Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1880s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1880s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1880s

1. “Stagecoach” (1939) – John Ford directed this superb adaptation of Ernest Haycox’s 1937 short story, “The Stage to Lordsburg”, about a group of strangers traveling by stagecoach through the Arizona territory. Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Oscar winner Thomas Mitchell starred.

2. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Shekhar Kapur directed this fascinating adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a former British Army officer accused of cowardice. Heath Ledger, Wes Bentley, Djimon Hounsou and Kate Hudson starred.

3. “Back to the Future Part III” (1990) – Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd starred in this third installment of the “BACK TO THE FUTURE” TRILOGY, in which Marty McFly travels back to the Old West to prevent the death of fellow time traveler, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. Written by Bob Gale, the movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis.

4. “Topsy-Turvy” (1999) – Mike Leigh wrote and directed this biopic about W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and their creation of their most famous operetta, “The Mikado”. Jim Broadbent and Allan Corduner.

5. “Tombstone” (1993) – Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer starred in this colorful and my favorite account about Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and the famous O.K. Corral gunfight. George P. Cosmatos directed.

6. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1939) – Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce starred in this adaptation of William Gillette’s 1899 stage play, “Sherlock Holmes”. Directed by Alfred L. Werker, the movie co-starred Ida Lupino and George Zucco.

7. “The Cater Street Hangman” (1998) – Eoin McCarthy and Keeley Hawes starred in this television adaptation of Anne Perry’s 1979 novel about a serial killer in late Victorian England. Sarah Hellings directed.

8. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945) – Hurd Hatfield and George Sanders starred in this adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1890 novel about a handsome young Englishman who maintains his youth, while a special portrait reveals his inner ugliness.

9. “High Noon” (1952) – Gary Cooper won his second Oscar as a town marshal forced to face a gang of killers by himself. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, the movie was written by blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman and co-starred Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado.

10. “Open Range” (2003) – Kevin Costner directed and co-starred with Robert Duvall in this western about a cattle crew forced to take up arms when they and their herd are threatened by a corrupt rancher.

Top Favorite Romantic Movies

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I decided to list my top ten favorite romantic movies. Here they are: 

 

TOP FAVORITE ROMANTIC MOVIES

2-Casablanca

1. “Casablanca” (1942) – Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman starred in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the unpublished 1940 stage play, “Everybody Comes to Rick”, which is about an expatriate American who is reunited with a former lover that happened to be married to a Resistance leader. Directed by Michael Curtiz, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains co-starred.

1-Lover Come Back

2. “Lover Come Back” (1961) – Rock Hudson and Doris Day co-starred in their second movie about rival advertising executives on Madison Avenue who clash over a product that does not exist. Directed by Delbert Mann, Tony Randall and Edie Adams co-starred.

3-It Happened One Night

3. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert starred in this Oscar-winning adaptation of the Samuel Adams Hopkins short story, “Night Bus”. In it, an out-of-work journalist keeps tabs on a socialite running from her father to marry a playboy aviator. Frank Capra directed.

4-Brokeback Mountain

4. “Brokeback Mountain” (2005) – Ang Lee directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Annie Proulx’s short story about two mid 20th century cowboys who engage in a 20-year forbidden affair. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal starred.

5-The Lady Eve

5. “The Lady Eve” (1941) – Preston Sturges wrote and directed this comedy about a female cardsharp who falls for the heir of a brewery fortune. When he dumps her after discovering her profession, she turns on him in revenge. Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda starred.

6-When Harry Met Sally

6. “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) – Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan starred in this romantic comedy about two people who become friends during a cross-country trip and decide to abstain from sex to maintain their friendship over a period of twelve years. The movie was directed by Rob Reiner and written by Nora Ephron.

7-Hitch

7. “Hitch” (2005) – Will Smith and Eva Mendes starred in this romantic comedy about a professional dating consultant who falls for a gossip columnist determined to ruin the reputation of the unmasked so-called “date doctor”. Directed by Andy Tennant, the movie co-starred Kevin James.

8-The Notebook

8. “The Notebook” (2004) – Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams starred in this adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ 1996 novel about a young couple in 1940s South Carolina, who struggle to overcome class differences. Nick Cassavetes directed.

9-Random Harvest

9. “Random Harvest” (1942) – Ronald Coman and Greer Garson starred in this adaptation of James Hilton’s 1941 novel about an amnesiac World War I veteran woh falls in love with a music hall star, only to suffer an accident which restores his original memories, but erases his post-War life. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy, the movie co-starred Susan Peters and Philip Dorn.

10-Wimbledon

10. “Wimbledon” (2004) – Paul Bettany and Kirsten Dunst starred in this romantic comedy about a British washed-up tennis player and an American up-and-coming star who meet and romance during the Wimbledon Championships. Directed by Richard Loncraine, the movie co-starred Sam Neill and Jon Favreau.

Top Ten Favorite COMIC BOOK HEROES Movies

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Below is a list of my ten favorite movies featuring comic book heroes: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon directed this superb movie about a team of Marvel Comics heroes teaming together to battle an alien invasion.

