“THE FOUR FEATHERS” (1977) Review

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“THE FOUR FEATHERS” (1977) Review

I have heard of the 1977 adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’ 1902 adventure film. But I never thought I would see it. Recently, it occurred to me to rent the movie from Netflix, because I have yet to run across it at any store that sells DVDs. I did rent “THE FOUR FEATHERS”. Needless to say, it produced some rather interesting feelings within me. 

Anyone familiar with Mason’s tale knows that “THE FOUR FEATHERS” is the story about a 19th century British Army officer named Harry Faversham, who harbor plans to resign from his commission in the Royal North Surrey Regiment and live out the rest of his days with future wife Ethne Eustace. During a ball held at his family estate, telegrams for Harry and three of his friends – Jack Durrance, William Trench and Thomas Willoughby – ordering them to report for duty, due to their regiment being shipped out to the Sudan to participate in the Mahdist War. Being the first to receive the telegrams, Harry had them destroyed so that he would not have to report for duty a day before his resignation from the Army was due to be official. Realizing what Harry had done, his father ostracized him, his three friends gave him white feathers that labeled him as a coward, and Ethne breaks off their engagement and also hands him a white feather. Also, Harry’s best friend, Captain Durrance, becomes a rival for Ethne. Haunted by his efforts to avoid combat, Harry travels to the Sudan to help his friends any way possible and return their feathers.

“THE FOUR FEATHERS” attracted a good deal of critical acclaim, after it aired on British and American television. The movie also earned a Primetime Emmy nomination. And if I must be honest, I find that particularly surprising. I have seen this movie twice. Granted, it seemed pretty decent as far as television movies go. But . . . an Emmy nomination?“THE FOUR FEATHERS”? It just did not strike me as being that memorable. The Wikipedia site claimed that it was a very faithful to Mason’s 1902 novel. Actually, it was no more faithful than any other adaptation I have seen. But I do feel that the movie’s critical acclaim might be overrated.

The movie can boast its virtues. “THE FOUR FEATHERS” provided a small, but detailed peek into Harry Faversham’s childhood that gave audiences a good idea behind his aversion to continuing his military career. It also featured at least two excellent action sequences – the skirmish that led to the destruction of Durrance’s company and his blindness, and Harry and Trench’s escape from the prison-of-war camp at Omdurman. Dramatic scenes abound in the film, especially one that featured the breakup of Harry and Ethne’s engagement and the former’s final confrontation with his militant father, retired General Faversham. 

And I cannot deny that some very good performances were also featured in “THE FOUR FEATHERS”. David Robb, Harry Andrews and Robin Bailey all gave solid performances. I found Simon Ward’s portrayal of William Trench rather intense, but believable. Both Robert Powell and Jane Seymour were excellent as Jack Durrance and Ethne Eustace. Beau Bridges proved to be an enjoyable surprise in his portrayal of the lead character, Harry Faversham. I recall reading one review of this movie, in which the critic praised the rest of the cast, but put down Bridges’ performance. Apparently, he found the idea of an American portraying a Victorian British military officer unbelievable. I have seen Americans portray British characters before. And quite honestly, I thought Bridges did an excellent job by giving a subtle performance and avoiding histronics . . . unlike his performance in the 1976 film, “SWASHBUCKLER”.

And while I found the production’s quality solid, I did not find it particularly dazzling. I can only assume that as a television production, it would not be on the same quality as a theatrical release. The movie’s costume designs by Olga Lehmann seemed a little more impressive. I especially enjoyed her costumes for Jane Seymour, despite my confusion over whether the costumes reflected the 1870s or the 1880s. But if I must be honest, I have seen other television productions a lot more impressive. I was also disappointed to find that the story’s jingoistic portrayal of the British Empire somewhat off-putting, especially for a television movie that had aired in the 1970s. I would even add that the sympathetic portrayal of Harry’s anti-military attitude struck me as a bit hypocritical, considering that the movie’s conservative view of British imperialism. I must also admit that I found myself slightly repelled at the sight of white English actors portraying Sudanese soldiers. Did the producers really find it that difficult to find non-white actors to portray the Sudanese? Speaking of white actors portraying African ones:

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen. The above photo is an image of British actor Richard Johnson portraying a Sudanese Arab named Abou Fatma, who assists Harry in his efforts to save his friends. Johnson gave a nice, solid performance as Fatma, but . . . why? Why??? Why on earth did the producers cast Johnson in this role? He looked like a performer in a 19th century minstrel show . . . or a cast member from “THE BIRTH OF A NATION”. This kind of wince-inducing casting may have been common in the film industry during the first half of the 20th century. But “THE FOUR FEATHERS” aired on television around 1977/78. Nearly a year after the ABC miniseries, “ROOTS”. What in the hell were the producers and casting director Paul Lee Lander thinking?

Do not get me wrong. “THE FOUR FEATHERS” is a pretty solid adventure movie that can boast a first-rate cast led by Beau Bridges. But I do feel that the movie is critically overrated. I did not find it that impressive, dramatically or production wise. I found the casting of white actors portraying non-white characters rather repulsive. And the movie’s sympathetic portrayal of the character’s anti-military stance in comparison to its pro-conservative portrayal of British imperialism struck me as hypocritical. Still . . . it was not a bad movie.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1920s: 


FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.



2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.



3 - Rush

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.



4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.



5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.



6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.



7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.



8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.



9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.



10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“The Rain Chronicles” [PG] – Book III




“The Rain Chronicles” [PG] – Book III

Rain Robinson of ”Future’s End” ends up on Voyager, following her adventures with Tom Paris and Tuvok in late 20th century Earth. Here is Book III. 

————- 

RAIN ROBINSON – May 27, 2373:

Today, I began my first shift in Stellar Cartography. It did not turn out too bad. I barely managed to keep up, but at least I didn’t make a fool of myself. Even better, I also made two friends, who didn’t seem to mind answering my questions every five or ten minutes.

My new friends happened to be sisters, twin sisters – Jenny and Megan Delaney. They seemed very friendly, a lot of fun to be with and a big help. Let’s face it. My knowledge of astronomy and stellar cartography is at least 300 years outdated. Thanks to Jenny, Megan and some late-night study sessions with the ship’s computer, I managed to catch up to the latest findings within two weeks. There is still a lot I don’t know. But, if all goes well, I should be able to keep up with them and the rest in Stellar Cartography by the end of the year. One last thing I like about the Delaneys – they seemed to be among the few on this ship who don’t seem full of themselves. In other words, they don’t look upon me like some cavewoman from prehistoric times.

Megan is the quiet one. Dimples usually form on her cheeks whenever she smiles. I also believe that she once dated Tom Paris, some two years ago. Okay, I must admit that I felt a little . . . no, a lot jealous when I first heard this news. Until I also learned that Megan and Tom had put their relationship behind them, a long time ago. And now, they only consider themselves as good friends. In fact, Megan has now developed an interest in another crewman, whose name has escaped me.

Unlike Megan, Jenny does not have dimples when she smiles. And she also seemed more like the outgoing type. Very talkative and with a lot of jokes. In many ways, she reminded me of Tom. After learning about the holodecks from Jenny, I wonder if she would be interested in creating programs from some of my old favorite “B” movies. She seemed like the type who would enjoy them. There is one thing about Jenny Delaney that I cannot fathom. Namely, her interest in one Ensign Harry Kim. She seems to like him. A lot.

What Jenny sees in him, I have no idea. I suppose one could say that he is very good-looking and smart. Despite his quiet nature, he also seemed to have a sly sense of humor. I almost grew to like him. Until I encountered one of his less admirable traits. Like a lot of people on this ship, Harry Kim has this smug superiority that tends to manifest itself whenever the subject of Starfleet or the Federation comes up. He seemed proud . . . almost a little too proud over humanity’s “evolvement” over the past 300 years. 

One time, he came so proud and smug over the subject that I could not help but respond in a bitchy manner. Let’s just say that Mr. Kim did not take kindly to my manner. Hey! What can I say? When I hear bullshit, I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut.

* * * * 

LIEUTENANT B’ELANNA TORRES – Stardate 50394.19:

I have a strong suspicion that Harry does not like Rain Robinson very much. At least, not anymore. However, that was not always the case.

When she first came aboard, Harry tried to make Rain feel at home. Typical Harry. Mister Collector-of-Lost-Souls. Both Tom and I had been amongst those lost souls during Voyager’s first year in the Delta Quadrant. Rain became another. Both she and Harry seemed destined to become good friends. Until that little conversation between them in the Mess Hall.

It happened about a week following Voyager’s encounter with the Q Continuum’s civil war. Harry, Tom, Rain, Ken Dalby, Megan Delaney, Golwat and I had gathered around one of the Mess Hall’s large tables, following dinner. Tom, Rain and I were recounting our adventures on 20th century Earth.

