Top Ten Favorite Movies Set Between 1750 and 1799

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1750 and 1799: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1750 AND 1799

1 - The Last of the Mohicans

1. “The Last of the Mohicans” (1992) – Michael Mann directed what I believe is the best film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel set during the Seven Years War. The movie starred Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Wes Studi and Russell Means.

2 - Dangerous Liaisons

2. “Dangerous Liaisons” (1988) – Stephen Frears directed this sumptuous Oscar nominated adaptation of screenwriter Christopher Hampton’s 1985 stage play, which was an adaptation of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ 1782 novel. The movie starred Glenn Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfieffer.

3 - Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

3. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) – Ang Lee directed this superb Oscar winning adaptation of Wang Dulu’s wuxia novel. The movie starred Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi.

4 - Amazing Grace

4. “Amazing Grace” (2006) – Ioan Gruffudd, Benedict Cumberbatch and Romola Garai starred in this biopic about British politician/abolitionist William Wilberforce’s efforts to end Britain’s TransAtlantic slave trade. Michael Apted directed.

5 - The Scarlet Pimpernel

5. “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1982) – Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour starred in this superb adaptation of Baroness Orczy’s 1905 novel and its 1913 sequel, “Eldorado”. Directed by Clive Donner, the movie co-starred Ian McKellen.

6 - Pride and Prejudice 2005

6. “Pride & Prejudice” (2005) – Joe Wright directed this first-rate adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel. The movie starred Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.

7 - 1776

7. “1776” (1972) – William Daniels, Howard da Silva and Ken Howard starred in this adaptation of Peter Stone’s 1969 Broadway musical set during the American Revolution. Peter H. Hunt directed.

8 - The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

8. “The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” (1963) – Patrick McGoohan starred in this Disney adaptation of Russell Thorndike’s 1915 novel, “Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh”. James Neilson directed.

9 - Jefferson in Paris

9. “Jefferson in Paris” (1995) – Ismail Merchant co-produced and James Ivory directed this semi-fictionalized account of Thomas Jefferson’s tenure as U.S. Ambassador to France. The movie starred Nick Nolte, Greta Scacchi, Gwyneth Paltrow and Thandie Newton.

10 - April Morning

10. “April Morning” (1988) – Chad Lowe, Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Urich starred in this adaptation of Howard Fast’s 1961 novel about the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Delbert Mann directed.

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“COLD COMFORT FARM” (1995) Review

“COLD COMFORT FARM” (1995) Review

Years ago . . . and I do mean a lot of years, I came across a movie inside a video rental store called “COLD COMFORT FARM”. I had never heard of it before that day. But . . . being a period drama fan and discovering that the movie was a comedy set in the 1930s, I decided to give it a try. And I never looked back. 

I managed to rent “COLD COMFORT FARM” several times before the use of VHS recorders/players went out of style. Then I spent several years trying to find a copy of the movie on DVD. It was not until recently that I finally came across a copy of “COLD COMFORT FARM” again, despite the fact that the movie had been released on DVD for several years.

Based upon Stella Gibson’s 1932 novel and directed by John Schlesinger, “COLD COMFORT FARM” told the story of a young upper-class, yet impoverished woman named Flora Poste, who decided to become a writer following the deaths of her parents. Flora decided that due to her impoverished state, she needed to find relatives to stay with, while embarking upon her first novel. Her London relatives seemed to have no interest in offering Flora a place to live, so she wrote letters to some of her rural relatives. After receiving a few unsuitable responses, Flora became intrigued by a letter from a cousin named Judith Starkadder, Flora decided to stay for a while at the Starkadders’ rundown farm. The Starkadders and their servants proved to be an odd bunch that consisted of rustic, uncouth, slatternly and eccentric people that include:

*Aunt Ada Doom – the family’s elderly and paranoid matriarch and owner of the farm, who rarely set foot outside her bedroom, but controlled the family with an iron fist.

*Judith Doom Starkadder – Ada’s depressing daughter, who possessed a penchant for gloomy predictions and a possessive regard for her younger son Seth.

