“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” (2014) Review

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” (2014) Review

I have never been a major fan of Wes Anderson’s films in the past. Well . . . I take that back. I have never been a fan of his films, with the exception of one – namely 2007’s “THE DARJEELING LIMITED”. Perhaps my inability to appreciate most of Anderson’s films was due to my inability to understand his sense of humor . . . or cinematic style. Who knows? However, after viewing “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”, the number of Anderson films of which I became a fan, rose to two.

Written and directed by Anderson, “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” is about the adventures of one Gustave H., a legendary concierge at a famous hotel from the fictional Republic of Zubrowka during the early 1930s; and his most trusted friend, a lobby boy named Zero Moustafa. Narrated from a much older Zero, the movie, which was inspired by the writings of Austrian author Stefan Zweig, begins in the present day in which a teenage girl stares at a monument inside a cemetery, who holds a memoir in her arms, written by a character known as “The Author”. The book narrates a tale in which “the Author” as a younger man visited the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968 Zubrowka. There, he met the hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa, who eventually tells him how he took ownership of the hotel and why he is unwilling to close it down.

The story shifts to 1932, in which a much younger Zero was one of the hotel’s lobby boys, freshly arrived in Zubrowka as a war refugee. Zero becomes acquainted with Monsieur Gustave H., who is a celebrated concierge known for sexually pleasing some of the hotel’s wealthy guests – namely those who are elderly and romantically desperate. One of Gustave’s guests is the very wealthy Madame Céline Villeneuve “Madame D” Desgoffe und Taxis. Although Zubrowka is on the verge of war, Gustave becomes more concerned with news that “Madame D” has suddenly died. He and Zero travels across the country to attend her wake and the reading of her will. During the latter, Gustave learns that “Madame D” has bequeathed to him a very valuable painting called “Boy with Apple”. This enrages her family, all of whom hoped to inherit it. Not long after Gustave and Zero’s return to the Grand Budapest Hotel, the former is arrested and imprisoned for the murder of the elderly woman, who had died of strychnine poisoning. Gustave and Zero team up to help the former escape from prison and learn who had framed him for murder.

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” not only proved to be very popular with critics, the film also earned four Golden Globe nominations and won one award – Best Film: Musical or Comedy. It also earned nine Academy Awards and won four. Not bad for a comedy about a mid-European concierge in the early 1930s. Did the movie deserved its accolades? In spades. It is the only other Wes Anderson movie I have ever developed a real love for. In fact, I think I enjoyed it even more than “THE DARJEELING LIMITED”. When I first heard about the movie, I did not want to see it. I did not even want to give it a chance. Thank God I did. The movie not only proved to be my favorite Anderson film, it also became one of my favorite 2014 flicks.

Is “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” perfect? For a while, I found myself hard pressed to think of anything about this movie that may have rubbed me the wrong way. I realized there was one thing with which I had a problem – namely the way this movie began. Was it really necessary to star the movie with a young girl staring at a statue of “the Author”, while holding his book? Was it really necessary to have “the Older Author” begin the movie’s narration, before he is replaced by his younger self and the older Zero Moustafa? I realized what Anderson was trying to say. He wanted to convey to movie audiences that M. Gustave and Zero’s story will continue on through the Author’s book and they will never be forgotten. But I cannot help but wonder if Anderson could have conveyed his message without this gimmicky prologue.

“THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” may not be perfect. But I would certainly never describe it as a mediocre or even moderately good film. This movie deserved the Academy Award nominations and wins it earned . . . and many more. It was such a joy to watch it that not even its angst-filled moments could dampen my feelings. Anderson did a superb job of conveying his usual mixture of high comedy, pathos and quixotic touches in this film. Now, one might point out this is the director’s usual style, which makes it nothing new. I would agree, except . . . I believe that Anderson’s usual style perfectly blended with the movie’s 1930s Central European setting. For me, watching “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” seemed like watching an Ernst Lubitsch movie . . . only with profanity and a bit of sexual situations and nudity.

I have only watched a handful of Lubitsch’s movies and cannot recall any real violence or political situations featured in any of his plots. Wait . . . I take that back. His 1942 movie, “TO BE OR NOT TO BE” featured strong hints of violence, war and a touch of infidelity. However, I believe Anderson went a little further in his own depictions of war, violence and sex. But this did not harm the movie one bit. After all, “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” was released in the early 21st century. Sex and violence is nothing new in today’s films . . . even in highly acclaimed ones. Despite the presence of both in the film, Anderson still managed to infuse a great deal of wit and style into his plot. This was especially apparent in two sequences – Zero’s initial description of M. Gustave and the Grand Budapest Hotel; and that marvelous sequence in which a fraternal order of Europe’s hotel concierges known as the Society of the Crossed Keys helped Gustave and Zero evade the police and find the one person who can who can clear Gustave’s name and help him retrieve his legacy from “Madame D”. I especially enjoyed the last sequence. In my eyes, Lubitsch could not have done it any better.

There were other aspects of “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL” that enhanced its setting. First of all, I have to give kudos to Adam Stockhausen and Anna Pinnock for their work on the movie. Stockhausen, who also served as the production designer for the Oscar winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”, did a superb job of reflecting the movie’s two major time periods – Central Europe in the early 1930s and the late 1960s. Pinnock served as the film’s set decorator. Both Stockhausen and Pinnock shared the Academy Award for Best Production Design. Milena Canonero won an Oscar for the film’s costume designs. I have to admit that she deserved. I feel she deserved it, because she did an excellent job of creating costumes not only for the characters, but also their class positions and the movie’s settings. She did not simply resort to re-creating the fashion glamour of the 1930s for the sake of eye candy. Robert Yeoman’s photography for the movie really impressed me. I found it sharp and very atmospheric for the movie’s setting. I can see why he managed to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography.

I was shocked when I learned that Ralph Fiennes failed to get an Academy Award nomination for his performance as M. Gustave. What on earth was the Academy thinking? I can think of at least two actor who were nominated for Best Actor for 2014, who could have been passed over. Gustave is Fiennes’ masterpiece, as far as I am concerned. I never realized he had such a spot-on talent for comedy. And although his Gustave is one of the funniest characters I have seen in recent years, I was also impressed by the touch of pathos he added to the role. Another actor, who I also believe deserved an Oscar nomination was Tony Revolori. Where on earth did Anderson find this kid? Oh yes . . . Southern California. Well . . . Revolori was also superb as the young Zero, who not only proved to be a very devoted employee and friend to M. Gustave, but also a very pragmatic young man. Like Fiennes, Revolori had both an excellent touch for both comedy and pathos. Also, both he and Fiennes proved to have great screen chemistry.

