Favorite Films Set in the 1940s

The-1940s

Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1940s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1940s

1-Inglourious Basterds-a

1. “Inglourious Basterds” (2009) – Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed this Oscar nominated alternate history tale about two simultaneous plots to assassinate the Nazi High Command at a film premiere in German-occupied Paris. The movie starred Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent and Oscar winner Christoph Waltz.

2-Captain America the First Avenger

2. “Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) – Chris Evans made his first appearance in this exciting Marvel Cinematic Universe installment as the World War II comic book hero, Steve Rogers aka Captain America, who battles the Nazi-origin terrorist organization, HYDRA. Joe Johnston directed.

kinopoisk.ru-Devil-in-a-Blue-Dress-1807368

3. “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995) – Denzel Washington starred in this excellent adaptation of Walter Mosley’s 1990 novel about a laid off factory worker who becomes a private detective, after he is hired to find a missing woman with connection to a local politician in post-World War II Los Angeles. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Don Cheadle, Jennifer Beals and Tom Siezmore.

3-Bedknobs and Broomsticks

4. “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” (1971) – Angela Landsbury and David Tomilinson starred in this excellent Disney adaptation of Mary Norton’s series of children’s stories about three English children, evacuated to the countryside during the Blitz, who are taken in by a woman studying to become a witch in order to help the Allies fight the Nazis. Robert Stevenson directed.

4-The Public Eye

5. “The Public Eye” (1992) – Joe Pesci starred in this interesting neo-noir tale about a New York City photojournalist (shuttlebug) who stumbles across an illegal gas rationing scandal involving the mob, a Federal government official during the early years of World War II. Barbara Hershey and Stanley Tucci co-starred.

5-A Murder Is Announced

6. “A Murder Is Announced” (1985) – Joan Hickson starred in this 1985 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1950 novel about Miss Jane Marple’s investigation of a series of murders in an English village that began with a newspaper notice advertising a “murder party”. Directed by David Giles, the movie co-starred John Castle.

6-Hope and Glory

7. “Hope and Glory” (1987) – John Boorman wrote and directed this fictionalized account of his childhood during the early years of World War II in England. Sarah Miles, David Hayman and Sebastian Rice-Edwards starred.

7-The Godfather

8. “The Godfather” (1972) – Francis Ford Coppola co-wrote and directed this Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel about the fictional leaders of a crime family in post-World War II New York City. Oscar winner Marlon Brando and Oscar nominee Al Pacino starred.

8-Valkyrie

9. “Valkyrie” (2008) – Bryan Singer directed this acclaimed account of the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler in July 1944. Tom Cruise, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson starred.

9-The Black Dahlia

10. “The Black Dahlia” (2006) – Brian DePalma directed this entertaining adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1987 novel about the investigation of the infamous Black Dahlia case in 1947 Los Angeles. Josh Harnett, Scarlett Johansson, Aaron Eckhart and Hilary Swank starred.

10-Stalag 17

Honorable Mention: “Stalag 17” (1953) – Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote this well done adaptation of the 1951 Broadway play about a group of U.S. airmen in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, who begin to suspect that one of them might be an informant for the Nazis. Oscar winner William Holden starred.

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New Ranking of JAMES BOND Movies

James-Bond-Logo

With the recent release of the new James Bond movie, “SKYFALL”, I have made a new ranking of all the Bond films produced and released by EON Productions (do not expect to find 1967’s “CASINO ROYALE” or 1983’s “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN” on this list) from favorite to least favorite:

 

NEW RANKING OF JAMES BOND MOVIES

1-On Her Majesty Secret Service

1. “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” (1969) – The only film to feature Australian George Lazenby, this adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1963 novel has James Bond’s search for master criminal Ernst Stravos Blofeld affecting his private life. Directed by Peter Hunt, the movie also stars Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas.

2-Casino Royale

2. “Casino Royale” (2006) – Daniel Craig made his debut as James Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1953 novel about Bond’s efforts to beat a banker for a terrorist organization at a poker tournament, in order to force the latter to provide information about the organization. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen and Judi Dench.

3-The Living Daylights

3. “The Living Daylights” (1987) – Timothy Dalton made his debut as Bond in this partial adaptation of Fleming’s 1966 short story in which Bond’s efforts to stop a Soviet sniper from killing a defector leads to a revelation of a conspiracy between the defector and an American arms dealer. Directed by John Glen, the movie co-stars Maryam D’Abo, Joe Don Baker and Jeroen Krabbe.

4-For Your Eyes Only

4. “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) – Based on two Fleming short stories from 1960, the movie has Bond searching for a missing missile command system, while becoming tangled in a web of deception spun by rival Greek businessmen and dealing with a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her parents. Co-starring Carole Bouquet, Julian Glover and Topol; the movie marked the directing debut of John Glen.

5-From Russia With Love

5. “From Russia With Love” (1963) – Terence Young directed this adaptation of Fleming’s 1957 novel about Bond’s efforts to acquire the Soviet’s Lektor machine, unaware that he is being set up by SPECTRE. The movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, along with Daniela Bianchi, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw and Pedro Armendáriz.

6-Octopussy

6. Octopussy” (1983) – A fake Fabergé egg and a fellow agent’s death leads James Bond to uncover an international jewel smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy, being used by a Soviet general and an Afghan prince to disguise a nuclear attack on NATO forces in West Germany. Directed by John Glen, the movie stars Roger Moore as Bond, Maud Adams, Louis Jordan, Steven Berkoff and Robert Brown in his debut as “M”.

7-Thunderball

7. “Thunderball” (1965) – Adapted from Fleming’s 1961 novel, this movie has Bond and CIA agent Felix Leiter attempting to recover two nuclear warheads stolen by SPECTRE for an extortion scheme. Directed by Terence Young, the movie stars Sean Connery as Bond, Claudine Auger, Adolfo Celi and Luciana Paluzzi.

8-Goldeneye

8. “Goldeneye” (1995) – Pierce Brosnan made his debut as Bond in this tale about the agent’s efforts to prevent an arms syndicate from using Russia’s GoldenEye satellite weapon against London in order to cause a global financial meltdown. Directed by Martin Campbell, the movie co-stars Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen and Judi Dench in her debut as “M”.

9-The Spy Who Loved Me

9. “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) – Taking its title from Fleming’s 1962 novel, this movie has Bond and Soviet agent Anya Amasova investigate the disappearances of British and Soviet submarines carrying nuclear warheads. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Barbara Bach, Kurt Jurgens and Richard Kiel.

10-Quantum of Solace

10. “Quantum of Solace” (2008) – Taking its title from a Fleming short story, this movie is a follow up to “CASINO ROYALE”, continuing Bond’s investigation into the terrorist organization Quantum, while dealing with the emotional effects of a tragic death. Directed by Marc Foster, the movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Olga Kurylenko and Mathieu Amalric.

11-License to Kill

11. “License to Kill” (1989) – Directed by John Glen, this movie has Bond resigning from MI-6 in order to seek revenge against the Latin American drug lord that maimed his best friend, Felix Leiter. The movie starred Timothy Dalton as Bond, Carey Lowell, Robert Davi, Talisa Soto and Don Stroud.

12-The World Is Not Enough

12. “The World Is Not Enough” (1999) – Directed by Michael Apted, the movie has Bond uncovering a nuclear plot, when he protects an oil heiress from her former kidnapper, an international terrorist who cannot feel pain. The movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Sophie Marceau, Robert Carlyle and Denise Richards.