2-The Incredibles

2. “The Incredibles” (2004) – Brad Bird created one of the best Disney animated films about a family of superheroes living a quiet suburban life and forced to hide their powers, who are forced out of retirement to save the world.

3-Spider-Man 2

3. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – Tobey Maguire made his second appearance as Marvel Comic’s web-slinger, who contemplates retirement while facing a new threat, Doctor Octavius in this first-rate sequel.

4-Captain America - The First Avenger

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” – Chris Evans made his first appearance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Marvel’s first superhero who deals with the threat of a madman during World War II. Joe Johnston directed.

5-Iron Man 2

5. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. In this excellent sequel, Iron Man battles a “ghost” from his family’s past and a professional threat. Jon Farveau directed.

6-The Rocketeer

6. “The Rocketeer” (1991) – Bill Campbell starred in this first-rate Disney adaptation of Dave Stevens’ comic novel about a pilot who discovers a rocket pack and struggles to keep it out of the hands of Nazi pilots in 1938 Los Angeles. Joe Johnston directed.

7-X2

7. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this second and best X-MEN film about the X-Men’s reluctant teaming with Erik Lensherr aka Magneto and friends to deal with the threat of a vengeful U.S. Army intelligence officer.

8-Batman Begins

8. “Batman Begins” (2005) – Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale teamed for the first time in my favorite BATMANfilm about the origins of the Caped Crusader and his efforts to save Gotham City from a mysterious threat.

9-Iron Man

9. “Iron Man” (2008) – Robert Downey Jr. exploded on the scene as playboy millionaire in this origin tale about how the latter became costumed hero Iron Man. Jon Farveau directed.

10-The Dark Knight

10. “The Dark Knight” (2008) – Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale in this well-made BATMAN movie about the Caped Crusader’s conflict with the Joker. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart co-starred.

“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

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“SKYFALL” (2012) Review

Before I had sat down in a movie theater to watch the latest James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, it occurred to me that four years had passed since the last movie about the MI-6 agent. During those four years, EON Productions endured another round of legal entanglements regarding the Bond franchise, delaying the production and release of “SKYFALL”by at least two years. But in the end, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson came through and released the company’s 23rd James Bond film. 

“SKYFALL” begins in Istanbul, Turkey; where MI-6 agents James Bond and “Eve” go after a mercenary named Patrice, who has managed to steal a list of undercover NATO agents from the laptop hard drive of a MI-6 field agent. Their assignment ends in disaster after Patrice wounds Bond in the shoulder, and “Eve” accidentally shoots Bond, during his fight with the mercenary atop a moving train. Following the Istanbul debacle, “M” is pressured by Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory to retire. During M’s return from her meeting, the MI-6 computer servers are breached, resulting in an explosion at the building that kills a number of employees. Bond, who had used his “death” to retire, returns to London and asks to return to the field. Despite his failure to pass a series of physical and psychological examinations, M allows Bond to find the person behind the theft of the list of NATO agents and the MI-6 explosions. Bond’s investigations eventually leads him to a former MI-6 agent named Raoul Silva who wants to humiliate, discredit and ultimately kill M as revenge against her for betraying him years ago.

When I finally walked out of that movie theater, as the end credits for “SKYFALL” rolled, the first thought that came to my mind was that the movie was a piece of crap. I was very disappointed by “SKYFALL”. The more I thought about the plot and characterizations featured in “SKYFALL”, I finally realized that my feelings about the movie had not changed. I still believe it was a piece of crap and one of the worst James Bond movies I have ever seen.

There are certain aspects of “SKYFALL” that I found admirable. And before I delve into the reasons behind my dislike of the film, I might as point out these admirable traits. Unlike 2008’s “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”“SKYFALL” was not marred by an uneven pacing. Directed Sam Mendes did an excellent job of giving the movie a steady pace that did not leave me breathless or groggy. I also have to give kudos to cinematographer Roger Deakins for his sharp, yet beautiful photography of the different locations featured in the film – especially for Istanbul, London and Scotland. And most of the action sequences in the movie – especially Raoul Silva’s attack upon M at a public inquiry and the chase scene through London’s Underground system – struck me as very exciting and well shot, thanks to Mendes’ direction, along with Stuart and Kate Baird’s editing.

Looking back on “SKYFALL”, I noticed that it featured some first-rate acting, by a superb cast. Daniel Craig returned for a third time to portray 007. And as usual, he was in top form, capturing the British agent’s self doubts after being shot in Istanbul. After seventeen years, Judi Dench portrayed “M” for the last time in a plot in which her character plays a major role in the story. Many have been speculating about an Academy Award for her excellent performance. The only reason I am not jumping on this bandwagon is that Dench has been knocking it out of the ballpark as “M”, ever since she first assumed the role in 1995’s “GOLDENEYE”. Javier Bardeem seemed to have been inspired by Heath Ledger’s Oscar winning performance as the Joker in his portrayal of Raoul Silva, a former MI-6 agent who seeks revenge against “M”. In his way, the actor’s performance was just as colorful. However, I do not think I will ever consider him to be one of my favorite Bond villains. I found his performance a little too showy and not very original for my tastes.

