“FREQUENCY” (2000) Review

“FREQUENCY” (2000) Review

Directed by Gregory Hoblit and written by Toby Emmerich, “FREQUENCY” is an entertaining and intriguing time travel story about a New York City firefighter in 1969, who is able to communicate with his adult son in 1999, via a short wave radio. The movie starred Dennis Quaid, Jim Cavielzel, Elizabeth Mitchell, Andre Braugher, Noah Emmerich and Shawn Doyle. 

A rare atmospheric phenomenon – the Aurora Borealis – allows a New York City firefighter named Frank Sullivan (Quaid) to communicate with his police detective son, John Sullivan (Cavielzel) 30 years in the future via short-wave radio. John uses this opportunity to warn Frank of his impending death in a warehouse fire, and manages to save the latter’s life. However, what he does not realize is that changing history has triggered a new set of tragic events, including the murder of his mother, Julia Sullivan (Mitchell). Father and son must now work together, 30 years apart, to find the murderer (Doyle) before he strikes so that they can change history – again.

Many have compared the plotlines of “FREQUENCY” to the 1985 classic, “BACK TO THE FUTURE”. I never understood why, since many time travel stories have dealt with different generations within a family interacting with each other – including two episodes of the television fantasy, “CHARMED”. What made “FREQUENCY” unique . . . at least for me is that neither of the two major characters actually travel through time – whether through the use of magic or a time machine. In fact, not one character does. The two major characters communicate with each other via a short wave radio and the atmospheric phenomenon, the Aurora Borealis. Frank and John Sullivan manage to change time . . . without leaving their respective time period. I have to admit that this was very clever of screenwriter Emmerich.

Another reason why I find the comparisons between “FREQUENCY” and “BACK TO THE FUTURE” hard to buy is the fact that”FREQUENCY” is not only a time travel story, but also a thriller. In another clever plot twist, there is a serial killer loose called the Nightingale” murdering nurses in 1969. The case is re-opened by John and his partner/mentor, an old friend of his father named Satch DeLeon (Braugher), when an old corpse is discovered. As it turned out, the Nightingale killings had stopped after three victims, following Frank’s death in a warehouse fire. But when John warns his father of his impending death, Frank manages to save his life and that of a teenage girl. And his wife Julia, who is a nurse, is at the hospital to save the life of the killer, a cop named Jack Shephard. An act that leads to her violent death at his hands – and the deaths of six other nurses. Realizing the consequences of their actions, Frank and John race to save Julia’s life and the lives of Shephard’s other victims – and expose the cop as a serial murderer.

I must say that I ended up being very impressed by Emmerich’s script. He wrote an emotional and suspenseful story filled with family drama, fantasy and suspense. He took an original approach to time travel by having the two main characters travel through time via an object – namely a shorthand radio – without actually leaving their respective periods in time. The only misstep in Emmerich’s script occurred near the end in which featured Shepard’s attempt to kill members of the Sullivan family in both 1969 and 1999 – two incidents that cut back and forth within one sequence. I understood the killer’s attempt to commit murder in 1969. After all, he probably wanted to get even with Frank for exposing him as a serial killer, by murdering Julia. That episode ended with Frank blowing away Shephard’s hand with a shotgun before the latter escaped. But he came back to the Sullivan house, thirty years later to kill John. That simply did not make any sense to me . . . and it almost ruined the sequence for me. Not even Gregory Hoblit’s first-class direction or the competent editing of David Rosenbloom could elevate the scene.

When Hoblit took on the job as director of “FREQUENCY”, he had difficulty in casting the two leads. Sylvester Stallone was originally considered for the role of Frank Sullivan. But Stallone pulled out over a dispute regarding his paycheck. In the end, Dennis Quaid won the role. And he turned out to be the perfect Frank – the boisterous and charming firefighter who loved his family and baseball. He managed to create a strong chemistry with the talented and surprisingly dark-haired Elizabeth Mitchell, who gave a charming performance as his wife, Julia. And despite the fact that both actors came from Texas (although Mitchell was born in Los Angeles), Quaid and Mitchell managed to create a convincing Queens accent. Well . . . almost. Andre Braugher gave solid support as Satch, Frank’s close friend and John’s mentor. He also had a delicious moment on screen when he discovered that Frank had been telling the truth about communicating with John through time. Emmerich’s brother, Noah Emmerich, gave a funny performance as John’s best friend, Gordo Hersch. I also have to give kudos to Shawn Doyle for portraying a convincingly scary killer without any signs of acting histrionics. And of course, there is James Cavielzel, who did an excellent job of portraying Frank and Julia’s brooding and slightly obsessive adult son, John Sullivan. And although Cavielzel comes from the Pacific Northwest, his Queens accent turned out to be slightly better than Quaid and Mitchell’s. Hoblit managed to gather quite a cast and he did an excellent job with them.

