Sunday, February 26, 2017
"NORTHANGER ABBEY" (1986) Review
Most movie and television adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels are either highly acclaimed or perhaps even liked by fans and critics alike. I can only think of two or three adaptations that have been dismissed them. And one of them happened to be the 1986 A&E Network/BBC adaptation of Austen’s 1817 novel, "Northanger Abbey".
Adapted by Maggie Wadey, "NORTHANGER ABBEY" follows the experiences of seventeen-year-old Gothic novel aficionado, Catherine Morland, who is invited by her parents’ friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, to accompany them on a visit to Bath, England. This is Catherine’s first visit to Bath and there she makes new acquaintances such as Isabella Thorpe and the latter’s crude brother, John. She also becomes friends with the charming and quick-witted clergyman Henry Tilney and his sweet-tempered sister, Eleanor. While Catherine’s brother James courts Isabella, she finds herself becoming the romantic target of the ill-mannered John. Fortunately for Catherine, she becomes romantically captivated by Henry Tilney, who seemed to have fallen for her, as well . . . much to the displeasure of the Thorpes. Eventually, Henry and Eleanor’s father, General Tilney, invites Catherine to visit their estate, Northanger Abbey. Because of her penchant for Ann Radcliffe's gothic novel, "The Mysteries of Udolpho", Catherine expects the Tilney estate to be filled with Gothic horrors and family mysteries. Instead, Catherine ends up learning a few lessons about life.
Personally, I do not consider the 1817 novel to be one of Austen’s best. It has always seemed . . . not fully complete to me. I never understood why the Thorpes actually believed that the Morlands were wealthy, considering John’s longer acquaintance with Catherine’s brother, James. And why did John tell General Tilney that Cathrine’s family was wealthy in the first place? For revenge? His actions only encouraged the general to invite Catherine to Northanger Abbey. But I digress. This article is not a criticism of Austen’s novel, but my view on this first movie adaptation. And how do I feel about "NORTHANGER ABBEY"? Well . . . it was interesting.
There are aspects of "NORTHANGER ABBEY" that I liked. First of all, director Giles Foster had a first rate cast to work with. I cannot deny that the movie featured some top-notch and solid performances. Both Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth gave first-rate performances as the two leads, Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. Now, I realize that many Austen fans had a problem with Firth’s characterization of Henry. And they are not alone. But I cannot deny that he did a great job with the material given to him. Best of all, not only did Schlesinger and Firth have great screen chemistry, but also exchanged one of the best kisses I have ever seen in an Austen adaptation. But if I must be honest, there was not a performance that failed to impress me. The entire cast were excellent, especially Robert Hardy as Henry’s perfidious father, General Tilney; Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe; Ingrid Lacey as Eleanor Tilney; and Jonathan Coy as the vulgar John Thorpe.
Watching "NORTHANGER ABBEY", it occurred to me that its production values were superb. Truly. I noticed that the movie seemed to be set in the late 1790s – the period in which Austen first wrote the novel, instead of the late Regency era (when it was officially published). Cecilia Brereton really did justice in re-creating Bath in the late 1790s. My two favorite scenes – from an ascetic point-of-view – featured Catherine’s meetings with the Thorpes and Eleanor Tilney at the city’s Roman Baths; and the two assembly balls. Nicholas Rocker did a superb job in designing the movie’s colorful costumes. In fact, I adored them. The costumes, the hairstyles and even the makeup designed by Joan Stribling beautifully reflected the movie’s setting.
