Wednesday, July 31, 2013
MARY AND HENRY CRAWFORD IN "MANSFIELD PARK"
Every time I read an article or review about Jane Austen's 1814 novel, "MANSFIELD PARK", the authors of these articles always comment on the unpopularity of the novel's leading character, Fanny Price. I could say the same about most articles and reviews on the novel's television and movie adaptations. Time and again, both critics and others claim that most Austen fans have a low opinion of Fanny Price. At the same time, these same commentators like to point out the popularity of the novel's antagonists, Henry and Mary Crawford.
The first time I had come across such a statement about Fanny Price and the Crawfords, I decided to search for further articles that verified these claims. In all honesty, I have come across at least less than a half-a-dozen articles or blogs that either criticized Fanny or praised the Crawfords to the sky - especially Mary Crawford - or did both. But most of the articles and reviews I have discovered usually followed this structure:
1. Fanny Price is very unpopular with Austen fans.
2. The Crawfords - especially Mary - is very popular with Austen fans.
3. The authors claim that they harbor the same opinions, until recently.
4. The authors eventually state that they believe Fanny Price is a misunderstood character and praise her character to the sky as a paragon of virtue and courage.
5. Or the authors would point out Fanny's personality flaws and claim that Austen used as some kind of metaphor for eighteenth century morality play, or etc.
6. Bring up the Crawfords and reveal how degenerate they really were, despite any virtues they may possess. Both characters have been called the worse names in an effort to make Fanny look good.
I like to call the above structure or formula - "The Defense of Fanny Price Campaign". And most articles I have read about"MANSFIELD PARK" usually follow this formula. In fact, I have come across so many articles of this nature that I now have doubts that most Austen fans really dislike Fanny or even like the Crawfords.
I am well aware that Mary and Henry Crawford were flawed. And I believe that Austen did an excellent job of making their flaws rather obvious. On the other hand, I believe that she did a pretty good job in portraying their virtues, as well. Fanny Price was no different, in my opinion. Mind you, I found her rather dull at times. But I have never dismissed her on those grounds. Fanny did have her virtues. But I believe that she also possesed flaws. And like the Crawfords, she never overcame hers by the end of the novel. But whereas Austen literally ignored Fanny's flaws by the end of novel . . . and gave her a wide berth, she castigated the Crawfords for failing to overcome their flaws. Many critics and fans who have posted articles in the very fashion I brought up, also did the same. And so did the movie and television adaptations.
This is the main problem I have about "MANSFIELD PARK". If Austen had been willing to acknowledge Fanny's flaws (let alone those of her cousin, Edmund Bertram), I would have never found it difficult to enjoy the story. I suspect that"MANSFIELD PARK" could have easily been one of those novels that explored the complex nature of all of its major characters without labeling one or two of them as "villains". Or . . . if she really wanted to villify the Crawfords that badly, she would have been better off portraying them as superficial, one-note characters.
But what I find really frustrating is this so-called "Defense of Fanny Price" campaign that seemed to have swamped the Internet for the past four-to-five years. By utilizing the structure that I had earlier pointed out, these critics and fans seem willing to turn a blind eye to Fanny's flaws; at the same time, castigate Mary and Henry Crawfords as villains on the same level as George Wickham of "PRIDE AND PREJUDICE". Of all the articles I have come across about the characters featured in the 1814 novel, only one has seemed willing to view them all as morally complex and ambiguous. If there are other "MANSFIELD PARK" articles of similar nature, I can only hope that someone would inform me.
Sunday, July 28, 2013
PORTRAYING HARRY FLASHMAN
Are there any fans of The Flashman Papers, a series of novels about a 19th century British Army officer, written by the late George MacDonald Fraser?
The origins of Fraser’s fictional series began with another British author, namely the 19th century lawyer and author, Thomas Hughes. It was Hughes who first introduced the character of Flashman in his 1857 semi-autobiographical novel,"Tom Brown’s School Days". The novel told the story of Hughes’ years at the famous public school for boys, Rugby. Among the characters featured in the novel turned out to be an older student named "Flashman", who bullied both Tom Brown and another student named Harry "Scud" East. Flashman’s appearance in the novel ended when Headmaster Dr. Thomas Arnold kicked him for drunken behavior.
Over a century later, a Glasgow journalist named George MacDonald Fraser took the character of Flashman, gave him a full name – Harry Paget Flashman – and wrote a novel about his early years as a British Army office in Great Britain, India and Afghanistan, following his expulsion from Rugby. The novel also featured Flashman’s experiences during the First Afghan War. The results turned out to be "FLASHMAN", which was published in 1969. Fraser followed up"FLASHMAN" with three short stories published under the title, "FLASHMAN AND THE TIGER" and eleven more novels. The last novel, "FLASHMAN ON THE MARCH" was published three years before Fraser’s death.
