group – in the case of the Season Five episode, the Left Behinders – developing a close relationship through shared experiences. Mind you, most of James, Juliet, Miles, Jin and Daniel’s worst experiences occurred in previous Season Five episodes like “Jughead” and “This Place Is Death”. Still, we got to see how they became part of the Dharma Initiative in 1974. And how they had managed to settle into their new lives by 1977.

Josh Holloway literally owned this episode with a performance that nearly knocked my socks off. His James Ford aka James LaFleur has come a long way that rough-hewed Southern con man who had irritated just about everyone back in Season One. This transformation did not happen overnight. In fact, I suspect that it had its origins during late Season Three, when Hugo Reyes forced him to take the mantle of leadership of the Losties during Jack, Sayid, Kate and Locke’s absence during that period. The Southern accent has remained intact and so has the snarky sense of humor and talent for pulling a con job. Not only did he managed to convince one of the Dharma Initiative leaders – Horace Goodspeed – that he and his fellow castaways were survivors of a wrecked salvage vessel looking for the Black Rock. Within three years, James had become Head of Security for the Initiative and a new love, namely one Dr. Juliet Burke.

When I had earlier stated that Hollowy had owned this episode, perhaps I should have said almost. After all, Elizabeth Mitchell (who has become one of my favorite actors on this series) was just as good as Juliet Burke. After three years, she has forgo her profession as a fertility doctor by becoming an auto mechanic for the Dharma Initiative. At first, I was surprised that she would choose to become a mechanic, instead of continuing her role as a doctor. But considering her past heartaches in dealing with previously pregnant Others, I eventually understood. But the premature labor of one of the Dharma members, Amy Goodspeed (portrayed by Reiko Aylesworth of “24” fame), led James to convince Juliet to act as midwife for the new Goodspeed baby. The result of Amy’s labor led to one of the most beautifully acted moments in the series’ entire history, when Mitchell and Holloway expressed Juliet and James’ relief and happiness over the baby’s successful delivery. I could go on about the strong screen chemistry between the two actors. But I have been aware of that chemistry ever since the Season Three finale – (3.22) “Through the Looking Glass”. The interesting thing about James and Juliet’s relationship is that the series used their growing friendship in the previous six or seven episodes to show how they eventually became a couple. They seemed to have become the first romantic pairing, whose relationship started out as a mature friendship. Perhaps that is the reason why I find it so appealing.

The other cast members in this episode also did a fine job – especially Jeremy Davies, as the grieving Daniel Farady, Doug Hutchison as the Dharma Initiative mathematician who came off as less self-assured than he did in past episodes, Nestor Campbell as the Others’ ageless second-in-command, Richard Alpert and Reiko Aylesworth’s sly performance as Amy, another Dharma member, whose life James and Juliet save. Daniel Dae Kim had a nice moment when Jin witnessed Juliet’s news about the successful birth of Amy and Horace’s baby.

There were many moments in “LaFleur” that have remained stuck in my mind . . . even after five days. Here are a few that I consider truly memorable:

*James, Juliet, Miles and Jin spot a giant, Egyptian-style statue following Locke’s disappearance.
*The brief look on James’ face after Juliet saves him from being shot by one of the Others.
*Amy tricks the Left Behinders into walking past the sonic fence.
*James mentions Richard’s encounter with Locke and the ‘Jughead’ bomb in 1954 to the very surprised Other.
*James convinces Juliet to remain on the island for a while.
*Juliet and James’ happy reaction to the successful birth of Amy and Horace’s child.
*James’ conversation with Horace about dealing with past loves.
*The sight of James and Juliet in bed, with her body spooning his. She really ‘had his back’ in that scene.
*Jin delivers three of the Oceanic Six members – Jack, Kate and Hurley – to an awaiting James.

Even thought that last scene was memorable, I must admit that I found myself comparing it to the sight of a roach crawling across a white rug. Especially when one considers how the Oceanic Six’s arrival affected the Left Behinders – now members of the Dharma Initiative. Both Kate and Jack’s presence proved to be a trial for the James/Juliet romance.  And the Oceanic Six’s presence eventually threatened the Left Behinders’ standing with the Dharma Initiative. Perhaps it was just as well.  Part of me believes that the Left Behinders’ decision to join the Dharma Initiative was a big mistake.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” (2003) Review

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”(2003) Review

Nearly eight years ago, ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl” had burst upon the movie screens and to the surprise of many, became a major hit. Even more surprising, the movie ended up spawning a wildly successful movie trilogy within another four years and also a new cinematic icon for the 21st century – Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Judging from the forums and blogs on the Internet, it seems to me that ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is the most popular film in the”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. In a way, I can understand. It lacked the darker aspects of the two sequels that followed. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ”Curse of the Black” is based upon the attraction at the Disney parks. In it, the pirates of the ship known as the Black Pearl, led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), need to restore the missing piece of the ancient Aztec gold treasure of Cortes and sacrifice the blood of “Bootstrap” Bill Turner to save themselves from eternal punishment owing to a curse that fell upon them when they stole the gold. The buccaneers attack Port Royal and kidnap Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has the missing piece of gold. In order to rescue Miss Elizabeth Swann, William Turner (Orlando Bloom) enlists the help of the fabled Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who devises an ingenious plan to retrieve the Black Pearl from his mutinous former first mate, Captain Barbossa, and help William Turner save the love of his life

Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio created a frolicking tale filled with swashbuckler action, an interesting supernatural story that involved cursed treasure and undead pirates, and sharp humor that almost bordered on the cock-eyed. Most of this humor came from the leading man himself, the excruciatingly talented Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous and androgynous Captain Jack Sparrow took a great deal of moviegoers and critics by surprise. He certainly took me by surprise. No other actor in Hollywood or anywhere else has ever portrayed a pirate in this manner. Not surprisingly, Depp won an Academy Award nomination and a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.

It seemed a shame that Geoffrey Rush had failed to earn any acting nominations for his performance as the menacing Captain Barbossa. Come to think of it, his performance was more than menacing. Like Depp, he gave a performance filled with a great deal of off-the-wall humor and sharp dialogue. I also enjoyed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s performances as the star-crossed young lovers, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Ironically, both actors seemed to have better chemistry with either Depp, Rush or both than with each other. Until the final battle. And I found that odd, considering that their screen chemistry seemed a lot more convincing in the final action scene inside the large cavern on Isla de Muerta and in the two following sequels. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that Will and Elizabeth spent most of this suppressing their feelings for one another.

As for the rest of the cast that made up the movie, they were superb. Jack Davenport gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as Will’s romantic rival – Commodore James Norrington of the Royal Navy. Mind you, Davenport really grew into the role in ”Dead Man’s Chest”, but he did a good job in this film. And what would a ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” be without Kevin R. Nally as Josiah Gibbs, Lee Arnberg as Pintel and MacKenzie Crook as Rigetti? I could list all of the supporting characters that made this movie memorable, but it would take forever. I will simply state that Verbinski was very lucky to find himself with an excellent cast.

I had noted earlier ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is not as dark as its two successors. I wonder if this is the reason why many fans prefer it over the other two. If I have to be honest, I do not share the same sentiments. Do not get me wrong. I love this movie. But it is not my favorite ”PIRATES” movie. That honor goes to the second film – ”Dead Man’s Chest”. As much as I love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”, there were times I wish it had been a little more ambiguous. With the exception of the Jack Sparrow character, the other characters are clearly either the good guys or the bad guys. There seemed to be little room for moral ambiguity.

There was another aspect of ”Curse of the Black Pearl” that I had noticed – even when I first saw the film. For a movie set in the Caribbean, I really did not see much of it. Yes, there were scenes set aboard ships. But aside from a sequence featuring Jack Sparrow’s arrival at Port Royal and his first meeting of Elizabeth and Norrington, the movie never really captured the aura of the Caribbean – at least for me. And I had noticed something else. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski used a lot of close ups in his shots. I remembered that those close ups made me feel slightly dizzy and claustrophic when I first saw the movie.

Despite certain elements of the film that did not appeal to me – Wolski’s photography and the less ambiguous tone of most of the characters – I still love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”. I love the story, Klaus Badelt’s score, Gore Verbinski’s direction, and the characters. Especially Johnny Depp’s performance. Hopefully, this movie and the two that followed and the fourth that is soon due in theaters, will one day be viewed as film classics. They are already classics in my eyes.

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (1995) Review

 

“PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” (1995) Review

There have been numerous adaptations of Jane Austen’s celebrated 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice” over the past decades. Two of these versions happened to be BBC miniseries that aired in 1980 and 1995. It has been a long time since I have viewed the 1980 miniseries. However, I recently saw the 1995 miniseries for the umpteenth time and decided to finally write a review of it. Adapted by screenwriter Andrew Davies, the miniseries was produced by Sue Birtwistle and directed by Simon Langton.

Austen’s story centered around one Elizabeth Bennet, the second of five daughters of a country gentleman living in Regency England and the efforts of her parents (or should I say of her mother) to find eligible husbands for her and her four other sisters. Two of these men happened to be the wealthy Charles Bingley, who has moved into the Bennets’ Hertfordshire neighborhood; and his wealthier friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy. The cheerful Mr. Bingley has managed to easily win the favor of the Bennets and their neighbors. He has also fallen in love with Elizabeth’s older sister, the even-tempered Jane. On the other hand, the more reticent Mr. Darcy not only managed to alienate Elizabeth, the other Bennets and the entire neighborhood with his aloof manner, but also fall in love with Elizabeth. “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, more than anything, focused upon the volatile love story between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.

Like nearly every other work of art in existence, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” has its share of flaws. Years after I first saw this miniseries, I still find myself wincing at actress Alison Steadman’s portrayal of the boorish Mrs. Bennet. I realize that the character possessed a wince-inducing personality. But there seemed to be a shrill note in Steadman’s performance during the miniseries’ first episode that made her portrayal of Mrs. Bennet seemed over-the-top. Another complaint I have about the miniseries is the lack of complexity in supporting characters like Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle – Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner – and Darcy’s sister, Georgiana. I found all three very likeable, but also slightly boring. They were the only characters that seemed to indulge in banal conversation that complimented everyone and everything.