Now that I have waxed lyrical over "NORTHANGER ABBEY", it is time for me to tear it down. Despite some of the movie’s more positive aspects, I can honestly say that I do not like this film. I almost dislike it. There were too much about it that turned me off. Surprisingly, one of those aspects was the characterization of Henry Tilney. The novel had hinted a witty and playful man with a wicked sense of humor. The sense of humor remained, but Henry’s condescending manner toward Catherine and penchant for lectures really turned me off. I cannot blame Peter Firth. I do blame Maggie Wadey for transforming Henry from a man with a wicked sense of humor, to a slightly humorous, yet ponderous character. And why did Wadey transform the vulgar John Thorpe into a borderline stalker? Honestly, the way he eyed Catherine whenever Henry was in her midst made me believe he would be a first-class serial killer. I also believe that Wadey went too far in her characterization of General Tilney. Instead of being a stern and rigid tyrant, the general became an aging and mercenary Lothario, whose dissipation depleted the family’s income. Artistic close-ups of Robert Hardy’s face wearing a salacious expression did not help matters. To reinforce General Tilney’s dissipation, Wadey included a character called the Marchioness, an aristocratic refugee of the French Revolution who has become his mistress. Personally, I found her addition to the cast of characters to be irrelevant.
And the problems continued to roll. The main house of the Tilneys’ estate is supposed to be an abbey, not a castle. Why on earth did the production designer and the producers choose Bodiam Castle as the location for the fictional Northanger Abbey? The scenes featuring Catherine’s vivid and "Gothic" imagination struck me as unnecessarily long and rather off-putting. I felt as if I had stumbled across a horror movie, instead of a Jane Austen adaptation. Also, Catherine’s friendship with Isabella seemed to have been given the short-shrift. Quite frankly, I do not think it was developed very well. Wadey had a chance to clean up some of the flaws in Austen’s novel – namely the Thorpes’ interest in Catherine and the trick that John Thorpe played on General Tilney about the Morelands’ wealth or lack of it. And why did Wadey include that minor sequence featuring the Tilneys’ young black slave? All the kid did was lure Catherine outside to the estate’s lawn in order to impress her with his gymnastic skills. And for what? I am trying to think of a witty comment to express my contempt for this scene. All I can do is shake my head and wonder what the hell was Wadey thinking.
Who was responsible for hiring Ilona Sekacz to compose the movie’s score? I wish I could compliment Ms. Sekacz’s work. I would if it had served as the score for an episode of "MIAMI VICE", a soft porn movie, or some other television series or movie from the 1980s. Sofia Coppola used early 1980s pop music to serve as the score for her 2006 movie, "MARIE ANTOINETTE". Surprisingly, it worked. I think it worked because Coppola utilized the right song for the right scene. But Sekacz’s score, which featured a strange mixture of new age and period music, night club jazz, and synthesizers, was never utilized properly. Or perhaps I simply found the music too strange or off-putting for me to appreciate it. It certainly did not blend well with the actual movie released on American and British television.
"NORTHANGER ABBEY" has some aspects that prevents me to viewing it as a total write-off. It does feature some first-rate performances – especially from leads Katharine Schlesinger and Peter Firth – and I adore both Cecilia Brereton’s production designs and Nicholas Rocker’s costumes. But the movie has too many flaws, including an unpalatable score and some very questionable characterizations, for me to consider it a first-class, let alone a decent adaptation of Austen’s novel. This is one movie that I will not be watching with any regularity.
Monday, February 20, 2017
Below are images from Series Two of the ITV series, "DOWNTON ABBEY", created by Julian Fellowes:
"DOWNTON ABBEY" SEASON TWO (2011) Photo Gallery
Saturday, February 18, 2017
"WHY RHONDA WILCOX DOES NOT MATTER"
I am feeling very emotional right now. I have managed to read nine out of twelve chapters of "WHY BUFFY MATTERS: The Art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer". After reading the latest chapter called, Fear: The Princess Screamed Once - Power, Silence and Fear in "Hush", I decided not to finish the book. Why? The last chapter really pissed me off.
What I am about to say will probably not generate any sympathy toward my views. It has a lot to do with Rhonda Wilcox's opinion on the character, Riley Finn. And Riley, bless his heart, is probably one of the more hated characters in Buffyverse. But you know what? Regardless of how other fans may view Riley, what Wilcox had to say about him in her book pissed me off. It was the last straw.
