“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode One “Currahee” Commentary

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – EPISODE ONE “CURRAHEE” COMMENTARY

After spending the last six months or so watching and re-watching my taped copies of the recent HBO miniseries, ”THE PACIFIC”, my family and I decided to re-watch the first television collaboration between Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Of course I am speaking of the 2001 Golden Globe and Emmy winning miniseries, ”BAND OF BROTHERS”

Based upon Stephen Ambrose historical book , ”BAND OF BROTHERS” centered around the experiences of “Easy” Company, one company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, assigned to the 101st Airborne Division during World War II. The miniseries was divided into ten episodes and starred Damian Lewis and Ron Livingston. The first episode, titled ”Curahee”, told the story of Easy Company’s two years of training at Toccoa, Georgia; North Carolina; and later in England under the command of Herbert Sobel.

”Currahee” basically served as an introduction of the main characters featured throughout the miniseries. However, not all of the characters made an impact in this episode. Albert Blythe, David Webster and several others were occasionally seen, but not heard. But one did have characters like William “Wild Bill” Guarnere, Carwood Lipton, George Luz, John Martin, Joe Liebgott, and Harry Welsh certainly made their impacts. More importantly, the two lead characters were featured – namely Richard Winters and Lewis Nixon. But I might as well be frank. This episode truly belonged to the man who had served as Easy Company’s first commander, Herbert Sobel.

The acting in ”Currahee” struck me as pretty solid. At least 70% of the cast featured British or Irish actors portraying American servicemen. Some of the actors did pretty good jobs in maintaining an American accent – including Damian Lewis. However, there were times when it seemed that the basic American accents that most of the British cast seemed capable of using were either Southern, a flat trans-Atlantic accent or an accent from one of the five boroughs of New York City. I found it disconcerting to find some British actors using the latter, despite their characters coming from another part of the country. For example, actor Ross McCall did a great New York accent. Unfortunately, his character Joe Liebgott was born in Michigan, and moved to San Francisco sometime before the war. Even some of the American actors used the wrong accent for their characters. I enjoyed James Madio’s performance as Frank Perconte. However, Madio, who hailed from New York City (the Bronx), used his natural accent to portray Illinois native, Perconte.

I have to be honest. I never found the basic training sequences featured in some war movies to be interesting. In fact, the only war movies that featured interesting training sequences were about the Vietnam War – ”THE BOYS OF COMPANY ‘C’” (1978) and”FULL METAL JACKET” (1987). As I had stated earlier, the episode ”Currahee” truly belonged to the Herbert Sobel character and David Schwimmer’s memorable and complex performance. Despite Ambrose’s portrayal of Sobel as a tyrannical company commander that was deeply disliked by his men, many veterans of Easy Company cannot deny that he made the company. His tough training methods helped the men endure the horrors of war that faced them in future battles. If it were not for his character and Schwimmer’s performance, I would barely consider ”Currahee” as an interesting episode.

Once Sobel was removed from the scene, the last 15 to 20 minutes of ”Currahee” featured Easy Company’s preparation for their jump into Normandy, France and their participation of the famous June 5-6 invasion. Those last minutes also set future storylines in the next episode and in future ones – including Easy Company’s experiences in France, Guarnere’s anger over his brother’s death, and Lynn “Buck” Compton’s relationship with the men in his platoon. It was not a bad episode. In fact, it was pretty interesting, thanks to David Schwimmer’s portrayal of Easy Company’s first commander, Herbert Sobel. But if it were not for the presence of Sobel’s character, I would almost find this episode rather dull.

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“Anthony’s Doubts” [PG-13] – 1/2

Here is a “Pearl Harbor” vignette told in the first person, from the point of view of one of the movie’s supporting characters, a New York born Italian-American named Lieutenant Anthony Fusco (portrayed by Greg Zola). It’s called,“Anthony’s Doubts”:
“ANTHONY’S DOUBTS”

RATING: PG-13
FEEDBACK: Please feel free to send a little feedback. Please, no flames.
SUMMARY: Anthony expresses his feelings toward the burgeoning relationship between Danny and Evelyn.
DISCLAIMER: Yadda, yadda, yadda! All characters pertaining to the motion picture, “Pearl Harbor”, belong to Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, Randall Wallace and the Walt Disney Company . . . unfortunately.

NOTE: This comes from that delicious line expressed by someone in the movie. I think it was Anthony Fusco, but I’m not sure. I only wish I could remember it, word from word. 

****************************************

“ANTHONY’S DOUBTS”

I don’t know why everyone seems to think it’s a good idea for them to date. I certainly don’t. If you ask me, they’re making a big mistake. Danny and Evelyn, I mean.

I mean, jeez, anyone can see that Danny and Evelyn are only interested in each other, because of Rafe. Rafe McCawley – Danny’s best friend and Evelyn’s boyfriend. Well, dead best friend and dead boyfriend. Rafe has been dead for the past three months. Shot over the English Channel by the Germans. Damn Krauts!