Fraser had written Flashman’s tales from the character’s point-of-view. The interesting thing about Harry Flashman was that despite being a war hero – he had been decorated for his actions in the First Afghan War, the Sepoy Rebellion (aka the Indian Mutiny) and the American Civil War, and possibly other military actions – his character had not changed much from his portrayal in Hughes’ novel. Flashman’s character could be described as cowardly, cynical, unfaithful (although his wife Elspeth was equally so), spiteful, greedy, racist, sexist, and lustful. In short, he was completely amoral. However, Fraser also portrayed Flashman as a hilarious and very witty man with a pragmatic view of the world and society in the nineteenth century.
For a series of novels that have been very popular for the past forty years, only one novel has been adapted for the screen. In 1975, Dennis O'Dell and David V. Picker produced and released an adaption of Fraser’s 1970 novel, "ROYAL FLASH". Based loosely upon Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, "THE PRISONER OF ZENDA", "ROYAL FLASH" told of Flashman’s experiences during the Revolutions of 1848 in Bavaria and the fictional Duchy of Strackenz, when he is coerced by German statesman Otto von Bismarck to impersonate a Danish prince set to marry a German princess. Bismarck fears that the marriage would tilt the balance on the Schleswig-Holstein Question and interfere with his plans for a united Germany. The producers hired Richard Lester ("A HARD DAY’S NIGHT", "THE THREE MUSKETEERS" and ”THE FOUR MUSKETEERS”) to direct the film. Fraser wrote the screenplay and Malcolm McDowell was cast as Harry Flashman. Being a talented actor, McDowell had Harry Flashman’s personality traits down pat. However, the actor looked nothing like the literary Flashman. McDowell possessed blond hair and stood under six feet tall. The literary Flashman stood at least six-feet-two and possessed dark hair and eyes. In fact, he was swarthy enough to pass for a native of the Indian sub-continent in at least two or three novels or a light-skinned African-American slave in "FLASH FOR FREEDOM!". Although the movie did receive some moderate acclaim from film critics, the majority of Flashman fans hated it. In fact, they refuse to acknowledge or watch the film. In their eyes, not only did McDowell bore no physical resemblance to the literary Flashman, director Lester had chosen to infuse the film with bawdy buffoonery and slapstick (as he had done with the MUSKETEERS films) and ignore both the story’s historical context and the novels’ cynically irreverent tone.
When "ROYAL FLASH" failed to generate any real heat at the box office, the movie industries on both sides of the Atlantic ignored Fraser’s novels for several decades. Also, Fraser’s experience with the 1975 movie had made him reluctant to hand over control of any screenplay adaptation of his novels. The author also complained about a lack of a suitable British actor to portray Flashman – which seemed to come off as a backhanded slap at McDowell’s performance. Fraser has always favored the Australian-born Hollywood icon, Errol Flynn, to portray Flashman. The actor had not only possessed a similar physique with the literary Flashman (both stood at 6'2"), but he also – according to Fraser – had the looks, style and rakish personality for the role. Unfortunately, Flynn had died in 1959, ten years before Fraser’s"FLASHMAN" was published. The author also suggested that Academy Award winner Daniel Day-Lewis might be right for the role, claiming that "He's probably getting on a bit," he "might make a Flashman . . . He's big, he's got presence and he's got style." In 2007, Celtic Films indicated on their website that they had a series of FLASHMAN TV films in development. Picture Palace have announced they are developing "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE" for TV and that the script has been prepared by George Macdonald Fraser himself. Both companies took an extensive role in developing Bernard Cornwell's "SHARPE" (TV series). However, no further news has been forthcoming since this time and the project has been removed from both companies' websites.
Hmmm . . . Daniel Day-Lewis. Granted Day-Lewis might have the height and dark looks of the literary Flashy, and he has the talent to carry the role. But he seems a bit too lean for me. And he lacks the cowardly protagonist’s wide shoulders that made the latter look so impressive in a cavalryman’s uniform. More importantly, Fraser was right about Day-Lewis. He is a bit too old for the role, considering that he is 56 years old. He could portray Flashman in the second half of an adaptation of "FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS" or one of the three stories from"FLASHMAN AND THE TIGER". Unfortunately, that is it.