The first straw - at least for me - had nothing to do with Riley. It had to do what Wilcox had to say about a character created for another fictional universe. Earlier in the book, Wilcox compared the characters of Buffy Summers and Harry Potter in a chapter titled, When Harry Met Buffy: Buffy Summers, Harry Potter and Heroism. Not only did Wilcox compared Buffy and Harry in this chapter, but their friends as well. This idiot woman had the nerve to compare the characters of Xander Harris (BUFFY) and Ron Weasley (HARRY POTTER) in the following manner:
"Their (Xander and Ron) lack of special gifts accentuates the loyalty and bravery that Ron and Xander each offers as a friend to a character frequently placed in abnormal danger.
Thus, in each world, there is a triumvirate of friends: Harry and Buffy each have a modest, normal male and an unusually intelligent female as friends."
Ron Weasely lacked special gifts? Ron? He was a wizard. He did not lack any supernatural powers like Xander. Nor was he a less gifted magic practitioner than Harry or Hermioine. Ron lacked Harry's special gift for Defense Against the Dark Arts and Quidditch. But he was still proficient in both skills. He lacked Hermioine's intelligence. But so did Harry. And Ron was better at Defense Against the Dark Arts magic than Hermioine. Most importantly, Ron was a very skillful chess player - something that neither Harry or Hermioine could boast. Apparently, Ms. Wilcox has forgotten this and decided to judge Ron's character based on his "Idiot at Hogswarts" portrayal in the movies. Not a very good researcher, is she?
But her comparison of Ron Weasley and Xander Harris was nothing in compare to what she had to say about Riley in the chapter about "Hush". In one passage, Wilcox described Riley in this manner:
"It connects Riley with the myth of Virgil's Aeneas, the hero of 'Aeneid', one of the three great Greco-Roman epics. (And I refer you to C.W. Marshall's article on Giles and Aeneas in 'Slayage' to suggest the further applicability of this particular source.) Aeneas is perhaps the most purely patriarchal of the classic heroes. This (to me) dull and duty-bound hero is an excellent parallel for Riley, the least liminal of Buffy's significant others.
This woman is a moron. Okay, perhaps I may have been a little too harsh. But Wilcox actually have the nerve to label Riley as "purely patriarchal". Riley Finn? Had Wilcox been so blinded by her dislike of him that she failed to notice that he was hardly patriarchal? For me, Riley's problem - at least in early and mid Season Four - seemed to be his willingness to blindly adhere to authority figures, whether they were patriarchal or in the case of Maggie Walsh, matriarchal. If one good thing that came out of Riley's relationship with Buffy was that he learned to stop following authority figures in such a mindless manner. Yes, he had rejoined the Army. But post-Season Five Riley was open-minded enough to allow Buffy to make a decision on what to do about Spike when they learned he was smuggling demon eggs in Season Six's "As You Were". It was the same Riley who helped Buffy get rid of the chip in Spike's brain in Season 7's "The Killer in Me", despite his dislike of the vampire.
She also claimed that following the end of Riley's relationship with Buffy, he decided to invest his identity in being a fighter and not a lover:
"Those familiar with the Bufy story beyond the standalone "Hush" episode can see further parallels: after Aeneas and Queen Dido's love affair, he leaves to fight for his (future) country and she kills herself. Just so, Riley eventually decides to invest his identity in being a fighter, not a lover; he rejoins the Army and departs the Hellmouth, leaving Buffy to kill herself during the battle against Glory (and consider the military implications of that phrase: the battle 'against' Glory)."
Apparently, Wilcox forgot that not only did Riley rejoin the Army, he GOT MARRIED! She forgot or had decided to dismiss that one little tidbit.
Later, she accused Riley of fearfulness:
"But to return to the fearfulness of Riley. That phrasing ambiguously allows two implications: that Riley is fearful, and that Riley is to be feared. And I would argue that this episode suggests the same - and applies the fear to all that Riley stands for."
If Wilcox was referring to Riley's inability to communicate to Buffy his fears about their relationship in Season Five - I could understand this. But . . . as usual, she overlooked something else. Namely Buffy's inability to communicate her own fears to Riley. She also failed to mention that Buffy's fear of being emotional damaged in a relationship after her experiences with Angel led her to get involved with Riley in the hopes of having a "normal" relationship. I suspect that by Season Five, Riley began to fear this. And this is where Riley's fearfulness came in. He failed to communicate his fears to Buffy before it was too late.
