Five Favorite Episodes of “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” Season One (2014)

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Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of AMC” “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES”. Created by Craig Silverstein, the series stars Jamie Bell:

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “TURN: WASHINGTON’S SPIES” SEASON ONE (2014)

1 - 1.08 Challenge

1. (1.08) “Challenge” – Against the wishes of Abraham “Abe” Woodhull, one of the Culper Ring spies, fellow spy Anna Strong earches for enemy intelligence at an exclusive gentleman’s party hosted by British spymaster Major John Andre.

2 - 1.10 The Battle of Setauket

2. (1.10) “The Battle of Setauket” – Mary Woodhull discovers that Abe is a rebel spy. Other members of the spy ring, Major Benjamin Tallmadge and Lieutenant Caleb Brewster, lead a raid on the Long Island community, Setauket, to save the local Patriot families.

3 - 1.05 Epiphany

3. (1.05) “Epiphany” – During the 1776 Christmas holidays, Caleb and Ben follow mysterious orders, while General George Washington’s army crosses into enemy territory in New Jersey. Meanwhile, one of Anna’s recently freed slaves, Abigail, agrees to spy for the Rebels after she is assigned to work for Major Andre, if the former would agree to look after her son Cicero.

4 - 1.09 Against Thy Neighbor

4. (1.09) “Against Thy Neighbor” – British Army Captain John Graves Simcoe (at least the fictional version) ignites a political witch-hunt to weed out rebel conspirators in Setauket. General Washington assigns Ben to a secret mission.

5 - 1.06 Mr. Culpepper

5. (1.06) “Mr. Culpeper” – En route to New York, Abe is ambushed by a desperate patriot. Washington charges Ben with the task of creating America’s first official spy ring.

“FANTASTIC FOUR” (2015) Review

 

“FANTASTIC FOUR” (2015) Review

Rebooting a superhero movie franchise is nothing new in Hollywood. Warner Brothers has released two different series featuring the D.C. Comics character, Batman. That particular studio has also released one series of films about Superman, and has made two attempts to reboot a new series – first in 2006 and recently, in 2013. As far as I know, Marvel has only done this twice. Marvel Studios, along with Columbia Pictures, have released two series featuring the Spider-Man character and is the process of releasing a third series. And recently, Twentieth-Century Fox has released its second film series featuring the characters, the Fantastic Four.

This new version of “FANTASTIC FOUR”, which was directed by Josh Trank, began with the first meeting of two friends, Reed Richards and Ben Grimm, as young teenagers. Reed managed to recruit Ben into his new project – the creation of, the director of a government-sponsored research institute for young prodigies called the Baxter Foundation. Reed is recruited to jaid Storm’s children, scientist Sue Storm (who is adopted) and the somewhat reckless engineering prodigy Johnny Storm, into completing a “Quantum Gate”, which was originally designed by Storm’s wayward former protégé, Victor von Doom. Professor Storm managed to lure Victor back to the project, due to the latter’s unrequited feelings for Sue.

The “Quantum Gate” project proves to be a success. But the Storms, Reed and Victor are disappointed to learn that the Foundation’s government supervisor, Dr. Harvey Allen, plans to send a group from NASA to teleport to a parallel dimension known as “Planet Zero”. In a defiant movie, Reed, Johnny and Victor decide to test the “Quantum Gate” first. Reed also invites Ben, whom he had not seen in a while, to join them. The quartet makes it to Planet Zero successfully. But when Victor attempts to touch the planet’s ground, it starts to erupt, causing the four men to return to the teleporting shuttle, just as Sue begins to bring them back to Earth. Unfortunately, Victor is unable to return to the surface. And when the teleporter explodes upon the other three’s return, it alters Reed, Johnny, Ben and Sue on a molecular level, giving them super-human abilities. The new quartet find themselves struggling with their new physical state and at the same time, in conflict with Dr. Allen and the government, who wants to exploit their abilities for military purposes.

I am going to put my cards on the table. “FANTASTIC FOUR” is not a great film. Then again, I have noticed over the years that most movies released in the month of August are usually not that hot . . . with some exceptions. I feel that this new “FANTASTIC FOUR” reboot proved to be no better or worse than the 2005 film . . . but for different reasons. This new film could have better. I cannot deny this. But it was sabotaged by certain factors.