*Amos Starkadder – Judith’s husband, a religious fanatic and local minister with a penchant for hellfire and damnation sermon.

*Seth Starkadder – Amos and Judith’s sexy younger son, a womanizer and movie fanatic

*Reuben Starkadder – Amos and Judith

Deciding that the only to live, while researching for her first novel, Flora decides that the only way for her to live whilst researching her writing is to stay with relatives. Her city-based relatives show no interest, so she sends letters to her country relatives. There are a few responses, most of them unsuitable, but one is intriguing. Flora decides to stay for a while with the Starkadder family on their rundown farm. The Starkadders are an assortment of rustic, uncouth, and truly eccentric characters, each of whom has a hurdle (be it physical, emotional, or spiritual) to overcome before reaching his or her potential. Flora quickly realises that as a modern twentieth-century woman, she can resolve these situations once she has assessed and solved each character’s problems.

Following my recent viewing of “COLD COMFORT FARM”, I found myself wondering if there were any aspects of the film that I did not like or found baffling. Well, I had a few questions regarding Aunt Ada Doom and her daughter, Judith Doom Starkadder. Had the Doom family been members of the local gentry? I found it hard to connect the high-born and well-bred Flora Poste to the obviously non-sophisticated Aunt Ada Doom and Judith Starkadder. I have never read Gibson’s novel, but I do wish the movie had been a bit clearer on the blood connection between Flora and the Starkadder women. Another problem I had with the film was the romance between Elfine Starkadder and the blue-blooded Dick Hawk-Monitor. The latter must have been indulged by his parents as a boy. I find it hard to believe that the Hawk-Monitor family, especially Mrs. Hawk-Monitor, did not raise a bigger fuss over young Dick’s choice for his future wife. Instead, the cinematic Mrs. Hawk-Monitor merely expressed surprise, dismay and eventual resignation over the idea of Elfine as her future daughter-in-law.

Otherwise, “COLD COMFORT FARM” is an engaging and delightful film that never ceases to entertain me every time I watch it. The movie also featured some rather sharp humor that always leaves me in stitches. Before my recent viewing of “COLD COMFORT FARM”, I learned that its literary source, Stella Gibson’s 1932 novel, was basically a parody of the “loam and lovechild” literary genre aka “pessimistic ruralism” that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – including the novels of Thomas Hardy and Mary Webb. It is this aspect of the movie that made it very entertaining and hilarious to me. In fact, the Starkadder family and their servants used dialogue that is considered a parody of Sussex and West Country rural accents. Words like “mollocking” or “sukebind”(look them up yourselves, for I have not the foggiest idea what they mean) kept popping out of their mouths, causing me to raise and eyebrow or two. And then there is the character of Mr. Meyerburg (aka “Mr. Mybug”), a local writer who pursued Flora and seemed to be obsessed with sex. It is believed that his character was used to parody intellectuals like the Freudians and admirers of author D. H. Lawrence.

On one level, the movie’s narrative made it clear that Flora had remained at Cold Comfort Farm to drag the Starkadders into the early 20th century. But in doing so, Gibbons and screenwriter Malcolm Bradbury had more or less transformed Flora into a trickster figure. You know . . . another Mary Poppins, Loki, Jack Sparrow, Bagger Vance or Dolly Levi. Despite Flora’s subtle and cool personality, she seemed to have the strongest similarity with the latter. Like Dolly and unlike the others, Flora’s tale concluded with a “happily ever after” with the man she loved.

What can I say about the production quality for “COLD COMFORT FARM”? I thought it was pretty solid. Production designer Malcolm Thornton did a good job in re-creating early 1930s Sussex and London. I say good, because if I may be perfectly honest, his designs did not exactly blow my mind. I can say the same about Jim Holloway’s art designs and Chris Seager’s photography. Amy Roberts’ costume designs seemed to perfectly reflect the film’s setting and the characters’ personalities, class, and financial situation. However, I was not that impressed by the hairstyles for the women. Kate Beckinsale’s hair seemed to be a cross of a late 1920s bob and . . . well, something. Joanna Lumley’s shingled bob definitely looked as if it came straight from the mid-to-late 1920s. Aside from the hairstyles, which I admit is a lame complaint, I do not have any real problems with the production values for “COLD COMFORT FARM”.