I have two problems regarding the crisis over Lydia Bennet’s elopement with George Wickham, Darcy’s boyhood companion. One, I never understood why a calculating scoundrel like Wickham would bother to leave Brighton with Lydia in tow, on the promise of elopement. He knew that her family did not have the funds to buy him off. And I have read excuses, which explained that Wickham left Brighton because he had accumulated a good deal of debt during his regiment’s stay. I have also read that he took Lydia with him as an excuse to get out of town. With the promise of elopement? That does not sound right. Wickham was not a fool. It was bad enough that he had accumulated debts and had to get out of Brighton. But to drag Lydia in this mess did not strike me as logical. All he had to do was leave town in the middle of the night. Whether he was with Lydia or by himself, he ended up being absent without leave. I cannot help but wonder if Austen ever thought this through when she wrote her novel. The elopement crisis also forced Elizabeth to end her summer tour of Derbyshire with the Gardiners and return to her family at Longbourn. For the next twenty minutes or so, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” grounded to a halt, while the Bennets received a series of correspondence and visitors. This sequence featured two scenes of a bored Lydia and an anxious, yet frustrated Lydia sharing a rented room in London, and two featuring Darcy’s search for the pair. This sequence also featured a meaningless visit from Mr. Collins in which he smirked over the family’s possible ruination for less than five minutes. These little scenes failed to help the sequence move at a faster pace.

Before one starts to assume that I do not like “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, let me make it clear that I enjoyed it very much. In fact, I absolutely adore it. Not only is it one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations of all time, it is one of my top ten favorite miniseries of all time. Yes, it has its flaws. Even some of the best movies and television productions have flaws. And as I have pointed out, I do believe that the 1995 miniseries is no exception. But its virtues definitely outweighed the flaws. The miniseries’ five-and-a-half hours running time proved to be more of a virtue than a hindrance. But the miniseries format allowed viewers to enjoy this adaptation at a more leisurely pace than is allowed in a movie adaptation and the rich details of the story. I have seen at least five versions of Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. I have noticed that the plots for two of the movie versions went into great detail of the novel’s first half – from the Bingleys and Darcy’s arrival in Hertfordshire to Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth in Kent. But after that first proposal, the movie versions seemed to zoom ahead to Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s visit to Longbourn. I cannot say the same for the two television versions I have seen – especially the 1995 version. Aside from the tedious “search for Lydia” sequence, the story’s second half proved to be quite entertaining – especially Elizabeth’s visit to Derbyshire, Lydia and Wickham’s visit to Longbourn as a married couple, along with Darcy and Bingley’s efforts to renew their pursuits of the two elder Bennet sisters.

It could be understandable that the movie adaptations seemed to focus more on the novel’s first half. After all, many consider it to be the best part. The Bennets’ encounters with Darcy and the Bingleys crackled with energy and great humor. The series of fascinating verbal duels between the two lead characters possessed that same energy, along with a great deal of sexual tension. And when one throws the obsequious and ridiculous Mr. Collins into the mix, one has the feeling of watching a comedy-romantic masterpiece. All of this humor, energy and romance, mixed in with an elegant setting seemed to be at an apex in the Netherfield ball sequence. Personally, I consider the dance shared warily between Elizabeth and Darcy to be one of the best written and filmed scenes in the entire miniseries. Another scene that many consider to be one of the best, featured Darcy’s first marriage proposal to Elizabeth, during her visit to Charlotte and Mr. Collins at Hunsford Lodge, in Kent. That particular scene has to be one of the most wince-inducing moments in the entire story. Why? Because I found it hard to watch Elizabeth receive that extra-ordinary marriage proposal laced with passion . . . and slightly insulting remarks about her family background on her mother’s side. And because I found it difficult to watch Darcy endure Elizabeth’s heart stomping rejection. Both Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth performed the hell out of that scene.

Speaking of performances, one of the miniseries’ greatest assets was its cast. Jane Austen wrote a novel filled with some rich supporting characters. Director Simon Langton and screenwriter Andrew Davies utilized them very well. And so did the cast. Now, I cannot take back my complaints regarding Alison Steadman’s performance as Mrs. Bennet in the first hour. Yet shrill or not, she managed to capture her character’s personality perfectly. And so did Benjamin Whitrow, who portrayed the sardonic and long suffering Mr. Bennet. Some fans of Austen’s novel have complained about David Bamber’s buffoonish take on Mr. Collins, the Bennet’s obsequious cousin fated to inherit Longbourn upon Mr. Bennet’s death. But my memories of the literary Mr. Collins were that of a buffoonish man. However, Bamber gave his Mr. Collins a brief, poignant moment when Elizabeth took pity on his efforts to hide his slightly damaged pride with a tour of Hunsford. Julia Sawalha did a superb job in her portrayal of the youngest Bennet sibling – the thoughtless and self-centered Lydia. In fact, Sawalha managed to give one of the funniest performances in the entire miniseries. However, she had some stiff competition from the likes of Polly Maberly, who portrayed the slightly less flighty Kitty Bennet; and Lucy Briers, who portrayed the bookish and slightly self-righteous Mary Bennet.

