Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1870s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1870s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1870s

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1. “The Age of Innocence” (1993) – Martin Scorcese directed this exquisite adaptation of Edith Wharton’s award winning 1920 novel about a love triangle within New York’s high society during the Gilded Age. Daniel Day-Lewis, Michelle Pfieffer and Oscar nominee Winona Ryder starred.

 

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2. “The Big Country” (1958) – William Wyler directed this colorful adaptation of Donald Hamilton’s 1958 novel, “Ambush at Blanco Canyon”. The movie starred Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker and Charlton Heston.

 

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3. “True Grit” (2010) – Ethan and Joel Coen wrote and directed this excellent adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel about a fourteen year-old girl’s desire for retribution against her father’s killer. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hattie Steinfeld starred.

 

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4. “Far From the Madding Crowd” (2015) – Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge and Michael Sheen starred in this well done adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a young Victorian woman who attracts three different suitors. Thomas Vinterberg directed.

 

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5. “Around the World in 80 Days” (1956) – Mike Todd produced this Oscar winning adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1873 novel about a Victorian gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in 80 days. Directed by Michael Anderson and John Farrow, the movie starred David Niven, Cantiflas, Shirley MacLaine and Robert Newton.

 

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6. “Stardust” (2007) – Matthew Vaughn co-wrote and directed this adaptation of Neil Gaman’s 1996 fantasy novel. The movie starred Charlie Cox, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfieffer.

 

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7. “Fort Apache” (1948) – John Ford directed this loose adaptation of James Warner Bellah’s 1947 Western short story called “Massacre”. The movie starred John Wayne, Henry Fonda, John Agar and Shirley Temple.

 

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8. “Zulu Dawn” (1979) – Burt Lancaster, Simon Ward and Peter O’Toole starred in this depiction of the historical Battle of Isandlwana between British and Zulu forces in 1879 South Africa. Douglas Hickox directed.

 

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9. “Young Guns” (1988) – Emilio Estevez, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips starred in this cinematic account of Billy the Kid’s experiences during the Lincoln County War. The movie was directed by Christopher Cain.

 

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10. “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011) – Jon Favreau directed this adaptation of Scott Mitchell Rosenberg’s 2006 graphic novel about an alien invasion in 1870s New Mexico Territory. The movie starred Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.dom

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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.

“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” (2012) Review

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“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” (2012) Review

Two years ago, Warner Brothers made the decision to split the movie adaptation of Stephanie Meyers’ last “Twilight Saga” novel – “Breaking Dawn” – into two films; following its example of the two adaptations for the last “Harry Potter” novel. The first film, “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”, was released a year ago. Instead of waiting six months, the studio decided to wait a year for the second half of the tale, “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”

“BREAKING DAWN, PART II” picked up where the latter film left off – with Bella Swann’s transformation into a vampire, following the difficult birth of her and Edward Cullen’s daughter. The movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes focused on Bella becoming acquainted with her new state and abilities. She eventually learns that her best friend and wolf shapeshifter, Jacob Black has “imprinted” on hers and Edward’s new daughter, Renesmee Carlie Cullen. In other words, Jacob has found his soulmate in Bella’s daughter – whether he proves to be her protector, a lover, or an older sibling. At the moment, Jacob seemed to be serving as Renesmee’s protector and much older friend. Bella first reacted with hostility at the idea of Jacob imprinting on her daughter, but she eventually resolved herself to the situation. But a more important situation has developed with Renesmee. The Cullen/Swan offspring has begun aging rapidly. Even worse, a fellow vampire named Irina Denali spots Renesmee playing in the woods with Bella and Jacob and comes to the conclusion that the young girl might be an immortal – a vampire sired from a child. She reports her assumptions to the Volturi, who become determined to destroy Renesmee. Creating child vampires goes against their law, due to the former’s unpredictable nature. Aro, leader of the Volturi, also longs to destroy the Cullens; due to their large size and the psychic abilities that many of them possess. Bella, Edward and the Cullens are forced to seek allies from other vampire covens around the world to help them protect Renesmee from the Volturi. And Jacob recruits his fellow wolf shapeshifters from the La Push pack to assist in the Cullens’ battle.