On the other hand, I found the performances from the cast well done. There were solid performances from the likes of Maria Miles as a charming Elfine Starkadder, Christopher Bowen as Charles Fairford (Flora’s admirer), Jeremy Peters as Urk, the always wonderful Miriam Margolyes as the Starkadders’ housekeeper Mrs. Beetle, Angela Thorne as Mrs. Hawk-Monitor and a very young Rupert Penry-Jones as Dick Hawk-Monitor (although his pencil-thin moustache was not that flattering). Ivan Kaye gave a charming, yet solid performance as Reuben Starkadder, the only member of the family truly capable of managing the farm. And I found Sheila Burrell’s performance as the family’s controlling matriarch very amusing and spot-on.

But there were performances that I found truly entertaining. Stephen Fry was hilarious as a local writer named Mr. Myburg, a D.L. Lawrence fanatic who seems to fancy Flora. Ian McKellen gave a rather funny performance as Amos Starkadder, Aunt Ada’s son-in-law, who happened to be the farm’s manager. Amos is also a religious fanatic, who also happened to be a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher. The scene featuring his rather fiery sermon is not to be missed. I found Freddie Jones’ portrayal of the Starkadders’ farmhand, Adam Lambsbreath, rather charming, hilarious and rather loopy. Joanna Lumley gave a very sly and entertaining performance as Flora’s close friend, London socialite Mrs. Mary Smiling, who seemed to have formed a hobby of collecting brassières. And there was Rufus Sewell, who gave a titilating performance as the family’s ladies’ man, Seth Starkadder. At times, I found his performance both charming and sexy. And at other times, I found his portrayal of Seth’s overt masculinity rather hilarious . . . especially in scenes in which he resorted to poses to attract Flora’s attention.

For me, one of the two funniest performances came from Eileen Atkins, who portrayed Aunt Ada’s daughter, Judith Starkadder. Atkins was superb as the dour Judith, who possessed a disposition for doom-and-gloom prophecies, calling Flora “Robert Poste’s child”, and harboring a . . . uh, slightly incestuous regard for her younger son Seth. Equally hilarious was Harry Ditson who portrayed a close friend of Flora’s and Hollywood producer, Earl P. Neck. I loved how Ditson conveyed his character’s charm, extroverted personality and wit. In fact, he had at least two of the best lines in the movies. But the one person who truly ruled this movie was Kate Beckinsale, who portrayed the story’s main protagonist, Flora Poste. She must have been at least 22 or 23 years old when she shot this film. Beckinsale did not give the funniest performance in the movie. In fact, she seemed to be serving as everyone else’s straight man. But she was the one who kept this movie together; held her own against the likes Atkins, McKellen, Lumley and Burrell; and still managed to portray Flora Poste as a compelling and charismatic personality.

I might have a few complaints about “COLD COMFORT FARM”. But if I must be honest, they were rather minor to me. As far as I am concerned, “COLD COMFORT FARM” was a charming, fascinating and very funny film . . . even after twenty years or so. It was a worthy adaptation of Stella Gibson’s novel, thanks to Malcolm Bradbury’s screenplay, a superb cast led by a charismatic Kate Beckinsale and excellent direction by screen legend John Schlesinger.

“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.

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.

“X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” (2014) Review

 

“X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” (2014) Review

When the news reached many fans that Bryan Singer would be helming the next film, fans rejoiced. As far as they were concerned, the best movies from the franchise had been directed by Singer. And since he had served as one of the producers for 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”, that particular film is highly regarded by fans as well.

