Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Below are images from "POLDARK", the 1996 adaptation of Winston Graham's 1981 novel, "The Stranger From the Sea". Directed by Richard Laxton, the television movie starred John Bowe and Mel Martin:
"POLDARK" (1996) Photo Gallery
Saturday, December 26, 2015
"THE THIN MAN" (1934) Review
Between 1934 and 1947, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) released at least six movies based upon the characters created by detective novelist, Dashiell Hammett. The first and one of the two best was 1934âs "THE THIN MAN", based upon Hammetâs novel that was also released in 1934.
Produced by Hunt Stromberg and directed by W.S. Van Dyke, "THE THIN MAN" is a murder mystery about a former detective named Nick Charles and his wealthy wife, Nora, who investigate the disappearance of an old friend of Nickâs named Clyde Wynant. When the latterâs mistress is found murdered, Wynant becomes the policeâs prime suspect. Wynantâs daughter, Dorothy, asks Nick to not only find her missing father, but discover the identity of the real murderer.
William Powell and Myrna Loy first appeared in a movie with Clark Gable called "MANHATTAN MELODRAMA". Not only did that movie proved to be a hit, it also begat a very famous Hollywood screen couple. Producer Hunt Stromberg liked what he saw and decided to pair the two as Nick and Nora Charles, the witty and sophisticated married couple from Hammetâs mystery novel. Powell and Loy not only portrayed Nick and Nora simply as a loving husband and wife, but also as two friends who clearly enjoyed each otherâs company. And more so than in "MANHATTAN MELODRAMA", Powell and Loy were magic together. The two ended up working on twelve other films together. And even in mediocre fare like the later THIN MAN movies, they sizzled with a wit and charm that made them one of the best Hollywood screen teams in history.
Stromberg also included in the cast, the Irish-born ingÃ©nue Maureen OâSullivan (from the "TARZAN" movie fame) as the missing Clyde Wynantâs daughter, Dorothy; Nat Pendleton in his first of two THIN MAN movies as New York Police detective, Lieutenant Guild; Minna Gombell as Wynantâs greedy ex-wife, Mimi Wynant Jorgensen; future Hollywood legend Cesar Romero as Mimiâs gigolo husband, Chris Jorgenson; Porter Hall as Wynantâs attorney Herbert MacCauley; Natalie Moorhead as Wynantâs mistress, Julia Wolf; Edward Brophy as Juliaâs gangster friend, Joe Morelli; as Harold Huber as the stool-pigeon Arthur Nunnheim; and Edward Ellis as the missing Clyde Wynant. As much as I try, I could not spot a bad performance from any of them. I was especially impressed by OâSullivanâs performance as the seemingly normal Dorothy who seemed stuck in the middle of an eccentric and/or amoral family.
Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, a married couple that also happened to be contract screenwriters at MGM, wrote the screenplay. They also received Academy Award nominations for their adaptation of Hammettâs novel and I have to say that they deserved the nomination. "THE THIN MAN" is a witty and rich story filled with memorable characters and an intriguing mystery that was neither too complicated or insulted the moviegoersâ intelligence. Even more interesting is the fact that âTHE THIN MANâ would prove to be one of the last Pre-Code movies that would be released before the onslaught the Hays Code enforcement on July 31, 1934. "THE THIN MAN" was released in theaters on May 23, 1934. Hackett and Goodrichâs screenplay was filled with risquÃ© dialogue and situations that made it clear that "THE THIN MAN" was a Pre-Code film.
And director W.S. ("Woody") Van Dyke did justice with not only a talented cast, but also with Hackett and Goodrichâs script. During his tenure as a contract director for MGM, Van Dyke had a nickname â "One Take Woody". Van Dyke usually shot his scenes in one take, which guaranteed that he would complete his assignment on time. MGM boss, Louis B. Mayer loved him for this. Although Van Dyke was never known as one of Hollywoodâs more gifted directors, he had a reputation for coaxing natural performances from his stars. This was very apparent in his direction of "THE THIN MAN". There is not a bad performance within the entire cast. Even better, he managed to keep the story rolling with a first-rate pacing â something that is very difficult to do for murder mysteries.
Some eight to nine months after its release, "THE THIN MAN" collected Academy Award nominations â Best Director (Van Dyke), Best Actor (Powell), (Best Adapted Screenplay) Hackett and Goodrich, and Best Picture. Unfortunately for MGM, the movie was shut out by Frank Capraâs classic screwball comedy, "IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT". Well . . . even if the movie had failed to collect one Academy Award, I believe that it is still one of the best movies that was released during the 1930s.
"THE THIN MAN" was such a success that it spawned five sequels. Aside from 1936âs "ANOTHER THIN MAN", which proved to be just as good; the other four sequels turned out to be a ghost of its original success. If you want to see William Powell and Myrna Loy in action as Nick and Nora Charles, I suggest that you stick with this film and its 1936 sequel.