Naomie Harris was in fine form as MI-6 agent “Eve”, who turned out to be the iconic Miss Moneypenny. I really enjoyed Harris’ performance, but I have something to say about her transformation from field agent to secretary. Bérénice Marlohe did the best she could with the small role of Sévérine, a former victim of the sex trade who became Silva’s representative and mistress. Ben Whishaw was a ball as a young and geeky “Q”, who seemed more like a computer hacker, instead of an arms quartermaster. Both Ralph Fiennes and Rory Kinnear gave solid performances as Intelligence and Security Committee Chairman Gareth Mallory and Bill Tanner, “M”‘s Chief of Staff. And Albert Finney gave a lively and entertaining performance as Kincade, the gamekeeper of the Skyfall estate that belongs to Bond.

But despite its positive attributes, in the end I found “SKYFALL” very disappointing. And I believe the movie’s main problems could be found in the script written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. The movie began in Istanbul with Bond and Moneypenny attempting to get their hands on the list of undercover NATO agents that had been stolen from another MI-6 agent. Unfortunately, the movie never explained how a field agent ended up with such a list on his laptop hard drive in the first place. Some fans have dismissed this plot hole, claiming it would have been unnecessary for the script to explain such a situation. I am sorry, but I refuse to dismiss it. For me, it does not make sense that a field agent stationed in Istanbul would have such a list in the first place. Only unusual circumstances could explain this situation . . . and the screenplay refused to do so.

The screenplay also failed to explain why Silva waited so long to go after the NATO agents on the list Patrice stole for him. A certain period of time had passed between the incident in Istanbul and the bombing at MI-6. What took Silva so long to go after those agents? And did “M” or the British government ever bothered to alert NATO that some of their agents were exposed? Judging by the ease Silva killed some of the agents, I gather not. I also found Silva’s plans regarding his revenge against “M” rather convoluted. From what I gathered, he wanted to humiliate her before he can kill her. If it was that easy for him to bomb MI-6, why did he have to resort to allowing himself to be captured by Bond, in order to get close enough to kill her? He could have flown to the U.K. and killed before Bond or anyone else was able to guess he was behind the debacles that dogged “M” in the movie. And how did he know she would be appearing before a public inquiry on the very day he busted out of MI-6’s new quarters?

I also found Bond’s efforts to save “M” very questionable. One, how did Silva managed to track Bond and “M” to the former’s Scottish estate so easily? Were Bond and “M” wearing tracking devices? Did Silva use their cell phones? How? And if Bond had expected Silva to track them, why on earth did he not recruit back up to help him? If Silva had men to help attack “M” at the public inquiry, surely Bond must have realized that the former MI-6 agent would have help in Scotland. Instead, Bond relied upon the aging Kincade. I do not know who to charge with incompetence – the Bond character or the writers that created this scenario. Speaking of Skyfall, the sequence there featured two graves with the names of Bond’s parents, Andrew and Monique Bond. One might ask “what is wrong with that?” This would have been fine . . . if Purvis, Wade and screenwriter Paul Haggis had not re-written Bond’s past in 2006’s “CASINO ROYALE”. In that particular movie, Tresury agent Vesper Lynd accurately surmised that Bond was a middle-class or working-class orphan, whose education had been financed by a wealthy benefactor. In “SKYFALL”, the writers used Bond’s literary background. In other words, his father came from the Scottish landed gentry and his mother, from Switzerland. So . . . what happened to the background established in “CASINO ROYALE”? Did EON Productions rebooted the franchise for a second time, during Craig’s tenure? If so, I find this very sloppy on the writers’ part.

Before “SKYFALL” was released in U.S. movie theaters, I came across a few articles on the Internet, claiming that the movie might be less sexist than the previous Bond films. They cited the expanded role of “M” as an example of this more politically correct portrayal. After seeing “SKYFALL”, I realized that this opinion of a more feminist friendly movie is a joke. This movie has set the portrayal of female characters in the Bond franchise back at least forty to fifty years . . . back to characters such as Honey Ryder, Jill and Tilly Masterson, Tiffany Case, Solitaire, Andrea Anders and Mary Goodnight. Here is a look at the four female characters featured in this movie:

*Clair Dowar MP – Helen McCrory portrayed the Member of Parliament who led the inquiry into “M”‘s leadership of MI-6. It was bad enough that McCrory portrayed the character as a screeching harpy. But during the inquiry, she was interrupted by Gareth Mallory, who “suggested” in a patronizing manner that she cease her rants and allow “M” to talk. And she did! Why on earth did the screenwriters allowed Mallory to get away with such behavior to a MP? The script should have allowed Dowar to order Mallory to shut his hole and continue her rant, before allowing “M” to speak. But no. . . the all knowning male, Mallory, is allowed to shut her up in a very patronizing manner.