I had just finishing describing my and Chakotay’s encounter with those Arizona terrorists. Rain immediately added, “You must have come across one of those groups of right-wing terrorists. They’re people who feel that the government was slowly taking over their rights as citizens.”

Ken nodded. “Freedom fighters, right?” he asked.

A snort left Rain’s mouth. “Yeah, right. Freedom for white Americans. Especially if they’re men. As far as they’re concerned, everyone else deserves to be oppressed.”

“I noticed how they seemed to view both Chakotay and myself with a lot of hostility,” I added, remembering those stares. Curious, but hateful. “I guess it was a good thing Tuvok and the Doctor came to our rescue.”

Harry shook his head. “You were very lucky, Maquis. Quite frankly, I’m glad I had remained on the ship.” Then he faced Rain and made his big mistake. “I guess you’re lucky, also. Now that you don’t have to live in the 20th century, any longer.”

“Lucky?” Rain’s dark eyes narrowed. “How am I lucky?”

Harry continued, “Well, maybe not completely lucky. After all, you’re stuck in the Delta Quadrant with the rest of us. But once we return to Earth, you’ll find yourself in a better world. No wars, poverty, diseases and crime. It’s paradise.” His face lit up. Good old Starfleet. Optimistic, as always.

Another long pause followed. Rain continued to stare at Harry. Hard. “Hmmmph,” she finally said. “I guess the Earth of today is probably a better place to live. However, I doubt very much that you can still call it paradise. There’s no such place. At least not on this plane of existence.”

“I see what you’re getting at,” Harry said with a dismissive laugh. Unbeknownst to him, Rain’s body stiffened. “You’re speaking from some kind of spiritual point of view. Which is fine for those who are religious. But from our point of view, Earth is paradise. You just have to see it for yourself.” He looked as if he was ready to plant the Federation flag on the next planet.

A smirk threatened to tug the edges of Rain’s lips. “No kidding,” she said in a voice that dripped with sarcasm. “You know, I’ve been reading about your Federation in the ship’s computer. Earth is like you said. Somewhat.

Golwat frowned. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well . . . there are no wars. At least on Earth. But I’ve noticed that your Federation has been involved in plenty of wars elsewhere. From what I’ve read, you were just involved in a war with some species called Cardassan . . . uh, Cardasaiann . . .”

“Cardassians,” Tom added.

Rain shot him a grateful look. “Yeah. Thanks. Didn’t your Federation just have a war with these Cardassians about . . . oh, five years ago?”

Again, Tom provided the correct answer. “Six or seven years ago.” This time, Rain ignored him.

“But we’re now at peace with the Cardassians,” Harry explained. “The Federation signed a treaty with them about three years ago.” Ken Dalby frowned. As a fellow ex-Maquis, I didn’t blame him. Personally, I think the Federation should have dealt with the Cardassians when they had the chance.

And in typical Dalby fashion, Ken expressed what the rest of us former Maquis felt. “Not only did the Feds sign a treaty with the Cardies, they handed over their DMZ colonies in order to settle that treaty. A treaty that didn’t have a chance of working out.”

Rain nodded. “Yeah. I’ve read about that, too. Sort of reminds me of a certain event that happened on Earth, before my time.”

None of us seemed to have any idea what Rain was talking about. Including Mr. Twentieth Century himself. A confused looking Harry asked her to be specific.

“I read how your Federation gave up those colonies to ensure peace with these Cardas-si-ans. It reminded me of how the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler, allowing the latter to continue his conquest of smaller European nations in 1938. Chamberlain did all of this to avoid a war and yet, World War II began a year later.”

Tom cried out, “I remember reading about that!” He failed to notice the dark glance from Harry. “Now that I think about it, you’re right.”

The ‘Fleeters, with the exception of Megan Delaney, looked very upset. Especially Harry. Dalby naturally looked pleased by Rain’s analogy. As for Tom . . . Let’s just say that he seemed more enthralled by Miss Robinson herself, instead of what she had to say.

“You simply can’t compare the Federation to this Chamberlain fellow,” Harry declared in heated tones. “Especially since the Federation is still at peace with the Cardassians.”

Rain shot back, “How do you know?”

A smug smile appeared on Ken’s face. Golwait quietly excused herself. Megan remained seated. As for Harry – he opened his mouth to speak, but not a word came out. It didn’t surprise me. After all, it has been two years since we were all thrown into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker. A lot could have happened in the Alpha Quadrant during that period. I never realized until this moment on how much Harry put the Federation on a pedestal.

“By the way,” Rain added, “you also claimed that there was no poverty on Earth and . . .”

Harry nodded. “That’s right.”

“. . . no crime. And yet,” Rain continued, “you mean to tell me there is absolutely no crime on Earth? Including murder?”

Poor Harry. He looked as if he had walked into a trap. “We’re not violent!” he declared.

“But you still have murder. Right? I mean, money isn’t the only motive for all crimes. There are so many other emotions to deal with – lust, hatred, fear, you name it. I noticed that the Federation has a legal system.”

Tom quietly added, “And prison.” A faraway look had crept into his blue . . . I mean, his eyes. The ghost of prison in New Zealand seemed to have returned. I wonder if Rain knew about that aspect of his past? Or Caldik Prime?

Rain continued, “Look, what I’m trying to say is that this picture of Earth as ‘Paradise’ simply strikes me as being unrealistic. It might be a hell of a lot better than it was in my time. But from what I’ve read, it seemed far from perfect. And you’ve seemed to acquire a whole new set of problems over the past three centuries. Face it, there’s no such thing as paradise. Your Federation just might be spouting propaganda.”

Needless to say, Harry did not take Rain’s little speech very well. I don’t think even Golwat appreciated it and she wasn’t Human. Since both were regular Starfleet officers and Federation citizens, naturally both took Rain’s words very personal. Megan didn’t. Which surprised me. Perhaps the Delaneys had a more realistic view of the world than your average Federation citizen. I know that Tom did. And Dalby, not surprisingly, gleefully agreed with Rain.

And me? I may have been a Starfleet officer for the past two years, but I’ve also been around. Like Dalby and Tom, I’ve seen too much of the Universe’s dark side to view the Federation as paradise. Klingons believed that paradise awaits them in Sto-vo-kor. The Klingon afterlife. Judging from Rain’s comments about no paradise on this plane of existence, I suspect that she would agree with them.


END OF BOOK III

“RUSH” (2013) Review

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“RUSH” (2013) Review

Before I began this review, it occurred to me that Ron Howard has directed a good number of movie biographies set in the distance past for the last eighteen years, starting with 1995’s “APOLLO 13”. Mind you, the film was not Howard’s first period picture. But in the following years, he has directed four more biopics, including his latest project, “RUSH”

Written by Peter Morgan, who also worked with Howard on 2008’s “FROST/NIXON”“RUSH” told the story about the rivalry between Formula One race drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 racing season. The two drivers are highly skilled and talented race car drivers who first develop a fierce rivalry in 1970 at a Formula Three race at the Crystal Palace circuit in England. Hunt is a brash young Englishman with a tendency to vomit before every race and the Austrian Lauda is a cool, technical genius who relies on precision. While Lauda buys his way onto the BRM Formula One team, which includes legendary driver Clay Regazzoni, following a falling out with his father. Both Lauda and Regazzoni later join the Scuderia Ferrari team with Regazzoni, and Lauda wins his first championship in 1975. Hunt’s racing team, Hesketh Racing, closes shop after failing to secure a sponsor and the British driver manages to land a driving position in McLaren after Emerson Fittipaldi leaves the team. During this period, Hunt marries supermodel Suzy Miller and Lauda develops a relationship with socialite Marlene Knaus. 

Eventually, the movie shifts to the 1976 Fomula One racing season. Lauda dominates the early races, while Hunt and the McLaren team struggle with a series of setbacks that include mechanical failures and a disqualified win at the Spanish Grand Prix. Hunt also suffers a personal setback when his wife leaves him for Richard Burton. All seem to be going well for Lauda, including a private wedding to Marlene Knaus. But all come to a head for him at the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring, when he suffers a major car crash. While Hunt shoots ahead in points during his absence, Lauda struggles to recover the crash and return to finish the racing season.

Aside from the movies in the FAST AND FURIOUS series, the only auto racing movies that ever really caught my attention were two period comedies from the 1960s that featured Tony Curtis, the 2006 Will Ferrell comedy, TALLAGEDA NIGHTS: THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY”, and the 2008 film, “SPEED RACER”. That is it. Since I had never heard of James Hunt or Niki Lauda, I was almost inclined to skip “RUSH”. Thank God I did not. I would have missed out on something special . . . at least for me. I love action films. One of the aspects of action films that I love are the car chases. But the car racing scenes were not the reasons why I finally decided to see “RUSH”. I had three reasons – Ron Howard, Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl. But the cincher for me was the trailer. What can I say? It impressed me.

