“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (2011) Review

“THE THREE MUSKETEERS” (2011) Review

Recently, I became aware of the BBC series called “THE MUSKETEERS” and became an instant fan. Due to my renewed interest in Alexandre Dumas père’s work, I decided to focus my attention on 2011’s “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”, the most recent adaptation of the author’s 1845 novel.

Produced and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, this cinematic version of Dumas père’s novel, proved to be a different kettle of fish. Yes, screenwriters Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak managed to adhere to some aspects of the 1845 novel. The movie closely followed d’Artagnan’s first meeting with his future three friends – Athos, Aramis and Porthos – along with Captain Comte de Rochefort and Milady de Winter. The rivalry between the Musketeers and Cardinal Richelieu’s guard – led by Rochefort – remains intact. “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” also included a conspiracy created by Richelieu that centered around Queen Anne, Britain’s Duke of Buckingham and the former’s diamond necklace given to her by King Louis XIII.

But Davies and Litvak created changes to Dumas’ story. One, Milady de Winter begins the story working with the three musketeers to steal airship blueprints created by Leonardo da Vinci. In this scenario, Milady and Athos are long time lovers and not a married couple. Their antipathy begins when Milady betray her compatriots and gives the plans to Britain’s Duke of Buckingham. Her betrayal leads to the disbandment of the Musketeers. So, when d’Artagnan arrives in Paris to join the military unit, he is a year too late. Also, the Duke of Buckingham is portrayed more as a villain, since he is not The Constance Bonacieux is not only single in this story, but also one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting; instead of married and a royal seamstress. Also, there is no real affair between Queen Anne and Buckingham. But Cardinal Richelieu decides to create false rumors using the Queen’s diamond necklace and false love letters in order to discredit her. This would lead to Anne’s execution, a war against Britain and a demand by the people that a more experienced leader – namely Richelieu himself – would rule France. Alas, thanks to Constance, d’Artagnan and the Musketeers step up to save the Queen’s reputation and ruin Richelieu’s plans.

It would be difficult for me to deny that “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” is a beautiful looking film. Germany served as 17th century France and Great Britain in this film and Glen MacPherson really did justice to the shooting locations, thanks to his beautifully sharp and colorful photography. MacPherson’s photography also did justice to Paul D. Austerberry’s production designs, whose re-creations of 17th century France and England struck me as spot on. Both MacPherson and Austerberry’s work benefited from Philippe Turlure’s set decorations and the art direction team of Nigel Churcher, Hucky Hornberger and David Scheunemann. But what really dazzled me about “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” were Pierre-Yves Gayraud’s s costume designs. Personally, I found them worthy of an Oscar nomination. Below are three images just to prove my point:

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There are aspects of “THE THREE MUSKETEERS” that did not exactly impress me. First of all, the chemistry between the four leads seemed a bit off. One might blame Logan Lerman, who was the only American in the team. But I had no problems with his chemistry with both Matthew MacFadyen and Ray Stevenson. And Luke Evans had a nice chemistry with both MacFadyen and Stevenson, despite his subdued take on his role. And I cannot blame MacFadyen, who seemed to be the odd man out as a screen swashbuckler. I am not saying that all four men – Lerman, MacFadyen, Evans and Stevenson – had no chemistry whatsoever. There was some inclination of a screen chemistry. But . . . their chemistry as the four musketeers never struck me as dynamic than in other versions I have seen.

Another major problem I had with the movie proved to be Davies and Litvak’s re-writing of the Milady de Winter character. I had no problem with Milady starting the movie as colleague of Athos, Aramis and Porthos. I had no problem with her being Athos’ lover, instead of his estranged spouse. I did have a problem with Milady being written as some kind of action woman. Many of her scenes featured actress Milla Jovovich engaged in some acrobatic stunt at a great height. I understand why. Both Jovovich and Anderson (who are married, by the way) are known for the “RESIDENT EVIL” movies, in which the actress had starred as the main protagonist. For some reason, the couple and the two screenwriters seemed to believe it was necessary to transform Milady into a female action figure. In doing so, all four robbed the Milady of the subtle villainy that made her such a memorable character in the novel and in other adaptations. I almost got the impression that Anderson and the screenwriters did not believe Jovovich lacked the ability to portray a seductive and manipulative villainess. Yet, one scene between Jovovich and actor Christoph Waltz (who portrayed Cardinal Richelieu) made it clear to me that the actress could have been a very effective Milady de Winter without resorting to countless number of stunts and other action scenes. Hmmm . . . pity.

