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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“THE FAMILY” (2013) Review

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“THE FAMILY” (2013) Review

Has Luc Besson ever directed a comedy before? The reason I raised this question is that I have always associated him with action drama and was surprised to learn that he had recently directed one. Mind you, I am not a major fan of Besson’s work. But I have enjoyed a few of his movies and decided to see what this latest one was about. 

Based upon Tonino Benacquista’s novel, “Malavita”“THE FAMILY” told the story of a Mafia underboss and his family living in France under the Witness Protection Program. Six years earlier, Giovanni Maznoni had displeased his boss, Mafia kingpin Don Luchese, in Brooklyn. After a failed attempt on his life at a family barbecue, Giovanni snitched on his boss, which led to him and his family entering a witness protection program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Stansfield. The Maznoni family lived in the South of France for a while, until Giovanni’s disgruntled action against a local tradesman attracted the attention of Don Luchese to their location. The movie began with the family forced to move to a small town near Normandy.

“THE FAMILY” follows the Maznonis’ activities as they attempt to adjust to French small town life. Giovanni informs neighbors that he is a historian, writing a book about the Normandy invasion during World War II. Actually, he is writing his personal memoirs against Special Agent Stansfield’s advice. He also becomes obsessed with the local authorities’ lack of concern over the brown water coming from the plumbing. Wife Maggie’s unpleasant encounter with an anti-American grocer leads to the destruction of his store. Guilt leads her to the local church for confession and friendship with the priest. His daughter Belle falls in love with a substitute Math teacher, who also happens to be a college student. And his son Warren organizes his own intelligence clique at school, after being beaten up by a group of bullies. The Maznonis family’s storylines conclude when Don Luchese finally stumbles across their whereabouts and send a team of hit men to kill them.

And how did Luc Besson fare with comedy? Honestly, his handling of the story and the cast struck me as pretty effective. His direction of the cast and his handling of the screenplay he wrote with Michael Caleo certainly did not strike me as awkward or unfunny. Since the story began with Maznonis being veterans of the Witness Protection Program, I was relieved that Besson and Caleo’s screenplay allowed for a flashback to explain how they ended in that situation in the first place. I found the separate story lines regarding the Maznonis family’s experiences in Normandy rather amusing. I did not exactly find myself on the floor, rolling with laughter . . . well, except for one scene. But I cannot deny that I found the movie somewhat funny. My favorite moments included Maggie’s destruction of the bigoted grocer’s store, the Maznonis family’s barbecue for their French neighbors, Belle’s brutal handling of three fellow schoolmates who tried to seduce her into a ride into the countryside and a sex-filled picnic, Warren’s revenge against some school thugs and especially Giovanni’s violent handling of the brown water problem. As for that one scene that actually had me rolling in the aisle with laughter? Giovanni’s lies about being a historian led the head of a local film festival to invite him to comment on a historical film being shown. When the film turned out to be Scorsese’s 1991 film, “GOODFELLAS” . . . well, you can imagine my reaction.

As much as I enjoyed the film, I cannot honestly say that it was one of the best comedies I had ever seen. I found it more amusing than funny. I was also a little disappointed at how Don Luchese finally stumbled across the Maznonis’ location. I found it . . . well, irrelevant. This little plot point had nothing to do with the main story lines featuring the Maznonis family. It seemed to come out of no where. Despite the flashback featuring Don Luchese’s first attempt to kill Giovanni, Besson and Caleo’s screenplay never revealed the reason behind the Don’s first attempt. The screenplay never revealed what Giovanni had done to originally earn the Don’s ire.

“THE FAMILY” featured some first-rate performances from the cast. Robert De Niro gave a very funny performance as the stir-crazy former gangster who seemed to have difficulty adjusting to a less violent life after six years away from the Mob. Michelle Pfieffer was equally hilarious as his sardonic wife, who seemed to be exasperated by her husband’s antics. Besson made some excellent casting choices for the roles of Belle and Warren Maznonis. Not only do Dianna Agron (from FOX’s “GLEE”) and John D’Leo look as if they could be the children of De Niro and Pfieffer, the pair did a great job in holding their own with the two veterans. Tommy Lee Jones gave a nice, subtle performance as the family’s contact man – FBI Special Agent Stansfield. But aside from one major scene – the film festival – I did not find him particularly funny.

