Monday, April 28, 2014
"MAD MEN": "IT'S HARD BEING A WOMAN"
The reactions to the recent "MAD MEN" episode, (7.03) "Field Trip" has left me feeling a little exhausted . . . and somewhat annoyed. After reading comments on various blogs, I am beginning to wonder if fans of the show really harbor an enlightened attitude when it comes to the major female characters. I an a little perturbed by the attitude toward Joan Harris, Peggy Olson and Betty Francis; I have encountered in other articles.
The fan reaction to Don Draper's return.to Sterling, Cooper & Partners, after he was asked to go on "leave" in the Season Six finale, (6.13) "In Care Of", has left me shaking my head. In another Season Six episode called (6.06) "For Immediate Release", Don had really pissed off Joan, when he got rid of the Jaguar account that had a great impact upon her career. I understood why Joan was upset. Don had rendered her actions in (5.11) "The Other Woman" - namely sleeping with a Jaguar salesman in order to gain the acount for the firm - a waste of her time. Don, who had failed to prevent her from sleeping with Jaguar salesman, tried to become her knight in shining armor again, when he got rid of the Jaguar account. Not only did he rendered Joan's actions useless, his decision ruined Joan, Pete Campbell and Bert Campbell's attempt to make the company public. And some of his other actions back in Season Six caused a good deal of upheaval for the firm, which included his emotional outburst about his lurid childhood during a meeting with Hershey's executives. His Season Six actions, along with her anger over the Jaguar account loss, made Joan wary about his return. But I noticed that some fans - especially many male fans and critics - seemed hostile toward her reaction to Don. Many had expressed this belief that she should be grateful to Don for getting rid of the Jaguar account and the presence of salesman Herb Rennet. They did not understand Joan's anger or did not want to understand. And now, they have expressed either hostility or confusion over her reluctance to be thrilled over Don's return.
I also suspect that many believe that Peggy Olson should be eternally grateful to Don for taking her out of the secretarial pool and making her a copywriter in the Season One episode, (1.13) "The Wheel". They also want Peggy to be grateful for giving her emotional support after she had given birth to hers and Pete Campbell's love child. But once Peggy became a part of Don's creative team, he not only started to take her for granted, but subject her to some harsh belittling - especially when she asked for a raise. These same fans wanted Peggy to forget the crap that Don had subjected her from Seasons Three to Five. They want to forget that Peggy had a good reason to finally put Don behind her, when she resigned from the firm in "The Other Woman". They also want Peggy to forget Don's actions in Season Six, regarding her relationship with another partner of the firm, Ted Chaough. I am not saying there was nothing wrong with Peggy's affair with Ted. There was. But Don's manner in delivering a blow to their relationship in (6.12) "The Quality of Mercy" came off as ham-fisted . . . and angered Peggy in the process. Yes, she is still angry at Don. And she is also angry at Ted for finally ending their affair. But due to their own reasons, fans want . . . or demand that Peggy forget about all of the crap that Don had put her through in the last four seasons and welcome him back with open arms. Why? Was it really that important Don to resume his role as Peggy's Alpha Male? These same fans also demand that Peggy return to the woman she used to be during Seasons One to Four or Five . . . especially after expressed anger at her secretary,
Following his return to Sterling, Cooper & Partners, many fans are chomping at the bit over the idea of Don eventually resuming his role as the Alpha Male in the advertising workplace. This desire is so strong that they were willing to pay lip service to Don's offhand dismissal of his former secretary and the firm's new Office Manager, Dawn Chambers, after all she had done for him during his leave. Regardless of Don's mistakes, it seems more important to many that he resumes his place back on top in the form of a "new and improved" Don. Fans are so convinced that Don will stick to his new and improved path that all of the females that he had interacted with in "Field Trip" - Joan, Peggy, Dawn and second wife Megan Draper - are being bashed by the fans, because they did not swoon at his feet. In the case of Dawn, no one seemed to care about Don's dismissal treatment of her, because .they believe they have a cause to celebrate - namely the potential return of Alpha Male Don Draper.