Revolori also shared a solid screen chemistry with actress Saoirse Ronan, who portrayed Zero’s lady love, pastry chef Agatha. Ronan’s charming performance made it perfectly clear why Zero and even M. Gustave found Agatha’s sharp-tongue pragmatism very alluring. Another charming performance came from Tilda Swinton, who portrayed one of Gustave’s elderly lovers. It seemed a shamed that Swinton’s appearance was short-lived. I found her portrayal of the wealthy, yet insecure and desperate Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe und Taxis rather interesting. Adrien Brody gave an interesting performance as Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis, Madame Villeneuve’s son. I have never seen Brody portray a villain before. But I must say that I was impressed by the way he effectively portrayed Dmitri as a privileged thug. Willem Dafoe was equally interesting as Dmitri’s cold-blooded assassin, J.G. Jopling. And Edward Norton struck me as both funny and scary as The movie also featured first-rate performances from Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Mathieu Amalric, Jason Schwartzman, Léa Seydoux, Owen Wilson, Fisher Stevens, Bob Balaban and especially Bill Murray as Monsieur Ivan, Gustave’s main contact with the Society of the Crossed Keys. The movie had three narrators – Tom Wilkinson as the Older Author, Jude Law as the Younger Author and F. Murray Abraham as the Older Zero. All three did great jobs, but I noticed that Wilkinson’s time as narrator was very short-lived.

What else can I say about “THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL”? It is one of the few movies in which its setting truly blended with Wes Anderson’s off-kilter humorous style. The movie not only benefited from great artistry from the crew and superb performances from a cast led by Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori, but also from the creative pen and great direction from Wes Anderson. Now, I am inspired to try my luck with some of his other films again.

A Problem With “MAD MEN” Finale

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A PROBLEM WITH THE “MAD MEN” SERIES FINALE

I had a problem with the “MAD MEN” series finale, (7.14) “Person to Person”. Ironically, it had a lot to do with the characters of Don Draper and his first ex-wife, Betty Francis. And this problem first manifested in the series’ penultimate episode, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”.

Betty Francis’ sudden development an advanced case of cancer did not work for me. It seemed to come out of no where. I never understood why Weiner had saddled her with such a quickie death . . . yet, at the same time, allowed Roger Sterling to survive the end of the series. Yes . . . I am speaking of the same Roger Sterling who had suffered two massive heart attacks in the Season One episode, (1.10) “Long Weekend”. His heart problem never became a major issue again, despite his continuing drinking, whoring and occasional forays into drug use. I find that rather odd.

Then again, this is the same Matthew Weiner who had told television journalists that Betty’s main reason for divorcing Don in the Season Three finale, (3.13) “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, had to do with class bigotry. I never understood his comment. Betty had been aware of Don’s working-class origins throughout their marriage. She made that clear in (3.11) “The Gypsy and the Hobo”. When Roger had expressed his suspicions about Don’s class origins in (1.07) “Red in the Face”, Betty seemed more interested in the idea of learning more about Don than concern over the possibility that he might be working-class. She certainly seemed satisfied by Don’s revelation to her and their kids about his past on a poor farm, during a picnic in Season Two’s (2.07) “The Gold Violin”. She seemed thrilled over the idea that she was learning more about him. So . . . Weiner’s claim that class bigotry was one of the major reasons behind Betty’s decision to get a divorce never worked for me.

Between these comments about the Draper divorce and his decision to saddle Betty with an advanced stage of cancer makes me wonder if Weiner ever liked her in the first place. Is it possible that he saw Betty as a reminder of any mother issues he might possess? Some fans have claimed that Betty’s cancer finally gave her a chance to develop as a character. This is another argument I find difficult to accept. From the moment Betty had learned about Don’s affair with Bobbie Barrett in “The Gold Violin”, and kicked him out of the house in (2.08) “A Night to Remember”, I believe her character had been developing. Yes, she had setbacks. After all, she was supposed to be human. Did the audience and critics really expect instant character growth from Betty? I certainly did not. And it was easy to see that she been slowly developing as a character over the years.

If we are truly supposed to believe that Don finally achieved character growth during his “Kumbaya” moment in “Person to Person”, then one could easily say that his development seemed . . . “instant”. I mean it came out of no where. The speed in which Don allegedly achieved final character development left me shaking my head in disbelief. I could have bought it if Weiner had allowed Don’s character to develop with the same pace as Betty’s – slow and over a long period of time, with the occasional setbacks. Instead, audiences were treated to a “Kumbaya” moment for Don at a California yogi retreat, followed by the famous 1971 Coca-Cola commercial.

Exactly what was Weiner trying to say with that last shot of Don? That the latter had created the commercial? Or was someone else responsible? Why leave the show on an ambiguous note for Don? Weiner could have ended Don’s personal story on a more final note . . . and still hint that he had ended one stage in his life and was about to embark upon another. Or . . . he could have killed Don off. I would have been happy with that scenario.

Do not get me wrong. I liked “MAD MEN” very much. After all, I had stuck with it for seven seasons. But there have been times over the years when I found myself wondering if this series may have been a little overrated. I certainly felt that way when I watched the series’ finale.

“The Worship of Sally Draper”

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“THE WORSHIP OF SALLY DRAPER”

The following words regarding a certain character on the AMC series, “MAD MEN” is bound to result in me receiving a good deal of hostile responses … or none at all. I am so sick to death of fans putting Sally Draper on a pedestal.

I am sick of it. Ever since Season Three, when show creator Matthew Weiner made her a more prominent characters, fans have been putting a character that aged from nine to sixteen on a pedestal. Why, I have no idea . To me, there is nothing special about Sally. She has always struck me as a typical kid who will probably grow up with her own set of virtues and bullshit . . . just like her parents, her siblings, and nearly every other character on this show.

After the last episode, (7.10) “The Forecast” aired, I managed to encounter two articles that waxed lyrical over Sally. In one of them, “MAD MEN: Viva la Sally Draper”, author Julianne Escobedo Shepherd claimed that Sally will be forced to spend the rest of her life overcoming her parents’ personalities. Now, I realize that neither Don Draper aka Dick Whitman or Betty Draper Francis are perfect. In fact, they are far from perfect . . . like every other character on this damn show. Including one Sally Draper. Unfortunately, this is something that many fans of the show, including Ms. Shepherd, always fail to realize.

Watching Sally in “The Forecast” made me realize how ridiculous are those claims that Sally is more mature than her parents. Do not make me laugh. I saw that Sally was unable or unwilling to cast any blame on her old friend, Glen Bishop, after she witnessed his reunion with Betty. Ten years earlier, Glen commenced upon an infatuation for Sally’s mother that apparently has yet to abate. But instead of commenting on Glen’s obvious attempt to flirt with Betty, Sally went into a tailspin over Betty’s friendly response to Glen. Later in the episode, Sally had dinner with Don and her friends at a restaurant, in which one of her friends began flirting with Don. Who responded with a good deal of friendliness without making a scene. In the end, it was Sally who made a scene by blaming Don for the exchange and ignoring her friend’s attempt at flirtation. The fact that Sally was unwilling to blame her friends for what happened between them and her parents, only tell me that not only is she still immature, but also a world-class scapegoater.