*Sévérine – Bérénice Marlohe, who portrayed Raoul Silva’s mistress, claimed she was inspired by Famke Janssen’s portrayal of “GOLDENEYE” villainess Xenia Onatopp. Honestly, I do not see the resemblance. Onatopp was a badass and slightly psychotic former fighter pilot and killer. Marlohe’s Sévérine simply struck me as a world weary woman who turned out to be nothing more than a bed warmer for Bond and a long time sex toy and tool for Silva. One, she barely lasted longer than a half hour in the film. Two, Bond had sex with her, despite guessing that she used to be a part of Asia’s child sex trade. Even worse, he failed to consider that sex with her would endanger her life. But he screwed her anyway in a rather . . . tasteless scene and Silva ended up shooting her like a dog. In the end, I realized that Sévérine reminded me of all those female Bond sacrificial lambs, whom Bond got to screw before they got bumped off. Marlohe was really wasted in this movie.

*Eve Moneypenny – Poor Naomie Harris. I realize that as the new Miss Moneypenny, she will have a job with the Bond franchise, as long as Craig continues to portray 007. But honestly, the screenwriters really screwed her in this film. Are audiences really supposed to believe that her character was unsuited to be a field agent, after the debacle in Istanbul? After all, she told “M” that she did not have a clean shot, before the latter ordered her to take it. Yet, upon Eve’s reunion with Bond in London, he tries to undermine her self-esteem by claiming she was unsuited for such a role. And then . . . what happens? Eve is assigned to assist Bond in Macau and ends up saving his life. Later, she held herself well during Silva’s attack against “M” at the public inquiry. Yet, near the end of the film, she informs Bond that he was right and decided to leave the field and become a secretary. A fucking secretary? This is how EON Productions set up Moneypenny for the Craig tenure? Not once did the film ever really indicated that Moneypenny had any difficulty over what happened in Istanbul. I felt really insulted after that last scene between Bond and Moneypenny.

*“M” – “SKYFALL” was supposed to be Judi Dench’s swan song in the role of Head of MI-6, after seventeen years. And this was EON Productions’ idea of a send off for Dench? Transforming her character into an incompetent boob? They had her character making mistakes left and right. Even worse, they reduced this “strong woman” into a useless and helpless female, who needed Mallory to come to her defense during MP Dowar’s rant against her and Bond to save her from Silva. And yet . . . if she was really that incompetent, how is it that she was the only one who figured out that a former MI-6 was behind their troubles? If the portrayal of “M” was supposed to be an example of a proper female hero, EON Productions can keep it.

There were other aspects of “SKYFALL” that left me feeling disappointed. I am a great admirer of Adele as a singer. But honestly? I have no memories of the movie’s theme song performed by her. The song simply went into one ear and out of the other. I also noticed that certain moments in the film showcased Craig posing in a standing position. In other words, he usually stood in one spot – whether at the bow of the boat delivering him to the Macau casino, next to Sévérine at the bow of Silva’s yacht, on a hill overlooking his family’s estate or on the rooftop overlooking the London skyline – feet apart and well dressed. Here is an example of that pose:

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Before the movie ended, I could not tell whether I was watching a James Bond action film or a photo spread from a“GQ” magazine.

Ah . . . EON Productions. You really disappointed me this time. I had bought all of the claptrap about this being one of the best James Bond movies in years. Looking back, I now realize that Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson had overreacted to some of the negative press over “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, which I actually enjoyed despite its flaws. The fans could not deal with a dark and grim follow-up to “CASINO ROYALE”, and the two producers reacted by delivering a movie that could not make up its mind on whether it was a grim espionage tale or a typical Bond fantasy adventure. It tried to be both and failed in the end . . . at least for me.

Top Ten Favorite Movies and Television Set During the Victorian Age

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I decided to revise my list of favorite movie and television productions set during the Victorian Age (1837-1901). Below is the list:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION SET DURING THE VICTORIAN AGE

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1. “North and South” (2004) – Sandy Welch adapted this superb version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel about a woman from Southern England living in the industrial North. Daniela Danby-Ashe and Richard Armitage star.

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2. “The Buccaneers” (1995) – Maggie Wadey adapted and Philip Saville directed this excellent adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novel about American heiresses marrying into the British aristocracy. Carla Gugino, Greg Wise, James Frain and Cheri Lunghi star.

without a clue

3. “Without a Clue” (1988) – Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson in hilarious look into a premise in which Dr. Watson is the investigating genius and Holmes is a fraud. Thom Eberhardt directed.

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4. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936) – Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland and Patric Knowles starred in this historically inaccurate, but fascinating look into British India and the Crimean War. Michael Curtiz directed.

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5. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) – Guy Ritchie returned to direct what I believe is a slightly better sequel to his 2009 hit. In it, Holmes battles James Moriarty. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law star.

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6. “The Four Feathers” (2002) – Although not considered the best adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel by many, it is certainly my favorite. Directed by Shekhar Kapur, the movie starred Heath Ledger.

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7. “The First Great Train Robbery” (1979) – Michael Crichton wrote and directed this adaptation of his 1975 novel about a group of thieves plotting to steal the Crimean War gold from a moving train. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down starred.

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8. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this entertaining and exciting take on the famous literary sleuth. Guy Ritchie directed.