One; the screenplay written by Trank, Jeremy Slater and Simon Kinberg made the mistake of allowing the five major characters to be younger than usual – with the exception of the Johnny Storm character, who was always younger than his colleagues. I could have accepted this change in age. But it had a negative effect on one of the characters – namely Ben Grimes aka the Thing. Due to his lack of scientific skills and the fact that space flight was not involved, Ben was not really needed in this story. Trank and the other screenwriters could have given him scientific skills, as they did with the Johnny Storm aka Human Torch character. But for some reason, he was simply an old school friend of Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic, This made his trip to “Planet Zero” with Reed, Johnny and Victor seem like a flimsy afterthought. Another character that suffered from the screenwriters’ changes was Victor von Doom. Instead of the brilliant inventor/leader from Latveria, Victor is a brilliant anti-social computer programmer from the same country, who has lived in the United States since a young child. I had no problem with these changes, but I did have problems with how the screenwriters handled his character in the movie’s second half. He was missing from “FANTASTIC FOUR” for quite a while, between the incident on “Planet Zero” and his return to Earth. And upon his return, the narrative rushed through Victor’s encounters with the U.S. government and Franklin Storm, before he made his attempt to destroy Earth to keep “Planet Zero” safe from humanity.

The screenwriters’ handling of Victor von Doom in the movie’s last half hour illuminated one last problem with the film. Not only was Victor’s character arc rushed in the end, so was the entire movie. And I found this rather unsatisfying. Despite my hangups over the Ben Grimes character, I had no problems with most of the film’s narrative. But once the NASA men brought Victor back to Earth, it seemed as if Trank and the screenwriters were hellbent upon completing the film as quickly as possible. Or perhaps I should blame the movie’s producers or the 20th Century Fox bigwigs. I learned that right before its release, someone had ordered three action sequences cut from the film. Why they did it . . . I do not have the foggiest idea. Did it improved the film? Again, I do not know. But I cannot help but wonder if those cut scenes would have prevented the film from rushing to its conclusion.

Does this mean I regard “FANTASTIC FOUR” as the worst movie from the summer of 2015? No. No, I do not. The movie possessed virtues that made it more than watchable for me. Unlike the 2005 movie, this latest reboot took its time in setting up both the characters and the circumstances that led to the creation of the Fantastic Four. Unlike today’s film critics and fans, I do not believe in rushing the narrative in order to wallow in the action scenes. Action scenes should not be the backbone of a film. Thankfully, Trank and the other screenwriters seemed to fill the same. They took their time in setting up the characters’ meeting via Reed Richards’ point-of-view. They took their time in portraying the creation of the “Quantum Gate”, allowing the narrative to strengthen the characters’ interactions – especially the relationship between Reed and Sue Storm. The screenwriters also took their time in portraying the characters’ difficulties with adjusting to their powers and their dealings with the U.S. military. Only in the last half hour, did they screw up.

Another improvement over the earlier film proved to be the portrayal of Johnny Storm. The 2005 film more or less used Johnny as comic relief. And while I found his antics amusing, I also found them rather shallow and a little annoying at times. In this new film, Johnny is still a hot-headed action junkie. But thankfully, the screenwriters and actor Michael B. Jordan prevented him from being a shallow source of comedy. And with the addition of the Franklin Storm character, the movie allowed some angst-filled family moments between father, son and adopted daughter Sue. More importantly, the screenplay gave Johnny a plausible reason to be involved in the “Quantum Gate” and journey to “Planet Zero”. In the original comics from the early 1960s, Johnny was a sixteen year-old who had accompanied his sister, Reed Richards and astronaut/pilot Ben Grimes on the space journey that eventually gave them powers. The 2005 movie portrayed Johnny as a pilot and former astronaut, which I found incredibly implausible. No space agency or private corporation would be dumb enough to hire or recruit a young pilot in his early 20s to co-pilot a journey to space. I find it also implausible that Johnny was a former astronaut in this film, in the first place. It seems ironic that a movie torn to pieces by critics and film goers alike, failed to realize that its portrayal of how Johnny had acquired his abilities seemed ten times more plausible than the original comics or the 2005 film.

One last aspect of “FANTASTIC FOUR” that struck me as very plausible proved to be the team’s interactions with the U.S. government. Trank and the other screenwriters allowed the “Quantum Gate” project to be sponsored by the Feds, allowing the relationship between the government and the Fantastic Four, Professor Storm and Victor von Doom fraught with tensions – before and after the initial journey to “Planet Zero”. While watching this film, I found myself wondering why this did not happen to the main characters in the original comics from the 1960s or in the 2005 film. I never understood why this tenuous relationship was never explored before this movie. Even if the “Quantum Gate” project had not been sponsored by the U.S. government, the latter would have eventually learned about it and the team’s new abilities. Trank and the other writers seemed to realize this. No one else did – including Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and the screenwriters for the 2005 film.