In The Washington Post article called “MAD MEN: Is Sally Draper Our Last Hope For Change?”, author Soraya Nadia McDonald speculates on whether the character will become some symbol of change on the show. Duh! Sally is the youngest major character on this damn show. By 2015, she will be at least 61 years old. Of course she is the future for a show in which the setting ends in 1970. However, this also means that whatever Sally manages to achieve with her life, she will still have to deal with her frustrations, disappointments and especially her own personal flaws. These personal flaws may or may not affect others. They will certainly affect her. And those flaws will be with Sally until the day she dies or when “MAD MEN” goes off the air.

I have notice in this latest article on how McDonald went out of her way to insult both Don and Betty . . . and at the same time, put Sally on a pedestal. I swear . . . both the media and the fans seemed to regard Sally in the same manner in which Mildred Pierce regarded her daughter Veda. Through rose colored glasses. These same fans have a penchant for ignoring Sally’s penchant for scapegoating. I first became aware of this problem back in Season Four, when she solely blamed Betty for the end of the Drapers’ marriage. Sally possesses other flaws – namely her penchant for bullying – especially her younger brother Bobby; her “sass”, which makes her a world-class needler in my eyes; and her slightly cruel sense of humor. Sally reminds me of certain classmates from my younger years in elementary and high school, whom I heartily disliked or I had regarded with a good deal of wariness. But if there is one person whom Sally reminds me of . . . it is her paternal grandfather, Archie Whitman.

This is the character who is supposed to be the series’ “Great White Female Hope”? Sally Draper? A character, whose flaws are constantly ignored by the “MAD MEN” fandom? There are some who are talking about a spin-off featuring Sally as an adult. Honestly? That is one show I will never watch. How can I drum up the interest to watch a series about a character I have never harbored a high opinion of in the first place? What I am trying to say is that in the end, I am getting sick and tired of the “Glorification of Sally Draper”. The sooner “MAD MEN” is off the air, the less chance I have of encountering this phenomenon. God, I hope so.

A Letter to Matthew Weiner

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A LETTER TO MATTHEW WEINER

Dear Matthew Weiner,

I just watched the latest episode of “MAD MEN”, (7.13) “The Milk and Honey Route”, and discovered that Betty Francis was doomed for a quickie death from lung cancer. And all I can say is . . .

FUCK YOU.

Fuck you for this piece of contrived writing that came out of the blue, due to your neverending desire to surprise the viewers. It’s bad enough that you wasted Betty’s nearly decade-long character development with impending death. But you decided to kill her off in the same manner as Don’s former mistress, Rachel Katz. How unoriginal can you be?

This whole story arc disgusted me, because it seemed as if you had pulled it out of his ass and dumped it on the viewers without warning. I guess a quick death by lung cancer was your idea of Betty “developing” into a mature character. I should have known better, considering you are a man who found it realistic that a 21 year-old secretary with no college education can be promoted to a junior copywriter after EIGHT MONTHS of work experience, but found the idea of a black copywriter or accounts exec in the 1960s unrealistic . . . despite the fact that such people actually existed. This was a supreme example of your inability to create complex minority characters. And your idea of a FBI background investigation (in Season Four) was so ridiculous that I am still shaking my head in disgust.

After the contrived writing that surrounded Peggy Olson’s original job promotion in (1.13) “The Wheel”, the dumb ass FBI “investigation” of Don Draper in Season Four and your inability to create and write complex minority characters, I realized that I had enough. So again . . .

FUCK YOU.

Top 10 Favorite Episodes of the “STAR TREK” Television Franchise

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Below is a list of my ten favorite episodes from all five “STAR TREK” television series:

TOP 10 FAVORITE EPISODES OF THE “STAR TREK” TELEVISION FRANCHISE

1 - 5.12 The Bride of Chaotica VOY

1. (5.12 VOY) “The Bride of Chaotica!” – Ensign Tom Paris’ latest holodeck adventure, “The Adventures of Captain Proton”, takes an unexpected turn when the U.S.S. Voyager gets stuck in an interdimensional reef in this hilarious and imaginative episode.

2 - 4.18-4.19 In a Mirror Darkly ENT

2. (4.18-4.19 ENT) “In a Mirror, Darkly” – This surprisingly entertaining two-part episode features the back-stabbing antics of Jonathan Archer’s Enterprise crew in the saga’s Mirror Universe.

3 - 3.16 Blood Fever VOY

3. (3.16 VOY) “Blood Fever” – While enduring pon farr, a lovesick Ensign Vorik unexpectedly passes it to Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres, affecting her relationship with Tom Paris during an Away mission.

4 - 4.10 Our Man Bashir DS9

4. (4.10 DS9) “Our Man Bashir” – While playing a 1960s secret agent inside one of Deep Space Nine’s holosuites, he is forced to make life and death decisions for those crew members, whose transporter patterns are stored in the program during an emergency in this wildly entertaining episode.

5 - 4.07 Scientific Method VOY

5. (4.07 VOY) “Scientific Method” – Unseen alien intruders used Voyager’s crew as specimens for series of experiments that affect their physical and mental health in this weird and spooky episode.

6 - 6.19 In the Pale Moonlight DS9

6. (6.19 DS9) “In the Pale Moonlight” – This fascinating episode depicted Captain Benjamin Sisko and former Cardassian spy Elim Garak’s efforts to manipulate the Romulans into joining the Federation in its war against the Dominion.

7 - 1.28 City on the Edge of Forever TOS

7. (1.28 TOS) “City on the Edge of Forever” – In this Hugo Award winning episode, Captain James Kirk and Commander Spock are forced to go back in time to the early 1930s to prevent Dr. Leonard McCoy from changing time, when the latter accidentally disappears through a time portal, while heavily drugged.

8 - 5.10 Rapture DS9

8. (5.10 DS9) “Rapture” – An accident causes Captain Sisko to have prophetic visions involving the Bajorans’ religious beliefs and their future with the Federation.

9 - 5.18 Cause and Effect TNG

9. (5.18 TNG) “Cause and Effect” – The U.S.S. Enterprise-D becomes stuck in a time loop involving another Starfleet ship, but the crew manages to retain some memories of previous instances.

10 - 7.24 Pre-emptive Strike

10. (7.24 TNG) “Pre-emptive Strike” – In this bittersweet episode, helmsman Lieutenant Ro Laren graduates from Starfleet’s advance tactical training and is eventually ordered by Captain Jean-Luc Picard to infiltrate the Maquis and lure its members into a trap set by Starfleet.

“OPERATION PETTICOAT” (1959) Review

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“OPERATION PETTICOAT” (1959) Review

Many would find this hard to believe, but I first came aware of the 1959 comedy, “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, when its television spinoff aired during the late 1970s. Mind you, the television series was no where as good as the 1959 movie, it was enough to attract my attention.

