“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” (2014) Review

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“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” (2014) Review

When New Line Cinema and Warner Brothers first released the news that Peter Jackson would adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, “The Hobbit” into three films, I had not been pleased. I thought the novel could have easily been adapted into two films or even a single film. Now that Jackson’s third film, “THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES”, I realized that my feelings had not changed.

I still believe what I had originally stated . . . an adaptation of Tolkien’s novel could have easily been limited to a single film. I believe I would have enjoyed it, considering my feelings for Tolkien’s tale. But you know what? I do not regret that Jackson had spread the story into the three films. A single movie or a trilogy, I enjoyed Jackson’s take on the story about Bilbo Baggins and his involvement with a group of dwarves under the leadership of one Thorin Oakenshield. But when I learned that this third film would feature a long, detailed conflict known as “the Battle of the Five Armies”, I found myself not looking forward to the story’s conclusion for the first time, since the release of the first movie. The problem is that I still had memories of the battles featured in the last two movies of Jackson’s adaptation of “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy – “THE TWO TOWERS” and “RETURN OF THE KING”. I did not enjoy watching them over a decade ago. And I felt certain that I would not enjoy watching the “Battle of the Five Armies”.

There were aspects of this third HOBBIT that made it less enjoyable for me than the first two films. First of all, Bilbo and his traveling companions reached their destination in the last act of the previous film, “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”. Which meant that the story ceased to be a road trip. With the exception of a few scenes that featured Gandalf the Gray at Dol Guldur and Smaug’s destruction of Laketown, the majority of the film was set at the dwarves’ kingdom of Erebor and the nearby town of Dale. A bit disappointing. I also found the movie’s limited focus on Thorin’s company of dwarves rather disappointing as well. With the exception of Thorin and one of his nephews, Kili, the screenplay focused less on the dwarves and more on the other characters – especially Bard the Bowman and King Thranduil. Another aspect of the plot that disturbed me, was that it made a big deal of Thorin’s greed in the form of “dragon sickness”. Yet, it barely focused on King Thranduil’s willingness to go to war against the dwarves for an elven necklace of white gems inside Erebor. Worse, the movie’s plot brushed aside Laketown resident Bard’s own greed. Yeah . . . I said it. I believe Bard had developed his own greed for some of the treasure inside Erebor. During the movie’s first half hour, he made it clear to Alfrid Lickspittle that he had no interested in the Erebor treasure (which he had regarded as cursed) and only wanted aid in the form of food, shelter and medicine from Thorin. Yet, within another half hour, he was demanding some of the treasure for himself and other Laketown survivors. What led to this turnabout in Bard’s demands? Why did the screenplay fail to explain it?

Remember when I had predicted that I would not like the battle sequence featured in this movie? Well . . . I was right. I did not like it. Let me correct myself. I did not like most of it. I found the majority of the so-called “Battle of the Five Armies” ridiculously long and overblown . . . just like the other battle sequences in “THE TWO TOWERS” and “RETURN OF THE KING”. Now that I think of it, the movie’s battle sequence also reminded me of “the Battle at Hogwarts” featured in the 2011 movie, “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART II”, with the constant number of interruptions that allowed the battle to last longer than necessary. It is only by the grace of God that I was able to tolerate the “Battle of the Five Armies” a bit more than the Helm’s Deep, Pelennor Fields, Black Gate and Hogwarts battles. And I will tell you why.

What made the Battle of the Five Armies a little more tolerable for me? One, it had began under unusual circumstances. Instead of a battle in which the Erebor Dwarves fought side-by-side with Men of Dale and the Woodland Realm Elves against the Moria Orcs, Goblins and Wargs; the battle nearly became a conflict between the dwarves and an alliance between the Dale men and the elves over the treasure inside the Erebor mines. But the appearance of an army of orcs, goblins and wargs led by Orc chieftain Azog quickly led to a shifting of alliances. I found that rather interesting. The Battle of the Five Armies may have began with rather odd circumstances, it ended with a good deal of poignancy and tragedy that left me in tears. And I cannot say the same for the battles featured in “THE TWO TOWERS”, “RETURN OF THE KING” and “DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART II”.

I have never read “The Hobbit”, so I have no idea if J.R.R. Tolkien had any plans to write “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy around the time when he wrote the 1937 novel. But I have to admire the way Peter Jackson and the movie’s other screenwriters – Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro – set up the events featured in “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” movies, both in this movie and the previous two films. This was especially apparent in moments that featured Bilbo’s use of Sauron’s One Ring; his eventual reluctance to inform Gandalf about it; Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman’s encounter with Sauron, during their attempt to rescue Gandalf from Dol Guldur; Saruman’s doom-filled decision to deal with the fleeing and formless Sauron; and Thranduil’s post-battle suggestion that Legolas meet with a young Dunedain ranger named “Strider”. The movie even ended where “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” began – on Bilbo’s 111st birthday, setting in motion, the events of 2001-2003 movie trilogy. I have to say . . . good job.

However, what really impressed me about “THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” was how the screenwriters handled the political chaos that seemed to mark the story. I am not criticizing the story in any way. I just found it rather amazing at how Gandalf’s concerns over Smaug, Thorin Oakenshield’s past history with Azog and his bout of “dragon sickness” brought about so much political chaos in this story. And I must say that Jackson and the other three screenwriters handled it so well. The continuing romance between Thorin’s younger nephew Kili and the Silvan elf guard Tauriel is also handled well in the movie. Their time together seemed less than it was in “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”. But thanks to Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly’s performances, there were two scenes featuring the pair that really impressed me – Kili’s plea to Tauriel that she follow him to Erebor and their efforts to save each other from the Orc called Bolg. Aside from Kili and Tauriel, one of the most interesting relationships in the movie was that between Bilbo and Thorin. In fact, their relationship has been interesting since the moment Bilbo first rejected Gandalf’s suggestion that he join Thorin’s companay as a burglar in “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. Thorin’s bout with “dragon sickness” came close to seriously undermining the pair’s friendship that had thrived since the company’s escape from Moria in the first film. Which is why I found their reconciliation and final scene together so poignant, thanks to Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage’s performances. But the one scene that really left me in tears featured Bilbo’s final good-bye to the dwarves that were part of Thorin’s quest. I felt surprised by how much I truly grew to like these guys. Even more so than the members of the Ring Fellowship from “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy.

“THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” only earned one Academy Award – namely a Best Sound Editing for Brent Burge and Jason Canovas. One technical nomination? One? That was it? No nominations for special effects, costume designs, or editing. There was not even a nomination for Andrew Lesnie’s outstanding cinematography, as shown in the following image:

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I discovered that “THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING” received eleven Academy Award nominations . . . and won all of its categories. And I am appalled. Why? Despite its flaws, I still hold “BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” in a higher regard. Now I realize that I am not the last word on the quality of any movie. But I am entitled to my own opinions. I am sorry, but I simply have a higher opinion of “BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” than either the second and third films in “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And I cannot take the Oscars seriously if the only nomination they could give this film was for Best Sound Editing.