Of all the people I could never see getting shot down, it was Lieutenant Rafe McCawley, of the U.S. Army Air Corps. I mean, hick or no hick, the man was a talented pilot. Even our old CO from Mitchell Field, the famous James Doolittle, had considered Rafe to be an outstanding pilot. And Rafe . . . well, he just seemed too talented and too alive to bite the dust over the English Channel. Then again, no one lives forever. Not even a walking live wire like poor old Rafe.

Danny Walker is another kettle of fish. Like Rafe, he’s another talented pilot. Although not quite in Rafe’s league. I guess you can say he was the second best pilot in our squad. Now that Rafe is dead, he’s the number one guy. Now Danny is the quiet type. Sometimes, the man barely says two sentences during an entire day. Unless the subject happens to be flying. He had practically worshipped the ground Rafe walked upon – like a typical younger brother. Hell, they had seemed like brothers. I heard that Danny’s pop had fought in the last war and came home, a drunken wreck. After he died, Rafe’s parents took Danny in and the two practically became brothers. Now that Rafe is dead, he no longer has a family. I guess as far as he’s concerned.

And then there was Evelyn Johnson. I still remember that evening in New York, when we all first met her and the other nurses. I had my eye on Sandra O’Connell, a pretty redhead with glasses and kissable lips. What is it with that woman, anyway? After ten months, she acts as if I’ve got the clap or something. Although I mainly had Sandra on my mind, I could not help but notice Rafe and Evelyn. The electricity between them was unmistakable. I swear it seemed as if they were in their own little magical world.

Poor Evelyn. Rafe’s death must have hit her just as hard as it did Danny. Both Red and Betty told me that for the past three months – since Rafe’s death – she had been crying herself to sleep. I remember how she seemed to be in a daze, during that little memorial service we had for Rafe at the Hula-La Bar. Come to think of it, Danny kept to himself a lot, during that period. The only time he seemed to come alive was during flight duty. I don’t know. Maybe he had visions of avenging his buddy’s death.

Then just a few days ago, Red proposed marriage to Betty. They, along with Billy and Barbara, spotted Evelyn and Danny together, inside the Black Cat Café. They had run into each other outside a movie theater in downtown Honolulu. Billy and Red talked of nothing but Danny and Evelyn. And how it would be great for those two to get over Rafe’s death and start dating. Jesus, what a couple of morons! Meanwhile, Danny ran over to the nurse’s quarters at Pearl, to return Evelyn’s handkerchief. Yeah, right. I saw how he looked. Like a man who had found a drop of water in the middle of the desert.

And now we have Evelyn, visiting Danny, here at Wheeler Field. Dressed in this little red Chinese number that fit her in the all the right places. It was obvious that she wore it to impress Danny. And the dumb idiot practically drooled over her like a dog in heat.

Being Danny, he asked us for advice. Should he or shouldn’t he date Evelyn? Red told him to give her a shot. As far as Red was concerned, Rafe was dead and it was time for Danny and Evelyn to move on. That was the worst advice anyone could have given. I think I was the only one who thought differently. I said that if I were dead and my best friend was dating my girl, I’d come back and beat the shit out of him. Everyone laughed, thinking I was joking. Well, I wasn’t joking. Jesus, they can’t all be idiots, can they?

Red, Billy and the others don’t seem to understand that you can’t stop grieving over someone, as if he or she was a sink you can easily turn off. I remember my Uncle Mario Fusco. He was a soldier who had served in China, some fifteen years ago. Poor Uncle Mario had been declared dead and his wife, Aunt Lucinda, cried over him something awful. Well, the rest of the family advised her to move on and she ended up getting engaged to one of Mario’s buddies, this guy named Paul Rizzo. And guess what happened? After dating Paul for several months, Aunt Lucinda decided to marry him, because she was lonely. Despite the fact that she still had not recovered from Uncle Mario’s death. Just before the wedding, Uncle Mario showed up, alive and well. And Aunt Lucinda dropped this Rizzo fella like a hat. It almost broke up Mario and Paul’s friendship.

Now, I’m not saying that Rafe is going to appear from the dead or anything like that. But hey, you never know. Plus, I can see that Evelyn still has not recovered from his death. When she visited Danny, this afternoon, I had this weird feeling that her heart wasn’t really focused on him. It seemed . . . well, as if she had to force herself to stop grieving. I suspect that the only reason both are interested in each other is because of Rafe. They’re using each other to get over their grief, but they don’t seem to realize that.

But it’s too late now. Danny just left to see Evelyn. He told me that he plans to take her flying over Wakikki Beach. I don’t know. Something tells me that nothing good is gonna come out of this. And my instincts are usually pretty on the QT. I guess all I can do is wait and see.

END OF PART 1

“HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” (2004) Review

“HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” (2004) Review

My knowledge of 19th century author, Anthony Trollope, can be described as rather skimpy. In fact, I have never read any of his works. But the 2004 BBC adaptation of his 1869 novel, ”He Knew He Was Right”, caught my interest and I decided to watch the four-part miniseries. 