But aside from Day-Lewis, who among today’s actors would be great for the role? I had once considered Australian actor Hugh Jackman over a decade ago, when he first became famous thanks to "X-MEN". He stands at 6’2” tall and possess Flashman’s dark looks. But Jackman is now over two months shy of his 45th birthday. Perhaps he could still portray Flashman between the ages of 35-50, but that would make him unavailable for movie adaptations of the FLASHMAN stories set in the 1840s – when Flashman was in his 20s. And if I must be frank, Jackman seem incapable of portraying rakes. He can portray violent/aggressive types like Wolverine. But a rake? I once saw him portray a well-born rake in a movie with Ewan McGregor called "DECEPTION". For some reason, he did not seem like the right man for the role . . . at least to me. If there is one Australian who could possibly portray Harry Flashman, I would say it was Julian McMahon. Mind you, McMahon never had the same success in the movies that he had on television. But . . . like Jackman, he stands at 6’2” and possesses the same dark good looks. More importantly, he has the style and air to successfully portray a well-born rake. Hell, he could do it, standing on one foot and singing at the top of his lungs. However, McMahon just recently turned 45 and like Jackman, would be unable to portray Flashman in the adaptation of certain novels. His voice is a bit light and for some reason, I have great difficulty imagining him in a period piece.
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers might be a good choice. Granted, he does not have Day-Lewis, Jackman or McMahon’s height and build. But he has their dark looks. He is also talented and he has the style to portray a rake. More importantly, Rhys-Meyers is still at a decent age to star in the adaptations of nearly all of the novel, being 36 years old. Another good choice would be Henry Cavill, Rhys-Meyer’s co-star in "THE TUDORS" and the new cinematic Superman. He has the dark looks and talent to portray the 19th century rogue. And he has the height – 6’1” tall. And being 30 years old, he could portray Flashy in his 20s and 30s, which would make him available in the adaptation of most of the novels.
But there have been no plays to adapt any of the FLASHMAN novels. Not since Celtic Films had indicated an interest in adapting "FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE", two years ago. But if Hollywood or the British film industry ever decide to adapt another story about Harry Flashman, I hope they will do right by the novels' fans and pick the right actor . . . and director for the films.
Wednesday, July 24, 2013
Below are images from "THE WINDS OF WAR", the 1983 television adaptation of Herman Wouk's 1971 novel. Directed by Dan Curtis, the seven-part miniseries starred Robert Mitchum, Ali McGraw and Jan-Michael Vincent:
"THE WINDS OF WAR" (1983) Photo Gallery
Sunday, July 21, 2013
”SHERLOCK HOLMES” (2009) Review
I have never been a major fan of the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and other writers. Once, I tried to get interested in them by reading one or two novels. But they had simply failed to spark my interest.
I have shown a little more enthusiasm toward the various movies and television adaptations of Doyle’s novels and characters. Mind you, I never became a faithful viewer of the television series that starred Jeremy Brett as Holmes. But I have do have my private list of Sherlock Holmes movies that I consider as personal favorites. Including this latest film directed by Guy Ritchie.
The movie opened with Holmes; his good friend, Dr. John Watson; and Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade rescuing a young woman from becoming the latest victim of an occult worshipper named Lord Henry Blackwood. Actually, Holmes and Watson rescued the young woman. Lestrade and his entourage of uniformed officers arrived in time to arrest the culprit. In the aftermath of the case, Holmes becomes bored and indulges in a series of bizarre experiments and bare knuckle fighting to relive his boredom. He is also upset over Watson’s recent engagement to a young governess named Mary Morstan. Before Lord Blackwood is executed, he informs Holmes that he will rise from the dead more powerful than ever, leaving Holmes and the police unable to stop him.
The story continues when a former ”nemesis” of Holmes named Irene Adler engages the detective to find a missing man named Reardon. Holmes discovers that Irene has been hired by a mysterious man to recruit him, but fails to follow up on his suspicions. When Reardon turns out to be linked to Lord Blackwood, who has ”risen from the grave” as promised, Holmes and Watson find themselves involved in another case.
One can see that ”SHERLOCK HOLMES” is not an adaptation of any of Conan Doyle’s novels or stories; or any other Holmes work of fiction. The movie’s screenplay; written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg; is an original story. Yet, the three writers managed to incorporate certain small aspects from Conan Doyle’s original works into the script that have rarely been seen in previous Sherlock Holmes adaptations. They include:
*Holmes’ untidy habits
*Holmes’ photograph of Irene Adler
*Watson’s military background
*Lestrade’s comment about Holmes’ potential as a master criminal
*Holmes’ ability to speak French
*Watson’s gambling habit
Before my first viewing of the movie, an acquaintance had warned me that some critics found the plot to be convoluted. After seeing ”SHERLOCK HOLMES” twice, I can honestly say that aside from the opening sequence, I found nothing confusing about the plot. Johnson, Peckham and Kinberg created a complex and clever tale about Holmes’ investigation into the murderous, yet alleged supernatural activities of one Lord Henry Blackwood. The story’s mystery was never a ”whodunit”, but a ”how did he do it”. How did Lord Blackwood rise from the grave? How did he kill three men by supernatural means? And what was his goal? In Holmes’ final confrontation with Blackwood, the screenwriters did a first-rate job in allowing the detective to reveal Blackwood’s methods and goals.