Over a decade had past before I first saw the movie. And I became an even bigger fan of the film than the TV series. Directed by Blake Edwards, “OPERATION PETTICOAT” is basically a flashback tale in which U.S. Navy Admiral Matthew Sherman visits the U.S.S. Sea Tiger, an old and obsolete submarine scheduled to be sent to the scrapyard. Because Sherman was the Sea Tiger’s first commanding officer, he begins reading his old log book, which recounted the submarine’s time during its first difficult month following the Japanese Navy’s attack at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

On December 10, 1941, the Sea Tiger is sunk by a Japanese air raid, while it is docked at the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines. Sherman, then a Lieutenant-Commander, and his crew begin repairs, hoping to sail the Sea Tiger to Darwin, Australia. The submarine squadron’s commodore believes there is no chance of saving the Sea Tiger and begins to transfer some of Sherman’s crew to other boats. Sherman convinces the commodore otherwise and the latter begins to replace Sherman’s crew, beginning with an admiral aide with no submarine experience named Lieutenant (junior grade) Nick Holden. Unfortunately for Sherman, Holden had become a naval officer to escape poverty and find a wealthy spouse. Fortunately for the submarine commander, Holden proves to be a very effective supply officer, due to his skills as a scavenger and con artist. Thanks to Holden, the Sea Tiger acquires enough parts for repair and their departure from the Philippines. Once restored to seaworthy condition – barely – with only two of her four diesels operational, the Sea Tiger reaches Marinduque, where Sherman reluctantly agrees to evacuate five stranded Army nurses. Between dealing with Holden’s reluctance to reveal officer material, a partially operating submarine and five nurses with no where to go and causing mayhem on board, Sherman’s first month at war proves to be very difficult.

When I first saw “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, I wondered if I would like it as much as I did the television series. Needless to say . . . I did. I enjoyed this movie very much. It had a lot going for it. One, it had Blake Edwards as director. Before he directed“OPERATION PETTICOAT”, Edwards had worked as an actor, screenwriter and the occasional producer/director or writer of a series of television shows. The 1959 World War II comedy proved to be his first feature movie as a director . . . and he scored big. The movie featured every aspect of first-rate Blake Edwards comedy – the director’s unique humor; a cast of some very interesting and offbeat characters; and most importantly a well-written story.

Because of his past as a screenwriter, I had assumed that Edwards had written the movie’s script. I was wrong. Credit went to four writers – Paul King, Joseph B. Stone, Stanley J. Shapiro, Maurice Richlin. And I must that they had written one hell of a story. I liked how they and Edwards managed to recapture those desperate, early days of the war’s Pacific Theater, when the Japanese seemed to be grabbing a great deal of territory in the Pacific. I liked the fact that despite the presence of Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and five attractive actresses portraying nurses, neither Edwards or the four screenwriters did not glamorize the movie’s setting . . . aside from the spotless uniform worn by Nick Holden upon his arrival at the Sea Tiger or the characters. The Sea Tiger remained in a questionable condition throughout most of the film. And believe it or not, a good deal of the events featured in this film actually happened during those early months of the war in the Pacific . . . including the evacuation of military nurses from the Philippines, a submarine being forced to paint its surface pink, due to the lack of enough red or white lead undercoat paint. The movie nearly ended on an ironic note, when it faced great danger of being sunk . . . but not by the Japanese Navy.

I did have a few problems with “OPERATION PETTICOAT”. Although most of the movie was set between December 1941-January 1942, the hairstyles and makeup for the actresses portraying the nurses clearly reflected the late 1950s. Hollywood tend to be rather sloppy about women’s hairstyles and fashion in movies set in the near past. And “OPERATION PETTICOAT” was mainly set seventeen to eighteen years before its release. The nurses proved to be another problem in the film. The moment the nurses boarded the Sea Tiger, a hint of sexism seemed to permeate the movie. Nearly every scene that featured the nurses, the score written by David Rose and an uncredited Henry Mancini would shift into a cheesy tune fit for a soft core porn film . . . 1950s style. The biggest problem proved to be two characters – the commanding officer of the nurses, Major Edna Heywood; and the Sea Tiger’s Chief Machinist’s Mate Sam Tostin. The latter proved to be something of a misogynist, who could not stand the idea of women aboard the submarine. I could have tolerated that. I could have tolerated his dismay over Major Heywood’s interest in the Sea Tiger’s engines, due to her father being an engineer. What I could not tolerate was Tostin’s lack of respect toward Major Heywood’s status as an officer . . . and the fact that the screenwriters allowed him to get away with such lack of respect due to her being a woman. And the fact that the screenwriters wrote a romantic subplot for the pair struck me as ridiculous. The moment Tostin said these words to Major Heywood:

Chief Mechanic’s Mate Sam Tostin: [speaking to Maj.Heywood in the engine room] You know, I spent alot of years disliking women. But I don’t dislike you.

Maj. Edna Heywood, RN: Oh?

Chief Mechanic’s Mate Sam Tostin: You’re not a woman. You’re more than a woman. You’re a *mechanic*

I hope the screenwriters and Edwards did not expect audiences to take this relationship seriously. A deep-seated misogynist like Tostin had no business being given a romantic interest in this film . . . especially with an upright woman like Major Heywood.

In my opinion, the two best aspects of any movie are usually the screenplay and the performances. I have already expressed my views of the movie’s plot. As the performances, “OPERATION PETTICOAT” was blessed with a first-rate cast. I was surprised to see that a few cast members went on to become television stars – Gavin MacLeod (“THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW” and“THE LOVE BOAT”), Dick Sargeant (“BEWITCHED”), and Marion Ross (“HAPPY DAYS”). Ross did not get much of a chance to strut her stuff in this film. But MacLeod gave a hilarious performance as the high-strung and nervous Yeoman Ernest Hunckle, who worked closely with supply officer Nick Holden.  Sargeant gave a very endearing, yet funny performance as the young Ensign Stovall, who seemed to be Holden’s number one fan aboard the Sea Tiger and possessed a penchant for putting his foot into his mouth. Gene Evans was equally funny as the gruff Chief of the Boat (COB) Chief Torpedoman “Mo” Molumphry. Joan O’Brien seemed to display a talent for physical humor as the well-meaning, yet clumsy Second Lieutenant Dolores Crandall. And Clarence Lung made a great straight man for Tony Curtis as Holden’s “partner-in-crime” U.S.M.C. Sergeant Ramon Gallardo. Other fine supporting performances came from Ross, Madlyn Rhue, Robert F. Simon, Robert Gist and George Dunn.

Despite my dislike of the Major Heywood/Chief Tostin relationship, I must admit that both Virginia Gregg and Arthur O’Connell did great jobs in capturing the essence of their characters. Especially O’Connell, who still managed to be funny, despite portraying one of the most misogynist characters I have ever seen on screen. Dina Merrill gave a solid performance as Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran, the lovely nurse who managed to captured the attention of the very engaged Nick Holden. Before he did “OPERATION PETTICOAT”, Tony Curtis worked on Billy Wilder’s famous Roaring Twenties comedy, “SOME LIKE IT HOT”. In that film, he did an impersonation of Cary Grant that caught a great deal of attention at the time. Ironically, the two ended up co-starring in this film in less than a year. And they clicked very well on screen, despite the clash between their characters. Curtis was smooth as ever as the morally gray Nick Holden, who hid a larcenous and opportunist nature behind a charming and affable façade. Looking back, it occurred to me that if Curtis had been older than Grant, he could have easily portrayed the Matt Sherman character . . . and that Grant could have portrayed Holden. I realize that many people might disagree with me, but the acting styles of both actors seemed strongly similar to me. And although Grant could have easily portrayed a character like Nick Holden, I cannot deny that he did a superb job as the harried, yet strong-willed Matt Sherman. Watching Grant convey Sherman’s confusion, resolve, and quick thinking over a series of personal and military crisis was a joy to behold. In a way, Grant marvelously managed to keep the story together, thanks to his performance.