If anyone had any complaints about the performances in the movie . . . well, I would be surprised. Personally, I thought“FANTASTIC FOUR” featured some very competent performances. Miles Teller did a stellar job of combining Reed Richards’ nebbish personality, enthusiasm and energy. At the same time, Teller skillfully allowed his character to mature and learn to accept responsibility by the end of the film. Many Marvel fans raised a fuss over the casting of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm, due to him being African-American. Considering that Marvel has changed the ethnic background of a few characters in the past, I never understood the fuss. Not only that . . . Jordan gave an intense, yet skillful performance as the volatile Johnny, who learns to overcome his resentment toward his father’s efforts to dictate his future. I have always considered the character of Sue Storm rather difficult for any actress to tackle, considering there is nothing theatrical about her. But Kate Mara did a very solid job of conveying Sue’s quiet, yet no-nonsense persona. Jamie Bell really did not have much to do in the film’s first half, due to his lack of presence. But once his character, Ben Grimes became the Thing, Bell did an excellent job of portraying the character’s intense, yet quiet anger over what happened to him.

The last time I saw Toby Kebbell in a movie, he was chewing the scenery as John Wilkes Booth in the 2010 film, “THE CONSPIRATOR”. Thankfully, he maintained full control of his portrayal of computer geek loner, Victor von Doom and instead, gave a surprisingly intense, yet subtle performance. “FANTASTIC FOUR” proved to be Tim Blake Nelson’s second Marvel film in which he portrayed a scientist. But in this film, Nelson proved to be more interesting and complex as the insidious Dr. Harvey Allen, who used a fake jovial attitude to intimidate the Fantastic Four (or most of them) into cooperating with the government. But my favorite performance came from Reg E. Cathey, who portrayed Professor Franklin Storm. If one looked at Cathey’s warm, emotional and forceful performance, his Professor Storm seemed to be the movie’s heart and soul. More importantly, I walked away feeling that his Storm was the true creator of the Fantastic Four.

I am not going to pretend that “FANTASTIC FOUR” was a great film. Then again, neither was the 2005 movie. I had a few problems with the Ben Grimes and Victor von Doom characters. And I found the ending rushed. But the movie did featured some very skillful performances and a great one by Reg E. Cathey. And despite the flawed ending, I had no problems with most of the film’s narrative and thought it featured some improvements on both the 2005 film and even the original 1961 comics. Because of this, I have great difficulty in accepting the prevailing view of it being the summer’s worst film. In fact, I do not accept this view at all.

Ranking of Movies Seen During Summer 2015

Usually I would list my ten favorite summer movies of any particular year. However, I only watched ten new releases during the summer of 2015. Due to the limited number, I decided to rank the films that I saw:

 

 

RANKING OF MOVIES SEEN DURING SUMMER 2015

1. “Jurassic World” – In the fourth movie for the JURASSIC PARK franchise, a new dinosaur created for the Jurassic World theme park goes amok and creates havoc. Directed by Colin Trevorrow, the movie starred Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

 

 

2. “Ant-Man” – Convicted thief Scott Lang is recruited to become Ant-Man for a heist in this new entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Directed by Peyton Reed, Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lily and Michael Douglas starred.

 

 

3. “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” – Guy Ritchie directed this adaptation of the 1964-1968 television series about agents for the C.I.A. and KGB working together to fight neo-Nazis in the early 1960s. Armie Hammer, Henry Cavill and Alicia Vikander starred.

 

 

4. “Tomorrowland” – Brad Bird directed this imaginative tale about a a former boy-genius inventor and a scientifically inclined adolescent girl’s search for a special realm where ingenuity is encouraged. George Clooney, Britt Robertson and Hugh Laurie starred.

 

 

5. “The Avengers: Age of Ultron” – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are forced to prevent an artificial intelligence created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner from destroying mankind. Joss Whedon wrote and directed this second AVENGERS film.

 

 

6. “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” – Tom Cruise starred in this fifth entry in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” film franchise about Ethan Hunt’s efforts to find and destroy a rogue intelligence organization engaged in terrorist activities.

 

 

7. “Mr. Holmes” – Ian McKellen starred in this adaptation of Mitch Cullin’s 2005 novel about the aging Sherlock Holmes’ efforts to recall his last case. Directed by Bill Condon, Laura Linney and Milo Parker co-starred.

 

 

8. “Fantastic Four” – Josh Trank directed this reboot of the Marvel comics series about four young people whose physical form is altered after they teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe. Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Bell starred.

