MR. HOLMES” (2015) Review

 

“MR. HOLMES” (2015) Review

Arthur Conan Doyle created a force of nature when he set out to write a series of mystery novels featuring the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. His novels have not only provided a series of movie and television adaptations for the past century, but also the Holmes character has led to a great number of movies, novels and television series that featured original stories not written by Doyle. Among them is Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel, “A Slight Trick of the Mind”.

About a decade later, “MR. HOLMES”, a film adaptation of Cullin’s novel finally hit the movie screens. Directed by Bill Condon, the movie told the story of a 93 year-old Sherlock Holmes, who has returned to his Sussex farm, following a trip to Hiroshima, Japan in 1947. The aging retired detective had taken the trip abroad to acquire a prickly ash plant and use its jelly to help him improve his failing memory. Apparently, Holmes has been unhappy with his ex-partner Dr. John Watson’s account of his last case, which occurred over 30 years earlier, and hoped to write his own account. Holmes recruits the help of Roger Munro, the young son of his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, to help him regain his memories and care for the bees inside the farmhouse’s apiary. Over time, Holmes and Roger develop a strong friendship. And Holmes’ memories of his last case prove to be different than he had expected.

When I had first decided to see “MR. HOLMES” in the movie theaters, I did not expect it would be a mystery involving crime. I felt certain that it would more or less be a character study about the famous fictional detective. Not only was I right, I was also surprised to learn that Holmes’ last case said a lot about a certain aspect of his personality and how much he had changed through his relationship with Roger Munro and his mother. The movie also focused on Holmes’ trip to Japan and the curious relationship he had developed with a Mr. Tamiki Umezaki, who helped him find the prickly ash plant. Holmes discovered that Mr. Umezaki had a reason, other than admiration for his past reputation as a detective, for helping him. The latter believes that Holmes knows the real reason why his father had abandoned the Umezaki family many years ago. Only Holmes does not remember.

Ever since its release in theaters, “MR. HOLMES” has been showered with acclaim from film critics, aside from a few who were not completely impressed. When I first saw the trailer for “MR. HOLMES”, a part of me immediately suspected that the movie would feature a mystery. But I also suspected that the mystery would have nothing to do with a crime. I was proved right when I finally saw the film. In the end, “MR. HOLMES” proved to be at its core, a character study of the fictional detective. But the movie is also a study of a man struggling with aging and the slow loss of his memories and faculties. Due to Holmes’ failing memory, the details surrounding his last case and the disappearance of Mr. Umezaki’s father served as the story’s two mysteries.

A character study of Sherlock Holmes. The last time I saw a similar narrative unfold occurred in the 1976 movie, “THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION” in which the detective struggled with cocaine and morphine, along with an unpleasant childhood memory. But the 1976 movie also featured a mysterious death and kidnapping. No crimes were featured in “MR. HOLMES”. The interesting aspect about “MR. HOLMES” is that the detective’s last case revealed an aspect about his personality that he had never acknowledge or recognized in the past. A personal shortcoming that led to the final failure of his last case. And this discovery . . . this failure led him to retire as a private detective in disgust. And yet, thirty years later, Holmes finds himself struggling to face that aspect of his personality again, due to his relationship with his housekeeper Mrs. Munro and her young son, Roger.

Overall, “MR. HOLMES” was an interesting and well-paced experience for me. I thought director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher did a first-rate job in exploring not only Holmes’ personality, but also the other major characters featured in this movie. I also have to give kudos to both men for being able to maintain the story’s main narrative and unveiling the mysteries of Holmes’ past, while flashing back and forth between the detective’s past and present. And they did this without the movie falling apart in the end.

I also have to give kudos to the movie’s production values. Production designer Martin Childs did an excellent job of re-creating both London in the 1910s, along with Sussex and Hiroshima in the mid-to-late 1940s. There was nothing earth shattering about his work, but I believe it served the movie’s purpose. His work was ably enhanced by Jonathan Houlding and James Wakefield’s art designs, and Charlotte Watts’ set decorations. In fact, the movie’s entire production values seemed to be in a state of understated elegance, including Keith Madden’s costume designs, which ably re-created the wardrobes of the two decades featured in the movie.