”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” told the decline and fall of a wealthy gentleman named Louis Trevelyan (Oliver Dimsdale) and his marriage to the elder daughter of a British Colonial administrator named Sir Marmaduke Rowley (Geoffrey Palmer) during the late 1860s. Louis first met the spirited Emily Rowley (Laura Fraser) during a trip to the fictional Mandarin Islands. Their marriage began on a happy note and managed to produce one son, young Louis. But when Emily’s godfather, the rakish Colonel Osborne (Bill Nighy), began paying consistent visits to her, the house of cards for the Trevelyan marriage began to fall. Doubts about his wife’s fidelity formed clouds in Louis’ mind upon learning about Osborne’s reputation as a ladies’ man. His insistence that Emily put an end to Osborne’s visits, along with her stubborn opposition to his demands and outrage over his lack of trust finally led to a serious break in their marriage. What followed was a minor public over their estrangement, a change of addresses for both husband and wife, Louis’ kidnapping of their son and his final descent into paranoia and madness.

The miniseries also featured several subplots. One centered around the forbidden romance between Emily’s younger sister, Nora (Christina Cole), and a young journalist named Hugh Stansbury (Stephen Campbell Moore), who happened to be Louis’ closest friend. Another featured the efforts of Hugh’s wealthy Aunt Jemima Stansbury (Anna Massey) to pair his younger sister Dorothy (Caroline Martin) to a local vicar in Wells named Reverend Gibson (David Tennant). Unfortunately for Aunt Stansbury, her desires for a romance between Dorothy and Reverend Gibson ended with Dorothy’s rejection of him and his lies about her moral character. Later, Dorothy and Aunt Stansbury found themselves at odds over Dorothy’s friendship and burgeoning romance with the nephew of her old love, Brooke Burgess (Matthew Goode). Gibson found himself in hot water with the socially powerful Aunt Stansbury over his lies about Dorothy. But that was nothing in compare to his being the center of a bitter sibling rivalry between two sisters, Arabella and Camilla French (Fenella Woolgar and Claudie Blakley). One last subplot evolved from Nora Rowley’s rejection of a wealthy aristocrat named Mr. Glascock (Raymond Coulthard). While traveling through Italy, he became acquainted with Caroline Spalding (Anna-Louise Plowman), one of two daughters of an American diplomat; and began a romance with her.

Most of the subplots from ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” proved to be mildly entertaining or interesting. But the one subplot that really caught my attention featured Reverend Gibson and the French sisters. There were times when I could not even describe this story. I found it hilarious in a slightly twisted and surreal manner. Considering the vicar’s sniveling personality, there were times I felt it served him right to find himself trapped in the rivalry between the sweetly manipulative Arabella and the aggressive Camilla. But when the latter proved to be obsessive and slightly unhinged, I actually found myself rooting for Reverend Gibson to be free of her grasp. In some ways, Camilla proved to be just as mentally disturbed as Louis Treveylan.

For me, the best aspect of ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” proved to be the main plot about the Treveylan marriage. I have to give kudos to Andrew Davies for his excellent job in adapting Trollope’s tale. I found the Louis and Emily’s story to be fascinating and well written. When their marriage ended in separation at the end of Episode One, I wondered if Davies had rushed the story. Foolish me. I never realized that the separation would lead toward a slow journey into madness for Louis and one of frustration and resentment for Emily. Her resentment increased tenfold after Louis kidnapped their young son, Little Louis; and upon her discovery that as a woman, she did not have the law on her side on who would be considered as the boy’s legal guardian. For me, the most surprising aspect of ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” was that despite all of the hell Louis forced Emily to endure, I ended up feeling very sorry for him. Due to his own insecurities over Colonel Osborne’s attentions to Emily and her strength of character, Louis ended up enduring a great deal of his own hell.

Another aspect I found rather interesting about ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” was the topic of power abuse that permeated the tale. Many film and literary critics have used the Louis Trevelyan character as an argument that the story’s main theme was the abuse of paternal or male power. I heartily agree with that argument. To a certain extent. After all, Louis’ hang-ups regarding Emily’s relationship with Colonel Osborne seemed to be centered around her unwillingness to blindly obey him or his fear that he may not be enough of a man for her. And Sir Marmaduke’s insistence that Nora dismiss the idea of marrying the penniless Hugh Stanbury for a wealthier gentleman – namely Mr. Glascock. But the miniseries also touched upon examples of matriarchy or female abuse of power – something that most critics or fans hardly ever mention. Jemima Stanbury’s position as the Stanburys’ matriarch and only wealthy family member gave her the belief she had the power to rule over the lives of her family. This especially seemed to be the case in her efforts to control Dorothy’s love life. Camilla French struck me as another female who used her position as Reverend French’s fiancée to abuse it – especially in her aggressive attempts to ensure that he would give in to her desires and demands. And when that failed, she used her anger and threats of violence to ensure that her sister Arabella did not win in their rivalry over the spineless vicar. Some would say that Camilla was merely indulging in masculine behavior. I would not agree. For I believe that both men and women – being human beings – are capable of violence. For me, aggression is a human trait and not associated with one particular gender. In the end, both Sir Marmaduke and Aunt Stanbury relented to the desires of their loved ones. Camilla had no choice but to relent to Arabella’s victory in their race to become Reverend Gibson’s wife, thanks to her mother and uncle’s intervention. As for Louis, he continued to believe he was right about Emily and Colonel Osborne . . . at least right before the bitter end.