 

 

9. “Entourage” – Doug Ellin wrote and directed this fluffy continuation of the 2004-2011 HBO series about a movie star and his group of friends dealing with a new project. Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara and Jeremy Piven starred.

 

 

10. “Terminator: Genisys” – Alan Taylor directed this fifth movie in the TERMINATOR franchise, an unexpected turn of events creates a fractured timeline when Resistance fighter Kyle Reese goes back to 1984 in order to prevent the death of leader John Connor’s mother. Arnold Schwartzenegger, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke starred.

The 18th Century in Television

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Recently, I noticed there were a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 18th century. In fact, I managed to count at least six productions. Astounded by this recent interest in that particular century, I decided to list them below in alphabetical order:

 

THE 18TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

banished

1. “Banished” (BBC TWO) – I do not whether this was a miniseries or regular series, but it was basically about a penal colony in New South Wales, Australia; where British convicts and their Royal Navy marine guards and officers live. Russell Tovey, Julian Rhind-Tutt, and MyAnna Buring star in this recently cancelled series.

black sails

2. “Black Sails” (STARZ) – Toby Stephens stars in this prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”, about the adventures of Captain Flint.

book of negroes

3. “Book of Negroes” (CBC/BET) – This six-part miniseries is an adaptation of Lawrence Hill historical novel about a West African girl who is sold into slavery around the time of the American Revolution and her life experiences in the United States and Canada. Aunjanue Ellis, Lyriq Bent and Cuba Gooding, Jr. star.

outlander

4. “Outlander” (STARZ) – This series is an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” book series about a 1940s woman who ends up traveling back in time to 18th century Scotland. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies star.

poldark

5. “Poldark” (BBC ONE) – Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson star in this new television adaptation of Winston Graham’s book series about a former British Army officer who returns home to Cornwall after three years fighting in the American Revolution.

sons of liberty

6. “Sons of Liberty” (HISTORY Channel) – Ben Barnes, Rafe Spall and Henry Thomas starred in this three-part miniseries about the Sons of Liberty political group and the beginning of the American Revolution.

turn - washington spies

7. “Turn: Washington’s Spies” (AMC) – Jamie Bell stars in this series about a pro-American spy ring operating on behalf of General George Washington during the American Revolution.

 

“JANE EYRE” (2011) Review

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“JANE EYRE” (2011) Review

There seemed to be certain famous British novels that are always adapted for film or television . . . over and over again. One of those novel is Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”. There have been twelve television adaptations and seventeen movie adaptations. That must be a world record for any literary piece. I have seen at least three television adaptations and four movie adaptations. The most recent I have seen is the 2011 motion picture, directed by Cary Fukunaga.

“JANE EYRE” – at least this version – begins with governess Jane Eyre leaving Thornfield Hall in the middle of the night, crying. She finds herself stranded on the Yorkshire moors, until she reaches the home of a clergyman named St. John Rivers and his two sisters. They allow Jane to stay with him. While staying with the Rivers family, Jane flashes back to the events that led to her flight and meeting with her rescuers. Her flashbacks begin with her last days at her childhood home, Gateshead, as a ten year-old girl clashing with her brutish Cousin John Reed and her cold Aunt Reed. The latter sends her to Lowood School for Girls, which is run by a cruel clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst. Jane endures the brutality of Lowood with the help of a friend named Helen Burns. After Helen dies, Jane remains at Lowood for eight years, until she leaves to become a governess for a French orphan girl named Adele Varens at Thornfield. Jane becomes acquainted with the manor’s inhabitants – including Adele, housekeeper Mrs. Alice Fairfax and the manor’s owner, Mr. Edward Rochester. Jane’s relationship with Mr. Rochester develops from an employee/employer relationship to something more complicated and romantic. But their relationship is threatened by a secret that looms over Thornfield.

This adaptation of Brontë’s novel became the second one of my knowledge that was structured differently. In other words, this production began in the middle of Brontë’s tale, instead of the beginning. Fortunately, Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini’s changes to the story’s structure did not harm the story one bit. As far as I am concerned. By allowing the movie to begin with Jane Eyre’s flight from Thornfield Hall, Fukunaga and Buffini set up a second mystery within the story for those moviegoers unfamiliar with the story. The 2011 movie is not completely faithful to Brontë’s novel. And this is not a bad thing. Buffini’s screenplay did not focus very long on Jane’s stay at Lowood – for which I am utterly grateful. It also deleted Mr. Rochester’s prank against his female guests, when he disguised himself as a Gypsy fortune teller. This version also featured a bit of sexual tension between Jane and her benefactor, St. John Rivers. It also eliminated any reference to the latter’s romantic feelings toward a local heiress named Rosamond Oliver. Actually, the changes to Brontë’s novel did not really affect my feelings about the movie. Although it garnered a good deal of praise from many critics, “JANE EYRE” drew mix feelings from many moviegoers – especially those who were fans of the novel. This mixed reaction led me to ignore the movie for nearly two years, until my curiosity finally got the best of me and I watched it.