The latest film in question, “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” seemed to serve as a sequel to both “FIRST-CLASS” and the 2006 movie, “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. Adapted from Chris Claremont
John Byrne’s 1981 storyline, “Days of Future Past”, for comic book, The Uncanny X-Men, Issues #141-142; “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” starts in the 2020s in which robots known as Sentinels are exterminating mutants, humans who harbor the genes that lead to mutant offspring, and humans who help mutants. A band of mutants led by Charles Xavier “Professor X” and Erik Lehnsherr “Magneto” manage to evade the Sentients and eventually find refuge in China. Realizing that the Sentients will finally catch up with them, Xavier and Magneto, along with fellow mutant Kitty Pryde, come up with a plan to prevent the events that would kick-start the creation of the Sentients.

Using Kitty’s ability to project an individual’s consciousness through time, they instruct her to do the same to Logan’s “Wolverine” consciousness back to late January 1973 (over ten years following the events of “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” – to prevent Raven Darkhölme “Mystique” from assassinating Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinels. Following the assassination, the U.S. government captured Mystique and allowed Trask’s company to use her DNA to create Sentinels that are near-invincible due to their ability to adapt to any mutant power. Xavier and Magneto advise Wolverine to seek out both of their younger selves for aid. When Logan finally arrives in the past, he learns that the younger Xavier has become an embittered man over the premature closing of his school for mutants and addicted to a serum created by Hank McCoy “the Beast” to suppress his mutation. Logan also learns that the younger Magneto has spent over 10 years imprisoned for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

I might as well lay my cards on the table. I love time travel movies. It is the reason why I am such a big fan of the “BACK TO THE FUTURE” franchise and especially 2012’s “MEN IN BLACK 3”. The return of Bryan Singer as the director of an X-MEN film was not the reason why I had anticipated this film so much. It was the story’s theme of time travel. Only in this case, the movie’s time traveler, Logan, does not bodily travel back through time. Instead, his 2020s consciousness is sent back to his 1973 body. I found nothing wrong with that. After all, the 2011 movie, “SOURCE CODE” used a similar method. And the 2000 movie, “FREQUENCY” featured the communication between father and son – across a period of thirty years via a shortwave radio. When I realized what the plot was about, I suspected “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” might prove to be the best film in the franchise.

The movie certainly featured a great deal that made it memorable. Unlike “FIRST CLASS”, “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” did an excellent job in re-creating the early 1970s. One has to thank John Myhre’s excellent production designs, along with Gordon Sim’s set decorations, the special effects team and Newton Thomas Sigel’s superb photography. I was especially impressed by Sigel’s photography and the special effects in the following scenes:

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More importantly, Louise Mingenbach did a much better job in creating costumes that adhere correctly to the movie’s setting (especially the early 1970s) than Sammy Sheldon did for the early 1960s costumes for “FIRST CLASS”.

“DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” also featured some excellent action sequences that left me feeling slightly dazzled. I especially enjoyed the two battles fought between the mutant and the Sentinels in the movie’s first five minutes and its last ten to twenty minutes, Mystique’s rescue of her fellow mutants from an Army base in South Vietnam, the rescue of Magneto from a Federal prison and especially Mystique’s attempt to assassinate Bolivar Trask at the latter’s meeting with North Vietnam generals, following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords.

But action scenes, cinematography and special effects do not alone make a good movie. Thankfully, “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” featured some excellent dramatic scenes and a decent narrative – with some flaws. I must admit that I was impressed at how screenwriter Simon Kinberg carried over the early Xavier-Magneto relationship from “FIRST CLASS” in two scenes – Xavier greeting the recently imprisoned Magneto with a punch to the face and their embittered quarrel aboard Xavier’s private plane, as they fly to Paris. He also did an excellent job in carrying over the same for the two men’s relationship with Mystique. The first meeting – actually, I should say Magneto’s first meeting with Wolverine proved to be interesting. It did not take long for the animosity between the two to immediately spark. One of the best dramatic sequences proved to be – ironically – in the middle of the film’s last action scene that was set on the White House lawn. I am speaking of that moment in which Xavier tried to talk Mystique out of carrying out her plan to assassinate Trask. As for the sequences set in the 2020s, I cannot recall any memorable dramatic moments. But there is one unforgettable scene that linked the two time settings that I will never forget. It featured a conversation between the young and old Xavier, thanks to a psychic link set up by Logan. A great, dramatic and emotional moment.