I certainly had no problems with the performances featured in the movie. Although I was slightly disappointed by the decreased presence of most of the dwarves in Thorin’s company, they still managed to give first-rate performances . . . especially Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Dean O’Gorman as Fíli, and Ken Stott as Balin. Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee reprised their roles as Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman the White and gave solid, but not particularly earth-shattering performances. I could also say the same about Ian Holm, who returned as Old Bilbo in the movie’s final scene and Sylvester McCoy, who briefly appeared as Gandalf’s fellow wizard, Radagast the Brown. Two performances in the movie struck me as particularly funny – Ryan Gage as the greedy and imaginative Laketown official Alfrid, and Billy Connolly as Thorin’s loud and sardonic cousin Dáin. Lee Pace gave a colorful and fascinating performance as the complicated and not always likable Elvenking of Mirkwood, Thranduil. And Benedict Cumberbatch continued to send chills down my spine, thanks to his exceptional performance as the voice for the malignant dragon, Smaug.

Aidan Turner and Evangeline Lilly continued to generate sparks as the two star-crossed lovers, Kili and Tauriel. I found them especially effective in two scenes I had earlier mentioned. Both Orlando Bloom and Luke Evans gave excellent performances as Elven prince Legolas and Laketown archer Bard the Bowman. For the first time, I also noticed that the pair could have easily portrayed cousins. Honestly. Ian McKellen was excellent as usual portraying Gandalf the Grey – especially in his scenes with Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman. I like to think that the latter made his mark as the reluctant adventurer, Bilbo Baggins. Freeman did an excellent job of developing his character from the prissy homebody to the clever and brave Hobbit. But my vote for the best performance in the movie would go to Richard Armitage for his complicated and fascinating portrayal of the Erebor Dwarf king, Thorin Oakenshield. Actually, I feel that Armitage had been knocking it out of the ballpark since the first film. But in my opinion, two scenes in “BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” featured his best performances as the ambiguous Thorin – namely the latter’s final struggle with “dragon fever” that I found absolutely brilliant and the poignant farewell between his character and Bilbo.

I cannot deny that “THE HOBBIT: BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES” is my least favorite of the three films based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel. But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy it very much, thanks to Peter Jackson’s energetic direction, excellent production values and some superb performances from a cast led by Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage.

“LOST RETROSPECT”: (5.02) “The Lie”

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (5.02) “The Lie”

Season Five of ABC’s “LOST” has always struck me as the series’ Odd Man Out. It is not the first season to break the rules of the series’ format. Season Four not only featured flashbacks, but also flash forwards. But Season Five seemed to be all over the place. And I believe this was due to the cast being split up for the first half of its season.

Before I talk about the season’s second episode, (5.02) “The Lie”, I feel I should do a recap of what led to its events. As many of the show’s fans know, at least five of the original Oceanic Flight 815 survivors made it off the island. They were Dr. Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, Sayid Jarrah, Sun-Hwa Kwon, and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes. Five others inhabitants also managed to leave – including Claire Littleton’s son Aaron, who was born on the island; Desmond Hume, who had been stranded on the island for three years; former Others leader Benjamin Linus, who left around the same time as the Oceanic survivors; Frank Lapidus, an airline pilot who had been hired to join an expedition traveling to the island aboard a freighter called the Kahana; and John Locke, whose later departure would be revealed in details in a future episode. The Season Four finale, (4.12 – 4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home”, viewers discovered that the original five survivors, Desmond and young Aaron were floating in a Zodiac raft, when they were picked up by a yacht owned by Desmond’s love, Penny Widmore. While Desmond and Frank remained aboard Penny’s yacht; Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun, Hurley and young Aaron arrived on Fiji with a cover story about Oceanic 815’s crash and how they ended there. They became known as “the Oceanic Six”.

The first half of Season Five seemed to be divided into two major time period. The episodes and scenes featuring the survivors back on the island are set during the time following the Oceanic Six’s departure from the island and how they dealt with the various inhabitants they encountered, while flashing back and forth through time. Rather confusing . . . eh? The episodes and scenes featuring the Oceanic Six focused on their lives nearly three years after being off the island and Benjamin Linus’ efforts to get them to return. “The Lie” continued the story of the Oceanic Six during the latter period of those three years and the efforts of the island castaways to survive the constant shifts in time, which seemed to have caused a good deal of upheaval for them.

In this particular episode, Hurley finds himself labeled as a fugitive, when the police blames him for the deaths of two men whom Sayid had killed in the previous episode, (5.01) “Because You Left”. With a barely conscious Sayid as his companion, Hurley appears at the Reyes family home and seeks refuge from the police with his parents. During his stay, he reveals to the latter the truth behind the lies concocted by Jack Shephard for the media and Oceanic Airlines. Meanwhile, Jack, who is forced to deal with withdrawal symptoms, and Ben try to round up the other Oceanic Six members and John Locke for their return to the island. According to former Other and island inhabitant, Eloise Hawking, Ben has seventy (70) hours to get them on a plane for the South Pacific. In the previous episode, two men had approached Kate for a blood sample to determine Aaron Littleton’s bloodline. Fearful that Aaron might be taken away from her, Kate decides to go on the run with the toddler. However, a visit from Sun-Hwa Kwon prevents her from doing so. And when Kate tells her about the two men, Sun suggests that she takes excessive steps to prevent them from taking Aaron.

“The Lie” also featured the further adventures of those castaways left behind. Unlike those who had managed to leave the island, their story is set two to three years earlier – following Ben Linus and the Oceanic Six’s departure. “Because You Left”revealed that when Ben left by turning that Frozen Donkey Wheel inside the DHARMA Orchid Station, those left behind found themselves flashing back and forth through time. In “The Lie”, the remaining castaways attempt to start a fire at the old beach camp. Daniel, who had instructed a past Desmond Hume to find Eloise Hawking, join the others before they are attacked by the Others with a barrage of flaming arrows. Fortunately for James “Sawyer” Ford and Juliet Burke, John Locke comes to their rescue before they can be killed.

Wow! That seemed a lot for one particular episode. Was “The Lie” supposed to part of a two-part episode with “Because You Left”? If not, one could easily describe this episode as convoluted. There seemed to be at least three . . . perhaps four story arcs going on. At least a few of the episode’s story arcs seemed to relate to its title. Hurley and Sayid’s stay at the Reyes home and the former’s confession to his mother about the lies Jack had concocted for the media and Oceanic Airlines seemed to be one. I could also say the same about the story arc featuring Kate’s anxiety over losing Aaron. And Daniel did fail to tell Sawyer and Juliet that he had instruct the past Desmond to pay a visit to Eloise Hawking. The episode’s title seemed to suggest there were consequences in the Oceanic Six’s lies about their survival of the Flight 815 crash, their time on the island and return to civilization. But honestly, these consequences only seemed apparent in two story arcs – Hurley’s survival guilt and Kate’s anxiety over losing Aaron.