Had Wilcox been so willing overlook Riley's more complex nature in order to paint Riley in such a one-dimensional manner? It seemed like it. In fact, she seemed so driven by her dislike of the character that she dumped the blame of their break-up solely upon his shoulders. And as I had stated earlier, she literally viewed Riley as some human version of the Gentlemen from "Hush":
"Riley is both Aeneas and the Gentlemen. Heroic self-denial and repression - with all the attendant miseries."
"Consider the closing scene. This episode presents patriarchy as horror in the form of the Gentlemen, and patriarchy with its best face on as the kindly, brave Riley. Riley can help Buffy defeat that worst side of patriarchy, but is he, its best incarnation, enough for Buffy?"
Riley Finn is a symbol of the patriarchy of the Gentlemen? Riley Finn was the series' best incarnation of patriarchy? Wilcox was speaking of a character who had allowed his view points and his life to revolve around women - whether it was Maggie Walsh in Season Four or Buffy in early Season Five. I only hoped that he had managed to break this habit with his marriage between Seasons Five and Six.
Right now, I am desperately trying to maintain my temper . . . and remember that I am discussing fictional characters. I realize that Ms. Wilcox, like many Buffyverse fans disliked Riley. I understand. I dislike Angel. I have for a long time. But I have always felt that Angel had the capacity to grow as a character. I have also experienced moments when I have either sympathized or even liked him. But I hope and pray that I would never devolve into the kind of characterizations of Angel or any other fictional character I may dislike in the same way that Wilcox has characterized Riley Finn. Her portrait of Riley in her book only makes me realize that I had wasted my time reading her book.
Sunday, February 12, 2017
"JACK REACHER" (2012) Review
British author Lee Childs (aka Jim Grant) has been writing a series of novels featuring a former U.S. Army Military police officer turned drifter, who is occassionally hired to investigate difficult cases. One of those turned out to be the 2005 novel, "One Shot", which was adapted back in 2012 as a motion picture that starrred Tom Cruise.
When writer/director Christopher McQuarrie had decided to adapt "One Shot" as a movie, one of the first things he did was change the story's title and location. The story became "JACK REACHER" and the setting was changed from a small Indiana city to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Like the novel, "JACK REACHER" began with the death of five random people by a sniper firing from a parking garage. Police detective Emerson finds evidence pointing a a former Army sharpshooter named James Barr, who was immediately arrested. Instead of confessing to the crime, Barr asked the police and District Attorney Alex Rodin to get drifter and former Army police Jack Reacher to help him. Reacher finally contacted Barr's attorney, Rodin's daughter, Helen Rodin. Reacher believed that Barr was guilty, because the latter had originally went on a killing spree during his last tour in Iraq, but got off on a technicality due to his victims being guilty of the gang rape of several Iraqi women. But Reacher's investigation of the crime scene, along with an encounter with local thugs hired to scare him off, made him realized that Barr had been framed and that the killing spree was merely a cover up for a specific victim.
In the end, "JACK REACHER" proved to be a first-rate action thriller that I enjoyed very much. I would never consider the movie to be one of the best starring Tom Cruise. The basic narrative for "JACK REACHER" did not strike me as particularly original. I have come across similar action or mystery tales in which a series of killings hid one particular murder. But I must admit this particular story presented it in a particularly original way - especially with such a non-conformist like Reacher serving as investigator. There were other aspects of the movie that impressed me. One, I found the opening sequence featuring the sniper's killing of the five people not only gruesome, but also nail biting. The tension in this particular sequence seemed ten-fold, when it looked as if one of the sniper's victims might end up being a young child. Once Reacher realized that either Detective Emerson or District Attorney Rodin may be working for the man behind the shootings, the reek of law enforcement reeked throughout the film's second half, increasing the movie's tension ten fold. The movie also benefited from a first-rate, three-way car chase through the streets of Pittsburgh; with the police chasing Reacher for the murder of a young woman, and Reacher chasing two of the bad guys. The chase sequence also emphasized Caleb Deschanel's colorful photography of Pittsburgh, a city that has struck me as quite charming during the past two decades.