Oliver Dimsdale proved to be the right actor to portray the complex and tragic Louis Trevelyan. He could have easily portrayed Louis as an unsympathetic and one-note figure of patriarchy. Instead, Dimsdale skillfully conveyed all of Louis’ faults and insecurities; and at the same time, left me feeling sympathetic toward the character. Dimsdale’s Louis was not a monster, but a flawed man who believed he could control everything and especially everyone in his life. And this trait proved to be his Achilles heel. But despite my sympathies toward him, I could never accept the righteousness of Louis’ behavior. And the main reason proved to be Laura Fraser’s portrayal of the high-spirited and stubborn Emily Rowley Trevelyan. One could say that Emily should have conceded to her husband’s wishes. As the spouse of a pre-20th century male, one would expect her to. I could point out that she did concede to Louis’ wishes – while protesting along the way. And Fraser not only did a marvelous job with Emily’s strong will and stubbornness, but also anger at Louis’ paternalism. Amazingly, she also effectively portrayed Emily’s continuing love for Louis and doubts over the character’s actions with a great deal of plausibility. This last trait was especially apparent in Emily’s conversations with Hugh Stanbury’s sister, Priscilla, in Episode Two. And both Dimsdale and Fraser created a strong and credible screen chemistry, despite their characters’ flaws, mistakes and conflicts.

Another reason I managed to enjoy ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” turned out to be the solid performances by the supporting cast. However, several performances stood out for me. Three came from veteran performers such as Bill Nighy, Anna Massey and Ron Cook. Nighy, ever the chameleon, gave a delicious performance as the mischievous and rakish Colonel Osborne; who proved to be something of a blustering phony in the end. Anna Massey gave a wonderful and entertaining portrayal as the wealthy matriarch of the Stanbury family, Jemima Stanbury. Despite being a tyrannical and no-nonsense woman, Massey’s Aunt Stanbury also proved to be a likeable and vulnerable individual. And Cook did a marvelous job in portraying Mr. Nozzle as more than just a study in one-dimensional seediness. Cook aptly conveyed the private detective’s conflict between his greedy desire for Louis’ business and his sympathy toward Emily’s plight.

The second trio of performances that impressed me came from David Tennant, Fenella Woolgar and Claudie Blakley, who portrayed the Reverend Gibson and the French sisters. Tennant, who was two years away from portraying the 10th Doctor Who, gave a hilarious performance as the avaricious vicar with a spine made from gelatin. Both Woolgar and Blakley were equally funny as the two sisters battling for his affections . . . or at least a marriage proposal. Blakley also seemed a tad frightening, as she delved into Camilla’s aggressive and homicidal determination to prevent Mr. Gibson from returning his “affections” to the more mild-tempered and manipulative Arabella.

The production values for ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” seemed pretty solid. But I found nothing exceptional about it, except for Mike Eley’s photography and Debbie Wiseman’s haunting score, which seemed appropriate for the Trevelyans’ doomed marriage. However, I do have one major problem with Trollope’s tale . . . and Davies’ script. Quite simply, the story suffered from one too many subplots. Many have counted at least five subplots in ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” and they would be correct. At least three of them – Dorothy’s problems with Reverend Gibson, her conflict with Aunt Stanbury over Brooke Burgess, and Reverend Gibson’s problems with the French sisters – having nothing to do with the main storyline. Despite the fact that I found them either interesting or entertaining, I felt as if they belonged in another novel or series. I realize that Trollope had used these subplots as examples of comparisons to the Trevelyan marriage, but I always have this strange sensation that I am watching a completely different series altogether. I believe that Davies should have realized this before writing his script.

Despite my problems with the tale’s numerous subplots, I found ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” to be a first-rate adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel. I must admit that all of the plotlines proved to be interesting. And Tom Vaughn’s direction, along with a first-rate cast led by Oliver Dimsdale and Laura Fraser, ”HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” proved to be a literary adaptation worth watching.

“SALT” (2010) Review

 

“SALT” (2010) Review

It has been a while since I last saw a movie directed by Philip Noyce. In fact, the last one I can recall was 2002’s ”THE QUIET AMERICAN”. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he had been chosen to direct Angelina Jolie’s new action thriller called”SALT”

The movie told the story of a CIA agent named Evelyn Salt, who is accused of being a KGB sleeper agent. She eventually goes on the run to try to clear her name. At the order of her supervisor, Ted Winters, Salt interrogates a Russian defector named Orlov, who tells her about an operation organized by a powerful Russian since the Cold War; which will lead to the destruction of the United States. Orlov mentions that at the funeral of the late Vice President in New York City, the visiting Russian President will be killed by Russian spy – Evelyn Salt. Shaken at the accusation, Salt attempts to contact her husband Mike, a German arachnologist, fearing for his safety. Meanwhile, Orlov escapes, which prompts Salt to escape. This causes Winters and a counterintelligence agent named Peabody to believe she is a spy. After finding her husband missing at their apartment, Salt grabs a few essentials and continues her flight. After barely escaping a highway pursuit, Salt takes a bus to New York City to deal with the threat of the Russian president being assassinated.

