“THE NICE GUYS” (2016) Review

“THE NICE GUYS” (2016) Review

The 2016 summer movie season has proven to be somewhat dismal. I cannot recall a remake of television or previous movie with an original twist. Worst, most of the movies seemed to be nothing more than sequels. And if I must be brutally frank, not very good ones. But I have only come across two movies that struck me as completely original. One of them is the period action comedy, “THE NICE GUYS”.

Co-written and directed by Shane Black, “THE NICE GUYS” told the story of a down-on-his-luck private investigator and an enforcer investigating two cases that might have a connection with each other – the death of a fading porn star and a missing young woman, who happens to be the daughter of a U.S. Justice Department official. Set in Los Angeles circa 1977, “THE NICE GUYS” began with a young boy witnessing the death of fading porn star Misty Mountains in a car crash in the Hollywood Hills. Later, Misty’s aunt, Mrs. Glen, hires private eye Holland March to find her, claiming that she is still alive. Despite feeling skeptical of Mrs. Glen’s claim, Holland takes the case and discovers that a young woman named Amelia Kutner is connected to Misty. Unbeknownst to him, an enforcer named Jackson Healy has been hired by Amanda, who does not want to be found, to intimidate March into staying away from her. But when two thugs try to coerce Jackson into revealing Amelia’s whereabouts, he teams up with Holland and the latter’s young daughter Holly to find Amelia before the thugs do. The duo’s investigation lead them into the world of Los Angeles’ pornography industry and a scandal surrounding the automobile industry.

“THE NICE GUYS” was not a major box office hit. It barely made a profit, if I must be brutally honest. This is a pity, because I believe Shane Black not only directed, but co-wrote – with Anthony Bagarozzi – a first-rate action comedy. There were a few aspects of “THE NICE GUYS” that I found unappealing. One, I was a little taken aback that the main villains behind the murders committed in the movie and involved in the automobile scandal did not face any justice. Perhaps I should not have been surprised, considering that the main villains were a cabal of businessmen in the Detroit automobile industry. I mean, honestly, Black and Bagarozzi could have provided the movie with a more distinct main villain and saved an ending like this for a drama like 1974’s “CHINATOWN”, instead of an action comedy. And two, for a movie set in the late 1970s, one aspect struck me as anachronistic – namely the Judith Kutner character portrayed by Kim Basinger. What else can I say? Basinger looked like an early 21st century woman who had time traveled back to 1977, thanks to her anachronistic hairstyle. Visually, the actress stuck out like a sore thumb.

Thankfully, there was a lot more to admire about “THE NICE GUYS”. Shane Black and Anthony Bagorozzi really did themselves proud. Who else could write a comedic story about a group of people in the porn industry, using the power of film – a “porn” flick called “How Do You Like My Car, Big Boy?” to expose the shady dealings of a cabal of Detroit automobile makers; toss in an alcoholic private investigator, a burly and somewhat violent enforcer, the former’s 12 year-old daughter; and set all of this in 1977 Los Angeles? By all of the laws of nature (and writing), this should not have worked. But it did . . . beautifully. This movie featured some interesting and off-the-wall scenes that included Jackson and Holland’s first violent meeting, their search for the missing Amelia at a wild party held by a pornography producer in the Hollywood Hills, and that crazy finale at the L.A. Auto Show.

“THE NICE GUYS” also featured some first-rate action sequences. Among my favorites are the screen fights that featured Russell Crowe, Keith David and in the first one, Beau Knapp. I would include Ryan Gosling, but his character did not strike me as an effective brawler, just a person who falls from high places, while in a state of intoxication. The movie also featured a first-rate scene in which the Jackson Healey and Holland March characters have a deadly shoot-out in front of the March home with a psychotic hit man named John Boy (a name that requires a photograph of actor Matt Bomer and an article on its own). But once again, the auto show sequence tops it all with some first-rate action that include a major brawl and an intense shoot out.

Being a period piece, “THE NICE GUYS” is a colorful movie to look at, thanks to contributions from the crew. I love sharp color in my films, especially if they are period pieces. And I am happy to say that Philippe Rousselot’s photography not only satisfied me color wise, but also gave the movie a late 1970s sheen that I have not seen in a long time. I noticed that some of his exterior shots were filmed in close-ups. And I cannot help but wonder if he had done this, because the movie was partially shot in Atlanta, Georgia. Also contributing to the movie’s late 1970s look was Richard Bridgland’s production designs. Speaking as a person who remembered that era (and location) very well, I have to give Bridgland kudos for doing an excellent job in re-creating that era. I also have to say the same about David Utley’s art direction. I was also impressed by Kym Barrett’s costume designs. As shown in the images below, I found them very colorful and spot-on:

I cannot help but wonder if Russell Crowe’s character had become attached to that faux leather jacket. The actor wore it throughout the film. Although David Buckley and John Ottman provided a solid score for the movie, I really enjoyed the variety of songs from the mid-to-late 1970s that were included. This especially seemed to be the case during the porn producer’s party that featured a band playing Earth, Wind and Fire tunes. Be still my heart!

“THE NICE GUYS” also featured some solid and outstanding performances. Murielle Telio, Beau Knapp, Ty Simpkins (who had worked with Black in “IRON MAN 3”), Lois Smith, Margaret Qualley, Jack Kilmer, and Gil Gerard (“BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY” anyone?) all gave some pretty solid performances. I can also say the same about Kim Basinger, who portrayed a very pragmatic, yet emotionally intense Federal prosecutor named Judith Kuttner.

But I was really impressed by the likes of Matt Bomer, who gave a really intense performance as the rather scary hit man, John Boy. It was nice to see Bomer portray a character so completely different from what he usually does. Yaya DaCosta was equally intense, yet very seductive as Tally, secretary to Kim Basinger’s Judith Kuttner. I thought she did a great job in conveying all of the interesting traits of Tally – friendly, sexy, intense and dangerous. Keith David had the unenviable task of being one of the few sane characters in this crazy film, while portraying a Detroit-born hit man nicknamed “Older Guy”. However, I nearly fell off my seat, while laughing at one scene in which he expressed dismay to Holland for allowing young Holly’s presence in the case. Speaking of Holly, the filmmakers cast young Australian actress Angourie Rice to portray Holland’s pragmatic and brainy daughter, who also served as the leads’ conscience. Not only did she give a first-rate performance, Rice managed to keep up with the likes of Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling with ease.

Russell Crowe’s Jackson Healey more or less played straight man to Ryan Gosling’s zany Holland March; and I have to give him kudos for being up to the task. It is not an easy job playing straight man to the clown, considering that people are more inclined to pay attention to the latter. But Crowe not only did his job, he also beautifully brought alive a very interesting character in his own right, enforcer Jackson Healey, a dependable guy who has this little penchant for unnecessarily using excessive violence to solve certain situations. And he really clicked with Ryan Gosling, who had the good luck to portray the hapless and alcoholic private investigator Holland March. The interesting thing about Holland is that he is not dumb at all. In fact, he is actually a perceptive investigator who is good at his job, when he is not inebriated, not trying to cheat his clients, wallowing in his infatuation of the mysterious Tally or too intent on saving his own skin. I have to say that Holland March has become one of my favorite Ryan Gosling roles of all time. And one of the funniest I have ever viewed on the silver screen. What else is there to say?

What a shame that the public did not embrace “THE NICE GUYS”. But it does not matter in the end. At least for me. I can think of numerous films that I loved, but were not exactly box office hits. Right now, “THE NICE GUYS” has become one of those films. It is sooooo fun to watch, thanks to a great, but not perfect script; sharp direction by Shane Black; and a marvelous cast led by a very talented duo, Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. This movie will go down as one of my favorites from 2016.

 

“LIFE WITH FATHER” (1947) Review

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“LIFE WITH FATHER” (1947) Review

Warner Brothers is the last studio I would associate with a heartwarming family comedy set in the 19th century. At least the Warner Brothers of the 1940s. And yet, the studio did exactly that when it adapted Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse’s 1939 play, “Life With Father”, which happened to be an adaptation of Clarence Day’s 1935 novel.

If I must be frank, I am a little confused on how to describe the plot for “LIFE WITH FATHER”. But I will give it my best shot. The movie is basically a cinematic account in the life of one Clarence Day, a stockbroker in 1880s Manhattan, who wants to be master of his house and run his household, just as he runs his Wall Street office. However, standing in his way is his wife, Vinnie, and their four sons, who are more inclined to be more obedient of their mother than their father. You see, Vinnie is the real head of the Day household. And along with their children, she continues to demand that Mr. Day overcome his stubbornness and make changes in his life.

Thanks to Donald Odgen Stewart’s screenplay, “LIFE WITH FATHER” focused on Mr. Day’s attempt to find a new maid; a romance between his oldest son Clarence Junior and pretty out-of-towner named Mary Skinner, who is the ward of his cousin-in-law Cora Cartwright; a plan by Clarence Jr. and second son John to make easy money selling patent medicines; Mrs. Day’s health scare; Mr. Day’s general contempt toward the trappings of organized religion; and Mrs. Day’s agenda to get him baptized. Some of these story lines seem somewhat disconnected. But after watching the movie, I noticed that the story lines regarding Clarence Junior and John’s patent medicine scheme were connected to Clarence Junior’s romance with Mary and Mrs. Day’s health scare. Which played a major role in Mrs. Day’s attempt to get her husband baptized. Even the baptism story line originated from Cousin Cora and Mary’s visit.