The television series, “OPERATION PETTICOAT” did not last beyond its second season. The ABC network made too many changes to the show. Besides, the idea of five Army nurses aboard a Navy submarine for such a long period of time seemed a bit too ludicrous to accept. I did enjoy its first season. However, I enjoyed even more its predecessor, the 1959 film. During his first stint as a movie director, Blake Edwards took a gritty and realistic setting – namely the early weeks of World War II for the United States forces in the Pacific – a sly sense of humor, a crazy premise of nurses aboard a pink-coated submarine and a superb cast led by Cary Grant and Tony Curtis; and created a comedic piece of cinematic gold. I could watch this movie over and over again.

“DJANGO UNCHAINED”: Controversy and Myth

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“DJANGO UNCHAINED”: CONTROVERSY AND MYTH

Ever since the release of the 2012 Academy Award winning film, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”, Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 film,“DJANGO UNCHAINED” has been the target of a good deal of backlash and derision. Wait . . . I take that back. The film has received a good deal of derision even when it first reached the movie theaters during the early winter of 2012-2013.

Normally, I would have dismissed these negative comments. After all, “DJANGO UNCHAINED” became one of my favorite movies for the year 2012. It also proved to be a box office hit and won two Academy Awards – a Best Supporting Actor award for actor Christoph Waltz and a Best Original Screenplay award for Tarantino. So, why am I bothering to write this article about the film? If I must be honest, I recently read a few articles about the movie. Several accused Tarantino of writing a revenge fantasy on the topic of American slavery. I also came across one or two that compared it to the recent Best Picture Oscar winner, Steve McQueen’s “12 YEARS A SLAVE” . . . to the detriment of the former film. And I found myself becoming confused and rather annoyed. And when I get pissed off – even in regard to arts and entertainment – I have a tendency to react. This article is my reaction.

One of the major complaints against the movie was its depiction of violence. Okay . . . this is Quentin Tarantino, we are talking about. I have yet to come across a film of his that did not feature violence. Many of his previous films – including“RESERVOIR DOGS”, “KILL BILL” and “INGLORIOUS BASTERDS” – featured over-the-top violence. After twenty years of this, why did so many film critics raise a stink about the violence in “DJANGO UNCHAINED”? After all, the movie’s plot revolved around American slavery, upon which a great deal of violence was used to sustain it. And the system also produced a good deal of violence from many who tried to resist it. Surely these film critics were aware of this? Surely they were aware of the numerous slave rebellions – at least around 250 of them – that had occurred in North America between the Colonial Era and the eve of the Civil War. And I am not simply referring to the more well-known slave rebellions such as the 1811 German Coast Uprising, along with those planned by Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vessey and Nat Turner?

A good number of people also accused the movie of being historically inaccurate. Film producer-director Spike Lee put in his two cents and declared that “American slavery was not a Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western. It was a Holocaust. My ancestors are slaves stolen from Africa. I will honor them.” Perhaps Lee’s ancestors never saw the American West. But a good number of slaves and former slaves did . . . even before the outbreak of the Civil War. The movie’s opening scene featured Django as part of a slave coffle being marched across Texas to one of the slave marts of that particular state. And guess what? Such incidents happened – especially during the Civil War, when many slave owners sent their slaves west to Texas to avoid being conscripted by the Confederate government to labor on behalf of its military. Slaves who attempted to runaway were punished in many various forms – including whippings like the one endured by Django’s wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft and nearly endured by one of Spencer “Big Daddy” Bennett’s slaves. The experiences of American slaves are so varied that I find myself wondering why Lee and many like him believed that nearly all slaves had only one particular experience – that of a laborer on a large-scale cotton plantation. Was the idea of a former slave becoming a bounty hunter that hard to believe? Would these same critics have felt the same if they knew about Nancy Gooch, a Missouri slave who had accompanied her master to California during Gold Rush . . . and later became a free woman when that state joined the Union? What would they say if they knew that she and her husband eventually became well off and owners of Johann Sutter’s mill (site of James Marshall’s discovery of gold)? Would they have felt the same if they had remembered the experiences of James Beckwourth, a Virginia-born slave who became a mountain man, explorer and fur trader; following his emancipation around 1824? Considering the varying experiences of Nancy Gooch, James Beckwourth and other slaves throughout U.S. history, why would anyone believe there was only one kind of experience? Former slaves – even before the Civil War – have become social activists, businessmen/businesswomen, authors and even slave owners. So, why would the idea of a pre-Civil War emancipated slave becoming a bounty hunter be dismissed as a fantasy?

Nearly a year ago, I had commented that with the release of “12 YEARS A SLAVE”, many have compared it to“DJANGO UNCHAINED” . . . and to the detriment of the latter. Look, everyone has their own views on what constitutes a good movie. If one prefers the 2013 film to the 2012 one, fine. The problem is that I have great difficulty in accepting the view that “12 YEARS A SLAVE” is superior to “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. Film critics and many others argue that the 2013 film is superior because it is a drama based upon historical fact. The film is a historical film biography about a free black man from antebellum New York, who was kidnapped into slavery and experienced nearly twelve years as a slave in Louisiana. As for “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, it is not biopic about a historical figure. The characters in the film, including Django Freeman, Dr. King Schultz, and Calvin Candie are all figments of Quentin Tarantino’s imagination. And as far as many are concerned, there is only one way to make a film about slavery. – a story based upon historical fact.

I might as well be frank. I noticed that the plot for “DJANGO UNCHAINED” had a few discrepancies. The movie’s narrative claimed that it began in 1858 – Two Years Before the Civil War. Actually, the year 1858 is three years before the war’s outbreak, not two. Also, Tarantino made another blooper with the movie’s time setting. Django and Schultz accompanied Candie to Candyland in early May 1858 . . . at least according to a scene that featured Candie’s head slave Stephen writing out a check for supplies. It is quite obvious that Tarantino got his time frame a little off. Was “DJANGO UNCHAINED” set between the fall of 1858 and the spring of 1859? Or was it set between the fall of 1857 and the spring of 1858? Who knows? Many critics and historians made a big deal about the presence of “Mandingo fighting” in“DJANGO UNCHAINED”. So did I. Like many others, I had claimed that there was no historical evidence of this sport ever existing. Well . . . perhaps we may have all been slightly mistaken. When author Kyle Onstott wrote his 1957 novel,“Mandingo”, he must have heard about the sport called Battle Royal that originated in Ancient Rome and reappeared in 19th century United States, and put his own spin on the sports. Although the sport of Battle Royal had consisted of three or more participants, it featured gladiatorial-style fighting that would be considered very brutal. The sport had originated in Ancient Rome and resurfaced centuries later in the first half of 19th century United States. The interesting thing is that many critics and filmgoers made a big brouhaha over the historical inaccuracies found in “DJANGO UNCHAINED”. I found this attitude very hypocritical, considering that inaccuracies of this kind have been found in every historical drama I have seen, including more highly acclaimed films such as “GONE WITH THE WIND”, “LAWRENCE OF ARABIA”,“GLORY”, “THE KING’S SPEECH” and the recent Best Picture Oscar winner, “12 YEARS A SLAVE”.