“RUSH” is not the first time Ron Howard explored the 1970s. He directed two other movies set in the same decade –“APOLLO 13” and “FROST/NIXON”. I am beginning to wonder if this decade means a lot more to Howard than he would care to admit. In “RUSH”, the more glamorous aspect of the 1970s was explored, thanks to the artistry of production designer Mark Digby. His work was aptly supported by the art direction team led by Daniel Chour and Patrick Rolfe, and also the film’s set decorations. But if there is one aspect of “RUSH” that truly captured the 1970s – aside from the soundtrack – was Julian Day’s costumes. I adored them. Below are examples of Day’s work:

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“RUSH” did featured a good number of first-rate auto racing sequences. Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle, along with film editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill did an exceptional job in recapturing the excitement (well . . . from the driver’s point of view) of Formula One racing. This was certainly apparent in two sequences – the Italian Grand Prix, where a barely recovered Niki Lauda managed to finish fourth place; and the Japanese Grand Prix, where the last race of the 1976 season took place. I realize that this might sound gruesome and I certainly do not mean to sound insensitive to what happened to Lauda. But I cannot deny that Howard’s recreation of the German Grand Prix at Nürburgring and Lauda’s car crash was an example of masterful filmmaking, thanks to Howard’s direction, Mantle’s photography and the editing by Hanley and Hill. The movie really captured the spectacle and the horror of the crash.

But “RUSH” is foremost a movie about two racing drivers . . . two men. Mindful of this, Peter Morgan did an outstanding job in recapturing Hunt and Lauda’s personalities, along with the circumstances that fueled their rivalry on the race track. This was not only in scenes that featured their separate private lives, especially their relationships with their wives Suzy Miller and Marlene Knaus, but also the friendly, yet intense rivalry that existed between them. In regard to their personal lives, I was very impressed by the two scenes that featured the breakup of the Hunt-Miller marriage; Lauda’s first meeting with Knaus and one particular scene during their honeymoon in which Lauda expressed concerns about the effects of his marriage on his racing career. However, the confrontation scenes between the two drivers when they were off the race track really rocked, thanks to Hemsworth, Brühl and Morgan’s screenplay. But there are two scenes that I really enjoyed. One of them turned out to be the drivers’ conference before the German Grand Prix, in which Lauda tried to convince the Formula One committee to cancel that particular race, due to heavy rain on the already notoriously dangerous Nürburgring race course; and their last meeting (at least in the movie), not long after the championship Japanese Grand Prix.

What can I say about the movie’s performances? They were outstanding. I was surprised to see Natalie Dormer in such a small role as a hospital nurse that Hunt briefly dated. Considering her growing fame, I had expected to see her in a bigger role. I could say the same about Julian Rhind-Tutt, who had a small role as a member of Hunt’s racing team. Christian McKay gave a vibrant performance as the flamboyant Alexander Fermor-Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh, who financed Hunt’s first racing team. Pierfrancesco Favino portrayed Italian racing legend, Clay Regazzoni, who drove on the Scuderia Ferrari team with Lauda. I am aware that two drivers actually became good friends. Despite this friendship, Favino gave a sly and humorous performance, while recapturing Favino’s occasional frustration with Lauda’s eccentric personality. There were some grumbles on the Internet, when world of Olivia Wilde’s casting as Suzy Miller was first announced. She certainly proved them wrong by giving a first-rate performance, especially in one scene in which Miller’s breakup with Hunt became permanent. I was also impressed by her British accent, until I learned that one of her parents had been born in the U.K. Alexandra Maria Lara also gave a first-rate performance as Lauda’s first wife, Marlene Knaus Lauda. Not only did she project a great deal of warmth in her portrayal of the race driver’s wife, but also a touch of sardonic humor.

The men of the hour, aside from Ron Howard, are Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, who portrayed the two rivals. They were outstanding. Superficially, Hemsworth seemed to have the less difficult role, portraying the outgoing playboy, Hunt. The Australian not only bore a strong resemblance to the British-born racer, but also seemed to relish in his scenes featuring Hunt’s penchant for partying hard and womanizing. But Hemsworth also excelled in those scenes that explored other aspects of Hunt’s personality – the insecurity that generally plagues every human being in existence, the emotional chaos of the racer’s breakup with Suzy Miller and his awareness of the tough competition he faced against his rival. Howard selected German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl to portray the Austrian-born Niki Lauda. Like Hemsworth, Brühl had to utilize a different accent. He almost lost the role, when he attempted an obvious fake Austrian accent during his screen test. Thankfully, he prevailed in the end. Some have claimed that Lauda was a difficult personality. If one is honest, most people are individually difficult. However, Brühl was superb in conveying the difficult aspects of Lauda’s blunt personality, while at the same time, making the racer a very likeable character. It takes an actor of great skill to achieve this goal . . . and the latter did a fanstastic job.

Judging from the manner in which I had just raved over “RUSH”, one would start to believe that I could not find any faults with it. First of all, there is an aspect of Mantle’s photography that did not sit well with me. I found it slightly metallic and wish that it could have been more colorful, especially in a film about the heady days of auto racing the 1970s. I missed that sharp color that was apparent in some of Howard’s past films. And I also could have done without the footage of the real James Hunt and Niki Lauda in the movie’s last reels. Such scenes belonged in a featurette about the movie, not in the movie itself. The footage brought back disappointing memories of how Steven Spielberg ended “SCHINDLER’S LIST” and Spike Lee ended “MALCOLM X”.

Aside from my few quibbles, I enjoyed “RUSH” very much. It was a first-class look at two auto racing rivals who not only lit up the racing scene in one memorable season in the mid-1970s with their driving skills, but also their colorful personalities. Thanks to an excellent screenplay written by Peter Morgan, a superb cast led by Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl, and some outstanding direction by Ron Howard; “RUSH” has become one of my favorite movies of 2013. And it has also become one of my favorite sports movies of all time.


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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “Pilot – The First Seventeen Hours”

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”

It took me quite a while to get over CBS’ cancellation of the 2006-2008 post-apocalypse series, “JERICHO”. Quite a while. But when I recently watched the series’ first episode, “Pilot: The Seventeen Hours”, my anger returned. Somewhat. After all, five years had past since the series’ cancellation. And I know it will never come back. 

Oh well. I still have my DVD collection of all the episodes. Watching “Pilot: The Seventeen Hours” brought back good memories for me. The episode not introduced most or all of the players that would have a major role in the series’ saga. The episode and the story begins with the return of Jake Green to his hometown of Jericho, Kansas. Estranged from his family for five years, he only returns to to pay respect to his recently deceased grandfather and to claim the money left to him by the latter. Due to his estrangement with his father, Mayor Johnston Green and the latter’s refusal to hand over the money, Jake decides to leave town again. While driving away from Jericho, he witnesses the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb in the far distance before colliding with an oncoming car.

That mushroom cloud, also witnessed by Deputy Jimmy Taylor’s son and a few others. Mayor Green surmises that the bomb must have hit Denver, Colorado. However, his wife Gail learns from a local named Dale Turner that the latter’s mother was killed in Atlanta, Georgia – the location of second nuclear attack. Realizing that a school bus full of children and their teacher, Heather Lisinski, is missing; Mayor Green orders the sheriff and his deputies to find it. However, an injured Jake ends up finding the bus. He saves the life of a young girl and manages to drive the bus back to Jericho with an injured leg. Unfortunately for the sheriff and one deputy, they are killed by a group of convicts that managed to escape from a prison bus following the nuclear attack.

“Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” struck me as a pretty good episode. It did not allow “JERICHO” to begin on a sensational note like many science-fiction/fantasy television series I have seen in the past decade. And perhaps that is a good thing. Most recent serial television shows that begin on a high note have great difficulty in maintaining such a high level of quality. I am not stating that the pilot episode for “JERICHO” was terrible. Not by a long shot. But I would not view it as among the series’ best episodes. Did “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” have any flaws? Well, some of the crowd scenes featuring the good citizens of Jericho struck me as overwrought and cliched. This is the episode that tried to introduce the idea of Jake Green and Heather Lisinski as a potential couple. While some fans bought the . . . uh, “chemistry” between the two. It did not work for me and the pair has always struck me more as siblings. The episode also introduced Lennie James as the mysterious Robert Hawkins. While the screenwriters did a good job in establishing Hawkins’ mysterious nature, I was not that impressed by the British-born James’ American accent.