The consequences of Oceanic Six’s lies seemed to stem in the episode’s flashback aboard Penny Widmore’s yacht, where Jack presented the story he planned to tell Oceanic Airlines and the media. There were two very interesting reactions to his revelations. Hurley seemed very reluctant to accept Jack’s lies, making it clear that he found them unnecessary. But . . . being Hurley, he caved in from Jack’s pressure to accept the false story for them to tell Oceanic Airlines and spent the next three years being haunted by his decision and the lies, until he finally confessed them to his mother. Another interesting reaction to Jack’s suggestion came from Kate, who seemed unusually quick to accept it. Did Kate believe that his suggestion enabled her to pretend to be Aaron’s mother? This seemed rather surprising to me when “LOST” was still on the air, considering that between the time she helped Claire Littleton give birth to Aaron in (1.20) “Do No Harm” and Oceanic Six’s flight from the island in (4.14) “There’s No Place Like Home, Part III”, Kate had expressed very little interest in Claire or Aaron. Yet, nearly three years later found Kate willing to flee from Los Angeles with Aaron, due to her fear that the courts would have a legal reason to take him away from her. These two story arcs seemed to have the strongest connections to the episode’s title.

However, I had trouble making any connections between the Oceanic Six’s lies and the other story arcs. If there were any connections, they struck me as a bit weak – in the case of Ben’s visit to Eloise Hawking and the butcher shop that was holding Locke’s body, or barely non-existent – the remaining survivors’ travails with time traveling. Mind you, I found both story arcs fascinating. Ben’s visit with Ms. Hawkings eventually played out in a near future episode. And the story arc surrounding those left behind on the island proved to be action-filled and very exciting. But again, their story arcs seemed to have a stronger connection to the island incidents in “There’s No Place Like Home” than the Oceanic Six’s lies. Speaking of the latter, I do have to give Horowitz, Kitsis and director Jack Bender for injecting a good deal of mystery regarding the island inhabitants’ time traveling experiences, along with both drama and action. I am sure that many viewers were on the edge of their seats over the identities of the castaways’ attackers – especially the two uniformed men who tried to kill Sawyer and Juliet.

But the crux of the episode seemed to be all about the climax over Hurley’s emotional dilemma over his return to Los Angeles, along with his guilt over leaving behind many of his fellow castaways. I have rather mixed feelings about this particular story arc. On one hand, I thought Hurley’s confession to Mrs. Reyes about the island seemed like an emotional payoff of his survivor guilt that first manifested in the flash forward scenes from the Season Four episode, (4.01) “The Beginning of the End”. But Horowitz and Kitsis undermined this emotional payoff by having Hurley turning himself in to the authorities, after Ben Linus confronted him about returning to the island. What was the point of that? Ben gave him the opportunity to finally return to the island and put his mind at ease over leaving some of his fellow castaways behind . . . and “poof” . . . he decides to ignore Ben’s offer? Even after Ana-Lucia Cortez’s ghost had warned him to avoid the police?

There are some who believe that “The Lie” is an unevenly paced episode. Perhaps. I thought the episode featured too many story arcs. And if it was supposed to be the second half of a two-part episode, I wish that show runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindehof had not given the two episodes different titles . . . with different themes. Their actions only left me in a conundrum over whether “The Lie” is a two-part episode or not. Regardless, the opening episodes of Season Five struck me as unevenly handled, despite some very memorable scenes and performances, especially from Jorge Garcia.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (3.07) “Not in Portland”

 

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“LOST” RETROSPECT: (3.07) “Not in Portland”

As I have hinted in a few articles in the past, I am not particularly fond of Season Three of “LOST”. Let me rephrase that. I am not fond of the first half of the series’ third season. But despite this dislike of mine, I cannot deny that this period of “LOST” managed to produce one or two memorable episodes. One of those episodes – at least for me – just might be (3.07) “Not in Portland”.

This episode marked the first one to feature the back story of one of the Others – the island inhabitants who help protect it from outsiders. In the case of this particular episode, the Other in question is one Dr. Juliet Burke. The episode’s flashbacks focus upon the circumstances that led Juliet to the island. In Miami, Florida, Juliet is a fertility scientist determined to help her cancer-ridden sister Rachel become pregnant with a child. Juliet’s goal is more or less stymied by her controlling ex-husband, Dr. Edmund Burke. Not only is he also a gynecologist, Edmund is Juliet’s supervisor at the Miami Central University. After she finally succeeds in impregnating Rachel, Juliet is approached by two members of the Others – Richard Alpert and Ethan Rom – who falsely offer her a job as head researcher for Mittelos Bioscience in Portland, Oregon. When she reveals that Edmund would never allow her to leave her current job, the latter is conveniently killed by a moving bus. And Juliet accepts the position at Mittelos Bioscience, believing that it will last six months.

The present day sequences of the episode continued where the previous one – (3.06) “I Do” – left off. While operating on Others leader Benjamin Linus for a malignant tumor on the latter’s spine, castaway leader Dr. Jack Shepherd holds his patient hostage in exchange for the escape of fellow castaways Kate Austen and James “Sawyer” Ford. While on the run, Kate and Sawyer encounter Alex Rousseau, who reveals that she has a boat they may use to escape to the main island. In return, she asks them to help her rescue her boyfriend, Karl. Jack genuinely begins to operate on Ben, but the latter awakens during the surgery and demands to speak to Juliet. She leaves the surgery to help Karl, Kate and Sawyer escape the island. She also kills Other Danny Pickett to help them escape, and informs Alex, who is Ben’s adopted daughter, that she must remain. Later, Juliet tells Jack that Ben would allow her to leave the island after three years, if she helps Jack save Ben.

Many fans have expressed their disappointment in the flashbacks that revealed Juliet Burke’s past. I do not share their disappointment. Juliet’s background as a fertility doctor and researcher seemed to foreshadow the revelation of the fertility problems endured by the island’s current inhabitants. Her background also foreshadowed the revelation of Ben Linus’ obsession in overcoming the Others’ fertility problems. With Richard and Ethan’s help, Ben went through a great deal of trouble to trick Juliet into traveling to the island in the first place. A fake job offer at a fake organization? No wonder this episode was titled “Not in Portland”. More importantly, Juliet’s flashbacks highlighted how three years on the island as an Other had changed her personality. Or improved it. Despite being divorced from Edmund Burke, Juliet still managed to be controlled and intimidated by him. Although Ben proved to be just as controlling as Edmund, Juliet still managed to become a more self-assured and as this episode proved, dangerous woman. By this time in her life, Juliet was about to discover that she had enough of controlling or manipulative men in her life.

The present day events in this episode seemed more like a part-time psychological thriller and adventure story. And Juliet played a major role in both aspects of this episode. Jack used her as a means to have Ben to his mercy by manipulating Tom Friendly in having her removed from the surgery. And if Juliet had not intervened and killed Danny Pickett, chances are Kate, Sawyer and Karl would have never successfully escaped to the main island. I do not mean to sound cold-blooded, but Juliet’s killing of Pickett was a sight to behold. I found myself wondering about Edmund Burke’s fate, if she had been just as ruthless back in Miami. Another aspect of “Not in Portland” were a few minor scenes that caught my attention. One featured an exchange between Jack and a tearful Kate over short-wave radios, in which the former tried to convince the latter to leave him behind and escape. The emotional barrage between Jack and Kate seemed to have briefly caught Sawyer’s attention. Perhaps this was the first time Sawyer realized that Kate’s feelings for him were not as strong as he may have imagined after their sexual tryst in the cage. In another scene, Sawyer was so intent in beating up Pickett out of revenge for his mistreatment that he ignored Kate’s cries to run. Was this another hint of Sawyer’s destructive penchant for revenge? Who knows.