But if there is one thing that truly annoys me, it is the critics’ labeling of “DJANGO UNCHAINED” as a revenge tale. The film did feature characters either attempting or achieving revenge. The character “Big Daddy” Bennett tried to get revenge against Django Freeman and Dr. King Schultz for killing the Brittle Brothers, his overseers and wanted fugitives of the law. Dr. Schultz achieved revenge against one of the movie’s main antagonists, Calvin Candie, for the death of a Candyland slave and being cheated out of $12,000. Even Django managed to achieve revenge against the Brittle Brothers, the overseers who once worked for his original owner and some of the inhabitants at Candyland. And I believe it is possible to say that he got revenge against Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly, Stephen, Billy Crash and other Candie henchmen, when he returned to Candyland to save Broomhilda. But his main intent was to save Broomhilda and retrieve her freedom papers. I suspect that the revenge attempted or achieved in this film were merely consequences of the main plot. After all, both “Big Daddy” Bennett and Dr. Schultz paid consequences for their vengeful acts. And despite his original intent, Django managed to achieve some kind of revenge. But in the end, I do not believe “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is basically a revenge tale.

If Django had truly been interested in revenge, he would have gone after the very man who had punished and later separated both him and his wife Broomhilda – namely their original owner, Carruthers. And yet, Django never bothered to go after Carruthers for revenge. He never even considered it. Why? Because his main goal was to find and rescue Broomhilda, before fleeing the South. Mind you, he would have never been able to achieve this without Dr. King, who offered $75 and freedom to Django if the latter would help him track down the Brittle Brothers. Django would have never become a bounty hunter if King had not suggested he become a partner in the latter’s bounty hunting operations during the winter in exchange for helping him track down Broomhilda in the South. It was not difficult for me to see that Django’s main interest during the film’s entire narrative was being reunited with Broomhilda and fleeing the slaveholding South for good.

And I cannot help but wonder why many critics and filmgoers were determined to label “DJANGO UNCHAINED” a revenge tale? Why was it so important for them to regard it as such? Their accusations reminded me of the fears that many 19th century Americans – North and South – had about freed slaves. Many of these Americans feared emancipation because they believed those former slaves would turn on their former masters and engage in indiscriminate killings of whites. Was this same fear behind the intent of many critics to label “DJANGO UNCHAINED”? Because the movie featured a black man and ex-slave killing a good number of people – especially whites – to achieve his goal of permanent freedom for both himself and his wife? Is this why the media dumped this crap on the public about it being a revenge movie?

I will not deny that Django Freeman had a vindictive streak within him. The casual manner in which he stepped upon the fatally wounded slave trader Dicky Speck after the latter had insulted him, led me to suspect this. However, Django’s killing of the Brittle Brothers was more about helping Dr. King collect a bounty (and acquire his own freedom) than any revenge . . . even if the former must have felt satisfaction in killing two of the brothers. Django and Dr. King’s violent encounter with “Big Daddy” Bennett and a group of night riders was more about saving their hides. I also suspect that Django had achieved some satisfaction in his killing of some of Candyland’s inhabitants. But I still believe the entire episode was more about saving Broomhilda . . . and ensuring that no one at Candyland would alert the authorities to her disappearance. A part of me cannot help but wonder if moviegoers and critics find it easier to swallow a movie about slavery or any kind of oppression if major non-white characters were to simply endure or resort to non-violent responses. Would they have preferred if Django Freeman had resorted to non-violent means to rescue Broomhilda? He tried . . . upon King Schultz’s advice. But the latter ruined Django’s chances with a violent display of temper that led to his own death and the re-enslavement of both Django and Broomhilda. Django, in the end, had to clean Dr. Schultz’s mess . . . with violence.

Over the years, I have noticed how the American public, media and historians are willing to glorify activists like Martin Luther King for resorting to non-violent methods of resistance against oppression. Yet, at the same, these same people, media and historians glorify this country’s violent resistance to British authority in the late 18th century. And in parts of this country – especially in various Southern states – the former Confederate States of America is still glorified for its violent attempt to break away from the United States in the early 1860s. In other words, when a violent or military resistance is led by elite white males, our country glorifies this action. When non-violent resistance is led by anyone who is from the middle or lower classes, non-white or a woman, our country glorifies this action. When violent resistance is led by anyone who is from the middle or lower classes, non-white or a woman, our society condemns this action. And for certain critics and filmgoers, Django Freeman made the mistake of resorting to violence to win the freedom of his wife and himself.

Let me repeat myself. I do not believe that “DJANGO UNCHAINED” is a revenge tale. Django’s goal in this movie was not revenge. If it was, he would have sought revenge against the character portrayed by Bruce Dern. Ironically, another movie was released near the end of 2012 – “ZERO DARK THIRTY”. What was this movie about? Namely the hunt for Bin Laden in retaliation for the attacks on September 11, 2001. “ZERO DARK THIRTY” was clearly about the U.S. government seeking revenge against Bin Laden for the attack. Even the leading character portrayed by Jessica Chastain became vengeful when another colleague and friend was killed during a meeting set up with a former terrorist. There were some critics and moviegoers who dared to accuse or criticize the movie for being a revenge tale. The mainstream media more or less avoided labeling it a “revenge flick”. Then again, I should not surprised, especially when revenge or retaliation in this film was sanctioned by society and the government. For the past victims of slavery, revenge on their behalf is not tolerated . . . even after emancipation had been achieved over a century-and-a-half ago. And especially not in a work of fiction.

As for the backlash against “DJANGO UNCHAINED”, I realize that whatever negative opinions about this movie will never change. I can do nothing about it. One could also say that this article might be a waste of time. But you know what? I do not think so. For it allowed me to express my own frustrations over the negative responses to this film. And those frustrations were born from some of the criticisms and “revenge” label that was dumped on the film. It felt good to get this article out of my system . . . even if I do not end up changing any minds.

“SLEEPING MURDER” (2006) Review

 

“SLEEPING MURDER” (2006) Review

I might as well say it. The 1976 novel, “Sleeping Murder” is one of my favorites written by mystery writer, Agatha Christie. In fact, it is such a big favorite of mine that when I learned about the recent 2006 adaptation that aired on Britain’s ITV network, I made a great effort to find it on DVD.