Despite these flaws, I still enjoyed “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”. Not only did the episode did a solid job in introducing the series’ overall narrative, it also provided plenty of good action and mystery. Director Jon Turteltaub did a good job in handling such action scenes like the car accident that prevented Jake’s departure from Kansas and the escaped convicts’ murder of Jericho’s sheriff. And although I had some trouble with one or two crowd scenes – especially the one in which the town citizens nearly panicked over getting their hands on available supplies. But there were some dramatic scenes that I enjoyed; including Jake’s quarrel with his father and brother Eric, Jake saving the life of the young schoolgirl, Robert’s attempt to offer his help to the sheriff and the fire chief, Dale Turner’s revelation of a second nuclear explosion in Atlanta, and Jake’s uneasy reunion with his ex-girlfriend Emily Sullivan. Despite the resolution of the missing school bus plot line, “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” made sure that audiences knew that “JERICHO” would be a serial drama by leaving the following plot lines hanging:

*The escaped convicts
*Emily Sullivan’s nighttime road trip to the pick up her fiancé from a nearby airport
*The emergence of businessman Gray Anderson as a future political opponent for Johnston Green
*The reason behind Robert Hawkins’ appearance in Jericho


Of these four plot lines, only one will be resolved by the following episode.

The performances in this episode seemed pretty rock solid. My only complaints are directed at the extras and minor characters who portrayed the citizens of Jericho. The main reason I found some of the crowd scenes overwrought was that I found the performances portraying the citizens over-the-top. I realize they were supposed to be portraying the citizens in a state of panic. I simply did not find their performances satisfying. However, Skeet Ulrich expertly set the tone as the show’s leading man. Lennie James injected that mysterious tone in his character right off the bat, even if I found his American accent a little shaky. Michael Gaston did a good job as Gray Anderson and I found Sprague Grayden’s portrayal of Heather Lisinski rather charming. But there were three performances that really impressed me. One came from Gerald McRaney, who gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as mayor Jericho, Johnston Green. Another came from Pamela Reed, who seemed to be the heart and soul of this episode as the mayor’s wife, Gail Green. And the last impressive performance came from Erik Knudsen, who did an excellent job in setting up the complexities of the adolescent Dale Turner, one of the show’s most complex characters. 

Although not as impressive as other pilots I have seen from recent science-fiction/fantasy television shows. As I had earlier stated, “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” is not terrible, nor mediocre. But it is not great. However, this is not a problem for me. I have never demanded that the pilot of a science-fiction/fantasy series blow me away. All I demand that it does a good job in setting up the series’ premise. And I believe that this pilot episode for “JERICHO” certainly accomplished this.

“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1934) Review

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“THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (1934) Review

I have seen only two versions of Alexandre Dumas père’s 1845 novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo” in my past – the 1975 television version with Richard Chamberlain and the 2002 Disney film with James Cavielzel. While reading a good number of articles about the movie versions of the novel, I came across numerous praises for the 1934 adaptation that starred Robert Donat. And since I happened to like Dumas’ story so much, I decided to see how much I would like this older version. 

Set between the last months of the Napoleonic Wars and the 1830s, “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” told the story of merchant sailor Edmond Dantès becomes a victim of French political machinations and personal jealousy after his dying captain Leclère, a supporter of the exiled Napoléon I, charges him to deliver a letter from the exiled former emperor to an unknown man in Marseilles. Thanks to the first mate Danglars, who is jealous of Dantès’ rapid rise to captain; an ambitious city magistrate named Raymond de Villefort, Jr., who wants to stem a possible family scandal, due to his father being identified as the man to whom Napoléon had written the letter; and his best friend Fernand Mondego, who is in love with Dantès’ fiancée, Mercedes de Rosas; Dantès ends up on an island prison called Château d’If. There, he meets a fellow prisoner, a priest and a former soldier in Napoleon’s army named Abbé Faria. Faria educates Dantès and informs the latter a fabulous hidden treasure before he is killed in a cave-in. Dantès escapes from the prison and befriends a group of smugglers that include a thief named Jacopo. They find the treasure that Faria had talked about and Edmond uses it to establish the persona of the Count of Monte Cristo. He hopes to avenge himself against those who had betrayed him – Danglars, Villefort, Mondego. He also learns that Mercedes had married Mondego not long after his imprisonment.

Many critics have labeled this movie as the best adaptation of Dumas’ novel. Is it the best? It all depends on individual preference. I do know that I enjoyed “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” very much. The movie benefited from solid writing by director Rowland V. Lee, Philip Dunne and Dan Totheroh, despite some of the changes they made from the novel. “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” benefited from a script that balanced action with drama. I found it interesting that most of the action occurred in the movie’s first half – before Dantès’ transformation into the Count of Monte Cristo. Aside from a brief duel between Dantès and Mondego, most of the second half seemed dominated by drama and Dantès’ schemes. My favorite scheme centered around Dantès’ exposure of Mondego’s murderous actions against I have no problem with this . . . to a certain extent. One of the major differences between this movie and Dumas’ novel is the romance between Dantès and Mercedes. Unlike the novel, the pair eventually reconcile with each other, following the death of Mercedes’ husband. Frankly, I am glad that Lee and the other two screenwriters made this change. As much as I admired Dumas’ bittersweet ending to Dantès and Mercedes’ relationship, I have always found it somewhat . . . disappointing. That disappointment was eliminated when the screenwriters allowed the couple to spend their remaining years together.

However, I do have my complaints regarding “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”. Although the movie seemed to be balanced between action and drama, I would have preferred if that balance had been maintained throughout the film. If it were not for Dantès’ schemes against his enemies – especially Fernand Mondego – I would have been bored with the movie’s second half. It did not help that I found Dantès’ duel with Mondego rather dull. Even worse, the screenwriters decided to be faithful to Dumas’ novel by having the duel before Dantès’ acts of vengeance against Danglars and de Villefort. For once, I wish they had not been so faithful. And honestly . . . I wish the screenwriters had found another way for Dantès to exact revenge upon de Villefort other than prematurely exposing himself . . . an act that led to his arrest and trial. Because I did not find this method particularly satisfying.

I certainly have no complaints about the performances in “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”. There were performances that I found solid, but not particularly interesting. Among them are Irene Harvey and Douglas Walton as the two young lovers – Valentine de Villefort and Albert Mondego; Luis Alberni as Jacopo; Lawrence Grant as a slightly hammy de Villefort Sr.; and Georgia Caine as Mercedes’ mother. Louis Calhern, Sidney Blackmer and Raymond Walburn as Dantès’ three nemesis – Raymond de Villefort Jr., Ferdinand Mondego and Baron Danglars. I was especially impressed by Calhern’s subtle performance. And I was very impressed by O.P. Heggie’s emotional, yet wise take on the Abbé Faria. However, Robert Donat and Elissa Landi gave, in my opinion, the best performances in the film. For me, they were the heart and soul of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” Both Donat and Landi managed to skillfully develop their characters from the innocent young lovers to the embittered ex-convict and his long-suffering former fiancée, who young lives had been unraveled by the capriciousness of three men. One of my favorite scenes in the movie featured their reunion after nearly twenty years apart. I found it both tense and emotionally satisfying.

There are some aspects of “THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” that prevents it from becoming a big favorite of mine. But I cannot deny that it is a well made adaptation of Dumas’ novel. And one can thank Rowland V. Lee’s solid direction, the excellent script written by him, Philip Dunne and Dan Totheroh, and a solid cast led by the talented Robert Donat.

“The Rain Chronicles” [PG] – Book II




The Rain Chronicles” [PG] – Book II

Rain Robinson of ”Future’s End” ends up on Voyager, following her adventures with Tom Paris and Tuvok in late 20th century Earth. Here is Book II. 


LIEUTENANT B’ELANNA TORRES – STARDATE 50327.93:

I had not seen much of Rain Robinson, following our discovery of her aboard ship. Come to think of it, I have not see much of Tom, either. One can only assume he was busy, getting her acquainted with Voyager. On her third day aboard ship, the two paid a visit to Engineering. Personally, I would have preferred if Tom had chosen someone else – preferably Sue Nicoletti or Vorik – to welcome the little newcomer. Fate has a way – it seems – of never going my way.

“Hi B’Elanna,” Tom greeted in his usual affable manner. “You remember Rain Robinson, don’t you? From the staff meeting, a few days ago?”

I gave them both a stiff smile. “Oh yeah. Our time traveler.” I faced her. “So, is Tom giving you a tour of the ship?”

Miss Robinson responded with a brief nod. “Yeah.” I noticed that her eyes seemed fixated on my face. Or to be exact, my forehead. Kahless! Where is a scarf when one is needed?

“You find something interesting?” I growled slightly.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that . . . well, to be honest, I’ve been staring at a lot of people, lately.” Translation: she had been staring at all the odd-looking aliens. Non-Terrans. “I guess everyone has a good reason to stare at me, as well. Considering I’m from the past. But I’ve got to be honest, that forehead of yours really looks exotic. I know a good number of men who would probably fall for you like crazy.”

She must be insane. Or a bad judge of character. A lot of men fall over me? Huh! I still remember how that Arizona terrorist had stared at me. Like some animal that had escaped from a zoo.

Miss Robinson continued, “What exactly are you? I know that Tuvok is from some place called Vulcan.”

“She’s half-Klingon, half-Human,” Tom answered before I could. He gave me a fond look. For some reason, it warmed me considerably. “There’s no one in this universe quite like her.”