But the character I really feel sorry for is Betty Francis, Don's first wife. I feel sorry for her because as a character, she seemed to be in a conundrum. Betty had been taught and has been expected to be a perfect mother and wife. This is her biggest demon. Fans of the show have criticized her for trying to be perfect. Yet, at the same, they continue to demand that she be perfect . . . especially as a mother. This certainly happened when Betty coldly reacted to her discovery that son Bobby had exchanged the lunch she made for him, for a bag of candy in "Field Trip". This was the latest incident in which fans The only time Don has seriously been criticized as a parent, was when daughter Sally caught him with Sylvia Rosen and he made an attempt to brush aside what she saw with a lie in Season Six's (6.11) "Favors". by the fans to make one mistake in regard to her kids. Not one. She forever has to be a Mildred Pierce - a mother willing to coddle her children, despite their transgression - in order to be consistently loved by the fans. I have been on the receiving end of a cold reaction like Bobby from my parents when I made a mistake. It has not damaged by psyche. And I have reacted to others, like Betty did. I am a human being and I am capable of mistakes. But, due to her mistakes, Betty is the only character - other than Pete - who is consistently labeled as a "child", when she makes a mistake. Yet, other characters in the series, have also been consistently childish since the first season. But I sometimes wonder if fans cannot make up their minds on what Betty should be. They criticize both her lack of maternal perfection (which does not exist in real life, by the way) . . . and at the same time, criticize her attempts at perfection. I feel sorry for her, because due to rules of our still patriarchal society - both in the series and in real life - she will never win. Even when she expresses doubt about her skills as a mother, which she did by the end of "Field Trip".
Poor Betty will never be accepted as the complex person that she is, because of this demand that she be the perfect mother. Many seem incapable of understanding Joan's wariness at Don's return. And many want Peggy to disregard her past anger at Don and his past behavior, so that she will be eternally grateful to him, again. Meanwhile, many cannot wait for Don to be his old self again - the creative Alpha Male that he was, seasons ago. We truly live in a paternalistic society.
Thursday, April 24, 2014
"LOST" RETROSPECT: (1.17) ". . . In Translation"
Before I commence upon this article, I should reveal that the "LOST" Season One episode, (1.17) ". . . In Translation" is one of my all time favorites from the series. I will try to be as biased as possible regarding the episode, but do not expect me to succeed.
To understand ". . . In Translation", one has to watch the previous episode, (1.06) "The House of the Rising Sun". The flashbacks in that episode revealed the backstory of the marriage between Jin-Soo Kwon and Sun-Hwa Kwon (née Paik) before they had ended up stranded on the island via Oceanic Flight 815. Told from Sun's point of view, the flashbacks revealed that Jin had to take a job working for Mr. Paik, Sun's father, for her hand in marriage. The couple became increasingly estranged, as Jin began spending more time doing his father-in-law's bidding than with his wife. One night, after they are married, Jin returned home covered in someone else's blood. Fearing that her husband might be a dangerous killer, Sun secretly plotted to leave Jin (hence the secret English lessons); but changed her mind while on route to Los Angeles, via Sydney. "The House of the Rising Sun" also revealed the growing animosity between Jin and fellow castaway Michael Dawson, when the former attacked the latter for wearing Sun's father's watch - something that Michael had discovered on the beach.
". . . In Translation" continued the revelation of the Kwon marriage, only from Jin's point-of-view. The flashbacks revealed the circumstances behind Jin asking Sun’s father her hand in marriage, the bargain he made to work for the older man, Jin’s growing awareness of Sun’s frustration with his duties and more importantly the real circumstances surrounding the infamous blood on his hands that Sun had spotted. Sun saw a man who may have committed a brutal murder. What really happened is that Jin prevented a government official – who had refused to re-open one of Mr. Paik’s factories – from being murdered by one of his father-in-law’s henchmen by convincing the man to cooperate with a severe beating. Realizing that he was in danger of losing Sun, Jin decided to take his fisherman father’s advice to use a business trip to leave South Korea and stay in the U.S. for good. Only the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 intervened. Following the events of (1.14) “Special”, Michael Dawson decided to build a raft in order to get his ten year-old son away from the dangers of the island. The hostility between Michael and Jin finally come to a head when someone mysteriously set fire to the raft. Believing that Jin had set the fire, Michael attacked the former. Sun’s desperate cries for Michael to stop revealed her knowledge of English to Jin and the other castaways. The revelation not only led to a rift between the South Korean couple, but also to the beginning of a friendship between Jin and Michael, as they proceeded to rebuild the raft.