Was there anything about “Not in Portland” that did not ring right with me? Hmmm . . . well, yes. I never understood the scene featuring Other Karl Martin’s brainwashing in a place called Room 23. What was the point of this scene? Are we to believe that brainwashing was a method the Others used to “recruit” members? Was there another reason why Ben ordered Karl imprisoned inside Room 23? I realized that Ben tried to put the kibbosh on Karl’s relationship with Alex, but . . . honestly? Brainwashing? Or was this scene simply a shallow form of thrills for the television audience to talk about? I am also a little confused about Juliet’s relationship with her ex-husband. Why would she allowed this man to continue controlling her after their divorce? Was Juliet responsible for initiating the divorce? Or was Edmund? I guess we will never know. Speaking of Edmund Burke, I must admit that I found the circumstances of his death just a bit too much. I thought screenwriters Carlton Cuse and Jeff Pinkner were rather heavy-handed in their use of “coincidence” by having Edmund die in the very manner that Juliet had earlier expressed in a conversation with Richard. I mean . . . . c’mon!

“Not in Portland” featured some excellent performances from the likes of Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Michael Emerson, Željko Ivanek, Blake Bashoff, Robin Weigert, William Mapother, Tania Raymonde, and Michael Bowen. But there were four performances that I really enjoyed. One of them came from M.C. Gainey, whose portrayal of Tom Friendly naturally ranged from suspicion toward Juliet, slight hero worship of Jack and a sickening intolerance of the sight of blood. By the way, Tom’s hilarious reaction to blood was one of the episode’s highlights, thanks to Gainey’s performance. Nestor Carbonnell made his first appearance as Other immortal Richard Alpert. With his eye-catching physical appearance and strong and mysterious screen presence, Carbonnell made quite an impression on many fans, including myself. Once again, Matthew Fox gave a superb, yet unappreciated performance as leader of the castaways, spinal surgeon Jack Shepherd. I was especially impressed by Fox’s portrayal of an intense Jack, desperate to resort to anything to ensure Kate and Sawyer’s escape. But the best performance in this episode came from Elizabeth Mitchell, who gave a superb performance as Dr. Juliet Burke. I am flabbergasted that Mitchell had never received any award nominations for her performance in this episode. She did an excellent job of conveying Juliet’s character development from whipped ex-wife to a dangerous and desperate woman. I have always considered her to be one of the best actresses on the series and “Not in Portland” certainly proved it.

Despite being one of the episodes that aired during the dreaded first half of Season Three . . . despite being part of the dreaded story arc that featured Jack Shepherd, Kate Austen and Sawyer Ford’s time as prisoners of the Others, I managed to enjoy “Not in Portland” very much. For me, it is a bright sunshine during what I view as an artistically dreary period for “LOST”.

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

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“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

The second part of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel, “The Hobbit” recently hit the theaters. After watching it, I am amazed that I was ever against the idea of a three-film adaptation of the Tolkien’s story. 

Titled “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, the second film began not long after the first one left off. I take that back. The movie began with a flashback featuring a meet between the wizard Gandalf the Gray and the Dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield at the Prancing Pony Tavern in Bree. Those familiar with the trilogy, will remember that Froddo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits were supposed to meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony and ended up meeting Strider aka Aragon, future king of Gondor. The audiences learn in this flashback that it was Gandalf, who originally kickstarted the adventure by convincing Thorin to obtain the Arkenstone in order to unite the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.

Finally, the story begins where the last movie left off, with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves evading the Orc chieftain Azog and his party. They eventually seek shelter at the home of a shapeshifter named Beorn, before they make their way to the Milkwood forest. There, Gandalf parts company with the others after discovering Black Speech graffiti imprinted on an old ruin. He heads toward the tombs of the Nazgûl in Dol Guldur, to investigate with fellow wizard Radagast. Meanwhile, Bilbo and the Dwarves get lost in the Milkwood forest and eventually captured by giant spiders. Using the One Ring to render himself invisible, Bilbo manages to free the Dwarves from the spiders’ webs. However, they end up being captured by a party of Wood Elves led by Legolas and Tauriel, who finish off the spiders. During the Dwarves’ captivity, Thorin gets into a conflict with the Wood Elves’ king, Thranduil; Kili becomes attracted to the Elves’ Chief of Guards, Tauriel. Again, Bilbo comes to the Dwaves’ rescue and help them escape, with their Orc pursuers close at their heels. And with the help of a barge man named Bard the Bowman (who is also a descendant of the last king of Dale), the travelers not only reach Lake-town, but eventually the Lonely Mountain and Smaug. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Thorin and the other Dwarves, Gandalf is captured by the Necromancer of Nazgûl, who reveals himself as the Dark Lord Sauron.

Many fans and critics tend to view “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to the first movie in this new trilogy, “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. If I have to be brutally honest, I do not particularly share this view. On the other hand, I do not regard the first “HOBBIT” movie as superior to this second one. I really cannot make up my mind on which film is better. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” does not have a first act that takes its time in introducing the character. On the other hand, “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” does not have an abrupt ending. And both films, in my opinion, are well written by screenwriters Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro. It featured further development of the major characters, development of the main narrative and some superb action sequences.

Before I wax lyrical over “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, I might as well comment over its shortcomings. Thankfully, there are only a few. Two of them featured characters from the Wood Elves – Legolas and Tauriel. Orlando Bloom returned to portray the sixty years younger Legolas for this new trilogy. However, Bloom is over a decade older than he was when he portrayed the older Legolas. I wish I could say that he looked young enough to portray the younger Legolas. But I would be lying. And I am not being shallow. Bloom looked great. But I could tell that he looked older than he did in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And for me, this did not gel very well, considering that he was portraying the same character at a younger age. I also had a problem with the new character, Tauriel, Chief Guard for the Wood Elves. I understand that she was created by Jackson and the other screenwriters, due to the dearth of female characters in this story’s chapter. Quite frankly, I have no problem with this, unlike the Tolkien “purists”. But there were times when I found her character a little too ideal. It is great that she is a badass. But aside from an initial show of bigotry toward the Dwarves, there seemed to be a lack of flaws in Tauriel’s characterization. Not only is she a badass fighter, she is the only Elf who seemed to be aware of a growing evil throughout Middle Earth and believes something should be done about it. Tauriel is practically a borderline “Mary Sue”. And like many moviegoers, I found the movie’s final scene rather perplexing. I realize that“THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” is only the second of three movies. But Jackson had ended previous Tolkien movies – aside from “LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING” – with the conclusion of a major action sequence. I had expected him to resolve the matter of Smaug before moving on to the last chapter of “THE HOBBIT”. He did not. And because of this, the movie ended on an erupt note.