One of the memorable performances in the miniseries came from actress Anna Chancellor, who portrayed one of Charles Bingley’s annoying and snobbish sister, Caroline. Chancellor managed to convey not only Caroline’s pretentious and spiteful sense of humor very well, but also the character’s desperate attempts to woo an uninterested Mr. Darcy. I believe that Crispin Bonham-Carter did a good job in infusing his character, Charles Bingley, with a good deal of bohemian warmth and cheerfulness. Yet, he had a tendency to read his lines in a broad manner that struck me as a bit too theatrical at times. I must admit that he could be very subtle in conveying Bingley’s attempts to suppress negative reactions to certain members of the Bennet family and his two sisters. Superficially, Susannah Harker’s performance as Jane Bennet seemed solid . . . almost dull. But a closer look at the actress’s performance made me realize that her she did a much better job in the role than most people were willing to give her credit for. She was excellent in conveying Jane’s heartbreak over the separation from Mr. Bingley. And she had one truly hilarious moment during the Netherfield Ball, when her character anxiously pointed out Mr. Collins’ intentions to speak to Mr. Darcy. But more importantly, Harker’s Jane seemed more like an older sister than the performances of the other actresses who had portrayed the role.

If I have to cite what I consider to be the three best performances in “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, they would be Adrian Lukis as George Wickham, Colin Firth as Fitzwilliam Darcy, and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet. In my opinion, Lukis’ portrayal of the charming and devious wastrel, George Wickham, is the best I have seen by any actor who has portrayed the role. I would not claim that he was the best looking Wickham. But Lukis conveyed a seamless charm that hinted a heady mixture of warmth, false honesty, and intimacy that could make anyone forget that his Wickham was a man one could not trust. And the actor achieved this with a subtle skill that made the other Wickhams look like amateurs.

Many fans and critics have labeled Colin Firth’s portrayal of Fitzwilliam Darcy as “smoldering” or “sexy” . . . worthy of a sex symbol. I do not know if I would agree with that assessment. What many saw as “smoldering”, I saw a performance in which the actor utilized his eyes to convey his character’s emotional responses. Whether Firth’s Darcy expressed contempt toward others, growing love and desire for Elizabeth Bennet, anxiety, wariness or any other emotion; Firth uses his eyes and facial expressions with great skill. Some fans have complained that his Darcy appeared in too many scenes in the last third of the series. I consider this nothing more than an exaggeration. Personally, I enjoyed those little sequences in which Firth revealed Darcy’s struggles to deal with Elizabeth’s rejection. While several others drooled over Firth in a wet shirt and breeches, I enjoyed the awkwardness in the reunion between his Darcy and Elizabeth. Firth earned an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the complex and reserved Mr. Darcy. And as far as I am concerned, he certainly deserved it . . . and a lot more.

Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA award for her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet, the vivacious leading lady of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. And it was a well deserved award, as far as I am concerned. Ehle not only formed a sizzling screen chemistry with Colin Firth, but with Adrian Lukis, as well. And like the two actors, she put her own stamp on her role. Ehle perfectly captured the aspects of Elizabeth’s character that many fans have admired – her liveliness, intelligence, warmth and sharp wit. Elizabeth’s habit of forming and maintain first opinions of others have been well-documented, which Ehle managed to capture. She also conveyed another disturbing aspect of Elizabeth’s personality – namely her arrogance. In some ways, Ehle’s Elizabeth could be just as arrogant as Mr. Darcy. She seemed to harbor a lack of tolerance toward those she viewed as flawed individuals. And thanks to Ehle’s skillful performance, this arrogance is conveyed in Elizabeth’s wit, barely suppressed rudeness and unwillingness to listen to good advice about making fast judgment about others from two people she highly admired – her sister Jane and her good friend, Charlotte Lucas.

The most important thing I can say about both Ehle and Firth is that the pair managed to form a sizzling screen chemistry. In other words, their Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy crackled with a great deal of energy, subtle sexuality and sharp wit. Their screen chemistry seemed stronger than any of the other screen couples who have portrayed the two characters. Surprisingly, I do have one problem with the two leads in the miniseries. And I have to place all of the blame on Andrew Davies, when he decided to faithfully adapt one scene in which the newly engaged Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy discussed the development of their relationship. Unfortunately, they came off sounding cold and clinical – like two psychoanalysts examining the genesis of their romance.

There is no doubt that producer Sue Birtwistle, director Simon Langton and the production team did a superb job with the miniseries’ overall production design. Mind you, I feel that the overall credit belonged to production designer Gerry Scott and art designers John Collins and Mark Kebby. They did a top notch job in capturing Austen’s tone from the novel by giving the miniseries a light and natural look to its setting. I could say the same for cinematographer John Kenway’s photography. I am not claiming to be an expert on the fashions of Regency Britain. Yet, from what I have read in other articles, many believed that Dinah Collin’s costumes closely recaptured the fashion and styles of the period when the novel was first published. I could not make final statement about that. But I must admit that the fashions perfectly captured the tone of the story and the production designs. If there is one other aspect of the miniseries that reflected its look and tone, I believe it would have to be Carl Davis’ score. Either he or Birtwistle made the right choice in hiring pianist Melvyn Tan to perform the score for the series’ opening credit.