”SHERLOCK HOLMES” also captured the feel and nuance of late Victorian London beautifully, thanks to Ritchie and his crew. One can thank the combination work of Philippe Rousselot’s photography, and the visual effects team supervised by Jonathan Fawkner. I also have to commend designer Jenny Beavan for the costumes she had designed for most of the cast, and Jane Law for the colorful costumes she designed for the two leading female roles. They seemed straight out of the late Victorian period. I could not write this review without mentioning Hans Zimmer’s score for the film. Quite frankly, I adored it. I found it to be very original and unique. I also loved how he used the Dubliners’ song, ”The Rocky Road to Dublin” for two scenes and the movie’s final credits.
Ritchie also had the good luck to work with a top notch cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. As far as I know, Downey Jr. is the fourth American actor to portray Sherlock Holmes. Most of them have been pretty good – with the exception of Matt Frewer – but I must say that Downey Jr.’s performance not only rose above them, but also a good number of British and Commonwealth actors, as well. Aside from two or three moments, the actor’s English accent seemed spot on to me. Even better, Downey Jr. did a brilliant job in capturing the nuances and complexities of Holmes’ character – both virtues and flaws. And he managed to do all of this without turning the character into a cliché or portraying a second-rate version of the performances of other actors who have portrayed Holmes. Most importantly, Downey Jr. managed to create a sizzling chemistry with the man who became his Dr. Watson – namely Jude Law.
It has been a while since I have seen Jude Law on the movie screen. At first glance, one would be hard pressed to imagine him in the role of Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ colleague. Then I saw a drawing and read a description of the literary Watson and realized that his casting in this particular role may not be a complete disaster. When I saw his performance on the screen, I immediately knew that he was the right man for the role. Law perfectly captured Watson’s firm and dependable nature that kept Holmes on solid ground. He also did an excellent job of portraying Watson’s intelligence and bravery as a man of action. I am also thankful that Law did not follow Nigel Bruce’s example of portraying Watson as Holmes’ bumbling, yet well meaning sidekick. Thank goodness for little miracles.
While reading some articles about the movie, I have come across many negative comments about Rachel McAdams’ performance as the mysterious adventuress, Irene Adler. Even worse, many have expressed disbelief that McAdams’ Irene was a woman who had bested Holmes twice, claiming that she had been fooled by her employer. I found this last complaint rather irrelevant, considering that Holmes ended up being fooled, as well. Personally, these are two assessments of McAdams’ performance that I found difficult to believe or accept. In fact, I ended up enjoying her portrayal of Irene very much. I thought she gave an excellent and subtle performance as the intelligent and sly Irene, who enjoyed matching wits with Holmes. Some fans also complained about McAdams’ accent. Why, I do not know. It seemed clear to me via the actress’ accent that she was portraying an intelligent and educated 19th century woman from the American Northeast. Her Canadian accent helped her on that score. When I had first laid eyes upon Mark Strong in 2007’s ”STARDUST”, I had no idea that I would become such a major fan of his. Three movies later, I definitely have. Strong was exceptional as always as the mysterious Lord Henry Blackwood, a nefarious aristocrat with a thirst for power who claims to have great supernatural abilities. Although I would not consider Blackwood to be Strong’s most interesting role, I must admit that the actor’s interpretation of the character as one of the better screen villains I have seen in the past five years.
The movie also featured first-rate performances from supporting actors Eddie Marsan and Kelly Reilly. Marsan portrayed the long-suffering Scotland Yard police officer, Inspector Lestrade. I first noticed Marsan in 2006’s ”MIAMI VICE” and genuinely thought he was American born. When I saw him in ”THE ILLUSIONIST” portraying a Central European, I began to wonder about his real nationality. It took me a while to realize that he was English. If Lon Chaney was ”the Man of a Thousand Faces”, then Marsan must be ”the Man of a Thousand Accents”. In ”SHERLOCK HOLMES”, he used his own accent. However, he also gave a first-rate performance as the intelligent, but long-suffering Lestrade, who constantly endures Holmes’ mild ridicule in order to get a case solved. I have to be frank. When I first saw Kelly Reilly in 2005’s ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, I had not been impressed by her portrayal of Caroline Bingley. I am still not impressed. But after seeing her as Watson’s fiancée, Mary Morstan, my opinion of her as an actress has risen. Either Reilly’s skills as an actress had improved over the past four years, or she simply found herself a better role. I liked that Reilly’s Mary was not some missish Victorian woman prone to hysterics over her fiance’s relationship with Holmes. Instead Reilly portrayed Mary as a woman who understood the two men’s relationship and Holmes’ dependence upon Watson’s presence. Even if she was not that enamored of the detective.