Many would be surprised to learn that Michael Curtiz was the director of “LIFE WITH FATHER”. Curtiz was not usually associated with light comedies like “LIFE WITH FATHER”. Instead, he has been known for some of Errol Flynn’s best swashbucklers, noir melodramas like “MILDRED PIERCE”, the occasional crime drama and melodramas like the Oscar winning film, “CASABLANCA”. However, Curtiz had also directed musicals, “YANKEE DOODLE DANDY” and “FOUR DAUGHTERS”; so perhaps “LIFE WITH FATHER” was not a stretch for him, after all. I certainly had no problem with this direction for this film. I found it well paced and sharp. And for a movie that heavily relied upon interior shots – especially inside the Days’ home, I find it miraculous that the movie lacked the feel of a filmed play. It also helped that “LIFE WITH FATHER” featured some top notch performers.

William Powell earned his third and last Academy Award nomination for his portrayal as Clarence Day Senior, the family’s stubborn and temperamental patriarch. Although the Nick Charles character will always be my personal favorite, I believe that Clarence Day is Powell’s best. He really did an excellent job in immersing himself in the role . . . to the point that there were times that I forgot he was an actor. Powell also clicked very well with Irene Dunne, who portrayed the family’s charming, yet manipulative matriarch, Vinnie Day. It is a testament to Dunne’s skill as an actress that she managed to convey to the audience that despite Clarence Senior’s bombastic manner, she was the real head of the Day household. Unlike Powell, Dunne did not receive an Academy Award nomination. Frankly, I think this is a shame, because she was just as good as her co-star . . . as far as I am concerned.

“LIFE WITH FATHER” also featured excellent performances from the supporting cast. Jimmy Lydon did a wonderful job portraying the Days’ oldest offspring, Clarence Junior. Although Lydon was excellent portraying a character similar in personality to Vinnie Day, I found him especially funny when his Clarence Junior unintentionally project Mr. Day’s personality quirks when his romance with Mary Skinner threatened to go off the rails. Speaking of Mary Skinner, Elizabeth Taylor gave a very funny and superb performance as the young lady who shakes up the Day household with a burgeoning romance with Clarence Junior and an innocent remark that leads Mrs. Day to learn that her husband was not baptized. Edmund Gwenn gave a skillful and subtle performance as Mrs. Day’s minister, who is constantly irritated by Mr. Day’s hostile stance against organized religion. The movie also featured excellent performances from Martin Milner, ZaSu Pitts, Emma Dunn, Derek Scott and Heather Wilde.

Another aspect of “LIFE WITH FATHER” that I found admirable was its production values. When it comes to period films, many of the Old Hollywood films tend to be on shaky ground, sometimes. For the likes of me, I tried to find something wrong with the production for “LIFE WITH FATHER”, but I could not. J. Peverell Marley and William V. Skall’s photography, along with Robert M. Haas’ art direction, and George James Hopkins’ set decorations all combined to the household of an upper middle-class family in 1885 Manhattan. But the one aspect of the film’s production that really impressed me was Marjorie Best’s costume designs. Quite frankly, I thought they were beautiful. Not only did they seem indicative of the movie’s setting and the characters’ class, they . . . well, I thought they were beautiful. Especially the costumes that Irene Dunne wore.

As much as I had enjoyed “LIFE WITH FATHER”, I could not help but notice that it seemed to possess one major flaw. Either this movie lacked a main narrative, or it possessed a very weak one. What is this movie about? Is it about Clarence Junior’s efforts to get a new suit to impress Mary Skinner? Is it about Mrs. Day’s health scare? Or is it about her efforts to get Mr. Day baptized? I suspect that the main plot is the latter . . . and if so, I feel that is pretty weak. If this was the main plot in the 1939 Broadway play, then screenwriter Donald Odgen Stewart should have changed the main narrative. But my gut feeling tells me that he was instructed to be as faithful to the stage play as possible. Too bad.

I see now that the only way to really enjoy “LIFE WITH FATHER” is to regard it as a character study. Between the strong characterizations, and superb performances from a cast led by Oscar nominee William Powell and Irene Dunne, this is easy for me to do. It also helped that despite the weak narrative, the movie could boast some excellent production values and first-rate direction from Michael Curtiz. You know what? Regardless of the weak narrative, “LIFE WITH FATHER” is a movie I could watch over and over again. I enjoyed it that much.

Top Five Favorite Episodes of “HAWAII FIVE-O” Season Three (1970-1971)

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three of “HAWAII FIVE-O”. Created by Leonard Freeman, the series starred Jack Lord as Steve McGarrett:

 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “HAWAII FIVE-O” SEASON THREE (1970-1971)

1. (3.22) “The Bomber and Mrs. Moroney” – A recently released convict, armed with a bomb, takes people hostage at Five-O headquarters and threatens to blow up the office, unless Danny Williams surrenders himself.

 

2. (3.01) “And Time to Die” – Five-O must move swiftly to prevent a threat against the kidnapped daughter of a surgeon, who is to operate on a wounded U.S. undercover agent. Donald Moffat, Gerald S. O’Loughlin and Khigh Dhiegh guest-starred as Chinese agent Wo Fat.

 

3. (3.08) “Reunion” – Three former prisoners of war accuse a Japanese millionaire of being the officer responsible for their torture during World War II. Teru Shimada and Simon Oakland guest-starred.

 

4. (3.18-3.19) “F.O.B. Honolulu” – Murder, treason and double-cross permeate in this two-part episode in which various international agents, including Wo Fat, search for counterfeit plates for U.S. twenty-dollar bills. Khigh Dhiegh, John McMartin and Roger C. Carmel guest-starred.

 

5. (3.09) “The Late John Louisiana” – The Five-O team searches for the witness to a two-year-old murder to protect her against one of Hawaii’s most-wanted criminals. Don Stroud and Marianne McAndrew guest-starred.

“The Helmsman’s Logs – 2374” [PG-13] – 2/2

“THE HELMSMAN’S LOGS – 2374”

PART 2

STARDATE 51463.14:

The Doctor is back, thank God! This means Harry and I don’t have to continue our disastrous efforts to create a new EMH. During his time in the Alpha Quadrant, the Doc managed to contact Starfleet. (Pauses) I don’t know if that’s something to celebrate about, but everyone else seemed to be happy. Especially the Captain and Harry. Starfleet had declared us dead about six months following our disappearance. Now, they know we’re alive. Huh. I wonder how Dad took the news.

The Doc had other news, as well. Apparently, a war had broken out in the Alpha Quadrant. The Federation, along with the Klingon Empire have been at war with a Gamma Quadrant race called the Dominion and their allies, the Cardassians, since the end of last year. Also, upon his arrival in the Alpha Quadrant, he had came upon a Starfleet vessel that had been taken over by the Romulans. It seemed the Doc and a new EMH program managed to keep the ship from ending up in Romulan space. I don’t want to go into details – especially since the Doc never hesitates to talk about it. Over and over again.

As for the array, it seemed to belong to a race called the Hirogen. Seven, B’Elanna and the Captain had brief contact with one of them, before Seven zapped him into oblivion with a feedback from the array’s transmitter. Hmmm, that’s the first time B’Elanna has ever expressed any approval toward Seven’s actions. End personal log.

STARDATE 51468.06:

It’s a miracle that B’Elanna didn’t kill me, a few minutes ago. We were supposed to meet for breakfast, around 0700, this morning. Unfortunately, I overslept – thanks to one hell of a nightmare – and she had to wake me up. Since our breakfast turned out to be a bust, we had arranged a new one for Friday night – the Fiji Islands in Holodeck One. The water skiing should be great. End personal log.

STARDATE 51472.83:

Damn aliens! Hell, I don’t the name of their species, so I don’t what else to call them. Why are we always encountering these aliens who use subtle means to take over the ship? The Bothans, the Nyrians, those aliens who had used us for their . . . medical experiments. And now, this! This waking species or whatever the hell they’re called. Thank God for Chakotay! It seems they were the ones responsible for the series of nightmares that the entire crew were experiencing. Fortunately, Chakotay and the Doctor had discovered their homeworld and threatened to blow it up if they didn’t shut off the neurogenic field that kept the rest of the crew in a state of lucid dreaming.

Now, I can’t sleep. The whole damn episode has left me suffering from insomnia. I wonder if Harry or B’Elanna are awake. End personal log.

STARDATE 51480.04:

I never thought I would see myself giving lessons in Earth slang to a Vulcan. And to Vorik, of all people! I was talking to Liz Jenkins about her recent shuttle lessons, and Vorik had overheard me use the word – cool. The next thing I knew, I found myself explaining the different variations on the word. Oh well, at least Vorik was a willing student. I think he learned his lessons, well. End personal log.

STARDATE 51483.74:

Ah Fiji! B’Elanna was right to choose this program for our date. Granted, I had looked forward to skiing in the Chilean Andes, but water skiing in the South Pacific made a pretty good substitute. Along with B’Elanna in a red bikini. Wow! Let’s just say it was a date I will never forget. End personal log.

STARDATE 51498.93:

Voyager had picked up a signal from another one of those Hirogen relay stations. This signal definitely had a Starfleet signature. Harry quickly assumed that Starfleet had found a quick way to get back to the Alpha Quadrant. Even Tuvok seemed to think so. (Sighs) God, I hope they’re all wrong. End personal log.