Despite these misgivings, I must admit that I enjoyed “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”. Much to my utter surprise. When I first saw the film, I was ready to reject it after the Venice sequence. The idea of Milady working with Athos, Aramis and Porthos on a mission in Venice was not how I recall previous adaptations of Dumas’ novel. But I gave it a chance and decided to finish the film. And I enjoyed it. Actually, there were aspects of the movie that made it enjoyable for me. Aside from the movie’s visual style and costumes, I enjoyed how Davies and and Litvak put a different spin on Dumas’ story arc about Queen Anne’s diamond necklace. I was also both surprised and impressed at how they utilized the heist movie trope in two major sequences – the opening scene in Venice and the Musketeers’ attempt to get their hands on the diamonds, which were stolen by Milady and planted inside London’s Tower of London.

Davies and Litvak’s screenplay displayed a nice sense of humor. This was apparent in the personalities of three major characters – Porthos (who has been the comic relief of nearly all versions of Dumas’ tale), King Louis XIII and surprisingly, the Duke of Buckingham, along with d’Artagnan’s first meetings with his future three friends. The movie also featured some excellent action sequences. My favorite include the Musketeers and d’Artagnan’s fight against Rochefort and the Cardinal’s guards, the four friends’ heist of the diamond necklace from the Tower of London, and their final showdown against Rochefort and his men upon their return to Paris. This last sequence featured an outstanding duel between d’Artagnan and Rochefort that in my opinion, rivaled the duel between the two characters in 1974’s “THE FOUR MUSKETEERS”.

I still stand by my belief that the chemistry between the four actors who portrayed the Musketeers and d’Artagnan was not as strong as it had been in other productions. But the movie did featured some solid performances from the four actors. Ray Stevenson displayed his usual talent for comedy in his performance as Porthos. Honestly, I think his comic skills are highly underrated. Luke Evans gave a decent performance as Aramis. However, I do wish he could have displayed a little more élan in his portrayal of the usually dashing womanizer. Matthew Macfadyen did a skillful job in portraying Athos’ brooding nature and role as the group’s leader. But I got the feeling that he was not the type of actor I would cast in a swashbuckling film. Of the four actors, he never struck me as the swashbuckling type. It is odd that I would say this about Macfadyen and not Logan Lerman, who portrayed d’Artagnan. But the thing about Lerman is although his looks strike me as mediocre and he seems to be the shortest of the four leads. Yet, once he opens his mouth and move, he becomes a bundle of energy with a good deal of style and panache. Curious.

Despite my complaints by Anderson and the screenwriters’ attempt to turn Milady de Winter into an action queen, I must say that I still managed to enjoy Milla Jovovich’s performance. She is the only actress I know who conveyed the spy’s seduction skills with a good deal of sly humor. Christoph Waltz did a solid job as the villainous Cardinal Richilieu. But I must admit, I did not find his performance particularly memorable or energetic. I can also say the same about Gabriella Wilde, who portrayed Constance Bonacieux. I hate to say this, but I found her performance somewhat wooden. On the other hand, Juno Temple gave a very charming performance as Queen Anne (formerly of Austria). Not only did she give a charming performance, she also conveyed a good deal of the Queen’s strength of character.

I really enjoyed Mads Mikkelsen’s portrayal of Captain Rochefort. The Danish actor did an excellent job of conveying Rochefort’s subtle menace and talent for intimidation. Orlando Bloom proved to be quite a surprise as the villainous Duke of Buckingham. He was very funny in a sly, yet theatrical way. James Corden also gave a funny performance as Planchet, the Musketeers’ long suffering manservant. But the funniest performance came from Freddie Fox, who portrayed the rather young King Louis XIII. What can I say? He was hilarious in his portrayal of the King’s insecure nature and lack of experience as a leader. In fact, I believe he gave the best performance in the movie.

What else can I say about “THE THREE MUSKETEERS”? It is not particularly faithful to Alexandre Dumas père’s novel. But to be honest, I do not really care. In my opinion, the movie’s lack of adherence to the novel was not a weak point. The worst I can say about the movie is that the chemistry between the four actors portraying the Musketeers was not particularly strong. I did not care for the use of 17th century airships in this story. And I was not that impressed by the movie’s tendency to portray Milady de Winter as an action figure. On the other hand, I still managed to enjoy the screenplay written by Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak, along with Paul W.S. Anderson’s direction. And the movie also featured some strong performances – especially from Logan Lerman, Juno Temple, Orlando Bloom and Freddie Fox. In the end, I still enjoyed the film, despite my initial reservations.