Despite my misgivings over the film’s climatic action sequence featuring Shephard’s two attacks upon the Sullivan family, I must admit that I enjoyed “FREQUENCY” very much. Screenwriter Toby Emmerich created a first-class and original screenplay. And director Gregory Hoblit did an excellent job of conveying Emmerich’s story with a group of talented actors led by Dennis Quaid and James Cavielzel, and a competent crew that included film editor David Rosenbloom. Not only is “FREQUENCY” is a compelling science-fiction story about time travel and the consequences; it is also a suspenseful thriller and heartwarming family drama. I highly recommend it.

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1989) Review

Below is my review of the 1989 miniseries, “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”

 

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (1989) Review

I have seen at least three full versions of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”. And if I must be frank, I have yet to see a version that I would consider to be flawless or near flawless. But if I had to choose which version would rank as my favorite, it would be the three-part miniseries that aired on NBC in 1989.

Directed by the late Buzz Kulik, this version of Jules Verne’s novel starred Pierce Brosnan as the globe-trotting Phineas Fogg. ”MONTY PYTHON” alumni Eric Idle co-starred as Fogg’s French manservant, Passepartout; Julia Nickson portrayed the India-born Princess Aouda; and the late Peter Ustinov was the English detective who was convinced that Fogg had robbed the Bank of England, Detective Fix. The story started with a conversation between Fogg (Brosnan) and three fellow members of the Reform Club (Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Simon Ward) in 19th century London about the technological advances in transportation in the past thirty to forty years. This leads Fogg to make a wager for twenty-thousand pounds (£20,000) that he could travel around the world in eighty (80) days or less. During the same day, a thief robs the Bank of England and all suspicions point to Fogg, who is identified by a bank employee as the robber.

Wentworth (Robert Morely), an official from the Bank of England and his assistant McBaines (Roddy MacDowell) dispatch private detectives to various ports throughout Europe to find Fogg and have him extradicted back to England. One of the detectives include Fix (Ustinov), who is sent to Brindisi, Italy. Unfortunately, Fix spots Fogg and Passepartout boarding a steamer bound for Suez and Bombay a minute too late and is forced to follow them on their trek around the world. Upon Fogg’s arrival in India, one last member joins his traveling party when he and Passepartout (actually, Passepartout) rescue a recently widowed Indian princess from a suttee funeral pyre.

Like its 1956 predecessor, this version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” turned out to be longer than necessary. The miniseries could have easily been a two-part miniseries or a 135-minute television movie. Unfortunately, John Gay filled his screenplay with unecessary scenes and dialogue that merely served as fillers to justify a three-part miniseries. In Part I, Fogg and Passepartout’s adventures in France lasted longer than necessary – especially after they met a balloonist named Gravier and his mistress, Lucette. Even worse, viewers have to endure Fogg and Passepartout’s balloon journey from France to Italy – which included a period that the heroes found themselves stranded in the Italian Alps. Part II included scenes that featured Fogg, Passepartout and Aouda’s adventures with a Burmese prince and the bandits that kidnapped all of them; and Fogg, Aouda and Fix’s encounter with the Empress of China and her son, the Emperor. I realize Gay also added these scenes to make Fogg’s journey around the world more interesting. Unfortunately, they failed to interest or impress me.

Another problem I had with Gay’s script turned out to be a major blooper that involved Fogg’s encounters with the famous bandit, Jesse James (Stephen Nicols). Following Fogg’s first encounter with James in San Francisco; he, Aouda, Passepartout and Fix boarded an eastbound train for Omaha. By some miracle, Jesse James and his brother Frank managed to catch up with this train somewhere on the Great Plains (probably in Nebraska), where Jesse boarded said train before the second encounter with Fogg. How was this possible? Fogg’s train should have traveling eastbound for at least a day or two before James boarded it. There is NO WAY that the bandit could have caught up with that train. Gay should have allowed the James brothers or Jesse board the train in Oakland, along with Fogg and his party. Sloppy writing. And some of the dialogue featured in the miniseries seemed ladened with pedantic and half-finished sentences and unecessarily long pauses that seemed to serve no other function than to act as fillers to stretch the story.