I do have some problems with ”SHERLOCK HOLMES”. One, there were times when I could barely understand some of the dialogue. Especially when it came out of Robert Downey Jr.’s mouth. When it came to using a British accent, he had a tendency to mumble rather heavily. Honestly? I could have used some close captions for some of his scenes. Although I found the movie’s panoramic views of London and visual effects impressive, I was not particularly fond of the gray-blue tint of Rousselot’s photography. According to the movie’s official site, ”SHERLOCK HOLMES” is supposed to be set during 1891. Yet, Jane Law’s costumes for McAdams and Reilly seemed straight out of the late 1880s. Their bustles seemed too big for the early 1890s. My biggest gripe centered around the movie’s opening sequence. The screenplay never really explained why Blackwood had murdered four women and tried to kill a fifth. If it had, would someone please enlighten me?
What can I say about ”SHERLOCK HOLMES”? Sure, I have a few quibbles about the film. But I still love it. Guy Ritchie not only did a superb job of recapturing late Victorian London, but also the spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary hero, Sherlock Holmes. And he did so with a superb cast led by Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law, a first-rate script written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg; and a group of craftsmen that managed to bring the world of Victorian London and Sherlock Holmes back to life.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
TIME MACHINE: THE NEW YORK CITY DRAFT RIOTS
The week of July 13-16 marks the 150th anniversary of the infamous New York City Draft Riots. The series of violent disturbances, which occurred during the third year of the U.S. Civil War, not only formed the largest civil insurrection, but also the largest race riot in United States history.
New York City's economy had been tied to the Southern states for decades. In fact, nearly half of its exports were cotton shipments by the 1820s and the State of New York possessed many textiles mills that process cotton. New York City not only possessed many Southern sympathizers, but was also a main destination for immigrants, especially Ireland and Germany. The Democratic Party, which controlled New York's Tammany Hall political organization made great strides in enrolling immigrants as U.S. citizens - especially the Irish. During the country's antebellum period, these same politicians and many of the city's journalists claimed that working-class blacks - especially those who came from the slave-holding states - posed a threat to employment for the white working-class, regardless of whether they were American-born or immigrants. these journalists also published sensational accounts directed at the working class - especially white immigrants - on the "evils of interracial socializing and marriages" and wrote derogatory portrayals of African-Americans. By the beginning of the Civil War, free black men and immigrants competed for low-wage jobs in the city.
The election of Abraham Lincoln as the 16th U.S. President in November 1861 featured the rise of the political power of the new Republican party nationally. It also brought about the secession of Southern states from the Union and the formation of the Confederacy. Due to New York City's economic ties to the South, then Mayor Fernando Wood proposed to the Board of Aldermen in January 1861 that the city should secede from both the State of New York and the United States. Despite the city's strong Southern sympathies, Wood's plans never came to fruition, due to the outbreak of the Civil War, following the surrender of Fort Sumter in April 1861. The first two years of the war proved to be difficult for the Union. In order to produce more troops for the Army, Congress passed a law to establish a draft for the first time. The Confederate government had already established a draft for their army, the previous year. The country's male immigrant citizenry discovered they were expected to register for the draft. However, black men were excluded, because they were not considered citizens. And wealthier white men could pay for substitutes. In New York City and other locations, the new citizens learned that they were expected to register for the draft to fight for their new country. Black men were excluded from the draft as they were not considered citizens, and wealthier white men could pay for substitutes.
The first drawings for the draft occurred on July 11, 1863 with peaceful results. The second drawing was held on July 13, 1863, ten days after the Union victory at Gettysburg. This time, an enraged crowd led by the Black Joke Engine Company 33, attacked the assistant Ninth District Provost Marshal's Office, at Third Avenue and 47th Street; where the drawings for the draft were taking place. Many of the rioters were Irish laborers who feared having to compete with emancipated slaves for jobs. Although the outbreak of violence was originally an expression of anger at the draft, the protests turned into an ugly race riot, with the white rioters, mainly Irish immigrants, attacking or killing blacks of all classes, wherever they could be found. However, they were not the only victims. Mobs also attacked wealthy whites and looted their homes, because they were financially able to avoid the draft; white abolitionists and any other whites who had formed some kind of connection with the city's black population. But the main victims proved to be African-Americans. At least 100 black people were estimated to have been killed. One of the most notorious incidents occurred on July 13. A mob burned down the Colored Orphan Asylum at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue. Fortunately, the orphanage's occupants managed to escape the fire, thanks to the efforts of the New York City Police.
