Monday, May 29, 2017
"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" (1981) Review
Jane Austen's 1811 novel, "Sense and Sensibility" has been a favorite with her modern-day fans. The novel has produced at least three television and two movie adaptations and a literary parody. However, this review is about the seven-part, 1981 BBC adaptation.
Directed by Rodney Bennett and adapted by Alexander Baron and Denis Constanduros, "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" starred Irene Richards and Tracey Childs as the two main protagonists - sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The story focused on the sisters' attempts to find happiness in the tightly structured society of early 19th century England. Through their experiences with men and their relationship with each other, Elinor and Marianne learn that one must strive for a balance of both sense and sensibility.
From an overall point of view, this "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" seemed to be a solid adaptation of Austen's 1811 novel. I have noticed in many articles and reviews of Austen adaptations made in the 1970s and 1980s, fans tend to view them as "faithful" in compare to later ones. Frankly, I have yet to see an Austen adaptation made before or after 1986 as completely faithful. And I can extend this opinion to this 1981 production. One, Baron and Constanduros' screenplay began with the grieving Dashwood women returning to Norland Hall, after viewing a potential new home. And there is no sign of a Margaret Dashwood - the youngest of the three sisters - in sight. But since the other versions of the novel are no more or less faithful, I do not have a problem with this. But I did have a problem with the miniseries' ending. It featured Edward Ferrars asking for Elinor's hand in marriage and Colonel Brandon commencing his courtship of a receptive Marianne. That is it. The ending seemed a bit too abrupt for my tastes.
And I had other problems with "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY". Peter Woodward gave a charming performance as the novel's ne'er-do-well, John Willoughby. Unfortunately, Woodward's presence barely made a dent in the production. And his biggest scene - in which Willoughby expressed remorse for his bad treatment of Marianne to Elinor - featured some over-the-top acting. Watching Diana Fairfax's performance as Mrs. Dashwood, I found myself wondering why Elinor was forced to assume so much responsibility for their household at Barton Cottage. Fairfax's Mrs. Dashwood barely seemed like the emotional widow who was forced to come down to earth by her more sensible older daughter. She seemed just as sensible in her own way. I barely remember Marjorie Bland's portrayal of Mrs. Jennings' older daughter, Lady Middleton. She failed to leave a mark in my memories. I could say the same about Hetty Baynes as Mrs. Jennings' younger daughter, Mrs. Charlotte Palmer. And Margot Van der Burgh's Mrs. Ferrars seemed more like a dress rehearsal for Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Austen's "Pride and Prejudice".
But there were performances that impressed me. Julia Chambers and Pippa Sparks made a very entertaining Lucy and Ann Steele. I was especially impressed by Chambers' performance, which struck a fine balance between Lucy's scheming and desperation to become a member of the respectable and wealthy Ferrars family. Philip Bowen's portrayal of Robert Ferrars struck me as rather funny. He gave the character a foppish edge that I have never seen in other portrayals of the character. Donald Douglas was certainly down-to-earth in an affable manner as Mrs. Dashwood's cousin, Sir John Middleton. Amanda Boxer gave a spot-on portrayal of the cold-blooded and domineering Fanny Dashwood. But the one performance that really impressed me was Peter Gale's as the Dashwood family's new patriarch, John. Although he gave a solid performance in the miniseries' early episodes, he really came into his own in the role, when the story shifted to London. I was especially impressed by one scene in which Gale's John tried to point out the suitability of Colonel Brandon as a match for Elinor.
At first, I was not that impressed by Robert Swann's portrayal of Colonel Brandon. However, as the story progressed, Swann skillfully revealed the character's passion and emotions behind the stoic facade. There are two other performances of which I have a similar view. When I first saw "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY", I had regarded Bosco Hogan's portrayal of Edward Ferrars as boring. But numerous viewings made me realize that he gave a very subtle performance. With a bit of patience, I noticed how Hogan managed to express Edward's feelings about Elinor and Lucy with the expressions on his face and in his eyes. I also became more appreciative of Annie Leon's portrayal of the cheerful Mrs. Jennings. She was no Elizabeth Spriggs or Patricia Rutledge, but I must admit that I was very impressed by the manner in which she captured Mrs. Jennings' friendly, yet vulgar personality . . . especially in the production's second half. Both Irene Richards and Tracey Childs gave solid performances as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. The two actresses did a first-rate job of holding the miniseries together as the the leads. And both were somewhat spot-on in their portrayal of the two sisters. Mind you, I would have liked if Richards had revealed the passion that Elinor harbored for Edward in small moments. And I wish that Childs' Marianne was not so sober - especially in a few scenes in the miniseries' earlier episodes. But in the end, they did a very good job.