In the end, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE” became one of the most acclaimed miniseries on both sides of the Atlantic. Even after eighteen years, it is still highly regarded. And rightly so. Despite a few flaws, I believe it deserves its accolades. As far as I am concerned, the 1995 miniseries remains to be the best adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. I also believe it is one of the best adaptations of any Austen novel, period.

“CAPOTE” (2005) Review

“CAPOTE” (2005) Review

I finally got around to watching the first of two movies about writer Truman Capote and his work on the non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood”. This particular movie, “CAPOTE”, starred American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who eventually won a SAG award, a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for his performance.

Penned by actor Dan Futterman and directed by Bennett Miller, “CAPOTE” turned out to be a more somber affair than Douglas McGrath’s 2006 film, “INFAMOUS”. Miller had once commented that he wanted to create a more subtle portrait of the flamboyant author in order to emphasize on Capote’s lonely and alienated state . . . despite his relationships with authors, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood); and his popularity with New York high society. This subtle approach not only permeated the movie’s tone and pace, it also affected the cast’s performances – especially Hoffman and Clifton Collins Jr., as Perry Smith.

I do not know if I would have automatically given Philip Seymour Hoffman that Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote. I am still inclined toward Heath Ledger receiving the award for his performance in “BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. But I must admit that Hoffman certainly deserved his nomination. He managed to skillfully portray Capote’s ambition and determination to create a literary masterpiece from the real life murders surrounding the Herb Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Hoffman also revealed how Capote used his charm to manipulate others . . . especially Perry Smith.

Catherine Keener earned both BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for her warm portrayal of “To Kill Mockingbird”author, Nelle Harper Lee. Granted, she deserved her nominations and I especially enjoyed how she managed to project a mixture of friendly warmth, reserve and moral fortitude in her performance. But I could not help but wonder if she could receive acting nominations, why not Clifton Collins, Jr.?

It seemed a shame that more praise had not been heaped upon Clifton Collins’ shoulders for his portrayal of the intense and soft-spoken convicted murderer, Perry Smith. His scenes with Hoffman gave the movie an extra bite of emotionalism that saved it from being too subtle. Like Daniel Craig’s performance of Smith in “INFAMOUS”, Collins brought an interesting balance of soft-spoken politeness and intense danger in his performance. Well . . . almost. The real KBI investigator in charge of the Clutter case, Alvin Dewey, had once described Perry Smith as a quiet, intense and dangerous man. In “CAPOTE”, Smith’s own sister had warned Capote that despite her brother’s quiet and polite demeanor, he was easily capable of committing the crimes against the Clutters. And yet, I never did sense any real danger in Collins’ performance. Not quite. Except in two scenes – namely his confrontation with Capote over the “In Cold Blood” title; and the flashbacks revealing the Clutters’ murders. The ironic thing is that I suspect that Collins was not to blame. I suspect that Miller’s direction and Futterman’s script simply did not really allow Collins to reveal Smith’s more dangerous aura.

All of this led to what became my main problem with “CAPOTE” – namely the somber subtlety that seemed to permeate the production. Not only did the director’s desire to create a subtle film seem to mute Collins’ potential for a more balanced portrayal of Perry Smith, it also forced Hoffman to hold back some of Capote’s more flamboyant traits. I am quite certain that this was both the director and the screenwriter’s intentions. But I also feel that this deliberate attempt at subtlety may have robbed both the Capote and Smith characters of a more balanced nuance. It also denied the audience a deeper look into Capote’s New York lifestyle and bogged down the movie’s pacing in the end. During the last thirty or forty minutes, I found myself begging for the movie to end.

But despite the movie’s “too somber” mood and pacing, “CAPOTE” is an excellent movie and I would highly recommend it for viewing.

8/10

“JOHN ADAMS” (2008) Review

“JOHN ADAMS” (2008) Review

Over two years have passed since HBO aired the last episode of its seven-part miniseries, ”JOHN ADAMS” . . . and I have yet to post any comment about it. I realized that I might as well post my views on the series, while my memories of it remains fresh. 

In a nutshell . . . ”JOHN ADAMS” is an adaption of David McCullough’s bestselling, Pulitzer-Prize winning biography on the country’s second president, John Adams. Instead of beginning the story during Adams’ childhood or early adulthood, the miniseries began in the late winter/early spring of 1770, when he defended seven British soldiers and one officer accused of murder during the ‘Boston Massacre’ crisis. It ended with the episode that covered the last fifteen years of Adams’ life as a former President. And despite some historical discrepancies and a rather bland fourth episode, ”JOHN ADAMS” ended as another glorious notch in HBO’s history.