One might wonder how I can view this version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” as my favorite, considering the above criticism. But despite the flaws, I must admit there were many aspects about the miniseries I found enjoyable. John Gay’s screenplay did not turn out to be a total loss. In fact, the number of gems in the story seemed to outweigh the flaws. I especially enjoyed the following:

*Fogg and Passepartout’s charming encounter with actress Sarah Bernhardt (portrayed by a still sexy 54 year-old Lee Remick) at Dover
*Fogg and Passepartout’s hilarious adventure at a Parisian bar
*The steamship journey from Brindisi to Suez that featured Fogg’s encounter with Egyptian stonecutters and Fix’s hilarious encounter with a Turkish prisoner willing to offer himself to help the detective pass the time
*Princess Aouda’s rescue
*Fogg, Aouda and Fix find themselves shipwrecked on the China coast
*Fogg’s first encounter with Jesse James at a San Francisco ball
*Fogg and James’ duel on the Omaha-bound train

One particular scene I truly found enjoyable was Fogg and Aouda’s hilarious and unsuccessful attempt to stowaway aboard Cornelius Vanderbilt’s (Rick Jason) Europe-bound yacht. It was never featured in the novel or the 1956 movie. Too bad. I thought it was one of the best written scenes in the miniseries.

And it was Pierce Brosnan’s performance as Phileas Fogg that really made that last scene a comic gem for me. Which is not surprising, considering he has turned out to be my favorite Fogg. Sorry Mr. Niven and Mr. Coogan, but I feel that Brosnan’s portrayal has the other two beat. He managed to combined the best of the other two actors’ performances to create the most emotionally rounded Phileas Fogg. He managed to perfectly convey the angst of Fogg’s tendencies to suppress his emotions with some great comic timing.

Speaking of comic timing, Eric Idle’s timing was effectively on display in some of my favorite scenes. Granted, I found his French accent rather questionable. But Idle more than made up for it in some very hilarious scenes. One featured his reaction to being attacked by a French thug at the Parisian bar and another a drunken moment shared with Fix at a Hong Kong tavern. But my favorite Idle moment centered around his reaction to a questionable meat pie purchased by Fogg on the Omaha-bound train in probably the funniest line in the entire miniseries.

Julia Nickson was both charming and amusing as the very brave Princess Aouda. Her Indian princess provided the miniseries with some deliciously angst-filled moments that allowed Aouda to question Fogg about his habit of suppressing his feelings from others. Nickson’s Aouda also provided the miniseries with some political correct moments that were not only amusing, but well handled without being overbearing. And I simply enjoyed Peter Ustinov’s performance as Detective Fix. Like Brosnan’s Fogg, his Fix came off as more rounded and complex as Robert Newton or Ewan Bremmer’s Fix. Without a doubt, Ustinov had some hilarious moments – especially in scenes that featured Fix’s encounter with the Turkish prisoner on the voyage to Suez; and his reaction to anothergame of whist with Fogg. Not only did Ustinov managed to be funny, but also give Fix’s character with a great deal of depth not found in other versions of the story.

I do have to say something about the supporting characters. One, I really enjoyed Robert Morely and Roddy McDowall as the Bank of England official and his assistant. Morely was a lot more amusing and fun in this miniseries than he was as the more stoic bank official in the 1956 version. And McDowall supported him beautifully. I also enjoyed the performances of Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee and Simon Ward as the three Reform Club members who made the bet with Fogg. I especially enjoyed Lee’s performance as the one member who especially found Fogg’s precision and rigid habits rather annoying.

This version of “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” lacked Victor Young’s memorable score and Lionel Lindon’s cinematography. But it does possess a pleasant and catchy score written by Billy Goldenberg. And I must admit that I found myself impressed by Emma Porteus’ costume design, which captured the styles of the early 1870s more effectively than the 1956 movie.