As far as production design goes, I am afraid that Paul Joel did a solid job. But there was nothing about his work that I found particularly impressive. I suspect that he may have been hampered by the budget. I was NOT impressed by Dorothea Wallace's costumes. Frankly, I found them rather cheap looking and in some cases, slightly ill fitting. Like the miniseries' production design, it was probably hampered by the budget. Overall, I would have to say that this "SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" was the least impressive looking adaptation I have ever seen.
"SENSE AND SENSIBILITY" had its virtues. Both Irene Richards and Tracey Childs gave solid performances and kept this production together, along with director Rodney Bennett. The supporting cast also included memorable performances from the likes of Peter Gale, Amanda Boxer, Donald Douglas, Julia Chambers Bosco Hogan and Robert Swann. And screenwriters Alexander Baron and Denis Constanduros managed to create a solid script that was nearly faithful to the story. And despite a few disappointing performances and a slightly cheap looking performance, my regard for this production has risen over the years. Much to my great surprise.
Saturday, May 27, 2017
Below are images from Season One of the NBC series, "TIMELESS". Created by Eric Kripke and Shawn Ryan, the series stars Abigail Spencer, Matt Lanter and Malcolm Barrett:
"TIMELESS" SEASON ONE (2016-2017) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, May 24, 2017
I first wrote the following article during mid-Season Seven of CBS's "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER":
"HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" AND THE NOT-SO-GREAT ROBIN/BARNEY LOVE FEST
I am tired of the Robin Scherbatsky/Barney Stinson (Cobie Smulders/Neil Patrick Harris) saga. I really am. They have practically dominated Season Seven of CBS's "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" with a romance that seemed to be force-fed by the series' creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays, in order to satisfy the certain shippers.
What can I say? Everything about the Robin/Barney love story has seemed forced to me. As far back as Seasons Four and Five. When the pair first became a couple back in Season Five, Thomas and Bays managed to screw that relationship by breaking them up in (5.07) "The Rough Patch". And they used one of the most contrived reasons I have come across in television history. After dating each other for a while, the two decided to break up, because their relationship led them - "two awesomes" - to "cancel each other out", making them less than they want to be. Their relationship led Robin to become a sloppy dresser and Barney to gain weight. It was one of the most ridiculous episodes I had ever seen.
But what happened between Robin and Barney seemed nothing in compare to the love saga that awaited viewers in Seasons Six and Seven. Robin introduced Barney to a work colleague of hers named Nora (Nazanin Boniadi) in the Season Six episode, (6.16) "Desperation Day. After Barney struggled with his feelings for Nora throughout late Season Six, he finally realized that he was interested in her in the season finale, (6.24) "Challenge Accepted". In the following season, Barney told Nora about his sexual past in (7.02) "The Naked Truth". She nearly dumped him, until she realized how serious he was about her . . . and decided to give him a chance. During this initial courtship between Barney and Nora, Robin decided that she still have feelings for him. Gee . . . how convenient. Instead of telling Barney about her feelings, she eventually began dating her psychiatrist, Kevin (portrayed by Kai Penn).
I was willing to give the possibility of a second Barney/Robin hook-up another chance. But Thomas and Bays managed to fuck it all up. At least for me. One, the producers had decided to portray poor Nora as a one-dimensional paragon of perfection. During the nine episodes Nora appeared in the series, the writers never developed her beyond her penchant for Valentine's Day, kids and ideal romance. She was a female Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor), but without any flaws or complexity whatsoever. Hell, Ted's past girlfriends were portrayed with more complexity than Nora. And I am not just talking about Robin. Even the latter's new boyfriend, Kevin, seemed more complex and interesting as Nora. The only time I ever came close to really liking Nora was in (7.07) "Noretta", in which she suffered a series of mishaps during a date that was supposed to culminate in sex for the first time with Barney. But Thomas and Bays never allowed Nora's character to develop beyond the mishaps she had suffered in that particular episode. They seemed determined to manipulate the viewers into disliking her and cheering for a Barney/Robin hookup.