As much as I enjoyed “THE FAMILY”, I could honestly say that I would highly recommend anyone to see it at the theaters as soon as possible. Yes, it was funny. And yes, it featured some first-rate performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfieffer. I found Luc Besson’s direction solid and well-paced. Also, the script he wrote with Michael Caleo struck me diverting. But as I had hinted earlier, “THE FAMILY” never struck me as a comedic classic.

“DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review

“DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review

I have never been a diehard fan of director Tim Burton. Honestly. In fact, I can only think of one or two of his movies that really impressed me. Okay, I can think of two . . . before I saw his latest opus, “DARK SHADOWS”

The last Burton film that really impressed me was his 2007 Oscar-nominated film, “SWEENEY TODD”. I did not love it. And I have no desire to see it again. But it did impress me. So, when I discovered that he did a big screen adaptation of the 1966-71 ABC television series, I reacted with mild interest. I have never seen the old television series. And to be honest, I have no real desire to watch it. It was the humor featured in the trailer for Burton’s new film that led me to see it.

“DARK SHADOWS” told the story of Barnabas Collins, the 18th century scion of a wealthy Colonial family, who is transformed into a vampire by a scorned lover named Angelique Bouchard, who also happened to be a Collins family servant and a witch. After transforming him into a vampire, Angelique led a lynch mob that captures Barnabas and buries him alive in a chained coffin in the woods. Two hundred years later in 1972, a group of construction workers accidentally free Barnabas, before he feeds on them. He later makes his way back to the Collins manor and finds it inhabited by his mid 20th century descendants; family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, her 15 year-old daughter Carolyn Stoddard, Elizabeth’s brother Roger Collins, his 10 year-old son David; and their servants who are caretaker Willie Loomis and David’s governess, Victoria Winters, who is a reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love, Josette du Pres. One last occupant is David’s live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman.

Barnabas convinces Elizabeth of his identity when he reveals a secret room behind the fireplace. The room contains a vast treasure that can help the Collins family restore the family business. However, Elizabeth makes him promise to never reveal his identity as a vampire to the rest of the family. All seemed to be well for the Collins family, until Angelique, who has used magic to extend her life, discovers that Barnabas has been released from his coffin. Angelique has also used her own fishery business to bankrupt the family. Upset that Barnabas has returned, Angelique tries to win back his affections through sex. However, Barnabas makes it clear that he does not love her. And Angelique goes out of her way to ensure the destruction of Barnabas and his immediate family.

“DARK SHADOWS” is not perfect. I am quite aware that it is not ensemble piece, despite the likes of Michelle Pfieffer and Helena Bonham-Carter in the cast. I also realize that is basically about Barnabas Collins. But I do believe that two or three supporting characters were barely used in the story. And those characters proved to be young David Collins, Dr. Julia Hoffman (portrayed by the marvelous Helena Bonham-Carter) and Roger Collins, portrayed by the woefully underused Jonny Lee Miller. And I wish the movie had explained how Angelique managed to survive and not age for two centuries. From what I had read, this was never explained in the television version either. I also found the revelation of Carolyn Stoddard as a werewolf near the end of the movie, very contrived. Either screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith had failed to hint this revelation or I simply failed to notice any his hint(s). And I also found the movie’s pacing slightly uneven three-quarters into the story. I suspect that Burton and his screenwriter, Seth Grahame-Smith, were in such a hurry to get rid of Roger Collins and Dr. Hoffman that the pacing somewhat became off-kilter.

But despite its flaws, I still managed to enjoy “DARK SHADOWS” very much. First of all, I was dazzled by Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography. He gave it a rich, blue-tinted look that really contributed to the film’s setting and tale. This was especially apparent in the prologue that introduced the Collins family’s American origins and Barnabas Collins. Delbonnel’s photography also enhanced Rick Heinrichs’ production designs. Heinrichs did a beautiful job in re-creating both the mid and late-18th century Maine, along with the same location in 1972. And I feel he was ably supported by Chris Lowe’s art direction team, John Bush’s set decorations and Colleen Atwood’s beautiful costume designs.