Following the events of (1.14) "Special", Michael Dawson decided to build a raft in order to get his ten year-old son away from the dangers of the island. The hostility between Michael and Jin finally come to a head when someone mysteriously set fire to the raft. Believing that Jin had set the fire, Michael attacked the former. Sun’s desperate cries for Michael to stop revealed her knowledge of English to Jin and the other castaways. The revelation not only led to a rift between the South Korean couple, but also to the beginning of a friendship between Jin and Michael, as they proceeded to rebuild the raft.
This episode was aptly named ". . . In Translation", a take on Sofia Coppola's 2003 movie. If anything, it focused upon the main problem that surrounded the Kwon marriage - namely the bad communication that existed between the couple before and after the crash of Oceanic 815. For some time, Sun believed that Jin might be a murderer on her father's behalf, due to the blood she had spotted on his hand. This would explain why she had continuously declared to people like Michael and fellow castaway Kate Austen about Jin's dangerous nature and how "he was capable of anything". And this would explain why she took the trouble to learn English and not tell Jin. However, Jin was also guilty of keeping secrets from Sun. He never told Sun the details behind the blood on his hands, believing that it was not her place to know. More importantly, he lied about his father, Mr. Kwon, telling both Sun and her father that the latter was dead. Which is ironic, considering he left Sun after learning that she spoke English. Even more ironic is the fact that Sun knows that his father is alive . . . but never bothered to reveal this to Jin. Some viewers translated that last shot of Sun revealing her bikini without Jin hovering about, as a sign of her "freedom". Whatever ”="bondage" that Sun found during her marriage, had been created by bad communication between her and Jin. For me, Sun’s removal of her wrap struck me as a hollow and irrelevant gesture. Her "freedom" came at the cost of losing - at least for a while - the very man that she would always love more than anyone.
On a minor level, a lack of communications also continued to exist between Michael and Walt. Most fans tend to blame Michael for this by accusing him of being a poor parent. Although there were moments when Michael became forgetful of Walt. And there were other times when Michael's jealousy of Walt's friendship with castaway John Locke got in the way. However, many of these fans failed to recall that Walt was just as responsible as Michael, due to his residual resentment toward the major changes in his life - losing his mother and gaining a long lost father. Because of this resentment, Walt had a bad habit of disobeying his father when he should have done the opposite. As far as these fans are concerned, Locke would have made a better parent than Michael. Personally, I disagree. Locke was adept at being a friend to Walt. Being a friend did not necessarily mean one is a good parent. The latter has to be an effective disciplinarian, as well. Unfortunately, being a disciplinarian does not jibe with the early 21st ideal of parenthood.
A third storyline centered on the triangle that existed between Shannon Rutherford, Sayid Jarrah and Shannon’s stepbrother, Boone Carlyle. But I barely paid attention. In a nutshell, Sayid declared his intentions to court Shannon to Boone. The latter decided to stir up trouble by hinting to Sayid that Shannon likes to use older men for her own benefit. Needless to say, Shannon set things to right and resumed her romance with Sayid after receiving sound advice from Locke.
Screenwriters Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Leonard Dick really did a great job in continuing the revelations behind the Kwon marriage in this very emotional episode. The island incidents balanced very well against Jin's flashbacks regarding his marriage. And this episode really worked, due to the outstanding performances from Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. Also Harold Perrineau (Michael Dawson), Bryan Chung (Mr. Paik), and John Shin (Mr. Kwon) gave excellent support.
Some of my favorite scenes in the episode included Jin's successful attempts to save the life of the South Korean government official, his marriage proposal to Mr. Paik and especially the poignant conversation he has with his father, Mr. Kwon, about his marriage. I also enjoyed the scenes that featured Michael's two attempts to bond with ten year-old Walt - the second being more successful. I also enjoyed Locke's revelation that Walt was responsible for burning the raft. But my favorite scene featured the moment when Jin discovered that Sun spoke English. Director Tucker Gates did an excellent job in conveying Jin's confusion with spinning camera work and muffled babble, as the the South Korean castaway tried to understand the English words that swirled around him. The only dark spot in this episode was Sawyer's attempt to form a lynch mob for Jin, after the raft caught on fire. It was an unpleasant reminder that Mr. Ford's penchant for resorting to violent retribution remained with him until the last season
Some time ago, I had created a LIST of my ten favorite episodes from "LOST". ". . . In Translation" ranked at number six on my list. After my recent viewing of the episode, that ranking still stands.