As I had earlier stated, I cannot view “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. On the other hand, I definitely do not view this second film as inferior to the first. First of all, it benefited from the establishment of the main characters and main narrative from the first film. I also have to give kudos to Peter Jackson for maintaining a steady pace throughout the movie – in both the action and dramatic sequences. I find that very impressive for a movie with a running time of two hours and forty-one minutes. The movie also continued Jackson’s track record with impressive production designs. I was especially impressed by Dan Hennah’s work for the Mirkwood Elves Realm, Lake-wood and the Lonely Mountain interior sequences. The costumes designed by Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor struck me as beautiful . . . especially those designed for the Wood Elves. I cannot forget Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful photography of New Zealand, which served as Middle Earth. And the makeup designs for the Dwaves characters and the Elves continued to impress me. But I cannot forget the visual effects used in this film. Most of the faces for the Orcs were computer generated, and I must say that I found that impressive. The visual effects team also did exceptional work for the Dol Guldur sequences – especially with Gandalf’s encounter with Sauron. And despite my dislike of spiders, I was also impressed by the visual work on the Milkwood Forest sequence that featured the protagonists’ encounters with the deadly beasts. But the one sequence that stands above the others – at least for me – proved to be Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with the dragon Smaug. How can I put it? I found it breathtaking, mesmerizing . . . and extremely frightening. The visual creation of Smaug truly have to be the movie’s pièce de résistance. Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb voice performance greatly added to the terror . . . and I am being complementary.

However, “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all about visual effects. The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences and superb dramatic moments. Not even my negative opinion of spiders could blind me from the first-rate sequence that featured the Milwood Elves’ rescue of Bilbo and the Dwarves. It was an especially good moment for actors Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly. Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and those actors who portrayed the Dwarves had their chance to really shine in that outstanding sequence featuring Smaug within the great halls of Erebor. But my favorite action sequence featured Bilbo and the Dwarves’ escape from Wood Elves’ realm by traveling along a river inside empty wine barrels. Not even that brief, silly moment that featured Legolas balancing on the heads of two Dwarves, while fighting the pursuing Orcs could mar my enjoyment of that scene. If Jackson ever consider opening an amusement park, he might want to consider that sequence as an inspiration for an attraction. However, “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all action and no drama. The movie certain featured some fine dramatic scenes. My favorites include two scenes featuring the growing romance between the Dwarf Kili and the Elf Guard Tauriel, Bilbo’s cat-and-mouse session with Smaug, and a wonderful moment in which Thorin manages to convince the citizens of Lake-town to support the Dwarves’ efforts to reclaim Erebor. But if there is one scene that really impressed me, it happened to be the stormy confrontation between the two leaders, Thorin and Thranduil, within the latter’s realm. I feel it was the dramatic highlight of the movie, thanks to superb performances from Richard Armitage and Lee Pace.

Speaking of performances . . . I really cannot say there was one that failed to impress me. Although I had some criticisms of the Legolas and Tauriel characters, I certainly had none regarding the two performers who portrayed them. Granted, Orlando Bloom may have been a bit old for portraying the younger Legolas, I must admit that I found his acting in this movie a lot more impressive than in the “LORD OF THE RINGS”. His Legolas in this film was a bit darker and more complex. And Bloom rose to the occasion perfectly. Evangeline Lilly’s portrayal of Tauriel was probably one of the best things in this movie. She has certainly come a long way since her early years as an actress. Tauriel might have been something of a “Mary Sue”, Lilly certainly injected a great deal of brilliance and excitement into the character. And she had great screen chemistry with Aidan Turner, who portrayed the youngest member of Thorin’s Dwarf band – Kili. Turner, who was such fun in the first “HOBBIT” film, did a marvelous job as the lovesick Kili. I especially enjoyed his one scene in which the barely conscious Kili not only poignantly expressed his love for Tauriel, but also his self-doubts about her feelings for him. Lee Pace added another eccentric character to his gallery of roles as the arrogant king of the Wood Elves, Thranduil. Mind you, Pace went out of his way to express Thranduil’s desire to protect his people from the growing evil. But he also did such a marvelous job in expressing Thranduil’s showy personality and arrogance.

Luke Evans made his debut in the trilogy as Bard the Bowman, an archer and descendant of the lords of Dale. And he was fantastic. Evans captured a great deal of the character’s grim charisma and presence with great ease. Some of the other actors who portrayed the Erebor Dwarves certainly made their presence felt in this film. Graham McTavish was deliciously surly as the aggressive Dwalin, the first Dwarf that Bilbo ever met. Ken Stott continued his outstanding portrayal of the elderly and very wise Balin. Dean O’Gorman continued his strong chemistry with Aidan Turner as Fili, Kili’s older brother. I was especially impressed by his performance in a scene in which Fili refuses to leave behind the injured Kili at Lake-town. A first-rate dramatic performance on his part. Stephen Hunter got to shine as the overweight Dwarf, Bombur. After his character was treated as a joke in the first film, Hunter had a great heroic moment when his character fought off several Orcs during the flight from the Milkwood Palace. Stephen Fry appeared in the film as the Master of Lake-town and gave a deliciously nasty performance as the self-involved and greedy leader of the community near the Lonely Mountain. In fact, I cannot recall him portraying such a negative character before. He should do it more often.

Ian McKellen continued his elegant portrayal of the wizard Gandalf the Gray. Like the second film in the “LORD OF RINGS” trilogy, his appearance was more limited than it was in the first. But he had some marvelous moments during the sequence that featured Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins developed in a way that I found both satisfying and disturbing. I have to give Freeman kudos in the subtle manner in which he conveyed Bilbo’s growing confidence in his role as a member of Thorin’s company. At the same, audiences could see the growing negative imapact of the One Ring upon his character . . . especially in the Milkwood Forest sequence. Bilbo’s character was not the only one growing increasingly darker. As much as I enjoyed Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the heroic Aragon in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy, I must admit that I find Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield more rewarding. The character is so rich in its complexity and Armitage does a superb job in portraying the Dwarf prince’s moral ambiguity. I found it interesting that in this second film, Thorin begins to rely a lot more on Bilbo to help the company through its travails. Yet, the closer the company reaches its goal in Erebor, the darker Thorin’s personality becomes. It is fascinating to watch Armitage take this character down a dark road.

It is a pity that “THE HOBBIT” trilogy has not garnered as much critical acclaim as the “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies. Quite frankly, I find them more enjoyable to watch. Unlike the trilogy from a decade ago, the two“HOBBIT” movies have managed to more than satisfy me. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” may have possessed a few flaws, but it kept me fully entertained and fascinated right to the end. Right now, Peter Jackson seemed to be on a roll with this second trilogy. I only hope that the third and last film will not disappoint me.

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (5.09) “Namaste”

 

lost-namaste

Below is an article I had written about the Season Five episode of “LOST” (2004-2010) called (5.09) “Namaste”

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (5.09) Namaste”

“Namaste” is a term used commonly on the Indian subcontinent that is used as a greeting and a parting valediction between individuals. I suppose that this word might be the proper title for this ninth episode from Season Five from ABC’s “LOST”(5.09) “Namaste” served as a crossroad for the series’ fifth season. It served as a closure for some of the season’s story arcs and a beginning for others.