When I first learned about the plot for ”SALT”, the first thing that came to mind was that it was a female variation on the recent BOURNE trilogy, starring Matt Damon. And in a way, it is. After all, Jolie portrays a CIA agent, who finds herself pursued by her former colleagues. And her character performs stunts that would make Damon . . . or his stunt man rather proud. However, after the movie’s setting had switched to New York City, Kurt Wimmer and Oscar winner Brian Hegeland’s script took an unexpected turn that left me a little breathless. And if that was not enough, another plot twist awaited, once the movie shifted back to Washington D.C. and a plot to kill the U.S. president. Another aspect of ”SALT” that surprised me was that the movie was released on the heels of news about a real Russian spy ring that was recently discovered in the U.S.

Angelina Jolie has come a long way since her two LARA CROFT movies. In her portrayal of Jennifer Salt, she is more assured and matured. And thankfully, she has also dropped the poseur attitude that slightly marred her performances as Lara Croft. Not only did Jolie do a first-rate job with her action sequences, she skillfully guided the emotional turmoil that her character endures throughout the movie. Adding solid support is Liev Schreiber, who portrayed her supervisor, Ted Winters. Beneath the charm and intelligence, Schreiber did a great job in conveying Ted’s emotional reaction to the possibility that Salt might be a Russian deep-cover mole. And Chiwetel Ejiofor was effective as the intense and determined counterintelligence agent, Peabody, who genuinely believes that Salt is a mole. He managed to convey this without indulging in any hammy acting.

Daniel Olbrychski gave a fascinating performance as the Russian defector, Orlov, who accused Salt of being a Russian agent. August Diehl portrayed Salt’s husband, the soft-spoken arachnologist, Michael Krause. Although he hardly had any lines in the film, he quietly conveyed his role as Salt’s emotional center. I was surprised to see Hunt Block, who portrayed the U.S. president. I have not seen him since the 1980s nighttime drama, ”KNOT’S LANDING”. I was also surprised to see Andre Braugher in the movie. He portrayed one of the President’s aides, yet he only had one or two lines. At first, I thought his career had really taken a nose dive, until I remembered that he was on the TNT television series called ”MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE”. So, how did he get stuck in a role that called for only two lines?

Noyce worked well with cinematographer Robert Elswit and film editors Stuart Baird and John Gilroy to create some very interesting action scenes . . . especially the fantastic sequence featuring the attempt to assassinate the Russian president in New York. Jolie contributed to these scenes with some of her own stunt work. Yes, I realize that some of the stunts seemed implausible – especially one that featured a jump by Salt from a Washington D.C. expressway to the top of a moving truck. But I have seen stunts in other movies that I found a lot more implausible. It seemed a pity that the movie was set either during the late fall or the winter. Although the cold season did not take any atmosphere away from the Manhattan sequences, I cannot say the same about the Washington D.C. exterior shots. I have always believed that the capital looked a lot better on film during the spring, summer and early fall seasons.

In the end, I enjoyed ”SALT” very much. I believe that it is one of the better summer movies this year. Director Philip Noyce did a first-class job with a solid script written by Kurt Wimmer and Brian Hegeland, and skillful performances from a cast led by Angelina Jolie. I noticed that the movie ended on a vague note that I would usually find annoying. But considering rumors that a sequel might follow, I can give it a pass.

The Welsh Rarebit

Here is some information and an old recipe about a dish made with a savory sauce of melted cheese and various other ingredients served hot over toasted bread. The dish is called the Welsh Rarebit: 

THE WELSH RAREBIT

The origin and evolution of Welsh Rabbit (aka Welsh Rarebit) differs according to one’s point of view. Combinations of melted cheese and toasted bread have been enjoyed in several cultures and cuisines for thousands of years. However, the name of this dish originated from 18th century Great Britain, after Wales. Welsh Rarebit is typically made with Cheddar cheese, in contrast to the Continental European fondue. And Welsh Rarebit made be considered a local variant.

There is no evidence that the Welsh actually originated this, although they have always had a reputation as cheese-lovers. A more likely derivation of the name is that Welsh in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was used as a patronizingly humorous epithet for any inferior grade or variety of article – as a substitute for the real thing. Welsh rabbit may therefore have started life as a dish resorted to when meat was not available.

Although the term is often used simply for a slice of bread topped with cheese and put under the grill, the fully-fledged Welsh rabbit is a more complicated dish with several variations – the cheese (classically Cheddar or Double Gloucester) can be mixed with butter or mustard, beer or wine, and it can be pre-melted and poured over the toast rather than grilled. Welsh rabbit has of course produced one of the great linguistic causes celebres of gastronomy with it genteel variant Welsh Rarebit. There is little doubt that rabbit is the original form and that rarebit (first recorded in 1785) is an attempt to reinterpret the odd and inappropriate-sounding rabbit as something more fitting to the dish. Precisely how this took place is not clear. It has been speculated that ”rarebit” was originally ”rearbit” – that is, something eaten at the end of a meal. But there is no actual evidence for this.