Friday, April 18, 2014
Below is a gallery featuring photos from the 1956 Oscar winning film, "AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS". The photos originally came from "LIFE" magazine and the movie was produced by Michael Todd and starred David Niven, Cantinflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton:
"AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS" (1956) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
"BAND OF BROTHERS" (2001) - Episode Three “Carentan” Commentary
This third episode, ”Carentan” picked up one day after where ”Day of Days” left off – Easy Company in Northern France for the Normandy invasion. ”Carentan” mainly centered around the experiences of Private Albert Blithe, portrayed by actor Marc Warren during Easy Company’s attempt take the town of Carentan.
Easy Company’s nighttime jump into Normandy seemed to have left Private Blithe in semi-shock. He barely acknowledged the comments of his fellow paratroopers. During the company’s assault upon Carentan, he suffered from temporary blindness. Conversations with officers like Easy’s Harry Welch and Dog Company’s Ronald Spiers failed to help Blithe ease his anxiety regarding the horrors of combat. Winters is finally able to spur Blithe into action, during a German counterattack, a day or two later. But Blithe’s triumph is short-lived when he is wounded by an enemy sniper after volunteering to lead a scout patrol. Also during this episode, the legend of Ronald Spiers continues when Donald Malarkey and his friends – Warren “Skip” Muck, Alex Pankala and Alton More – discuss Spiers’ alleged connection to the deaths of a group of German prisoners-of-war and a sergeant in Dog Company. Winters endured a mild wound and Sergeant Carwood Lipton endures a more serious one during the battle for Carentan.
”Carentan” became the second episode in ”BAND OF BROTHERS” with a running time longer than one hour. ”Currahee” was the first. But I must admit that I enjoyed ”Carentan”a lot more. The longer running time and broadening effects from the horrors of war gave the series’ portrayal of the Normandy campaign more of an epic feel than ”Day of Days’. It featured two harrowing combat sequences – Easy Company’s attack upon Carentan and the Germans’ counterattack that nearly left the company in a vulnerable state. And it is the first episode that featured an aspect of ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I truly enjoy – namely casual conversation between the men of Easy between combat situations. Conversations such as the one about Spiers between Marlarkey, More, Muck and Penkala turned out to be bright spots that prevented the miniseries from sinking into the cliché of a typical World War II combat drama.
The main storyline for ”Carentan” happened to be about Albert Blithe’s anxieties in dealing with combat for the first time. Writer E. Max Frye did a solid job regarding the Blithe character and his troubles with hysterical blindness. But I do have a few problems with his work. One, his take on the whole ”soldier traumatized by combat” did not strike me as original. Watching Blithe’s travails on the screen left me with a feeling that I have seen numerous war dramas with similar storylines. And two, Frye got a good deal of his information wrong about Blithe. The end of the episode revealed that Blithe never recovered from his wound in the neck and died four years later in 1948. As it turned out, Blithe did recover from the wound . . . eventually. He remained in the Army, served in the 82nd Airborne during the Korean War and died in 1967. Either Fyre made this mistake intentionally . . . or had made a major blooper. There was another mistake regarding Blithe, but I will reveal it later.
One last complaint I had was the episode’s last fifteen or twenty minutes, which featured Easy Company’s return to England. Aside from the ham-fisted scene in which Malarkey found himself picking up the laundry of some of those who had been killed or wounded in Normandy, most of those scenes should have been featured in the beginning of the following episode. And they should have deleted the scene in which Lipton announced that they would be returning to France. One, he had not been announced as Easy Company’s new First Sergeant and two, they never did return to France.
The performances in ”Carentan” were solid, but a few did stand out for me. Matthew Settle continued his excellent introduction of Lieutenant Ronald Spiers in a very memorable and slightly tense scene in which he tries to give Blithe some advice on how to mentally deal with combat. Another first-rate performance came from Rick Warden, who portrayed one of Easy Company’s platoon leader and close friend of Richard Winters and Lewis Nixon – Harry Welch. I rather enjoyed Warden’s charming take on the easy-going and sardonic Welch. And finally, there was Marc Warren, whose portrayal of Blithe pretty much carried this episode. He did a very good job of conveying Blithe’s journey from a shell-shocked trooper to the more confident warrior, whose experience with Easy Company ended with a wound in the neck. My only complaint with Warren’s performance is that he portrayed Blithe with a generic Southern accent. And the real Blithe was born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Why Spielberg, Hanks and director Mikael Salomon had him used a Southern accent for the character is beyond me.