There were a few aspects of "JACK REACHER" that troubled me. I wish that McQuarrie's script had allowed Cruise's Jack Reacher and Rosamund Pike's Helen Rodin to consummate the sexual tension between them . . . at least once. I did not require the movie to end with them as a newly established couple. But I figured that one night between the sheets would not have hurt. Honestly! I found myself inwardly screaming "Get a room!" every time it looked as if they were about to lock lips. But the bigger problem for me turned out to be the main villain - a former Soviet prisoner-turned-Russian mobster known as the Zec. Do not get me wrong. I believe that director-actor Werner Herzog gave an exceptionally chilly performance as the mobster. But . . . I could not help but wonder if author Lee Childs and later, MacQuarrie tried too hard to portray him as some kind of cold monster, willing to do anything to survive . . . even chew off his fingers while in prison, in order to prevent himself from succumbing to gangrene. The Zec even forces one minion to either chew off a finger or face death for the latter's mishandling of Reacher. I would have been impressed if it were not for the fact that the willingness to do anything to survive . . . or self-preservation is something of which just about every human being is capable. It is simply human nature. And in the end, I was not that impressed by the Zec. Also, I could have sworn that the Zec and his men were carrying out a contract on behalf of someone else. I certainly got that impression in his first scene, which I eventually found rather misleading.
However, I was impressed by the film's cast. I have already commented on Werner Herzog's portrayal of the mobster called the Zec. Australian actor Jai Courtney gave an equally chilling performance as Charlie, the Zec's main henchman and the shooter who kill those five people in cold blood, in the opening scene. Robert Duvall made an entertaining addition to the cast as a former USMC veteran, who operated a gun shop frequented by the main suspect and the real killer. The year 2012 seemed to be the one for British actor David Oyelowo. He started out the year in "RED TAILS" (okay, not much of a start), but he finished out the year with an appearance in "LINCOLN" and a major role in this film. And I was very impressed by his portrayal of Detective Emerson. One, Oyelowo seemed to have a pretty good grasp of an American accent. And two, I found his portrayal of the police detective to be deliciously complex and murky. I could also say the same for Richard Jenkins, who gave a slightly twisted and sardonic portrayal as District Attorney Rodin. It seemed a pity that his appearances in the film seemed slightly limited.
It occurred to me that I have not seen Rosamund Pike in a major film production in quite a while. I do recall that she had appeared as Sam Worthington's leading lady in "WRATH OF THE TITANS". But I would rather forget about that particular film. Thankfully, she was much more memorable as Helen Rodin, the feisty defense attorney who hired Reacher. She possessed a solid American accent and more importantly, I enjoyed the way Pike infused both professionalism and emotion into her character. And her screen chemistry with Tom Cruise reeked with sexuality. Although I would not consider "JACK REACHER" to be among Cruise's top films, I must admit that I think his role as the eccentric former Army investigator might prove to be one of his better roles. I really enjoyed Cruise's performance as Reacher. Not only did he maintain the character's eccentricity, but he also projected a subtle weariness that made me understand the character's disappointment with society at large. He also infused a good deal of subtle humor that struck me as both entertaining and off-kilter. But more importantly, Cruise did a great job in projecting the character's unstoppable force, without having to be the same height (6'5") as the literary Reacher.
Like I said, I would not view "JACK REACHER" as one of the most memorable action movies I have ever seen. But I certainly would not regard it as mediocre. It possessed a solid story, written and directed by Christopher MacQuarrie. The movie also benefited from first-rate performances by a cast led by Tom Cruise in the title character.
Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Below are images from "YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE", the 1967 adaptation of Ian Fleming's 1964 novel. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as 007:
"YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE" (1967) Photo Gallery
Sunday, February 5, 2017
"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Two "The Yellow Apron" Commentary
Set during the 1810s and 1820s, the second episode of the NBC miniseries, "CENTENNIAL", continued the story of French-Canadian trapper, Pasquinel; his Scottish-born partner, Alexander McKeag; and their relationship with Clay Basket, the daughter of an Arapaho warrior. "The Yellow Apron" explored how jealousies, resentments and desire nearly broke apart their tenuous relationship.