Miss Robinson stared at Tom for what seemed like a long moment, before she murmured in an acid voice that took me by surprise, “Now that sounds familiar.” Unless my senses were deceiving me, there seemed to be a hint of jealousy in her eyes. Or resentment. 

“Did you say something?” Tom asked. Apparently, he had not heard her last remark. Nor did Miss Robinson bothered to answer.

I continued, “I suppose you require a tour of Engineering?” Both Tom and Miss Robinson nodded and I proceeded to give them the guided tour. While I rambled on about the ship’s functions, I noticed a few things about my two visitors. One, Tom made every effort to express his continuing friendship toward Miss Robinson with every look or gesture he could muster. As for our intrepid time traveler, she continued to either reject or ignore his attempts. What the hell had brought on this sudden coldness?

When the tour finished, Miss Robinson thanked me and asked if we could meet for breakfast or lunch, one day. My first instinct was to say no. But a small part of me felt a little curious about her and what she had to say. Besides, I also wanted to learn what made her tick. So, I said yes.

* * * * 

RAIN ROBINSON – April 29, 2373:

“There’s no one in this universe quite like her.” That is what Tom had said about that engineer, B’Elanna Torres. Hmmm. Sounded familiar. Very familiar. Hell, if one changed a few words, it would sound exactly like, “You’re like no woman I’ve ever met.” The very words Tom had spoken to me, when he had said good-bye to me in the California desert. Only in Lieutenant Torres’s case, I suspect that Tom had been more sincere. 

I saw the look he gave her. And I don’t blame him. The lieutenant is a very beautiful woman – in an exotic way. So, why did I bother to make plans for breakfast or lunch with her? To learn about the competition? What competition? I already knew whom Tom preferred. It seemed useless to put a fight. Besides, I rather liked Lieutenant Torres. She seemed a little livelier than most of the jokers on this ship. Her and a few others – like Tom and Neelix.

Neelix is this strange-looking guy, who looks like a warthog with spots, whiskers and a Mohawk haircut. Despite his strange appearance, he is very nice and a lot of fun. Unlike the others, he is a native of this part of the galaxy – the Delta Quadrant. He’s from this planet called Talax. About two years ago, he was a junk trader, who joined the ship to act as a guide and cook.

His girlfriend, Kes, is also a native of the Delta Quadrant. And Ocampan. Like Neelix, she is also nice – but in a quiet way. Kes is a pretty blonde with ears that made her look like an elf. She serves as the medical assistant to the ship’s doctor. And like Tom, Neelix and Lieutenant Torres, she doesn’t seem to possess this smug air that permeates the majority of the crew. In other words, she doesn’t look upon me like some savage or Neanderthal from the past. Because the rest of them sure do. What the hell did I get myself into?

* * * *

B’ELANNA TORRES – STARDATE 50353.16

It’s over. Between Neelix and Kes, I mean. It took the malevolent spirit of some dead warlord to break up Voyager’s only permanent couple. Only, they are no longer permanent. Is it any wonder that I try to avoid relationships as much as possible?

Thanks to Tieran, the warlord who possessed Kes, the latter finally discovered her dark side. Kes also realized that she had outgrown Neelix and her gratitude toward him for saving her from the Kazon. Apparently, her feelings toward him had stemmed from gratitude.

From what Harry told me, Neelix is feeling desolate over his broken romance. Once we had left the Ilari homeworld, I decided to offer my condolences to him. Since Neelix has always proven to be one of the few willing to befriend me, I decided to offer my condolences. Cheer him up. Only, upon my arrival at the Mess Hall just before lunch, I found him deep in conversation with Rain Robinson.

She stood next to the counter, contemplating dishes that Neelix had set out for lunch. “What’s this again?” she asked, pointing at some kind of custard pie with brown sticks protruding from it.

“Alarian pie,” Neelix replied. “It’s quite delicious. Made with Alarian eggs and Cancus mushrooms.”

Miss Robinson pointed at the brown sticks. “And what are those?”

Neelix replied, “Hagellian roots. It gives the soufflé its flavor.” 

Eyeing the dish warily, Miss Robinson continued, “It doesn’t taste like Leola root, does it?”

“You don’t like Leola root?”

Unlike the rest of us, Miss Robinson happened to be a little more blunt. “Neelix, don’t take this the wrong way, but your Leola root stew is hard to take! I took one bite and nearly gagged. Hasn’t anyone else told you?”

“No,” Neelix ruefully answered. “Well, I do recall that Commander Chakotay had once expressed distaste of it. But he hasn’t said anything since.” He paused and glanced at my direction. “Ah! B’Elanna! A bit early for lunch, are you?”

Miss Robinson also glanced at me and nodded. I returned the nod and glanced at the display of food on the counter. “Hi Neelix,” I greeted. “Did I just hear you tell Miss Robinson that you had some pie for lunch?”

“Alvarian pie.” Neelix cut a slice of the pie and served it on a plate. “Try some.”

I hesitated. Mind you, I really like Neelix. He is a sweet man and a wonderful friend. But I have never been able to truly enjoy most of his Delta Quadrant delicacies. I like to use the replicators, unless I have no other choice. Which happened to be the case, today. “I, uh . . .” I began, trying to find words that would not insult him.

Miss Robinson suddenly volunteered in my stead. “Give it to me, Neelix. I’ll try it.” She gave me an understanding smile. “I don’t mind being the guinea pig, today.” Then she took a bite. Her eyes lit up with delight. “Hmmm, this is great! You should try it.”

I did. Not bad, but I found the pie a tad too spicy for my taste. “Doesn’t this spice bother you?” I asked the other woman.

Dark eyes stared at me in disbelief. “This is too spicy for you?”

“Well, I’m not used to so much spice,” I replied, trying not to sound defensive. As much as I like our guest, she seemed to have a habit of questioning a person. Much like Tuvok in the middle of an interrogation.

Miss Robinson’s eyes continued to penetrate mine. “Where is your family from?” she asked. “I mean, your Human family.” I told her. Mexico. From the state of Nuevo León, not far from Monterrey. “And you’re not used to spicy food?”

“I was mainly raised by my Klingon mother,” I coolly replied. “Klingons do not eat spicy food. As for Humans, they’re more inclined to eat healthier food.”

Miss Robinson seemed horrified at the thought. “Good God! What is the fun in that?”

Neelix added in a conspiratorial manner, “To be honest, I have to agree with you, Miss Robinson.”

“Call me Rain. All of you.”

Orange-yellow eyes brightened considerably. Already, Miss Robinson . . . uh, Rain had managed to wrap the cook around her little finger. “If you insist,” Neelix added happily. “As I was about to say, between you and me, I like my food with a little spice or zest. I didn’t think there were any Humans who felt the same.”

“On Earth . . . well, 20th century Earth, I’m from the Southwest. A Southern California girl. Spice is almost like table salt to us.” While the two chatted happily, I did not have the heart to inform Miss . . . I mean, Rain that 24th century Humans also try to avoid salt. Oh well. She will eventually learn.

As for Neelix, judging by his happy countenance, I could see that he no longer needed any consolation from me or anyone else. Whatever he may still feel over his breakup with Kes, Rain has managed to put him a better mood. For the moment.


* * * *

KATHRYN JANEWAY – STARDATE 50388.37

Damn that Q! What an exasperating man . . . or omnipotent being! Or whatever. To be honest, I could say the same about him, his mate and the entire Q Continuum. 

Not only did Q try to mate with me, behind the female Q’s back, he had also dragged me into the Continuum’s civil war. I nearly got killed – first by shells and gunfire, while dressed in some ridiculous 19th century dress. Wait. Perhaps I’m being a little harsh about the dress. I rather liked it. It would have been a perfect outfit to wear in my Gothic holonovel. But I digress. Not only did he and the Continuum drag both my crew and me into their war, he had refused to do me a favor in return for helping him settle the war.

Following the Continuum’s civil war, Q returned to Voyager, with his new son in tow. To my surprise, he named me as the child’s godmother. Image that – Kathryn Janeway, a guardian of an omnipotent being. I faced an even greater shock after I asked Q to return Miss Robinson to 20th century Earth. He refused. Q had the nerve to inform me that he could not do as I had asked.

“May I ask, why?” I demanded.

For once, Q looked serious. “I’m sorry Kathy. I may be capable of a lot of things, but tampering with the timeline is a no-no in the Continuum.”

“Pardon me? Is this the same person who sent the Enterprise-D into the Delta Quadrant, forcing the Federation into a premature contact with the Borg?”

Q sighed. “And look what that has brought me. The Continuum punished me for my . . .” the man actually managed to pout, “. . . irresponsible behavior. Now that the civil war is over and I’m a father, I must learn to be a little more prudent.”