13-A View to a Kill

13. “A View to a Kill” (1985) – Taking its title from one of Fleming’s 1960 short stories, this film has Bond investigating an East-German born industrialist with possible ties to the KGB. Directed by John Glen, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Tanya Roberts, Christopher Walken and Grace Jones.

14-You Only Live Twice

14. “You Only Live Twice” (1967) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1964 novel, the movie has Bond and Japan’s Secret Service investigating the disappearance of American and Soviet manned spacecrafts in orbit, due to the actions of SPECTRE. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Mie Hama, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsurō Tamba and Donald Pleasence.

15-Die Another Day

15. “Die Another Day” (2002) – A failed mission in North Korea leads to Bond’s capture, fourteen months in captivity, a desire to find the MI-6 mole responsible and a British billionaire with ties to a North Korean agent. Directed by Lee Tamahori, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Halle Berry, Toby Stephens, Rosamund Pike and Will Yun Lee.

16-Live and Let Die

16. “Live and Let Die” (1973) – Roger Moore made his debut as Bond in this adaptation of Fleming’s 1954 novel about MI-6’s investigation into the deaths of three fellow agents who had been investigating the Prime Minister of San Monique.

17-Moonraker

17. “Moonraker” (1979) – Based on Fleming’s 1955 novel, this movie features Bond’s investigation into the disappearance of a space shuttle on loan to the British government by a millionaire with catastrophic plans of his own. Directed by Lewis Gilbert, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Lois Chiles, Michel Lonsdale and Richard Kiel.

18-Tomorrow Never Dies

18. “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) – Bond and a Chinese agent form an alliance to prevent a media mogul from creating a war between Britain and China in order to obtain exclusive global media coverage. Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, the movie starred Pierce Brosnan as Bond, Michelle Yeoh, Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher.

19-The Man With the Golden Gun

19. “The Man With the Golden Gun” (1974) – Loosely based on Fleming’s 1965 novel, this movie has Bond sent after the Solex Agitator, a device that can harness the power of the sun, while facing the assassin Francisco Scaramanga, the “Man with the Golden Gun”. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Roger Moore as Bond, Britt Ekland, Christopher Lee and Maud Adams.

20-Dr. No

20. “Dr. No” (1962) – Based upon Fleming’s 1958 novel, this movie kicked off the Bond movie franchise and featured Sean Connery’s debut as the British agent, whose investigation into the death of a fellow agent leads him to a Eurasian agent for SPECTRE and their plans to disrupt the U.S. space program. Directed by Terence Young, the movie co-starred Ursula Andress and Joseph Wiseman.

21-Skyfall

21. “Skyfall” – Directed by Sam Mendes, this film has Bond’s loyalty to “M” tested, when her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a former agent, who initiates a series of attacks upon MI-6. The movie starred Daniel Craig as Bond, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Naomie Harris.

22-Diamonds Are Forever

22. “Diamonds Are Forever” (1971) – Based on Fleming’s 1956 novel, this movie has Bond’s investigations into a diamond smuggling ring lead to another conflict with SPECTRE and Ernst Stravos Blofeld. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Jill St. John and Charles Gray.

23-Goldfinger

23. “Goldfinger” – Based on Fleming’s 1959 novel, this movie has Bond investigating a German-born gold magnate, who harbors plans to destroy the U.S. gold supply at Fort Knox. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie starred Sean Connery as Bond, Honor Blackman and Gert Frobe.

“DOWNTON ABBEY” – Series Two (2011) Retrospective

 

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“DOWNTON ABBEY” – Series Two (2011) Retrospective

The debut of Julian Fellowes’ series about an aristocratic family during the last few years before the outbreak of World War I garnered a great deal acclaim and awards, earlier this year. The success of the series led the ITV and Fellowes to continue the saga of the Earl of Grantham, his family and servants in a new season. 

Series Two of “DOWNTON ABBEY” covered the last two years of World War I and the first year of peace during the years 1916 to 1919. Episode One began with Matthew Crawley, the heir presumptive for the Earl of Grantham enduring the last days of the Somme Offensive in November 1916. The story immediately shifted toward the personal dramas that unfolded over eight to nine episodes.

Series One focused upon the entail issue that prevented Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham from bequeathing his title or any of his fortune to his three daughters – Lady Mary, Lady Edith and Lady Sybil Crawley and forced him to accept Matthew Crawley, a third cousin raised as a middle-class cousin as his heir. Season Two focused upon the Crawleys’ attempts to adjust to the changes caused by the war, their love lives and the impact of the war upon their servants.

One of the main subplots introduced in this season’s first episode turned out to be Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia Swire, the daughter of a London solicitor. Most of the family and servants like Mr. Carson oppose Matthew’s engagement to Lavinia, due to her status as a member of the middle-class and her position as an impediment to a reconciliation between Matthew and the family’s elder daughter, Lady Mary. The youngest Crawley daughter, Lady Sybil, becomes a wartime nurse and faces a growing attraction to the family’s Irish-born chauffeur, Tom Branson. Meanwhile, middle daughter Lady Edith learns how to drive and later, becomes a nurse’s aide. Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham embarks on a campaign to ensure Matthew and Lady Mary’s engagement. Meanwhile, the scandal from her Season One encounter with Turkish diplomat, Kamal Pamuk, threatens to rear its ugly head for Lady Mary. She seeks help from Sir Richard Carlisle, a suitor, to nip the scandal in the bud. But he exacts a price from her, for his help – an official engagement to marry. Cora, Countess of Grantham and Matthew’s mother, Isobel Crawley, transform Downton Abbey into a convalescent hospital for Army officers. The two become involved in a power struggle before Lady Grantham assumes full control. Only Lord Grantham spends the rest of the war with nothing to do and sinks into a depression over his inactivity.

Most of the servants continue their household duties at Downton Abbey. Just as valet John Bates announces his intentions to divorce his wife to lady love and head housemaid Anna Smith, his wife Vera make the first of a few visits. Her threat to expose Lady Mary’s Season One tryst with the dead Turkish diplomat, Mr. Kemal Pamuk, forces Bates to give up his position as Lord Grantham’s valet and return to her. After being needled for being out of uniform, footman William Mason caves in and joins the Army. His decision eventually has an impact on Daisy, the scullery maid for whom he harbors unrequited love. Both the cook Mrs. Patmore and housekeeper Mrs. Hughes, pressures Daisy into becoming William’s fiancé before he leaves for the war front in Episode Three. And when William returns to Downton Abbey, mortally wounded, Mrs. Patmore coerces Daisy into marrying him out of pity, leaving a bad taste in the scullery maid’s mouth. After the trick she had pulled that cause Lady Grantham to miscarry in Season One, lady’s maid Sarah O’Brien becomes increasingly devoted to her mistress. Yet, she continues to go out of her way to make life miserable for Mr. Bates, by communicating with his wife. Downton Abbey’s new housemaid, Ethel Parks, becomes involved with one of the patients at the Crawleys’ convalescent hospital, which results in a baby for her. She seeks help from Mrs. Hughes to contact the officer’s parents for financial assistance. Former footman Thomas Barrow started out the season as a medic in France. But the horrors of war drives him to deliberately expose his hand to gunfire in order to permanently leave the front. He eventually becomes a medic at the local hospital near the Crawley estate and later, as an aide at the Crawleys’ convalescent hospital.