If Ian McKellen failed to get an Oscar or Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the aging Sherlock Holmes, I will be disgusted. I was amazed at his ability to portray the same character in two different time periods, yet at the same time, reflect at how much that character had changed over the years. And remained the same. Another Oscar potential performance came from Laura Linney, who was outstanding as Holmes’ put upon housekeeper, Mrs. Munro. First of all, I thought she did a first-rate job of recapturing her character’s regional accent. And two, she did a superb job of conveying her character’s unease over the growing friendship between her son and Holmes. If Milo Parker can stay the course, he might prove to be an outstanding actor as an adult. He was certainly first-rate as the very charming and intelligent Roger Munro. He also managed to hold his own against the likes of both McKellen and Linney.

I have not seen Hattie Morahan in a movie or television production for quite a while and it was good to see her. More importantly, she was superb as the housewife Ann Kelmot, who was under investigation by Holmes in the past. The actress managed to effectively project an intelligent, yet melancholic air that nearly permeated the film. “MR. HOLMES” is probably the first dramatic project I have ever seen feature Hiroyuki Sanada. Well . . . perhaps the second. I have always been aware that he was a first-rate actor. But I feel that he may have surpassed himself in giving, I believe, the film’s most subtle performance. I was astounded by how delicately he shifted the Tamiki Umezaki character from an ardent admirer of Holmes’ who wanted to help the latter to the emotional and suspicion son, who demanded to know the whereabouts of his missing father. The movie also featured solid performances from Roger Allam, Patrick Kennedy, Frances de la Tour, John Sessions and a surprise cameo appearance of Nicholas Rowe (who portrayed the fictional detective in the 1985 movie,“YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES”).

As much as I enjoyed “MR. HOLMES”, I believe that it suffered from one major flaw. Some critics had complained about Holmes’ visit to Japan and more specifically, his visit to the Hiroshima bomb site. I did not have a problem with Holmes and Mr. Umezaki’s visit to the famous site. Personally, I found it rather interesting. On the other hand, I had a problem with the subplot regarding the mystery of Tamiki Umezaki’s father. I will not spoil the ending of this particular story arc. But needless to say, I not only found it disappointing, but downright implausible. Was this how Mitch Cullin ended the Umezaki story arc? If so, I wish Hatcher and Condon had changed it. There was no law that they had to closely adapt Cullin’s novel.

Aside from the Tamiki Umezaki story arc, I found “MR. HOLMES” very satisfying, engrossing and very entertaining. Director Bill Condon and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher did a top-notch job in adapting Mitch Cullin’s novel. And they ably supported by the subtle artistry of the movie’s technical crew and the superb performances of a cast led by the always excellent Ian McKellen.

The Celebration of Mediocrity and Unoriginality in “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”

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“THE CELEBRATION OF MEDIOCRITY AND UNORIGINALITY IN “STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS”

Look … I liked the new “STAR WARS” movie, “THE FORCE AWAKENS”.  I honestly do.  Heck, I feel it is better than J.J. Abrams’ two “STAR TREK” films.  But I am astounded that this film has garnered so much acclaim.  It has won the AFI Award for Best Picture.  It has been nominated by the Critics Choice Award for Best Picture.

“THE FORCE AWAKENS”???  Really?  It did not take long for certain fans to point out that the movie’s plot bore a strong resemblance to the first “STAR WARS” movie, “A NEW HOPE”.  In fact, I am beginning to suspect that J.J. Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan had more or less plagiarized the 1977 film, along with aspects from other movies in the franchise.  Worse, it has some plot holes that Abrams has managed to ineffectively explain to the media.  In other words, his explanations seemed like shit in the wind and the plot holes remained obvious.

