“LOST”: Things That Make Me Go . . . Hmmm?

The following is a list of questions I have regarding subplots that have been featured in past episodes of “LOST”. If you have an answer to any of my questions, please feel free to reply:

 

“LOST”: THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO . . . HMMM?

1. Who gave the original order for Walt Lloyd to be kidnapped?

 

2. Why did the Others kidnap some of the surviving Tail Section passengers of Oceanic 815?

 

3. Why did Ben Linus and the Others scheme to keep Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, and James “Sawyer” Ford as prisoners on Hydra Island?

 

4. Why did Michael Dawson confess his murder of Ana-Lucia Cortez and accidental killing of Libby to his ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd, following their departure from the island?

 

5. Why did Tom Friendly claim that no one was able to leave the island, following the explosion of the Swan Station, despite the fact that he, Michael and Walt were able to do so?

 

6. Why did the prosecuting attorney blindly believe Jack’s false testimony that Kate gave birth to Aaron Littleton, during their three-month stay on the island?

 

7. Why did the prosecuting attorney fail to continue her prosecution of Kate for the charges of bank robbery, assaulting a Federal peace officer, after the murder charges were dropped?

 

8. Why were the Losties, the Freighter people and Juliet the only ones who time traveled on the island and not the Others or Danielle Rousseau?

 

9. Why did Ben kill John Locke in “The Death of Jeremy Bentham”?

 

10. What happened to Claire Littleton during her three-year stay on the island, following the departure of the Oceanic Six?

 

11. Who killed some of the surviving Ajira 316 passengers at their beach camp and why?

 

“THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” (1953) Review

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“THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” (1953) Review

Tyrone Power’s career took a strange turn during the post-World War II years. Although he still managed to maintain his position as one of Twentieth Century Fox’s top stars during the remainder of the 1940s, something happened as the 1950s dawned. Powers still found himself in Grade A movies during that particular decade. But he also seemed to appear in a growing number of standard costume melodramas.

Twentieth Century Fox lent Powers to Universal Pictures to star in the 1953 drama called “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”. Directed by Rudolph Maté, “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” told the story of a New York-born gambler named Mark Fallon, who moves to New Orleans with ambitions to create his own gambling casino. During the riverboat journey down the Mississippi River, Mark becomes the friend and protégé of an older gambler named Kansas John Polly. The pair also run afoul of a crooked gambler and two Creole siblings named Angelique and Laurent Dureau. During a poker game, Mark exposes the crooked gambler. Also Laurent Dureau loses all of his money and his sister’s priceless necklace during the game. Upon his arrival in New Orleans, Mark becomes acquainted with the Dureaus’ father, Edmond Dureau. The latter admires Mark and realizes that the younger man is in love with Angelique. Unfortunately, she refuses to acknowledge Mark and sets matrimonial sights upon a friend of her brother’s, banker George Elwood. Mark and Kansas John meet and help Ann Conant, the daughter of an unlucky gambler who had committed suicide. She helps the two friends build their casino, yet at the same time, falls in love with Mark. And both she and Mark become uncomfortably aware that Laurent Dureau has fallen in love with her.

While reading the synopsis of this film, I noticed that it was identified as an adventure film. “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” does feature some action sequences that include a fist fight aboard a riverboat, at least two duels and a murder attempt. But for some reason, I am hard pressed to consider it an adventure film. There seemed to be a lot more drama and action in this film. Especially melodrama. Production wise, “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” struck me as an attractive looking film. Being a constant visitor of the Universal Studios theme park, it was easy to recognize some of the exterior scenes from the studio’s back lot. I doubt that “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” had the budget to be shot on location in Louisiana. But I still would not describe it as cheap looking for a standard melodrama, thanks to Irving Glassberg’s sharp photography. Even Bill Thomas’ costume designs added to the film’s visual style. However, there was one costume worn by leading lady Piper Laurie that reflected the early 1950s, instead of the early 1850s.

I have no problems with the movie’s performances. Tyrone Powers gave a subtle, yet excellent performance as the good-hearted Mark Fallon, who had not only become enamored of New Orleans society, but also the leading lady. His chemistry with Piper Laurie struck me as pretty solid, but not particularly striking. I think Laurie’s portrayal of the aristocratic and hot-tempered Angelique seemed a bit too fiery . . . and possibly too young for the more sedate Powers. The actor seemed to have better chemistry with Julie Adams, who portrayed the sweet-tempered, yet practical and mature Ann Conant. I found myself wishing that her character was Powers’ leading lady. The lead actor certainly clicked with John McIntire, who portrayed Mark’s close friend, Kansas John Polly. The two men seemed to have created their own on-screen bromance with considerable ease. John Bear gave a very credible performance as Laurent Dureau, the careless, yet passionate young scion who happened to be the leading lady’s brother. Paul Cavanaugh was equally competent as Angelique and Laurent’s elegant father, Edmond Dureau. I would comment on the rest of the cast. But if I must be honest, I found them unmemorable . . . including Ron Randell, who portrayed Angelique’s corrupt husband, George Elwood.

While reading about the film, I also learned that “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” was a big hit during early 1953. Leslie I. Carey, even managed to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Recording for his work on the movie. But you know what? Despite the decent production designs, visual styles and solid performances from the cast, I have a pretty low opinion of “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”. In fact, I am astounded that this movie was a box office hit. Perhaps that sounded arrogant. Who am I to judge the artistic tastes of others? I certainly do not like for others to judge my tastes or attempt to infringe their tastes upon me. But I have to say that I did not like “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”.