I just learned that “DOWNTON ABBEY” recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most critically acclaimed English-language television show” for 2011, becoming the first co-produced U.S./British show to be recognised as such by the Guinness Book of Records. One, I did not know that “DOWNTON ABBEY” was co-produced in both Great Britain and the U.S. And two, as much as I enjoy the series, I am beginning to feel that a good deal of its acclaim might be undeserved.

One might assume that I dislike “DOWNTON ABBEY”. On the contrary, I like it very much. I became a big fan of the series when its first season aired. But I also noticed certain flaws in Julian Fellowes’ depiction of Downton Abbey’s inhabitants that continued to both flourish and increase in Season Two. There were aspects of Season Two that I admired. The cast, led by Hugh Bonneville and Elizabeth McGovern continued to give first-rate performances. Michelle Dockery and Maggie Smith’s performances seemed to stand out with most fans and critics. I cannot say that I agree with them. I suspect that Fellowes’ detailed attention to Dockery’s character and Smith’s witty one-liners made them more popular than the other characters. The series’ early 20th century costumes remained exquisite as ever, thanks to Susannah Buxton and Rosalind Ebbutt’s designs. And aside from the few combat sequences, the series’ production values and designs continued to be top-notch.

The second season of “DOWNTON ABBEY” provided some truly memorable moments. The Spanish Flu sequence in Episode Eight impressed me, with the exception of how the epidemic claimed its only victim. People might find this surprising, but I have always enjoyed Laura Carmichael’s portrayal of middle daughter, Lady Edith. She was never a villainess to me even back in Season One. I understood her problems. However, I was happy to see that her character developed further when she finally overcame her resentment toward older sister, Lady Mary. I also enjoyed watching the experiences of former footman Thomas Barrow in the season’s first two episodes. The scenes featuring his combat experiences in France and his work with Dr. Clarkson and Lady Sybil Crawley at the village hospital really impressed me. One other character that made Season Two bearable for me, turned out to be Mrs. Hughes, the family’s housekeeper. Her down-to-earth nature, along with her efforts to help housemaid Ethel Parks and her comments about Lady Mary pretty much anchored the season for me.

Unfortunately . . . when it came to Season Two, the bad outweighed the good. One of my complaints about Season Onewas that the only characters that seemed to display any real complexity were members of the aristocratic Crawley family. Aside from a few scenes, most of the servants continued to be portrayed in a one-dimensional manner. In Julian Fellowes’ world (without Robert Altman and Bob Balaban looking over his shoulders), the only good working-class character was one loyal to his or her employer.

From the moment she was introduced arrogantly proclaiming her desire for a life outside of service, Ethel Parks was doomed. Unlike Gwen Dawson from Season One, she did not seek or acquire the help from a Crawley to rise in the world. She slept with an officer and paid the price with a baby and unemployment. Fellowes seemed to have ceased portraying former footman Thomas as a one-note villain and portray him in a more sympathetic light in the season’s first two episodes. By the time Thomas returned to Downton Abbey as a medic at the estate’s convalescent hospital, the former footman returned to his usual sneers and sharp comments. Only he did so, standing in the doorway or sitting at the servants’ table, sneering. And when he tried to earn enough money through the black market to start his own business at the end of the war, he discovered that he had been swindled. Thomas was forced to seek work at Downton Abbey again. I cannot help but wonder if he would have been more successful if he had sought the “noble” help of Lord Grantham or some other member of the Crawley family.

The subplot involving Daisy, William and Mrs. Patmore disgusted me. Period. I found it bad enough that Mrs. Patmore bullied and cajoled Daisy into a deception by becoming William’s fiancée and later, his wife. In the “Christmas Special”, Fellowes decided to condone Mrs. Patmore’s bullying by allowing Daisy to form some kind of relationship with William’s dad. It was sickening to watch and I cannot believe that Fellowes would actually finish a subplot on this note, because many of the fans wanted Daisy to be in love with William. Mr. Carson remained ridiculously loyal to the Crawleys and more importantly, to Lady Mary. In fact, his loyalty led him to consistently make insulting and snobbish remarks about Matthew’s middle-class fiancée, Lavinia. Anyone could have perceived this as part of Fellowes’ efforts to portray Mr. Carson in an ambiguous light. Unfortunately, Fellowes’ one-dimensional portrayal of Lavinia as a dull “goody-goody” have led many fans to embrace Mr. Carson’s disapproval of her. On the other hand, Fellowes did an excellent job in assassinating the family’s radical chauffeur, Tom Branson. His friendship with Lady Sybil had created a shipper’s following by the end of Season One. But once Fellowes ridiculed Branson’s radicial beliefs in two scenes – his plan to embarrass a visiting British Army general, which backfired; and his casual dismissal of the Romanovs – he became one of the most disliked characters of Season Two. And many fans expressed disapproval when Lady Sybil began to hint some kind of attraction toward him, claiming that their relationship lacked any chemistry. The hypocrisy toward Branson, generated by Fellowes’ conservatism, was astounding to witness. Even Sarah O’Brien did not fare well. Although she became more loyal toward the Countess of Grantham following the latter’s miscarriage in Season One, O’Brien continued her hostility toward John Bates even when Thomas lost interest in the valet. And the reason behind O’Brien’s hostility remained consistently vague, until she dropped it altogether in the wake of Bates’ arrest.

Speaking of Bates, his romance with Anna Smith turned out to be one of the biggest jokes of the season. I never thought it would come to this. Honestly. Aside from the appearance of the one-note villainous Vera Bates, nothing happened. I am trying to remember what was so interesting about their relationship. Instead, I find myself recalling how much I found Bates’ martyr complex so tedious. Why on earth would he give up a job that he liked to prevent the likes of Lady Mary from facing a scandal about her one night tryst with the late Kemal Pamuk? I mean . . . really! If Vera Bates knew about the scandal, half of Britain’s upper-class families and their servants must have heard the rumor. Meanwhile, Anna kept making a chump of herself, while buying Bates’ promises of how he was going to get rid of Vera. I wish Fellowes never brought her on the scene in the first place. I enjoyed Maria Doyle Kennedy’s performance in “THE TUDORS”, but ended up with one of the dullest and badly written villains in television history.

For once, the Crawley family did not fare any better. Lady Mary remained the only upper-class character with any real complexity and a strong subplot. I suspect that the character became a personal favorite of Fellowes, and actress Michelle Dockery benefited a great deal from his writing. However, not even she or Dan Stevens could overcome the maudlin romance that their characters had been saddled with in Season Two. The Matthew/Mary romance had started as an interesting one in Season One, and transformed into a cliché-riddled love story fit for a bad romance novel. The two worse moments in their relationship turned out to be that Godawful moment when Matthew (who had been reported missing) suddenly appeared at Downton Abbey during a concert, joining Mary in “If You Were the Only Girl” and when Mary experienced a “feeling” the moment Matthew suffered a major wound in Episode Five. I had to struggle to keep from throwing up during both scenes. And although Lady Edith managed to overcome her resentment of Lady Mary, the two subplots that Fellowes saddled on her character went no where. The “Patrick Crawley” subplot, in which a Canadian officer claimed to be one of her father’s former heirs . . . simply went no where. Her “affair” with a local farmer, which consisted of a kiss, ended just as soon as the farmer’s wife had her dismissed. I have already revealed what happened with Lady Sybil’s relationship with Tom Branson.