In the end, Thomas and Bays got rid of Nora in (7.10) "Tick, Tick, Tick . . .". And how do they achieve this? They allowed Barney and Robin to cheat on both her and Kevin by having sex sometime between (7.09) "Disaster Averted" and "Tick, Tick, Tick . . .". In the latter episode, Barney eventually told Nora that he had "slept with another woman". He failed to inform her that the woman in question was her colleague and the woman who had introduced them . . . namely Robin. Then he dumped Nora. What the fuck? This unpleasant task was followed with a scene in which Robin silently conveyed to Barney that she decided to keep their night of illicit sex as a secret from Kevin. Barney ended up crying in his milk, because Robin decided to stay with Kevin. And how did I feel? I realized that I could not give a shit . . . about either Barney or Robin.
Wait. It got worse. At the end of (7.11) "The Rebound Girl", Robin informed Barney that she might be pregnant. Even worse, he might be the father, since she has yet to have sex with Kevin. This bit of information had me rolling my eyes with disbelief. In (7.12) "Symphony of Illumination", Robin discovered that she was not pregnant. Her celebration was short-lived, when her doctor informed that she could never have children. This last plot twist disgusted me to no end.
Why? Why in the hell did Thomas and Bays use to plot line for Robin in the first damn place? For what purpose? They revealed in a few interviews that Robin's discovery about her inability to conceive would drive her to become more career-oriented. Really? How lame! They could have simply continued to use Robin's dislike of motherhood to explain why she never had kids. Why in the hell did they bother to use this "inability to have kids" plot line, straight out of a Ross Hunter production from the late 1950s and early 60s? It is so Lana Turner. Did they honestly believe that the only way for Robin to remain sympathetic was for her to be physically denied the chance to get pregnant, instead of simply disliking the idea of being a mother? Or was this simply another addition to the Robin/Barney soap opera, leading to their eventual marriage?
What makes Robin and Barney's romance even harder to swallow is the fact that I do not find their romantic chemistry all that exciting. In fact, I find it rather dull. Both Harris and Smulders had great chemistry when portraying their characters as close friends, or whenever Robin repelled one of Barney's cheap come-ons. But when it came to portraying serious romance between the two, I found the chemistry between Harris and Smulders as exciting as a piece of wood. Smulders had better chemistry with Radnor during Robin's romance with Ted. In the Season Two episode, (2.05) "The World's Greatest Couple", Lily had moved into Barney's apartment to help him stave off persistent one-night stands. Harris and Hannigan had more chemistry in that one episode than he ever did with Smulders. He even had better chemistry with Boniadi, when her Nora character was at its most one-dimensional.
The Barney/Robin soap opera seemed to have affected the characters of Ted, Marshall Eriksen (Jason Segel) and Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan). I realize that "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" is not solely about Ted's search for his future wife. Six seasons of the series have proven this. But Ted, Marshall and Lily have been treated as supporting characters in compare to Barney and Robin. They have been given silly "B" plots in most of the season's episodes, despite the fact that Marshall and Lily are expecting their first child and Ted is supposed to be the series' leading character. while viewers (at least those who, like myself, are not Barney/Robin shippers) have been forced to swallow the barely digestible Barney/Robin love fest of Season Seven. The balance between all five characters have been off ever since the producers had decided to engage in Barney and Robin's "love story" this past year.
Will the great Robin/Barney love fest abate at least a little by the second half of Season Seven? I hope so, but I have doubts. Barney is scheduled for his own wedding sometime in the near future, thanks to a flash forward seen in the season premiere, (7.01) "The Best Man". Like many viewers, I suspect that the bride in question is likely to be Robin. When the series' first two seasons led toward Marshall and Lily's wedding in (2.21) "Something Borrowed", their characters did not overshadow the other three with dominant appearances throughout the first two seasons. Yet, Thomas and Bays have bombarded viewers with episodes centering around Robin and Barney during this past year. Why? I suspect to satisfy the growing number of Barney/Robin shippers that seemed to have materialize over the past few seasons.
Now, is it really two much to ask for the producers to get over their Barney/Robin obsession and return the balance for all five characters? Is it? Many fans of the show had complained about the quality of Season Six. Mind you, the last season did not feature "HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER" at its best. But I managed to enjoy it a hell of a lot better than Season Seven. If this Robin/Barney love fest get any worse, Craig Thomas and Carter Bays is going to lose a fan . . . namely me.