Here is a recipe for Welsh Rarebit from Chowning’s Tavern, located in Colonial Williamsburg:

WELSH RABBIT

– from Chowning’s Tavern
Colonial Williamsburg, Williamsburg, Virginia

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

1 cup beer
2 teaspoons mustard powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1½ cups grated Cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt to taste
4 to 6 tomato slices
8 to 12 slices (½ inch thick), toasted French or Italian bread
Instructions:

Preheat a broiler. Place the beer, mustard, cayenne and Worcestershire sauce in a saucepan, and heat over medium heat until boiling. Slowly whisk in the cheese, making sure each addition is melted before adding the next. Add the butter, and whisk until smooth. Season with salt to taste, and set aside.
Place the tomato slices on the rack of a broiler pan, and broil for 1 minute, or until lightly browned.
To serve, place the toast slices on the bottom of an oven proof gratin dish or in individual gratin dishes. Pour the cheese over the toast, and then top with the tomato slices. Place under the broiler and broil until the cheese is bubbly and brown. Serve immediately.

Note: The components of the dish can be prepared up to a few hours in advance and kept at room temperature. Reheat the cheese until hot, whisking until it is smooth, before the final broiling.

– history.org

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (2004) Review

Below is my review of Disney’s 2004 adaptation of Jules Verne’s novel called “AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”

 

“AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” (2004) Review

The year 2004 marked the umpteenth time that an adaptation of Jules Verne’s travelogue movie, ”Around the World in Eighty Days” hit the movie screen. Well . . . actually, the fifth time. Released by Disney Studios and directed by Frank Coraci, this adaptation starred Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan, Cécile de France, Ewan Bremmer and Jim Broadbent.

This adaptation of Verne’s novel started on a different note. It opened with a Chinese man named Xau Ling (Jackie Chan) robbing a precious statuette called the Jade Buddha from the Bank of England. Ling managed to evade the police by hiding out at the home of an English inventor named Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan). To keep the latter from turning him in to the police, Ling pretends to be a French-born national named Passepartout, seeking work as a valet. After Fogg hired “Passepartout”, he clashed with various members of the Royal Academy of Science, including its bombastic member Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent). Kelvin expressed his belief that everything worth discovering has already been discovered and there is no need for further progress. The pair also discussed the bank robbery and in a blind rage, Phileas declared that that the thief could be in China in little over a month, which interests “Passepartout”. Kelvin pressured Phileas Fogg into a bet to see whether it would be possible, as his calculations say, to travel around the world in 80 days. If Fogg wins, he would become Minister of Science in Lord Kelvin’s place; if not, he would have to tear down his lab and never invent anything again. Unbeknownst to both Fogg and “Passepartout”, Kelvin recruited a corrupt London police detective named Inspector Fix to prevent the pair from completing their world journey. However, upon their arrival in Paris, they met an ambitious artist named Monique Larouche (Cécile de France), who decides to accompany them on their journey. Ling also became aware of warriors under the command of a female warlord named General Fang (Karen Mok), who also happens to be an ally of Lord Kelvin.

I might as well make this short. ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” did not do well at the box. In fact, it bombed. In a way, one could see why. In compare to the 1956 and 1989 versions, it took a lot more liberties with Verne’s original story. Phileas Fogg is portrayed as an eccentric inventor, instead of a Victorian gentleman of leisure. He takes on a bet with a rival member of the Royal Academy of Science, instead of members of the Reform Club. Passepartout is actually a Chinese warrior for an order of martial arts masters trying to protect his village. Princess Aouda has become a cheeky French would-be artist named Monique. And Inspector Fix has become a corrupt member of the London Police hired by the venal aristocrat Lord Kelvin to prevent Fogg from winning his bet. Fogg, Passepartout and Monique traveled to the Middle East by the Orient Express, with a stop in Turkey. Their journey also included a long stop at Ling’s village in China, where Fogg learned about Ling’s deception.

Some of the comedy – especially those scenes involving Fix’s attempts to arrest Fogg – came off as too broad and not very funny. Also, this adaptation of Verne’s tale was not presented as some kind of travelogue epic – as in the case of the 1956 and 1989 versions. The movie made short cuts by presenting Ling and Fogg’s journey through the use of day-glow animation created by an art direction team supervised by Gary Freeman. Frankly, I thought it looked slightly cheap. I really could have done without the main characters’ stop in Turkey, where Monique almost became Prince Hapi’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) seventh wife. It slowed down the story and it lacked any humor, whatsoever. I am a major fan of Jim Broadbent, but I must admit that last scene which featured his rant against Fogg and Queen Victoria on the steps of the Royal Academy of Science started out humorous and eventually became cringe-worthy. Poor man. He deserved better.

Did I like ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS”? Actually, I did. I found it surprisingly entertaining, despite its shortcomings. Jackie Chan and Steve Coogan made a rather funny screen team as the resourceful and clever Ling who had to deceive the slightly arrogant and uptight Fogg in order to quickly reach China. Cécile de France turned out to be a delightful addition to Chan and Coogan’s screen chemistry as the coquettish Monique, who added a great deal of spark to Fogg’s life. Granted, I had some complaints about Broadbent’s performance in his last scene. Yet, he otherwise gave a funny performance as the power-hungry and venal Lord Kelvin. It was rare to see him portray an outright villain. And although I found most of Bremmer’s scenes hard to take (I am not that big of a fan of slapstick humor), I must admit that two of his scenes left me in stitches – his attempt to arrest Ling and Fogg in India and his revelations of Lord Kelvin’s actions on the Royal Academy of Science steps.