Cora, Countess of Grantham was involved in two major subplots. One involved her power struggle with Isobel Crawley (Matthew’s mother) over who would manage the convalescent hospital and Downton Abbey. Poor Isobel was portrayed as a tyrannical do-gooder from the middle-class. And many fans cheered when Cora managed oust her from Downton Abbey. I did not. All Cora had to do was remind Isobel that she was mistress of Downton Abbey, while the latter continue to run the hospital. Instead, she resorted to a passive-aggressive means to get rid of Isobel and I ended up feeling disgusted. I was also disgusted by the machinations that Cora and the Dowager Countess used to detract Isobel from keeping the convalescent hospital opened after the war ended. I found it ridiculous. They seemed incapable of simply telling Isobel that Downton Abbey would return to being a private home. Yet, once again, fans cheered over the aristocratic women’s triumph. Sickening. Robert, the Earl of Grantham came close to being written as a complex character. He spent most of the season feeling useless, because he was unable to obtain a command and go to the front. Eventually, Robert’s feelings of uselessness and abandonment led him to become romantically involved with a housemaid named Jane Moorsum. This subplot would have worked, if it had been introduced . . . before Episode Five. Aside from plotting Lady Mary and Matthew’s reconciliation, Violet, the Dowager Countess spent most of the season spouting one-liners. I hate to say this, but I eventually found this tiresome. Poor Maggie Smith had been reduced to being the show’s comic relief.

Thanks to Vera Bates, Lady Mary had to seek the help of her suitor, press baron Sir Richard Carlisle, to help her get rid of the blackmailing woman. In return, Lady Mary promised to become officially engaged to Sir Richard. Poor Iain Glen. Vera Bates was not the only badly written villain to appear in Season Two. Sir Richard was another. Despite his title, Sir Richard was a self-made man, who certainly did not originate from the upper-classes. Both Lady Mary and Lord Grantham did not hesitate to let him know. More importantly, Fellowes did not hesitate to portray him as some mustache-twirling villain without any complexities, whatsoever. Which is not surprising, considering he was not an aristocrat. Poor Iain Glen. His previous roles were a hell of a lot more ambiguous and interesting than Sir Richard “Snidely Whiplash” Carlisle.

I might as well face it. Season Two of “DOWNTON ABBEY” disappointed me. Sure, there were a few aspects about it that I found admirable. But Fellowes’ writing simply undermined the show’s quality. I had hoped that his portrayal of the Crawleys’ servants would improve from Season One. It did not. Worse, the season was marred by incomplete subplots that went no where and badly written romances that left me shaking my head in disgust. I hope . . . I pray that Season Three will prove to be a lot better.

“MANSFIELD PARK” (1983) Review

 

“MANSFIELD PARK” (1983) Review

Long before Patricia Rozema wrote and directed her 1999 adaptation of “Mansfield Park”, Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, the BBC aired its own adaptation some sixteen years earlier. This one came in the form of a six-part miniseries and is regarded by many Austen fans as the definitive screen version of the novel. 

“MANSFIELD PARK” told the story of Fanny Price, the oldest daughter of a former Royal Navy officer, who is sent by her parents to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle-in-law, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at their estate called Mansfield Park, during the early 19th century. Viewed as socially inferior by her new family, Fanny is treated as half-relative/half-servant by the Bertrams. Only Edmund, the family’s second son, treats her with great kindness and love. Because of Edmund’s behavior, Fanny finds herself in love with him by the age of eighteen. But her life and the Bertrams’ lives soon encounter a force of nature in the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford, a pair of vivacious siblings that are related to the local vicar’s wife. Henry ends up stirring excitement and romantic interest within the breasts of the two Bertram sisters – Maria and Julia. And much to Fanny’s dismay, Edmund forms a romantic attachment to the alluring Mary.

In compare to the 1999 Patricia Rozema version and the ITV 2007 movies, this 1983 miniseries is a more faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Considering its six episodes, I do not find this surprising. Literary fans tend to be more impressed by cinematic adaptations that are very faithful to its source. However, “MANSFIELD PARK” is not a completely faithful adaptation. Screenwriter Ken Taylor completely ignored Fanny’s questions regarding Sir Thomas’ role as a slaveowner with an estate in Antigua. Whereas Austen’s novel and the 2007 movie briefly touched upon the subject, writer/director Patricia Rozema literally confronted it. Only the miniseries ignored the topic, altogether. Judging from the fans’ reaction to this deviation from Austen’s novel, I suspect that many of them are willing to pretend that the subject of slavery was never broached in the miniseries.

Did I enjoy “MANSFIELD PARK”? Well . . . the miniseries had its moments. It allowed me to become more aware of the plot details in Austen’s 1814 novel than the other adaptations did. I enjoyed the scene featuring the Bertrams’ introduction to the Crawford siblings. I enjoyed the ball held in Fanny’s honor in Episode Four. It struck me as very elegant and entertaining. I also enjoyed the constant flirtation and verbal duels between Edmund and Mary, despite my dislike of the former character. And much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the sequence featuring Fanny’s visit to her family in Portsmouth. For once, the miniseries’ pacing seemed well paced and I enjoyed the details and production designs in the setting for this sequence. One of the actors portraying Fanny’s younger brothers turned out to be a young Jonny Lee Miller, who later portrayed Edmund in the 1999 production.

But the best aspect of “MANSFIELD PARK” turned out to be a handful of first-rate performances and Ian Adley’s costume designs. I usually do not harbor much of a high opinion of the costumes designs seen in other Jane Austen’s adaptations from the 1970s and 80s. But I cannot deny that I found Adley’s costumes not only colorful, but very elegant. I am not surprised that he earned a BAFTA TV Award nomination for Best Costume Design.

As I had stated earlier, I was also impressed by a handful of performances featured in the miniseries. One came from veteran actress Anna Massey, who superbly portrayed one of Fanny Price’s aunts, the noxious Mrs. Norris. Depended upon her sister and brother-in-law for their support, Massey’s Mrs. Norris walked a fine line between toadying behavior toward Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram and her malicious tyranny over Fanny. Samantha Bond gave a subtle and complex portrayal of the oldest Bertram daughter, Maria. Bond conveyed not only the shallow and selfish aspects of Maria’s personality, but also the dilemma that her willingness to become the wife of the disappointing Mr. Rushworth put her in. I also found myself impressed by Bernard Hepton’s performance as Sir Thomas Bertarm, owner of Mansfield Park and patriarch of the Bertram family. Hepton’s Sir Thomas came off as superficially generous, intelligent and morally absolute. He seemed every inch of the ideal English landowner and gentleman. Yet, Hepton also conveyed the corruption that lurked underneath Sir Thomas’ façade – namely the man who seemed more concern with the financial suitability of his children’s spouses than any emotional regard. Hepton also revealed with great subtlety, the baronet’s egomania and tyranny in scenes that featured the character’s efforts to coerce Fanny into accepting Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal.