STARDATE 51506.33:

Today has been one of the worst days of my life. In fact, I believe that it has been a bitch for a good number of the crew. And all because of that damn relay station!

We finally came across the station that Harry had detected, two days ago. Apparently, this station was situated near the mouth of a quantum singularity that provided energy to all of the relay stations. The Starfleet signal was actually a series of letters from home. From families and friends of the crew. I heard rumors that Tuvok learned that he had become a grandfather. And Liz Jenkins, one of the pilots under my command, is now an aunt. Harry received a letter from his folks, thank God! He was getting on my nerves with his constant carping about not receiving a letter, during Neelix’s rounds. (Sighs) That’s not fair. Poor Harry really misses his family a lot. And this trip through the Delta Quadrant has been particularly difficult for him.

But not all of the news was good. Someone told me . . . Neelix, I think . . . that the Captain had received a “Dear John” letter from her fiancé. He had given her up for dead, met someone else and married her. Talk about life being a bitch! No wonder the Captain looked miserable when I saw her reading her letter. And poor Greg Hamilton! He just received word that a cousin of his had become an early casualty in this war against some Gamma Quadrant species called the Dominion. Greg was supposed to be at the helm during the Beta shift, tonight. I decided to replace him with Baytart, instead.

Speaking of the Dominion, it seems they are now the Cardassians’ new allies. And the latter used new ships and weapons from the Dominion . . . God, I can’t believe this! The Cardies had managed to wipe out the Maquis resistance in the Alpha Quadrant. Talk about bad news. I’m still in shock. Most of them are dead. However, a few of them – like Chakotay’s friend, Sveda, are now serving time in a Federation prison. And they are the lucky ones. (Pauses) I discovered this piece of bad news from B’Elanna. (Pauses) While she was downloading a letter from my dad. Talk about bad news arriving in pairs! (Pauses) Yeah, I know it’s supposed to come in threes, but who cares?

(Sighs) Maybe this party will help everyone get over the recent bad news. We’ve also heard about Tuvok and Seven’s encounter with a race called the Hirogen. They’re the ones who had built the relay stations nearly a millennium ago. From our recent encounter with them, they might prove to be a problem. Many of the crew are also disappointed that the quantum singularity had also destroyed the entire relay system, ending our contact with Starfleet. I hope the party will help B’Elanna recover from the bad news. She had taken the news of the Maquis’ destruction pretty hard. As for that letter from the Admiral – it never came through. B’Elanna was able to download Harry’s letter before the relay stations’ destruction, but not mine. (Sighs) Just as well. A small part of me felt a little disappointed not to hear from Dad. But another part . . . maybe I’m just not ready to hear from him. At least not yet. I don’t know. End personal log.

STARDATE 51506.33:

I wish I could say that Neelix’s party was a success, but I can’t. A lot of us were still in a funk over the news from the Alpha Quadrant. There were a few happy souls like Harry, who had received good news from home. But even their happiness were muted by the destruction of the Hirogen’s relay stations. And the fact that the Federation and the Klingon Empire were now at war against the Cardassians and their new allies.

Many of the former Maquis crewmen seemed to be walking around in a daze or in a state of rage. Ken Dalby got pretty drunk and had to be sent back to his quarters. The Captain seemed disoriented. Distracted, is the better word. I guess the rumors about her “Dear John” letter were true. Oh yeah. It has been confirmed that Tuvok is a grandfather, thanks to his oldest son. He didn’t seem particularly happy or sad about the occasion. Just being his usual Vulcan self. Or maybe he was concerned about the Hirogen. I don’t know.

B’Elanna and I had decided to leave the party early and return to her quarters. Frankly, the whole thing was just too damn depressing. (Pauses) We made love that night, but it . . . I don’t know. It just seemed too rough for me. Yeah, we had rough sex before, but I think we were simply using each other to escape our bad moods. And now . . . (Sighs) I feel like some kind of sexual pervert. End personal log.

STARDATE 51569.13:

Ninety minutes! It took me ninety minutes to hunt down a mouse inside Jeffries Tube 32. Which happens to be near B’Elanna’s quarters. I think we may have picked up the mouse from the Aldorni Homeworld, where we had stopped for supplies. (Sighs) Who would have thought that a brave and fearless half-Klingon be afraid of a mouse? End personal log.

STARDATE 51604.07:

(Sighs) What a bizarre day this has been! Hamilton went slightly beserk during flight training inside Holodeck Two, today. It seems he got a little carried away with destroying the enemy – namely a holographic Cardassian ship. I had ordered Baytart to take his place at the Helm and Hamilton suddenly became violent. He raved about Voyager being stuck in the Delta Quadrant, while the Federation was busy fighting Cardassians, back home. I thought Henley would joined in – especially since she was an ex-Maquis. But she refrained herself. In the end, I ordered Hamilton to get a hold of himself and leave the Holodeck. He then attacked me, but I managed to knock him out, cold. I had Segasse and Lin carry him back to his quarters. Although I had informed the Captain of the incident, I asked her not to put him on report. She immediately understood that Hamilton was grieving over a relative and agreed. After all, there was no need for him to endure further suffering. End personal log.

STARDATE 51625.59:

Voyager has lost another crewman, today. Ensign Lyndsay Ballard. Apparently, she and Harry were on an Away mission, when their shuttle was attacked by a Hirogen scout ship. Harry managed to get the shuttle away, but not before the Hirogen fired a few shot, severely injuring Ballard in the process. Poor Harry. Not only was she the second crewman to die while on an Away mission with him – the victim happened to be an old Academy friend of his. . . . and a former crush. B’Elanna is also a little shaken over Ballard’s death, since the latter had served under her. I had planned to console them both, tonight, but I could see that neither of them was in the mood for company. End personal log.

STARDATE 51653.35:

God, I’m tired! And to think we have more hours of repairs to deal with, thanks to the Hirogen and Species 8472.

Species 8472. Christ! I thought all of them had returned back to fluidic space, after their war with the Borg. But a hunting party of Hirogen came across one who had failed to return home in time. They wounded him . . . it, but apparently not enough. Species 8472 defended itself against the Hirogen crew and nearly killed all of them – except one. Voyager rescued the remaining Hirogen hunter, while Species 8472 made its way aboard ship. Deck Eleven. Engineering. It attacked B’Elanna . . . and three other crewmen. Yet, it didn’t kill anyone and B’Elanna and the others were not seriously injured. The Captain allowed our Hirogen guest to join a hunting party for our latest intruder.

So there I was, inside an AVS suite, stalking Species 8472 on Deck Eleven with Chakotay and the Hirogen Alpha. My two companions got into a tetesterone match over who was the superior hunter. I don’t think my exploits as a mouse hunter went over well with either man. When we finally found Species 8472, the Hirogen tried to kill it. Chakotay tried to stop him and was attacked. The son-of-a-bitch also shot me. Fortunately, Tuvok got him.

The Captain finally agreed to help Species 8472 to avoid the Hirogen and return home. But Seven had other ideas. So did the other Hirogen ships that suddenly reappeared. They had really inflicted damage on the ship, including both nacelles and the EPS system. Seven then beamed both our Hirogen guest and Species 8472 to one of the other Hirogen ships and we were no longer in danger. A lot of us realized that Seven had saved our lives, but she also condemned that creature to death. Right now, the majority of the crew is pissed. Including the Captain.

As for me – I guess I share the Captain’s feelings. A part of me felt relieved to be alive. But our safety had came at the expense of our Species 8472 guest, who simply wanted to return home. The whole incident left a bitter taste in my mouth. In a way, the Captain has to take some of the blame for Seven’s actions. She had been so determined to teach Seven about individuality that she failed to point out that Voyager was a military ship with a command structure. The Captain punished Seven by restricting the latter’s privileges and access to the ship’s primary systems. In my opinion, the Captain should have tossed Seven’s ass into the brig. End personal log.

STARDATE 51655.84:

Feelings against Seven are still high amongst the crew. B’Elanna made some comment that the Captain should have dumped Seven on the nearest Class-M planet or send her back to the Borg, when she had the chance. And maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but I couldn’t. I said that if the Captain had done that, she would have been guilty of the same thing, as Seven. Yes, I’m still angry at Seven for her actions, but I also realized that B’Elanna’s comment had more to do with her dislike and jealousy of the former Borg. And personally, I was getting sick and tired of her anti-Seven attitude. Anyway, B’Elanna did not say anything. But the look in her eyes told me not to bother visiting her quarters, tonight. To hell with it! I’m not ashamed over what I said. I meant every word of it. End personal log.

STARDATE 51660.72:

It’s been two days since B’Elanna and I had stopped talking to each other. But we finally reconciled over lunch, earlier this afternoon. I apologized for my remark. And she apologized for overreacting. We agreed to celebrate our cease-fire with a quiet dinner in her quarters, tonight.

Meanwhile, B’Elanna told me about an incident between Seven and that arms dealer, Koven. Apparently, Seven lost her temper and broke the man’s nose when he touched her. Seven claimed that earlier today, Koven had immobilized her and tried to steal some of her nanoprobes. Although he was charged with assault, no one could prove whether he had done it or not. Koven ended up committing suicide before he could . . . (Red Alert Klaxon interrupts) What the hell?

(Chakotay: “Red alert! All hands to battle stations!)

