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.

 

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“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

 

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” (2014) Review

Following the success of the 2012 movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”, Marvel and Sony Pictures continued the SPIDER-MANsaga with the second chapter. Unlike the first movie, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” proved to be quite controversial.

“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” begins in the past, when Richard and Mary Parker left their son Peter behind with the former’s brother Ben and sister-in-law May. The couple leave New York City on a private jet, but the latter gets hijacked by an assassin. Unfortunately, a deadly fight ensues between the Parkers and the assassin, the pilot is killed and the plane crashes, killing everyone else on board. The story then jumps to the present, which finds Peter as Spider-Man pursuing a criminal named Aleksei Sytsevich on the day he graduates from high school. During the chase, Spider-Man saves OsCorp Industries engineer and ardent fan Max Dillon. Following Peter and girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s graduation, Peter has a vision of her father, NYPD Captain George Stacy, reminding him of a promise he had made to keep Gwen out of his life as Spider-Man. When Peter reminds her, they break up. The young couple eventually reconcile, but Peter also learns that Gwen plans to attend Oxford University on a scholarship.

Peter eventually discovers that he has more to worry about than Gwen’s departure for Europe. While attending to maintenance in an OsCorp laboratory, Max Dillon falls into a tank of genetically modified electric eels and transforms into a being known as Electro. When he wanders into Times Square and causes a blackout, Spider-Man tries to calm him down. But the police attack, causing Max to lose his temper at them and the web-slinger, who eventually captures him. Meanwhile, Peter’s old childhood friend, Harry Osborn returns to New York to see his dying father, OsCorp Industries CEO Norman Osborn. Harry eventually learns that he has inherited a disease that is killing his father. Upon Norman’s death, Harry feverishly searches for a cure to his disease and discovers that Spider-Man’s blood might be able to save him. At the same time, Harry is forced to deal with the corporation’s Board of Directors, who wants to oust him out as CEO. Peter’s personal life and his dealings with both Electro and Harry eventually clash when the two form an alliance on a fatal night.

Before I saw “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”, I had stumbled across criticisms of the movie that was not so kind. Usually, I try to ignore criticism of any kind, but for once I found it difficult to do so. I did not exactly approach the movie with any high expectations. But to my surprise, I actually found myself enjoying it . . . well, most of it, with the exception of the last 10 to 15 minutes. Mind you,“THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” does not exactly reek with any real originality, despite not being based upon any particular past comic book story arc. But Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner and James Vanderbilt created a solid story. This movie featured the origin of at least three Spider-Man villains – the Rhino, Electro and especially the Green Goblin. I thought I would be upset when the story line regarding the disappearance of Peter’s parents would eventually form a connection to the creation of the Green Goblin. But no . . . I did not mind at all. The screenplay accomplished a good deal for me. It continued Peter and Gwen’s romance in a believable way, allowing it to be threatened by Peter’s promise to Captain Stacy and Gwen’s ambitions to study at Oxford. Not many people were fond of the Electro character in this movie, but I was impressed not only by Jamie Foxx’s performance, but also by how the screenwriters handled the character’s story arc from worshipping geek to enraged super villain. I was very impressed by the movie’s opening scene that revealed the details of Richard and Mary Parker’s death. It reeked with good performances, along with plenty of action and suspense. I thought Webb’s direction in this particular scene was first-rate. The scene also benefitted greatly from Pietro Scalia and Elliot Graham.

Harry Osborn’s story arc proved to a bit more problematic for me. Mind you, I had no problem with him becoming the Green Goblin, instead of his father Norman. And I was impressed by Harry’s problems with the OsCorp board members. But the friendship between Peter and Harry was not as firmly established as it was in the three Sam Rami films. I also thought the screenwriters had stretched it a bit by allowing Dr. Parker’s formula to be responsible for the emergence of the Goblin. The idea of a a genetic spider formula being responsible for someone transforming into some kind of malignant green elf does seem somewhat ludicrous. And I wish that the Green Goblin had made his appearance a little earlier in the film, instead of in the last half hour. Of course, this probably means an appearance of the Green Goblin in a future “Amazing Spider-Man” film. Probably. I am not really sure.