The performances were superb, especially Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney as John and Abigail Adams. On screen, they were as well matched as the second President and First Lady were, over two hundred years ago. If either of them is passed over for either an Emmy or Golden Globe award, a great travesty will end up occurring. Especially Giamatti. He is the first actor I have seen make the role of John Adams his own, since William Daniels in ”1776”. Another performance that left me dazzled was British actor Stephen Dillane’s subtle and brilliant performance as one of the most enigmatic Presidents in U.S. history – Thomas Jefferson. I had heard a rumor that he preferred acting on the stage above performing in front of a camera. If it is true, I think it is a damn shame. There is nothing wrong with the theater. But quite frankly, I feel that Dillane’s style of acting is more suited for the movies or television. These three fine actors are backed up with excellent performances from the likes of David Morse as George Washington, a brooding Sam Adams portrayed by Danny Huston and Tom Wilkinson portraying a roguish and very witty Benjamin Franklin.

I found most of the miniseries’ episodes very enjoyable to watch and very informative. Not only did ”JOHN ADAMS” gave its viewers a detailed look into the United States and Europe during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, rarely seen on the silver or television screen. One particular scene comes to mind occurred in Part 1 – “Join or Die”, when Adams witnessed the tar-and-feathering of a Boston Tory by members of the Sons of Liberty. The entire incident played out with grusome detail. Another scene that caught my attention occurred in Part 6 – “Unecessary War”, when the Adamses had their first view of the recently built White House, located in the still undeveloped Washington D.C. I am so used to Washington looking somewhat civilized that its early, ramshackle appearance came as quite a surprise. And instead of allowing the actors and scenery resemble something out of a painting or art museum, everything looked real. One might as well be stepping into the late eighteenth century, absorbing the sights, sounds and smells . . . if one could achieve the latter via a television set. Speaking of sounds, I have to comment on the opening scene score written by Rob Lane. It is very rare find a miniseries theme song this catchy and stirring. Especially in recent years.

If I could choose one particular episode that left me wanting, it had to be Part Four – ”Reunion”. This episode covered John and Abigail Adams’ years in Paris during the Treaty of Paris negotiations and as the first U.S. Minister to the British Court of St. James in London. It also covered his return to Massachusetts and election as the first Vice President. I enjoyed the development of the Adams’ friendship with Jefferson in this episode. Unfortunately that is all I had enjoyed. I wish that the episode had expanded more on the troubles surrounding the Treaty of Paris and especially the Adams’ stay in London. The most that was shown in the latter situation was Adams’ meeting with King George III (Tom Hollander) and Abigail’s desire to return home. On the whole, I found this episode rushed and slightly wanting.

But there were three others that I found fascinating. One turned out to be Part 3 – ”Don’t Tread on Me”. This episode featured his subsequent Embassy with Benjamin Franklin to the Court of Louis XVI, and his trip to the Dutch Republic to obtain monetary support for the Revolution. I would not exactly view this episode as one of the miniseries’ best, but it did feature an excellent performance by Paul Giamatti, who expressed Adams’ frustration with the opulent Court of Louis XVI and the rakish Benjamin Franklin, rakishly portrayed by Tom Wilkinson. Watching Adams attempt to win the friendship of the French aristocrats and fail was fascinating to watch.

One of the episodes that really stood out for me was Part 6 – ”Unnecessary War”. This episode covered Adams’ term as the second President of the United States and the growing development of a two-party system in the form of the Federalists led by Alexander Hamilton (Rufus Sewell) and the Jefferson-led Democratic-Republicans. This episode featured standout performances from not only Giamatti, but from Linney, Dillane and Sewell as a rather manipulative and power hungry Hamilton. The episode also featured a detailed history lessons on the beginning of political partisanship in the U.S. and the country’s (or should I say Adams’) efforts to keep the U.S. neutral from the war between Great Britain and France. It also focused upon a personal matter for both John and Abigail, as they dealt with the decline of their alcoholic second son, Charles. An excellent episode all around.

My favorite episode – and I suspect that it might be the case with many fans – is Part 2 – ”Independence”. This episode focused upon the early years of the Revolution in which Adams and his fellow congressmen of the Continental Congress consider the option of independence from Great Britain and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. It also focused upon Abigail’s struggles with the Adams’ farm and a smallpox outbreak in the Massachusetts colony. Personally, I consider this the best episode of the entire series. I especially enjoyed the verbal conflict between pro-independence Adams and delegate John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (superbly portrayed by actor Željko Ivanek), who favored reconciliation with the Crown. But one scene I found particularly humorous featured Adams and especially Franklin “editing” Jefferson’s final draft of the Declaration of Independence. All three actors – Giamatti, Wilkinson and Dillane were hilarious in a scene filled with subtle humor.

Despite being based upon a historical biography, ”JOHN ADAMS” is not historically accurate. Which is not surprising. It is first and foremost a Hollywood production. Some of the best historical dramas ever shown on television or on the movie screen were never historically correct. Whether or not ”JOHN ADAMS” is 100% historically correct, it is one of the best dramas I have seen on television in the past three years. Now that it has been released on DVD, I plan to buy and watch it all over again.