Then I found myself thinking about “THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.”, Guy Ritchie’s adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series.  I will not deny that the movie had some flaws.  Just about every movie I have seen throughout my life had some flaws.  But instead of attempting a carbon copy of the television series, Ritchie put his own, original spin of the show for his movie.  And personally, I had left the movie theater feeling impressed.  And entertained.  It is not that Ritchie had created a perfect movie.  But he did managed to create an original one, based upon an old source.  Now that was impressive.

But instead of having his movie appreciated, a good deal of the public stayed away in droves.  Warner Brothers barely publicized the film.  Worse, the studio released in August, the summer movie season’s graveyard.  And for those who did see the movie, the complained that it was not like the television show.  Ritchie had made changes for his film.  In other words, Ritchie was criticized for being original with a movie based upon an old television series.

This is incredibly pathetic.  One director is criticized giving an original spin to his movie adaptation.  Another director is hailed as the savior of a movie franchise for committing outright plagiarism.  This is what Western culture has devolved into, ladies and gentlemen.  We now live in a world in which the only movies that are box office hits are those that form part of a franchise.  We live in a society in which glossy and mediocre shows like “DOWNTON ABBEY” are celebrated.  We live in a world in which a crowd pleasing, yet standard movie biopic like “THE KING’S SPEECH”can receive more acclaim than an original film like “INCEPTION”.

In regard to culture or even pop culture, this society is rushing toward conformity, familiarity and mediocrity.  God help us.

 

“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT – (4.23) “Living Witness”

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“STAR TREK VOYAGER” RETROSPECT – (4.23) “Living Witness”

The STAR TREK franchise has aired a good number of episodes featuring the “Mirror Universe” – an existence in which the Federation is solely a Human-controlled, fascist empire. This universe was first introduced in the “STAR TREK” Season Two episode, (2.04) “Mirror, Mirror”. The “Mirror Universe” was also featured in several “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” episodes and most memorably in an “ENTERPRISE” episode called (4.18-4.19) “In a Mirror Darkly”.

There have been parallel universe episodes featured in both “STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION” and “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. But none of these episodes featured the “Mirror Universe”. But if there was an episode that could almost seem part of the “Mirror Universe”, it would have to be the Season Four “VOYAGER” episode called (4.23) “Living Witness”. Directed by cast member Tim Russ, the episode began with an “evil” Captain Kathryn Janeway negotiating a deal with Vaskan ambassador Daleth. He wants to use Voyager’s fire power in a war against the Vaskans about fighting a war with their Kyrian neighbors. In exchange, he will give Janeway directions to a wormhole that can get the U.S.S. Voyager closer to home. Janeway and Daleth come to an agreement. But the Federation crew’s violent and aggressive methods lead Daleth to harbor second thoughts about the deal, especially after a Away team led by Chakotay managed to kidnap the Kyrian leader Tedran and a few of his followers . . . and Janeway murdered them in an effort to garner information about the Kyrian resistance movement.

It turned out that the above scenario was merely a historical simulation of the incident created by a 31st century Kyrian historian named Quarren. Sometime in 2374, the U.S.S. Voyager actually had an encounter with the warring Vaskans and Kyrians, in which the real Tedran and a handful of followers managed to board the Federation starship in order to stop what they believed was a weapons deal. The encounter resulted in Voyager losing a few debris, including a backup module of the Doctor’s program. Using tools from Voyager, Quarren was able to activate the Doctor and discovered that he had been wrong about Janeway and the crew, along with their actual encounter with the 24th century Kyrians and Vaskans. The Doctor’s revelation about the truth regarding the two species’ encounter with Voyager led to another outbreak of violence that resulted in the near destruction of the Kyrian museum for which Quarren served as curator. Using one of the museum’s artifacts, a Federation medical tricorder, as a source of information; the Doctor and Quarren eventually set matters straight.

I cannot say that “Living Witness” will ever be considered one of my favorite episodes of “STAR TREK VOYAGER”. However, I must admit that I view it as one of the best episodes from Season Four. On one level, it allowed the series the opportunity to present its own version of a mirror universe – similar to those episodes featured in “STAR TREK”, “STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE” and “ENTERPRISE”. But on a deeper level, it questioned the validity of written history and considered the possibility that a great deal of history has been written by those with a particular point-of-view or agenda. Screenwriters Bryan Fuller, Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s portrayal of Quarren and the Kyrians seemed to hint this approach.