I was relieved to discover that “JANE EYRE” proved to be better than I had originally assumed. First of all, the movie benefited from a solid pacing, thanks to Fukunaga’s direction. Not only did Fukunaga kept the pacing lively enough to maintain my interest, but did not rush it . . . except in one pivotal scene. Despite re-arranging the story’s structure and deleting some scenes, both Fukunaga and Buffini maintained Brontë’s basic narrative. One aspect of the movie that I really enjoyed proved to be Adriano Goldman’s photography. Although the story is set in Yorkshire, Fukunaga shot most of the film in Derbyshire. It did not matter, for I was dazzled by Goldman’s work, especially in the sequence that featured Jane’s flight from Thornfield Hall. I also have to give kudos to Melanie Oliver’s editing for the smooth transitions between the sequences with the Rivers family and the flashbacks to Gatehead, Lowood and Thornfield Hall. But I am also a costume whore. And if there is one aspect of period dramas that really appeal to me, it is the costumes. And I might as well say it – Michael O’Connor’s costumes for the movie blew my mind. I thought he did a superb job in re-creating the fashions of the 1830s and especially the 1840s. O’Connor earned Academy Award and BAFTA Award nominations for his work. Below are examples of O’Connor’s beautiful costumes:

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However, “JANE EYRE” is not perfect. What movie is? And yet . . . I would never consider this movie as the best adaptation of Brontë’s novel. Since “JANE EYRE” is basically a love story about a demure English governess and her moody employer, one would expect the two leads to crackle with chemistry. Unfortunately, I never detected any real chemistry between Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. Lord knows they tried. They really tried. One of the problems is that Wasikowska had better chemistry with Jamie Bell, who portrayed St. John Rivers. I did not find this surprising, considering that the pair had portrayed young lovers in the 2008 World War II drama, “DEFIANCE”. There were a few scenes from the novel that did not appear in this film . . . and I missed them. I do not recall Rochester’s caustic recollections of his affair with young Adele’s mother. And I felt surprised that Rochester’s attempts to keep Jane at Thornfield seemed to be tinged with self-remorse. I do not recall Rochester expressing any remorse for his attempt to draw Jane into an ill-fated marriage and later, an illicit affair in the novel or other adaptations. I also got the feeling that Fukunaga and Buffini were trying to maintain a positive portrayal of him, following the revelation of his secret. And I must admit that I found Jane’s return to Thornfield and her reconciliation with Rochester rather disappointing. Unlike the rest of the film, I believe this final sequence was rushed. In fact, once Jane agrees to marry him, the movie suddenly ends, denying moviegoers Jane’s revelations about her time with St. John Rivers and his sisters and her marriage to Rochester. In other words, Fukunaga removed the story’s epilogue, causing the movie to end in an abrupt manner.

The performances featured in “JANE EYRE” seemed to range from solid to the superb. Most of the solid performances came from cast members that did not have a particularly large role in the film – for example, Freya Parks (as Helen Burns), Sophie Ward (Lady Ingram), Ewart James Walters (John Reed), Holliday Grainger (Diana Rivers) and Tamzin Merchant (Mary Rivers). Harry Lloyd’s performance as Richard Mason nearly made this list, but there were times I found myself wondering if he had been too young for the role. On the other hand, Romy Settbon Moore made a rather charming Adèle Varens. Simon McBurney gave a spot-on performance as the religious and tyranical Mr. Brocklehurst. But if I must be honest, it is a role he could have done in his sleep. I was surprised to see Sally Hawkins in the role of Jane’s Aunt Reed. This is the second role I have seen her in and it is such a complete difference to the Anne Elliot role from “PERSUASION” that I am still trying to comprehend it.