Oh well, I’ll finish this another time. End personal log.

STARDATE 51717.23:

The Hirogen have finally left Voyager. Thank God! Actually, they’ve been gone for at least 12 hours, by now. (Sighs) I can’t believe we’ve been under their control for nearly three weeks! It’s a good thing Harry had found a way to disengage our neural interfaces. Or else the Captain would have never been able to start a resistance against our “visitors”.

In the end, the Hirogen must have realized their attempt to maintain control of Voyager was futile – to quote the Borg. (Pauses) Perhaps I should start from the beginning. Only I’m not really in the mood to recall what happened. To be honest, I haven’t the foggiest idea on what happened during the past three weeks. I guess that comes from being used as a toy for a bunch of aliens bent upon playing war in the holodecks. (Pauses) To hell with it! I need some sleep. End personal log.

STARDATE 51719.82:

God, I am so tired! The repairs on Voyager seemed to go on forever. B’Elanna, Harry and a team of engineers have been removing holo-emitters from Decks Five, Six and Seven. Several of the pilots have been helping me repair both the Helm and the Navigational systems. I also agreed to help Harry repair both holodecks – especially Holodeck One. (Pauses)

The Saint-Claire program has completely gone offline. Several of the crew wanted the damn thing deleted permanently. I’m a little undecided on the subject. It’s funny. I’ve been obsessed with 20th century Earth history for years. I had even managed to express a little enthusiasm to Seven, after our neural interfaces were disengaged. And yet . . . I cannot seem to find the enthusiasm anymore. At least not now. Christ! I’m babbling like an idiot! Maybe dinner with B’Elanna will help. End personal log.

STARDATE 51724.66:

The ship repairs are nearly finished, thank God! We’ve actually managed to have something close to a normal day, today. Almost. Some of the crew – namely old Starfleeters like Baxter and Murphy – have been complaining about the Captain’s decision to hand over holographic technology to the Hirogen, claiming that her action was a breach of Starfleet protocols. Jesus Christ! These “by-the-book” types really get on my nerves! It’s not as if the Captain had any choice. It was either make a deal with the Hirogen or continue the fight against them until we all ended up dead.

The Saint-Claire program remains in the computer system. I guess that some of the crew has actually grown fond of it. I can’t say that I feel the same. I prefer this new program I have created. It’s mainly a garage on Earth, where I can repair a 1969 Camarro and listen to 20th century Rock music from a radio. It’s a hell of a lot better than reliving Saint-Claire, circa 1944. The latter only reminds me . . . (Sighs) Hell, I might as well confess. It reminds me of a lot of unpleasant things. Like getting beaten senseless by that damn holographic Nazi, nearly getting killed twice, and (Pauses) seeing B’Elanna pregnant. With another man’s child. Okay, I know that the baby wasn’t real. And neither was the father. Yet, I still feel uneasy thinking about it. Along with that Nazi pig screaming all over the place about him being the child’s father. Christ! My life has really been out of control for the past two-and-a-half months. Considering how I feel right now, I might as well be wearing one of those neural interfaces. End personal log.

STARDATE 51732.91:

I have a feeling that B’Elanna might be pissed at me. And the odd thing is I don’t care. When Harry was describing the French Resistance in the Saint-Claire program to her during lunch in the Mess Hall, she began comparing it to the Maquis, back home. Like I needed to be reminded of that. It’s bad enough that crewmen like Dalby and Chell have been making similar comparisons. When B’Elanna began comparing the Cardassians to the Nazis, I couldn’t take it any longer. In other words, I left. I rather think about my new Camarro program, thank you very much. End personal log.

STARDATE 51739.75:

Oh God! I think I just had one of the worst dreams, ever. The Hirogen were still on Voyager and using us for holographic simulations. Only, instead of being a WWII soldier or a Klingon warrior, I was myself – Tom Paris. Only this Tom happened to be a Starfleet officer back in the Alpha Quadrant, with a successful career in the Command track, a perfect wife (with B’Elanna’s human face), who was pregnant with the perfect child. In the dream, I found myself commanding a starship battling against the Cardassians. Two of the Cardassian officers appeared on the Bridge’s view screen . . . and transformed into the Admiral himself, beaming with parental pride; and Captain Janeway looking rather smug and satisfied. And that was when I woke up in a sweat. (Pauses) Christ! Talk about a personal horror story. Oh God, it’s only past midnight and I’m fully awake. Maybe a trip to Holodeck Two will help me relax. End personal log.

STARDATE 51752.24:

If one more person asks me how I’m feeling, I swear I am going to space myself out of sheer relief. Chakotay has asked me. So has Harry. Baytart complained that I’ve been neglecting the division. Maybe he feels he can do better. B’Elanna nearly blew her top when I broke our date. For the fifth time, according to her. And the Doctor has been hounding me about missing my shifts in Sick Bay. Hell, if he’s that unsatisfied with my work, perhaps he should request someone from the Science Division to act as his Chief Medical Assistant. There are plenty of candidates.

(Sighs) God, I just feel like I’m trapped, sometimes. If the Admiral could see me now, he would be thrilled that his wayward son is finally becoming the perfect Starfleet officer he had dreamed about. Living up to the Paris name. He would probably give Janeway a medal for accomplishing what he had failed to do. Thank God for my new holodeck program! It’s a hell of lot better than trying to be the perfect Starfleet officer. End personal log.

STARDATE 51754.9:

We have a new visitor aboard Voyager. His name is Steth. He’s a Benthan test pilot, whose ship we had to stabilize after he had jumped out of warp. It seems that he was testing a vessel that used a coaxial warp drive. I’ve heard about it at the Academy, but I never thought I would see one in person.

Steth seems like a pleasant guy. And since we happened to be fellow pilots, I thought it would be great to help him repair his ship . . . and learn how his species managed to utilize the coaxial warp drive. Fortunately, Chakotay gave me permission. Unfortunately that would mean breaking another date with B’Elanna. And she did not take the news very well. End personal log.

STARDATE 51763.84:

(Sighs) Hell, I don’t know how to begin this log entry. The last few days have really been bizarre. Steth turned out to be a DNA thief, who not only steals individuals’ DNA to assume forms, but also deposits his or her current genetic material into the victims. Only, it wasn’t really Steth who had stolen my DNA.

After I had awakened on Steth’s ship and in his body – I met the real Steth. The latter happened to be trapped in the body of a female alien named Daelen. In other words, it was Daelen – in Steth’s body – who had first appeared on Voyager. According to Steth, he had first met Daelen at a space station several light years aways. Daelen pretended to be an admirer of him – giving her the chance to steal his body. And Steth had been trapped in Daelen’s body ever since.

Steth and I eventually caught up with Voyager and captured Daelen – who had, by then, assumed the Captain’s identity. Sound confusing. I suspect that many of us were confused. It seemed a miracle that the Doc had managed to restore all of us to our rightful bodies. He added that there is a good chance that Daelen might not be the true identity of the DNA thief. Steth should be on his way back to the Benthan system, to deliver Daenen to the authorities. I hope that he makes it back without any mishaps. End personal log.

LOG SUPPLEMENTAL:

B’Elanna and I finally had a talk about recent events. And I’m not just talking about Steth and Daelen. I showed her my Grease Monkey program in Holodeck Two, and told her the reason behind my recent odd behavior.

I finally realized that it all began with the letters from home. Contacting with Starfleet had bothered me a lot more than I had realized. I had been happy with my life aboard Voyager, and viewed our communication with the Federation as a threat to that happiness. The Captain, Harry and many others might view the Alpha Quadrant as home. I don’t. Not anymore. For me, the Federation is nothing but a symbol of most of the unhappiness in my life – from being Dad’s little protégée during my childhood, to the problems I had endured in Starfleet and the Maquis. It was in the Alpha Quadrant where I had allowed my father, tradition, Starfleet, and my own fears rule me. Sometimes I wonder if I ever had any kind of control over my life. Thanks to our encounters with the Hirogen and communication with Starfleet that lack of control seemed to have reach Voyager.

B’Elanna understood. She even suggested that I might have been heading for a full-blown depression. Maybe. But my encounter with Daelen seemed to have snapped me out of it. Because right now, I feel as if I’m in some kind of control, again. I’m happy to have returned to Voyager. And I’m glad to be back with B’Elanna. I missed her very much.

The subject of Daelen finally came up. I had overheard what she . . . or he had said to me about B’Elanna, while in the Captain’s body. B’Elanna finally admitted that she and the phony Tom had kissed. Fortunately, she had also been too busy in Engineering for anything “further” to happen. Thank God for small miracles. End personal log.

STARDATE 51786:

I am happy to report that one Ensign Harry Kim may no longer harbor an infatuation for said former Borg drone named Seven-of-Nine. How did this miraculous event happened? Well, I guess one can thank an incident regarding a space phenomenon that threatened Voyager and some alien science station. According to Seven, the Borg regarded the phenomenon as a source of energy and a means to achieve perfection. In her “haste” to examine the manner, she became very officious toward the crew working with her on the project. Including Harry. I guess he didn’t care being treated as another mindless drone being assigned a Borg designation. Hmmm. End personal log.

STARDATE 51812.88:

We seemed to have a bit of a mystery aboard Voyager. Chakotay had come across some written notes in his handwriting, claiming that an alien bounty hunter had visited Voyager seeking asylum from her race. Twice. According to the notes, Chakotay fell in love with refugee and enjoyed a brief affair. O-kay. If he insists that happened. However, there is no proof in the computer’s database to support his claim. End personal log.