Looking at Quarren’s take on the Voyager crew as military and political monsters, I found myself wondering why the series never featured an actual “Mirror Universe” episode. Perhaps in that universe, circumstances prevented an actual Federation starship from being catapulted into the Delta Quadrant. Pity. When I first saw this episode, I was surprised to see that the mirror Voyager had a few Kazons as part of its crew. The Quarren character made an interesting comment: “Voyager had many weapons at their disposal, including species they’d assimilated along the way–Borg, Talaxian, Kazon. They were captured and made to work as part of Voyager’s fighting force.” The ironic thing about this comment is that the same could be said about the real Voyager crew. Think about it. Even before the starship got pulled into the Delta Quadrant, Kathryn Janeway collected her first wayward individual – Thomas Eugene Paris. After the starship ended up in the Delta Quadrant, she collected other individuals, who became members of her crew – Chakotay and the Maquis crew under his command, Neelix, Kes, Seven-of-Nine, Icheb and the other Borg children.

However, there is one aspect of “Living Witness” that I found slightly disturbing. After my recent viewing of the episode, I came away with the uncomfortable feeling that the screenwriters – especially Brannon Braga – harbored a low opinion of what they considered “revisionist history”. What exactly is revisionist history . . . or historical revisionism? According to Wikipedia, it “is the reinterpretation of orthodox views on evidence, motivations, and decision-making processes surrounding a historical event. Though the word revisionism is sometimes used in a negative way, constant revision of history is part of the normal scholarly process of writing history.” Namely, some of the traditional history we learned from textbooks in the past have been “revised” or reinterpreted, when new material comes to light . . . or in some cases, when certain parties want to revise a past negative view of historical personages or events. Historical revisionism can be both positive or negative. Braga, Fuller and Menowsky seemed bent upon presenting revisionist history as something completely negative.

Although the episode featured both negative actions committed by both the Vaskans and Kyrians, only the Kyrians have been portrayed as unlikable or in a negative light. Even after the Doctor made it clear that Ambassador Daleth was responsible for the death of Kyrian leader Tedran seven hundred years earlier; the Vaskans kept their cool and demanded more of the truth, while the Kyrians reacted angrily to the Doctor’s deconstruction of Quarren’s earlier summations of the incident with Voyager. I found that odd. The screenplay portrayed the Vaskans as cool-headed, logical and desirous of the truth. Their only reason for sacking Quarren’s museum was due to their angry belief that his historical theories were wrong. The Kyrians reacted with less ration – including Quarren, himself. And more importantly, the Doctor made a peculiar comment. He said the following in a caustic voice –“Revisionist history…it’s such a comfort.” What were Braga and the other writers trying to say? That revisionist history is something to ignore altogether . . . and that it is better to simply blindly accept the history presented in the old textbooks of the past? I feel that the screenwriters should have considered the possibility that revisionist history could be both good and bad – considering what history is being revised, and whether that revised history has evidence to back up the scholars’ claims. Is that so hard?

There is one thing I can say about “Living History” – it featured some first-class acting by the cast and the episode’s guest stars. Roxann Dawson was missing from the episode, due to her recovering from the birth of her daughter. But the rest of the cast were a hoot as the “evil” counterparts of the Voyager crew. I was especially impressed by Robert Beltran’s take on the evil, yet “compassionate” Chakotay; and the insidious humor expressed by Tuvok’s evil counterpart. Kate Mulgrew was frightening as the evil Kathryn Janeway. The woman could have scared the living daylights out of the Borg Queen and Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine. And Rod Arrants was very effective in presenting two completely different aspects of the Ambassador Daleth character. But the episode really belonged to Robert Picardo and guest star Henry Woronicz. Not only were both outstanding as the Doctor from the backup module and Kyrian historian Quarren, but the relationship they developed between the two characters proved to be the heart and soul of this episode.