”The Yellow Apron” began in 1809, with Clay Basket giving birth to the first of hers and Pasquinel’s three children, Jacques. The story quickly jumped to 1811, with the birth of their second child, Marcel. By the time the story begins in earnest in 1816, Pasquinel is still obsessed in finding the gold that Lame Beaver had stumbled upon in the last episode. Because of his obsession, he asks McKeag to make the visit to the Bockweiss household in St. Louis for more goods to trade with the Plains tribes. Upon his arrival in St. Louis, McKeag learns that Bockweiss is anxious over his son-in-law’s failure to make the trip. He also learns that Lise Bockweiss Pasquinel has given birth to Pasquinel’s daughter, Lisette. And all of this happened within the episode’s first nine to ten minutes.
So much occurred in ”The Yellow Apron”. The episode saw the birth of Pasquinel’s four children – his children by Clay Basket (Jacques, Marcel and Lucinda) and his daughter by Lise (Lisette). McKeag has to deal with Jacques’ dislike of the Scots trapper and suspicion of Clay Basket’s love for him. Clashes with both the Native American world and the white world leave scars on Jacques, deepening his dislike of McKeag and leaving a mark on his psyche. Both McKeag and Clay Basket continue their struggle to keep their feelings for one another in check. And both have to contend with Pasquinel’s desire for gold and his penchant for leaving them all behind in order to be with his St. Louis wife, Lise. And Lise has to struggle between her own love for the French-Canadian trapper and her growing jealousy for his love of the West and a suspicion that he may have Native American wife. And although he seems very fond of Clay Basket, it is obvious that he is more divided by his feelings for Lise, the West and his desire for gold.
The episode’s last half hour spirals into a series of heartbreaking and bittersweet events. Jacques tries to kill McKeag in a fit of anger over a dispute regarding beaver traps. After the attack, McKeag leaves Pasquinel and the latter’s Arapaho family. After spending a winter inside a hut encased by a snowdrift, McKeag hooks up with a group of trappers that include Jim Bridger and James Beckwourth. They travel to a rendezvous for other mountain men. There, McKeag has an emotional reunion with Pasquinel. But McKeag’s lingering resentment toward his former partner makes the reunion short-lived. After one last trip to St. Louis, Lise convinces McKeag to reconcile with Pasquinel. Unfortunately, McKeag’s efforts to reconcile with his former partner come too late. Minutes earlier, Pasquinel is attacked and killed by a band of Ute warriors after finding the gold he had sought for so long. Despite the tragedy, McKeag and Clay Basket are now free to be together. And the Scots trapper agrees to claim Lucinda as his own. The episode ended with a shot of the gold nuggets that Pasquinel finally discovered, but failed to claim as his own due to his death. However, that final shot struck an ominous note . . . as conveying to the audience that not only will the nuggets be discovered again, but also bring havoc to the region. Especially for Pasquinel's Arapaho family and other Native Americans.
I must admit that I found ”The Yellow Apron” is probably one of the most bittersweet episodes in this miniseries. And possibly one of the most epic. The latter is not surprising, considering that most of the episode spans nearly fifteen years. But what I really enjoyed about it was that it touched upon an era of the Old West that is rarely covered in Hollywood films or television. I say . . . rarely. There have been movies about trappers and mountain men of the early 19th century, but most Hollywood productions tend to focus upon the West between the 1840s and the 1880s. The episode featured the growing conflict between the Native Americans and whites (both mountain men and the military) that set foot on their lands. This conflict was apparent in an effective scene in which McKeag, Pasquinel and the latter’s Arapaho family visited a fort along the Missouri River, where they clash with a group of hostile American soldiers. Viewers also had an opportunity to enjoy a scene that featured a rendezvous between trappers and traders from many nations and Native Americans. Thanks to some detailed and colorful direction by Virgil W. Vogel, the scene not only went into detail over what transpired at a rendezvous – trading, horse and foot racing, target shooting, singing, dancing, gambling and other activities.