“Prudent? Don’t you consider returning Miss Robinson back to where she belong, prudent?” I cried. Not that I disliked the young lady, but Miss Robinson has a tendency to be a little . . . well, direct. Or should I say, blunt. She has become a strong reminder to the crew of what Humans were like in the past centuries. Quite frankly, it is a reminder I could do without.

A cryptic smile touched Q’s lips. Damn the man! “Now Kathy, how do you know that Miss Robinson doesn’t belong here? Has her presence upset the timeline in any way?” Right after we learned of Miss Robinson’s presence, I had Tuvok and Tom Paris examine the ship’s database for any discrepancies in the timeline. Apparently, neither man was unable to detect any. “Of course they haven’t!” Q retorted. “Miss Robinson’s presence on this ship has not changed anything. If she had not sneaked aboard Voyager,” I winced at the imagery, “she would have been dead.”

Hands on hips, I glared at Q. “What do you mean?”

With a sigh, Q explained that after parting from Helm . . . uh, Lieutenant Paris, Miss Robinson would have been killed in a crime that occurred at some store on her way back to Los Angeles. “And if that idiot Braxton had not sent you screaming into the 20th century, she would have been killed by some thuggish little cretin with no redeeming qualities.”

“So, you’re saying . . .”

The omnipotent being smiled grandly. “She’s all yours, Kathy. Don’t worry. I’m sure that Miss Robinson will put a little zest in your humdrum lives. Especially Helmboy’s. That is, if your little Klingon engineer doesn’t get her hands on him, first. I must say that I rather like Miss Robinson. She reminds me of how you Humans used to be . . . before you became dull and self-righteous.”

“Q!” I gave him my deadliest glare. Unfortunately, the scamp ignored me. With Q Junior squirming in his arms, he said good-bye one last time and vanished. I sighed. It looked as if Miss Robinson is here to stay.


END OF BOOK II

“DOWNTON ABBEY” Series Three (2012) Retrospective

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“DOWNTON ABBEY” – Series Three (2012) Retrospective

It took me a while to get around watching Series Three of “DOWNTON ABBEY”. I had been inclined to watch it, while it aired on PBS last winter. But in the end, I decided to wait until the DVD release was offered through Netflix. 

I suspect that some of my reluctance to watch the show’s Series Three could be traced to my major disappointment over the lackluster Series Two. In fact, a part of me is amazed that the series’ shoddy look at World War I could end up with an Emmy nomination for Best Drama. But I figured that series creator, Julian Fellowes, would make up for the Emmy-nominated disaster known as Series Two with an improved third season. In the end, Series Three proved to be an improvement. Somewhat.

What did I like about Series Three of “DOWNTON ABBEY”? It possessed three plot lines that I found a good deal to admire:

1) The estate’s financial crisis
2) Valet Thomas Barrow’s infatuation with new footman Jimmy Kent
3) Lady Sybil Branson’s death


Downton Abbey’s financial crisis, kick-started by Robert, the Earl of Grantham’s disastrous investment into Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway, which truly emphasized the peer’s inability to handle money and his estate. In fact, this story line also exposed Lord Grantham’s other flaws – stubborness and inability to move with the times – in full force. Actually, the third story line involving the death of his youngest daughter, Lady Sybil Branson – of childbirth, did not paint a pretty picture of the peer, considering that his decision to ignore Dr. Clarkson’s medical advice led to Lady Sybil’s tragic death, following the birth of his oldest grandchild. The plot regarding Thomas Barrow’s feelings for Jimmy Kent allowed Fellowes to explore the status of homosexuals during early 20th century Britain. The plot surrounding Lady Sybil’s death in Episode Five not only proved to be heartbreaking, but also featured fine performances from the departing Jessica Findlay-Brown as the doomed Lady Sybil; Allen Leech as Sybil’s husband Tom Branson; David Robb as the desperate Dr. Clarkson; Rob James-Collier as a grieving Thomas Barrow; Hugh Bonneville as the Earl of Grantham; a guest appearance by Tim Pigott-Smith as the society doctor recruited by Lord Grantham to treat Lady Sybil; and especially Elizabeth McGovern, who I believe gave the best performance as Lady Sybil’s grieving mother, the American-born Countess of Grantham.

But even these first-rate story lines were marred by some questionable writing. Lord Grantham’s bad investment and financial loss had the family flailing for a bit, until salvation appeared in the form of a possible inheritance for the peer’s heir presumptive, son-in-law Matthew Crawley. The latter learned that Reginald Swire, the recently dead father of his late fiancée had named him as an heir to his vast fortune. Matthew felt reluctant to accept money from Lavinia Swire’s money, considering what happened before her death in Series Two. Most fans expressed frustration at Matthew’s reluctance to accept the money and save Downton Abbey. I felt nothing but contempt toward Fellowes for utilizing this ludicrous plot point to save the estate from financial ruin. I found it absolutely tasteless that Matthew would inherit money from the father of the fiancée who witnessed him kissing his future wife Lady Mary Crawley, before succumbing of the Spanish Flu. This was just tackiness beyond belief. 

And I wish Fellowes had found another way for Lord Grantham or Matthew to acquire the cash needed to save the estate. Lady Sybil’s death and Lord Grantham’s participation in it led to a serious marital estrangement between the peer and his wife, who angrily blamed him for ignoring Dr. Clarkson’s medical advice. Lady Grantham’s anger lasted through most of Episode Six, until the Dowager Lady Grantham convinced the good doctor to lie to her son and daughter-in-law that his medical advice may not have saved Lady Sybil in the end, ending Lady Grantham’s anger and the marital strife between the pair. I suspect the majority of the series’ fans were relieved that Lord and Lady Grantham’s marriage had been saved before it could get any worse. I was not. I saw this as Fellowes’ reluctance or inability to fully explore the negative consequences of Sybil’s death. Even worse, I saw this as artistic cowardice on Fellowes’ part. A martial conflict between Robert and Cora could have spelled a dramatic gold mine.

Even the Thomas Barrow-Jimmy Kent storyline was marred by aspects that led me to shake my head in disbelief. The entire matter began with a minor feud between former friends Thomas and lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien over the former’s unwillingness to help the latter’s nephew, Alfred Nugent, with his duties. One, why would Thomas refuse to help the nephew of his only friend on the estate? And two, this little incident led O’Brien to escalate the feud, leading her to set up a scheme that would expose Thomas’ homosexuality? It seemed to come out of no where. This story line ended with more head scratching for me. First, Fellowes had Thomas sneaking into Jimmy’s bedroom for some petting and caresses, making for the former look like a sexual molester. One would think after his experiences with the Duke of Crowborough and Mr. Pamuk would have led him to be more careful. And following his exposure, Thomas faced losing his job and being arrested and convicted for his sexual preference. And while he faced personal censure from Mr. Carson, Alfred and the object of his desire, Jimmy Kent; most of Downton Abbey’s inhabitants seemed unusually tolerate of Thomas’homosexuality. Only Lord Grantham’s tolerance seemed to ring true, in light of his comments.

But there were other aspects of Series Three that failed to impress me. I read somewhere that Dan Stevens had informed Fellowes that he would not return for a fourth season, before they started filming this season. Judging from most of Stevens’ clunky dialogue in many of the episode, I got the feeling that Fellowes took his revenge on the actor. Stevens’ last lines following the birth of Matthew and Lady Mary’s son seemed like pure torture – “Can this hot and dusty traveler enter?”and “Oh my darling, I feel like I’ve swallowed fireworks!”. Fortunately, Stevens was provided with one scene in which he truly shone – when Matthew lost his temper over his father-in-law’s refusal to consider modernizing Downton Abbey’s estate management. And Matthew’s death in that last episode was one of the most clumsily directed sequences I have ever seen during the series’ three seasons, so far. Many critics and viewers blamed Shirley MacLaine for the poor characterization of Lady Grantham’s American mother, Martha Levinson. Even Fellowes went so far as to claim in this 2012 article that Americans cannot do period drama. Frankly, I found his comment full of shit and those critics and viewers unwilling to admit that the producer-writer did a piss-poor job in his creation of Martha’s character. Poor MacLaine was saddled with some ridiculous dialogue that no actor or actress – no matter how good they are – can overcome. Look at what happened to Dan Stevens. And he is British. Like Stevens, MacLaine had her moment in the sun, when her character saved a disastrous dinner party-in-the-making by transforming it into a cocktail party in Episode Two. 

Poor Brendan Coyle and Joanne Foggett were saddled with the long and tedious story line surrounding Bates’ time in prison and his wife Anna’s efforts to exonerate. Every time that particular plot appeared on the screen, I found myself forced to press the Fast-Forward button of my DVD remote control. When Bates finally left prison, he and Anna proved that their romance had become incredibly dull by three seasons. And could someone explain why the Crawleys suddenly believed that Sir Anthony Strallan was too old for middle daughter, Lady Edith Crawley. They certainly felt differently six years ago in Series One, as they considered him as a potential mate for both Lady Edith and Lady Mary. And I find it hard to believe that an arm damaged by the war would turn him into an unwanted son-in-law. I find that too ridiculous to believe. And when Lady Edith found love again, she discovered that the object of her desire – a magazine editor named Michael Gregson – was a married man. And he could not get a divorce, because his wife was mentally handicapped and living in an asylum. In other words, Fellowes had to borrow from Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre” to make this story interesting. Unfortunately, I did not find the circumstances of Gregson’s marriage interesting. Merely unoriginal. 