On July 15, the draft was suspended. On the last day of the riot, conditions in the city had became so grave that U.S. Army Major General John E. Wool, commander of the Department of the East, stated that "Martial law ought to be proclaimed, but I have not a sufficient force to enforce it.". At least 800 Union Army troops reached New York City by the beginning of the riot's second day. General Wool also gathered cadets from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. By July 16, there were several thousand Federal troops in the city. A final confrontation between troops and the rioters occurred on July 16, near Gramercy Park. It is believed that at least twelve people died on the last day of the riots in skirmishes between rioters and the police and army. They included one African-American male, two soldiers, a bystander and two women.
As a result of the violence against blacks, hundreds of them left the city, moving to Williamsburg, Brooklyn (which was still a separate city) and New Jersey. The city's white elite organized to provide relief to black riot victims, helping them find new work and homes. The Union League Club and the Committee of Merchants for the Relief of Colored People provided nearly $40,000 to 2500 victims of the riots. By 1865, New York's total black population had dropped to under 10,000, the lowest it had been since 1820. The white working class riots had changed the demographics of the city and exerted their control in the workplace; they became "unequivocally divided" from blacks. The U.S. government re-instated the draft on August 19, 1863. It was completed within 10 days without any violence. New York City's support for theNew York banks eventually financed the Civil War, and the state's industries were more productive than the entire Confederacy.
For more detailed information on the New York City Draft Riots, check out the following book:
*"The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War" by Iver Bernstein
Below is a gallery featuring photos from the new Disney comedy-fantasy, "ENCHANTED". It stars Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey, James Marsden, Timothy Spall and Susan Sarandon:
"ENCHANTED" Photo Gallery
Thursday, July 11, 2013
"GODS AND GENERALS" (2003) Review
In 1993, producer Ted Turner and director Ronald Maxwell released "GETTYSBURG", a film adaptation of Michael Shaara's 1974 novel, "The Killer Angels". Shaara's son, Jeffrey, wrote a prequel to his novel called "Gods and Generals" in 1996. Both Turner and Maxwell teamed up again 2002-2003 to make a film adaptation of the latter novel.
Set between April 1861 and May 1863, "GODS AND GENERALS" related the American Civil War events leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. Although the movie began with Virginia-born Robert E. Lee's resignation from the U.S. Army, following his home state's secession from the Union; the meat of the film focused on on the personal and professional life of Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson during those two years. It also touched on how Bowdoin College professor Joshua L. Chamberlain became second-in-command of the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment, his military training and his experiences during the Battle of Fredricksburg. But trust me . . . most of the movie is about Jackson. It covered his departure from the Virginia Military Institute; his experiences with the famous "Stonewall Brigade"; his experiences at the Battle of Bull Run; his relationships with both his wife Mary Anna, his servant Jim Lewis and a five year-old girl from an old Virginia family; and his experiences at the Battle Chancelorville.
"GODS AND GENERALS" had its virtues. One of them turned out to be Michael Z. Hanan's production designs. Hanan and his team did a superb job in re-creating Virginia of the early 1860s. I was especially impressed by their recreation of mid-19th century Fredricksburg during that famous battle in December 1862. I wonder who had the bright idea of using Harper's Ferry, West Virgina for that particular setting. Hanan's work was ably supported by Kees Van Oostrum's photography and Gregory Bolton's art direction. Oostrum's photography and Corky Ehlers' editing was also put to good use during the Fredricksburg battle sequence. And I really enjoyed the costumes designed by Richard La Motte, Maurice Whitlock and Gamila Smith. All three did their homework in re-creating the fashions and uniforms of the period. Unlike "GETTYSBURG", "GODS AND GENERALS" featured major female characters. I suspect this gave the trio the opportunity to indulge their romantic streak with crinolines and hoop skirts galore.