I think “Living History” could have been a personal favorite of mine, if the screenplay did not seem hellbent upon viewing revisionist history as some kind of scholarly evil, instead of something that is a lot more complex . . . like everything else in this world. But it still proved to be a well-made episode that featured excellent direction by cast member Tim Russ, superb performances by the cast and an interesting peek into what a “Mirror Universe” Voyager could have been. And I still believe it is one of the best episodes from the series’ Season Four.

“THE SHADOW RIDERS” (1982) Review

 

“THE SHADOW RIDERS” (1982) Review

When I first set out to discover how many of author Louis L’Amour novels had been adapted for the movies and television, I had assumed at least a handful had gone through this process. I was surprised to discover that many of his works had been adapted. And one of them turned out to be the 1982 television movie, “THE SHADOW RIDERS”.

I have only seen two L’Amour adaptations in my life – “THE SHADOW RIDERS” and the 1979 two-part miniseries, “THE SACKETTS”. Both productions seemed to have a great deal in common. The two productions are adaptations of L’Amour (which is obvious). Both featured three brothers as the protagonists. Both starred Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage as the leads. The two productions also feature Ben Johnson as a supporting protagonist and Gene Evans as a villain. But in the end, “THE SHADOW RIDERS” and “THE SACKETTS” have their differences. The latter aired as a two-part television movie or miniseries that mainly featured action and drama. “THE SHADOW RIDERS”, on the other hand, is a ninety-six minute television movie, with comic overtones.

L’Amour’s tale is basically about two brothers – Dal and Mac Travern – who returned home from the Civil War after fighting on different sides and discover that a company of Confederate cavalry had raided their family’s Texas ranch and the neighborhood for cattle, horses and especially people to sell in Mexico. Among those kidnapped by the raiders were other neighbors, the Traverns’ younger brother Jesse (also a Civil War veteran), their younger sisters Sissy and Heather, and Dal’s former sweetheart Kate Connery. The Confederate troopers, led by one Major Cooper Ashbury, hope to raise enough money or “merchandise” to trade for guns and ammunition from a notorious local gunrunner named “Colonel” Holiday Hammondin order to continue the fight against the Federal government.

Upon learning what happened, Dal and Mac discover that the local lawman, Miles Gillette, seem incapable of going after the raiders. And once the Traverns recruit their jailbird uncle “Black Jack” from prison to help them, Gillette becomes more obsessed with capturing the latter. With no law to help them, Dal and Mac set out to rescue their family with the help of their Uncle Jack; Jesse, who managed to escape from the raiders; and Kate, whom they managed to rescue halfway through the story.

It seemed rather odd that a story about family kidnapping would have a comic tone. I have read other reviews of the movie and some L’Amour fans seemed put off by this tone. Personally, I have no problems with it. Yes, I have read the novel and it was pretty good . . . and somewhat grim. But I thought director Andrew V. McLaglen and screenwriter Jim Byrnes did a pretty damn good job in mixing the grim nature of the story with a strong comic element. The screenplay did not shy away from the horror of Major Ashbury’s actions or how they affected the Travern family – especially Sissy and Heather. More importantly, most of the comedy came from the family interactions between members of the Travern family – especially Dal and Mac’s reunion at a local tavern right after the war, the three brothers’ reaction to Jack Travern’s criminal past and the emotional reunion between Dal and Kate, who had become engaged to another man after hearing about Dal’s erroneous death.

“THE SHADOW RIDERS” also featured some outstanding action sequences. My favorites include Jesse’s escape from Ashbury’s raiders, the three brothers’ rescue of Kate, and the family’s main rescue of the Travern sisters and their neighbors from Holliday Hammond’s camp in Mexico. Being a veteran of many movies and television productions set in the 19th century, it seemed obvious that McLeglen was in his element with “THE SHADOW RIDERS”. The action featured in the film struck me as very exciting, without any of the excess that seemed to mar a good number of action films and television shows, these days.