I really enjoyed Judi Dench’s portrayal of Thornfield Hall’s housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. She did an excellent job in conveying all aspects of the charater’s trait – the positive and occasionally, the not-so-positive. And she managed to utilized a soft Yorkshire accent without trying to hard. Jamie Bell’s portrayal of St. John Rivers really took me by surprise – in a positive way. Mind you, St. John has always struck me as an interesting character, but Bell’s strong screen chemistry with leading lady Mia Wasikowska contributed more nuance into the role. It seemed as if his St. John was a passionate man, who barely hid his feelings with a cool and socially correct persona. Michael Fassbender received a good deal of accolades for his portrayal of Edward Rochester. And there were times I believe he truly earned them by conveying the character’s sardonic and brooding manner. However, there were times when I found his performance a little wooden. And as I had stated earlier, his screen chemistry with Wasikowska was not always that strong. But the star of this movie, in my opinion was Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre. I was not that kind about the actress’ performance in the Disney film, “ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. And I thought she did a solid job in “LAWLESS”. But she ruled supreme in this movie’s title role. She did a superb job in projecting Jane’s emotions and passions with great subtlety and at the same time, conveying her character’s deep sense of morality. I must admit that I found her Yorkshire accent a bit of surprise, considering that Jane Eyre came from Britain’s gentry class. Despite this, I felt that Wasikowska made a superb Jane Eyre. And a part of me cannot help but wonder why Fassbender received more accolades than she.

I would not go out of my way and state that “JANE EYRE” was the best adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. It possesses some flaws that prevent me from considering it among the top adaptations. But I do feel that it turned out to be a lot better than I had imagined it would be. In the end, I cannot join those group of “purists” who have condemned the film for failing to be an exact adaptation of the novel.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1840s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1840s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1840s

1 - The Heiress

1. “The Heiress” (1949) – William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Ruth and Augustus Goetz’s 1947 play, which was an adaptation of Henry James’ 1980 novel, “Washington Square”. The movie starred Oscar winner Olivia De Havilland, Montgomery Clift, Ralph Richardson and Miriam Hopkins.

2 - All This and Heaven Too

2. “All This and Heaven Too” (1940) – Anatole Litvak co-produced and directed this excellent adaptation of Rachel Fields’ 1938 novel. The movie starred Bette Davis and Charles Boyer.

3 - Half-Slave Half-Free Solomon Northup Odyssey

3. “Half-Slave, Half-Free: The Solomon Northup Odyssey” (1984) – Avery Brooks starred in this emotional television adaptation of Solomon Northups’ 1853 memoirs, “12 Years a Slave”. Directed by Gordon Parks, the movie co-starred Rhetta Greene, John Saxon, Lee Bryant, Art Evans and Mason Adams.

5 - The Mark of Zorro

4. “The Mark of Zorro” (1940) – Rouben Mamoulian directed this superb adaptation of Johnston McCulley’s 1919 story called “The Curse of Capistrano”. The movie starred Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell and Basil Rathbone.

4 - The Liberators

5. “The Liberators” (1987) – Robert Carradine and Larry B. Scott starred in this Disney adventure film about Underground Railroad conductor John Fairfield and his fugitive slave friend, Bill; who escort Kentucky slaves north of the Mason-Dixon Line to freedom. Kenneth Johnson starred.

6 - The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin

6. “The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin” (1967) – Roddy McDowall and Suzanne Pleshette starred in this Disney adaptation of Sid Fleischman’s 1963 children’s novel called “By the Great Horn Spoon!”. James Neilson directed.

7 - Camille

7. “Camille” (1936) – George Cukor directed this lavish adaptation of Alexandre Dumas fils’ 1848 novel and 1852 play called “La Dame aux Camélias”. The movie starred Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor.

8 - Cousin Bette

8. “Cousin Bette” (1998) – Jessica Lange starred in this loose adaptation of Honoré de Balzac’s 1846 novel. Although unpopular with critics and moviegoers, it is a favorite of mine. Directed by Des McAnuff, the movie co-starred Hugh Laurie, Elisabeth Shue and Kelly MacDonald.

9 - Jane Eyre

9. “Jane Eyre” (2011) – Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender starred in the 2011 movie adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel. The movie was directed by Cary Fukunaga.

10 - 12 Years a Slave

10. “12 Years a Slave” (2013) – British director Steve McQueen helmed this Oscar winning second adaptation of Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoirs about the latter’s experiences as a slave in the Deep South. The movie starred Chiwetel Ejiofor, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender.

“KING KONG” (2005) Review

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“KING KONG” (2005) Review

Several years ago, producer-director Peter Jackson had stated in an interview that one of movies that had inspired him to become a filmmaker was Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 hit adventure film, “KING KONG”. Sixteen to eighteen years after his first directorial effort, Jackson was finally able to pay tribute to his inspiration with a remake of the 1933 film. 