”Carentan” is not my favorite episode of ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. I found the on the whole ”soldier traumatized by combat” storyline for the Albert Blithe character to be slightly unoriginal. The character also spoke with the wrong regional accent and the information about his post-Easy Company years was historically inaccurate. And I could have done without the scenes with Easy Company back in England near the end of the episode. On the other hand, I do consider ”Carentan” to be one of the miniseries’ better episodes. Easy Company’s experiences in taking Carentan and enduring a German counterattack gave the episode more of an epic feel than the events featured in the last episode, ”Day of Days”. And despite portraying Blithe with the wrong accent, Marc Warren did give an exceptionally good performance.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
"X-MEN" (2000) Review
If anyone had asked me what was the first genuine superhero film, based upon Marvel Comics characters, my choice would be the 2000 flick, "X-MEN". In fact, I suspect that it was the first Marvel film ever shown in the movie theaters. Its success spawned a series of superhero films that continue to this day.
Based upon the Marvel Comics series, the plot for "X-MEN" began first in 1944, at a concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Thirteen year-old Erik Lehnsherr is separated from his parents, upon entry to the camp. And in an attempt to reach them, he causes a set of gates to bend with a magnetic force and is knocked unconscious by the guards. The story jumps several decades later when a 17 year-old girl from Meridan, Mississippi named Marie aka Rogue is flirting with her boyfriend. They kiss and her boyfriend goes into a coma, thanks to Marie's ability to suck an individual's life force. Instead of immediately killing a mutant, Marie's ability manages to suck his or her ability before dying. Upset over the harm she had inadvertently caused, Marie runs away from home and ends up in Laughlin City, Alaska. She meets Logan, an amateur fighter known as "The Wolverine" at a local bar. He also possesses superhuman healing abilities, heightened senses, and metal claws that extend outwards from between his knuckles. Marie hitches a ride with Logan. While on the road together, they are both attacked by Sabretooth, a fellow mutant and an associate of the adult Erik Lehnsherr, who has become known as Magneto. Two mutants - Scott Summers aka Cyclops and Ororo Munroe aka Storm arrive on time to save Wolverine and Rogue, and bring them to Charles Xavier's mansion in Westchester County, New York. Xavier is an old friend of Magneto's.
Xavier's mansion serves as headquarters for Cyclops and Storm, the two mutants who had rescued Rogue and Logan. They are part of a group called the X-Men, who try to seek peace with non-mutant humans, educate young mutants in the responsible use of their powers, and stop Magneto from starting a war with humanity. While Xavier, Cyclops, Storm and a fourth member of the X-Men named Jean Grey try to figure out the reason by Magneto's attempt to kidnap Logan and Marie; Magneto sets his plan in motion with the kidnapping of an anti-mutant politician named Senator Robert Kelly by Sabretooth and another minion, a shapeshifter named Mystique. Kelly is behind a Federal legislation called the "Mutant Registration Act", which would force mutants to publicly reveal their identities and abilities. Magneto uses Kelly as a subject for a machine that artificially induces mutation. He plans to use it on the entire non-mutant population. But a mutant has to generate the machine's power. When it weakens Magneto during his experimentation on Senator Kelly, it becomes clear to the X-Men that Magneto wants to use Rogue's transferring ability and the Statue of Liberty to power the machine.
I never saw "X-MEN" at the movie theater. In fact, I had never heard of Marvel's "X-MEN" comic series, until I saw the movie after its video release in late 2000. Needless to say, I became an immediate fan. I found the idea of a group of people with psychic abilities divided by moral compass and political beliefs, and who are regarded by others as freaks, rather fascinating. I realize that the movie is not particularly faithful to the comic book series that it is based upon. However, director Bryan Singer and screenwriter David Hayter did a pretty solid job of using the comic source to create their own cinematic version of the series. The movie also featured some first-rate acting and excellent production values.
After seeing the film, I saw how the original costumes for the X-Men looked in the comics. And all I have to say is thank goodness Louise Mingenbach designed a more uniformed look for the superheroes . . . even if it involved black leather. Newton Thomas Sigel's photography struck me as solid. His best work seemed to be featured in the Liberty Island sequence. Ann Brodie and her team did excellent work on the makeup for some of the characters - especially Logan, Sabretooth, Toad and Mystique. Mike Fink and his team received an Oscar nomination for the film's visual effects. Fink later expressed dissatisfaction with his work and I can see why. They struck me as . . . okay, but nothing more or less. I found the visual affects used during Logan's fight against Sabertooth atop the Statue of Liberty as somewhat clumsy. And considering that most of the movie was either set indoors or at night, I cannot honestly say that "X-MEN" was a visually stunning film.