What was it about the movie that I disliked? Seton I. Miller’s screenplay. I found it very ineffective. In other words, I thought it sucked. Exactly what was this movie about? Mark Fallon’s struggles to build his New Orleans casino? His adventures as a riverboat gambler? His romance (it that is what you want to call it) with Angelique Dureau. Apparently, it is all of the above. But Miller’s story struck me as extremely vague and very episodic. The only storyline that remained consistent from beginning to end was the love story between Mark Fallon and Angelique Dureau. And honestly, it did not strike me as a well constructed love story. The problem seemed to be the character of George Elwood. Instead of marrying him earlier in the story, Angelique did not marry him until the final half hour.

The love story was not the only problem I had with the plot for “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER”. One scene featured the leading characters witnessing a dance number by slaves or free blacks in an area known as Congo Square. I am aware that such performances did occurred in 19th century New Orleans. I found it more than disconcerting that the dancers featured in the movie were white performers in blackface as African-Americans. Mark Fallon’s struggle to build a casino did not come off as much of a struggle to me. In fact, Mark, Kansas John and Ann Conant managed to build the casino within the movie’s second half hour and lose it, thanks to George Elwood’s financial manipulations by the last half hour. Not only did the banker’s financial manipulations concluded the story line regarding the casino in an unsatisfying manner, but the same could be said about how Mark and Angelique’s love story ended. I could go into detail about what happened, but why bother? It would be a waste of time. All I can say is that I found the conclusion of Miller’s story vague, rushed and very unsatisfying.

In a nutshell, “THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER” possessed both a decent visual style and production designs. It also featured solid performances from a cast led by Tyrone Power and Piper Laurie. But the first-class costume melodrama that Universal Pictures set out to create was undermined by a vague and unsatisfying story written by screenwriter Seton I. Miller. It seemed a pity that within the seven to eight years following the end of World War II, Tyrone Power’s career led him to this.

“MOB CITY” (2013): Episode Ranking

Mob City

Below is my ranking of the TNT Network’s 2013 six-episode limited series called “MOB CITY”. Inspired by John Buntin’s book, “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City”, the miniseries was created by Frank Darabont and stars Jon Bernthal, Milo Ventimiglia, Neal McDonough and Alexa Davalos:

 

“MOB CITY” (2013): Episode Ranking

1 - 1.06 Stay Down

1. (1.06) “Stay Down” – With ex-wife Jasmine Fontaine safely out of Los Angeles, Los Angeles Police detective Joe Teague sets about making a deal with mobster Bugsy Siegel to guarantee her complete safety in this finale episode. Instead, events move toward an ending that proves to be as shocking as the beginning.

 

2 - 1.03 Red Light

2. (1.03) “Red Light” – During a visit to Jasmine’s apartment, Joe informs her that the L.A.P.D. knows about the pictures she took of Siegel’s murder of Abe Greenberg on behalf of her current boyfriend, second-rate comedian Hecky Nash. This visit enables him to learn of mobster Sid Rothman’s (a colleague of Siegel and Mickey Cohen) intent to bump off a potential witness to his murder of two Siegel soldiers.

 

3 - 1.01 A Guy Walks Into a Bar

3. (1.01) “A Guy Walks Into a Bar” – In this premiere episode, Joe accepts a commission to act as private bodyguard for Nash, who is blackmailing the mob with photos Siegel murdering Greenberg.

 

4 - 1.05 Oxpecker

4. (1.05) “Oxpecker” – While Cohen and Rothman discovers that she is the photographer who had snapped the incriminating images of Siegel, Jasmine is forced to deal with Hecky’s deadly partner in the blackmail scheme, Leslie Shermer. Meanwhile, the police’s attempt to protect a witness against Rothman ends in violence and disaster, thanks to a mole within Captain William Parker’s task force.

 

5 - 1.02 Reason to Kill a Man

5. (1.02) “Reason to Kill a Man” – Following Hecky’s death, Teague and the L.A.P.D. question Jasmine about his blackmail scheme against Siegel. Meanwhile, Rothman finds the two trigger men who had not only witnessed Greenberg’s death, but also served as informants for the police. Also, Joe’s fellow ex-Marine, attorney Ned Stax, warns him to get rid of incriminating evidence linking him to Jasmine.

 

6 - 1.04 His Banana Majesty

6. (1.04) “His Banana Majesty” – Mobster Jack Dragna tries to shoehorn into Siegel’s Los Angeles operations, while the latter is behind bars on suspicions of murder. And Joe is surprised by a visit to his apartment from Rothman.

“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

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“THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” (2013) Review

The second part of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy novel, “The Hobbit” recently hit the theaters. After watching it, I am amazed that I was ever against the idea of a three-film adaptation of the Tolkien’s story.

Titled “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, the second film began not long after the first one left off. I take that back. The movie began with a flashback featuring a meet between the wizard Gandalf the Gray and the Dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield at the Prancing Pony Tavern in Bree. Those familiar with the trilogy, will remember that Froddo Baggins and his fellow Hobbits were supposed to meet Gandalf at the Prancing Pony and ended up meeting Strider aka Aragon, future king of Gondor. The audiences learn in this flashback that it was Gandalf, who originally kickstarted the adventure by convincing Thorin to obtain the Arkenstone in order to unite the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain.