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9. “The Way We Live Now” (2001) – Andrew Davies adapted and David Yates directed this biting adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s novel greed in Victorian England. David Suchet, Shirley Henderson and Matthew MacFadyen starred.

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10. “Jane Eyre” (2006) – Sandy Welch adapted this first-rate version of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens starred.

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Honorable Mention – “Wuthering Heights” (1939) – I rarely include an “honorable mention” on my FAVORITE lists. But I love William Wyler’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s novel so much that I had to find a way to include it. Laurence Olivier, Merle Oberon and David Niven starred.

“THE FOUR FEATHERS” (2002) Review

Below is my review of “THE FOUR FEATHERS”, Shekhar Kapur’s adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel:

“THE FOUR FEATHERS” (2002) Review

To my knowledge, there have been seven cinematic versions of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 adventure story, ”THE FOUR FEATHERS”. The first version was released in 1915 as a black-and-white silent film. The most famous and highly revered version was produced by legendary producer Alexander Korda in 1939. And the latest version – the focus of this review – was released in 2002. Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson and Wes Bentley starred in the film. And it was directed by Shekhar Kapur.

”THE FOUR FEATHERS” began with Harry Faversham (Heath Ledger), a young British officer of the Royal Cumbrians infantry regiment and the son of a stern British general, celebrating his recent engagement to the beautiful young Ethne (Kate Hudson) in a lavish ball with his fellow officers and his father in attendance. When the regimental colonel announced that the regiment is being dispatched to Egyptian-ruled Sudan to rescue the British general Charles “Chinese” Gordon (who was being besieged in Khartoum by Islamic rebels of The Mahdi), young Faversham became nervous and resigned his commission. After resigning his commission, Harry’s charmed life began to fall apart. Despite his claims that his decision to in order to stay in England with new fiancée because he would never “go to war for anyone or anything”, three of his fellow officers – Tom Willoughby (Rupert Penry-Jones), Edward Castleton (Kris Marshall) and William Trench (Michael Sheen) censured Harry by delivery three white feathers (signs of cowardice). Ethne ended their engagement and presented him with a fourth feather. And both Harry’s best friend, Jack Durrance (Wes Bentley) and his father, General Faversham (Tim Piggott-Smith) disavowed him. With his former comrades already en route to the conflict, the young Faversham questioned his own true motives, and resolved to redeem himself through combat in Sudan. Disguised as an Arab laborer, he accompanied a French slave trader to take him deep into the Sudanese desert. Faversham is left alone in the vast sands when the slave trader is killed by his own Sudanese slaves. Eventually a lone black Sudanese warrior named Abou Fatma (Djimon Hounsou), who is against the Mahdists’ rebellion, came to Harry’s aid and helped the latter redeem himself through combat against the Mahdists.

In the beginning, ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” bore a strong resemblance to the 1902 novel it is based upon and the 1939 movie. Granted, in this version, General Faversham is a living and somewhat stern parent, and not some dead military hero in whose shadow Harry is forced to live. And Ethne’s father is dead. The most important aspect of this version of the story is the fact that the British presence in the Sudan is not portrayed in a sympathetic light. Following Colonel Hamilton’s (Alex Jennings) announcement of the Royal Cumbrians being deployed to the Sudan, Harry made this comment to Jack:

“What does a godforsaken desert, in the middle of nowhere, have to do with Her Majesty the Queen?”

Mind you, I did not take Harry’s question as a commentary against British Imperialism. I suspect that Harry’s question had more to do with him dreading the idea of going to war than any anti-Imperialist sympathies. But once the story shifted toward the Sudan, the anti-British Imperialism messages came across in the following scenes:

*The Royal Cumbrians’ encounter with a Sudanese sniper
*Harry’s travels with the French slave trader and the latter’s “merchandise”
*Abou Fatma’s attempt to warn the Royal Cumbrians of an impending attack and his treatment at their hands
*Ethne’s regret over her rejection of Harry
*Harry and Abou’s conversations about the differences between Eastern and Western culture

Surprisingly, the European characters are not the only ones shown to be capable of bigotry. Abou Fatma has to deal with the Sudanese Arab soldiers who seemed offended by his presence, due to his kinship with the tribe that had served as slaves for the soldiers’ families and ancestors. Also, both Harry and Trench, along with other British and anti-Mahdist prisoners have to deal with the malevolent commander of the prison camp at Omdurman, Idris-Es-Saier, whose hatred toward them stemmed from the death of his family by British artillery.

As I had stated earlier, the 1939 version (which starred John Clements, June Duprez and Ralph Richardson) is considered to be the best version of Mason’s novel. I have seen the 1939 version and I must admit that I found it pretty damn enjoyable. As much as I found the 1939 version entertaining, I must admit that this latest version – directed by Shekhar Kapur – happens to be my favorite. Like the other versions of this tale, it is filled with exciting action and does an excellent job of recapturing both British and the Sudanese societies in the late nineteenth century, thanks to Allan Cameron’s production design, Ahmed Abounouom and Zack Grobler’s art direction and Robert Richardson’s photography. But for me, the movie proved to be more than simply a costumed adventure film. Thanks to the ”political correctness”slant provided by screenwriters Michael Schiffer and Hossein Amini and especially Shekhar Kapur’s direction; this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” seemed to have more emotional depth and ambiguity than other versions. Not only did Kapur and the two writers challenge the positive view on the British Empire, but also Western views on masculinity and Islamic cultures.