I only have few complaints about “THE SHADOW RIDERS”. Despite its comic element, the main narrative focused a good deal of situations that involved family reunions between the Travern family. I certainly had no problems with most of them. But I had a problem one – namely the Travern brothers’ reunion with their Uncle Jack, who was serving time at a local jail. I found it . . . rather lackluster. A bit too laconic and understated for my tastes. I understand that this scene featured mid 19th century American men, who may have been conditioned to keep their emotions in check. Yet, other reunion scenes – whether it was between Dal and Mac, or the pair’s reunion with Jesse or their parents – seemed to feature some element of emotion. Is it because the brothers were dealing with the slightly larcenous “Black Jack” Travern? Who knows. I also had a problem with Mac’s war background. The movie made it clear that he was a Union cavalry officer, who was in Georgia at the time the war ended in April-May 1865. I just do not understand why he was in Georgia at that time. He must have entered the state with William Sherman’s forces in 1864. So . . . why did he remain in Georgia and not accompany Sherman into South Carolina?

If anyone would ask me, I believe the shining virtue of “THE SHADOW RIDERS” was the cast. They were outstanding. All of them – from the four leads to the numerous characters that appeared in this movie – were first-rate. They all seemed very comfortable in their roles, while at the same time, managed to provide a good deal of edge to their performances. In“THE SHADOW RIDERS”; Sam Elliot, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage renew the screen chemistry they had created in“THE SACKETTS” with great ease. However, I was a little disappointed that Osterhage’s role in this film seemed slightly diminished in compare to his role in the 1979 production. Katherine Ross made an excellent addition as the classy, yet strong-willed Kate Connery, who had been Dal’s former sweetheart. This also gave Ross an excellent opportunity to share some rather funny and romantic scenes with her off-screen husband, Elliot. Hell, she even managed to work well with Selleck, Osterhage, Geoffrey Lewis and Gene Evans.

Ben Johnson was a hoot as the Traverns’ laid-back, yet larcenous uncle, “Black Jack” Travern. I could also say the same about Gene Evans, who portrayed the very charming and very cold-blooded gunrunner, Holliday Hammond. On the other hand, Geoffrey Lewis made a very intense Cooper Ashbury, the Confederate cavalry officer who is determined to continue the War Between the States with only a company of men. “THE SHADOW RIDERS” also featured first-rate performances from veterans such as Jane Greer, Harry Carey Jr., and R.G. Armstrong; along with Dominique Dunne and Natalie May.

I may have had a problem with one or two scenes with “THE SHADOW RIDERS”. And yes, I found the Civil War background for one of the major characters a bit confusing. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed it when I first saw it as a kid, many years ago on television. And my recent viewing only confirmed that my feelings about the production has not really changed one whit. Director Andrew V. McLeglen, screenwriter Jim Byrnes and a cast led by Sam Elliot and Tom Selleck continued to make this movie a joy to watch.

Top Five Favorite “MAD MEN” Season Four (2010) Episodes

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Four (2010) of “MAD MEN”. Created by Matthew Weiner, the series stars Jon Hamm:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE “MAD MEN” SEASON FOUR (2010) EPISODES

1 - 4.07 The Suitcase

1. (4.07) “The Suitcase” – In this acclaimed episode, an impending deadline regarding the Samsonite ad leads Don Draper to force Peggy Olson to stay late to work and miss a birthday dinner with her boyfriend. He receives a call from Anna’ Draper’s niece, which confirms his fears about her health.

 

2 - 4.09 The Beautiful Girls

2. (4.09) “Beautiful Girls” – Peggy is forced to face some unpleasant facts about a client’s discriminatory business practices. Don and girlfriend Faye Miller’s burgeoning relationship is tested when his daughter Sally runs away from home and turns up at the office. Roger Sterling tries to rekindle his affair with former mistress Joan Harris.

 

3 - 4.12 Blowing Smoke

3. (4.12) “Blowing Smoke” – Don encounters his former mistress Midge Daniels and discovers she is married and has become a heroin addict. This leads him to run an ad declaring that SCDP will no longer represent tobacco firms. Sally is upset to learn that her mother and stepfather – Betty and Henry Francis – plan to move.