STARDATE 51826.67:

Voyager made contact with a group of aliens called the Vaskans to trade for deuterium and instead, ended up in the middle of a war. The Vaskans’ enemies, the Kyrians, had come to the conclusion that the Captain had formed an alliance with the Vaskans. Apparently, they had never heard of the Prime Directive. Anyway, to make a long story short, a group of Kyrians boarded Voyager and made their way toward Engineering. What is it about that place that attracts intruders? Fortunately, B’Elanna was in one of the Jeffries Tubes and missed the fireworks. But four of her engineers ended up dead. Security tracked the intruders to the Mess Hall and bagged the lot. The Vaskan ambassador needlessly shot the Kyrian ringleader, and pissed off the Captain. Which means we will have to find another source of deuterium. End personal log.

STARDATE 51835.41:

B’Elanna is still upset over the Vaskan/Kyrian incident. She has been taking the deaths of her four engineers rather hard, lately. A lot harder than she has done so in the past. In fact, she’s been shutting herself up in Engineering, continuing with those slipstream drive experiments. Naturally, I sympathize, but I’m beginning to wonder if her behavior is a bit . . . drastic. End personal log.

STARDATE 51837.11:

Our deuterium crisis is now affecting the ship’s systems. The Captain has ordered the crew to double up in living quarters, to conserve power until we are able to acquire more deuterium. Seven finally managed to locate a source on some Demon-class planet, several light years away. Because of the planet’s atmosphere and condition, we would be unable to beam to its surface. Harry had eventually come up with idea of sending an Away team via shuttle, to the surface. Tuvok naysayed the idea – as usual. But to my surprise, Ensign Eager shot down Mr. Doom-n-Gloom with a few choice words. Mind you, I don’t dislike Tuvok, contrary to what one may think. In fact, I rather like him. But he does have a tendency to view everything in a pessimistic manner. And talk down to others. So I say – good for Harry. By the way, the little bastard had also suggested that I accompany him on the Away mission. Cretin. End personal log.

STARDATE 51840.93:

It felt strange seeing duplicates of the crew, standing on the surface of that Demon-class planet, while Voyager departed. Very strange. This all happened after Harry and I became the first to be duplicated, during our Away mission on the planet. Our AVS suits became damaged when the liquefied deuterium made contact with our bodies. We probably would have died if the Doctor had not figured out that Chakotay and Seven had returned to the ship with our doubles.

Harry’s duplicate had asked the Captain if each crewman would leave behind a sample of DNA. Apparently, he and the “other Tom” did not want to be the only humanoid life on that planet. B’Elanna was among the first to volunteer for duplication. Very strange. I felt certain that she would be among the few to protest. She told me that after meeting the clone Tom in Sick Bay, she could not bear the idea of him being alone on that planet. God! Isn’t it any wonder that I love her? End personal log.

STARDATE 51928.11:

Oh God! I don’t want to do this! I don’t want to spend the next four weeks inside that coffin! Okay. It’s not a coffin, but a stasis unit. But the damn thing looks like a coffin. And the entire crew, except for Seven and the Doctor, will be forced to remain in one for an entire month because of some damn Mitara-class nebula. We had already made an attempt to travel through it, yesterday. But it didn’t take long – three minutes to be exact – before we were all affected by the nebula’s subnucleonic radiation. Nor did the Captain want to detour around the nebula. That particular journey would take at least a year. Personally, I couldn’t care less how long it would take. Better that than spending a month in stasis. But the Captain . . . well, there’s no need to go on about her obsession in getting home. She wants to use the shortcut through the nebula. That means, I will have to face the coffin.

Thanks to her Borg nanoprobes, Seven wasn’t affected by the radiation. Which means that she will be monitoring our units and taking Voyager through the nebula. At least she’ll be able to avoid the coffins. Lucky woman. Then again, her only company will be the Doc. End personal log.

STARDATE 51930.36:

Seven said a strange thing during lunch, today. Let me start from the beginning. After Voyager had finally ended its journey through the Mitara-class nebula, the Captain, Chakotay and the Doc found Seven in a state of delirium and sent her to Sick Bay. After being alone for a long period – especially after the Doc’s program went offline – the lack of company had affected her. She later joined B’Elanna, Harry and me in the Mess Hall and brought up the fact that I had managed to slip out of my stasis unit at least three times.

Harry wanted to know why I was so claustrophobic. I certainly couldn’t tell them – at least Harry and Seven – that it all stemmed from a childhood incident. And an embarrassing one, at that. However, Seven came up with her own answer. She said that perhaps I was afraid of being alone. I cannot help but wonder if she was talking about me? Or herself? End personal log.

STARDATE 51972.37:

Neelix, Lang and I will visit the Polarius system, tomorrow for some much needed supplies. I wouldn’t mind the trip. After nearly a month in stasis, I’m beginning to feel a little stir crazy. I could use an Away mission. And a few days in Neelix’s company sounds pleasant. End personal log.

STARDATE 51979.49:

Thank goodness for Arturis. He’s an alien that Neelix, Lang and I had encountered on the homeworld of a Xenon-based race. If it weren’t for his linguist skills, we would have never been able to do any trade. Especially after our Universal translators had began to malfunction. We brought him back to Voyager, where he proved to be valuable, once more. He was able to assist the Captain in breaking the encrypted message we had received from Starfleet, nearly six months ago. End personal log.

STARDATE 51980.35:

I take it all back. I like Arturis, but now I wish that Neelix, Lang and I had never met him. And I wish he had never been able to translate that encrypted message. It seems that Starfleet had provided coordinates to a ship they had sent to the Delta Quadrant to provide us a way home. An experimental ship with a slipstream drive, called the U.S.S. Dauntless.

When Tuvok, Chakotay and I first boarded the Dauntless, it had somehow activated and sent us fifteen light years ahead. It took Voyager two days to track us down. The Captain then ordered the crew to examine the Dauntless for any new technology that Starfleet have provided us. Since she’s reluctant to abandon Voyager, she ordered Engineering to begin modifying the ship’s engines to adopt a similar slipstream drive. Or maybe modify the slipstream experiments that B’Elanna, Seven and the Engineering crew have been conducting.

Everyone seems excited over the prospect of getting home. Even B’Elanna. I sometimes wonder if she has lost her mind. I mean, what does she have to look forward in the Alpha Quadrant? The Maquis has been destroyed. She, Chakotay and the others will probably face at least one or two years in a Federation prison – along with myself. And there’s a war going on, back home. Judging from the information we’ve received, it’s not going well.

And there is one last thing – this whole matter regarding the Dauntless sounds a bit off to me. I find it hard to believe that Starfleet had managed to provide us with a means to travel home in such a short space of time. I mean, how much time had passed between the Doc’s visit to the Alpha Quadrant and our letters from home? Two weeks. And unless Starfleet has been working on such a slipstream drive during the past three to four years, I find it hard to believe that it took them two weeks to create one and send it to the Delta Quadrant – unmanned. (Pauses) Now that I think about it, I’m beginning to wonder if Arturis is responsible for it. This all started when Neelix, Lang and I first met him. Or had it? End personal log.

STARDATE 51988.2:

Everyone is now disappointed that the Dauntless turned out to be a hoax. It wasn’t an experimental Starfleet vessel. It was Arturis’ own ship. He had set a trap. Apparently, he had intercepted Admiral Hayes’ message to the Captain and modified it. All because he wanted to lead us to the Dauntless – and eventually into the arms of the Borg. We managed to get some of the crew off the Dauntless – including B’Elanna, thank God. Unfortunately, the Captain and Seven had remained trapped aboard with Arturis. Using the slipstream modification made on Voyager, we managed to chase the Dauntless and beam the Captain and Seven back to the ship. Poor Arturis ended up assimilated by the Borg.

Why did he do it? Why did Arturis go through so much trouble to get us assimilated by the Borg? It seems that his homeworld had spent centuries evading assimilation. About a year ago, their efforts were beginning to fail when the Borg decided to invade Species 8472’s fluidic space. Arturis’ people had looked forward to the Borg’s defeat. Unfortunately, our alliance with the Borg destroyed all hope. And Arturis’ world ended up assimilated.

I think the Captain tried to dismiss his people’s fate as a bad misfortune. Maybe she’s right. I understand why Arturis tried to destroy us . . . even though my sympathy can only go so far, considering that he had nearly succeeded. On the other hand, aside from Seven’s rescue from the Collective, nothing really good had come from that damn alliance. And despite her “let’s move on” attitude, I suspect that the Captain feels the same. End personal log.

STARDATE 51994.11:

Voyager entered an expanse of space, devoid of any stars, nebulas or other stellar sightings. A void in space. Christ! It looked so . . . empty. And to make matters worse, we’ll be traveling through this void for at least a year or two. According to Seven, the void stretches at least 2,500 light years. That’s about two years. God, how depressing! End personal log.

STARDATE 51999.04:

We haven’t been in this void very long and already, it’s affecting the crew’s morale. Since the New Year is coming up, Neelix has been campaigning for our usual New Year’s Eve bash. Hell, I could sure use it. Staring at nothing but black space for hours on end isn’t doing much for my morale. And I’ve noticed that ever since the Arturis debacle, B’Elanna has been distant toward me. Perhaps a holiday celebration is what the both of us need. I’m beginning to think that the Captain also needs this party. She didn’t bother to leave her quarters, today. And she’s not sick. (Pauses) Anyway, nothing else has happened today. End personal log.