But if there is one thing I had no problem with in regard to the Goblin’s appearance in the movie was how it led to Gwen Stacy’s death. Many are in an uproar over the character’s death, due to their fondness of actress Emma Stone’s interpretation of the character and her screen chemistry with lead actor Andrew Garfield. Personally, I saw it coming a mile away. When the Captain Stacy character promised Peter to keep Gwen out of his life before dying in the 2012 film, I knew that sooner or later, Gwen was a goner. The fact that director Marc Webb and the producers have plans to include the Mary Jane Watson character into this particular series of Spider-Man films only confirmed my suspicions. I really enjoyed Stone’s portrayal of Gwen and I found the character’s death rather heartbreaking, but I had no problems with Webb and the screenwriters including her death into the plot. Especially since I thought it was well handled by them.

I had other problems with “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2”. One of the biggest problems I had was the character of Aleksei Sytsevich. It is a good thing that the character had a small appearance in this film, because I really disliked him. One of the problems I had was Paul Giamatti’s performance. I am a big fan of the actor, but his portrayal of the comic book villain has to be one of the worst in his career . . . possibly his worst. I have never encountered such hammy acting in quite a while. And I certainly did not welcome his reappearance in the movie’s finale as the Rhino. One, I had to endure the hammy acting again. And two, his reappearance reminded me of the ending of the 2004 Disney/Pixar animated film, “THE INCREDIBLES”. And the latter handled this same scenario a lot better. In fact, I really do not like the ending. I wish Webb and the screenwriters had simply ended the movie with Sytsevich’s sudden reappearance. But no, they had to subject the movie audiences with this ludicrous scene that featured Spider-Man, the Rhino and some mentally disturbed kid who thought he could serve as Spidey’s replacement. Even worse was the movie’s mid-credit scene that was basically a trailer for the upcoming movie, “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. Really? They could have used the hint of OsCorp’s involvement with the creation of the Secret Six for the mid-credit scene, but . . . no. Webb and the screenwriters thought otherwise. Pity. It is a good thing that I enjoyed most of this film.

But I cannot say the same about two other performances. Felicity Jones was wasted as Harry Osborn’s new assistant, Felicia Hardy. Comic book lovers remember the character as Spider-Man’s most ambiguous lover, the Black Cat. Instead of giving audiences glimpses of the extroverted character, Webb and the screenwriters forced Jones to portray a not-so interesting character with little screen time. But she was not alone. Also wasted in this film was B.J. Novak, who was given one (or possibly two) two scenes as Max Dillon’s supervisor at OsCorp. All he did was sneer at Fox’s Dillon and disappeared from the movie. What a waste! Marton Csokas portrayed Dr. Ashley Kafka, the head of Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane, where the captured Electro . And he did it with a hamminess that almost . . . almost rivaled Giamatti’s performance.

Thankfully, most of the performances were excellent. Aside from his occasional penchant for early Brando-like behavior, Andrew Garfield gave an excellent performance as Peter Parker aka Spider-Man. I was especially impressed by his scenes with Sally Field and Emma Stone. Sally Field gave a wonderfully emotional performance as Peter’s Aunt May, especially in one scene in which she admitted to her nephew the difficulties in dealing with life as a widow. Dane DeHaan gave a very interesting and complex performance as the young Harry Osborn. He did a great job in taking Harry’s character from the young man wary over a reunion with his cold, dying father to the inexperienced CEO dealing with backstabbing corporate executives to the super villain with blood on his hands and vengeance in his heart.

Colm Feore appeared in his second Marvel film as OsCorp’s back-stabbing Vice-President Donald Menken and gave a subtle, yet scary performance. Chris Cooper’s portrayal of OsCorp’s CEO Norman Osborn was equally subtle and scary . . . and he was portraying a dying man. As I had earlier stated, I was very impressed by Webb’s direction and the editing featured in the movie’s opening sequence regarding Richard and Mary Parker’s fate. But that scene would have never worked without the skillful performances of Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz as Peter’s parents.