I will be brutally honest. I have never been a fan of the Edmund Bertram character. Despite his kindness to Fanny and occasional wit, he strikes me as a self-righteous and very hypocritical man. Whenever I think of that scene in which Edmund rejected Mary Crawford, it still makes my blood boil. But his characterization still worked, due to Nicholas Farrell’s performance. He really did an excellent job in conveying all aspects of Edmund’s personality, both the good and the bad. Despite my negative feelings regarding Edmund’s personality, Farrell made him seem very interesting. But “MANSFIELD PARK” would have never been bearable to me without Jackie Smith-Wood’s sparkling portrayal of one of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters, Mary Crawford. Like Fanny Price, many fans have either loved or disliked this character. Count me as among the former. I absolutely adored Mary – especially in the hands of the talented Ms. Smith-Wood. With great skill, the actress conveyed all aspects of Mary’s personality – her barbed sense of humor, dislike of the clergy, her talent for manipulation, her moral ambiguity, her charm, her wit, her great warmth and generosity. I suspect that the main reason I like Mary so much is that as an early 21st century woman, I find it easy to relate to her way of thinking. Smith-Wood managed to convey the modern sensibilities of Mary’s personality, while still portraying the character as a woman of the early 19th century.

Unfortunately, the bad tends to go hand-in-hand with the good in many movie and television productions. And there are aspects of“MANSFIELD PARK” that left a bad taste in my mouth – including a few performances. One performance I did not particularly care for was Angela Pleasence’s portrayal of Fanny’s other aunt, the languid Lady Bertram. I am aware that Ms. Pleasence possesses a rather high voice. But I noticed that she had exaggerated it for her portrayal of the childish and self-involved Lady Bertram. I wish she had not done this, for I found this exaggeration very annoying. And now that I think about it, I realized that Pleasence’s Lady Bertram hardly did a thing in the miniseries that allowed the plot to move forward, except use her selfishness to protect Fanny from Mrs. Norris’ spite . . . sometimes. But I cannot blame the actress. Lady Bertram is a role that has never impressed me. I have yet to find an actress who has ever done anything with the role. I truly believe that producer Betty Billingale and director David Giles selected the wrong actor to portray the charming Lothario, Henry Crawford. Robert Burbage seemed like an affable presence and he wore the costumes designed by Ian Adley very well. But his portrayal of Henry seemed wanting. I will go further and state that I found his performance by-the numbers and his acting skills rather mechanical. Burbage’s Henry did not strike me as the attractive and sexy man who managed to flutter the hearts of the Bertram sisters. Instead, I felt as if I had been watching an earnest schoolboy trying . . . and failing to behave like a rakish seducer.

Finally, I come to Sylvestra Le Touzel’s performance as the miniseries’ leading character, Fanny Price. I am not a fan of the Fanny Price character. Yes, I admire her willingness to stick to her conviction in rejecting Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal in the face of Sir Thomas’ attempts to coerce her. But Fanny also strikes me as being priggish, passive-aggressive, illusional (to a certain extent) and worst of all, hypocritical. I also dislike Edmund Bertram, but at least I was impressed by Nicholas Farrell’s portrayal of the character. On the other hand, I WAS NOT impressed by Le Touzel’s performance. I realize that she had portrayed a socially awkward and introverted character. But I have seen other actors and actresses portray similar characters with a lot more skill. Le Touzel’s performance struck me as wooden, mannered and at times, slightly hammy. Hell, she made Burbage’s performance seem positively fluid. Le Touzel eventually became a first-rate actress. I saw her very funny performance in 2007’s “NORTHANGER ABBEY”. But I wish that Billingale and Giles had cast someone with a lot more skill to portray Fanny, twenty-eight years ago.

I find it odd that screenwriter Kenneth Taylor took it upon himself to be as faithful as possible to Austen’s novel, with his deletion of Sir Thomas’ role as a slaveowner being the only exception. However, he had failed to change some aspects of the novel that I consider to be very flawed. Taylor never allowed Fanny and Edmund to become self-aware of their personal failings. Edmund managed to self-flagellate himself for becoming emotionally involved with Mary. But I do not consider that much of a failing. Because of the pair’s failure to become self-aware of their failings, I believe they lacked any real character development. Taylor’s script could have assumed a third voice and criticized or mocked Fanny and Edmund’s lack of development. But it did not. The sequence featuring the “Lover’s Vows” play dragged most of Episode Three. By the time Sir Thomas had returned to Mansfield Park, I nearly fell asleep, thanks to the episode’s slow pacing. In fact, Giles and Taylor’s efforts to make “MANSFIELD PARK”faithful to the novel nearly grounded the miniseries to a halt on several occasions, almost making the entire miniseries rather dull.

More than anything, I had a problem with the miniseries’ finale. One, I never understood Edmund’s decision to reject Mary Crawford as his fiancée. Although Mary had condemned her brother and Maria Bertram Rushworth’s affair and elopement as folly, she had a plan to save the honors of both the Bertram and Crawford families. She suggested that they convince Henry and Maria to marry following the latter’s divorce from Mr. Rushworth; and have both families stand behind the couple to save face. This plan struck me as very similar to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s plan regarding Lydia Bennet and George Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice”. Why did Austen condone Mr. Darcy’s actions regarding Lydia and Wickham in one novel and condemn Mary Crawford for harboring similar plans in this story? Did Taylor, Giles or Willingale even notice the similarities between Mr. Darcy’s actions and Mary’s plans and see the hypocrisy? Apparently not. My last problem centered on Fanny and Edmund’s wedding in the final episode. How on earth did this happen? The miniseries made Fanny’s romantic feelings for Edmund perfectly clear. Yet, Edmund never displayed any romantic regard for Fanny, merely familial love. Even when revealing the end of his relationship with Mary to Fanny, he still expressed love for his former fiancée. But the next scene jumped to Fanny and Edmund’s wedding, without any explanation or revelation of their courtship. At least Patricia Rozema’s 1999 movie conveyed Edmund’s burgeoning romantic feelings for Fanny, before his final rejection of Mary. Giles and Taylor failed to the same in this miniseries.

I might as well say it. I will never harbor a high regard for “MANSFIELD PARK” . . . at least this version. Although its faithfulness to Jane Austen’s 1814 novel revealed the story in greater detail than the 1999 and 2007 movies, I believe there were scenes in which it should have been less faithful in order to overcome some of the novel’s shortcomings. The miniseries can boast a few outstanding performances from the likes of Anna Massey, Nicholas Farrell and Jackie Smith-Wood. But it was hampered by other performances, especially the wooden acting by lead actress, Sylvestra Le Touzel. In the end, “MANSFIELD PARK” proved to be a mixed bag for me.

“EMMA” (1996 TV) Review

 

“EMMA” (1996 TV) Review

Several months after Miramax had released Douglas McGrath’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”, another version aired on the BBC and later, on the A&E Channel in the U.S. This version turned out to be a 107-minute teleplay, adapted by screenwriter Andrew Davies and directed by Diarmuid Lawrence. 

As many Jane Austen fans know, “EMMA” told the story of the younger daughter of an English Regency landowner, with a penchant for meddling in the lives of friends and neighbors. Her meddling in the love life of her new protégé – a young woman named Harriet Smith – ended up having a major impact on the latter’s search for a husband. Emma also becomes involved with Frank Churchill, her former governess’ stepson, and the highly educated granddaughter of her village’s former curate named Jane Fairfax.