Finally, the story begins where the last movie left off, with Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins and the Dwarves evading the Orc chieftain Azog and his party. They eventually seek shelter at the home of a shapeshifter named Beorn, before they make their way to the Milkwood forest. There, Gandalf parts company with the others after discovering Black Speech graffiti imprinted on an old ruin. He heads toward the tombs of the Nazgûl in Dol Guldur, to investigate with fellow wizard Radagast. Meanwhile, Bilbo and the Dwarves get lost in the Milkwood forest and eventually captured by giant spiders. Using the One Ring to render himself invisible, Bilbo manages to free the Dwarves from the spiders’ webs. However, they end up being captured by a party of Wood Elves led by Legolas and Tauriel, who finish off the spiders. During the Dwarves’ captivity, Thorin gets into a conflict with the Wood Elves’ king, Thranduil; Kili becomes attracted to the Elves’ Chief of Guards, Tauriel. Again, Bilbo comes to the Dwaves’ rescue and help them escape, with their Orc pursuers close at their heels. And with the help of a barge man named Bard the Bowman (who is also a descendant of the last king of Dale), the travelers not only reach Lake-town, but eventually the Lonely Mountain and Smaug. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Thorin and the other Dwarves, Gandalf is captured by the Necromancer of Nazgûl, who reveals himself as the Dark Lord Sauron.

Many fans and critics tend to view “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to the first movie in this new trilogy, “THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. If I have to be brutally honest, I do not particularly share this view. On the other hand, I do not regard the first “HOBBIT” movie as superior to this second one. I really cannot make up my mind on which film is better. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” does not have a first act that takes its time in introducing the character. On the other hand, “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY” does not have an abrupt ending. And both films, in my opinion, are well written by screenwriters Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro. It featured further development of the major characters, development of the main narrative and some superb action sequences.

Before I wax lyrical over “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG”, I might as well comment over its shortcomings. Thankfully, there are only a few. Two of them featured characters from the Wood Elves – Legolas and Tauriel. Orlando Bloom returned to portray the sixty years younger Legolas for this new trilogy. However, Bloom is over a decade older than he was when he portrayed the older Legolas. I wish I could say that he looked young enough to portray the younger Legolas. But I would be lying. And I am not being shallow. Bloom looked great. But I could tell that he looked older than he did in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. And for me, this did not gel very well, considering that he was portraying the same character at a younger age. I also had a problem with the new character, Tauriel, Chief Guard for the Wood Elves. I understand that she was created by Jackson and the other screenwriters, due to the dearth of female characters in this story’s chapter. Quite frankly, I have no problem with this, unlike the Tolkien “purists”. But there were times when I found her character a little too ideal. It is great that she is a badass. But aside from an initial show of bigotry toward the Dwarves, there seemed to be a lack of flaws in Tauriel’s characterization. Not only is she a badass fighter, she is the only Elf who seemed to be aware of a growing evil throughout Middle Earth and believes something should be done about it. Tauriel is practically a borderline “Mary Sue”. And like many moviegoers, I found the movie’s final scene rather perplexing. I realize that “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” is only the second of three movies. But Jackson had ended previous Tolkien movies – aside from “LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING” – with the conclusion of a major action sequence. I had expected him to resolve the matter of Smaug before moving on to the last chapter of “THE HOBBIT”. He did not. And because of this, the movie ended on an erupt note.

As I had earlier stated, I cannot view “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” as superior to “AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY”. On the other hand, I definitely do not view this second film as inferior to the first. First of all, it benefited from the establishment of the main characters and main narrative from the first film. I also have to give kudos to Peter Jackson for maintaining a steady pace throughout the movie – in both the action and dramatic sequences. I find that very impressive for a movie with a running time of two hours and forty-one minutes. The movie also continued Jackson’s track record with impressive production designs. I was especially impressed by Dan Hennah’s work for the Mirkwood Elves Realm, Lake-wood and the Lonely Mountain interior sequences. The costumes designed by Bob Buck, Ann Maskrey and Richard Taylor struck me as beautiful . . . especially those designed for the Wood Elves. I cannot forget Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful photography of New Zealand, which served as Middle Earth. And the makeup designs for the Dwaves characters and the Elves continued to impress me. But I cannot forget the visual effects used in this film. Most of the faces for the Orcs were computer generated, and I must say that I found that impressive. The visual effects team also did exceptional work for the Dol Guldur sequences – especially with Gandalf’s encounter with Sauron. And despite my dislike of spiders, I was also impressed by the visual work on the Milkwood Forest sequence that featured the protagonists’ encounters with the deadly beasts. But the one sequence that stands above the others – at least for me – proved to be Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with the dragon Smaug. How can I put it? I found it breathtaking, mesmerizing . . . and extremely frightening. The visual creation of Smaug truly have to be the movie’s pièce de résistance. Benedict Cumberbatch’s superb voice performance greatly added to the terror . . . and I am being complementary.

However, “THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all about visual effects. The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences and superb dramatic moments. Not even my negative opinion of spiders could blind me from the first-rate sequence that featured the Milwood Elves’ rescue of Bilbo and the Dwarves. It was an especially good moment for actors Orlando Bloom and Evangeline Lilly. Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and those actors who portrayed the Dwarves had their chance to really shine in that outstanding sequence featuring Smaug within the great halls of Erebor. But my favorite action sequence featured Bilbo and the Dwarves’ escape from Wood Elves’ realm by traveling along a river inside empty wine barrels. Not even that brief, silly moment that featured Legolas balancing on the heads of two Dwarves, while fighting the pursuing Orcs could mar my enjoyment of that scene. If Jackson ever consider opening an amusement park, he might want to consider that sequence as an inspiration for an attraction. However, “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” was not all action and no drama. The movie certain featured some fine dramatic scenes. My favorites include two scenes featuring the growing romance between the Dwarf Kili and the Elf Guard Tauriel, Bilbo’s cat-and-mouse session with Smaug, and a wonderful moment in which Thorin manages to convince the citizens of Lake-town to support the Dwarves’ efforts to reclaim Erebor. But if there is one scene that really impressed me, it happened to be the stormy confrontation between the two leaders, Thorin and Thranduil, within the latter’s realm. I feel it was the dramatic highlight of the movie, thanks to superb performances from Richard Armitage and Lee Pace.