One of the biggest criticisms directed at this version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” centered around the movie’s major action sequence – namely the Battle of Abu Klea. During the actual historical battle, which had been fought between January 16-18, 1885, the famous British square had been briefly broken by the Mahdists before it closed, forcing the latter to retreat. In the movie, the square formed by the Royal Cumbrians was permanently broken, resulting in the regiment’s retreat, Castleton’s death and Trench’s capture by Mahdists. In other words, the movie received criticism for not being historically accurate. The charge of historical inaccuracy does have validity. But I do find the critics’ accusations rather hypocritical, considering that hardly no one paid attention to the historical inaccuracy of another Kapur movie, namely the 1998 Academy Award nominated film, ”ELIZABETH”. I can only assume that it is easier to criticize a film that challenged Western culture for historical inaccuracy and ignore the same flaw in a film that celebrated a famous Western monarch.

Before I end this review, I want to say something about the performances.”THE FOUR FEATHERS” possessed an excellent supporting cast that featured an entertaining Michael Sheen as the witty and extroverted William Trench, a competent Rupert Penry-Jones as the regiment’s finicky and slightly narrow-minded Tom Willoughby, and an excellent Deobia Oparei who portrayed the intimidating Idris-Es-Saier. Kris Marshall’s performance as the religious Edward “Vicar” Willoughby seemed pretty solid, but there were moments when I found it slightly overwrought. Wes Bentley portrayed Jack Durrance, Harry’s reserved best friend who was also in love with Ethne. I must admit that I found myself very impressed by Bentley’s performance. He did an excellent job of portraying a very intense character whose emotions were conveyed through his eyes and expressions. And as far as I am concerned, Djimon Hounsou could do no wrong in this movie. His portrayal of the enigmatic Abou Fatma was spot on. His performance could have easily become another example of one of those ”Magical Negro” roles in which a non-white character dispensed wisdom and comfort to the main white character. Yes, Fatma offered some advice and assistance to Harry Faversham. But thanks to Schiffer and Amini’s script and Hounson’s performance, Fatma became a more complicated character that ended up undergoing his own journey in becoming acquainted with someone from another culture.

Kate Hudson did an excellent job in portraying the spirited Ethne, Harry’s fiancée and the object of Jack’s desire. Hudson’s portrayal of Ethne was interesting and a little unexpected. I had expected her to react with anger over Harry’s lies about his resignation from the Army and fear over the opinions of society. I had expected her to form a closer friendship with Jack – a friendship that eventually led to their engagement. What I had not expected was for Ethne to express regret over her rejection of Harry. In this movie, Harry did not have to earn back her love through heroic acts in the Sudan. Interestingly, Ethne felt both guilt and self-disgust for worrying about how the rest of society would view Harry’s resignation and her association with him. I realize this is another example of the ”political correctness” found in the movie’s script. Frankly, I welcomed it. This slant made Ethne’s character a lot more interesting to me. And Hudson did a hell of a job with what was given to her.

We finally come to Heath Ledger’s performance as Harry Faversham, the disgraced Army officer who tried to find redemption in the Sudanese desert. The interesting thing about Harry’s character was that he truly was guilty of cowardice. Some of his cowardice centered on his lie to Ethne about his reason for leaving the Army. But for me, Harry’s worst act of cowardice occurred before the movie began. He buckled under pressure from society and especially his father, General Faversham, and joined the Royal Cumbrians as an officer. He allowed society, Ethne and his father to pressure him into assuming a life filled with lies. I suspect that Harry believed that as long as his regiment remained in England, he would have no problems maintaining the lie. But he could no longer maintain the lie when Colonel Hamilton announced the regiment’s deployment to the Sudan. The most interesting aspect about Harry’s journey was that he did not reach the nadir of his emotional journey until late into the film. The nadir did not happen when he received the white feathers from his friends and Ethne. Nor did it happened when he found himself stranded in the desert with nothing but a camel, when he discovered via Jack’s letters that the latter and Ethne had formed a deeper bond, or when he found himself in the Omdurman prison camp with Trench. No, Harry’s nadir finally arrived when he stripped away any civil façade of himself and he killed Idris-Es-Saier. At that moment, Harry’s true animal self – something that all human beings possessed – was finally revealed.

I must admit that I am curious over Ledger’s reputation as an actor before he did ”BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN” (2005). I would be very surprised if it took his role as Ennis de Mar for critics to take his skills as an actor seriously. Quite frankly, I was very impressed by his performance as Harry Faversham. Both the script and Kapur’s direction gave Ledger the opportunity to reveal the full length of his character’s journey – from the self-satisfied, yet cowardly Army officer to the private gentleman who is not only more sure of himself, but more honest as well.