A part of me is astounded that the film franchise for the “Twilight” Saga has finally come to an end with this film. Another part of me is relieved. To be honest, I have never been a die hard fan of the series. And of the five movies, I have managed to like at least two of them – “ECLIPSE” and surprisingly, “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. You heard it first. I actually liked “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. I did not love it. And I was not initially thrilled by Bella’s initial transformation into a vampire. But for some reason, her transformation and the birth of her daughter attained a few achievements in the franchise. One, Bella’s character transformed from a passive and love-obsessed teenager to a self-assured and mature young woman (or vampire), who proved she could ruthless when protecting her daughter. For the first time in the series, the Bella/Edward romance actually became bearable. I believe this was due to the change in Edward’s nature, as well. He stopped being a brooding and controlling boyfriend and began treating Bella as an equal partner in their relationship. And the tiresome love triangle between Bella, Edward and Jacob finally came to an end, due to Renesmee’s birth. Jacob came to accept Bella and Edward’s romance and began focusing his attention upon their daughter. Thankfully, Jacob’s feelings for Renesmee did not produce any “ick factor” within me. I believe this is due to Jacob’s attitude toward her as some kind of goddaughter or younger sister. Renesmee seemed to regard him as some kind of loving big brother. And even more ironically, both Taylor Lautner and child actress Mackenzie Foy managed to click on-screen.

Before one accuses me of loving this film, I assure you that I do not. Yes, I liked it. But it had problems that prevented it from becoming a favorite of mine. Being part of the “Twilight” Saga did not help. I found the scene featuring Bella arm wrestling with Emmett Cullen rather childish and a waste of time. In Stephanie Meyers’ novel, Charlie Swan learned about Jacob’s status as a wolf shape shifter and suspected that Bella and the Cullens are not quite human, but he was never informed that she had transformed into a vampire. However, screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg made matters slightly worse by not even conveying Charlie’s suspicions of the recent inhuman nature of his daughter. I found that rather sloppy. Also, there were moments when I found the Cullens and Jacob’s interactions with their vampire allies resembling a “happening” from the Age of Aquarius. I had this fear that sooner or later, they would form a circle by holding hands and sing “Kumbaya”. Those moments were most nauseating. Hell, I enjoyed the Bella/Edward sex scene more than those moments.

But despite these unpleasant moments in the film, I still enjoyed “BREAKING DAWN, PART II”. Dear God, I cannot believe I said that. But I liked it. Aside from the more positive portrayals of Bella and Edward’s characters and Jacob’s relationship with Renesmee, there were other aspects of the movie I liked. Michael Sheen was deliciously over-the-top as the Voltari’s leader, Aro. Billy Burke’s portrayal of Charlie Swan was entertaining as ever. Due to the improvement over Bella and Edward’s personalities, I was able to enjoy Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s performances a lot more than I did in the previous movies. Taylor Lautner was great, as always. Maggie Grace was very effective as Irina Denali, the embittered vampire who erroneously assumed that Renesmee was an under aged vampire. Both Lee Pace and Rami Malek provided a great deal of the movie’s humor as two of the vampires who become among the Cullens’ vampiric allies.

The movie’s pièce de résistance proved to be the final battle between the Cullens’ army of vampires and wolf shapeshifters and the Voltari’s army. I have to hand it to director Bill Condon. He really outdid himself in this sequence. I found it even more impressive than director David Slade’s handling of the protagonists’ battle with Victoria’s army of newborn vampires in 2010’s“ECLIPSE”. This sequence was enhanced by the plot twist that marked the end of the battle. It was a twist that struck me as well handled by both Condon and Rosenberg. In fact, I believe they did a better job of this sequence than Stephanie Meyer did in her novel.

Like I said . . . a part of me is happy that the “Twilight” film franchise has finally come to an end. I no longer have to face being coerced by my relatives in viewing any of these movies at the theater. However, another part of me is also relieved that franchise ended on a positive note. To my utter surprise, I found “BREAKING DAWN, PART II” to be rather entertaining, despite its flaws. More importantly, the movie featured an improvement on the characterizations of the two leading characters – Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. And the movie ended with a well written and well shot action sequence that provided a surprisingly effective plot twist. All I can say is . . . good job.

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.

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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.