END OF PART FOUR

“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

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“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

I tried to think of a number of movies about the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the Hollywood Blacklist I have seen. And to be honest, I can only think of two of which I have never finished and two of which I did. One of those movies I did finish was the 2015 biopic about Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.

Based upon Bruce Alexander Cook’s 1977 biography, the movie covered fourteen years of the screenwriter’s life – from being subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 to 1960, when he was able to openly write movies and receive screen credit after nine to ten years of being blacklisted by the Motion Picture Alliance for the Protection of American Ideals. Due to this time period, it was up to production designer Mark Rickler to visually convey fourteen years in Southern California – from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. I must say that he, along with cinematographer Jim Denault and art directors Lisa Marinaccio and Jesse Rosenthal did an excellent job by taking advantage of the New Orleans locations. That is correct. Certain areas around New Orleans, Louisiana stood for mid-century Los Angeles, California. But the movie also utilized a few locations in Southern California; including a residential house in northeastern Los Angeles, and the famous Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. And thanks to Denault’s cinematography, Rickler’s production designs not only made director Jay Roach’s “Southern California” look colorful, but nearly realistic. But one of my minor joys of “TRUMBO” came from the costume designs. Not only do I admire how designer Daniel Orlandi re-created mid-20th century fashion for the film industry figures in Southern California, as shown in the images below:

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I was especially impressed by Orlandi’s re-creation of . . . you guessed it! Columnist Hedda Hopper‘s famous hats, as shown in the following images:

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I have read two reviews for “TRUMBO”. Both reviewers seemed to like the movie, yet both were not completely impressed by it. I probably liked it a lot more than the two. “TRUMBO” proved to be the second movie I actually paid attention to about the Blacklist. I think it has to do with the movie’s presentation. “TRUMBO” seemed to be divided into three acts. The first act introduced the characters and Trumbo’s problems with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, leading to his being imprisoned for eleven months on charges of contempt of Congress, for his refusal to answer questions from HUAC. The second act focused on those years in which Trumbo struggled to remain employed as a writer for the low-budget King Brothers Productions, despite being blacklisted by the major studios. And the last act focused upon Trumbo’s emergence from the long shadow of the blacklist, thanks to his work on “SPARTACUS” and “EXODUS”.

I have only one real complaint about “TRUMBO”. Someone once complained that the movie came off as uneven. And I must admit that the reviewer might have a point. I noticed that the film’s first act seemed to have a light tone – despite Trumbo’s clashes with Hollywood conservatives and HUAC. Even those eleven months he had spent in prison seemed to have an unusual light tone, despite the situation. But once the movie shifted toward Trumbo’s struggles trying to stay employed, despite the blacklist, the movie’s tone became somewhat bleaker. This was especially apparent in those scenes that featured the screenwriter’s clashes with his family over his self-absorbed and strident behavior towards them and his dealings with fellow (and fictional) screenwriter Arlen Hird. But once actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger expressed interest in ignoring the Blacklist and hiring Trumbo for their respective movies, the movie shifted toward a lighter, almost sugarcoated tone again. Now, there is nothing wrong with a movie shifting from one tone to another in accordance to the script. My problem with these shifts is that they struck me as rather extreme and jarring. There were moments when I found myself wondering if I was watching a movie directed by two different men.

Another problem I had with “TRUMBO” centered around one particular scene that featured Hedda Hopper and MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer. In this scene, Hopper forces Mayer to fire any of his employees who are suspected Communists, including Trumbo. The columnist did this by bringing up Mayer’s Jewish ancestry and status as an immigrant from Eastern Europe. This scene struck me as a blatant copy of one featured in the 1999 HBO movie, “RKO 281”. In that movie, Hopper’s rival, Louella Parsons (portrayed by Brenda Blethyn) utilized the same method to coerce – you guess it – Mayer (portrayed by David Suchet) to convince other studio bosses to withhold their support of the 1941 movie, “CITIZEN KANE”. Perhaps the filmmakers for “TRUMBO” felt that no one would remember the HBO film. I did. Watching that scene made me wonder if I had just witnessed a case of plagiarism. And I felt rather disappointed.

Despite these jarring shifts in tone, I still ended up enjoying “TRUMBO” very much. Instead of making an attempt to cover Dalton Trumbo’s life from childhood to death, the movie focused upon a very important part in the screenwriter’s life – the period in which his career in Hollywood suffered a major decline, due to his political beliefs. And thanks to Jay Roach’s direction and John McNamara’s screenplay, the movie did so with a straightforward narrative. Some of the film’s critics had complained about its sympathetic portrayal of Trumbo, complaining that the movie had failed to touch upon Trumbo’s admiration of the Soviet Union. Personally, what would be the point of that? A lot of American Communists did the same, rather naively and stupidly in my opinion. But considering that this movie mainly focused upon Trumbo’s experiences as a blacklisted writer, what would have been the point? Trumbo was not professionally and politically condemned for regarding the Soviet Union as the epitome of Communism at work. He was blacklisted for failing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Also, the movie did not completely whitewash Trumbo. McNamara’s screenplay did not hesitate to condemn how Trumbo’s obsession with continuing his profession as a screenwriter had a negative impact upon his relationship with his family – especially his children. It also had a negative impact with his relationship with fellow screenwriter (the fictional) Arlen Hird, who wanted Trumbo to use his work for the King Brothers to express their liberal politics. Trumbo seemed more interested in staying employed and eventually ending the Blacklist. I came away with the feeling that the movie was criticizing the screenwriter for being more interested in regaining his successful Hollywood career than in maintaining his politics.

“TRUMBO” also scared me. The movie scared me in a way that the 2010 movie, “THE CONSPIRATOR” did. It reminded me that I may disagree with the political or social beliefs of another individual; society’s power over individuals – whether that society came in the form of a government (national, state or local) or any kind of corporation or business industry – can be a frightening thing to behold. It can be not only frightening, but also corruptive. Watching the U.S. government ignore the constitutional rights of this country’s citizens (including Trumbo) via the House Committee on Un-American Activities scared the hell out of me. Watching HUAC coerce and frighten actor Edward G. Robinson into exposing people that he knew as Communists scared me. What frightened me the most is that it can happen again. Especially when I consider how increasingly rigid the world’s political climate has become.

I cannot talk about “TRUMBO” without focusing on the performances. Bryan Cranston earned a slew of acting nominations for his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo. I have heard that the screenwriter was known for being a very colorful personality. What is great about Cranston’s performance is that he captured this trait of Trumbo’s without resorting to hammy acting. Actually, I could say the same about the rest of the cast. Helen Mirren portrayed the movie’s villain, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper with a charm and charisma that I personally found both subtle and very scary. Diane Lane gave a subtle and very convincing performance as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, who not only stood by her husband throughout his travails, but also proved to be strong-willed when his self-absorption threatened to upset the family dynamics. Louis C.K., the comic actor gave a poignant and emotional performance as the fictional and tragic screenwriter, Arden Hird.

Other memorable performances caught my attention as well. Elle Fanning did an excellent job portraying Trumbo’s politically passionate daughter, who grew to occasionally resent her father’s pre-occupation with maintaining his career. Michael Stuhlbarg did a superb job in conveying the political and emotional trap that legendary actor Edward G. Robinson found himself, thanks to HUAC. Both John Goodman and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gave colorful and entertaining performances as studio head Frank King and Trumbo’s fellow convict Virgil Brooks, respectively. Stephen Root was equally effective as the cautious and occasionally paranoid studio boss, Hymie King. Roger Bart gave an excellent performance as fictional Hollywood producer Buddy Ross, a venal personality who seemed to lack Robinson’s sense of guilt for turning his back on the blacklisted Trumbo and other writers. David James Elliot gave a very interesting performance as Hollywood icon John Wayne, conveying the actor’s fervent anti-Communist beliefs and willingness to protect Robinson from Hedda Hopper’s continuing hostility toward the latter. And in their different ways, both Dean O’Gorman and Christian Berkel gave very entertaining performances as the two men interested in employing Trumbo by the end of the 1950s – Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

I noticed that “TRUMBO” managed to garner only acting nominations for the 2015-2016 award season. Considering that the Academy Award tends to nominate at least 10 movies for Best Picture, I found it odd that the organization was willing to nominate the likes of “THE MARTIAN” (an unoriginal, yet entertaining feel-good movie) and “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” (for which I honestly do not have a high regard) in that category. “TRUMBO” was not perfect. But I do not see why it was ignored for the Best Picture category, if movies like “THE MARTIAN” can be nominated. I think director Jay Roach, screenwriter John McNamara and a cast led by the always talented Bryan Cranston did an excellent job in conveying a poisonous period in both the histories of Hollywood and this country.

“MAD MEN” Observations: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

After my recent viewing of the Season Three ”MAD MEN” episode called (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”, I came up with the following observations:

“MAD MEN” OBSERVATIONS: (3.09) “Wee Small Hours”

*I think that from the moment Lee Garner Jr. tried and failed to seduce Sal Romano, the latter was screwed no matter what. Even if Harry Crane had immediately informed Roger or Don about Garner’s demand; or if Sal had acted professionally and told not only Don, but Roger on what happened, he was screwed. The client came first. Especially clients like Lee Garner and Conrad Hilton, who were too powerful to ignore. As I recall that back in Season One, even Don had to apologize to Rachel Menken for his outburst, despite the fact that she had yet to become an official client. Even worse, I doubt that Roger Sterling, Bert Cooper or the firm’s British owners would have been tolerant of Sal’s sexual orientation.