I read on the Wikipedia site that “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” is regarded as the best film in the X-MEN franchise and the best reviewed. I feel that it had the potential to be the best in the franchise, thanks to its time travel theme. But . . . I am afraid it did not achieve that goal. At least for me. What tripped up this movie? Simon Kinberg’s screenplay. However, I cannot solely place the blame on him. As one of the producers and the director of the film, I believe Bryan Singer deserves most of the blame.

I read somewhere that Josh Helman had originally been hired to portray a younger version of Juggernaut, who was portrayed by Vinnie Jones in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But the filmmakers changed their minds, dropped the Juggernaut character from the script and gave Helman the role of a younger William Stryker. And this was the biggest mistake that Singer, his crew and the rest of the producers made. A big mistake. The 2009 film, “X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE” made it clear that Stryker was the leader of a group of mutant mercenaries hired to help him develop his Weapons X project. Stryker was portrayed by the then 46-47 year-old Danny Huston, who portrayed Stryker as someone in his late thirties or early forties. I recall that Stryker had recruited both Logan and his half-brother, Victor Creed “Sabretooth” in Vietnam. Later, Logan had left the group in 1973. But there was no sign of Sabretooth and the other mutants working for Stryker in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. And we are also supposed to be believe that a Stryker portrayed by a 26-27 year-old Josh Helman, was the son of a 10 year-old boy. Are they kidding? When I had pointed out this problem on the Internet, I was told that the audience was supposed to dismiss the 2009 movie as part of the franchise. What the hell? Was this really Singer’s idea of handling the continuity problem of William Stryker in this movie? If so, this is sloppy film writing at its worse.

The William Stryker character proved to be a problem in other areas of the story. In the movie, he is supposed to be Boliviar Trask’s Army liaison. Okay, I can buy that. But would an officer of the U.S. Army stand by silently, while Trask meets with a group of Communist military generals (especially from an army that had just been at war with the United States) in order to sell his Sentinel program? I rather doubt it. Even if Congress was not interested in using Trask’s program, I doubt it or Stryker would be so cavalier about Trask selling his program for combatant robots to military armies they would deem enemies of the U.S. The movie also featured a scene with President Richard M. Nixon discussing the chaos and violence caused by Mystique’s assassination attempt in Paris with his political and military advisers in the White House’s Oval Office. Nixon and his advisers are suddenly surprised by Trask and Stryker’s appearance, who were there to push the Sentinel program again. Guess what? I was also surprised. How did Trask and Stryker gain entry into the Oval Office without an appointment or security agents stopping them? How was it even possible?

Since I am on a roll, there are other matters in the script that I find questionable. For example . . . did anyone notice any similarities between the plot for “X-MEN UNITED” and this film? In the 2003 movie, Magneto hijacked William Stryker’s plans to use the kidnapped Xavier to kill all mutant in order to use his old friend against non-mutants. And in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Magneto (again) hijacked Trask’s Sentient robots that were created to kill mutants in order to bump of President Nixon and his advisers. Hmmmm . . . how unoriginal. And how was Magneto able to reprogram the prototype Sentinel robots in the first place? He had never displayed any technological skill or talent in the past. I read in Wikipedia’s recap of the movie’s plot that Magneto had intercepted the Sentinels that were in transit by rail and laced their polymer-based frames with steel, allowing him control of them. What the hell? I have never heard of such contrived bullshit in my life. I take that back. I just realized more contrived bullshit in the plot. When did Kitty Pryde acquire the ability to send a person’s consciousness back through time? Her ability is to phase through objects like walls, doors, etc. How did she acquire this second ability, when it was non-existent in the comics? According to Bryan Singer, Kitty’s phasing ability enables time travel. Hmmm. More bullshit to explain vague and bad writing. And speaking of the future segments, could someone explain what was going on the movie’s first action sequence that involved the younger mutants fighting Sentients . . . and nearly being wiped out? And yet, the next thing I know, all of them rendezvous with the older mutants in China – Xavier, Magneto, Ororo Munroe aka Storm, and Logan. So . . . could someone please explain in full detail what the hell was going on?