Although the 1976 novel proved to be the last Christie novel featuring elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, the author wrote it during the early years of World War II. In fact, she did the same for the 1975 Hercule Poirot novel, “Curtain”. Christie wrote both novels and placed them in a bank vault, in case she failed to survive the Blitz. During the early 1970s, the author authorized the publication of “Curtain” for 1975 and “Sleeping Murder” for 1976. I never warmed up to the 1975 novel, but I became a fan of the latter one. The novel produced two television adaptations and a radio version. Just recently, I watched a DVD copy of the 2006 television movie that featured Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple.

“SLEEPING MURDER” begins in 1933 India, where British diplomat Kelvin Halliday receives news that his wife Claire had just been killed in a traffic accident. The widower returns home to England with his three year-old daughter Gwenda and meets one Helen Marsden, a singer with a troupe of music performers known as “The Funnybones”. Nineteen years later, a recently engaged Gwenda Halliday returns to England in order to find a home where she and her future husband Giles, who is a wealthy businessman living in India, can live. Accompanied by Giles’ assistant, Hugh Hornbeam, Gwenda finds a house in Dillmouth, a town on the south coast of England. While workmen set about repairing the house, Gwenda realizes that it seems familiar to her. Hugh suggests she speak to an old acquaintance of his, Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead. Gwenda and Hugh meet with Miss Marple at a local theater showing the John Webster play, “The Duchess of Malfi”. During one of the play’s climatic scenes, Gwenda screams in terror , as she remembers witnessing a pair of hands strangling a woman. Along with Miss Marple and Hugh, Gwenda realizes she may have witnessed a murder when she was a child living in Dillmouth. All three also discover that the murdered woman may have been Gwenda’s stepmother, Helen Marsden Halliday.

I . . . did not dislike “SLEEPING MURDER”. I thought this adaptation featured fine performances from a cast led by the always superb Geraldine McEwan. The television movie also featured memorable performances from Sophia Myles and Aidan McArdle as Gwenda Halliday and Hugh Hornbeam. I was also impressed by Julian Wadham as Kelvin Halliday; Martin Kemp, Dawn French and Paul McGann as three of Helen’s Funnybones colleagues; and Phil Davis as Dr. James Kennedy, Kelvin’s original brother-in-law. It was nice to see Harriet Walter give a cameo as an actress portraying the lead role in “The Duchess of Malfi” production. The rest of the cast gave solid performances, aside from two struck me as slightly problematic. Sarah Parish’s portrayal of Funnybones wallflower-turned successful singer Evie Ballatine seemed to be an exercise in character extremism . . . and a bit over-the-top. I could say the same about Geraldine Chapln’s portrayal of the gloomy Mrs. Fane, mother of Walter Fane, a mild-mannered lawyer who knew Gwenda’s mother.

“SLEEPING MURDER” also benefited from colorful and sharp photography, thanks to Alan Almond’s cinematography. I also found Frances Tempest’s costume designs for the early 1950s sequences rather gorgeous to look at. However, her designs for the 1930s scenes seemed to be something of a mixed bag. Overall, I had no complaints about the movie’s production designs and the performances. But I did not love this movie. In fact, I barely liked it.

The problem – at least for me – is that the positive aspects of “SLEEPING MURDER” failed to hide or compensate what proved to be the movie’s real problem . . . namely the screenplay written by Stephen Churchett. I do not completely blame him. The producers of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” and director Edward Hall were willing to use it. I have no problems with a screenwriter changing certain aspects of a source novel or play for a screen adaptation. Especially if said change manages to improve the story or make it more effective for a screen adaptation. But the changes Churchett made to Christie’s story did not improve it in the end or made it effective for the television screen. Personally, I found Churchett’s changes more convoluted than a novel written by James Ellroy.

First of all, Churchett, Hall or both allowed the Gwenda Reed character from the novel to become the unmarried Gwenda Halliday, engaged to be married. The Giles Reed character was reduced to Gwenda’s unseen and wealthy fiancé, who turned out to be a jerk. Churchett and Hall decided to create a new love interest for Gwenda, the quiet and faithful Hugh Hornbam, who works for her fiancé. Why did Hall and Churchett give Gwenda a new love interest? What was wrong with using the original Giles Reed character from the novel? Was it really that important to inject a new romance, which seemed to be the hallmark of many “MARPLE” productions? Also, a musical troupe known as the Funnybones was introduced to this story. Three of the original suspects – Richard “Dickie” and Janet Erskine, and Jackie Afflick – became members of the Funnybones, along with Helen. The addition of the Funnybones also produced another suspect for the story – a singer named Evie Ballatine. Why did Churchett create the Funnybones in the first place? Perhaps he and Hall thought the musical troupe would make Helen’s character more “colorful”. On the other hand, I found the addition of the musical troupe UNNECESSARY . . . like other changes and additions to this story.

The above changes seemed nothing to me compared to the changes made to the Helen Halliday character. It is bad enough that Churchett transformed her from a nice, young woman who became a stepmother and wife to a professional singer. Go figure. Worse . . . Helen Marsden Halliday was eventually revealed to be Kelvin Halliday’s first wife, Claire. In other words, Gwenda’s mother and stepmother proved to be one and the same. How did this happen? Well, when Claire Kennedy went to India to get married, she changed her mind and became a thief. She met Kelvin Halliday, married him and gave birth to their only child Gwenda. However, when the police in British India became suspicious of her, Claire and Kelvin plotted her fake death, she returned to England and joined the Funnybones, and “married” Kelvin as Helen Marsden, following his and Gwenda’s return to India. Confused? I was when Miss Marple revealed all of this to Gwenda, Hugh and the suspects. When this whole scenario regarding Claire/Helen’s background was revealed, I could only shake my head in disbelief. What on earth was Churchett thinking when he created this confusing background for her? What were the producers and Hall thinking for accepting it? In fact, all of the changes made for this adaptation proved to be unnecessary, but also transformed “SLEEPING MURDER” into one convoluted mess.

What else can I say about “SLEEPING MURDER”? It featured some pretty good performances from a cast led by Geraldine McEwan. I liked its production values very much, especially Alan Almond’s photography and Frances Tempest’s costume designs for the 1950s sequences. But . . . I feel that screenwriter Stephen Churchett made a lot of unnecessary changes to Christie’s original story that left the movie into a big, narrative mess. And I cannot help but wonder what director Edward Hall and the producers were thinking to allow these changes to happen.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1960s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1960s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1960s

1 - Saving Mr. Banks

1. “Saving Mr. Banks” (2013) – Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks starred in this superb biopic about the struggles between author P.L. Travers and producer Walt Disney over the film rights for the “Mary Poppins” stories. John Lee Hancock directed.

 

2 - That Thing You Do

2. “That Thing You Do!” (1996) – Tom Hanks directed and starred in this very entertaining look at the rise and fall of a “one-hit wonder” rock band in the mid 1960s. Tom Everett Scott and Liv Tyler co-starred. The movie earned a Best Song Oscar nomination.