Speaking of performances . . . I really cannot say there was one that failed to impress me. Although I had some criticisms of the Legolas and Tauriel characters, I certainly had none regarding the two performers who portrayed them. Granted, Orlando Bloom may have been a bit old for portraying the younger Legolas, I must admit that I found his acting in this movie a lot more impressive than in the “LORD OF THE RINGS”. His Legolas in this film was a bit darker and more complex. And Bloom rose to the occasion perfectly. Evangeline Lilly’s portrayal of Tauriel was probably one of the best things in this movie. She has certainly come a long way since her early years as an actress. Tauriel might have been something of a “Mary Sue”, Lilly certainly injected a great deal of brilliance and excitement into the character. And she had great screen chemistry with Aidan Turner, who portrayed the youngest member of Thorin’s Dwarf band – Kili. Turner, who was such fun in the first “HOBBIT” film, did a marvelous job as the lovesick Kili. I especially enjoyed his one scene in which the barely conscious Kili not only poignantly expressed his love for Tauriel, but also his self-doubts about her feelings for him. Lee Pace added another eccentric character to his gallery of roles as the arrogant king of the Wood Elves, Thranduil. Mind you, Pace went out of his way to express Thranduil’s desire to protect his people from the growing evil. But he also did such a marvelous job in expressing Thranduil’s showy personality and arrogance.

Luke Evans made his debut in the trilogy as Bard the Bowman, an archer and descendant of the lords of Dale. And he was fantastic. Evans captured a great deal of the character’s grim charisma and presence with great ease. Some of the other actors who portrayed the Erebor Dwarves certainly made their presence felt in this film. Graham McTavish was deliciously surly as the aggressive Dwalin, the first Dwarf that Bilbo ever met. Ken Stott continued his outstanding portrayal of the elderly and very wise Balin. Dean O’Gorman continued his strong chemistry with Aidan Turner as Fili, Kili’s older brother. I was especially impressed by his performance in a scene in which Fili refuses to leave behind the injured Kili at Lake-town. A first-rate dramatic performance on his part. Stephen Hunter got to shine as the overweight Dwarf, Bombur. After his character was treated as a joke in the first film, Hunter had a great heroic moment when his character fought off several Orcs during the flight from the Milkwood Palace. Stephen Fry appeared in the film as the Master of Lake-town and gave a deliciously nasty performance as the self-involved and greedy leader of the community near the Lonely Mountain. In fact, I cannot recall him portraying such a negative character before. He should do it more often.

Ian McKellen continued his elegant portrayal of the wizard Gandalf the Gray. Like the second film in the “LORD OF RINGS” trilogy, his appearance was more limited than it was in the first. But he had some marvelous moments during the sequence that featured Gandalf’s visit to Dol Guldur. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo Baggins developed in a way that I found both satisfying and disturbing. I have to give Freeman kudos in the subtle manner in which he conveyed Bilbo’s growing confidence in his role as a member of Thorin’s company. At the same, audiences could see the growing negative imapact of the One Ring upon his character . . . especially in the Milkwood Forest sequence. Bilbo’s character was not the only one growing increasingly darker. As much as I enjoyed Viggo Mortensen’s portrayal of the heroic Aragon in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy, I must admit that I find Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin Oakenshield more rewarding. The character is so rich in its complexity and Armitage does a superb job in portraying the Dwarf prince’s moral ambiguity. I found it interesting that in this second film, Thorin begins to rely a lot more on Bilbo to help the company through its travails. Yet, the closer the company reaches its goal in Erebor, the darker Thorin’s personality becomes. It is fascinating to watch Armitage take this character down a dark road.

It is a pity that “THE HOBBIT” trilogy has not garnered as much critical acclaim as the “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies. Quite frankly, I find them more enjoyable to watch. Unlike the trilogy from a decade ago, the two “HOBBIT” movies have managed to more than satisfy me. “THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG” may have possessed a few flaws, but it kept me fully entertained and fascinated right to the end. Right now, Peter Jackson seemed to be on a roll with this second trilogy. I only hope that the third and last film will not disappoint me.

“NORTH AND SOUTH” (1975) Review

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“NORTH AND SOUTH” (1975) Review

I had been a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1855 novel, ever since I first saw the 2004 television adaptation a few years ago. Mind you, I had never read the novel. And I still have yet to read it. Despite this, I became a fan of the story. And when I learned that the BBC planned to release an older adaptation of Gaskell’s novel, which first aired in 1975, I looked forward to seeing it.

As one would assume from reading this review, I eventually purchased a copy of the 1975 adaptation on DVD. And if I must be honest, I do not regret it. “NORTH AND SOUTH” proved to be a pretty damn good adaptation. Like the 2004 version, it consisted of four (4) fifty-minute episodes. Gaskell’s novel told the story of one Margret Hale, who returns home after ten years to her cleric father’s rector in Helstone, after attending the wedding of her cousin, Edith Shaw. Margaret’s homecoming is short-lived when she and her mother learn that her father Richard Hale has left the Church of England as a matter of conscience, after he has become a dissenter. His old Oxford friend, Mr. Bell, suggests that the Hales move to the industrial town of Milton, in Northern England; where the latter was born and own property.

Not long after the Hales’ arrival in Milton, both Margaret and mother Maria Hale find Milton harsh and strange. Due to financial circumstances, Mr. Hale works as a tutor. One of his more enthusiastic students turn out to be a wealthy cotton manufacturer named John Thornton, master of Marlborough Mills. Appalled by the conditions of the poverty-stricken mill workers, Margaret befriends the family of one Nicholas Higgins, a union representative. She also develops a dislike of Thornton, finding him gauche and seemingly unconcerned about his workers’ condition. Unbeknownst to Margaret, Thornton has grown attracted to her. The volatile relationship between Margaret and Thornton eventually plays out amidst the growing conflict between mill owners and angry workers.