Although I was somewhat critical of Grahame-Seth’s screenplay, I do not believe it was not a complete waste. In fact, I thought it was wise of him to center the main narrative around Barnabas Collins. The latter’s attempts to assimilate into the early 1970s had me shaking with laughter. And Grahame-Seth was wise to not only enrich Barnabas’ love for Josette du Pres and later, Victoria Winters; but also his concerns for his family. Family seemed to be very important to Barnabas, which allowed Grahame-Seth to focus more on Victoria and the Collins family . . . even Roger. Barnabas’ concerns for his family also made his conflict with Angelique Bouchard even more pressing. I am also glad that both Burton and Grahame-Seth’s portrayal of Barnabas was complex. They allowed him to feed on other human beings without labeling him as evil. Barnabas feeds on the blood of others to survive, just as we humans feed on other living beings – both animals and plants. He does not like feeding on others anymore than he likes being a vampire. There is no taint of one-dimensional morality that has marred television series like “BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER”“ANGEL” and “CHARMED”. Several critics and many of the old television series also criticized Burton’s film for not being a close adaptation of the show. I find their criticisms a little irrelevant, due to the fact that I have yet to see a film adaptation of a television series to be that particularly close to its original source.

The cast for “DARK SHADOWS” is first-rate. Even those performers forced into roles that were not fully explored did a great job. It was nice to see Burton’s willingness to use again, actor Christopher Lee, who had a brief appearance as the top fisherman of Collinsport, Maine. I have never seen Jonny Lee Miller portrayed such a negative role like Roger Collins. And despite the minimal exposure, he did a great job of expressing Roger’s shallowness and lack of concern for his son and other members of the family. Helena Bonham-Carter was hilariously entertaining as young David Collins’ live-in psychiatrist, who developed a crush on Barnabas. It wsa nice to see Jackie Earle Haley again, who was also rather funny as the Collins family’s caretaker, Willie Loomis. I wish I could say something nice about Bella Heathcote. But her performance as Victoria Winters struck me as a little too ethereal and . . . wooden. Gulliver McGrath gave a sweet performance as young David Collins, but he did not strike me as particularly memorable.

For me, the best performances came from lead actor Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green and Chloë Grace Moretz. The latter has certainly grown a lot since I first saw her in “KICK ASS”, two years ago. I find her take on the fifteen year-old Carolyn Stoddard to be very eccentric (in a positive way). She also seemed to be a younger version of Michelle Pfieffer, who portrayed her imperious mother, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. I thought that Pfieffer was spot on as the indomitable matriarch of the Collins family, who hid her ruthlessly passionate and maternal nature behind a reserved facade. Eva Green nearly scared me out of my wits with her frightening portrayal of Angelique Bouchard, the witch who developed an obsessive love for Barnabas. Apparently, Angelique’s love and hatred proved to be so strong that she continued to slowly destroy the Collins family, long after Barnabas was locked in a coffin. Johnny Depp has portrayed some memorable characters over the years. But I must admit that his take on the Barnabas Collins character has proven to be one of my favorites. The man was superb. I could describe his performance with as many adjectives as possible. But it would take a great deal of my time. All I can say is that I believe he was perfect.

I realize that “DARK SHADOWS” has disappointed many fans of the old 1966-71 television series. And I must admit that I found a few aspects of Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay rather questionable. But “DARK SHADOWS” proved to be an entertaining movie thanks to Tim Burton’s direction, the story’s concentration on the Barnabas Collins, Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography and the excellent cast led by the always talented Johnny Depp.

“STARDUST” (2007) Review

“STARDUST” (2007)  Review”

When I had first saw the poster, I could not drum any interest in seeing “STARDUST”, directed by Matthew Vaughn. In fact, my interest remained dormant after viewing the trailer. Just today, someone had suggested that we see it, considering there was no other movie in the theaters we were interested in seeing. I said “no thanks”. It did not end there. This “someone” literally had to coerce me into seeing the film. And you know what? I am glad that he did. 