The episode opened where the sixth episode, (5.06) “316” ended, with former castaways Dr. Jack Shephard, Kate Austen and Hugo “Hurley” Reyes disappearing from Ajira Flight 316 (destination – Guam) and reappearing on the Island. Following their harrowing reappearance, they are spotted by one their former castaways, who had remained on the island, Jin-Soo Kwon. The season’s eighth episode, (5.08) “La Fleur”, revealed that Jin; along with James “Sawyer” Ford (“Jim La Fleur”), Dr. Juliet Burke, Miles Straume, and Daniel Faraday; had ceased their time skipping and landed in the year 1974. They spent the next three years as members of the Dharma Initiative. When Jin informed Sawyer of Jack, Kate and Hurley’s arrival in 1977, Saywer races from the Dharma compound to greet his former castaways.

Sawyer explains to the three newcomers that they had ended up in the 1970s. And in order to remain at the Dharma compound, he lied to the organization’s leaders that he was captain of a research vessel, whose crew was searching the wrecked slave ship, the Black Rock. He then arranges for the trio to join the Dharma Initiative as new recruits. Jack becomes a janitor, Kate joins the motor pool, where Juliet works. And Hurley becomes a cook. Sawyer manages to achieve this after Juliet forges their necessary documentation.

Back in the 21st century, pilot Frank Lapidus manages to land the Ajira 316 airliner on the runway constructed by members of the Others, Kate and Sawyer (who were prisoners) back on Season Three, on the Hydra Station island. Along with Frank, Sun-Kwa Kwon and Benjamin Linus (former Others leader), other survivors include a man named Caesar, who assumes leadership of the surviving Ajira passengers and a bounty hunter named Ilana Verdansky, who had been escorting former Oceanic castaway Sayid Jarrah into custody. Ben sets out for the main island to reunite with the Others. Sun decides to join him in order to find Jin. And Frank accompanies them in order to protect Sun from Ben. However, she knocks Ben out, leaving him behind on the Hydra island. Sun and Frank encounter a figure in Christian Shephard’s image, who informs them that Jack, Kate and Hurley have time traveled back to 1977. He also informs Sun that Jin is with them.

I found nothing particularly unique about “Namaste”. But I must admit that I still found it interesting and solid entertainment. I found the present day sequences featuring Sun, Ben and Frank less interesting. Ben’s intention to leave the Hydra island in order to reunite with Richard Alpert and the rest of the Others did not seem very interesting to me. Even Ben’s attitude regarding his intention seemed like the logical conclusion. Which is why I found Sun’s reaction to him rather over-the-top. One, she did not have insist upon joining him. If she really wanted to leave Hydra island for the main one, she could have made the trip on her own. Instead, she insisted upon joining Ben, before whacking him over the head with a paddle. Many“LOST” fans cheered. I simply rolled my eyes at the ridiculousness of it all and a confirmation of her vindictive nature. When she and Frank later discovered that Jack, Kate, Hurley and Jin were all in 1977, I found the scene . . . well, uninteresting. The only interesting aspect of this story line was that it explained the finale of (3.07) “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”– with the Man in Black (in John Locke’s form) looking down at his unconscious form.

The scenes set in 1977 managed to rouse my interest. The interactions between the main characters seemed filled with a great deal of emotions – overt or otherwise. Much of that emotion was centered around James “Sawyer” Ford. Ever since the Season Four episode, (4.09) “The Shape of Things to Come”, many “LOST” fans have been pushing him as the series’ hero. Sawyer’s “hero” status was solidified – as far as many were concerned – in “La Fleur”, when he found a way to ensure that he and his fellow castaways would become part of the Dharma Initiative and became romantically involved with Juliet Burke. Within three years, Sawyer became the Dharma Initiative’s Head of Security. In a way, I can see why many fans had put Sawyer on a pedestal by mid-Season Five. Yet, I found some of his interactions with the other characters and his own decisions rather questionable. I am not accusing screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Brian K. Vaughan of bad writing. On the contrary, I thought they handled Sawyer’s role in this episode very well. But I suspect that so many fans were viewing Sawyer through rose-colored glasses that they failed to see the warts behind the heroic image. Not even Jack Shephard during the series’ first season was regarded in such a high light.

Many fans anticipated the reunion between Sawyer and his former bed partner, Kate Austen; believing that the latter was over Jack. Mind you, not all fans believed this, but a good number did. The episode’s last five to ten minutes featured a moment in which the two exchanged subtle looks. That look would prove to be the beginning of the end of Sawyer’s romance with Juliet . . . but in a way he did not anticipate or liked. Even worse, Kate’s little moment of flirtation was a return to an old habit of hers – using Sawyer to erase her romantic problems with Jack. Fans marveled at how he and Juliet had arranged for Jack, Kate and Hurley’s initiation into the Dharma Initiative. And many cheered at his criticism, near the end of the episode, of Jack’s earlier leadership of the Oceanic 815 castaways. I felt impressed by the former and unimpressed by the latter. My recent viewing of this episode led me to realize a few things. One, three years as the “Sheriff of Dharmaland” had allowed Sawyer to develop an ego the size of a basketball. Note some of his criticism directed at Jack:

SAWYER: [Chuckles] I heard once Winston Churchill read a book every night, even during the Blitz. He said it made him think better. It’s how I like to run things. I think. I’m sure that doesn’t mean that much to you, ’cause back when you were calling the shots, you pretty much just reacted. See, you didn’t think, Jack, and as I recall, a lot of people ended up dead.

JACK: I got us off the Island.

SAWYER: But here you are… [sighs] right back where you started. So I’m gonna go back to reading my book, and I’m gonna think, ’cause that’s how I saved your ass today. And that’s how I’m gonna save Sayid’s tomorrow. All you gotta do is go home, get a good night’s rest. Let me do what I do.

One, Sawyer had forgotten that not all of Jack’s decisions were bad . . . and not all of his decisions were good. He also seemed unaware that his decision to include himself, Miles, Juliet, Jin and Daniel into the Dharma Initiative was a bad idea. And he should have never given Jack, Kate and Hurley the opportunity to become part of the Dharma Initiative.  Sawyer did not save Jack, Kate and Hurley’s lives. He merely dragged them into his own deception.  And his decisions will prove to be bad ones by the end of Season Five.  His belief in his own leadership skills proved to be nothing more than a reflection of his skills as a con artist. Like the Oceanic Six, he and his four companions had been living a lie for the past three years . . . a lie that would eventually catch up to them.  I also suspect that Sawyer (and Juliet) were responsible for the newcomers’ new positions. Sawyer’s rant and his arrangement of Jack’s new position as a janitor only convinced me that despite his words, his insecurities regarding the spinal surgeon have not abated in three years.