And could someone please explain why Storm ended up as a background character in this movie? All she did was stand around, while others around her talked . . . until a few minutes before her death. I read that actress Halle Berry was pregnant at the time of the movie’s production. All I can say is . . . so what? Rosamund Pike (her co-star from the 2002 Bond movie, “DIE ANOTHER DAY”) was pregnant during the production of “JACK REACHER”. She was not treated like a background character. And Berry could have been provided with a great deal more dialogue than she was given. There was no need for her to be involved in mainly action sequences. Also, I am at a loss on how Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka Cyclops ended up alive and well in the altered timeline. How? How on earth did their fates have anything to do with Trask’s Sentinels? It was Stryker’s actions in “X-2: X-MEN UNITED” that eventually led to Jean’s “death” in this movie and eventually hers and Scott’s actual deaths in “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. And I do not recall Stryker’s Army career being affected by Trask’s downfall by the end of this movie. Some fans claim that the post-credit scene of “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” explained how Xavier was resurrected, following his death at the hands of Jean. Uh . . . it did not explain anything to me. And you know what? Neither “THE WOLVERINE” or “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. Am I to assume that Xavier’s resurrection in the franchise’s movieverse will always remain a mystery?

The movie eventually revealed that the younger Magneto had been imprisoned for Kennedy’s assassination. As it turned out, Magneto was trying to save Kennedy’s life. Why? Because according to Magneto, the 35th President was a mutant. What was the point of this tidbit? To give Kennedy a reason for his . . . uh, liberal politics? Why was that necessary? Speaking of Magneto, I noticed in one scene that was dressed in this manner in order to retrieve his uniform and telepathy-blocking helmet:

Mind you, Michael Fassbender looked good. But honestly . . . why did his character, a forty-something year-old man who was born and raised in Europe, had to channel “Superfly” in order to retrieve is old uniform? I have one last quibble. This movie is supposed to be set around late January to early February, 1973; during the time when the Paris Peace Accords to end the Vietnam War were signed. Could someone explain why the weather conditions – for locations in the State of New York; Paris, France; and Washington D.C. – in the movie made it seem this story was set during the spring or summer? No one wore a heavy coat. Nor did I see signs of snow, blustery weather or trees with dead leaves.

Before one thinks I hate this movie, I do not. I believe “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST” has a great deal of flaws. But it does have its merits. I have already commented on them, earlier in this review. But I have not touched upon the performances. Personally, I have no complaints about them. Sure, Halle Berry barely had any dialogue. Ian McKellen was slightly more fortunate, which I found surprising. Anna Paquin as Marie aka Rogue, Kelsey Grammer as the older Hank McCoy aka the Beast, Famke Janssen as Jean Grey, and James Marsden as Scott Summers aka Cyclops all made ten (10) seconds or more appearances at the end of the film. What a waste. However, Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde and Shawn Ashmore as Bobby Drake aka Iceman gave solid performances. So did Josh Helman , who made a very effective and scary younger William Stryker. Evan Peters gave a very entertaining and crowd-pleasing performance as supersonic mutant Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver. I enjoyed Nicholas Hoult’s quiet, yet intense performance as the younger Hank McCoy. Hugh Jackman gave his usual intense and deliciously sardonic portrayal of the time traveling Logan aka Wolverine. However . . . I sense that he is getting a bit too old to be portraying a mutant that barely ages. And his physique looked extremely muscular . . . even more so than he did at the age of 31 in 2000’s “X-MEN”. In fact, his body looked downright unnatural and heavily veined.