There were many moments in David N. Titcher, David Benullo, and David Goldstein’s script that I actually enjoyed. One, I really enjoyed the entire sequence in Paris that featured Ling and Fogg’s meeting with Monique and also Ling’s encounter with some of General Fang’s warriors. Not only did it featured some top notch action; humorous performances by Chan, Coogan and de France; and colorful photography by Phil Meheux. Another first-rate sequence featured the globe-trotting travelers’ arrival at Ling’s village in China. The action in this sequence was even better thanks to the fight choreography supervised by Chan and stunt/action coordinator Chung Chi Li. It also had excellent characterization thanks to the screenwriters and the actors. One particular scene had me laughing. It featured Coogan and the two actors portraying Ling’s parents during a drunken luncheon for the travelers.

I wish I could say that this version of ”AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS” is the best I have seen. But I would be lying by making such a statement. To be honest, all three versions I have seen are flawed in their own ways. This version is probably more flawed than the others. But . . . I still managed to enjoy myself watching it. The movie can boast some first-rate performances from the cast – especially Jackie Chan, Steve Coogan and Cécile de France. And it also featured some kick-ass action scenes in at least three major sequences. Thankfully, it was not a complete waste.

“INCEPTION” (2010) Review

“INCEPTION” (2010) Review

It still amazes me at how director/writer Christopher Nolan’s films manage to generate a great deal of emotion from filmgoers and critics. This has certainly been the case for his latest work, the science-fiction drama called ”INCEPTION”.

Inspired by the experiences of lucid dreaming and dream incubation”INCEPTION”told the story of Dom Cobb, a dream “extractor” who enters the dreams of others in order to obtain information that is otherwise inaccessible. After failing to extract corporate secrets from a Japanese businessman named Saito, Cobb is hired by the latter to perform the act of ”inception” – the secret implant of an idea into a target’s mind – on the son of Saito’s terminally ill corporate rival, one Robert Fischer. Saito’s object is to convince Fischer to break up his father’s corporate empire in order to prevent it from becoming a monopoly and threatening the businessman’s own corporation. If Cobb manages to succeed, Saito promises to use his influence to clear the younger man of murdering his wife, so that he can reunite with his children.

Cobb assembles a team to achieve Saito’s objectives. They are:

*Arthur, the Point Man – who is also Cobb’s partner, and responsible for researching the team’s target

*Ariadne, the Architect – a graduate student who is recruited to construct worlds in which dreams take place

*Eames, the Forger – has the ability to take the form of others in order to manipulate the dreamer

*Yusuf, the Chemist – who formulates the drugs needed to sustain the team members’ dream states

*Saito, the Client/Observer – who decides to become part of the team

Despite assembling a skillful crew, Cobb encounters a few difficulties. One, Arthur had failed to discover that their mark, Fischer, had been trained in lucid dreaming and creating mental defenses. His mind manages to manifest armed personnel, which attacks the team in downtown Los Angeles, after they kidnap him in Yusuf’s dream. This leads to disaster for Saito, who is wounded during a gun battle. Due to Saito’s wounds, the rest of the team discovers that Cobb had failed to inform them that they could end up in limbo if they die in a dream state, due to the drugs given to them by Yusuf. Worst of all, Cobb has to deal with the manifestation of his dead wife, Mal (the Shade), whose presence in the dreams could end up threatening the assignment.

There had been a good deal of hype surrounding ”INCEPTION” before it hit the theaters in mid July. Surprisingly, I had been unaware of it. I merely wanted to see it due to Nolan’s role as director and writer, and from what I had seen in the movie trailer. I had no idea on how I would react to the film, considering my reactions to 2006’s ”THE PRESTIGE” and 2008’s ”THE DARK KNIGHT”. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed both movies very much. But it took me a while to understand the plot to ”THE PRESTIGE”and I have never liked the last 30 minutes of ”THE DARK KNIGHT”.

In the end, I not only understood ”INCEPTION”, I enjoyed it. Hell, I more than enjoyed it. I loved it. It is one of the most original movies I have seen in years. I found it very rare to see a movie that used unusual visuals to convey a main character’s emotional story. Through the use of dreams, the team manages to allow Robert Fischer to face his demons regarding his father and to finally put them aside, so that he can learn to be his own man. But more importantly, the Fischer assignment finally allows Cobb to face his own demons and guilt over his wife’s suicide.

The concepts of lucid dreaming and dream incubation are nothing new in movies or television. Both topics have been used in movies like ”THE MATRIX” and television series like “BABYLON FIVE””BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER” and ”STAR TREK VOYAGER”. With the amazing special effects supervised by Chris Corbould and Wally Pfister’s beautiful photography, Nolan managed to take these concepts to another level. And he did it without resorting to 3-D photography (thank you God!) or slow motion action (with the exception of one scene). The special effects were especially put to good use in scenes that featured a fight scene between Arthur and an unnamed man inside a high-priced hotel corridor, Cobb and Ariadne’s dream experiences on Parisian streets; and the Limbo world first created by Cobb and Mal.