“BREAKING DAWN, PART I” (2011) Review

“BREAKING DAWN, PART I” (2011) Review

Recently, Warner Brothers Studios decided to split its adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s last HARRY POTTER novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” into two movie adaptations. The first was released in the fall of 2010 and the second half, last July. Apparently, they decided to do the same with Stephanie Meyer’s last TWILIGHT novel, “Breaking Dawn”

I discovered that Meyer wrote the novel in three sections. The first section dealt with Bella Swan’s marriage to vampire Edward Cullen and their honeymoon in Brazil. There, she discovers that she is pregnant and that her unborn child’s growth is accelerating at a rapid pace. The second section dealt with shape-shifter Jacob Black’s efforts to save Bella and her unborn child from the Quileute wolf pack, who believe that the child is a monster and poses a threat to the community. The child’s birth nearly kills Bella and leads Jacob to “imprint” (or sense his “soul mate”) upon her. And Edward saves Bella by turning her into a vampire. The final section deals with Bella’s transformation into a vampire, and the Cullens and Jacob’s efforts to save the new baby named Renesmee from the Volturi, who sees her as a threat. Melissa Rosenberg based the screenplay for “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” on the novel’s first two sections.

How did I feel about “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”? I might as well be frank. It sucked. There. I said it. All right. There were a few aspects of the movie that I found entertaining. Billy Burke was funny as ever as Bella’s sardonic father, Charlie Swan. However, not all of the humor came from him. I have to admit that the entire sequence featuring Bella and Edward’s wedding struck me as rather funny. Taylor Lautner, as usual, made some sequences of the movie rather bearable. I realize that I am going to be slapped down for this, but his screen presence has grown rather considerably since he first appeared in 2008’s “TWILIGHT”. Both Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattison gave decent performances. But I was really impressed by Lautner. The final action sequence in which the Cullens, Jacob, Leah Clearwater and Seth Clearwater fought to protect Bella and her child from the Quileute wolf pack struck me as pretty exciting. However, the birth of Bella and Edward’s child turned out to be one of the most tense and excruciating birth scenes I have ever seen on film. I never want to experience such a thing again. The only reason I had listed it as a virtue was that I thought it was well shot by director Bill Condon.

Despite the virtues I had listed in the previous paragraph, I still believe that “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” sucked. And I cannot decide whether it was the worst or second worst movie in the franchise. The movie had its share of overwrought dialogue and one-dimensional characterization that has marred the franchise since the beginning. Melissa Rosenberg has a lot to answer for. Since the adaptation of this last novel was divided into two films, moviegoers (who were not squeeing fangirls of the franchise) were forced to endure Edward and Bella’s excruciating honeymoon in Brazil. God, what a torment that turned out to be! I realize that the honeymoon sequence was important to the story, considering that it featured Renesmee’s conception and Bella’s discovery of her unusual pregnancy. But was it really necessary to inflict scene after scene of the newly married couple cavorting on a private Brazilian island?

There is another aspect of “BREAKING DAWN, PART I” that really disturbs me. Why on earth did Charlie Swan’s closest friend and Jacob’s father, Billy Black, never warned Charlie about Edward’s true identity? Now, I realize that such a revelation would have forced him to tell Charlie the truth about his family and tribe. But one would think that Bella’s safety was more important. He kept his mouth shut when Edward and Bella first dated. And continued to remain mum when the young couple finally married. I hate to say this, but Billy Black’s silence on the identity of the Cullen family continues to astound me to this day. One can only wonder how Charlie will react to Bella’s transformation into a vampire.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed “BREAKING DAWN, PART I”, but . . . who am I fooling? I could not care less. I disliked the film. Hell, I dislike the franchise. And no action sequence or tortuous childbirth scene could save this movie for me. But since other members of my family are fans of the franchise, I have one last TWILIGHT movie to endure, later this year. And then it will be all over. Thank God!

“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.

“FROST/NIXON” (2008) Review

”FROST/NIXON” (2008) Review

Beginning on March 23, 1977, British journalist David Frost conducted a series of twelve (12) interviews with former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, in which the former commander-in-chief gave his only public apology for the scandals of his administration. Some 29 years later, Peter Morgan’s play – based upon the interviews – reached the London stage and later, Broadway, with rave reviews. Recently, Ron Howard directed the film adaptation of the play, starring Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. 

I first became interested in Nixon and the Watergate scandals in my mid-teens, when I came across a series of books that featured columnist Art Buchwald’s humorous articles on the famous political scandal. As I grew older, I became acquainted with other scandals that had plagued the American scandal. But it was Watergate that managed to maintain my interest for so long. Ironically, I have never seen the famous Frost/Nixon interviews that aired in August 1977 – not even on video or DVD. But when I saw the trailer for ”FROST/NIXON”, I knew I had to see this movie. There was one aspect of the trailer that put me off – namely the sight of Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. For some reason, the performance – of which I only saw a minor example – seemed rather off to me. However, my family went ahead and saw the film. And I must admit that I am glad that we did. Not only did ”FROST/NIXON” seemed only better than I had expected. I ended up being very impressed by Langella’s performance. And Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Frost merely increased my positive view of the film.