A yellow apron figured into a session of dancing, initiated by a mountain man playing a bag pipe. This incident led to an emotional reunion between Pasquinel and McKeag. Considering the acrimony (at least on McKeag’s part) that led to their separation, watching the two former friends dance away the bitterness proved to be one of the most poignant moments in the entire miniseries. The scene also proved to be one of the finest moments on screen for both Richard Chamberlain and Robert Conrad. In fact, this particular episode provided some of the best acting in the entire miniseries. Not only did Chamberlain and Conrad did some of their best work, so did Barbara Carrera and Sally Kellerman, who both did excellent jobs in conveying the emotional difficulties in being Pasquinel’s wife. I also have to commend the late Vincent Roberts’ portrayal of Jacques Pasquinel in his early teens. I thought he did a top notch job of conveying the young Jacques’ dislike and resentment toward McKeag without resorting to any over-the-top acting.
Directed by Virgil Vogel, ”The Yellow Apron” is without a doubt, one of my favorite episodes in the miniseries. Personally, I thought it conveyed the complex friendship between Pasquinel and Alexander McKeag with more depth than even ”Only the Rocks Live Forever”. Not only did it boast some first-rate performances, especially from Richard Chamberlain and Robert Conrad, but also provided one of the most memorable scenes in the entire miniseries.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017
"A ROOM WITH A VIEW" (1985-86) Review
Ah, Merchant and Ivory! Whenever I hear those particular names, my mind usually generates images of Britons in Edwardian dress, strolling along a London street, across a wide lawn or even along some city boulevard in a country other than Great Britain. In other words, the images from their movie, "A ROOM WITH A VIEW" usually fills my brain.
Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory produced and directed this adaptation of E.M. Forster's 1908 novel, which first hit the theaters in Great Britain during the early winter of 1985. Four months later, the movie was released in American movie theaters. Forster's tale is basically a coming-of-age story about a young Edwardian woman, who finds herself torn between her superficial and snobbish fiancé and the free-thinking son of a retired journalist, whom she had met during her Italian vacation. The movie begins with the arrival of young Lucy Honeychurch and her cousin/chaperone Charlotte Barlett to a small pensione in Florence, Italy. Not only does Lucy have a reunion with her family's local clergyman, the Reverend Mr. Beebe; she and Charlotte meet a non-conformist father and son pair named Mr. Emerson and his son, George. The Emersons agree to exchange their room - which has a view - with the one occupied by Lucy and Charlotte. Lucy becomes further acquainted with George after the pair witness a murder in the city's square and he openly expresses his feelings to her. Matters come to a head between the young couple when George kisses Lucy during a picnic for the pensione's British visitors, outside of the city. Charlotte witnesses the kiss and not only insists that she and Lucy return to the pensione, but also put some distance between them and the Emersons by leaving Florence.
A few months later finds Lucy back at her home in Windy Corners, England. She had just accepted a marriage proposal from the wealthy, yet intellectually snobbish Cecil Vyse; much to her mother and brother Freddy's silent displeasure. Matters take a turn for the worse when George and Mr. Emerson move to an empty cottage in Windy Corners, she soon learns that both George and his father have moved to her small village, thanks to Cecil's recommendation. With George back in her life, Lucy's suppressed feelings return. It is not long before she is internally divided between her feelings for George and her growing fear that Cecil might not be the man for her.
What can I say about "A ROOM WITH THE VIEW"? It was the first British-produced costume drama I had ever seen in the movie theaters. Hell, it was the first Merchant-Ivory production I had ever seen . . . period. Has it held up in the past twenty-eight years? Well . . . it is not perfect. The problem is other than Julian Sands' performance, I cannot think of any real imperfections in the movie. A view have pointed out that its quaintness has made it more dated over the years. Frankly, I found it fresh as ever. Who am I kidding? I loved the movie when I first saw it 28 years ago, and still loved it when I recently watched it.