This “EMMA” incorporated a heavy emphasis on class structure and conflict, due to Andrew Davies’ adaptation. This emphasis was hinted in scenes that included a conversation between Emma and Harriet regarding the role of the neighborhood’s wealthiest landowner, George Knightley. Greater emphasis was also placed on Jane Fairfax’s possible future as a governess. The movie included moments featuring tenant farmer Robert Martin’s barely concealed resentment toward Emma’s interference in his courtship of Harriet. And the movie concluded with a harvest ball sequence that allowed Mr. Knightley to display his role as Highbury’s wealthiest and most benevolent landowner.

I cannot deny that I enjoyed ”EMMA”. Davies’ script and Lawrence’s direction captured a good deal of the mood from Austen’s novel. The movie also featured scenes that I found particularly appealing – scenes that included Mrs. Cole’s party, where Mr. Knightley becomes aware of Emma’s friendship with Frank Churchill; the comic reaction to Emma’s drawing of Harriet; and the Box Hill incident. Yet, for some reason, my favorite sequence turned out to be Mr. and Mrs. Weston’s Christmas party. One, production designer Don Taylor created a strong holiday atmosphere that seemed distinctly of another era. And two, the sequence featured some of the movie’s funniest moments – John Knightley’s rants about attending a party in bad weather and Mr. Elton’s marriage proposal to Emma.

Of the actors and actresses featured in the cast, I must admit that at least five performances impressed me. Mr. Elton must be one of the novel’s more exceptional characters. I have yet to come across a screen portrayal of Mr. Elton that did not impress me. And Dominic Rowan’s deliciously smarmy take on the role certainly impressed me. I also enjoyed Bernard Hepton’s rather funny portrayal of Emma’s finicky father, Mr. Woodhouse. The man possessed timing that a comic would envy. Samantha Bond gave a warm and deliciously sly portrayal of Emma’s former governess, Mrs. Weston. But my two favorite performances came from Raymond Coulthard and Olivia Williams as Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. From my reading of Austen’s novel and viewing of other screen adaptations, I got the feeling that these two characters were not easy to portray. Frank Churchill never struck me as the typical Austen rogue/villain. Yes, he could be cruel, selfish and deceitful. And yet, he seemed to be the only Austen rogue who seemed to possess the slightest capability of genuine love. Actor Raymond Coulthard has struck me as the only actor who has managed to capture the strange and complex nature of Frank Churchill with more accuracy and less mannerisms than any other actor in the role, so far. And Olivia Williams struck me as the only actress that managed to portray Jane Fairfax’s travails without resorting to extreme mannerisms . . . or by simply being there.

Many have praised Samantha Morton’s performance as Emma’s young companion, Harriet Smith. And I believe that she deserved the praise. I found nothing defective about it. Unfortunately, Davies’ script left the actress with hardly anything to work with. Morton’s Harriet almost came off as self-assured and nearly flawless. Mind you, I do not blame Morton’s performance. I blame Davies’ script. His interpretation of Harriet almost seemed . . . uninteresting to me. Prunella Scales gave a solid performance as the garrulous spinster and aunt of Jane Fairfax, Miss Bates. But I must admit that I found nothing particularly memorable about her portrayal. And Lucy Robinson’s Mrs. Augusta Elton never really impressed me. In fact, I found her performance to be the least memorable one in the entire movie.

How do I describe Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong’s portrayals of the two lead characters – Emma Woodhouse and George Knightley? Superficially, their performances seemed solid. Both knew their lines. And neither gave any wooden performances. But if I must honest, Beckinsale and Strong turned out to be my least favorite screen versions of Emma and Mr. Knightley. Beckinsale’s Emma not only struck me as chilly at times, but downright bitchy. I suspect that her performance in ”COLD COMFORT FARM” may have attracted the attention of this film’s producers. What they failed to realize was that Beckinsale’s role in that particular film had acted as straight man to the rest of the comic characters. And back in the mid 1990s, the actress lacked the comic skills to portray Emma Woodhouse, a character that proved to be one of the funnier ones in this predominately humorous tale. I have been a fan of Mark Strong for several years. But after seeing ”EMMA”, I would never count George Knightley as one of his better roles. I have seen Strong utilize humor in other movies. But his sense of humor seemed to be missing in”EMMA”. Strong’s George Knightley struck me as a humorless and self-righteous prig, with an intensity that seemed scary at times. The best thing I could say about Beckinsale and Strong was that the pair had decent screen chemistry.

Andrew Davies did a solid job of adapting Austen’s novel. Was he completely faithful to it? Obviously not. But I am not particularly concerned about whether he was or not. But . . . I did have one major problem with the script. I believe that Davies’ treatment of class distinctions in Regency England struck me as very heavy-handed. This lack of subtlety seemed very obvious in scenes that included Robert Martin’s silent expressions of resentment toward Emma, her little speech to Harriet about Mr. Knightley’s role as a landowner, Emma’s overtly chilly attitude toward Robert Martin and in the movie’s last sequence, the harvest ball. Which literally made me cringe with discomfort during Mr. Knightley’s speech. No one felt more relieved than I, when it finally ended.

In the end, ”EMMA” seemed like a decent adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Some of its qualities included first-rate performances from the likes of Raymond Coulthard and Olivia Williams. And there were certain sequences that I enjoyed – like the Westons’ Christmas party and the Crown Inn ball. But I found Davies’ take on class distinctions in the movie about as subtle as a rampaging elephant. And I was not that impressed by Kate Beckinsale and Mark Strong in the lead roles. In the end, this”EMMA” proved to be my least favorite adaptation of the 1815 novel.

“DIE ANOTHER DAY” (2002) Review

 

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“DIE ANOTHER DAY”  (2002) Review

The 2002 movie, ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” marked several milestones in the James Bond franchise. One, it was released during the 40th anniversary of the cinematic Bond, which began with 1962’s ”DR. NO”. Two, it was the first time that a non-white actress portrayed the leading lady in a Bond film. And three, it happened to be Pierce Brosnan’s last Bond film for EON Productions . . . at the moment. 

”DIE ANOTHER DAY” starts out with a mission in which Bond has to kill a North Korean army officer named Colonel Moon, who has been illegally selling military weaponry in exchange for African conflict diamonds. Betrayed by a MI-6 mole, Bond is swept up in a chase and shootout that results with Colonel Moon being killed by Bond before falling over a waterfall. In a departure from the usual Bond formula, the agent ends up captured Colonel Moon’s father and the North Korean military. He spends the next fourteen months being tortured for information. Disavowed by his superiors upon his release, and his status as Double-0 Agent suspended by M, Bond sets out to find the mole on his own. He eventually uncovers evidence that overtakes his personal vendetta, and M restores his Double-0 status and offers MI6 assistance to help him uncover what he has found. Bond’s search eventually leads to billionaire businessman Gustav Graves, who is actually Colonel Moon surgically altered via gene therapy. Graves/Moon has been collecting African conflict diamonds for an orbital mirror system that uses the diamonds as a source of solar energy for a small area to light the Arctic nights and, if the investment goes well with buyers, provide year-round sunshine for crop development. In truth, the orbital mirror system is actually a super weapon to be used to clear a path through the minefield in the demilitarized zone that separates North Korea from South Korea. Needless to say, Bond discovers the MI-6 mole who had betrayed him and with the help of American NSA agent, Jinx Johnson, destroys Graves/Moon’s weapon and the latter’s scheme.