As I had stated earlier, “NORTH AND SOUTH” proved to be a pretty good adaptation. I have a tendency to regard BBC miniseries produced in the 1970s with a jaundice eye, considering their tendency end up as televised stage plays. Thanks to the conflicts, social commentaries and romance featured in “NORTH AND SOUTH”, the miniseries was never boring. Many viewers who have seen this version of Gaskell’s novel claim that it was a more faithful adaptation than the 2004 miniseries. I cannot agree or disagree, considering that I have yet to read the novel. But I have never been too concern with the faithfulness of any movie or television adaptation, as long as the screenwriter(s) manage to come up with decent script that adheres to the main narrative of the literary source. Fortunately, David Turner did just that. His screenplay, along with Rodney Bennett’s direction, explored all of the aspects of Gaskell’s 1855 novel – the reason behind the Hales’ move to the North, the labor conflicts between the workers and the mill owners, Margaret Hale’s conflict/romance with John Thornton, the latter’s relationship with his mother, Nicholas Higgins’ conflict with fellow mill worker Boucher, and the fragmentation of the Hale family. Also, Bennett directed the entire miniseries with a steady pace that kept me alert.

It is a good thing that Bennett’s pacing kept me alert . . . most of the time. Like many BBC productions in the 1970s,“NORTH AND SOUTH” did come off as a filmed play in many scenes. Aside from Margaret’s arrival in Helstone inEpisode One, the labor violence that erupts within the grounds of Marlborough Mills in Episode Two and the delivery of Boucher’s body in his neighborhood; just about every other scene was probably shot inside a sound stage. And looked it. This even includes the Milton train station where Margaret says good-bye to her fugitive brother, Frederick. Now many would state that this has been the case for nearly all BBC miniseries productions from that era. Yet, I can recall a handful of productions from the same decade – 1971’s “PERSUASION”, 1972’s “EMMA” and even “JENNIE, LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL” from 1974 – featured a good deal of exterior shots. And there were moments when some scenes continued longer than necessary, especially in Episode One. Margaret’s conversation with her cousin Edith and Mr. Hale’s announcement of his separation from the Church of England seemed to take forever. And due to this problem, there were moments went the miniseries threatened to bog down.

But as much as I liked Turner’s adaptation of the novel, it seemed far from perfect. One aspect of the script that really irritated me was that Turner had a habit of telling the audiences what happened, instead of showing what happened. InEpisode One, following their arrival in Milton, Margaret tells her parents that she met the Higgins family. The miniseries never revealed how she met Nicholas or Betsy Higgins in the first place. The series never revealed the details behind Boucher’s death in Episode Four. Instead, a neighbor told Margaret, before his body appeared on the screen. We never see any scenes of Fanny Thornton’s wedding to mill owner Mr. Slickson. Instead, John tells Mr. Bell about the wedding in a quick scene between the two men on a train. Also, I found Margaret’s initial hostility toward John rather weak. A conversation between the two about the mill workers took part after audiences met the Higgins family. It is easy to see that John’s arrogant assumption regarding his control of his workers might seemed a bit off putting to Margaret. But it just did not seem enough for her hostility to last so long. And while the script probably followed Gaskell’s novel and allowed John’s regard for Margaret to be apparent before the end of Episode One, I never felt any growing attraction that Margaret may have felt toward John. Not even through most of Episode Four. In fact, Margaret’s open declaration of her love for John in the episode’s last few minutes seemed sudden . . . as if it came out of the blue.

The above mentioned problem may have been one reason why I found Margaret and John’s romance unconvincing. Another problem was that I found the on-screen chemistry between the two leads, Rosalie Shanks and Patrick Stewart, rather flat. In short, they did not seemed to have any real chemistry. The two leads gave first-rate, if somewhat flawed performances in their roles. Aside from a few moments in which I found Shanks’ Margaret Hale a bit too passive, I thought she gave an excellent, yet intelligent performance. Stewart seemed as energetic as ever, even if there were moments when his John Thornton seemed to change moods faster than lightning. But they did not click as an on-screen couple. Also, Turner’s screenplay failed to any signs of Margaret’s growing attraction toward John. It simply appeared out of the blue, during the series’ last few minutes.

I certainly had no problems with the other performances in the miniseries, save for a few performances. Robin Bailey did an excellent job in portraying Margaret’s well-meaning, yet mild-mannered father, Richard Hale. Bailey seemed to make it obvious that Mr. Hale was a man out of his depth and time. Kathleen Byron perfectly conveyed both the delicate sensibility and strong will of Margaret’s mother, Maria Hale. I was very impressed by Rosalie Crutchley’s portrayal of the tough, passionate and very complex Mrs. Hannah Thornton. I could also say the same about Norman Jones, who gave a very fine performance as union representative Nicolas Jones . . . even if there were times when I could barely understand him. Christopher Burgess’ portrayal of Boucher struck me as very strong . . . perhaps a little on the aggressive side. And Pamela Moiseiwitsch gave a very funny portrayal of John’s younger sister, Fanny; even if her performance came off as a bit too broad at times. It was a blast to see Tim Pigott-Smith in the role of Margaret’s fugitive brother, Frederick Hale. I say it was a blast, due to the fact that Pigott-Smith portrayed Richard Hale in the 2004 miniseries, 19 years later. As much as I enjoyed seeing him, there were times when his performance came off as a bit hammy.