Most of the performances featured in "X-MEN" struck me as solid. There were a few exceptional ones. The movie made a star out of Hugh Jackman and it is easy to see why. Jackman is obviously a talented actor and he had the good luck to be cast in one of the comic franchise's most memorable characters. I could also say the same about Ian McKellen's performance as Erik Lensherr aka Magneto. What I found fascinating about McKellen's take on the character is that he managed to convey Magneto's willingness to pretend that his heinous actions were for the benefit of his fellow mutants, whom he believe should rule the earth. Patrick Stewart gave a fine performance as the more tolerant Charles Xavier, who would rather mutants and non-mutants to live side-by-side, instead of engaging in eternal conflict. I was also impressed by Anna Paquin's poignant performance as the young Marie aka Rogue, who seemed desperate to make some kind of connection to others, despite her ability. Bruce Davidson gave an excellent and complex performance as Senator Robert Kelly, whose fervent anti-mutant stance eventually softens from a traumatic experience and a conversation with Ororo Munroe aka Storm.
Among the movie's solid performances came from James Marsden's Scott Summers aka Cyclops, Famke Jenssen's Jean Grey and Rebecca Romijn as Magneto's hench woman, Mystique. I suspect some might be astonished by my description of Romijn's performance as "solid". I stand by my word. Mind you, I found the Mystique character rather striking - especially physically - but Romijn's performance merely struck me as solid. I wish I could say the same about Ray Park's portrayal of another of Magneto's minions, Toad. Honestly? I found the character cartoonish and one-dimension. Unfortunately, Park failed to rise above the material. I hate to say this, but I have to say the same about Halle Berry's performance as X-Men Storm aka Ororo Munroe. Most fans tend to blame Berry for the poor portrayal of Storm in this film. I cannot, considering her more positive portrayals of the character in subsequent films. Frankly, I blame Bryan Singer and screenwriter David Hayter. Poor Storm was merely used as a background character, except in a few crucial scenes. And Hayter wrote one of the worst pieces of dialogue in Hollywood history for the character. However, there was one scene in which Berry gave an excellent performance; and it featured Storm's poignant conversation with Senator Kelly.
As much as I liked "X-MEN", I feel that it is very overrated by many critics and the franchise's fans. I can honestly say that it is probably my least favorite X-MEN film. The main problem I have with this film is the number of plot holes or lack of logic in the story. I could say that it is indicative of the franchise's growing reputation for plot inconsistency. I never understood how Magneto learned about Rogue's ability to absorb a mutant's ability. I realize he must have learned about what she had done to her boyfriend David. But how did he learn about her ability's impact upon mutants? How did he or Sabretooth discover that she had traveled all the way from Mississippi to Alaska? I was also unimpressed by Logan's first scene at Xavier's school in which he woke up, heard voices in his head and ended up roaming all over the place in confusion. I am confused. Did Professor Xavier used telepathy to awaken him? Or did Logan simply hear voices, thanks to his enhanced hearing?
The one sequence that really puzzles me was Mystique's activities at Xavier's School. The scene began with Mystique shape shifting into Rogue's new boyfriend, Bobby Drake aka Iceman in order to convince the adolescent that Xavier was angry at her for using her ability on Logan to heal herself and that she should leave the school. Why? So that Magneto could have an opportunity to snatch her. Later, Mystique transformed into Xavier in order to infiltrate Cerebro, Xavier's telepathic enhancing machine and sabotage it. Why on earth did Singer and Hayter create such a convoluted situation? They could have easily allowed Mystique to first sabotage Cerebro and then snatch Rogue from the school, herself. I also realize that Jean Grey, being both telepathic andtelekinetic, could have easily rescued herself and her fellow X-Men from Magneto's trap inside the Liberty statue's interior. I have already commented on the clumsily shot fight scene between Logan and Sabretooth. The former's fight against Mystique was somewhat better and probably enhanced by slow motion. And if I must be honest, I found the movie's writing and pacing almost episodic. Every time I watch "X-MEN", I get the feeling that it is a first-rate "B" or television movie . . . or a second-rate "A" movie, even if it is entertaining.