*I have read a few posts on Betty’s aborted affair with Henry Francis. I find it interesting that so many were disappointed that she did not go ahead with the affair. In fact, they had harshly criticized her . . . which I found rather odd. Even more interesting was that some of the fans were demanding to know what she really wanted. Henry also seemed to be wondering. Judging from her disappointment with her marriage to Don and the belief that Henry simply wanted an affair, I suspected that what Betty really wanted was a meaningful relationship with someone. That would explain the letters she had exchanged with Henry, her anger at Don for keeping her in the dark about his contract problems, and her tears following the dinner with the Barretts in Season Two of (2.03) “The Benefactor”. And when she visited Henry’s office, she began to suspect that she was never going to receive one from him, anymore than she was ever going to receive one from Don.

*Despite Betty’s remark about civil rights, Carla was one lucky woman. At least in Season Three. She could have easily found herself in the same situation as Sal by the episode’s end. All Betty had to do was fire her and lie to Don about her reasons for firing Carla. Unless she feared that Carla would retaliate by telling Don about Betty’s meeting with Henry Francis. That is the only reason I could find why Carla remained employed.

*I also find it interesting that fans and the media lobbied criticisms at Betty for her remark about the Civil Rights Movement. I found it interesting and a little hypocritical. One, of course Betty would make such a remark. She was a white female from a privileged background. She was also a conservative, although a moderate one. She had called Carla “girl” when referring to the latter during a phone call with Henry. What did those fans expect? Yet, many fans made excuse after excuse for Joan’s unnecessary and racist remarks to Sheila White back in Season Two’s (2.02) “Flight”.

*After this last viewing, it seemed to me that Peggy look slightly smug after Connie Hilton made it clear that he disapproved of Don’s presentation. Mind you, I was not that impressed by it, either. It seemed a bit too simple and infantile for my tastes. And it failed to invoke the glamour of travel, while maintaining the message of American values. Well . . . at least to me.

*How many times did Don assume an aggressive stand when a client failed to be impressed by his work? Why did he do this? Was this Don’s way of intimidating a client into accepting his work? I still recall him pulling this stunt with Rachel Menken back in Season One’s (3.08) “The Hobo Code”, which angered her in the process. He also pulled this stunt with the client from Belle Jolie and succeeded. Then he tried it with Conrad Hilton and failed. The fans ended up expressing anger at Hilton. I found myself feeling slightly sympathetic toward him. After all, he was the client. If he did not like Don’s presentation, he did not like it. Don’s slight temper tantrum seemed a bit uncalled for.

*Pete hacking up a storm after taking a puff on a Lucky Strikes cigarette struck me as hysterical. So did the scene in which Betty threw the money box at Henry.

*Despite the British ownership of Sterling Cooper, it seemed obvious that Roger was still a force at the firm. But considering how the British regard him, I wonder how long this would have lasted if he, Don, Lane Pryce and Bert Cooper had not created their own firm at the end of Season Three.

*Don and Suzanne – to this day, I failed to see the chemistry. In fact, Miss Farrell seemed like a second-rate version of Rachel Mencken, but with a less stable personality. I realize that Don also wanted a meaningful relationship in his life . . . but Suzanne Farrell? Someone who had recently been his daughter’s teacher? What made Don’s affair with Suzanne even more troubling was that he seemed to be using her as some kind of drug. He had suffered rejection from a man he was beginning to view as a parent figure and turned to Suzanne for comfort.

*When I first saw this episode, I wondered if it would mean the end of Sal Romano on ”MAD MEN”. Sadly, I was right. It was.

“AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” (2015) Review

“AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” (2015) Review

Ever since I gave up reading the “NANCY DREW” novels at the age of thirteen, I have been a fan of those written by Agatha Christie. And that is a hell of a long time. In fact, my fandom toward Christie’s novels have extended toward the film and television adaptations. Among those stories that have captured my imagination were the adaptations of the author’s 1939 novel, “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”.

To be honest, I have seen at least three adaptations of the 1939 novel – the 1945, 1966 and 1974 adaptations – before I had read the novel. Although I found some of the novel’s aspects a bit troubling – namely its original title and minimal use of racial slurs, overall I regard it as one of Christie’s best works . . . if not my favorite. After viewing three cinematic adaptations, I saw the BBC’s recent adaptation that aired back in December 2015 as a three-part miniseries.

I noticed that “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was the first adaptation I have seen that more or less adhered to the novel’s original novel. But it was not the first one that actually did. One of the most famous versions that stuck to the original ending before the 2015 miniseries was the Soviet Union’s 1987 movie called “DESYAT NEGRITYAT”. However, I have never seen this version . . . yet. Anyone familiar with Christie’s novel should know the synopsis. Eight strangers are invited by a mysterious couple known as Mr. and Mrs. U.N. Owen for the weekend at Soldier Island, off the coast of Devon, England in early August 1939. Well . . . not all of them were invited as guests. Waiting for them is a couple who had been recently hired by the Owens to serve as butler and cook/maid. The weekend’s hosts fail to show up and both the guests and the servants notice the ten figurines that serve as a centerpiece for the dining room table. Following the weekend’s first dinner, the guests and the two servants listen to a gramophone record that accuses each of them with a crime for which they have not been punished. The island’s ten occupants are:

*Dr. Edward Armstrong – a Harley Street doctor who is accused of killing a patient on the operating table, while under the influence of alcohol

*William Blore – a former police detective hired to serve as security for the weekend, who is accused of killing a homosexual in a police cell

*Emily Brent – a religious spinster who is accused of being responsible for the suicide of her maid by abandoning the latter when she became pregnant out of wedlock

*Vera Claythorne – a games mistress hired to serve as Mrs. Owen’s temporary secretary, who is accused of murdering the young boy for whom she had served as a governess

*Philip Lombard – a soldier-of-fortune also hired to serve as security for the weekend, who is accused of orchestrating the murder of 21 East Africans for diamonds

*General John MacArthur – a retired British Army officer accused of murdering a fellow officer, who was his wife’s lover during World War I

*Anthony Marston – a wealthy playboy accused of killing two children via reckless driving

*Ethel Rogers – the maid/cook hired by the Owens, who is accused with her husband of murdering their previous employer

*Thomas Rogers – the butler hired by the Owens, who is accused with his wife of murdering their previous employer

*Justice Lawrence Wargrave – a retired judge accused of murdering an innocent man by manipulating the jury and sentencing him to hang

Shortly after listening to the gramophone, one member of the party dies from poisoning. Following this first death, more people are murdered via methods in synonymous with a nursery rhyme from which the island is named. The murderer removes a figurine from the dining table each time someone is killed. The island’s remaining occupants decide to work together and discover the murderer’s identity before time runs out and no one remains.

From the numerous articles and reviews I have read about the miniseries, I came away with the impression that many viewers and critics approved of its adherence to Christie’s original ending. And yet . . . it still had plenty of changes from the story. The nature of the crimes committed by five or six of the suspects had changed. According to one flashback, Thomas Rogers had smothered (with his wife Ethel looking on) their elderly employer with a pillow, instead of withholding her medicine. General MacArthur literally shot his subordinate in the back of the head, instead of sending the latter to a doomed military action during World War I. Beatrice Taylor, the pregnant girl who had committed suicide, was an orphan in this production. Lombard and a handful of his companions had literally murdered those 21 East Africans for diamonds, instead of leaving them to die with no food or other supplies. And William Blore had literally beaten his victim to death in a jail cell, because the latter was a homosexual. In the novel, Blore had simply framed his victim for a crime, leading the latter to die in prison. I have mixed feelings about some of these changes.

By allowing General MacArthur to literally shoot his wife’s lover, instead of sending the latter to his death in a suicidal charge, I found myself wondering how he got away with this crime. How did MacArthur avoid suspicion, let alone criminal prosecution, considering that Arthur Richmond was shot in the back of the head in one of the trenches? How did the murderer find out? Why did Thomas Rogers kill his employer? For money? How did the couple avoid criminal prosecution, if their employer was smothered with a pillow? Even police forensics back then would have spotted death by smothering. I understand why Phelps had made Beatrice Taylor an orphan. In this scenario, Emily Brent would have been the only one with the authority to reject Beatrice. But what about the latter’s lover? Why did the murderer fail to go after him. And how did Blore evade charges of beating a prisoner to death inside a jail cell? None of his fellow officers had questioned his actions? And if they had kept silent, this made them accessories to his crime. Then why did the murderer fail to go after them, since he or she was willing to target Ethel Rogers for being an accessory to her husband’s crime?

One character that went through something of a major change was Philip Lombard. His aggressiveness and predatory nature remained intact. But for some reason, screenwriter Sarah Phelps had decided to transfer his bigotry to both Emily Brent and William Blore. The screenplay seemed to hint through Lombard’s comments that if those 21 men had been Europeans instead of Africans, he still would have murdered them to get his hand on those diamonds. In fact, he went even further with a tart comment to Miss Brent by accusing European religious fanatics of being more responsible for the deaths of Africans than the military or mercenaries like himself. It was Blore who used a racist slur to dismiss Lombard’s crime. And it was Miss Brent, instead of Lombard, who insulted the mysterious Mr. Owens’ intermediary, Isaac Morris, with an anti-Semetic slur. I can only wonder why Phelps deemed it necessary to transfer Lombard’s bigotry to two other characters.