However, Sawyer was not the only one who made bad decisions. Hurley decided that he wanted the comforts of the Dharma Initiative, instead of the discomforts of the jungle. It was a bad decision on his part. And both Jack and Kate made the mistake of agreeing with Hurley’s decision. I could not help but wonder if Juliet had regretted assisting Amy Goodspeed through a difficult birth. The Goodspeeds’ new child turned out to be Ethan Rom, a future follower of Ben Linus in 2004. I feel that Juliet had made the right choice. But . . . I have great difficulty in believing that Ethan was 27 years old in 2004 (the first season), especially since the actor who had portrayed him, William Mapother, was 39 to 40 years old during the series’ first season . . . and looked it.

The episode ended with the revelation of Sayid Jarrah’s whereabouts. He did not appear on the island with Jack, Hurley and Kate. And he was not seen among the Ajira survivors in 2007. Instead, he also ended up in 1977, discovered by Jin Kwon seconds before they encountered the Dharma Initiative’s borderline psychotic head researcher, Stuart Radzinsky. Jin had no choice but to place Sayid under arrest for being a possible Hostile (the Others), the enemies of the Dharma Initiative and longtime island residents. At the end of the episode, Sayid met the 14 year-old version of Benjamin Linus, the man who manipulated him into becoming a hired gun in the latter’s war against rival Charles Widmore. This meeting will prove to have grave consequences for the Losties. So much for Sawyer saving Sayid’s ass. “Ain’t life a bitch?”

Thanks to screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Brian K. Vaughan, “Namaste” is a pretty good episode that brought a great deal of closure to the first half of Season Five and initiated the story arcs for the rest of that season and the sixth and final season. The emotional complexities – especially in regard to James “Sawyer” Ford – proved to be very interesting in the 1977 sequences. But I was not that particularly impressed by the 2007 scenes. Despite my disappointment in the latter, I managed to enjoy the episode in the end.

“PERSUASION” (1971) Review

“PERSUASION” (1971) Review

This adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1818 novel turned out to be the first of the old Jane Austen television adaptations that the BBC aired during the 1970s and 80s. Produced and directed by Howard Baker, and adapted by Julian Mitchell; this two-part miniseries starred Ann Firbanks and Bryan Marshall. 

As many fans of Austen’s novel would know, ”PERSUASION” told the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of a vain and spendthrift baronet, who finds herself reunited with her former finance, a Naval officer of lesser birth named Frederick Wentworth. Eight years before the beginning of the story, Anne’s godmother, Lady Russell, had persuaded her to reject Wentworth’s marriage proposal, citing the Naval officer’s lack of family connections and fortune. She reunites with Wentworth, during a prolonged family visit to her younger sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Charles Musgrove. And the Naval officer has managed to acquire a fortune during the Napoleonic Wars. Anne is forced to watch Wentworth woo Mary’s sister-in-law, Louisa Musgrove, while he ignores his earlier attraction to her.

Many diehard Austen fans have expressed the opinion that this adaptation of her last novel has a running time that allows for the characters to be expressed with more depth than they were in the 1995 and 2007 versions. I must admit that the miniseries’ running time of 210 minutes allowed a greater depth into Austen’s plot than the two later movies. Yet, despite the longer running time, ”PERSUASION” managed to be only a little more faithful than the other two versions. One of the plotlines that Mitchell failed to include featured the injury suffered by one of Charles Musgrove’s sons, following a fall from the tree. It was this injury that delayed Anne’s reunion with Wentworth near the beginning of the story. Fortunately, the changes or deletions that Mitchell made in his script did not bother me one whit. Especially since ”PERSUASION” turned out to be a pretty solid adaptation.

However, there were times when Mitchell was too faithful to Austen’s novel. I still have nightmares over the second scene between Anne and her old school friend, Mrs. Smith; in which the latter finally revealed the true nature of Anne’s cousin, William Elliot. That particular scene seemed to take forever. And I never understood Anne’s outrage over William’s comments about Sir Walter and Elizabeth in his old letters to Mrs. Smith‘s husband. He had only expressed what Anne also felt about her father and older sister. And once again, an adaptation of ”Persuasion” failed to correct the problem surrounding the William Elliot character – namely his attempt to woo and marry Anne in order to prevent Sir Walter from marry Elizabeth’s companion, Mrs. Clay, or any otherwomen . . . and guarantee his inheritance of the Elliot baronetcy. As I had stated in my reviews of the two other ”PERSUASION”movies, William’s efforts struck me as irreverent, since there was no way he could have full control over Sir Walter’s love life. Why was it necessary to show William sneaking away with Mrs. Clay in order to elope with her? Both were grown adults who had been previously married. They were not married or engaged to anyone else. I found their clandestine behavior unnecessary. And why on earth did Mitchell include Sir Walter spouting the names and birthdates of himself and his offspring in the script’s opening scene? I do not think so. In fact, this scene merely dragged the miniseries from the outset.

The production values for ”PERSUASION” struck me as top-rate . . . to a certain extent. I have to commend Peter Phillips for his colorful production designs and Mark Hall for the miniseries’ art work. ”PERSUASION” permeated with rich colors that I found eye catching. However, I have some qualms about Esther Dean’s costumes designs. How can I put it? I found some of the costumes rather garish. And the photography for the exterior scenes struck me as . . . hmmm, unimpressive. Dull. Flat. And I had some problems with the hairstyle for the leading lady, Ann Firbank. Her hairdo seemed like a uneasy mixture of an attempt at a Regency hairstyle and an early 1970s beehive. Think I am kidding? Take a gander:

My opinion of the cast is pretty mixed. There were performances that I found impressive. Marian Spencer gave a complex, yet intelligent portrayal of Anne Elliot’s godmother and mentor, Lady Russell. I was also impressed by Valerie Gearon’s subtle performance as Anne’s vain older sister, Elizabeth Elliot. And both Richard Vernon and Rowland Davies gave colorful performances as Admiral Croft and Charles Musgrove, respectively. On the other hand, Basil Dignam got on my last nerve as the vain Sir Walter Elliot. There was nothing really wrong with his performance, but many of his scenes dragged the miniseries, due to the number of unnecessary dialogue over topics that had very little to do with the main storyline. Quite frankly, a great deal of Sir Walter’s dialogue bore me senseless.

And what about the story’s two leads? Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall gave very competent performances as the two former lovers, Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. They competently expressed their characters’ intelligence and emotions. They also made the eventual reconciliation between Anne and Wentworth very believable. Unfortunately, Firbank and Marshall lacked the strong chemistry that Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds possessed in the 1995 adaptation; or the strong chemistry that Sally Hawkins and Rupert Penry-Jones had in the 2007 film. I never got the feeling that Firbank’s Anne and Marshall’s Wentworth were struggling to contain their emotions toward each other in the first half of the miniseries. Every now and then, Firbank utilized sad and pensive expressions, reminding me of Evangeline Lilly’s early performances on ABC’s ”LOST”. And Marshall’s Wentworth seemed too friendly with the Musgrove sisters and polite toward Anne to hint any sense of remaining passion toward her. It was not until their encounter with William Elliot at Lyme Regis that I could detect any hint – at least on Wentworth’s part – of emotion toward Anne. And it was only from this point onward, in which Firbank and Marshall finally conveyed a strong screen chemistry.