In a nutshell, the three-part miniseries is simply too long. It has scenes and some clunky dialogue that could have easily been edited. But screenwriter John Gay also provided some wonderful and effective moments in the script. Frankly, I thought the cast was top-notch – especially the four main characters led by Pierce Brosnan. And although he is not well known, I thought that director Buzz Kulik did a solid job bringing it all together. The 1956 version may have won the awards, but in my book, this 1989 miniseries remains my favorite version of Jules Verne’s novel.

Ten Favorite Movies Set During the Victorian Age (1837-1901)

Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the Victorian Age: 

TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE VICTORIAN AGE (1837-1901)

1. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Shekhar Kapur directed this seventh and latest version of A.E.W. Mason’s novel about disgraced British officer Harry Faversham’s efforts to redeem himself for leaving the Army at the start of a war in the Sudan. Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley star.

2. “Wuthering Heights” (1939) – William Wyler directed this only version of Emily Bronte’s brooding tale of a star-crossed romance on the Yorkshire moors to be set during the mid-19th century. Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and David Niven starred.

3. “The Great Train Robbery” (1979) – Michael Crighton directed and wrote this loose adaptation of an actual robbery of a train filled with gold headed for the Crimea in 1855. Sean Connery, Lesley Anne Down, and Donald Sutherland starred.

4. “Without a Clue” (1988) – Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley starred in this humorous spoof of the Sherlock Holmes legend, in which Holmes is a fictional character created by Dr. John Watson.

5. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in this exciting tale filled with murder, politics and magic. Guy Ritchie directed.

6. “Angels and Insects” (1995) – Philip Haas directed this drama based upon A.S. Byatt’s novella about a British naturalist who marries into an aristocratic . . . with surprising results. Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Patsy Kensit star.

7. “Stardust” (2007) – Based upon Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel set during 19th century England, this movie starred Charlie Cox, Claire Danes, Michelle Pfieffer and Robert DeNiro.

8. “Royal Flash” (1975) – Malcolm McDowell portrayed George MacDonald Fraser’s literary anti-hero in this adaptation of the latter’s 1970 novel that was partially set in early Victorian England.

9. “The Prestige” (2006) – Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman in this story about two rival magicians in late Victorian England.

10. “An Ideal Husband” (1999) – Based upon Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play about political corrpution and blackmail in high society, this movie starred Rupert Everett, Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Jeremy Northam and Julianne Moore.

Ten Favorite Movies Set in the EDWARDIAN AGE (1901-1914)

Below is a list of my ten favorite movies set during the Edwardian Age (1901-1914) in Great Britain: 

Ten Favorite Movies Set in the EDWARDIAN AGE

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – This Academy Award nominated film is an superb adaptation of E.M. Foster’s 1910 novel about class relations in turn-of-the-20th-century England. This Merchant-Ivory production starred Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anthony Hopkins, Samuel West and Vanessa Redgrave.

2. “A Room With a View” (1986) – Merchant-Ivory also produced and directed this excellent adaptation of E.M. Foster’s 1908 novel about a young woman struggling with her individuality in the face of the restrictive Edwardian culture of turn-of-the century England and her love for a free-spirited young man. This film starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis, Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

3. “Mary Poppins” (1964) – Julie Andrews won an Oscar for her performance in this magical Disney musical based upon the “Mary Poppins” books series by P. L. Travers. Directed by Robert Stevenson, this classic film also starred Dick Van Dyke, David Tomilson, Glynnis Johns, Karen Doctrice, Matthew Garber and Ed Wynn.

4. “The Assassination Bureau, LTD.” (1968) – Basil Dearden directed this a tongue-in-cheek dark comedy that was based on an unfinished novel, “The Assassination Bureau, Ltd” by Jack London. It starred Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, and Curt Jürgens.

5. “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” (1965) – Ken Annakin directed this charming all-star comedy about an 1910 air race from London to Paris. The cast included Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Gert Frobe and Terry-Thomas.

6. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – In my opinion, this Golden Globe Award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s 1955 book about the R.M.S. Titanic is the best movie about the famous ocean liner. Directed by Roy Ward Baker, this film starred Kenneth More, Laurence Naismith, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman.

7. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Based upon Henry James’ novel, this is a tale of love, marriage and adultery amongst American expatriates and an Italian nobleman in turn-of-the-century England. Starred Uma Thurman, Jeremy Northam, Kate Beckinsale, Nick Nolte, Angelica Huston and James Fox.