Overall, “NORTH AND SOUTH” is a pretty solid adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel. Aside from a few changes, it more or less adhered to the original narrative, thanks to David Turner’s screenplay and Rodney Bennett’s direction. And although it featured some fine performances, the miniseries did suffer from some narrative flaws and a lack of chemistry between the two leads – Rosalie Shanks and Patrick Stewart. However, “NORTH AND SOUTH” still managed to rise above its flaws . . . in the end.

“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” (1940) Review

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“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” (1940) Review

Whenever one conjured the image of Warner Brothers Studio during the 1930s and 40s, hard-hitting crime dramas or social commentaries come to mind. I would certainly not view melodramas – costumed or otherwise – as part of the studio’s usual repertoire. Then in 1933, Hal Wallis became the studio’s new production chief and eventually allowed the studio to release more films with a wider variety. And when Bette Davis became “Queen of the Lot” in the mid-to-late 1930s, the release of melodramas by Warner Brothers became more common.

One of the melodramas associated with Davis was “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”, the 1940 movie adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. Set in France and northeastern United States during the mid-to-late 1840s, the movie told the story of a newly hired French schoolteacher at an American school, who finds herself reliving her past experiences with a French aristocratic family to her new students gossiping over the scandal that had followed her across the Atlantic. The movie begins in 1848 United States. Mademoiselle Henriette Deluzy-Desportes has been hired as the new French instructor at a girls’ school. To her dismay, she discovers that her new students are aware of the scandal that drove her out of France. Instead of resigning from the school, she decides to tell her students about her experiences with the family of the Duc de Praslin and Duchesse de Praslin.

The movie jumps back to 1846, during the last years of the Orleans monarchy, when Henriette arrives in France, following a five-year stint as a governess for an English family. After an interview with the Duc and Duchesse, Henriette is hired to act as governess for their three daughters and son. Although Henriette endears herself to the Duc and his four children, the Duchesse seemed to resent her presence. Due to an erratic temperament and an all compassing love for her husband, the Duchesse begins to suspect that Henriette is not only stealing the love of her children, but more importantly her husband. Despite her happy relationship with the de Praslin children, Henriette is forced to deal with the Duchesse’ increasingly hostile behavior, a growing awareness of the Duc’s feelings for her . . . and her own feelings for him. The tensions within the family culminates in the Duchesse’s brutal death, which leads to a great deal of legal problems for Henriette.

“ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” proved to be a successful film, but not quite a major box office hit. I read somewhere that some at the Warner Brothers Studios blamed the movie’s elaborate production designs for overwhelming the other aspects of the movie. I do not know if I could agree with this assessment. Granted, I found some of Carl Jules Weyl’s art designs of 1840s France a bit grandiose – especially in scenes featuring the de Praslin household. But considering the high level of melodrama and characterization, I find this opinion a bit hard to accept. I also find it difficult to agree with this slightly negative opinion of the movie’s visual style. Personally, I rather enjoyed it. I thought Weyl and his staff did an excellent job in re-creating the movie’s period – 1846 to 1848 via production designs, set designs, Warren Low’s editing and especially Ernest Haller’s Oscar nominated cinematography. I also have to compliment Orry-Kelly’s costume designs. The Australian-born designer had also created the costumes for some of Bette Davis’ movie, including 1938’s “JEZEBEL” and 1939’s “JUAREZ”. The designer could have easily been sloppy and re-used the costumes from those particular movies. Instead, Orry-Kelly created costumes that more or less accurately reflected the fashions of the mid-to-late 1840s.

While reading another review of “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”, the writer complained that he/she found it difficult to believe that a forbidden romance between a French aristocrat and his governess led to the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848 and the fall of the July Monarchy in France. Apparently, the reviewer had failed to do any research or read Rachel Field’s novel. AFter all, the novel was based upon history, including Field’s family background. Henriette Deluzy-Desportes (or what was her real name) was one of Field’s ancestors. And from what I have read, the real scandal that surrounded the governess and the duke had a major impact on the 1848 revolution that broke out in France. But was the movie’s historical background completely accurate? I honestly do not know. I would have to read more on the 1848 Revolution in France and the life of the Duc de Praslin. If I have one complaint about the movie’s handling of this historical background, I do wish that Casey Robinson’s screenplay could have provided more hints about the upcoming political upheaval.

Overall, I really enjoyed “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”. It is rare to come across a first-rate costume melodrama that can keep me enthralled during its entire running time. And this movie managed to achieve this, thanks to not only Robinson’s screenplay, but also Anatole Litvak’s steady direction. This was especially apparent in the first two-thirds of the movie that chronicled Henriette’s troubles with her American students, her arrival in France and her working and personal relationships with the de Praslin family. The movie’s best segment centered around the months she spent in the de Praslin family’s employment. Once, Henriette is dismissed by the Duchesse de Praslin for imagined slights, the movie struggled to maintain its momentum. This last third of the film centered on Henriette’s attempts to retrieve a reference from the Duchesse, the latter’s violent death, the legal wranglings that surrounded the murder and the finale in the United States. And yet . . . this last third of the film dragged so much – especially the period in which Henriette was in prison – that it threatened to overshadow my enjoyment of the film.

Aside from one particular performance, I have no problems with the movie’s cast. Bette Davis gave an engrossing and subtle performance as the movie’s lead character, Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. I will admit there were times I found the character a bit ideal for my liking – especially in the scenes featuring the governess and her charges. But the scenes featuring the growing love between Henriette and the Duc de Praslin and her conflicts with the Duchesse allowed Davis to superbly portray the governess more as a human being and less as a figure of feminine ideal. Charles Boyer was superb as the Duc de Praslin, a practical and loving man who found himself trapped in a marriage with a woman he no longer love. I feel it is to his credit that he could make the audience feel sympathetic toward a man who not only harbored adulterous feelings for another woman, but also murdered his wife.