I could go on about the numerous problems I encountered in Series Three. Believe me, I found more. Among them are the number of story lines that Fellowes introduced and dropped during this season. I have already discussed how he ended a potential estrangement between Lord and Lady Grantham before it could get into full swing. Other dropped story lines included:

*Mrs. Hughes’ cancer scare
*Mrs. Patmore’s relationship with a new shopkeeper
*A potential romance between Isobel Crawley and Dr. Clarkson
*Tom and Lady Sybil Branson in Ireland, which was never explored
*Tom Branson’s revolutionary beliefs nipped in the bud


I noticed that “DOWNTON ABBEY” recently received several Emmy nominations for its Season Three – including one for Best Drama. Best Drama? I was disgusted when I heard the news. My disgust did not stem from any dislike of the show. “DOWNTON ABBEY” may be flawed, but it is still entertaining. But I believe it is not good enough to be considered for a Best Drama Emmy nomination. Even worse, a far superior series like FX’s “THE AMERICANS” was overlooked for the same category. Series Three of “DOWNTON ABBEY” had some good moments – especially Episode Five, which featured the death of Lady Sybil Branson. And I found it slightly better than Series Two. But the series remains a ghost of its former self. It still failed to reach the same level of quality of Series One. And even that was not perfect.

“HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: Ending on Controversy”

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“HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER: ENDING ON CONTROVERSY”

The CBS television series, “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” (2005-2014), ended its nine season run on March 31, 2014. Television audiences usually greet television finales either with great satisfaction or with equal contempt. Instead of one or the other, the television series created by Carter Bays and Craig Thomas proved to be not only divisive, but also controversial. And romance for the series’ main character, Ted Mosby, ended up being the center of that controversy. 

As fans of “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” know, the series is more or less one major flashback in which one Ted Mosby decides to tell his two children about how he had met their mother, one Tracy McConnell. Or was it? For nine seasons, fans expected the series to end with Ted meeting the future mother of his children. The final episode, (9.23-9.24) “Last Forever”, featured Ted’s first meeting with Tracy. However, Bays and Thomas allowed television viewers to meet Tracy before Ted, when she made her first appearance in the Season Eight finale, (8.24) “Something New”. That particular episode featured Tracy purchasing a Long Island Railway ticket that would take her to Farhampton, the site of Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky’s wedding, where she would perform a bass guitar at the wedding reception. In “Last Forever, Part I”, Ted had left Barney and Robin’s wedding reception and ended up at the rail station. He planned to return to New York City and prepare for his journey to Chicago and a new job. At the Farhampton station, he finally meets Tracy, thanks to the intervention of an elderly woman.

One is led to wonder . . . what exactly was the controversy about? Why did the finale resulted in a divisive fandom for“HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”? Well . . . Ted’s story continued following his first meeting with Tracy. Two years after their wedding, Barney admitted to Ted that his marriage to Robin was suffering, due to her profession forcing them to become constant travelers. Within a year, they announced their divorce to their friends. Barney resumed his womanizing, until he became a father, following a one-night stand with a date. Robin found it difficult to face Ted and Tracy’s happiness and drifted away from the group. Ted and Tracy spend five years engaged and have two children, before they finally get married in 2019. In 2024, Tracy dies. Ted spends six years grieving her, until Penny and Luke (his children) realize the story was really about Robin, whom Ted contemplates dating again. The Mosby children give Ted their blessing and the series ends with Ted standing outside Robin’s apartment window, holding the blue French horn he had originally stolen for her, when they first met.

This finale caused a major storm within the “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” fandom. Many fans cried foul that the series was really about Ted’s tumultuous relationship with Robin, instead of how he first met Tracy. Others sighed with a collective relief over Robin and Barney’s breakup and later, Ted’s reconciliation with Robin. How did I feel? If I must be honest, I was one of those who sighed at the ending presented by Bays and Thomas. Why? One, I have always found Ted and Robin’s relationship rather fascinating. This was probably due to my feeling that Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders had a great screen chemistry. And two, I have never been a fan of the Robin/Barney relationship. When I first heard that Robin and Barney were being considered as a couple, I cheered at the thought. I liked the idea of the two friends becoming lovers. Smulders also had great chemistry with Neil Patrick Harris in scenes that featured Robin and Barney’s friendship. But once the romance began . . . the chemistry fizzled and an odd hollow feeling would swell within my gut.

Unlike many other fans of the series, I never viewed “Last Forever” as terrible. Actually, I thought it was pretty decent. Believe or not, this feeling did not stem from my feelings toward the resolution of Ted and Robin’s relationship. Mind you, it was a more than pleasant surprise, but there was more to the relationship that I liked. One, I was glad that Barney realized that he was not the marrying kind. Most people, even the Ted/Robin shippers, saw this as a regression of Barney’s character. I did not. I do not believe that marriage matures a person . . . especially since many people get married for the wrong reasons. Both actors George Clooney and Charlie Sheen had marriages that ended in disaster. Like Barney, Clooney never married again after his failed marriage. Well . . . so far. Sheen has gone through three marriages and still managed to prove that he was not the marrying kind. Lana Turner experienced eight marriages before she finally admitted to herself that she was not the marrying kind. When a person finally confronts a reality about him or herself, he or she achieves some kind of maturity. And as far as I am concerned, Barney did exactly that. His maturity increased, when he became a devoted father (following a one-night stand).

And two, I thought “Last Forever” did an excellent job in portraying the friends’ shifting dynamics, following Robin and Barney’s wedding. The episode began with Ted contemplating leaving New York City for a job in Chicago, following the wedding. But after meeting Tracy, he changed his mind. However, Robin and Barney’s travels made it difficult for the group to stay together. This difficulty grew after their divorce, and Robin decided to distance herself from the group in order to avoid witnessing Ted’s growing relationship with Tracy. In one emotional scene that I found particularly satisfying, Lily confronted Robin over the latter’s absence. This scene reminded me that despite any romantic dynamics, the friendship between the five characters was a very important element of the series.

In the end, Tracy’s fate did not take me by surprise. Many fans, including myself, have been predicting her demise ever since the Season Eight episode, (5.20) “The Time Travelers”, featured a scene in which Future Ted talked about meeting Tracy 45 days before the wedding at Farhampton. As I had earlier pointed out, Tracy was finally shown in “Something New”. More importantly, she appeared not only in flashforward segments throughout Season Nine, but also in a few present scenes in which she met the other major characters – aside from Ted. This final season also featured a very charming episode called (9.16) “How Your Mother Met Me”, which featured the events in Tracy’s life during those same eight years before she met Ted. 

I can understand why so many fans were upset that the series ended with Tracy’s death. They had spent eight years anticipating the moment when she and Ted would finally meet. But they did get to know her during Season Nine. Also, Tracy came off as a somewhat ideal character, despite Cristin Milioti’s charming portrayal. And she ended in an ideal relationship/marriage with Ted. Quite frankly, she and Ted seemed just a little too perfect for each other. Bays and Thomas allowed audiences to get to know Tracy before the finale. If they had introduced her . . . and killed her off in the same episode, I would have accused the showrunners of poor writing. More importantly, the script made it clear that Ted spent six years mourning Tracy, before he resumed his romance with Robin. Many fans seemed to have this idea that Ted sought out Robin not long after Tracy’s death. Go figure.

As much as I liked “Last Forever”, I believe it did have problems. Well . . . I believe it had one major problem. And that problem originated back in Season Five – namely the Barney Stinson and Robin Scherbatsky relationship. I thought it was badly written. Not only did I considered it badly written in this episode, but I feel it has been mishandled as far back as Season Five. If Bays and Thomas had intended for Robin and Barney to get married and divorced, they could have achieved this before Season Nine. Instead, audiences were subjected to nearly two years of Barney struggling to hide his attraction to Robin, ever since their one-night stand in Season Three’s (3.16) “Sandcastles in the Sand”. They finally began dating in Season Five premiere, (5.01) “Definitions” and broke up by the seventh episode, (5.07) “The Rough Patch”

Two seasons later, they cheated on their respective dates in the Season Seven episode, (7.09) “Disaster Averted”. By the end of Season Eight, they were engaged. To make matters worse, the entire ninth season was set during the weekend for Barney and Robin’s wedding. They finally got married in one of the final scenes of (9.22) “The End of the Aisle”. In a 2016 flashback for the next episode, “Last Forever, Part 1”, they had announced their divorce to their friends. I suspect that Robin and Barney’s second breakup in the series, along with Barney’s return to his bachelor activities, really upset a lot of fans . . . even more so than Ted and Robin’s second turn at romance. If only Bays and Thomas had tightened the writing for Robin and Barney’s relationship, I would not have found their divorce so abrupt. And perhaps they could have achieved this by allowing Ted and Tracy’s first meeting to happen on a day other than the one for Barney and Robin’s wedding.