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“CASHELMARA” (1974) Book Review

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“CASHELMARA” (1974) Book Review

My experiences with novels by Susan Howatch are rather limited. If I must be honest, I have only finished three of her novels. I tried reading two other novels – “THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT” (1977) and the first novel in The Starbridge Series, “GLITTERING IMAGES” (1987). However, I could not maintain any interest in the last two novels. Neither focused upon the history of an upper-class British family, which happened to be my main interest when I was in my late teens and early twenties.

One of the three novels I did finish was 1974’s “CASHELMARA”, a saga that focused upon an Anglo-Irish family called the De Salis. The story began in 1859 when Edward Baron de Salis journeyed to antebellum New York City to visit his late wife’s cousins, the Marriotts; and ends some 32 years later in 1891 with his grandson Edward, resorting to extraordinary means to regain control of the family’s Irish estate called Cashelmara. During this 32 year journey, readers become acquainted with six main characters and a fascinating cast of supporting characters that add to Howatch’s tale.

Before reading “CASHELMARA”, one has to understand that it is one of three novels that are based upon one of the British Royal Family’s royal houses – that of the Plantagenets. The 1971 novel, “PENMARRIC” focused on characters based upon the Plantagenet line that stretched from King Henry II to one of his younger sons, King John. However, Howatch skimped a generation and decided to continue her focus on the Plantagenet line with John’s grandson, King Edward I and finished the novel with a character based upon the latter’s grandson, King Edward III. “CASHELMARA” is divided into six segments. Those segments are narrated by the following characters:

*Edward, Baron de Salis – a middle-aged English aristocrat and owner of both Woodhammer Hall (in England) and Cashelmara (based upon King Edward I)
*Marguerite Marriott, Baroness de Salis – a 17-18 year-old adolescent from a wealthy New York family who becomes Edward’s second wife (based upon Margaret of France, later Edward I’s second consort)
*Patrick, Baron de Salis – Edward’s only surviving son, who loses Woodhammer Hall ten years after his father’s death via gambling debts (based upon King Edward II)
*Sarah Marriott, Baroness de Salis – Marguerite’s oldest niece and Patrick’s wife (based upon Isabella of France, later Edward II’s consort)
*Maxwell Drummond – an Irish tenant farmer on the Cashelmara estate, who becomes Sarah’s lover and Patrick’s enemy (based upon Roger Mortimer of Wigmore, Isabella’s lover)
*Edward “Ned”, Baron de Salis – Patrick and Sarah’s oldest son (based upon King Edward III)

Another aspect about “CASHELMARA” that Howatch fans might find fascinating is that “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”could be considered a direct sequel to the former novel. Remember . . . “CASHELMARA” ended with Ned as the novel’s narrator. And Ned is supposed to be based upon Edward III. “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” began with Robert Goodwin, who is based upon Edward the Black Prince, Edward III’s oldest son. Since Robert’s father was still alive in the first half of the 1984 novel, this means that Howatch based two characters on Edward III – Ned de Salis and “Bobby” Goodwin. Really, one might as well view “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” as more of a direct sequel to “CASHELMARA” than“PENMARRIC”. In fact, Bobby Goodwin’s background story in the 1984 novel is practically a re-enactment of what happened between Ned and his parents, Patrick and Sarah in “CASHELMARA”, but with a few changes.

How do I feel about “CASHELMARA”? I thought Howatch had created a very fascinating tale. On one level, she took a family saga and placed it within a setting that gave readers a look at how British Imperial policy worked in Ireland. And we saw this policy in motion via the viewpoint of an aristocratic family – except for the Maxwell Drummond character. And although there are many novels set within the British Empire – even in Ireland – “CASHELMARA” is probably the only one that I can recall that had been written by Howatch. More importantly, Howatch’s description of the Cashelmara estate left a stark image in my mind that I found rather interesting. It was interesting that half of the major characters regarded the Irish estate with a negative view. The other three major characters seemed to have different views of Cashelmara. Edward de Salis seemed to have a mixed view of the estate. Cashelmara reminded him of the period he had enjoyed as a child. Yet at the same time, it stood as a reminder of his failure to offer genuine help to his tenants during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Ironically, the de Salis family and their tenants would find themselves facing another famine over thirty years later. Maxwell Drummond seemed to regard Cashelmara as a symbol of his ambition to become a landowner and a gentleman. And he would try to achieve these goals through Sarah with disastrous results. As far as Ned de Salis was concerned, Cashelmara was his home, and a family legacy that he would go through great lengths to regain. After all, his father Patrick had lost the family’s English estate, Woodhammer Hall, sometime before his birth.