The movie also featured fine performances from a supporting cast that included Jeffrey Lynn as Henriette’s future husband, the Reverend Henry Field; Harry Davenport as the de Praslin groundskeeper Pierre; Montagu Love as the Duc de Praslin’s father-in-law, Marshal Horace François Bastien Sébastiani de la Porta; and Henry Daniell as Monsieur Broussais, the man charged with investigating the Duchesse’s murder. “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” also benefited from excellent performances from the child actors who portrayed Henriette’s charges. I was especially impressed by June Lockhart and Virginia Weidler, who portrayed the Duc and Duchesse’s two older offsprings. The only performance I had trouble with Barbara O’Neil’s portrayal of Frances, the Duchesse du Praslin. I realize the latter was supposed to be an emotional and possessive woman, whose selfishness left her family out in the cold. O’Neil was fine in those scenes in which she conveyed the Duchesse’s coldness and attempts at indifference toward Henriette. Otherwise, her shrill rants and emotional outbursts struck me as hammy. I am surprised that O’Neil was the only cast member to earn an Academy Award nomination for acting.

I cannot say that I agree with the old criticism of the production designs for “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO”. I believe the movie does suffer from some flaws that include occasional hammy acting from Barbara O’Neil and the slow pacing that nearly bogged down the third act. But Anatole Litvak’s direction, along with a first-rate screenplay by Casey Robinson, excellent production designs, and superb performances from a cast led by Bette Davis and Charles Boyer have led me to regard “ALL THIS AND HEAVEN TOO” as an excellent example of a Hollywood costume melodrama at its best.

“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: This Is Love?”

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“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.: THIS IS LOVE?”

Ever since the middle of Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”, there has been a fandom dedicated to the relationship between two of the series’ characters: former hackivist/turned S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Skye (no surname mentioned) and Agent Grant Ward. And despite the amount of attention dedicated to this potential romance on the Internet and in the media, I have found myself wondering if I should support it or not.

The relationship between Skye and Ward began in (1.01) “Pilot”, the series’ very first episode. Despite being a member of a hacktivist group called Rising Tide, Skye ended up being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Phil Coulson and his newly formed team (which included Ward) track down a man named Mike Peterson, who had recently acquired super powers. Coulson assigned the no-nonsense Ward to serve as Skye’s S.O. (Supervising Officer) and train her.

During Season One’s first half, Ward trained Skye; while she responded with quirky jokes and mild flirtation. Then in the final scene of (1.08) “The Well”, Ward began an affair with another member of Coulson’s team – the formidable Agent Melinda May. I suspect that May slept with Ward as some form of comfort following his traumatic experiences with an Asgardian Beserker Staff. Their relationship lasted until a “repentant” Ward received a grilling for fraternizing with another agent and promised to end the affair in (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Two episodes later in (1.15) “Yes Men”, Ward admitted his attraction to Skye in a conversation with the rogue Asgardian goddess, Lorelei. She had him under her thrall at the time. The friendship between Skye and Ward deepened in the following four episodes – between (1.16) “End of the Beginning” and (1.19) “The Only Light in the Darkness”. During this period, the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” played out and resulted in the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D., the revelation of HYDRA’s (a former Nazi science organization-turned-terrorist group) infiltration, and Skye’s discovery that Ward had been a HYDRA mole on behalf of another S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA traitor, Agent John Garrett.

The relationship between Skye and Ward fell apart during Season One’s remaining three episodes. Skye was forced to leave Director Nick Fury’s secret Providence base and allow Ward to lead her into the arms of HYDRA and Garrett. The latter needed her to break the encryption code she had created to guard many S.H.I.E.L.D. files. After Coulson rescued her at the end of (1.20) “Nothing Personal” with the help of fellow agents Maria Hill and Antoine Triplett, Skye and Ward did not face each other again until the big confrontation between Coulson and Garrett in the season’s finale, (1.22) “Beginning of the End”. In that episode, Skye expressed her disgust and contempt for Ward and he ended up in Federal custody after enduring a beat down by May.

Since the airing of “Beginning of the End”, fans have been divided over the future of Skye and Ward’s relationship (dubbed “Skyeward” on the Internet). They have also been divided over the possibility of Ward’s redemption in future episodes. How do I now feel about these issues? Honestly, I am a bit conflicted. At least about Ward’s redemption. Do I believe that he is beyond redemption? Well . . . no. I do feel that it would take a great deal of sacrifice on Ward’s part (possibly his death) to redeem himself for the murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Victoria Hand, her assistants, and Eric Koenig; and the attempted murders of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons, Coulson and Skye.

What about “Skyeward”? How do I feel about the Skye/Ward relationship? Honestly? I do not sense any real love between them. Not really. The ironic thing is that I had earlier considered the possibility of a romance between them. After all, cast members Chloe Bennet and Brett Dalton managed to generate a pretty good screen chemistry. However, the revelation of Ward as a HYDRA mole led me to dismiss any considerations . . . for the present. But after my recent re-watching of several Season One episodes, I found myself wondering how I could have ever considered any possibility of a romance between them in the first place.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Skye

There are certain fans who believe that Ward could find redemption from his actions as a HYDRA mole through Skye’s love. I have a problem with this theory. I have a problem, because I have doubts that Skye actually loves him . . . or ever loved him. Her flirtation attempts at Ward in the early episodes seemed to hint that Skye found Ward attractive. She even used a photograph of him as her laptop computer’s wallpaper . . . like an infatuated schoolgirl. This attraction was especially apparent in an early scene from “Yes Men”, in which both seemed physically aware of each other, while the latter expressed relief at her recovery from being shot by HYDRA scientist/industrialist Ian Quinn in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Before this romantic exchange could progress, Skye expressed her dismay over Mike Peterson, who had just become Deathlok. Because she viewed him as a close friend, this was the second time she had expressed disbelief and concern over Mike’s transformation. The first time this happened, Skye had discovered his transformation for the first time before Quinn shot her. And she expressed her dismay for the third when she was a prisoner of HYDRA in “Nothing Personal”. For some reason, Skye found it difficult to give up on Mike.