I wish I could say that Kapur’s version of ”THE FOUR FEATHERS” is for everyone. I suspect that it is not. If I must be brutally honest, I suspect that a good number of fans of the Mason’s story would be put off by the so-called”revisionist” take on the story. They would probably prefer a version in which Harry Faversham learns to find his capacity for physical or military courage. Or a version in which the British victory over the Mahdist rebels are celebrated and the Empire appreciated. But as much as I like this version of Mason’s story – especially embodied in the 1939 film – I must admit that I much prefer this latest version directed by Shekhar Kapur. Not only did I find myself impressed by the cast’s performances, I found the movie more emotionally deep and complex. More importantly, it questioned the ideals and beliefs that had been the bulwark of 19th century and still harbor some influence upon many societies today.

“THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008) Review

 

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“THE DARK KNIGHT” (2008) Review

In 2005, director/writer Christopher Nolan had rebooted the Batman franchise with the highly successful movie, ”BATMAN BEGINS” that starred Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader. Both men reunited three years later for a new story centered around Batman’s conflict with his greatest nemesis, Joker in this sequel called ”THE DARK KNIGHT”

There had been a great deal of attention surrounding this movie. Many have not only praised it, claiming that it is better than the 2005 movie. But most of the word-of-mouth centered around Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, especially after his tragic death two years ago. When ”THE DARK KNIGHT” was finally released, many critics and fans expressed the belief that the positive word-of-mouth had been justified. Not only have many judged Ledger’s performance as the best in his career, others have claimed that the movie is probably the best Comic Book Hero movie ever made. I do not know if the Joker featured Heath Ledger’s best performance ever. As for the claim about ”THE DARK KNIGHT” being the best comic book hero movie . . . I do not agree.

I am not saying that ”THE DARK KNIGHT” was a terrible or mediocre film. Frankly, I believe that it was one of the best movies I have seen this summer. Most of the movie featured an excellent story scripted by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, and David S. Goyer, in which Gotham’s organized criminal element has found itself threatened by the law ever since the end of the Falsone family in ”BATMAN BEGINS”, thanks to Batman (Bale). A former inmate of Arkham Asylum named the Joker (Ledger) approaches the crime bosses, which include Salvatore “Sal” Maroni (Eric Roberts), with an offer to kill Batman for pay. At the same time, Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) contemplate including the new district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) in their plan to eradicate the mob, as he could be the public hero Batman cannot be. Harvey Dent is found to be dating Wayne’s childhood friend and object of romantic desire, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal). This conflict between Batman, the Joker and their allies escalates to a tragic and well-directed dénouement that leads to Rachel’s death. And it is here where I believe that the movie faltered.

”THE DARK KNIGHT” could have ended with Rachel’s death, followed by the Joker’s manipulation of a grieving Harvey Dent into madness and his eventual capture or death. Instead, the Nolan brothers and Goyer allowed the Joker to escape and continued the story with Dent’s vengeful hunt for those he considered responsible for Rachel’s death and the Joker resorting to a Green Goblin situation involving two ferryboats packed with explosives. The situation involved him telling the passengers on each that the only way to save themselves is to trigger the explosives on the other ferry; otherwise, at midnight he will destroy them both remotely. All of this occurred during the movie’s last half hour and quite frankly, it was a half hour I could have done without. I found the entire ferryboats sequence so unbelievable and contrived. It seemed as if Nolan teased us with the possibility of seeing the darker side of the average citizen . . . and wimped out, because he would rather stroke the ego of his moviegoers with some “nobility of man” bullshit by allowing the passengers refuse to blow or try to blow each other to kingdom come, instead of telling the truth about human nature. Very disappointing. It would have been more interesting or darker if Batman had prevented the passengers from blowing up the boats at the last minute. Batman would have saved the people, but the Joker would have proven a point.

A fan had pointed out that the ending of the sequence was Nolan’s message about leaving a sliver of hope for the audience that human beings do have the capacity to do good things. I realize that this was Nolan’s aim, but this is a message that has been done to death by moviegoers for eons. The problem is that screenwriters and moviemakers are always giving moviegoers this “sliver of hope”. They call themselves pointing out the dark side of humanity and then they pervert these messages by allowing them to come out of the mouths from villains like the Joker, before the latter is eventually proven wrong. It just seems like a cop out to me. Which was why I found the whole ferryboat sequence something of a joke. Sure, human beings are capable of doing some good. But in that particular situation? I rather doubt it. If there is one trait that humanity possess, it is a talent for self-preservation. It would have been more realistic to me if the boats had detonated or Batman had prevented this before anyone on one or both of those boats and activated the bombs. Granted, Batman/Bruce Wayne would have been disappointed in Gotham’s citizens, but he would have learned a valuable lesson about the very people he calls himself protecting. Even better, I would have preferred if Nolan had never added that sequence in the first place.