There were some admirable performances in "GODS AND GENERALS". Frankie Faison gave a warm performance as Thomas Jackson's free cook, Jim Lewis. I was also impressed by Brian Mallon's subtle portrayal of the concerned Major General Winfield Hancock, a role he had first portrayed in the 1993 film. It is a pity that Bruce Boxleitner did not receive more screen time for his role as Lieutenant General James Longstreet. He had taken over the role from Tom Berenger and gave a pretty solid performance. But alas, he did not receive enough time to do anything with the role. Alex Hyde-White gave an interesting portrayal of Major General Ambrose Burnside, whose decisions led the Union Army to disaster at Fredricksburg. Matt Letscher, whom I last remembered from 1998's "THE MASK OF ZORRO" was very memorable as the 20th Maine's founder and first regimental commander, Colonel Adelbert Ames. I could also say the same for Mira Sorvino's portrayal of Frances "Fanny" Chamberlain, Colonel Chamberlain's passionate and pessimistic wife. In fact, I believe she had the good luck to portray the most interesting female character in the movie.
So . . . what about the other performances? What about the stars Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels and Robert Duvall? I am not claiming that they gave bad performances. Honestly, they did the best they could. Unfortunately, all three and most of the other cast members had the bad luck to be saddled with very uninteresting characters, stuck with either bad dialogue or self-righteous speeches. In other words, I found them BORING!!! I am sorry, but I truly did.
First of all, Lang's Thomas Jackson dominated the film just a little too much. Why bother calling this movie "GODS AND GENERALS"? Why not call it "THE LIFE AND TIMES OF STONEWALL JACKSON"? Even worse, Jackson is portrayed in such an unrelenting positive light that by the time the movie came around to his fate after the Battle of Chancelorville, I practically sighed with relief. Jeff Daniels' Joshua Chamberlain did nothing to rouse my interest in his story. In fact, he disappeared for a long period of time before he made his reappearance during the Battle of Fredricksburg sequence. And his appearance in that particular sequence was completely marred by him and other members of the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment quoting William Shakespeare's "JULIUS CAESAR", while marching toward Marye's Heights. Oh God, I hate that scene so much! As for Robert Duvall's Robert Lee . . . what a waste of his time. Ronald Maxwell's script did not allow the actor any opportunity to explore Lee's character during those two years leading to Gettysburg. I realize this is not Duvall's fault, but I found myself longing for Martin Sheen's portrayal of the Confederate general in "GETTYSBURG".
There is so much about this movie that I dislike. One, Maxwell's portrayal of the movie's two main African-American characters - Jim Lewis and a Fredricksburg slave named Martha, as portrayed by actress/historian Donzaleigh Abernathy - struck me as completely lightweight. Now, I realized that there were black slaves and paid employees who managed to maintain a friendly or close relationship with their owner or employer. But in "GODS AND GENERALS", Lewis seemed quite friendly with his employer Jackson and Martha seemed obviously close to the family that owned her, the Beales. I could have tolerated if Lewis or Martha had been friendly toward those for whom they worked. But both of them? I get the feeling that Maxwell was determined to avoid any of the racial and class tensions between the slave/owner relationship . . . or in Lewis' case, the employee/employer relationship. How cowardly.
In fact, this lack of tension seemed to permeate all of the relationships featured in "GODS AND GENERALS". Aside from one Union commander who berated his men for looting in Fredricksburg, I can barely recall any scenes featuring some form of anger or tension between the major characters. Everyone either seemed to be on his or her best behavior. And could someone please explain why every other sentence that came out of the mouths of most characters seemed to be a damn speech? I realize that Maxwell was trying to re-create the semi-formality of 19th century American dialogue. Well . . . he failed. Miserably. The overindulgence of speeches reminded me of the dialogue from the second NORTH AND SOUTH miniseries, 1986's "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II". But the biggest problem of "GODS AND GENERALS" is that it lacked a central theme. The majority of the movie seemed to be about the Civil War history of Thomas Jackson. But the title and Shaara's novel told a different story. However, I do not believe a detailed adaptation of the novel would have done the trick. Like the movie, it lacked a central theme or topic.
Perhaps I am being too arrogant in believing I know what would have made the story worked. After all, it is not my story. Jeff Shaara was entitled to write it the way he wanted. And Ronald Maxwell was entitled to adapt Shaara's story the way he wanted. But I do know that if I had written "GODS AND GENERALS", it would have been about the Battle of Fredricksburg. It turned out to be the only part of the movie that I found interesting.
Monday, July 8, 2013
"STAR TREK VOYAGER" - Unfit For Command?
Do many STAR TREK fans consider most Vulcan characters unfit for command? I wonder. I came across this ”STAR TREK VOYAGER” fan fiction story about the letters written to the Alpha Quadrant by Voyager’s crew in the Season 1 episode, ”Eye of the Needle”. The author of this particular fan fiction story seemed to believe that because of their emotional distance, Vulcans are basically unfit for command. Personally, I disagree.