Speaking of the cast, ”FROST/NIXON” had the good luck to be blessed with a cast that featured first rate actors. Matthew MacFadyen gave solid support as John Birt, David Frost’s friend and producer for the London Weekend Television. I felt the same about Oliver Platt’s slightly humorous portrayal of one of Frost’s researchers, Bob Zelnick. Rebecca Hall gave a charming, yet not exactly an exciting performance as Frost’s girlfriend, Caroline Cushing. One of the two supporting performances that really impressed me was Kevin Bacon, who portrayed former Marine officer-turned Nixon aide, Jack Brennan. Bacon managed to convey Brennan’s conservatism and intense loyalty toward the former president without going over-the-top. Another intense performance came from Sam Rockwell, who portrayed another of Frost’s researcher, author James Reston Jr. Rockwell’s performance came as a surprise to me, considering I am more used to seeing him in comedic roles. And I must say that I was very impressed.

But the two characters that drove the movie were Richard M. Nixon and David Frost. Both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen first portrayed these roles in the Broadway version of Peter Morgan’s play. If their stage performances were anything like their work on the silver screen, the theatergoers who had first-hand experience of their stage performances must have enjoyed quite a treat. As I had earlier stated, I originally harbored qualms about Frank Langella portraying Richard Nixon. What I did not know was that the man had already won a Tony award for his stage performance of the role. After watching ”FROST/NIXON”, I could see why. Richard Nixon had possessed a personality and set of mannerisms that were easily caricatured. I have never come across an actor who has captured Nixon’s true self with any real accuracy. But I can think of at least three actors who have left their own memorable stamps in their interpretations of the former president – the late Lane Smith, Sir Anthony Hopkins and now, Frank Langella. One of Langella’s most memorable moments featured a telephone call from Nixon to Frost, in which the former attempts to further psyche the journalist and ends up delivering an angry tirade against the wealthy establishment that he had resented, yet kowtowed toward most of his political career. Michael Sheen had the difficult task of portraying a more complicated character in David Frost and delivered in spades. Sheen’s Frost is an ambitious television personality who wants to be known for more than just frothy talk show host. This reputation makes it impossible for Frost to be taken seriously by Nixon, Zelnick and especially the judgmental Reston.

I also have to compliment Peter Morgan for what struck me as a first-rate adaptation of his stage play. Morgan managed to expand or open up a story that depended heavily upon dialogue. The movie could have easily turned into a filmed play. Thankfully, Morgan’s script managed to avoid this pitfall. And so did Ron Howard’s direction. I must admit that Howard did a great job in ensuring that what could have simply been a well-acted, would turn out to be a tightly paced psychological drama. Hell, the interactions between Frost and Nixon seemed more like a game of psychological warfare between two antagonists, instead of a series of interviews of historical value.

I am trying to think of what I did not like about ”FROST/NIXON”. So far, I am hard pressed to think of a flaw. Actually, I have thought of a flaw – namely the usually competent Toby Jones. Considering how impressed I had been of his performances in ”INFAMOUS” and ”THE PAINTED VEIL”, it seemed a shame that his Swifty Lazar seemed more like a caricature than a flesh-and-blood individual. Perhaps it was a good thing that his appearance in the film had been short. Also, knowing that Frost had questioned Nixon in a series of twelve interviews, it seemed a shame that the movie only focused upon three of those interviews. Naturally, Howard and Morgan could not have included all twelve interviews for fear of dragging the movie’s running time. However, I still could not help but feel that three interviews were not enough and that the film could have benefited from at least one more interview – one that could have effectively bridged the gap between Frost’s second disastrous interview, until the third that led to his own triumph and Nixon’s rare admission.

”FROST/NIXON” could have easily become dialogue-laden film with no action and a slow pace. But thanks to Ron Howard’s direction, Peter Morgan’s adaptation of his play and the superb performances of the two leads – Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, the movie struck me as a fascinating character piece about two very different men who had met during the spring of 1977 for a historical series of interviews that seemed to resemble more of a game of psychological warfare.