The two performances that really impressed me came from Jamie Foxx, who gave a surprisingly effective performance as Max Dillon aka Electro and Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy. There had been some negative criticism regarding Foxx’s performance. But honestly, I was impressed. He did an excellent job in developing the Max Dillon character from an insecure geek with a pathetic crush on Spider-Man, to a very angry super villain with an enormous chip on his shoulder. And I could see why so many were upset over Gwen Stacy’s death in this movie. One has to thank Stone for giving an exceptional performance as the strong-willed, intelligent young woman whom Peter fell in love with. Her performance also struck me as very charismatic.

Yes, “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2” is not perfect. It featured at least two characters that were criminally underused, two characters that struck me as unbearably hammy, some lack of originality in its plot and a godawful ending that featured a confrontation between Spider-Man and the Rhino. But despite these flaws, I still believe it was a first-class movie thanks to a decent, yet flawed screenplay, excellent direction from Marc Webb and first-class performances from a cast led by Andrew Garfield as the web slinger. I think it is a lot better than many give it credit for.

“THE DEBT” (2011) Review

“THE DEBT” (2011) Review

Five years ago, Assaf Bernstein directed a movie about three retired Mossad agents confronted by a challenge from their past in a movie called “THE DEBT”. Just recently, John Madden directed a remake of this movie with the same title. Although originally intended for a December 2010 release date, the movie was finally released at the end of August. 

This new version of “THE DEBT” The espionage thriller began in 1997, when two retired Mossad agents, Rachel as shocking news reaches retired Mossad secret agents Rachel Singer and Stefan Gold have received shocking news about their former colleague David Peretz. All three have been celebrated by Israel for thirty-one years for successfully tracking down a Nazi war criminal named Dieter Vogel back in 1965-55 in East Berlin. However, the reactions of both Rachel and Stefan and several flashbacks questioned whether or not if the team’s mission was accomplished.

I have never seen the 2007 version. Which means there is no way I could compare this new version to the older one. But I could say this about “THE DEBT” . . . I thought it was one of the best movies I had seen this past summer. In fact, I thought it was one of the best movies I have seen this year. “THE DEBT” is a superb thriller about a dangerous mission to capture a Nazi war criminal – a mission that led to a labyrinth of lies, guilt, regrets and a desire to correct a mistake. The sequences set in Israel and Russia of the late 1990s and in flashback sequences, 1965-66 East Berlin. The three protagonists in the film proved to be a complicated trio, haunted by not only the Holocaust, but also their personal demons and desires.

The central figure in the story is Rachel Singer, a former Mossad agent who gave up her career when she became pregnant with her only child. Rachel spends the years 1965 to 1997 being caught between two men – the team’s charismatic and womanizing leader, Stefan Gold; and the quiet and intense David Peretz. Both of them became attracted to her. But whereas Stefan viewed Rachel as a brief romance, David began falling in love with her. Rachel felt the same, but turned to Stefan for a one night stand – an act that ended up having major consequences in the relationship between the trio. In a very intense and well directed sequence, the agents finally managed to capture Vogel. But a bad encounter with East German guards at the Wollankstraße Station forced them to take Vogel back to their safe house and guard him, until they can find another way to get him to Israel. What followed was a deliciously acted cat-and-mouse game between manipulative Vogel and his three captors. The shocks and tensions continued, once the story shifted permanently to 1997. In that time frame, Rachel was forced to travel to Russia and clean up a mess caused by the major secret created by the three colleagues back in 1966. I wish I could give away the story, but to do so would give away the plot twists. All I can say is that one of the best aspects of this movie are the plot twists.