 

4 - 4.06 Waldorf Stories

4. (4.06) “Waldorf Stories” – A drunken Don receives a Clio Award for an ad; Peggy is forced to work with new art director Stan Rizzo at a hotel room; Accounts man Pete Campbell is upset over the arrival of former rival Ken Cosgrove; and Roger recalls his first meeting with Don and the early days of his affair with Joan.

 

5 - 4.05 The Chrysatheum and the Sword

5. (4.05) “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword” – Sally’s erratic behavior leads Betty and Henry to seek counseling for her, over Don’s objections. Pete enters SCDP into a competition to win the Honda account, to the displeasure of Roger, who tries to undermine the firm’s efforts, due to his anti-Japanese sentiments from World War II.

“LITTLE WOMEN” (1949) Review

“LITTLE WOMEN” (1949) Review

Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel is a bit of a conundrum for me. I have never been a fan of the novel. I have read it once, but it failed to maintain my interest. Worse, I have never had the urge to read it again. The problem is that it is that sentimental family dramas – at least in print – has never been appealing to me. And this is why I find it perplexing that I have never had any problems watching any of the film or television adaptations of her novel.

One of those adaptations proved to be Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1949 adaptation, which was produced and directed by Mervyn LeRoy. It is hard to believe that the same man who had directed such hard-biting films like “LITTLE CAESAR”, “I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG” and “THEY WON’T FORGET”, was the artistic force behind this sentimental comedy-drama. Or perhaps MGM studio boss, Louis B. Meyer, was the real force. The studio boss preferred sentimental dramas, comedies and musicals. Due to this preference, he was always in constant conflict with the new production chief, Dore Schary, who preferred more realistic and hard-biting movies. Then you had David O. Selznick, who wanted to remake his 1933 adaptation of Alcott’s novel. One can assume (or not) that in the end, Meyer had his way.

“LITTLE WOMEN”, as many know, told the experiences of the four March sisters of Concord, Massachusetts during and after the U.S. Civil War. The second daughter, Josephine (Jo) March, is the main character and the story focuses on her relationships with her three other sisters, the elders in her family – namely her mother Mrs. March (“Marmee”) and Aunt March, and the family’s next-door neighbor, Mr. Laurence. For Jo, the story becomes a “coming-of-age” story, due to her relationships with Mr. Laurence’s good-looking grandson, Theodore (“Laurie”) and a German immigrant she meets in New York City after the war, the equally good-looking and much older Professor Bhaer. Jo and her sisters deal with the anxiety of their father fighting in the Civil War, genteel poverty, scarlet fever, and the scary prospect of oldest sister Meg falling in love with Laurie’s tutor.

Despite my disinterest in Alcott’s novel, I have always liked the screen adaptations I have seen so far – including this film. Due to the casting of Margaret O’Brien as the mild-mannered Beth, her character became the youngest sister, instead of Amy. Screenwriters Sally Benson, Victor Heerman, Sarah Y. Mason and Andrew Solt made other changes. But they were so mild that in the end, the changes did not have any real impact on Alcott’s original story. Ironically, both Victor Heerman and Sarah Y. Mason wrote the screenplay for Selznick’s 1933 film. I thought Mervyn LeRoy’s direction injected a good deal of energy into a tale that could have easily bored me senseless. In fact, MGM probably should have thank its lucky stars that LeRoy had served as producer and director.

As much as I admired LeRoy’s direction of this film, I must admit there was a point in the story – especially in the third act – in which the pacing threatened to drag a bit. My only other problem with “LITTLE WOMEN” is that I never really got the impression that this film was set during the 1860s, despite its emphasis on costumes and the fact that the March patriarch was fighting the Civil War. Some might say that since “LITTLE WOMEN” was set in the North – New England, as a matter of fact – it is only natural that the movie struggled with its 1860s setting. But I have seen other Civil War era films set in the North – including the 1994 version of “LITTLE WOMEN” – that managed to project a strong emphasis of that period. And the production values for this adaptation of Alcott’s novel seemed more like a generic 19th century period drama, instead of a movie set during a particular decade. It is ironic that I would make such a complaint, considering that the set decoration team led by Cedric Gibbons won Academy Awards for Best Art Direction.