In the end, my opinion of "X-MEN" has diminished over the years. It is still an entertaining film with a decent story, and a mixture of solid and first-rate performances from the cast. And I have to give it credit for successful kick-starting not only the X-MENfranchise, but also spawning a reemergence of superhero films - especially from Marvel. However, I believe the movie is tainted by some very questionable writing and a style that nearly strikes me as slightly sub par. I still like the movie, but it has become my second least favorite X-MEN film in the entire franchise.
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
"FLASHMAN" (1969) Book Review
Forty-one years ago, an old literary character was re-introduced to many readers, thanks to a former Scottish journalist named George MacDonald Fraser. The author took a character from a famous Victorian novel and created a series of novels that placed said character in a series of historical events throughout the middle and second half of the 19th century.
The 1857 novel, ”TOM BROWN’S SCHOOLDAYS”, told the story of a young English boy named Tom Brown and his experiences at the famous school, Rugby, during the 1830s. One of Tom’s travails focused on his abuse at the hands of an older student – a bully – named Flashman. However, Flashman got drunk at a local tavern and in the following morning was expelled by Rugby’s famous headmaster, Dr. Thomas Arnold. Fraser took the Flashman character, gave him a first name – Harry – and continued his story following the expulsion from Rugby in the 1969 novel, ”FLASHMAN”.
The beginning of the novel saw the seventeen year-old Harry Flashman trying to find a new profession following his expulsion from Rugby. Due to his father’s wealth and his maternal Uncle Bindley Paget’s social connections, Flashman found a position as a junior officer in one of Britain’s most elite Army regiments, the 11th Hussars aka the Cherrypickers. And thanks to his talent for toadying and projecting a sense of style (inherited from his aristocratic late mother), Flashman managed to win the support and favor of the regimental commander, the haughty James Thomas Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan. Unfortunately, Flashman’s ideal life as a leisurely Army officer came to an end. His involvement with the French mistress of a fellow officer kicked off a series of events that led to Flashman being swept into the First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-1842). One of those events included seducing one Elspeth Morrison, the sixteen year-old daughter of a wealthy Scottish merchant. After being forced to marry her by her relations, Flashman was kicked out of the 11th Hussars and sent to India by Lord Cardigan, who regarded the marriage as a step down the social ladder for the usually favored young Army officer.
It was in Afghanistan that Flashman earned the nickname, “Bloody Lance” by taking credit for his servant’s killing of four Afghan attackers. There, he also met one Ilderim Khan, the son of a pro-British Afghan nobleman and became the latter’s lifelong friend and blood brother. This friendship would end up saving Flashman’s life during the Sepoy Rebellion in ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. Flashman also managed to earn two deadly enemies – an Afghan warlord named Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife), a dancer named Narreeman. The source of the pair’s enmity toward Flashman originated with his rape of Narreeman.
More importantly, ”FLASHMAN” allowed readers to view many important events of the First Anglo-Afghan War. Not only did Flashman meet many historical figues such as Lord Cardigan, Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, but also Alexander Burnes, Akbar Khan, William Macnaghten, Thomas Arnold, and the incompetent commander of the British Army in Afghanistan, General William Elphinstone.
I must admit that my opinion of the novel has changed a great deal over the years. Originally, I held a low opinion of”FLASHMAN” for years, comparing it to the more epic-like sagas such as ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973),”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975), ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” (1982) and ”FLASHMAN AND THE DRAGON” (1985). I still regard these four novels in a higher regard than ”FLASHMAN”. But I must admit that perhaps I had been a little unfair in my regard for the 1969 novel. It is actually a solid adventure story filled with historical interest, witty humor, sharp action and excellent pacing. Some fans of The Flashman Papers have expressed disgust or disenchantment with the Harry Flashman character portrayed in this novel. I suspect that a great deal of these negative opinions may have stemmed from Flashman’s rape of Narreeman. And I understand. However, many of these fans also complained about the young British officer’s crass style and manner – especially toward his father’s mistress, Judy. One has to remember that Harry Flashman aged from 17 to 20 years old in this story. He did convey some semblance of the style, common sense and instinct that would fool many people and serve him for years. But as an adolescent on the threshold of twenty, he had yet to learn some of the hard facts of life. As for his rough treatment and negative opinion of Judy, I suspect that his ego suffered a massive blow, when she rejected him, following a one-time bout under the sheets. A blow that he obviously had failed to recover from after six decades, while ”writing” his memoirs.