8. “The Prestige” (2006) – Christopher Nolan directed this excellent adaptation of Christopher Priest’s novel about rival show magicians in turn-of-the-century England. The movie starred Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, Piper Perabo, David Bowie, Andy Serakis and Michael Caine.

9. “My Fair Lady” (1964) – George Cukor directed this Academy Award winning adaptation of Lerner and Lowe’s hit Broadway musical . . . which was an adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, “Pygmalion”. Rex Harrison and Audrey Hepburn star.

10. “Titanic” (1997) – This latest version of the sinking of the RMS Titanic won eleven Academy Awards. Directed by James Cameron, it starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton and Gloria Stuart.

“CINDERELLA MAN” (2005) Review

 

“CINDERELLA MAN” (2005) Review

When I had first learned about Ron Howard’s biopic about boxing champion James J. Braddock, I was very reluctant to see the film. In fact, I did not even bother to go see it. Instead, I merely dismissed “CINDERELLA MAN” as a ‘“SEABISCUIT” in the boxing ring’. After I finally saw the movie, I must admit that my original assessment stood. 

“CINDERELLA MAN” and the 2003 Oscar nominated film, “SEABISCUIT” seemed to have a lot in common. Both were released by Universal Pictures. Both films possessed a running time that lasted over two hours, both were sentimental stories that centered around a famous sports figure and both were set during the Great Depression. Unlike “SEABISCUIT”“CINDERELLA MAN” told the story about a man – namely one James J. Braddock, an Irish-American boxer from New York and Bergen, New Jersey. The movie started out with Braddock (portrayed by Russell Crowe) as a boxing heavyweight contender in 1928, who had just won an important bout against another boxer named Tuffy Griffiths. But within five years, Braddock found himself as a has-been struggling to keep his family alive during the depths of the Depression, while working as longshoreman. Thanks to a last minute cancellation by another boxer, Braddock gets a second chance to fight but is put up against the number two contender in the world, Corn Griffin, by the promoters who see Braddock as nothing more than a punching bag. Braddock stuns the boxing experts and fans with a third round knockout of the formidable Griffin. After winning a few more bouts, Braddock ends facing boxing champ, Max Baer (Craig Bierko), for the heavyweight title in 1935.

Despite the similarities between “CINDERELLA MAN” and “SEABISCUIT”, I must admit that I regret not seeing this film in the theaters. It turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. Director Ron Howard, along with screenwriters Cliff Hollingsworth and Akiva Goldsman, did an excellent job of chronicling Braddock’s boxing career at a time when he had been labeled a has-been by the sports media. The movie also featured some excellent fight sequences that came alive due to Howard’s direction, Crowe, Bierko, and the other actors who portrayed Braddock’s opponents. Although the movie’s main event was the championship fight between Braddock and Baer during the last thirty minutes, I was especially impressed by the sequence that featured Braddock’s fight against Art Lansky (Mark Simmons). In my opinion, most of the praise for these fight sequences belonged to cinematographer Salvatore Totino, and editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill (who both received Academy Award nominations for their work) for injecting the boxing sequences with rich atmosphere and effective editing.

Ironically, the movie’s centerpiece – at least in my opinion – was its deception of the Depression. I understand that Howard had used the city of Toronto to serve as 1930s Manhattan and New Jersey. And judging from the results on the screen, he did an excellent job of utilizing not only the cast led by Crowe, but also the talents of production designer Wynn Thomas, Gordon Sim’s set decorations, Peter Grundy and Dan Yarhi’s art direction and Totino’s photography to send moviegoers back in time. There are certain scenes that really seemed to recapture the desperation and poverty of the Depression’s early years:

*Braddock begs for money from the sports promoters and boxing managers at Madison Square Garden
*Mae Braddock’s discovery of the gas man turning off the family’s heat
*The Braddocks witness the desertion of a man from his wife and family
*Braddock’s search for his friend, Mike Wilson (Paddy Considine), at a Hooverville in Central Park

Howard and casting agents, Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins, managed to gather an impressive group of cast members for the movie. The ironic thing is that despite the impressive display of talent on screen, hardly anyone gave what I would consider to be a memorable performance – save for one actor. Russell Crowe naturally gave an impressive, yet surprisingly likeable performance as James Braddock. Although I found his performance more than competent, I must say that I would not consider it to be one of his best roles. There was nothing really fascinating or complex about his Braddock. I suspect that screenwriters Hollingsworth and Goldsman could have made Braddock a more interesting character . . . and simply failed to rise to the occasion. I have to say the same about their portrayal of the boxer’s wife, Mae Braddock. Portrayed by Renee Zellweger, her Mae was a loving and supporting spouse, whose only kink in her personality revolved around her dislike of Braddock’s boxing. In fact, Zellweger’s Mae threatened to become a cliché of the countless number of women who end up as wives of men in dangerous professions. Thankfully, Zellweger managed to give an excellent performance and with Crowe, create a strong screen chemistry.