As for Harvey Dent’s hunt for those he deemed responsible for Rachel’s death . . . I would have been more satisfied if Nolan and his co-writers had ended the movie with Dent’s eventual slide into darkness in that hospital room and saved his transformation into a twisted vigilante and arch villain in a third Batman film. This would have prevented the movie from being unnecessarily a half hour long. And it would have saved the talented Aaron Eckhart for the third film as “Two-Faced” Harvey. It would have also spared moviegoers of that ludicrous ending in which Batman and Gordon decided to allow the former assume blame of Dent’s crimes in order to save the reputation of the D.A. I am still stunned by this little plot development. What were the Nolan brothers thinking? Why was it so necessary to save Dent’s reputation in the first place? Did Batman and Gordon harbored such a low opinion of Gotham’s citizens that they had to treat the latter like children?

The performances in ”THE DARK KNIGHT” were basically superb. Christian Bale beautifully captured the growing dilemma of Bruce Wayne’s desire for a normal life with Rachel Dawes, juxtaposed with his role as Gotham’s costumed vigilante and his growing power over the city’s criminal element, thanks to his alliance with police lieutenant James Gordon and the new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. There is one aspect of Bale’s performance I did not like – namely the growling tone he used, while in the Batman persona. I did not care for it in ”BATMAN BEGINS”. I cared for it even less in this film.

I have noticed how many have expressed the view that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Rachel Dawes was better than Katie Holmes in the 2005 film. Personally, I did not see much of a difference in the quality of their performances. Both actresses gave good, solid performances. But . . . the screenwriters’ portrayal of Rachel in this film disappointed me. They had turned her characters into an object. She was Bruce Wayne’s prize for giving up the Batman persona, as soon as he could get Dent to assume the role of Gotham’s “hero”. She was Dent’s love interest, Girl Friday and a reason to go on a rampage for Dent. And for the Joker, she was a means to get at Batman, once he realized how the latter felt about her. There were times when Rachel’s character almost seemed irrelevant and a sad decline from the legal and moral dynamo that Holmes had portrayed in ”BATMAN BEGINS”.

Heath Ledger as the Joker. What can I say? The man was brilliant. He made Jack Nicholson’s Joker look like chump change. Honestly. One of the reasons why I have never care for the Joker character in the past was due to his over-the-top persona. Cesar Romero’s Joker has never impressed me, regardless of the numerous insane clown laughs he had utilized. Nicholson’s Joker was too over-the-top for my tastes. As one can see, I do not have a love for overly theatrical characters, unless they are done right. Granted, Ledger portrayed the Joker as over-the-top. But somehow . . . I really do not know how to describe it. Somehow, he managed to infuse some kind of control in the character’s insanity – not only with his behavior, but also with a talent for emotional manipulation and the views he had spouted to Batman and other characters. Do I believe that the Joker was Ledger’s best performance? No. I believe that the character was one of his two best performances, the other being Ennis DelMar from 2005’s ”BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. Do I believe that Ledger deserves an Oscar nomination for his performance, despite his death? Hmmmm . . . yes. He was that good.

The other truly superb performance came from Aaron Eckhart as Gotham’s new District Attorney, Harvey Dent. One of Eckhart’s virtues was that he formed an excellent screen chemistry with Maggie Gyllenhaal. Frankly, I found their romance more believable than her relationship with Bruce Wayne. Eckhart projected a great deal of magnetism, charm and intensity into his portrayal of Dent. But I was more impressed by the way he expressed Dent’s descent into vengeful madness, following Rachel’s death. Granted, this turn of his character occurred in the movie’s last half hour. Although I disliked the movie’s last half hour, Eckhart’s performance in it almost made it bearable.

Gary Oldman, Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) and Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow) all reprised their roles from the first film. All four gave solid performances, but only Oldman’s role as James Gordon seemed bigger. I found Gordon’s fake death somewhat contrived and manipulative. Aside from the creation of the Rachel Dawes character, everything about the two Batman movies directed by Nolan have adhered to the Batman canon. Which is why I found it difficult to believe that Gordon was dead. Alfred’s role seemed to have diminished from the first film. Freeman’s Lucius Fox is now quite aware that Bruce is Batman and seemed to be acting as the latter’s armourer, as well as Wayne Enterprises’ CEO. The only problem I had with the Fox character was his opposition against Wayne/Batman’s development an advanced surveillance system that can listen in and track the movement of any of the thousands of cell phones in the city. I found the whole scenario contrived. As much as I had enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of Dr. Crane/the Scarecrow in ”BATMAN BEGINS”, I found his less than ten minutes appearance in ”THE DARK KNIGHT” a waste of the actor’s time . . . and mine.

Composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard returned to score the sequel. I must admit that I had been impressed by their work in ”BATMAN BEGINS” and had expected another exceptional score by them. Unfortunately, I barely remembered the score. I understand that they had rehashed the original score for this movie and added a new theme or two. But it all came off as unmemorable for me.

”THE DARK KNIGHT” had the potential to be this summer’s best film. But there were some aspects – the portrayal of Rachel Dawes’ character, Zimmer and Newton Howard’s score, the portrayal of some of the minor characters and the contrived writing that dominated the movie’s last half hour – that I believe had ruined the movie’s chances of achieving this potential. Fortunately, the virtues outweighed the flaws and in the end, ”THE DARK KNIGHT” managed to remain first-rate and become – in my view – one of the better films from the summer of 2008.