Anyone familiar with Cooper’s film should know the story of King Kong. Set during the early years of the Great Depression, an overly ambitious movie producer coerces his cast and the crew of a freighter ship to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who becomes immediately smitten with the producer’s financially struggling leading lady. After using his leading lady to lure Kong into a trap, the producer ships Kong back to Manhattan to be displayed to the public as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Unfortunately, Kong escapes and inflicts chaos on the city streets in search for the leading lady.

Jackson and his co-screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens pretty much followed the 1933 movie. However, they made some changes. In the 1933 film, Carl Denham was a respected and successful filmmaker. He was a struggling filmmaker who resorted to stealing footage of his film from his financial backers in Jackson’s version. There is more backstory on the Ann Darrow character in the newer film and she is a vaudeville dancer/comedian, not simply a unemployed and starving woman. Ann remains frightened of Kong throughout the entire 1933 film (an emotion that actress Fay Wray did not share); whereas Naomi Watts’ Ann forms an emotional bond with him. The inhabitants of Skull Island are a lot more hostile in the 2005 film, and less human. Kong is portrayed as simply an animal and less of a monster. Jack Driscoll is a playwright hired as a screenwriter in this film, whereas in the ’33 film, he is the S.S. Venture’s first mate. And in Jackson’s film, the first mate is an African-American. The 2005 Captain Englehorn is at least fifteen to twenty years than his 1933 counterpart. Kong’s rampage across Manhattan was a lot more horrific than his rampage in the 2005 film. The character of actor Bruce Baxter was created as a homage to actor Bruce Cabot, one of the stars of the 1933 film. And it is he, along with Denham and some actress hired to impersonate Ann that ends up on the stage with Kong in Jackson’s film. In Cooper’s film, both Ann and Driscoll end up on stage with Denham and Kong.

So, what did I think of Jackson’s “KING KONG”? Technically and visually, it is a beautiful film. One of the first things that impressed me was Grant Major’s production designs for the movie. His work, along with the art direction team led by Dan Hannah, Hannah and Simon Bright’s set decorations and Andrew Lesnine’s photography did an excellent job in re-creating Manhattan of the early 1930s. And what I found even more amazing about their work is that all of the Manhattan sequences were filmed in New Zealand . . . even the opening montage that introduced the movie’s time period and its leading female character. Terry Ryan’s costume designs for the movie were attractive to look at. But if I must be honest, they did not particularly blow my mind. I really cannot explain why. It seemed as if her costumes – especially for the female characters – failed to achieve that early 1930s look, one hundred percent. I was also impressed by work of both the art department and the visual effects team. Their work on the Skull Island sequences struck me as impressive. But honestly, I was more impressed by their work on the Manhattan scenes . . . especially the sequence featuring King Kong’s confrontation with the U.S. Army planes. And here are two samples of their work:

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My only quibble about the visual work in the Manhattan sequences featured the S.S. Venture’s depature from Manhattan. Frankly, it looked like the work of an amateur, circa 1929. Why on earth did Jackson allowed the ship to leave New York Harbor at double speed? It looked so tacky.

Jackson, Walsh and Boyens did a pretty good job in re-creating Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace’s story. In fact, I believe they had improved on some aspects of the 1933 film. One, the Ann Darrow character was given more of a background and more screen time before the S.S. Venture’s journey to Skull Island. I could say the same for the Carl Denham character, who proved to be a more ambiguous character than his 1933 counterpart. Due to the depth given to both Ann and Denham’s characters, the setup for the S.S. Venture’s departure from Manhattan seemed more detailed and far from rushed. The movie spent a good deal of time aboard the S.S. Venture, building up suspense to the ship’s arrival at Skull Island and allowing relationships and the characters to develop – especially Ann’s romance with playwright/screenwriter Jack Driscoll. I wonder if many moviegoers had complained about the length it took the Venture to reach Skull Island. I certainly did not. The longer the movie focused on the Venture sequences, the longer it took the movie to reach Skull Island.

Because . . . honestly? I disliked the Skull Island sequences. I was able to bear it in the 1933 film. But I cannot say the same for Jackson’s film. There were some scenes in the Skull Island sequence that I liked. I enjoyed the chase sequence featured members of the Venture crew, Denham’s film production and a Venatosaurus saevidicus pack‘s hunt of Brontosaurus baxteri. I even tolerated Kong’s rescue of Ann from three Vastatosaurus rex. And I was impressed by the scene that featured Ann and Kong’s initial bonding. I found it both touching and slightly humorous. And I could see that the screenwriters, along with Naomi Watts and Fay Wray (who portrayed the original Ann) understood Kong’s feelings for the leading lady a lot better than Cooper and Wallace did. But I still disliked the Skull Island sequence – especially the scenes featuring Denham’s film crew’s encounter with the island’s natives and the visitors’ enounter with giant insects inside a large pit. The natives seemed more like Orc rejects from Middlearth with very little humanity. Despite the coconut bras and bone jewelry, the natives featured in the 1933 film struck me as a lot more human and less like savage stereotypes. As for the giant insect pit sequence . . . I usually press the fast-forward button for that scene. I not only dislike it, I find it repulsive.