Most of the novel proved to be interesting in its own right. The first two segments – narrated by Edward de Salis and his second wife, Marguerite – also proved to be interesting. Howatch did an excellent job in painting a portrait of both antebellum New York City and mid-Victorian England at the end of the 1850s and into the 1860s. Readers got a peek into Edward’s fascination with his future bride, along with his the disappointment he felt regarding his children. But I especially enjoyed Marguerite’s narration. I found it interesting to read how this 18 year-old girl struggled to maintain a healthy and happy marriage with a man over thirty years her senior. Marguerite’s narration also revealed the struggles that she had to endure as an American in a foreign country. Between others – including her husband – making assumptions about her American nationality, dealing with the British high society’s reactions to the American Civil War, and struggling to act as a mediator between Edward and her stepchildren; the 1860s proved to be somewhat difficult for Marguerite. However, being a strong-willed young woman in her own right, she survived.

Also, I found “CASHELMARA” to be the most disturbing tale of the three family sagas written by the author. What made this novel so disturbing? It has to be the marriage between Patrick and Sarah de Salis. Howatch based their marriage on the lives of Edward II and his wife, Isabella. But from what I have read, the private lives of the Plantagenet monarch and his consort were not as disturbing as the marriage between Patrick and Sarah. The novel’s third segment, told from Patrick’s point-of-view, revealed their courtship and the first four years of their marriage. It also revealed how Sarah’s spending and especially Patrick’s gambling habits managed to dwindle away his fortune. Their financial problems had only added to the existing strain caused by Patrick’s continuing friendship with his childhood friend, Derry Stranahan. But the segment narrated by Sarah also proved to be the novel’s nadir in terms of what occurred and how low her marriage to Patrick had sunk. And for Sarah and Patrick, their marriage had sunk to alcoholism and loss of property for him; imprisonment and rape for her. Despite the ugliness that permeated Sarah’s segment, the latter also proved to be one of the two most interesting in the novel.

Like “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”, the novel’s last segment proved to be the most difficult for me. Narrated by Sarah and Patrick’s oldest child, Ned, I had some difficulty relating to the character. Perhaps Ned was simply too young. After all, he aged from thirteen to seventeen or eighteen years old during this last segment. But I recall that one of the segments of “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE” had been narrated by a character named Christopher “Kester” Goodwin, who aged from nine to nineteen years old. I had no problems with the Kester character from “THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE”, but I did with the Ned de Salis character. Why? Perhaps I did not find him that fascinating. Or perhaps I found his penchant to view his father as a hero, Maxwell Drummond as a villain and his mother as a stooge for Drummond a little too simple for me to stomach. I find it difficult to relate to characters who harbor one-dimensional views about life and other people. And because Howatch ensured that Ned never learned what his mother had endured at the hands of Patrick and the latter’s lover/estate manager, Hugh McGowan, I found my ability to relate to him even more difficult.

I have read some reviews of “CASHELMARA’ and discovered that a good number of readers managed to enjoy this family saga very much. Only a handful seemed to regard the characters as unsympathetic and not worthy of their interest. I believe that a first-rate author could create a sympathetic character with unpleasant traits, if he or she had a mind to do so. Susan Howatch certainly managed to create some very interesting characters – aside from one – for“CASHELMARA”. She also created a first-rate family saga that still remains fresh after forty-one years.

“THE IMITATION GAME” (2014) Review

“THE IMITATION GAME” (2014) Review

One of the more critically acclaimed movies to hit the movie screens in 2014 was “THE IMITATION GAME”, a loose adaptation of the 1983 biography, “Alan Turing: The Enigma”. The movie focused upon the efforts of British cryptanalyst, Alan Turing, who decrypted German intelligence codes for the British government during World War II.

I never saw “THE IMITATION GAME” while it was in the theaters during the winter of 2014-2015. After seeing it on DVD, I regret ever ignoring it in the first place. Then again, I was ignoring a good number of films during that year. I have been aware of two previous movies about the United Kingdom’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park during World War II. But “THE IMITATION GAME” came closer to historical accuracy than the other two films. Is it completely accurate? No. There were a good deal of the usual complaints from historians and academics about the film’s historical accuracy. But you know what? Unless I find such inaccuracy too ridiculous to swallow or it failed to serve the story, I honestly do not care.