Thursday, December 24, 2015
Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:
FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s
1. "Howard's End" (1992) - Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.
2. "The Assassination Bureau" (1969) - Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London's unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.
3. "A Room With a View" (1985-86) - Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.
4. "Gigi" (1958) - Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette's 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.
5. "The Illusionist" (2006) - Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser's short story, "Eisenheim the Illusionist". The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.
6. "The Great Race" (1965) - Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.
7. "Flame Over India aka North West Frontier" (1959) - Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.
8. "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944) - Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson's short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World's Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.
9. "The Golden Bowl" (2000) - Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James' 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.
10. "North to Alaska" (1960) - John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.
Friday, December 18, 2015
Below are images from "THE BOURNE SUPREMACY", the 2004 adaptation of Robert Ludlum's 1986 novel. Produced by Doug Liman and directed by Paul Greengrass, the movie starred Matt Damon as Jason Bourne:
"THE BOURNE SUPREMACY" (2004) Photo Gallery
Saturday, December 12, 2015
"COWBOYS AND ALIENS" (2011) Review
Ever since its theater release in July 2011, many have contemplated on the box office failure of the highly anticipated movie, "COWBOYS AND ALIENS". I could go over the many theories spouted about its failure, but I would find that boring. I am simply aware that the movie only earned $34 million dollars short of its budget. And all I can say is . . . this is a damn pity.
"COWBOYS AND ALIENS" had some big names participating in its production. Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford were the movie's stars. The cast also included well known names such as Sam Rockwell, Adam Beach, Keith Carradine, Paul Dano and Clancy Brown. Jon Farveau, the director of the two successful "IRON MAN" movies, helmed the director's chair. At least five of the screenwriters - Damon Lindelof, Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby - have been associated with projects like "LOST" and the "STAR TREK". And big names in the film industry such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Steven Spielberg acted as some of the producers. But despite all of this "COWBOYS AND ALIENS" remained one of the flops of this summer. Again, pity. I realize that I keep using the word "pity" as a response to the movie's failure. But I cannot help it. I really enjoyed "COWBOYS AND ALIENS". In fact, I enjoyed it so much that it has become one of my favorite movies from the summer of 2011.
The movie was based upon the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. It told the story of an alien invasion that occurred in the New Mexico Territory in 1873. The story focused upon a mysterious loner that awakens in the desert, injured and wearing a strange bracelet shackled to his wrist. He wanders into the town of Absolution, where the local preacher, Meacham treats his wound. After the stranger subdues Percy Dolarhyde, who has been terrorizing the populace, Sheriff Taggart recognizes the loner as Jake Lonergan, a wanted outlaw, and tries to arrest him. Jake nearly escapes, but a mysterious woman named Ella Swenson knocks him out. Percy's father, Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde, a rich and influential cattleman, arrives with his men and demands that Percy be released to him. He also wants Jake, who had stolen Dolarhyde's gold. During the standoff, alien spaceships begin attacking the town. Percy, Sheriff Taggart and many townsfolk are abducted. Jake shoots down one ship with a device concealed in his wrist band, ending the attack. Realizing that the bracelet that Jake wears stands between them and the aliens, Colonel Dolarhyde, Meacham and Ella convinces Jake to help them find the aliens and the kidnapped townspeople, despite the fact that he has no memory of his own identity, let alone of any previous encounters with the aliens. Their expedition leads them Jake's former gang and a band of Chiricahua Apaches, who have also been victims of the aliens.
"COWBOYS AND ALIENS" is not perfect. It has its flaws. To be honest, I can think of one or two flaws. Perhaps one. Although I understood that the aliens were taking the gold found near Absolution to power their starship, the script never made it clear on why they were taking the populace, as well. The only thing that the script made clear was that the kidnapped populace were being experimented upon. When it comes to human experimentation of reasons behind an invasions, many plots for alien invasion movies and television series tend to be rather weak in this area, including some of the best in this genre. And my other problem was that the script failed to reveal how Ella, who turned out to be another alien whose people had been destroyed by the invaders, ended up on Earth.