However, there were outstanding performances in the movie. Patrick Stewart did an excellent job in conveying the many aspects of the older Xavier’s emotional reactions to the war against the Sentients. Also, both he and McKellen continued their first-rate chemistry as the former foes who had renewed their friendship. Both James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender continued their strong screen chemistry as the younger Xavier and Magneto. I was especially impressed by their performances in the scene that featured their quarrel aboard Xavier’s private plane. And remember the rapture I had expressed over the scene that featured the two Xaviers? Well, one should thank both Stewart and McAvoy for making it so memorable. Peter Dinklage gave an outstanding performance as the intelligent mastermind behind the Sentient robots, Bolivar Trask. But the best performance, I believe, came from Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of the younger Mystique, who seemed hellbent upon assassinating the man she perceived as a threat to the mutants’ future. She was all over the place . . . and in the right way. I found her performance a lot more impressive than the one she gave in “FIRST CLASS”.

Unlike many other fans of the X-MEN movies, I was not particularly impressed by the news that Bryan Singer had returned to direct this latest film for the franchise. I was more impressed by the movie’s theme of time travel. “DAYS OF FUTURE” had a lot to offer – colorful visual effects, great dramatic moments, superb action sequences and some excellent performances by the cast. But the inconsistencies that popped up in the movie’s plot were too many for me to dismiss. And I believe that in the end, those inconsistencies prevented the movie from achieving its potential to be the best in the X-MEN franchise. Hmmm . . . too bad.

 

 

 

 

 

“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.

“THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” (1982) Review

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“THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” (1982) Review

I suspect that many fans of the DC Comics character “Batman” and the “Zorro” character would be nonplussed at the idea that a novel written by a Hungary-born aristocrat had served as an inspiration for their creations. Yet, many believe that Baroness Emmuska Orczy de Orczi’s 1905 novel, “The Scarlet Pimpernel” provided Western literature with its first “hero with a secret identity”, Sir Percy Blakeney aka the Scarlet Pimpernel. 

There have been at least nineteen stage, movie or television adaptations of Orczy’s novel. Some consider the 1934 movie adaptation with Leslie Howard, Merle Oberon and Raymond Massey as the most definitive adaptation. However, there are others who are more inclined to bestow that honor on the 1982 television adaptation with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen. I have seen both versions and if I must be honest, I am inclined to agree with those who prefer the 1982 television movie.

“THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” – namely its 1982 re-incarnation – is based upon the 1905 novel and its 1913 sequel, “Eldorado”. Set during the early period of the French Revolution, a masked man and his band of followers rescues French aristocrats from becoming victims of the Reign of Terror under France’s new leader, Maximilien de Robespierre. The man behind the Scarlet Pimpernel’s mask – or disguises – is a foppish English baronet named Sir Percy Blakeney. For reasons never explained in the movie, Sir Percy has managed to gather a group of upper-class friends to assist him in smuggling French aristocrats out of France and sending them to the safety of England. During a visit to France, Sir Percy meets a young French government aide and the latter’s actress sister, Armand and Marguerite St. Just. He eventually befriends the brother and courts the sister.

Sir Percy also becomes aware of Armand’s superior and Marguerite’s friend, Robespierre’s agent Paul Chauvelin. Angered over Marguerite’s marriage to Sir Percy, Chauvelin has the Marquis de St. Cyr – an old enemy of Armand’s – executed in her name. After being sent to England to learn the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Chauvelin discovers that Armand has become part of the vigilante’s band. He blackmails Marguerite – now Lady Blakeney – into learning the identity the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Meanwhile, the Blakeney marriage has chilled, due to the news of the Marquis de St. Cyr’s execution and Marguerite’s alleged connection. But a chance for a marital reconciliation materializes for Marguerite, when she discovers the Scarlet Pimpernel’s true identity.