Paul Giamatti received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Braddock’s manager, Joe Gould. Many had assumed that Giamatti had received his nomination as a consolation prize for being passed over for his superb performance in “SIDEWAYS”. After seeing his performance as Gould, I suspect they might be right. I am not saying that Giamatti gave a bad performance. He was excellent as Braddock’s enthusiastic and supportive manager. But there was nothing remarkable about it . . . or worthy of an Oscar nomination. If there is one performance that I found impressive, it was Paddy Considine’s portrayal of Mike Wilson, Braddock’s friend and co-worker at the New York docks. Considine’s Wilson was a former stockbroker ruined by the 1929 Crash, who was forced to become a menial laborer in order to survive. Although his plight seemed bad enough to generate sympathy, Considine did an excellent job of portraying the character’s bitterness and cynicism toward his situation, President Roosevelt’s ability to lead the country out of the Depression and the world itself. I hate to say this, but I feel that the wrong actor had received the Oscar nomination. God knows I am a big fan of Giamatti. But if it had been left up to me, Considine would have received that nomination.

We finally come to Craig Bierko’s performance as Max Baer, champion boxer and Braddock’s final opponent in the movie. Baer’s character first makes his appearance in a championship fight against Primo Carnera, following Braddock’s surprising upset over Corn Griffin. From the start, he is portrayed as a brash and aggressive fighter who does not know when to quit. And it gets worse. Before I continue, I want to say that I have nothing against the actor who portrayed Baer. Like Crowe, Zellweger and Giamatti, Bierko had to do the best he could with the material given to him. And he did the best he could. Bierko, being an above-average actor, infused a great deal of energy and charisma into his portrayal of Baer. It seemed a shame that Howard’s direction, along with Hollingsworth and Goldman’s script forced Bierko to portray Baer as some kind of callous thug who felt no remorse for killing two other fighters in the ring and was not above needling Braddock at a Manhattan nightclub by making suggestive remarks about Mae.

Baer’s son, Max Baer Jr. (“THE BEVERLY HILLIBILLIES”) had been naturally outraged by what he deemed was the movie’s false portrayal of the boxer. What the movie failed to convey was that Baer had only killed one man in the ring – Frankie Campbell – and had been so shaken up by the other man’s death that it affected his boxing career for several years. Nor did Baer ever make any suggestive remarks toward Mae Braddock. He also hugged and congratulated Braddock following the latter’s June 1935 victory. I really do not know why Howard thought it was necessary to turn Baer into a one-note villain. Someone claimed that the movie needed a nemesis for Braddock that seemed more solid than the vague notion of the Depression. If that is true, I believe that Howard and the movie’s screenwriters turned Baer into a villain for nothing. As far as I am concerned, the Great Depression made an effective and frightening nemesis for Braddock. This was brilliantly conveyed in Braddock’s bout with Art Lasky. At one point in this sequence, the New Jersey boxer seemed to be on the verge of defeat . . . until his memories of his family and how the Depression had affected them . . . urged him to a hard-won victory. Sequences like the Braddock-Lasky fight and Braddock’s search for Mike Wilson in the Central Park Hooverville made the Great Depression a more effective nemesis than the one-dimensionally crude behavior of falsely portrayed Max Baer ever could.

Despite the movie’s badly written portrayal of Baer, and slightly uninteresting major characters like James and Mae Braddock, and Joe Gould; “CINDERELLA MAN” is still an excellent biopic that featured exciting boxing sequences. More importantly, it is one of the few Hollywood films that revealed an in-depth look into one of the country’s most traumatic periods – namely the Great Depression. Flawed or not, I believe that it is still worth watching.