One would think that the movie's critique of a conservative society would seem outdated in the early 21st century. But considering the growing conservatism of the past decade or so, perhaps "A ROOM WITH A VIEW" is not as outdated as one would believe, considering its Edwardian setting. Mind you, I found some the Emersons' commentaries on life rather pretentious and in George's case, a bit long-winded. But I cannot deny that their observations, however long-winded, struck me as dead on. More importantly, Foster's novel and by extension, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's screenplay, makes Foster's observations more easy to swallow thanks to a very humorous and witty tale. Another aspect that I enjoyed about "A ROOM WITH A VIEW" was how Foster's liberalism had an impact on the love story between Lucy and George. I find it interesting how Foster managed to point out the differences between genuine liberals like the Emersons and pretenders like Cecil Vyse, who use such beliefs to feed his own sense of superiority.
While watching "A ROOM WITH A VIEW", it seemed very apparent to me, that it is still a beautiful movie to look at. The movie not only won a Best Adapted Screenplay award for screenwriter, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; but also two technical awards for the movie's visual style. Gianni Quaranta, Brian Ackland-Snow, Brian Savegar, Elio Altamura served as the team for the movie's art direction and won an Academy Award for their efforts. The art designs they created for the movie's Edwardian setting is stunning. I can also say the same about the Academy Award winning costume designs created by Jenny Beavan and John Bright. Below are two examples of their work:
And Tony Pierce-Roberts earned a much deserved Oscar for his beautiful and lush photography of both Tuscany in Italy and various English locations that served as the movie's settings.
One of the best aspects of "A ROOM WITH A VIEW" has to be its cast of entertaining, yet flawed characters. First of all, the movie featured rich, supporting characters like Lucy's charming, yet gauche brother Freddy; the very verbose and open-minded Reverend Beebe; the always exasperated Mrs. Honeychurch; the indiscreet and pretentious novelist, Eleanor Lavish (in some ways another Cecil); and the snobbish and controlling Reverend Eager. And it is due to the superb performances of Rupert Graves, the always entertaining Simon Callow, Rosemary Leach, the even more amazing Judi Dench and Patrick Godfrey that allowed these characters to come to life.
Both Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot earned well-deserved Academy Award nominations for their unforgettable performances as Charlotte Barlett, Lucy's passive-aggressive cousin; and George's brash and open-minded father, Mr. Emerson. Charlotte must be one of the most fidgety characters ever portrayed by Smith, yet she conveyed this trait with such subtlety that I could not help but feel disappointed that she did not collect that Oscar. And Elliot did a marvelous job in portraying Mr. Emerson with the right balance of humor and pathos. Daniel Day-Lewis did not earn an Oscar nomination for his hilarious portrayal of Lucy's snobbish and pretentious fiancé, Cecil Vyse. But he did win the National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor. Although there were moments when I found his performance a bit too mannered, I cannot deny that he deserved that award.
The role of Lucy Honeychurch made Helena Bonham-Carter a star. And it is easy to see why. The actress did an excellent job of not only portraying Lucy's quiet, yet steady persona as a well-bred Englishwoman. And at the same time, she also managed to convey the character's peevishness and a passive-aggressive streak that strongly reminded me of Charlotte Barlett. The only bad apple in the barrel proved to be Julian Sands' performance as the overtly romantic, yet brooding George Emerson. Too be honest, I found a good deal of his performance rather flat. This flatness usually came out when Sands opened his mouth. He has never struck me as a verbose actor. However, I must admit that he actually managed to shine in one scene in which George openly declared his feelings for Lucy. And with his mouth shut, Sands proved he could be a very effective screen actor.
Looking back on "A ROOM WITH A VIEW", I still find it difficult to agree with that blogger who stated that it had become somewhat dated over the years. Not only does the movie seem livelier than ever after 28 to 20 years, its theme of freedom from social repression still resonates . . . something I suspect that many would refuse to admit. Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, along with Oscar winner screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala created a work of art that has not lost its beauty and its bite after so many years.