“THERE WILL BE BLOOD” (2007) Review

“THERE WILL BE BLOOD” (2007) Review

I really do not know what to say about Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie, ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD”. This movie, based upon Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel ”Oil!”, is about a ruthless oilman in California between 1898 and 1927. I cannot deny that this is basically an excellent film and that Daniel Day-Lewis gave one of the best performances of career. I cannot also deny that”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” was basically well written, produced and directed by director Anderson. I basically enjoyed it very much and consider it to be one of the better films released this year. But for some reason, I cannot muster any real passion for it.

I must admit that there were times that I found the movie fascinating. One has to thank leading Daniel Day-Lewis’ riveting performance maintaining my interest. He portrayed the ruthless Daniel Plainview, a hard-working silver prospector who discovered an oil well, while prospecting for silver. On the very day he discovers his first oil well, one of his employees die in an accident and Plainview adopts the dead man’s infant son. By 1911, he is one of the most successful oil men in California. In order to convince many farmers and other small landowners to drill on their land, he uses his adoptive son, whom he names H.W. (Dillon Freasier), as his “partner” to project his status as a family man and a family businessman. Plainview is approached by a young man named Paul Sunday (Paul Dano) who sells Plainview an oil lead located on his family’s property in Little Boston, California. Plainview and H.W. travel to Little Boston, and, pretending to be hunting quail, scout out the Sunday property and discover a good amount of seepage oil. Plainview attempts to buy the property without notifying Paul’s father Abel (David Willis) of the oil, but Paul’s twin brother, Eli (again Paul Dano), knows of the oil and raises the price to $10,000, the bulk of which he intends to put into the founding of his own Church. Plainview pays him $5000 up front and promises the other $5000 as a donation to the church. In order to ensure the monopoly on the Little Boston oil, Plainview buys the “ranches” of a number of the surrounding neighbors, with the exception of one property, which the owner, a Mr. Bandy (Hans Howes), was hesitant to sell.

As I had earlier stated, the heart and soul of ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” for me was Daniel Day-Lewis. His Daniel Plainview has to be one of the most fascinating characters in movie history. Certainly not in literary history, since Plainview was a character created for the screen by Anderson. I really do not know how to describe him. He seemed to be the epitome of those ruthless tycoons of the late 19th century and early 20th century. He is certainly not typical. Utilizing a John Huston accent, Day-Lewis captured all of the malevolence , cunning and emotional perversity of Plainview, as he draws the audience into the character’s unchecked greed for wealth and power. The ironic thing is that Plainview does not seem to care for the trappings of wealth. One example of this is his habit of sleeping on the floor, even when a comfortable bed is available. And even in that exclusive mansion he has built by the end of the film, he sleeps on the floor inside the mansion’s bowling alley. But the money and power, he definitely needs. And he needs an audience to witness his financial triumphs, judging how he had temporarily abandoned H.W. when the latter first lost his hearing in an accident and how he took under his wings, a man claiming to be a long lost brother named Henry Brands (Kevin J. O’Connor). Day-Lewis has already won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama for his performance. And he is a front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar. If he does win the award on February 24th, I will not be surprised.

It is a shame that the Golden Globes and the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science had failed to acknowledge Paul Dano for his performances as the twin brothers – Paul and Eli Sunday, and Dillon Freasier as the young H.W. Plainview. Dano, who had impressed critics with his supporting role in ”LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”, studied evangelism for his role as the Sunday twins. The Paul Sunday character made a brief appearance near the beginning of the story, but Dano’s performance as the other twin Eli really impressed me. Dano’s performance revealed the malevolence and greed for wealth and power behind Eli’s meek and religious demeanor – traits that seemed to match Plainview’s. Anderson could not find a child actor to portray Plainview’s adoptive son, H.W., so he had hired the son of a Texas state trooper who had pulled over the movie’s casting agent for speeding. Like Dakota Blue Richards in ”THE GOLDEN COMPASS”, Dillon Freasier turned out to be find. Especially for Anderson and the movie. With very few words, the young actor managed to convey all of his character’s array of emotions experienced in the film – from his intelligence and warmth, to his suspicions and resentment of Plainview’s relationship with Henry Brands.

Most of ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” seemed to be set during 1911. Sinclair’s novel seemed to be a condemnation of the oil industry itself and a response to the infamous Teapot Dome Scandal during the Warren G. Harding administration. Anderson does condemn the oil industry in California, especially in his revelation of how many small landowners were cheated out of millions of dollars through the manipulations of oil companies and tycoons. But for me, ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” seemed more like a character study than an expose on a major industry. But I must admit that it is a first-class movie and probably one of the better ones of 2007. Anderson paced the movie very well, making one ALMOST forget that this movie is fifteen minutes short of three hours. With actors like Day-Lewis, Dano, Freasier, Ciarán Hinds and Kevin J. O’Connor, Anderson managed to make the most of a first-class cast. Well, almost. More on that later. Did it deserve to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar? Quite frankly, I am not sure. As excellent as the movie is . . . as first-rate is Day-Lewis’ performance, it did not exactly rock my boat. Quite frankly, I do have a few problems with the film.