Thirty years have passed since CBS first aired “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”. In many ways, it has not lost its bite. Thanks to Tony Curtis’ production designs, late 18th century England and France (England and Wales in reality) glowed with elegance and style. Not even the questionable transfer of the film to DVD could completely erode the movie’s beauty. The movie’s visual style was aided by Carolyn Scott’s set decorations, Dennis C. Lewiston’s sharp and colorful photography, and especially Phyllis Dalton’s gorgeous costume designs, as shown in the following photographs:

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I feel that screenwriter William Bast made the very wise choice of adapting Baroness Orczy’s two novels about the Scarlet Pimpernel. In doing so, he managed to create a very clear and concise tale filled with plenty of drama and action. He also did an excellent job in mapping out the development of the story’s main characters – especially Sir Percy Blakeney, Marguerite St. Just, Paul Chauvelin and Armand St. Just. I was especially impressed by his handling of Sir Percy and Marguerite’s relationship – before and after marriage. Sir Percy’s easy willingness to believe the worst about his bride provided a few chinks into Sir Percy’s character, which could have easily morphed into a too perfect personality. More importantly, Bast’s script gave Paul Chauvelin’s character more depth by revealing the latter’s feelings for Marguerite and jealousy over her marriage to Sir Percy. Bast’s re-creation of the early years of the French Revolution and Reign of Terror struck me as well done. However, I wish he had not faithfully adapted Orczy’s decision to allow the Scarlet Pimpernel and his men to rescue the Daupin of France (heir apparent to the French throne), Louis-Charles (who became Louis XVII, upon his father’s death). In reality, Louis-Charles died in prison from tuberculosis and ill treatment at the age of ten. Surely, Bast could have created someone else important for the Scarlet Pimpernel to rescue.

“THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” received a few Emmy nominations. But they were for technical awards – Costume Designs for Phyllis Dalton, Art Direction for Tony Curtis and even one for Outstanding Drama Special for producers David Conroy and Mark Shelmerdine. And yet . . . there were no nominations for Clive Donner and his lively direction, and no nominations for the cast. I am especially astounded by the lack of nominations for Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen. In fact, I find this criminal. All three gave superb performances as Sir Percy Blakeney; Marguerite, Lady Blakeney; and Paul Chauvelin respectively. Andrews was all over the map in his portrayal of the fop by day/hero by night Sir Percy. And yet, it was a very controlled and disciplined performance. Jane Seymour did a beautiful job of re-creating the intelligent, yet emotional Marguerite. At times, she seemed to be the heart and soul of the story. This was the first production in which I became aware of Ian McKellen as an actor and after his performance as Paul Chauvelin, I never forgot him. Not only was his portrayal of Chauvelin’s villainy subtle, but also filled with deep pathos over his feelings for Marguerite Blakeney. He also had the luck to utter one of my favorite lines in the movie in the face of his character’s defeat:

“Oh, the English, and their STU-U-U-UPID sense of fair play!”

The movie also featured some first-rate performances by the supporting cast. Malcolm Jamieson did an excellent job in portraying Marguerite’s older brother, Armand. I was also impressed by Ann Firbank, who was first-rate as the embittered Countess de Tournay; James Villiers as the opportunistic Baron de Batz; Tracey Childs as the lovesick Suzanne de Tournay; and Christopher Villiers as Sir Percy’s most stalwart assistant, Lord Anthony Dewhurst. Julian Fellowes made a very colorful and entertaining Prince of Wales. And Richard Morant proved to be even more subtle and sinister than McKellen’s Chauvelin as Maximilien de Robespierre.

After my latest viewing of “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL”, I found myself surprisingly less supportive of the Scarlet Pimpernel’s efforts than I used to be. Perhaps I have not only become more older, but even less enthusiastic about the aristocratic elite. It was then I realized that despite the presence of Marguerite and Armand St. Just, “THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL” is based on two novels written by an aristocrat, with views that were probably as liberal as Barry Goldwater. Oh well. I still managed to garner a good deal of entertainment from a movie that has held up remarkable well after thirty years, thanks to some lively direction by Clive Donner, a first-rate script by William Bast and superb performances by the likes of Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour and Ian McKellen.