Nolan had gathered an impressive group of actors and actresses for his cast. Veteran actors Michael Caine, Postlethwaite and Tom Berenger portrayed father figures (literally or otherwise) for at least two of the major characters and gave solid performances – especially Berenger, who portrayed Robert Fischer’s godfather and business associate. Dileep Rao, last seen in the 2009 blockbuster ”AVATAR”, had the good fortune to be cast in a larger role as Yusef, the Chemist. His character provided sedatives for the team to use in order to easily go into dream state. And I must say that I enjoyed Rao’s sly, yet humorous performance very much.

I have been aware of Tom Hardy since his two-episode appearance in the HBO miniseries, ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. But his portrayal of Eames the Forger is probably the first role in which he truly impressed me. Like Rao, he projected a sly sense of humor, mingled with a sharp wit and a hint of arrogance. And dear God! That man has a voice to die for. Cillian Murphy’s role as the Mark, Robert Fischer, seemed like a far cry from his villainous Dr. Jonathan Crane aka the Scarecrow in Nolan’s two BATMAN movies. Yet, the actor did an excellent job in his subtle portrayal of a man disappointed by what he deemed as his father’s lack of love toward him and his own insecurities that he may be unable to live up to his father’s shadow or expectations of him. Marion Cotillard proved to be quite an enigma in her portrayal of Mal, Cobb’s late wife. In some scenes, she projected a quiet, self-assurance as her character tried to manipulate her husband into accepting his dreams of her as reality. In others, she projected the melancholy of a woman teetering on the edge of suicide. And there were moments when Cotilllard conveyed a sense of subtle menace, whenever someone threatened Cobb’s memories of her. It was a very effective performance.

Another complex performance came from Ken Watanabe, who portrayed Cobb’s client, Saito. Judging from Watanabe’s portrayal of Saito, one would have felt certain that he would end up as the movie’s villain. Yet, thanks to Nolan’s script and Watanabe’s performance, Saito proved to be a complex individual that developed an interesting relationship with Cobb. The latter formed another interesting relationship with the team’s Architect, a college graduate named Ariadne. And Ellen Page did an excellent job in portraying Ariadne’s sense of wonder at her introduction of the world of lucid dreaming. More importantly, Page was effective in portraying what I believe was the movie’s emotional center – the one person who was able to help Cobb deal with his demons regarding Mal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role as Arthur, Cobb’s main partner, should finally set him on the road to stardom. He gave a wonderful performance as the team’s pragmatic Point Man, whose job was to provide background information on Fischer. He was cool, sardonic, dashing and surprisingly a pretty solid action man. His fight in the dream state hotel corridor might prove to be the talk of moviegoers and critics for months to come.

But the one man who held this movie together, other than Nolan, turned out to be leading man Leonardo DiCaprio. I could, in many words, praise his performance as Dom Cobb, the team’s leader and extractor/inceptor.  I could describe the emotional complexity of his portrayal of a man who remained torn by his wife’s death and his longing to reunite with his children and his efforts to keep his demons in check and prevent them from affecting his jobs. I could also praise DiCaprio for handling the movie’s action sequences like a born-again Bruce Willis. But why bother? All one has to do is watch the actor upon the movie screen. Personally, I believe that he may have given one of the better performances of his career, so far. In short, DiCaprio was phenomenal.   It seemed a crime that he did not earn an Academy Award for his work.

I tried to think of something to complain about ”INCEPTION” and only ended up with one. It seemed to me that two-thirds into the movie, its pacing began to drag. Which seemed odd, considering while the movie focused upon scenes featuring Eames’ dream – the snow fortress – I found myself squirming in my seat in an attempt to stay awake. Some of the action sequences seemed to go on a little too long by this point. Fortunately, the movie moved on to its final scenes, starting in the Limbo City dream sequence and my attention became revived.

There have been many discussions and debates over the movie’s final scene – namely Cobb’s reunion with his children and the last shot featuring the spinning top. Many claim the last shot was an indicator that the entire movie had been a dream and that Cobb remained stuck in a dream state. Others believe the spinning top – Mal’s totem – was nothing more than a red herring. As far as they were concerned, Cobb had genuinely reunited with his kids. Personally, I have no idea if the entire movie was a dream or not. A part of me feels it should not matter. What mattered to me was that Cobb finally learned to let go of Mal . . . and put his guilt over her death behind him. And by turning his back on Mal’s spinning top, I believe he had finally achieved this.

As far as movies go, the summer of 2010 had not been a memorable one for me. But it was not been a complete bust. I have seen a good number of entertaining movies. Yet, only a handful has truly impressed me. As far as I am concerned, the one movie that seemed to rise ahead of the others is Christopher Nolan’s latest opus – ”INCEPTION”.  Which was the best movie of 2010, as far as I am concerned.