As I had stated earlier, ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD” seemed more like a character study, instead of an expose. And because of that, I feel that it could have been at least a half hour or forty-five minutes shorter. When I said that Anderson had almost made me forget that this movie was nearly three hours long, I was serious. He ALMOST made me forget about the film’s running time. Until the story shifted to 1927. Frankly, I do not see why Anderson had even bothered. Following the time shift, the movie lost its epic scope. Even Plainview’s personality seemed to have lost some of its steam . . . until his last encounter with Eli Sunday. Speaking of those two, I believe that the make-up artist may have done both Day-Lewis and Dano a bit of a disservice. Despite the fifteen to sixteen year difference between the two time shifts, I never really got the impression that either Plainview or Sunday had aged at all. There was barely a strand of gray in Day-Lewis’ hair and Dano still looked like a young man in his early twenties, despite the fact that Eli Sunday must have been at least in his mid-to-late thirties during this period. But the one thing I truly disliked about the film was its abrupt ending. One can say that the movie ended with the final confrontation between the two adversaries. But there is this feeling in my gut that Anderson had ended the movie in the middle of the story’s finale. He probably had a reason for ending it in this manner. Whatever reason he had, it has eluded me.

Despite some of my disenchantment with ”THERE WILL BE BLOOD”, I must admit that it is overall, an excellent film. It may not have rocked my boat, but I did find it fascinating. And if you can deal with a two hour and forty-five minute study about a fictional character, then I suggest that you go rent the movie.

“NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy – Certain Topics

“NORTH AND SOUTH Trilogy” – Certain Topics

In the past, there have been questions regarding plot points for the three miniseries of the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy. I thought I would clear up a few matters. 

Elkhannah Bent’s Survival Following Fight with Orry Main

Some “NORTH AND SOUTH” fans have wondered how Elkhannah Bent (Philip Casnoff) had survived his fight with Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) in the second book, “Book II – Love and War”. In the second novel, Orry and Bent had some sort of fight near the James River that ended when Orry shoved the latter over the falls and (at least I thought) to his death. Imagine my surprise when I read “Book III – Heaven and Hell” and saw that Bent never died after all. He ended up in an army hospital in Richmond.

In the second miniseries, North and South – Book II”, Bent rushed inside that warehouse just before it blew up. I thought that was the end of that bugger – until I read the novel, “Heaven and Hell” one year later. When the miniseries, “Book III – Heaven and Hell” finally aired, Bent was alive at the beginning of the first, although scarred. How he had survived that explosion, I don’t know. After Bent killed Orry, he and Ashton Main Huntoon (Terri Garber) quarrelled. Bent had said the wrong thing to Ashton and she did to him, what Orry did in the book – shoved him over the falls and into the James River. And just as in the book, Bent ended up in an army hospital, crazy as ever.

Orry’s Swordsmanship in Book I

I must admit that I had a problem with Orry defeating Bent in that brief sword fight in Part I of the first miniseries. Especially since Orry was described as not being a talented swordsman. I had asked several people about sword fighting and according to them, brains and a solid understanding of strategy are required to be a good swordsman.

Since Orry was never that great with his studies (including military subjects), I never saw how he was able to defeat Bent, who was. The explanation that Patrick Swayze (who portrayed Orry) happened to be an excellent dancer did not seem much of an excuse. Nor did it seem like a good excuse to include that scene in the miniseries. This does not mean that all Northern cadets made better swordsmen than Southern cadets. After all, I can think of a good number of Southerners who had excelled academically at West Point – including Robert E. Lee, Pierre Beauregard and Porter Alexander.

Hanging in Book III

In the third miniseries, one of the characters – an ex-slave named Issac (Stan Shaw), ended up hanged by the local Ku Klux Klan. A “NORTH AND SOUTH” fan had believed that a similar hanging had taken place in the third novel, “Heaven and Hell”. I am here to say that no such hanging scene in the third novel. Issac’s literary counterpoint in the third novel turned out to be a former Mont Royal slave named Andy Sherman. Andy ended up being killed during the Klan’s attack upon Mont Royal. Ironically, Andy’s counterpoint in the second miniseries, was Ezra (Beau Billingslea), who happened to be in love with Semiramis (Erica Gimpel).

Mortgage on Mont Royal

In both the first novel and the first miniseries, Orry had put Mont Royal on mortgage, so he could pay back George for: a) the funds George gave to the Mains for construction of a steamship in the novel; and b) George’s investment in a cotton mill he co-owned with Orry in the miniseries. For those who do not know, the character of Cooper Main – Orry’s older brother – appeared in all THREE novels. However, the producers had decided to cut out his character in the first two miniseries. When Cooper finally appeared in Book III (in the form of Robert Wagner), the writers explained that he was the one who held the mortgage on Mont Royal. Where he had been all this time, they never bothered to explain. A moment of sloppy writing, if you ask me.

If you have any further questions regarding the plots of Jakes’ three novels or the three miniseries, please do not hesitate to ask.