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (2002) Review

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (2002) Review

Let me make something clear . . . I have never read the literary version of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”, written by Alexandre Dumas. I have seen three movie versions – including this latest one starring James Caviezel. But I have never read the novel. So, for me to compare the literary version to this movie would be irrelevant.

In short, ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” is the story about a French sailor named Edmond Dantès (Caviezel), who finds himself a victim of French political machinations, thanks to the Emperor Napoleon, a jealous first mate named Danglars, his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) and an ambitious local magistrate named J.F. Villefort (James Frain). Edmond ends up on an island prison called Château d’If, where he meets a fellow prisoner, a priest and a former soldier in Napoleon’s army named Abbé Faria (Richard Harris). Faria is killed in an accident after informing Edmond about a fabulous hidden treasure. After Edmond uses Faria’s death to escape from Château d’If, he befriends a smuggler and thief named Jacopo (Luis Guzmán). The two find the treasure that Faria had talked about and Edmond uses it to establish the persona of the Count of Monte Cristo. His aim? To avenge himself against those who had betrayed him – Danglars, Villefort, Mondego and his fiancée Mercédès Iguanada (Dagmara Dominczyk), who had married Mondego after his arrest.

I have to give kudos to director Kevin Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert for creating a first-class adaptation of Dumas’ novel. From what I have read, it is not an exact adaptation of the novel. As if that was possible. Not that I care whether it was or not. I still enjoyed the movie. Despite some of the changes to the story, ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” still managed to retain its emotional ambiguity. Villains such as Villefort and especially Mondego are not as one-dimensional ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ as one might believe. The origin of Villefort came from his father’s ego-driven ambition. As for Mondego, his dislike and betrayal of Edmond had its roots in his own insecurity and bouts of self-hatred, despite his position as an aristocrat. As for Edmond, he becomes so blinded by his hatred and desire for revenge that his actions nearly ends in tragedy for Mercédès and her adolescent son, Albert (Henry Cavill) – the only innocents in this tale of betrayal and vengeance.

The cast was first rate. James Caviezel gave a superb performance as Edmond Dantès, the naïve French sailor who becomes a wealthy man bent upon vengeance. Caviezel took Edmond’s character and emotional make-up all over the map without missing a beat. And Guy Pearce was equally superb as the villainous Fernand Mondego, an arrogant aristocrat whose own jealousy and bouts of self-loathing led him to betray the only friend he would ever have. James Frain gave a solid performance as the ambitious Villefort, whose greed allows Edmond takes advantage of in order to exact his revenge. And I could say the same for both Dagmara Dominczyk, who portrayed Mercédès Iguanada, Edmond’s charming fiancée who found herself stuck in a loveless marriage with Mondego due to certain circumstances; and Luis Guzmán’s portrayal as the wise and loyal Jacapo. Henry Cavill gave a solid performance as Edmund’s guiless, yet emotional son who gets caught up in the crossfire between Edmund and Fernand. And the late Richard Harris managed to create great chemistry with Caviezel as Edmond’s wise mentor, Abbé Faria.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn and production designer Andrew Dunn did a great job of transforming locations in Ireland and the island of Malta into early 19th century France. And they were ably assisted by Tom Rand’s costume designs. Along with a first-rate cast, Kevin Reynolds’ competent direction and Jay Wolpert’s script, this version of ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” turned out to be an entertaining movie filled with exciting action, great drama and excellent storytelling. A first-rate movie all around.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Six “Bastogne” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Six “Bastogne” Commentary

This sixth episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” featured the experiences of Easy Company during the Battle of the Bulge and their participation in the Allies’ efforts to hold the ground near Bastogne, Belgium; while low on ammunition and supplies. The episode focused on Easy Company medic, Eugene “Doc” Roe, as he tended his fellow soldiers where he can, while also scrounging for medical supplies. 

”Bastogne” turned out to be the first of two episodes centered on Easy Company’s experiences in Belgium. Shown from Eugene Roe’s point-of-view; the audience saw Easy Company deal with many difficulties and traumas during this campaign. Aside from ammunition and supplies, Roe and the company had to deal with freezing temperatures, low morale, the encircling German Army and worst of all, an ineffectual company commander by the name of Norman Dike. The episode featured a good deal of combat sequences. But since they were shown through “Doc” Roe’s eyes, the audience’s views of these sequences were at best minimal.