Fortunately, the movie returned to Manhattan. And I noticed that for the first minutes or so, Jackson re-created Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s introduction of Kong to the people of Manhattan. I was impressed. In fact, I found this second Manhattan sequence very impressive . . . but not as much as I did the earlier one. Granted, Bruce Baxter’s quick departure from the theater following Kong’s escape provided some laughs. And Jackson handled Kong’s rampage of Manhattan rather well. I was a little disappointed that Jackson did not re-create the elevated train sequence from the first film. I was stunned by the sight of Ann searching the streets of Manhattan for Kong wearing nothing but her costume from a stage musical in the middle of winter. Hell, I was amazed that she managed to not to get pnemonia from wandering around the city with no overcoat and no sleeves for her gown. And frankly, I found Ann and Kong’s reunion in Central Park something of a bore. I truly wish that Jackson had cut that scene. As for the Empire State Building sequence, once again, Naomi Watt’s Ann did not seemed to be affected by the cold weather, while wearing nothing but a costume gown. And I noticed that Jackson plagerized Gandalf’s death in “LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING” for Kong’s final death scene. I felt nothing but a little relief because the U.S. Army Air Corp’s attempt to kill Kong seemed to last forever.

The cast of “KING KONG” seemed to fare very well, despite some of the mediocre lines written by Jackson, Walsh and Boyens. Thomas Kretschmann’s portrayal of the pragmatic and cynical Captain Englehorn struck me as very skillful and effective. Both Evan Parke and Jamie Bell provided some well-acted pathos as First Mate Ben Hayes and a young crewman named Jimmy, for whom Hayes seemed to act as mentor. Adrien Brody provided a nice balance of romance, heroics and cynicism in his portrayal of writer Jack Driscoll. Actually, I thought he made a more interesting leading man than Bruce Cabot. And Colin Hanks’ solid portrayal of Preston, Denham’s neurotic but honest personal assistant, proved to be the movie’s emotional backbone. But there were the performances that really stood out for me.

Andy Serkis, who had impressed the world with his portrayal of Gollum in the “LORD OF THE RINGS” movies, proved to be equally impressive in his motion capture performance as Kong. Not only was he solid as the S.S. Venture cook, Lumpy; he did an excellent job in providing Kong with a great deal of emotional nuances. Kyle Chandler nearly stole the film with his hilarious portryal of movie actor Bruce Baxter. Not only was Chandler’s Baxter egotistical and self-involved, he also proved to be a surprisingly pragmatic character with a talent for self-preservation. He also provided, in my opinion, one of the film’s best quotes:

“Hey, pal. Hey, wake up. Heroes don’t look like me – not in the real world. In th real world they got bad teeth, a bald spot, and a beer gut. I’m just an actor with a gun who’s lost his motivation. Be seeing you.”

Jack Black gave a superb job as movie producer Carl Denham. In fact, I believe that Black’s Denham proved to be the film’s most ambiguous character. Even though his Denham seemed manipulative, greedy and exploitive; he also managed to bring out the character’s compassionate side and enthusiam for his profession. It seemed a pity that Black never received any acclaim for his performance. Many moviegoers and critics seemed disappointed that Naomi Watts did not receive a Golden Globes or Academy Awards nomination for her excellent portryal of out-of-luck vaudevillian Ann Darrow. Frankly, I think she deserved such nominations for her work. More than any other member of the cast, she had to develop an emotional bond and work with an animated figure and at the same time, develop her own character. And she did one hell of a job. Think Bob Hoskins in 1988’s “WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?”.

“KING KONG” has become a highly regarded film over the years. It made “Empire” magazine’s 2008 list of the 500 Greatest Movies of All Time. Do I agree with this assessment? Hmmm . . . no. Not really. It is a very entertaining film filled with plenty of action and adventure. It also featured some pretty damn good acting from a cast led by Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Andy Serkis. But the movie also possesses some pretty obvious flaws and I find it difficult to enjoy the Skull Island sequence. Like I said, Jackson created a pretty good movie. But I could never regard it as one of the greatest movies of all time.