I found it rather odd that a series called “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER” would turn out to be a lot more. As viewers eventually learned in the finale, a lot of it was about Ted’s relationship with Robin . . . from the moment when they first met, to the moment some twenty-five years later, when they decided to renew their romance. The series was also about Ted’s relationship with his other four friends – Marshall Erickson, Lily Aldrin and Barney Stinson – and about their own personal lives. Ironically, Robin and Barney proved to be instrumental in Ted meeting Tracy. Due to their wedding, and Ted’s attempt to avoid his own feelings about their nuptials, he ended up leaving the wedding reception earlier than usual . . . and meeting Tracy.

It is ironic that many fans and critics ended up being disappointed with the finale for “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”. Granted, I believe it may have been tainted by some flaws that originated several years ago. But considering how it ended, it proved to be a lot more satisfying to me than the past two to three seasons that preceded it. Goody-bye “HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER”. I will miss you.


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“BIG BUSINESS” (1988) Review


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“BIG BUSINESS” (1988) ReviewBetween the mid 1980s and the early 1990s, Bette Midler was something of a box office power house for the Disney Studios. The latter released a good deal of her movies through one of its distribution labels, Touchstone Pictures. And one of those movie was the 1988 comedy that she co-starred with Lily Tomlin called “BIG BUSINESS”

Loosely based upon William Shakespeare’s 1594-95 play, “The Comedy of Errors”“BIG BUSINESS” is a comedy of errors with a financial twist that involves two sets of identical twins who were mismatched at birth. The movie begins in 1940s with a wealthy New York couple, Hunt and a very pregnant Binky Shelton being driven through the West Virginia countryside, searching for the summer house of a friend. When Mrs. Shelton goes into labor, a local worker named Garth Raliff direct them to the local hospital in the nearby town of Jupiter Hollow. After the Sheltons drive away, Mr. Ratliff’s wife Iona informs him that he is in labor. Mr. Shelton has to purchase a furniture producing store called Hollowmade in order to get medical attention for his wife, since the hospital is only for the company’s employees. The Ratcliffs arrive at the hospital and the doctor is forced to deliver a pair of twin girls from both of his patients. The hospital’s elderly nurse mixes up the twins, placing a Shelton and Ratliff twin in one bed for the Sheltons . . . and a second pair in another bed for the Ratliffs. Mr. Ratliff overhears the Sheltons deciding to name their daughters Rose and Sadie, and suggests the same names to his wife.

Some forty years later, the Shelton sisters are now co-chairwomen of the family’s conglomerate called Moramax. Sadie Shelton, a ruthless businesswoman, plans off-load Hollowmade to an Italian business raider with the approval of the conglomerate’s board of stockholders. Meanwhile, Rose Ratliff, now the ambitious forewoman of Hollowmade Factory and a union representative, learns about Moramax’s plans. She sets out to travel to New York City and stop the sale, dragging her sister Sadie along. When the West Virginia sisters arrive in New York, they are mistaken for the Sheltons and find themselves checked into the city’s famous Plaza Hotel, where the Moramax stockholders’ meeting is being held. Sadie Shelton learns of the Ratliffs’ intention to travel to New York and orders her more passive sister Rose and two Moramax executives, Graham Sherbourne and Chuck, to find the West Virginians and make sure they stay away from the stockholders’ meeting. With two sets of twins at the Plaza Hotel, a great deal of chaos ensues before the big showdown at the meeting.

I might as well lay my cards on the table. “BIG BUSINESS” is a silly movie. There is no doubt about it. Some of the humor written by Dori Pierson and Marc Reid Rubel struck me as so broad that it required a good deal of mugging from some of the cast. The two leads – Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin – certainly did their share of mugging. But silly movie or not, I also found it very entertaining. I cannot deny that “BIG BUSINESS” is a funny movie. It is not perfect. It certainly has its flaws. But dammit, it is funny! Every time I see the movie, it brings back memories of the excessive style of the 1980s. More importantly, aside from a narrative flaw or two, it is a good solid story about mistaken identity, family and high finance.

“BIG BUSINESS” featured some really funny scenes. One of my favorites is the movie’s prologue set in the 1940s. Thanks to some stellar performances – especially from Deborah Rush, who portrayed the Shelton family’s sharp-tongued matriarch – and cracker-jack pacing by director Jim Abrahams, the prologue is not only funny, but provided clear details on what led to the infant mix-up between the two families. Other first-rate scenes featured the Ratliffs’ arrival in New York City and their meeting with Italian businessman Fabio Alberici, Sadie Shelton’s encounter with her minions Graham and Chuck during her dinner with Signor Alberici, Graham and Chuck’s evening with Rose Shelton and Roone Dimmick (who happened to be Rose Ratliff’s boyfriend), Roone bunking with Graham and Chuck, and the four women’s first encounter with each other in one of the Plaza Hotel’s restroom. However, another first-rate scene that really benefited from Abrahams’ direction and pacing was the breakfast sequence, which occurred just before the restroom scene. I was amazed at how Abrahams’ direction, along with Pierson and Rubel’s script, allowed the Sheltons and Ratliffs interchange at one restaurant table without anyone realizing they were speaking to the wrong twin.

As much as I enjoyed “BIG BUSINESS”, it does have its flaws. There were times when the mugging got out of control. This was especially apparent in the bathroom scene. Speaking of that particular scene, although it seemed to start well, I thought it ended on a clumsy note when some of the hotel’s employees, along with the men in the four women’s lives spotted both sets of twins together. Even worse, the end of the scene featured too much mugging for my tastes. I had no problems with how Pierson and Rubel handled at least three of the four women’s love lives. New York Sadie developed a nice, lustful relationship with Signor Alberici. Jupiter Hollow Sadie developed a warm relationship with the ex-husband of her New York counterpart. New York Rose fell in love with Jupiter Hollow Rose’s boyfriend, Roone. But the one problematic relationship turned out to be the one between Jupiter Hollow Rose and the rejected fiancé of New York Rose, one Dr. Jay Marshall. The script allowed them to briefly meet outside of the hotel, with Dr. Marshall believing he had encountered New York Rose. They did not meet again until near the end of the movie. And I never understood why the script allowed them to hook up in the end, when their relationship was never explored in the first place. Talk about a badly written relationship.

I wonder how difficult it is for actors and actresses to portray twins. Both Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin did a fantastic job in this movie. Midler portrayed the two sisters born to the Shelton family – Sadie Shelton and Sadie Ratliff. As much as I enjoyed her warm portrayal of the good-hearted and slightly self-centered Sadie Ratliff, I really . . . really loved her portrayal of the ruthless and intimidating Sadie Shelton. Especially when she is allowed to shoot off sharp insults at the other characters. And Tomlin was not only marvelous as the warm and romantic Rose Shelton, who was both a homebody and slightly clumsy, she was a hoot as the sharp-tongued and suspicious Rose Ratliff, who was determined to protect the interests of her fellow workers and the citizens of Jupiter Hollow.

“BIG BUSINESS” also featured Fred Ward, who gave one of my favorite performances in his career. He was warm and sexy as the lovestruck and slightly dim Roone Dimmick. Edward Herrmann and Daniel Gerroll formed a hilarious screen team as New York Sadie’s Miramax minions, Graham and Chuck. It is a pity those two never worked with each other again. Although his appearances were brief, Michael Gross gave a funny performance as New York Rose’s frustrated fiancé, Dr. Jay Marshall. I read somewhere that Michele Placido had developed a reputation for action drama – either on television or in movies. It is a pity that his filmography did not include more comedies, because the man had a talent for subtle comedy – especially in reacting to madness around his character, Fabio Alberici. John Hancock, whom I have seen in both television and movies over the years, gave a funny performance as the Sheltons’ sarcastic chauffeur, Harlan. But my favorite supporting performance came from Deborah Rush, who was hilarious as Sadie and Rose Shelton’s sardonic and manipulative mother, Binky. Aside from Midler and Tomlin, Rush had some of the best lines in the movie. Sadie may have inherited her father’s name, but thanks to Rush’s witty performance, it is easily to see from whom she had inherited her personality.

Yes, “BIG BUSINESS” has its flaws, which included too much mugging, a badly written romance and some clumsy pacing in one major scene. But . . . it is still a very funny movie that handled mistaken identities and high finance rather well. Dori Pierson and Marc Reid Rubel wrote a very solid script. Jim Abrahams did justice to it, with the help of a very funny cast led by the always marvelous Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin. After twenty to thirty years, I feel it still holds up very well.