At the same time . . . I do not recall Skye ever expressing similar feelings for Ward, when she discovered he was a HYDRA mole. Not once. When she finally confronted him about his betrayal to S.H.I.E.L.D., she merely expressed anger and disgust. In fact, she labeled him as someone “evil”. In the season finale, her feelings toward him had transformed into contempt and she judged him as “weak”, instead of “evil”. The only member of Coulson’s team who seemed unable to face Ward’s betrayal or give up on him was Leo Fitz. From the moment the rest of the team learned about Ward’s betrayal, Fitz expressed disbelief that Ward was a HYDRA agent and expressed numerous theories that Ward may have been coerced. Even moments before Ward tried to kill him and Jemma Simmons by ejecting them into the ocean, Fitz continued to blind himself from Ward’s perfidy.

As I had stated earlier, Skye never tried to deny Ward’s betrayal. One might point out her willingness to cooperate with Garrett over the encrypted files, when Mike endangered Ward’s life in “Nothing Personal”. But Skye was willing, if reluctantly, willing to allow Ward to die if it meant preventing HYDRA from accessing those files. In the end, it took Mike’s argument that she would have Ward’s blood on her hands if she did not cooperate. If Joss and Jed Whedon, along with Maurissa Tancharoen, are willing to satisfy fans with some plot twist that allows Skye’s love to redeem Ward; they will have to dramatically change her character for that to happen.

S.H.I.E.L.D./HYDRA Agent Grant Ward

Judging from the Season One episodes I have seen, I would say that Grant Ward harbors stronger feelings for Skye than she does for him. And yet . . . I cannot sense any deep and abiding love on Ward’s part for Skye. I can recall him expressing concern for her life, when she infiltrated Quinn’s mansion in (1.03) “The Asset”. He did seemed concerned for Skye’s life after she had been shot by Quinn. Yet, other members of the team seemed more openly upset. Like Ward, Fitz expressed remorse that he did not accompany Skye to Quinn’s Italian villa, where she got shot. But he seemed a lot more emotional than Ward. Simmons literally burst into tears. May lost her temper and nearly beat the living crap out of Quinn, who became their prisoner. And Coulson became uber-determined, actually desperate to find a means to save Skye’s life – even to the point of breaking S.H.I.E.L.D. protocol and searching for the project that had resurrected him. Of all the team members, Ward seemed the least emotional over Skye’s fate. Perhaps the latter was trying not to shed “unmanly” tears. Who knows? He did express his displeasure to his mentor John Garrett, who had ordered Skye’s death. But his easy willingness to accept Garrett’s dismissal of the incident struck me as a bit . . . interesting.

Ward’s most emotional reaction to any character on the show was directed at Garrett. This happened when the latter’s organs began to fail, due to internal cybernetic parts. Ward expressed deep concern when Garrett’s health began to fail in(1.21) “Ragtag”. And when a captured Fitz used an old World War II EMP device that further endangered Garrett’s life, Ward nearly flipped out. Despite the fact that Garrett had ordered Quinn to kill Skye and Mike Peterson to endanger his life, Ward remained concerned over and loyal to the older man. Some might say that Ward’s continuing loyalty to Garrett was a sign of emotional abuse he had received. But those flashbacks in “Ragtag” seemed more like examples of emotional manipulation from Garrett, not abuse.

And there is something else that bothers me. I found it odd that Ward’s attraction to Skye finally became apparent to audiences in “Yes Men”. Especially when May had brusquely brushed aside his concern and offers of help after she had been tortured in “T.R.A.C.K.S.”. Minutes later, Ward spotted Coulson tenderly attending to May’s wounds inside the Bus’ (S.H.I.E.L.D. plane) medical bay. I found it odd that Ward would begin expressing any romantic feelings for Skye two episodes after what he had witnessed between Coulson and May. Was he fooling himself about Skye? Had he been fooling her and the rest of the team about his true feelings? Was he relieved that he no longer had to fake romantic feelings for May? Or had he viewed Skye as an easier target for his reluctant lover act? Who knows?

Those fans who have rejected the idea of a future romance between Skye and Ward tend to cite the latter’s sexism, which reared its ugly head in both “Nothing Personal” and “Beginning of the End”. But I had spotted other reasons that make me doubt these two might be destined for any future love. One, Skye had no problems accepting Ward’s betrayal of the team and S.H.I.E.L.D., unlike Leo Fitz. On the other hand, she had trouble accepting Mike Peterson’s cooperation with Garrett and HYDRA. As for Ward, he was willing to deliver Skye into Garrett’s hands in episodes like “The Only Light in the Darkness”, “Nothing Personal” and even “Beginning of the End”. If he truly loved her, why would he be willing to endanger her in this manner? Is this supposed to Marvel’s idea of love? Frankly, I rather doubt it.

I could see that both Skye and Ward found each other sexually attractive. But love? Sorry, but I am not buying it. Not at the moment. The Whedon brothers and Tancharoen will have to make numerous changes in Skye and Ward’s personalities in order for me to believe they will eventually become one of the great romances for “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”.