Based upon Neil Gaiman’s novella, “STARDUST” tells the story of a young 19th century Englishman named Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox), who becomes in involved in a series of adventures in magical kingdom located beyond the wall of his hometown of . . . Wall. His adventures resulted from his love of a young neighbor named Victoria (Sienna Miller) and his desire to find and retrieve a fallen star named Yvaine (Claire Danes) in order to prove his worthiness as a future husband. Tristan has no idea that his mother (Kate Magowan) is not only a citizen of this magical kingdom, but is also a royal princess who is enslaved by a witch named Ditchwater Sal (Melanie Hill). He does not realize that his two surviving uncles – Prince Septimus (Mark Strong) and Prince Primus (Jason Flemyng) – are in search of a ruby that will give either of them the throne to the kingdom. A ruby that had caused Yvaine to fall from the sky and is now worn by her. And Tristan is also unaware of a witch named Lamia who seek Yvaine. With the latter’s heart carved out, Lamia and her two sisters will be able to regain their youth and power.

I do not think I will go any further into the story, because it is simply too damn complicated. It is not confusing. Trust me, it is not. But I do feel that in order to know the entire story, one would simply have to see the film. I have never read Gaiman’s novella, so I have no idea how faithful Jane Goldman and director Matthew Vaughn’s script was to the story. But I do feel that Goldman and Vaughn’s adaptation resulted in an exciting, yet humorous tale filled with surprisingly complex characters and situations.

The acting, on the other hand, was first-class. It could have been easy for Charlie Cox and Claire Danes to fall into the usual trap of portraying the leads, Tristan and Yvaine, as a pair of simpering and and over emotional young lovers – a cliche usually found in many romantic fantasies over the years. Instead, Cox and Danes seemed to be having a good time in portraying not only the ideal personality traits of the two lovers, but their not-so-pleasant sides through their constant bickering and mistakes. Vaughn filled the cast with some of his regulars like the always competent and dependable Dexter Fletcher and Jason Flemyng, along with Sienna Miller, who did a surprisingly good job of portraying Tristan’s bitchy object of desire, Victoria. Mark Strong was excellent as the ruthless and sardonic Prince Septimus. Robert DeNiro did a surprising turn as Captain Shakespeare, a flaming drag queen who pretends to be a ruthless and very macho captain of a pirate ship in order to maintain his reputation. DeNiro was very funny. But by the movie’s last half hour, the joke surrounding his deception threatened to become slightly tiresome. But the movie’s true scene stealer turned out to be Michelle Pfieffer as the evil and treacherous Lamia, the oldest and most clever of the three sister witches. At times seductive, funny, malevolent and creepy, Pfieffer managed to combine all of these traits in her performance, allowing her to literally dominate the movie and provide one of the most creepiest screen villains to hit the movie screens in the past decade. Margaret Hamilton, look out!

As much as I had enjoyed “STARDUST”, I had a few problems with the movie. I have already pointed out how the joke surrounding Captain Shakespeare’s sexual orientation threatened to become overbearing. I also found the movie’s running time to be a bit too long. This problem could be traced to an ending so prolonged that it almost rivaled the notoriously long finale of“LORD OF THE RING: RETURN OF THE KING”. And the fact that the movie’s style seemed to be similar to the 1987 movie, “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”, did not help. Another problem I found with the movie was its “happily ever after” ending that left me feeling slightly disgusted with its sickeningly sweet tone. But what really irritated me about “STARDUST” was Jon Harris’s editing. It seemed so choppy that it almost gave the movie an uneven pacing.

But despite the movie’s disappointing finale and Harris’ editing, “STARDUST” proved to be a very entertaining movie. Using a first-class cast and an excellent script, director Matthew Vaughn managed to pay a proper homage to Neil Gaiman’s novella. He also proved that his debut as a director (“LAYER CAKE”) was more than just a fluke.