But despite these flaws, "COWBOYS AND ALIENS" really impressed me. I thought that Jon Favreau did an excellent job in combining action with the film's dramatic moments. And his eye for location, greatly assisted by Matthew Libatique's photography of the New Mexican countryside, gave the movie's visuals a natural grandeur. In my review of another 2011 release, "SUPER 8", I had commented that it reminded me of an old "STAR TREK VOYAGER" episode. I cannot say the same for"COWBOYS AND ALIENS". But it did remind me of a "STAR TREK VOYAGER" fanfiction story called "Ashes to Ashes". At least Jake's experiences with the aliens before the movie began. And "COWBOYS AND ALIENS" must be the only alien invasion movie I can think of that was set before the 20th century. It occurred to me that if the two most famous adaptations of H.G. Wells' novel, "War of the Worlds" had been given its original setting, this would not have been the case. Unless someone knows of another alien invasion movie with a pre-20th century setting. Ever since I first saw the trailers for "COWBOYS AND ALIENS", I wondered how the screenwriters would combine the two genres of Science-Fiction and Westerns. Hell, I wondered if they could. Mixing Jake's history as an outlaw with his experiences with the aliens did the trick. At least I believe so. More importantly, "COWBOYS AND ALIENS" provided plenty of opportunities for character development - and that includes the supporting cast.
The cast certainly proved to be first-rate. There have been British actors who have appeared in Westerns before. Come to think of it, Daniel Craig is not even the first James Bond actor who has appeared in a Western. But he is the only one I can recall who appeared in a Western as an American-born character. And if I must be blunt, the man takes to Westerns like a duck to water. More importantly, both Craig's super performance and the screenwriters made certain that his Jake Lonergran did not come off as some cliché of the "Man With No Name" character from Sergio Leone's DOLLAR TRILOGY". Craig made him a man determined to learn of his past, while dealing with the sketchy memories of a past love and his attraction toward Ella.
The character of Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde seems like a far cry from Harrison Ford's usual roles. His Colonel Dolarhyde was not the solid Jack Ryan type or the rough, yet dashing Indiana Jones persona. In one of his rare, offbeat roles, Ford's Colonel Dolarhyde was a ruthless, no-nonsense man who ruled his ranch and the town of Absolution with an iron fist. And Ford did a first-rate job of diluting Dolarhyde's distasteful ruthlessness into something more . . . human and warm. I wondered how I would take Olivia Wilde's performance as the mysterious Ella Swenson, who seemed determined to get Jake to help the rest of Absolution's citizens find the aliens. After seeing the movie, I enjoyed her performance very much. She had a strong chemistry with Craig. More importantly, she gave a solid performance and possessed a strong screen presence. But I really enjoyed about Wilde's performance was that she conveyed an other world quality about Ella that strongly hinted her role as an alien who landed on Earth to find the invaders who had destroyed most of her race.
The supporting cast was led by the likes of Sam Rockwell, who competently portrayed Absolution's insecure saloon keeper, Doc; and Adam Beach, who gave a deliciously complex performance as Dolarhyde's right-hand man, Nat Colorado. And actors such as Paul Dano as Dolarhyde's s raucous son, a serene Clancy Brown, Noah Ringer (from "THE LAST AIRBENDER"), who portrayed the sheriff's grandson, and a solid Keith Carradine gave firm support.
I do not know what else I could say about "COWBOYS AND ALIENS". I find it a pity that it failed to become a box office hit. Because I really enjoyed it. The screenwriters, along with cinematographer Matthew Libatique, a first-rate cast led by Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford and fine direction by Jon Favreau made it one of my favorite films from the summer of 2011.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
"STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" RETROSPECT: (5.04) "Nor the Battle to the Strong"
It has been a long time since I have watched an episode of "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE". A long time. I have several DVD box sets for "STAR TREK VOYAGER" and the Syfi Channel now airs "STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION"episodes on a daily basis. So when I had decided to re-aquaint myself with the 1993-99 series, I chose the Season Five episode, (5.04) "Nor the Battle to the Strong".
To understand the background for "Nor the Battle to the Strong", I had to recall the series' political background that sometimes came off as slightly chaotic. Between the series' late Season Four and early-to-mid Season Five, the Federation had been embroiled in a war against the Klingon Empire. Captain Benjamin Sisko, his senior staff and the Federation learned that the Founders - the Changeling leaders of the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant - had planted another Changeling to impersonate the Klingons' head of state, Gowron in the Season Five premire, (5.01) "Apocalypse Rising". Despite this discovery, the Second Federation-Klingon War continued to rage. The war eventually ended, but not before the airing of "Nor the Battle to the Strong".
In a nutshell, "Nor the Battle to the Strong" began with Dr. Julian Bashir and Jake Sisko traveling back to the Deep Space Nine space station after attending a medical conference. Jake had accompanied the Starfleet doctor to write a story about the latter, who had given a lecture. The pair receive a distress call a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime. Despite the recent cease fire after the events of "Apocalypse Rising", the Klingons have resumed their war with the Federation. The Ajilon Prime colony is under attack by the Klingons has requested assistance. Bashir is reluctant to bring Jake along, but the latter convinces the doctor to respond to the distress call. Jake suspects that situation on Ajilon Prime might prove to be a better story than Bashir's conference lecture.