In the end, I have to admit that this adaptation of ”PERSUASION” struck me as entertaining. I cannot deny it. Despite being the most faithful of the three known adaptations, I feel that it was probably more flawed than the later two versions. Screenwriter Julian Mitchell and director Howard Baker’s close adherence to Austen’s novel did not really help it in the long run. In doing so, the miniseries adapted some of the faults that could be found in the novel. And the miniseries’ close adaptation also dragged its pacing needlessly. But the solid performances by the cast, led by Ann Firbank and Bryan Marshall; along with the colorful production designs and the story’s intelligence allowed me to enjoy it in the end.

“LOST” RETROSPECT – (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened” (Or . . . The Emergence of Saint Kate)

While looking back at some of the articles I have written about “LOST” and its characters, I discovered that I have written at least five articles that were either about the character, Kate Austen or in which she featured heavily. One would think that she is such a compelling character. But I do not think so. I suspect that my problem with Kate is that she is one of the most badly written characters on this show and in the history of television . . . and she is the female lead. And I find that disturbing. My dislike of the character went up a notch after I had watched the Season 5 Kate-centric episode, (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened”:

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT – (5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened” (Or . . . The Emergence of Saint Kate)

Set mainly in 1977, this episode of “LOST”(5.11) “Whatever Happened, Happened” – was badly written. It really was. I felt as if I had watched the emergence of a character called “Saint Kate”, instead of an interesting episode about the reasons behind a woman’s choices. But there were no reasons given for Kate Austen’s sudden desire to save young Ben Linus’ life. Instead, the episode had her in a state of frantic over Ben’s condition that did not make any sense. Even worse, the episode went too far and had her donate blood to him in a heavily contrived attempt to make her seem selfless and worthy to the fans.

First, I want to focus on the situation regarding young Ben’s shooting. Why did spinal surgeon Jack Shephard refuse to save Ben? Was his reason the same as Sayid Jarrah’s?  Because Ben will grow up to be a manipulative and murderous man? How did Jack suddenly become anti-Ben, again? I read a piece on this episode on WIKIPEDIA, which claimed that Jack was to blame for creating the monster, Ben Linus. I find this hard to accept. It seemed as if they are trying to absolve Sayid of his crime. And that does not work with me.

Speaking of Sayid’s crime, it seems that Ben will no longer have any memories of it, following Richard’s treatment. If this was the case, what in the hell was the point of Sayid shooting Ben in the first place? What were the writers trying to achieve? Was the shooting nothing more than a contrived event to make Kate lovable to the fans again? Was it a plotline to explain how Ben became so murderous? Hell, they could have done that and allowed Ben to retain his memories of the shooting. This whole “erasing Ben’s memories of Sayid’s crime” made no sense to me. What was the purpose of it? To explain how Ben “lost his innocence”? Ben was already on that road by living under an abusive father.

But you know what? Despite Sayid shooting him, Jack’s refusal to save him or Others’ subordinate Richard Alpert’s memory-wiping cure, the one person who is mainly responsible for Ben’s moral downfall . . . was Ben. Other people have come from traumatic backgrounds and managed to make decent lives for themselves. Ben does not have any real excuse. Sayid has to deal with his crime of shooting an innocent boy, himself. Jack has to deal with his refusal to treat that boy. But they are not mainly responsible for Ben’s crimes. Ben is.

When I heard that Kate might finally confess about the lie surrounding Aaron Littleton, the son of Australian castaway Claire Littleton, I thought she would end up confessing to James “Sawyer” Ford, Juliet Burke and the other castaways. Instead, Sawyer’s old girlfriend, Cassidy Phillips, exposed her true reason for claiming Aaron as her son.  I found this very disappointing. And now, Sawyer never really knew about the lie surrounding Aaron.  And he did not find out, until Season 6 that Kate’s reason for returning to the island had nothing to do with saving his life. And she continued to have the murder of Wayne Jensen, her drunken father, hanging over her head. If we were supposed to root for them to get together following this episode, I think that the writers have failed. At least with me.

Regarding Kate’s decision to return to the island – she told Cassidy that her intention was to find Claire and get her back home to Aaron.  During the early spring of 2009, I found myself pondering on how she had intended to achieve this.   Was Kate really that stupid?  She did not know about the runway that Frank Lapidus had used to land Flight 316, until her return to the early 21st century at the beginning of Season 6. Locke had destroyed the Dharma submarine back in Season 3. And Kate knew about the destruction of the freighter. How did she planned to send Claire back to Aaron? Or had she been talking out of her ass?

You know, ever since (4.04) “Eggtown”, Kate’s story arc had been badly handled by the writers. It started with that ludicrous attempt by her to get information from Miles Straume about her status as a fugitive. Then it developed into the storyline surrounding her custody of Aaron that went no where. The only thing that the Aaron storyline achieved was a temporary estragement between her and Jack. It was revealed in (5.04) “The Little Prince” that she had decided to claim Aaron as her own, because she was traumatized over losing Sawyer. And yet . . . “Eggtown” made it clear that she was willing to use Aaron to re-start a romance with Jack. If Aaron had represented a substitute for the loss of Sawyer, why did she have a photograph of both Aaron and Jack on her mantlepiece in Los Angeles, after her break up with the surgeon?  Had the photograph been a symbol of her continuing desire for both Jack and Sawyer? Or what? And the storyline surrounding her return to the island . . . contrived and badly written. After refusing to return to the island for Sawyer’s sake, she visited his ex-girlfriend, confessed the Aaron kidnapping and vowed to return to the island in order to find Claire Littleton and send the Australian woman back to her son and mother . . . without knowing how to achieve this little act.  The only thing Kate did right was hand Aaron over to Carole Littleton, his grandmother.  And I saw that coming a mile away. Once Kate had returned to Los Angeles following her visit to Cassidy, she used Jack for comfort sex and later rejected him after boarding Ajira Flight 316.

And in late Season 5, the producers dumped the badly written “Whatever Happened, Happened” episode on the viewers in order to make Kate favorable to the viewers again. They had her acting like a frantic Florence Nightengale over a kid she hardly knew. I understand if she was perturbed over young Ben’s situation, like the others (sans Jack). But the writers . . . took it too far with Kate’s frantic desire to save him, which included her donating blood to him. And they even used this episode to blame Jack for Ben’s slide into darkness. I guess that the show’s writers and producers’ attempt to redeem Kate in the eyes of the viewers seemed to work.  The viewers eagerly lapped up this shit like it was Turkish Delight. But Lindehof and Cuse achieved this at a heavy price. In the end, all they did was sacrifice any semblance of artistic achievement for bad characterization and mediocre writing.

But there is a post-script to Kate’s story.  After airing the questionable (6.03) “What Kate Does”, the writers finally set about redeeming her character.  She ended the flaky love triangle by finally admitting that Jack was the true man after her heart.  More importantly, not only did she finally confessed to Claire that she had been wrong to claim Aaron as her son in (6.13) “The Last Recruit”, she became the only castaway who made any real effort to help the emotionally damaged Claire get off the island via the Ajira 316 jet in order to reunite her with her son.