”FLASHMAN” also had its share of interesting fictional characters. I have already mentioned the villainous Gul Shah and his mistress (later wife) Narreeman. I have also mentioned the young Afghan who became a close friend of Flashy’s, Ilderim Khan. But he had an even larger role in ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. And as I had mentioned, Elspeth also appeared in the novel. However, her presence in the novel would not be truly felt, until the last chapter that featured Harry’s homecoming. Fraser barely explored her personality in the novel, but he did allow a peek into her promiscuous and self-absorbed nature in that last chapter. One particular character, Sergeant Hudson, proved to be a reliable source of defense for Flashman during the retreat from Kabul. During this event, Flashman experienced one of the most bizarre moments of his life, while being rejected by the young wife of an Army officer named Mrs. Betty Parker, whom he was trying to seduce:
"'What the devil' says I. 'What’s the matter?'
'Oh, you brute!' she hissed - for she had the sense to keep her voice down – 'you filthy, beastly brute! Get out of my tent at once! At once, d’you her?'
I could make nothing of this, and said so. 'What have I done? I was only being friendly. What are you acting so damned missish for?'
'Oh base!' says she. 'You . . . you . . .'
'Oh, come now,' says I. 'You’re in very high ropes, to be sure. You weren’t so proper when I squeezed you the other night.'
'Squeezed me?' says she, as though I had uttered some unmentionable word.
'Aye, squeezed. Like this.' And I reached over and, with a quick fumble in the dark, caught one of her breasts. To my amazement, she didn’t seem to mind.
'Oh, that!' she says. 'What an evil creature you are! You know that is nothing; all gentlemen do that, in affection. But you, you monstrous beast, presume on my friendship to try to . . . Oh, oh, I could die of shame!'
If I had not heard her I shouldn’t have believed it. God knows I have learned enough since of the inadequacies of education given to young Englishwomen, but this was incredible."
This last encounter with Mrs. Betty Parker struck me as a hilarious metaphor for the blindingly naïve morality that had began to encroach early Victorian society.
”FLASHMAN” also provided some interesting historical vignettes from the First Anglo-Afghan War. And young Flashman managed to witness or participate in a good number of them. The novel allowed him to be the sole surviving British witness to the murder of political officer, Sir Alexander Burnes and his younger brother, Charles. He also witnessed the murder of another political officer named Sir William Macnaghten, along with Last Stand at Gandamak and the Siege of Jalalabad. But Fraser’s pièce de résistance in ”FLASHMAN” proved to be the disasterous Kabul retreat in which the British contingent under General Elphinstone were forced to march from Afghanistan to India in cold weather and dire circumstances:
"From other accounts of that frightful march that I have read – mostly Mackenzie’s and Lawrence’s and Lady Sale’s – I can fit a few of my recollections into their chronicle, but in the main it is just a terrible, bloody nightmare even now, more than sixty years after. Ice and blood and groans and death and despair, and the shrieks of dying men and women and the howling of the Ghazis and Gilzais. They rushed and struck, and rushed and struck again, mostly at the camp-followers, until it seemed there was a slashed brown body every yard of the way. The only place of safety was in the heart of Shelton’s main body, where the sepoys still kept some sort of order; I suggested to Elphy when we set off that I and my lancers should ride guard on the womenfolk, and he agreed at once. It was a wise move on my part, for the attacks on the flanks were now so frequent that the work we had been doing yesterday was become fatally dangerous. Mackenzie’s jezzailchis were cut to ribbons stemming the sorties."
Reading the above passage made me wonder about the wisdom of the current Western presence in Afghanistan. And there is nothing like a British military disaster to bring out the best of Fraser’s writing skulls. It proved to be the first of such passages in novels like ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” and ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS”.
In the end, Fraser did a solid job in initiating what would proved to be The Flashman Papers in his first novel,”FLASHMAN”. Granted, the novel’s first part set in England struck me as slightly rushed. And the Harry Flashman character seemed a bit crude in compare to his characterizations in the novels that followed. Like many other readers, I found his rape of the Narreeman character hard to stomach. But Fraser did an excellent job in re-creating early Victorian Britain, British India, Afghanistan and the First Anglo-Afghan War. In short, ”FLASHMAN” turned out to be a solid start to an excellent series of historical novels.