This belief that Vulcans were unfit for command certainly seemed supported by Lisa Klink’s screenplay for the Season 2 episode, (2.25) ”Resolutions”. I am sure that many recall this episode. In it, the Voyager crew is forced to leave Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Commander Chakotay (Robert Beltran) behind on a planet after the pair found themselves infected by an incurable disease. Lieutenant Tuvok (Tim Russ) assumes command of the ship and ends up facing a possible mutiny led by a very distraught Ensign Kim (Garrett Wang). Klink’s screenplay portrayed Tuvok as a cold by-the-book officer, incapable of noticing or understanding the crew’s uneasiness of leaving behind the captain and first officer. Quite frankly, not only did I dislike this one-dimensional portrayal of the ship’s highest ranking Vulcan, I found it slightly inaccurate.
As a Vulcan, Tuvok has made it a practice to keep his emotions to himself and lead his life in a very logical manner. But this does not mean that he was exactly how Klink had described him in ”Resolutions”. Underneath the cool exterior laid a very emotional and passionate man who loved his wife and family a great deal and considered Kathryn Janeway a great friend. He also possessed a temper that he obviously must have struggled to contain all of his life.
Tuvok did possess a problem with interacting with others. This stemmed from a tendency to be a loner. This trait of his was specifically pointed out in the Season 3 episode, (3.14) ”Alter Ego”. In it, Harry Kim became infatuated with a hologram (a tall and leggy blonde named Marayna). To deal with his infatuation, he turned to Tuvok to help him recover from it. Tuvok did more than that. He became friendly with the hologram. But the hologram proved to be a lonely alien at a space station who used superior technology to prevent Voyager from leaving a particular area of space. When Tuvok pointed out her loneliness, she returned the favor:
MARAYNA: I don't believe you.
TUVOK: I beg your pardon.
MARAYNA: I think you're tying to isolate yourself and make a public protest at the same time.
MARAYNA: You didn't want to be here in the first place. Being the only one without a lei sets you apart from the others, allowing you to symbolically maintain your solitude. And since everybody can see that you're the only one without a lei, you're letting them know that you'd rather be somewhere else.
TUVOK: Your logic is impeccable.
But Tuvok’s loner tendencies did not mean that he lacked an ability to understand the emotional needs of others. Even before ”Resolutions” had aired, Tuvok managed to display this trait on a few occasions. He was the first member of the crew to sense that Seska might prove to be a dangerous problem for the crew . . . even if he did not know about her being a Cardassian spy. Instinct told him that Tom Paris may have been innocent of the murder of a Banean scientist in (1.08) ”Ex-Post Facto”. In (2.04) ”Elogium”, he expressed compassion for Neelix’s fear at becoming a parent and helped the latter come to a decision about starting a family with Kes. He was the only one who did not allow his fear or paranoia to get the best of him and realized that fighting the entity that was rearranging Voyager’s structure might prove to be the best thing in (2.06) ”Twisted”. He managed to befriend Kes. In (2.22) ”Innocence”, he managed to offer comfort to a dying Voyager crewman and a group of alien children who had been abandoned to die by their kind. And for a man who was supposed to be an incompetent leader, he sure as hell managed to avoid any problems with leading the Security/Tactical Division.
If there is one scene before ”Resolutions” that provided an excellent example of how compassionate Tuvok can be, one might as well return to his scene with the dying Ensign Bennet in ”Innocence”:
TUVOK: Tuvok to Voyager. Voyager, do you read? You must lie still.
BENNET: I can't, I can't feel my legs.
TUVOK: Several of the vertebrae have been fractured.
BENNET: Isn't there anything you can do?
TUVOK: I'm afraid the shuttle's medical supplies are inadequate. We must wait for Voyager to find us.
BENNET: It's getting worse. My whole body feels numb.
TUVOK: I want you to slow your breathing, relax your muscles. Try not to move.
BENNET: All this time I thought I was so lucky with no family back home. Nobody to miss. Now it seems kind of sad not to leave anybody behind.
TUVOK: I believe Ensign McCormick would miss you a great deal.
I realize that Lisa Klink wanted to create some kind of conflict between Tuvok and some of the crew in ”Resolutions”. But in painting Tuvok as an emotional iceberg incapable of compassion or seeing to the needs of others, I feel that she had went too far. This is quite evident in that the mutinous and obviously immature Harry Kim had been written with far more sympathy than Tuvok. It is no wonder that ”Resolutions” has become one of my least favorite ”VOYAGER” episodes.