Since the release of the latest Bond film, 2006’s ”CASINO ROYALE”, a harsh backlash against Brosnan’s tenure as James Bond and especially, DAD in particularly has grown considerably. In fact, DAD is now regarded as the worst Bond movie in the franchise’s history. Personally, I do not agree with this harsh assessment. I do not consider DAD to be a masterpiece or even among the better Bond films. But I certainly do not view it as the disaster that many are claiming it to be. I can honestly say that my assessment of DAD has improved slightly after my last viewing.

Pierce Brosnan had to wait three years after 1999’s ”THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” to portray James Bond for what turned out to be the last time (so far). I do not think I would consider his performance in ”DIE ANOTHER DAY” to be amongst his finest. Yes, he had some very good moments in the film that were featured in the following scenes:

-his confrontation with M aboard the British frigate in Hong Kong Harbor

-his last meeting with General Moon before being released and exchanged by the North Koreans

-his first meeting with Gustave Graves at the Blades Club

-and his discovery of Miranda Frost as the mole

But I did have problems with certain aspects of his performance – especially his second meeting with M inside one of the London Underground tunnels and some of the sexual innuendos that he was forced to spout. In fact, that second scene with M left me with an uncomfortable feeling that dramatic angst might not be Brosnan’s forte. And I find this ironic, given his superb peformance in an old 1980 TV miniseries called ”THE MANIONS OF AMERICA”. Perhaps he simply was not up to par during the days when he shot that particular scene.

EON Productions seemed to have better luck with the movie’s leading lady, Hollywood superstar, Halle Berry. Many fans felt it was improper for her to co-star in a Bond film – viewing her as a bigger star than Brosnan. I do not know if I agree with this assessment. Both Honor Blackman (”GOLDFINGER”) and Diana Rigg (”ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”) were already well-known thanks to the successful TV series, ”THE AVENGERS” when they shot their respective Bond films. So, I cannot really see the harm in Berry following in their footsteps. She portrayed Giacinta “Jinx” Johnson, a NSA agent investigating the whereabouts of one of the villain’s henchmen, Zao. Her investigation leads to a sexy encounter with Bond in Cuba and eventually a showdown with Graves and Miranda Frost in Korea. Due to her current unpopularity with Bond fans, many of them view Berry as the worst Bond girl ever. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps in some way, she does not fit their image of what a Bond girl should be. Personally, I thought that Berry gave an excellent performance, despite some of the bad sexual innuendos that she was forced to spout. In fact, I really enjoyed Berry’s take on the competent, yet humorous and very sly Jinx. She made the character a fun person to know. And she performed her action sequences in a competent manner. Granted, I did not feel impressed by Berry’s “homage” to Ursula Andress’ watery entrance in ”DR. NO”. But I was never that impressed by Andress’ little moment, either. Although I would never list Berry among my top five Bond ladies, I would certainly list her in my top ten. Probably at number six.

British actor, Toby Stephens portrayed Gustav Graves, a billionaire with sinister ties to North Korean agent Zao, a DNA gene therapy machine and a supply of African conflict diamonds that provide energy to a new destructive weapon called ICARUS. Graves turns out to be the same Colonel Moon with whom Bond had clashed (and allegedly killed) in the movie’s pre-title sequence. Stephens had the double task of portraying a credible villain against Brosnan’s Bond and recapturing Will Yun Lee’s performance as Colonel Moon during Graves’ private moments. Personally, I felt that Stephens did a pretty good job. Not only did he managed to portray Gustav Graves’ overblown persona, he also succeeded in recapturing Lee’s portrayal of the scheming and arrogant Moon, who also longs for his father’s approval. Unfortunately, being sixteen years younger than Brosnan, there were times I felt that Stephens seemed too young to be considered as an equal adversary for Bond. And quite frankly, some of his dialogue seemed overblown . . . even when Moon was not doing his Gustav Graves’ impersonation.

MI-6 agent Miranda Frost turns out to be the mole who initially turns Bond’s life, upside-down by betraying his mission to Moon and the North Koreans. Rosamund Pike gives a subtle peformance as the treacherous Frost, who seemed to blow hot and cold toward the sexually interested Bond. Her performance, in fact, strongly reminds me of American actress Grace Kelly’s performance in the Hitchcock film, “TO CATCH A THIEF”. However, I did have problems with Pike’s love scenes with Brosnan. She seemed to come off as a little too breathless . . . and fake. Perhaps that breathless quality was meant to be an indication of Frost’s fake (or real?) ador for Bond. If so, I feel that Pike may have overplayed her scene a little bit. Sophie Marceau did a more subtle and superior job in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”. And like Brosnan, Berry and Stephens, Pike had to endure spouting some bad dialogue. Rick Yune portrayed Zao, Graves/Moon’s right hand man, who is wanted for terrorist acts by the Americans and the Chinese. He is the very Zao who is exchanged by the Americans and the British for Bond at the North/South Korea border. Aside from his imposing presence, I did not find anything particularly unique about Yune’s performance. All I can say is that he did a competent job. On the other hand, I found myself being very impressed by Will Yun Lee’s performance as Gustav Graves’ alter ego, Colonel Moon. Like Toby Stephens, he did a beautiful job in capturing Moon’s arrogance, impatience and great need to impress “Daddy”. And speaking of Moon’s father – namely General Moon – it seemed a pity that the latter did not turn out to be Bond’s main adversary. Kenneth Tsang portrayed the North Korean general as an intimidating and intelligent man that no one would want to trifle with. Even Bond seemed to feel the presence of his forceful personality after a joke failed to make any impact. I must commend Tsang on an impressive performance.

Judi Dench returned as M in “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. By this time, she had made the role of MI-6’s director as her own. But I must say that I did not find anything unique about her performance in this movie. John Cleese went from Q’s assistant to the Quartermaster in his second appearance in the Bond franchise. And if I must be honest, I enjoyed Cleese’s performance very much. Unlike his role in TWINE, he did not ruin his character’s sharp wit with ridiculous slapstick. I realize that I am about to commit an act of sacrilege, but I found myself preferring Cleese’s Q to the one created by the role’s original actor, the late Desmond Llewellyn. Do not get me wrong. I thought that Llewellyn did a great job. But I simply preferred Cleese’s more acid take on the role. Colin Salmon returned as M’s assistant, Charles Robinson. I like the guy, but I barely noticed him in this movie. I did notice Michael Masden’s performance as Jinx’s NSA boss, Damian Falco. Who could help but notice? The Falco character came off as an aggressive blowhard. It seemed a shame that I found Masden’s performance appalling, considering his reputation for portraying his past characters with more subtlety. I can only assume that he was forced to adhere to the Bond franchise’s cliche of “the Ugly American”. And finally, there is Samantha Bond as Moneypenny. Poor woman. Poor, poor woman. I disliked her sexual innuendo-spewing performance in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”. But I had to wince through that embarrassing sequence that featured Moneypenny’s holographic dream of being seduced by Bond. Personally, I feel that Ms. Bond managed to reach the nadir of her tenure as Moneypenny in that scene.

I think that it seemed fitting that “DIE ANOTHER DAY” marked the Bond franchise’s 40th anniversary. In many ways, the 2002 movie reminded me of its 40-year counterpart, 1962’s “DR. NO”. The older movie featured Sean Connery’s first performance as Bond. “DIE ANOTHER DAY” featured Brosnan’s last. Both movies featured the first appearance of the leading ladies, emerging from the water. Both featured Asian or part-Asian villains. And both seemed to be hampered by what I feel were schizophrenic plots and production styles.