The acting was superb. Jesper Christensen, who had impressed me in the last two James Bond movies, was even more fascinating in his subtle performance as the ruthless, yet manipulative Dieter Vogel. Both Tom Wilkinson and Ciarán Hinds gave solid performances as the older Stefan and David. But the real star of the 1997 sequences was Helen Mirren, who was wonderful as an older Rachel, who believed that she had finally put the past behind her. She also proved that one could still be a first-rate female action star at the age of 65/66. If Helen Mirren was the star of the 1997 sequences, the real stars of the entire movie were Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas. In my review of 2010’s “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS”, I had not been kind to Chastain’s performance in that movie. A lot of my criticism had to do with how her character was written. But I must admit that she was superb as the younger Rachel, who found herself caught up not only in a deadly mission with a dangerous adversary; but also in an emotionally confusing situation between two men. Cskokas gave an enlightening performance as the colorful and commanding Stefan, whose extroverted facade hid an ambitious drive that made him willing to do anything to maintain his career. It was good to see Sam Worthington in a first-rate role after nearly two years. His portrayal of David Peretz was probably the most intense in the entire episode. Worthington did a superb job of conveying not only David’s quietly expressed desire for Rachel, but also his reluctance to get emotionally involved with others following the loss of his entire family during the Holocaust.

If “THE DEBT” had one flaw – at least for me, it was the ending. I have to be honest. I usually do not mind if a movie ends on an ambiguous or vague note . . . as long as it works. For me, such an ending worked for the 2010 movie, “INCEPTION”. The vague note on which “THE DEBT” ended, failed to work for me. It simply did not feel right and I had the suspicion that either Madden or screenwriters Matthew Vaughn, Kris Thykier, Eduardo Rossoff were trying to be just a little too artistic. And “THE DEBT” struck me as the type of story that did not need an ambiguous ending of that kind.

Despite the movie’s unnecessarily vague ending, I must admit that I truly enjoyed “THE DEBT”. It had an exciting and fascinating story that was served well by the screenwriters, director John Madden and a superb cast led by Helen Mirren and Sam Worthington. As I had stated earlier, it became one of my favorite movies of both the summer and of 2011 in general.

Top Ten Favorite ROAD TRIP Movies

Below is a list of my ten favorite ROAD TRIP movies: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE ROAD TRIP MOVIES

1. “Midnight Run” (1988) – Robert DeNiro and Charles Grodin starred in this hilarious movie about a bounty hunter who escorts his prisoner from New York City to Los Angeles. Martin Brest directed.

2. “Smokey and the Bandit” (1977) – Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed and Jackie Gleason starred in this fun and witty tale about two Georgia truckers hired to illegally transport beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 28 hours. Hal Needham directed.

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – This Oscar nominated film was the second adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about an expedition into uncharted African territory to locate a missing explorer looking for the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred.

4. “LORD OF THE RINGS: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – This first of three installments from Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy saga about an epic quest to destroy an ancient and powerful ring is my favorite.Elijah Wood, Viggo Mortensen and Ian McKellan starred.

5. “It Happened One Night” (1934) – Frank Capra directed Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in this Oscar winning classic comedy about a runaway heiress and a roguish reporter on a cross country trip.

6. “Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad” – A small group of North Carolina slaves risk their lives for a cross country bid for freedom in Canada. Produced by actor Tim Reid, this excellent television movie starred Courtney B. Vance, Janet Bailey and Glynn Thurman.

7. HARRY POTTER and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” – David Yates directed the first half of the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s 2007 novel about Harry Potter’s attempts to find the means to destroy Lord Voldemort, while evading the evil wizard throughout Britain. Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson starred.

8. “Cold Mountain” (2003) – Anthony Minghella directed this emotional and satisfying adaptation of Charles Frazer’s novel about a Confederate Army deserter’s journey back to his North Carolina home during the Civil War. Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Oscar winner Rene Zellweger starred.

9. “The Motorcycle Diaries” (2004) – Walter Salles directed this excellent adaptation of Che Guevara’s memoirs about his 1952 motocycle journey across South America. Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo de la Serna starred.

10. “Little Miss Sunshine” (2006) – Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris directed this entertaining comedy-drama about a family’s cross country trip from Albuquerque, New Mexico to a children’s beauty pageant in Redondo Beach, California. Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette, Steve Carrell, Paul Dano, Abigail Breslin and Oscar winner Alan Arkin starred.