One sequence had First Platoon on a reconnaissance patrol in order to probe for the German line. The patrol led to several wounded troopers and the death of a replacement trooper named Private Julian. Supporting characters like Lieutenant Harry Welsh and Wayne “Skinny” Sisk suffered serious leg wounds from occasional German artillery shelling. And Walter “Smokey” Gordon was wounded and paralyzed during a German tank assault. During this time, Roe struck up a fictionalized friendship and potential romance with a Belgian nurse named Renée LeMaire. Their relationship ended in tragedy, when Renée was killed during the German bombing of Bastogne on Christmas Eve. Replacement trooper Edward “Babe” Heffron also figured heavily in ”Bastogne”. Although the episode was mainly told from Roe’s point-of-view, it allowed one sequence told from Babe’s point-of-view. In it, Babe and another medic named Ralph Spina had a humorous encounter with German troops in a foxhole, while searching for medical supplies for Easy Company.

There are three episodes of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I consider to be personal favorites of mine. And one of them is”Bastogne”. In my reviews of episodes like “Day of Days” and “Replacements”, I had complained of the lack of epic scope in episodes that featured important and historic battles. In ”Bastogne”, director David Leland and screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna gave the episode that epic scope needed for an episode about the famous siege of Bastogne. And the fact that they told the episode through the eyes of medic Eugene Roe made their efforts all the more amazing. Was this particular episode filmed inside a soundstage? It is possible. If it was, I am impressed. I wish I knew the name of the production designer for this particular episode, because he or she did a magnificent job in re-creating the Ardennes Forest during the winter. I also found the photography very impressive, especially in the scene that featured the Army Air Corps’ attempt to re-supply the division by air and the German bombing of Bastogne near the end of the episode. Once again,”BAND OF BROTHERS” allowed viewers to get a peek into the personal interactions between the troopers of Easy Company. Most of these interactions occurred during Christmas Eve . . . right before Harry Welsh was wounded by German artillery. However, I also enjoyed the two major interactions between Roe and Heffron – especially one scene in which both Roe and Spina tried to comfort Heffron, who was distraught over Private Julian’s death.

”Bastogne” featured some excellent performances from certain members of the cast. Neal McDonough gave a subtle and convincing performance as platoon leader Lieutenant Lynn “Buck” Compton , whose emotional stability seemed to be in danger of spiraling out of control after getting shot in Holland. Another memorable performance came from actress Lucie Jeanne, who portrayed Renée Lemaire, the Belgian nurse in Bastogne that Roe befriended. Robin Laing got a chance to shine as Edward “Babe” Heffron, the replacement trooper that hailed from Bill Guarnere’s Philadelphia neighborhood. He was especially effectively poignant in a scene in which Heffron grieved over Private Julian’s death. But the star of this particular episode was Irish-born actor Shane Taylor. Recalling my complaint about the questionable American accents of some of the British cast members, I can happily say that Taylor was not one of them. He did an excellent job in recapturing the Louisiana-born Roe’s native accent. More importantly, he gave a subtle, yet superb performance as the quiet and efficient medic, struggling to perform his duty and prevent himself from getting affected by the suffering around him. In the end, Taylor not only gave one of the miniseries’ best performances, but also managed to carry a very important episode on his shoulders.

”Bastogne” is not completely perfect. Despite the strong chemistry between Taylor and Jeanne, there were moments when I found the nuance of their relationship – especially the silent exchange of glances – a bit heavy-handed. And I am somewhat confused about the fate of the wounded men that Roe escorted to one of the hospitals in Bastogne. Earlier in the episode, he had escorted Sisk and Gordon to the hospital where Renée worked. He was about to deliver Welsh to the same hospital, when he witnessed its destruction from German bombers. The episode made it clear that Bastogne had remained encircled by German forces, until the arrival of elements from General George C. Patton’s Third Army on December 26, 1944. So . . . what happened to Sisk and Gordon? They did not meet Renée’s fate. Both men survived the war. How did they get out of that hospital and Bastogne before the December 24 bombing?

Perfect or not, ”Bastogne” is one of my personal favorite episodes in ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. And thanks to director David Leland, screenwriter Bruce C. McKenna and actor Shane Taylor, the episode conveyed an epic point-of-view of the siege of Bastogne that made it one of the best (at least in my opinion) episodes in the entire miniseries.