I do have a complaint or two about “THE IMITATION GAME”. The movie began with Turing being arrested by the police, because the arresting officer in question thought he was a Soviet spy. I found it odd that this Detective Nock had decided to question Turing on his own, instead of reporting the latter to MI-6. More bizarre is the fact that during interrogation, Turing told the police detective about his work, which should have been classified.

And during my first viewing of “THE IMITATION GAME”, I had assumed the film would be more about Turing’s homosexuality than his role in breaking the Germans’ Enigma code. After all, the movie began in 1951, when Turing was arrested for suspicion of espionage (due to his lack of a war record) and eventually charged for practicing homosexuality. But the movie focused a lot more on his work at Bletchley Park. His homosexuality did have some impact on the movie’s narrative – Turing’s memories of his schoolboy friendship with a boy named Christopher Morcom and his fears of his homosexuality being discovered. But the screenplay failed to explore the one potentially powerful aspect of his homosexuality in the story – namely his 1951 arrest and the chemical castration he underwent to avoid prison. Instead, the event was merely used as an epilogue for the movie and I found that rather disappointing.

Otherwise, I enjoyed “THE IMITATION GAME” very much. Screenwriter Graham Moore created an otherwise powerful look at Turing and his work at Bletchley Park. Moore took great care to explore the cryptanalyst’s complex personality and its affect upon Turing’s colleagues and his friend, Joan Clarke. I especially enjoyed Turing’s friendship with Clarke and how she eventually helped him bond somewhat closer with his exasperated colleagues. Moore’s screenplay also did an excellent job of exploring Turing’s work at Bletchley Park in great detail. This exploration revealed something that took me completely by surprise – namely his creation of an electromechanical machine that helped break the Enigma code. Due to his work on this machine, Turing has become known as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. Moore ended up winning a much deserved Best Adapted Screenplay for his work.

But not even a first-rate screenplay can guarantee a winning film. Fortunately for Graham Moore, Morten Tyldum signed up as the film’s director. Who is Morten Tyldum? He is a Norwegian director who is highly acclaimed in his native country. And I thought he did a great job in transferring Moore’s screenplay to the movie screen. It could have been easy for a movie like “THE IMITATION GAME”, which featured a great deal of dialogue and hardly any action, to put me to sleep. Thankfully, Tyldum’s direction was so well-paced and lively that he managed to maintain my attention to the very last reel. And I thought he juggled the occasional flashbacks to Turing’s schooldays and the 1951 scenes featuring the latter’s encounter with police Detective Nook with the World War II sequences very competently.

“THE IMITATION GAME” was also blessed with a first-rate cast. Benedict Cumberbatch earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the complex and brilliant Alan Turing. I really do not know what else to say about Cumberbatch’s performance other than marvel at how he made a superficially unlikable character seem very likable and more importantly, vulnerable. Keira Knightly earned her second Academy Award for portraying Joan Clarke, Turing’s closest friend and a brilliant cryptanalyst in her own right. One of Clarke’s relatives complained that Knightley was too good looking to be portraying the rather plain Clarke. It seemed a pity that this person was more concerned with the actress’ looks than her excellent and fierce portrayal of the intelligent Clarke, who proved to be a loyal friend of Turing’s and at the same time, refused to put up with some of his flaky behavior toward her.

The supporting cast included the likes of Matthew Goode, who gave a sharp and witty performance as cryptanalyst and analyst Hugh Alexander and Charles Dance as Commander Alastair Denniston, the the no-nonsense and unoriginal head of the codebreakers. It also featured solid performances from Allan Leech as John Cairncross, the soft-spoken codebreaker who proved to be a mole for the KGB; Rory Kinnear as Detective Nock, the inquisitive police inspector who learned about Turing’s war activities; and Mark Strong, who gave a very cool performance as Stewart Menzies, head of MI-6 between 1939 and 1952.

Yes, “THE IMITATION GAME” had its flaws. I feel that the film’s flaws came from the 1951 sequences in which Alan Turing found himself arrested by the police. Otherwise, I really enjoyed screenwriter Graham Moore and director Morten Tyldum look into the life of the famous cryptanalyst. I also have to give credit to a cast led by a brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley for making this film not only enjoyable, but also fascinating.