Thursday, May 18, 2017
"THE MASTER" (2012) Review
Paul Thomas Anderson seemed to be one of those filmmakers who embody what critics would categorize as a modern day "auteurist" that release a movie every few years to dazzle moviegoers and critics with his or her personal creative vision. During his sixteen years as a director and filmmaker, he has made four short films and six feature movies. One of the six feature films is his latest, "THE MASTER".
Believed by many to be an exposé on Scientology, "THE MASTER" tells of the story of a World War II Navy veteran named Freddie Quell, who struggles to adjust to a post-war society. Freddie uses sex and alcohol to escape his personal demons. But when his drinking and violent behavior leads him to lose jobs as a department store photographer and a field worker on a cabbage farm, Freddie ends up in San Francisco, where he stows aboard a yacht that belongs to one Lancaster Dodd, a leader of a philosophical movement known as "The Cause". Dodd sees something in Quell and accepts him into the movement. But Freddie's drunken and violent behavior fails to abate and Dodd's wife, daughter and son-in-law begin to express doubt that the latter can help the World War II veteran.
What can I say about "THE MASTER"? Did it turn out to be the exposé on Scientology that many believed it would become? Not really. Despite its title, "THE MASTER" seemed to be more about Freddie Quell than Lancaster Dodd and "the Cause". The movie did feature practices that are believed to be similar to those practiced by members of Scientology. But the movie's deeper focus on Freddie's personal demons has led me to believe that the Church of Scientology has nothing to fear. In the end, "THE MASTER" seemed to be more of a character study of the very disturbed Freddie Quell, along with a secondary study of Lancaster Dodd . . . and their friendship. And Paul Thomas Anderson revealed these two character studies in a movie with a running time of 143 minutes.
There were aspects of "THE MASTER" I found very admirable. The movie featured outstanding performances from Joaquin Phoenix, who gave a volatile portrayal of the disturbing Freddie Quell. I was also impressed by Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of the charismatic Lancaster Dodd. His performance not only hinted in subtle ways, his understanding of Freddie's demons, but the possibility that he once possessed similar demons. And Amy Adams was memorable as Peggy Dodd, Lancaster's second or third wife, who not only seemed more dedicated to "the Cause" than her husband; but also seemed to understand both him and Freddie with a frankness the two men seemed unwilling to face. The movie also featured solid performances from Laura Dern, who portrayed a hardcore devotee to Dodd; Rami Malek, Dodd's quiet and unassuming son-in-law who assumes a dislike of Freddie; Ambyr Childers, Dodd's daughter, who hides a lusty attraction to Freddie; Jesse Plemons, who portrays Dodd's disenchanted son; Madisen Beaty, who portrays Freddie's love of his life; and Kevin J. O'Connor, a devotee of "the Cause" who is not impressed by Dodd's writing.
I was also impressed by the movie's production designs. David Frank and Jack Fisk did an excellent job in re-creating America during the post-World War II era and the beginning of the 1950s. Mark Bridges' costumes were tasteful and at the same time, projected an accuracy of the era. And cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. captured Anderson's direction and the movie's setting with some impressive photography.
So, did I enjoy "THE MASTER"? No. In fact, I dislike the movie . . . intensely. There is nothing more boring than a 143 minute character study, in which the main character does not evolve or devolve. Freddie Quell never changes. Perhaps this was the lesson that Anderson was trying to convey. But honestly, he could have done this with more solid writing, a shorter running time and with less pretentiousness. And I have never seen a movie with so much pretentiousness since Joe Wright's movie, "HANNA". While watching an early scene that featured Freddie dry humping a nude woman made from sand on a beach, I began to suspect that my patience might be tested with this film. I had no idea my patience would eventually slipped into sheer boredom. One cannot image the relief I felt when the movie finally ended.
I realize that "THE MASTER" has received a great deal of acclaim from critics and some moviegoers. But I simply failed to see the magic. When the movie managed to acquire a great deal of nominations during the 2012-2013 awards season I was not be one of those rooting the movie for critical glory. I disliked it too much. After nearly five years, I still do.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Below are images from "MILDRED PIERCE", Todd Haynes' 2011 adaptation of James M. Cain's 1941 novel. The five-part miniseries starred Kate Winslet in the title role:
"MILDRED PIERCE" (2011) Photo Gallery
"MILDRED PIERCE" (2011) Photo Gallery