I certainly had no problems with the cast selected for this movie. Jo March seemed a far cry from the roles for which June Allyson was known – you know, the usual “sweet, girl-next-door” type. I will admit that at the age of 31 or 32, Allyson was probably too young for the role of Jo March. But she did such a phenomenon job in recapturing Jo’s extroverted nature and insecurities that I found the issue of her age irrelevant. Peter Lawford, who was her co-star in the 1947 musical, “GOOD NEWS”, gave a very charming, yet complex performance as Jo’s next door neighbor and friend, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence. Beneath the sweet charm, Lawford did an excellent job in revealing Laurie’s initial loneliness and infatuation of Jo. Margaret O’Brien gave one of her best on-screen performance as the March family’s sickly sibling, Beth. Although the literary Beth was the third of four sisters, she is portrayed as the youngest, due to O’Brien’s casting. And I feel that Le Roy and MGM made a wise choice, for O’Brien not only gave one of her best performances, I believe that she gave the best performance in the movie, overall.

Janet Leigh, who was a decade younger than Allyson, portrayed the oldest March sister, Meg. Yet, her performance made it easy for me to regard her character as older and more emotionally mature than Allyson’s Jo. I thought she gave a well done, yet delicate performance as the one sister who seemed to bear the strongest resemblance to the sisters’ mother. Elizabeth Taylor was very entertaining as the extroverted, yet shallow Amy. Actually, I have to commend Taylor for maintaining a balancing act between Amy’s shallow personality and ability to be kind. The movie also featured solid performances from supporting cast members like Mary Astory (who portrayed the warm, yet steely Mrs. March), the very charming Rossano Brazzi, Richard Stapley, Lucile Watson, Leon Ames, Harry Davenport, and the always dependable C. Aubrey Smith, who died not long after the film’s production.

Overall, “LITTLE WOMEN” is a charming, yet colorful adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel. I thought Mervyn LeRoy did an excellent job in infusing energy into a movie that could have easily sink to sheer boredom for me. And he was enabled by a first-rate cast led by June Allyson and Peter Lawford. Overall, “LITTLE WOMEN” managed to rise above my usual apathy toward Alcott’s novel.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “BABYLON 5” (Season Three: “Point of No Return”)

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Three (1995-1996) of “BABYLON 5”. Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series starred Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan:

 

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “BABYLON 5” (SEASON THREE: “POINT OF NO RETURN”)

1 - 3.10 Severed Dreams

1. (3.10) “Severed Dreams” – In this outstanding episode, President Clark of Earth Alliance tries to seize control of Babylon 5 by force, forcing Sheridan and the command crew to take arms against their own government and initiating the Earth Civil War. The episode won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1997.

 

2 - 3.15 Interludes and Examinations

2. (3.15) “Interludes and Examinations” – Captain Sheridan struggles to gather a force against the Shadows, when the Shadow War begins in earnest. Ambassador Londo Mollari looks forward to a reunion with a past lover, and Dr. Franklin falls further into his stims addiction.

 

3 - 3.09 Point of No Return

3. (3.09) “Point of No Return” – When President Clark declares martial law throughout Earth Alliance, the command crew tries to stop Nightwatch from taking control of the station. Meanwhile, Ambassador Londo Mollari receives a prophecy from Emperor Turhan’s widow when she visits the station.

 

4 - 3.17 War Without End Part II

4. (3.17) “War Without End (Part 2)” – This is the second half of a two-part episode in which the station’s former commander, Jeffrey Sinclair, returns to participate in a mission vital to the future survival of Babylon 5 – traveling back in time to steal Babylon 4.

 

5 - 3.05 Voices of Authority

5. (3.05) “Voices of Authority” – Commander Susan Ivanova and Ranger Marcus Cole search for more of the First Ones with the help of Draal, while Sheridan comes under the scrutiny of the Nightwatch and Babylon 5’s new “political officer”.