There were some changes that did not bother me one bit. Certain fans complained about the presence of profanity in this production . . . especially the use of ‘fuck’ by at least two or three characters, who seemed like the types who would use these words. Mild profanity has appeared in previous Christie novels and adaptations. And the word ‘fuck’ has been around since the Sixteenth Century. I really had no problem with this. Phelps also included lesbian tendencies in Emily Brent’s character. There were some complaints about this change. Personally, I had no problem with it. This change added dimension to Miss Brent’s decision to cast out Beatrice Taylor, when the latter ended up pregnant. Episode Three featured a party scene with the four surviving guests in which they indulged in booze and Anthony Marston’s drugs to relieve their anxiety over their situation. It was not included in Christie’s novel, but I thought the scene did a great job in showing the psychological impact upon the remaining characters . . . especially for Dr. Armstrong, who went into a drunken rant over the horrors he had witnessed in World War I.

Watching “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” left me with the feeling of watching some kind of early 20th century Nordic thriller. I have to credit both the producers, director Craig Viveiros, production designer Sophie Becher and cinematographer John Pardue. What I found interesting about the miniseries’ visual style is the hint of early 20th century Art Deco featured in the house’s interior, mixed with this gloomy atmosphere that truly represented the production’s violent and pessimistic tale. Everything visual aspect of this production seemed to literally scream death and doom. Even the production’s sound department did an outstanding job in contributing the story’s atmosphere, especially in those episode that featured the storm that prevented the survivors from making an attempt to leave the island. I also enjoyed Lindsay Pugh, whose costumes did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions of the late 1930s. More importantly, “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” was not some opportunity for a Thirties’ fashion show, but a more realistic look at how British middle-class dressed on the eve of World War II. My only complaint is the hairstyle worn by actress Maeve Darmody, who portrayed Vera Claythorne. I am referring to the long bob worn by Vera in her 1935 flashbacks, which struck me as a bit too long for that particular year.

Many have complimented both Sarah Phelps and Craig Viveiros for closely adhering to the moral quagmire of Christie’s tale. Each or most of the characters are forced to consider the consequences of their actions and their guilt. If I have to be brutally honest, I have to compliment the pair as well. At first I was inclined to criticize the production’s three hour running time, which I originally believed to be a tad too long. But now I see that the running time gave Viveiros and Phelps the opportunity more in-depth explorations of the characters – especially Vera, Blore, Miss Brent and General MacArthur. This was done through a series of flashbacks for most of the characters. I said . . . most. There were some characters that hardly received any flashbacks – especially the Rogers, Anthony Marston, Edward Armstrong and Philip Lombard. I could understand the lack of many flashbacks for one or two characters, but I would have liked to see more for Rogers, Dr. Armstrong and Lombard. Especially Lombard. I never understood why he only had one flashback that vaguely hinted his murders without his victims being seen.

On the other hand, I was more than impressed with the production’s exploration of Vera, Blore, Miss Brent, Mrs. Rogers and General MacArthur’s crimes. Both Phelps and Viveiros seemed to have went through a great deal of trouble to explore their backgrounds and crimes. In the case of Mrs. Rogers, the production did not really explore the crime of which she and her husband were accused. But the miniseries did spend some time in Episode One focusing on the consequences she had suffered from her husband’s crime . . . and I found that more than satisfying. I enjoyed how General MacArthur, Miss Brent and Blore had initially refused to acknowledge their crimes . . . and how the growing death count and the possibility of their own deaths led them to finally face their guilt, whether out loud or internally. I found General MacArthur’s acknowledgement of guilt very satisfying, for it culminated in that famous line regarding the characters’ fate:

“No one’s coming for us. This is the end.”

From a dramatic point of view, the most satisfying character arc proved to be the one that belonged to Vera Claythorne. She is not my favorite character . . . at least not in this production. Nor did I regard her as the story’s most interesting character. But I thought Phelps and Viveiros did a hell of a job handling her character arc. Vera struck me as the type who went through a great deal of effort to hide her true nature via a respectable facade. Actually, the other characters share this same trait. Judging from what I have seen from this production, no one seemed to do it better than one Vera Claythorne. I suspect most people would be hard pressed to believe that this attractive and intelligent woman would deliberately lead a young boy to his death. Like I said, I did not particularly regard Vera as the story’s most interesting character. But I do believe that Phelps and Viveiros handled her story arc with more depth and mystery than any of the other characters . . . and with more flashbacks.

While reading several articles about “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”, I noticed that many had placed emphasis on the characters’ guilt and the possibility of them facing judgment for their actions. In a way, their opinions on this topic reminded me of why the murderer had set up the whole house party in the first place. Then I remembered that the murderer had also used the house party to indulge in his or her blood lust. And the killer used the guilt of the other inhabitants to excuse the murders . . . in his or her mind. This made me wonder about society’s desire for others to pay for their sins. Especially sins that involved death. Is society’s desire for killers to pay for their crimes a disguise . . . or excuse for its own blood lust? Like I said . . . I wonder.

What else can I discuss about “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE”? Oh yes. The performances. The miniseries featured a collection of well known actors and actresses from several English speaking countries, especially Great Britain. I must admit that I may have vaguely heard of Douglas Booth, but I have never seen him in any particular role, until this production. But I must say that I found his portrayal of rich playboy Anthony Marston very impressive. Booth did a beautiful job in capturing the selfish and self-indulgent nature of the young elite. I wish Anna Maxwell-Martin had a bigger role in this production. However, I had to be satisfied with her performance as Ethel Rogers, who had been hired to serve as maid and cook for the Owens’ house party. I thought she was excellent as the bullied wife of Soldier Island’s butler, Thomas Rogers. I was also impressed by Noah Taylor, who gave a first-rate performance as Rogers, who hid his brutish nature with the facade of a servile man. I only wish that Phelps had not made the same mistake as Christie – namely failing to get into Rogers’ mind. I think Taylor could have rolled with such material. Miranda Richardson gave a masterful performance as the prim and hypocritical Emily Brent, who hid her own passions and sins with a stream of moral pronouncements. Her performance culminated in that wonderful moment when her character finally acknowledged her role in that young maid’s suicide. One of my favorite performances came from Sam Neill, who portrayed the very respectful retired Army officer, General John MacArthur. Neill had claimed that this particular performance was not a stretch for him, since MacArthur reminded him of his own father. But I thought the actor’s performance rose above that assessment, as his character not only faced his guilt for a crime of passion, but also faced the realization of his impending death.

On the surface, Charles Dance’s portrayal of retired judge Lawrence Wargrave seemed like many roles he had portrayed in recent years – cool, elegant and a little sharp. But I really enjoying watching him convey Wargrave’s subtle reactions to the temperamental outbursts from the other inhabitants. And I found his skillful expression of Wargrave’s emotional reactions to memories of the man the character was accused of killing via an execution sentence really impressive. “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” marked the third time I have seen Toby Stephens in an Agatha Christie adaptation. Of the three productions, I regard his work in this miniseries and the 2003 television movie, “FIVE LITTLE PIGS” as among his best work. Stephens did a superb job in developing . . . or perhaps regressing Dr. Edward Armstrong’s character from this pompous Harley Street physician to a nervy and frightened man by the third episode. Thanks to Stephens’ performance, I also became aware that the character’s alcoholism and tightly-wound personality was a result of the horrors he had faced during World War I.

Ever since I first saw 2012’s “THE DARK KNIGHT RISES”, I have become aware of Burn Gorman. He is one of the most unusual looking actors I have ever seen . . . and a first-rate actor. I really enjoyed his portrayal of former police detective William Blore as this slightly shifty man with a penchant for allowing his paranoia to get the best of him, as the body count rose. Although his Blore comes off as a rather unpleasant man, Gorman still managed to inject some sympathy into the character as the latter finally faces his guilt over the young homosexual man he had beaten to death. Most of the critics and fans seemed to be more interested in Aidan Turner’s physique than his performance as soldier-of-fortune, Philip Lombard. I feel this is a shame, because I thought he gave an excellent performance as the shady and pragmatic mercenary, willing to do anything to stay alive . . . or have sex with Vera Claythorne. What really impressed me about Turner’s performance is that he is the second actor to perfectly capture the animalistic and aggressive Lombard as described in Christie’s novel, and the first English-speaking actor to do so. The miniseries’ producers had some difficulty in finding the right actress to portray Vera Claythorne. In the end, they managed to find Australian actress Maeve Darmody six days before filming started. And guess what? They made a perfect choice. Darmody was superb as the cool and intelligent Vera, who is the first to connect the poem to what was going on.

I thought some of screenwriter Sarah Phelps’ changes to Agatha Christie’s tale did not exactly work for me. But despite a few flaws, I have to commend both her and director Craig Viveiros for doing an excellent job in translating Christie’s most celebrated and brutal tale to the television screen. And they were ably assisted by superb performances from a very talented all-star cast. “AND THEN THERE WERE NONE” is one Christie production I can watch over and over again.