 

3 - The Butler

3. “The Butler” (2013) – Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey starred in this excellent historical drama about a butler’s experiences working at the White House and with his family over a period of decades. Lee Daniels directed.

 

4 - Operation Dumbo Drop

4. “Operation Dumbo Drop” (1995) – Simon Wincer directed this comedic and entertaining adaptation of U.S. Army Major Jim Morris’ Vietnam War experiences regarding the transportation of an elephant to a local South Vietnamese village that helps American forces monitor Viet Cong activity. Ray Liotta and Danny Glover starred.

 

5 - Infamous

5. “Infamous” (2006) – Douglas McGrath wrote and directed this excellent movie about Truman Capote’s research for his 1966 book, “In Cold Blood”. Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock and Daniel Craig starred.

 

6 - Brokeback Mountain

6. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) – Oscar winner Ang Lee directed this marvelous adaptation of Annie Proulx’s 1997 short story about the twenty-year love affair between two cowboys that began in the 1960s. Oscar nominees Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal starred.

 

7 - The Right Stuff

7. “The Right Stuff” (1983) – Philip Kaufman wrote and directed this fascinating adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book about NASA’s Mercury program during the early 1960s. The Oscar nominated movie starred Scott Glenn, Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris and Sam Shepard.

 

8 - Dreamgirls

8. “Dreamgirls” (2006) – Bill Condon directed this first-rate adaptation of the 1981 Broadway play about the evolution of American Rhythm and Blues through the eyes of a female singing group from the mid 20th century. Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson and Oscar nominee Eddie Murphy starred.

 

9 - Capote

9. “Capote” (2005) – Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in the other biopic about Truman Capote’s research for his 1966 book, “In Cold Blood”. The movie was directed by Bennett Miller and written by Oscar nominee Dan Futterman.

 

10 - SHAG

10. “SHAG” (1989) – Phoebe Cates, Page Hannah, Bridget Fonda and Annabeth Gish starred in this entertaining comedy about four teenage girlfriends, who escape from their parents for a few days in 1963 for an adventure in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina during Spring Break. Zelda Barron directed.

“THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” (1984) Review

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“THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” (1984) Review

As far as I know, there have been two adaptations of Agatha Christie’s 1942 novel, “The Body in the Library”. I have already seen the latter version that aired on ITV in 2004. Recently, I saw the earlier version that aired twenty years earlier. And I must say that I was taken by surprise by the differences in the two versions.

I now realize that I should not have been taken by surprised. The screenwriter for the 2004 made numerous changes to Christie’s novel. However, screenwriter T.R. Bowen was a lot more faithful to the novel in the adaptation that aired in the 1980s. Most people would see this as a sign that 1984’s “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” was the superior version. Well . . . they would be entitled to that opinion. But it is not one that I would share.

“THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” beings when the dead body of a young blonde woman is found inside the library of Gossington Hall, the home of Colonel Arthur and Dolly Bantry of St. Mary Mead. While Mrs. Bantry enlists the aid of their friend and neighbor Miss Jane Marple to investigate the crime; Detective Inspector Slack first suspects Colonel Bantry and later, another local named Basil Blake as the murderer. However, the police is finally able to identify the body as Ruby Keene, a local dancer at a resort hotel called the Majestic, in the nearby seaside resort of Danemouth. Her cousin, another dancer named Josie Turner, had identified the body. And according to Josie, Ruby had been missing for some time. Worried over the investigation’s impact upon her husband, Mrs. Bantry suggests that she and Miss Marple spend a few days at the Majestic Hotel. There, they learned about Ruby’s connection to a wealthy invalid (and old friend of the Bantrys) named Conway Jefferson, who was planning to leave a considerable amount of money to Ruby.

During the first three years of “MISS MARPLE”, the episodes usually aired over two or three nights. In the case of “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY”, it aired over three nights, resulting in a running time of 156 minutes. And that is a hell of a long time for a story like “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY”. It was simply too long. And it felt like it, thanks to the slow pacing. One, the story’s setup – namely the discovery of the body, Miss Marple’s recruitment into the case, the introduction of the police – seemed to drag forever. I found myself wondering when Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry would finally make it to the Majestic Hotel. And it seemed as if T.R. Bowen and director Silvio Narizzano were determined to include every detail to Christie’s novel. I might as well say it. I am not one of those who demand that a television or movie adaptation of a novel be completely faithful to its source. It depends on whether or not being faithful served the production in the end. I do not feel that this faithful adaptation did great service to a novel that was never a particular favorite of mine in the first place. I really had to struggle to maintain my interest in this television movie.

I have one other major complaint. I noticed that Christie’s novel, along with this movie, tried to include as many suspects as possible in the murder of Ruby Keene. But once the story shifted to the Majestic Hotel and Conway Jefferson’s family, the number of real suspects seemed to whittle down to two – Jefferson’s son-in-law and daughter-in-law, Mark Gaskell and Adelaide Jefferson. Even worse, Bowen failed to create a balanced portrayal of the pair. One ended up receiving more attention and screen time over the other.

I had no problems with most of the movie’s production. I thought it did a serviceable job in re-creating St. Mary’s Mead and a seaside resort circa 1955, thanks to the work of production designer Austin Ruddy. John Walker’s photography struck me as serviceable. But like most productions that featured Joan Hickson as Miss Marple, it is obvious that the movie was shot on inferior film that managed to fade over the years. I enjoyed Jan Wright’s costume designs. But they did not blow my mind. I do not know who did the actresses’ hairstyles. But whoever worked on Sally Jane Jackson’s hairstyle did a very questionable job – as seen in the images below:

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What in the hell happened?

At least the performances for “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” were up to snuff. The television movie marked Joan Hickson’s debut as Jane Marple. And she did an excellent job in setting up the numerous first-class work that eventually did for the next seven to eight years. The movie also marked the debut of David Horovitch as Inspector Slack, the police detective featured in most of Hickson’s Miss Marple productions. I found his performance rather interesting, considering Slack’s hostile attitude toward the elderly sleuth in compare to later movies. Three other performances also caught my attention. Moray Watson (from 1980’s “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”) did a very competent job in portraying Colonel Arthur Bantry’s growing sense of isolation from his neighbors’ suspicions that he may have been involved in Ruby Keene’s death. Anthony Smee gave a very entertaining performance as St. Mary Mead’s new resident, the colorful Basil Blake. And I was very impressed by Trudie Styler’s portrayal of the victim’s pragmatic, yet reserved cousin Josie Turner. The movie also featured competent support from Andrew Cruickshank, Ciaran Madden, Gwen Watford, Ian Brimble, Raymond Francis and Jess Conrad.

I am not saying that “THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY” is a terrible movie. I thought that director Silvio Narizzano and screenwriter T.R. Bowen did a solid job in adapting Christie’s novel. And the movie featured excellent and solid performances from a cast led by Joan Hickson. But . . . two hours and thirty-six minutes struck me as too damn long for an adaptation of a novel that has never struck me as extraordinary. And quite frankly, the long running time and the slow pacing nearly put me to sleep.