Once the pair arrive at Ajilon Prime, Jake realizes that he has landed into a situation beyond his control and understanding. The colony endures repeated attacks by the Klingons, while Bashir and the base's Federation personnel (medical or otherwise) deal not only with the warfare raging outside the field hospital. At first, Jake lends his assistance as an orderly. But the bloodshed, the cries of the wounded, the bombardment and the varied reactions of the Federation personnel prove too much for him. And in the end, he has to resort to desperate and non-heroic actions in order to survive.
"Nor the Battle to the Strong" has become one of the most highly regarded episodes of "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" by fans and critics alike. And I can see why. Writers René Echevarria and Brice R. Parker, director Kim Friedman and production designer Herman F. Zimmerman did a top-notch job of creating a somewhat realistic vision of war in theSTAR TREK universe. I noticed there seemed to be very little technobabble in this episode . . . for which I utterly am grateful. I suspect that the writers wanted to emphasize the grittier aspect of war and focus less on the science aspect. One example of the episode's gritty style proved to be dialogue spoken by the medical and military personnel at the Federation base. For some reason, the dialogue reminded me of that found in war movies . . . especially those set during the Vietnam War. There were other aspects in "Nor the Battle to the Strong" that practically reeked "combat" - Jake's encounters with a young Starfleet combatant who claimed that his foot had been shot by a Klingon disruptor, a badly wounded Starfleet soldier outside of the base, and a dead Klingon; and the Klingons' final attack upon the base. What made episode's gritty atmosphere really effective was the writers' decision to make Jake Sisko the main character. Jake was an eighteen year-old with ambitions to be a writer and not follow in his father's footsteps as a Starfleet officer. So it only seemed natural that his character would react to the conditions that he and Dr. Bashir had encountered at Ajilon Prime; which included reacting with horror to the violence and blood he had witnessed, running away to avoid further scenes and defending himself from attacking Klingon troops.
The episode also benefitted from first-rate performances. The supporting cast did a solid job in conveying Federation troops and medical personnel under siege. This was especially apparent in the performances of Andrew Kavovit as the orderly named Kirby, Karen Austin as Dr. Kalandra, and Danny Goldring, who strongly impressed me as the dying Starfleet soldier, Chief Burke. Alexander Siddig gave a nuanced performance as Dr. Julian Bashir, who became guilt-stricken for bringing Jake with him to the Ajilon Prime battlefront. But for me, the best performance came from Cirroc Lofton, who gave a superb performance as Jake Sisko. Lofton did a skillful job of conveying Jake's emotional journey in this episode - from the cocky adolescent who wanted to prove his journalistic skills with an exciting story to the guilt-ridden young man, traumatized by his experiences in combat.
Although I was impressed by most of the cast, there was one performance that failed to impress me. It came from an actor named Jeb Brown, who portrayed the Starfleet ensign who claimed he had been wounded by the Klingon. Try as he may, Brown simply failed to convince me of a young man expressing guilt over and attempting to hide what may have been an act of cowardice. I simply found his performance a bit heavy-handed. In fact, it was Brown's performance that led me to take a closer look at the episode. There was something about "Nor the Battle to the Strong" that prevented me from fully embracing it. I could not put my finger upon it, until I asked my sister. She believed that "they" hard tried too hard. By "they", she meant the episode's production staff. She thought they had tried to hard to convey the atmosphere of a gritty war drama. And I agree.
Starting with the wounded Starfleet ensign, it seemed as if the writers, Friedman and the producers tried to utilize every war drama cliché to create an effective combat episode. Even worse, there were plenty of moments when their efforts struck me as heavy-handed. If it were not for the setting, the props and the Federation/Starfleet costumes, and those scenes at Deep Space Nine and aboard the Defiant, I would have sworn I was watching a war movie, instead of TREKepisode. Some might see this as a good sign - a TREK episode venturing beyond the usual franchise's umbrella. I cannot agree with that opinion. I see no reason to do so in the first place. Why? Because the TREK franchise managed to produce plenty of dark and gritty episodes that were not only first-rate, but also managed to maintain its science-fiction style. The ironic thing is that two years later, the production staff for "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" made another attempt to present an episode about the grittiness of combat. Only (7.08) "The Siege of AR-558" was set during the Dominion War.
I have to admit that my original opinion of "Nor the Battle to the Strong" is not as positive as it used to be. It has its virtues - namely a solid narrative and some excellent performances by the cast - especially from Cirroc Lofton. But for me, the episode possesses a heavy-handedness that I found a little off-putting. After all, this is supposed to be "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE", not "PLATOON".
Saturday, December 5, 2015
Below are photos from the 1930 adaptation of Ursula Parrott's novel, "Ex-Wife" called"THE DIVORCEE". Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, the movie starred Oscar winner Norma Shearer, Chester Morris, Conrad Nagel and Robert Montgomery:
"THE DIVORCEE" (1930) Photo Gallery