Actually, that is the main problem I had with “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. Like “DR. NO”, its story was presented in a manner in which the first half seemed more like a spy thriller and the second half, a fantasy adventure reminscent of Bond movies like “GOLDFINGER”“YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE”“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “MOONRAKER”. And instead of the two styles blending seemlessly into a solid movie, “DAD” nearly became a schizophrenic mess. I enjoyed the first half very much. Bond’s capture by the North Koreans, his and Zao’s exchange and the search for the MI-6 mole who had betrayed him felt like a genuine spy thriller . . . well, except for that ludicrous moment in which Bond appeared in the lobby of a Hong Kong hotel. Unfortunately, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade really screwed up the movie’s second half in two ways – they had Q present Bond with that invisible Aston-Martin, which still makes me wince; and they sent him to Iceland and that ridiculous ice hotel. Even worse, they subjected fans to that ludicrous ice duel between Bond (in the Aston-Martin) and Zao (in a Jaguar XKR). The second half also featured the uninspiring fight between Bond and Graves/Moon aboard a military transport over Korea. The only scenes that truly made the movie’s second half worthwhile were the tense scene that featured Miranda Frost’s revelation as the mole and her deadly fight with Jinx aboard the transport.

Lee Tamahori (“MULLHOLAND FALLS” and “ALONG CAME A SPIDER”) directed “DIE ANOTHER DAY”. I thought that his direction was not that bad. But I suspect that he may have been hampered by Purvis and Wade’s schizophrenic script – especially the movie’s second half. Speaking of the script, I think I may have already said a lot about it. On second thought, perhaps not. For example . . . the dialogue. Yes, the movie had a some good lines. But like “DR. NO”, it pretty much sucked. To be more specific, the dialogue containing sexual innuendos pretty much sucked. But that seemed to be the case in most of Brosnan’s 007 films. If “TND” seemed annoyingly peppered with bad innuendos, “DAD” seemed to choke on them. I truly felt sorry for Brosnan, Berry and Pike who had to spew them every now and then. Cinematographer David Tattersall had beautifully captured the exotic color of Cuba and London’s elegance. But that is as far as my admiration can go. I simply could not drum up any excitement over the Korea and Iceland sequences. Madonna sang the movie’s title song (penned by Madonna and Mirwais Ahmadzar) and made a cameo appearance as a fencing master named Verity. Many fans raised a fuss over her contributions to the movie. Frankly, I found their fuss a waste of time and Madonna’s contributions – both the song and the cameo – rather mediocre.

On the whole, I disagree with the prevailing view that “DIE ANOTHER DAY” was the Bond franchise’s worst movie or one of the worst. Frankly, I have seen worse Bond films. In fact, I have a slightly better view of “DAD”than I do of the movie it was supposed to be celebrating – namely “DR. NO”. But it seemed a shame that Brosnan’s last Bond film had to be one of sheer mediocrity.

5/10

“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” (1999) Review

“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” (1999) Review

I must admit that when I first saw “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” in the theaters a little over seven years ago, I was not impressed. Well, to be honest, I did not like the movie at all. But after my recent viewing, I could not help but wonder if I had allowed my mild dislike of the previous Bond entry, “TOMORROW NEVER DIES” to spill over in my view of the Bond franchise’s 19th entry. 

Although the movie’s title comes from the Bond family’s motto, first revealed in the 1969 movie, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, its story started with the murder of a British oil tycoon and old friend of M’s named Sir Robert King, inside MI-6’s London headquarters. Bond traced the assassination to an anarchist terrorist named Renard, who had once kidnapped Sir Robert’s daughter, Elektra King. Fearing that Renard wants revenge for his failure at profiting from Elektra’s kidnapping, M assigned Bond to act as her new bodyguard in Uzbekistan. To make a long story short, Bond and Elektra formed a romantic relationship . . . before he learned that she had been behind her father’s murder and MI-6’s humiliation. Elektra was also behind Renard’s theft of a quantity of weapons-grade plutonium from a former Russian ICBM base in Kazakhstan. After using some of the plutonium to blow up part of the King pipeline in order to avoid suspicion, Elektra and Renard planned to introduce the remaining plutonium to a stolen Russian submarine’s nuclear reactor in order that it will overload and cause a nuclear meltdown in the Bosporus at Istanbul. Not only will this kill countless thousands of people, but also contaminate the Bosporus for decades. The effect would prevent shipment of Caspian Sea petroleum through any existing route, because all Caspian region pipelines terminate at the Black Sea, requiring that tankers go through the Bosporus; the only alternative would be the King pipeline. Disguising himself as a nuclear physicist, Bond sneaked his way onto the base to stop Renard and ended up escaping from near death, along with an American nuclear physicist named Christmas Jones, played by Denise Richards. Even worse, Elektra lured M to Uzbekistan and kidnapped the latter to be destroyed with the rest of Istanbul’s citizens. With the help of Dr. Jones and former KGB-turned-entrepreneur Valentin Zukovsky, Bond managed to save the Bosporus region and M and kill both Elektra and Renard in the process.

In 1998, Pierce Brosnan won a Saturn Award for his performance as Bond in “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”. But after seeing his performance in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”, I have come to the conclusion that he had won his award for the wrong movie. Unlike “TOMORROW NEVER DIES”, in which Brosnan’s performance seemed mixed, “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”’s script allowed the Irish-born actor to portray a more human Bond, who finds his façade almost stripped away and his emotions exposed by his interactions with the manipulative Elektra King – a process that seemed to have began with the death of Elektra’s father at MI-6 Headquarters. One of Brosnan’s best acting moments occurred during a scene at Zukovsky’s casino, where Elektra “unnecessarily” loses a million dollars to the former KGB operative. Brosnan managed to convey Bond’s concern, confusion and sparking suspicion about the late oil magnate’s daughter, all in one swoop. Great acting on his part.

Fortunately for Brosnan, he was supported by a strong cast – especially by Sophie Marceau, who portrayed the enigmatic Elekra and Robert Caryle as the ruthless yet passionate terrorist, Renard. Marceau was especially impressive as the former kidnap victim-turned-villainess, whose complex and manipulative personality seemed to have kept everyone – Bond included – in a state of flux. Carlyle came off as surprisingly sympathetic as the love-struck Renard. Most Bond fans would flinch at the idea of a Bond villain like Renard, but after the stream of cold-blooded opportunists and megalomaniacs, Renard almost came as a relief. Unfortunately, all not were wine and roses in Marceau and Carlyle’s performances. Carlyle’s repeated line about how Bond or anyone else ”cannot kill him because he was already dead” threatened to turn his role into a cliché. Personally, I never could care less about his injury. If he could still die from a bullet in the heart, he was not impregnable, as far as I was concerned. As for Marceau, it saddened me that her exemplary performance ended on such a bad note for me. If Connery’s Bond in “GOLDFINGER” had struck me as the ”dark side of masculinity”, then Elektra King’s insistence that Bond or no other man can resist her struck me as the ”dark side of femininity”. To be frank, the villainous Elektra in her last moments got . . . on . . . my . . . last . . . nerve. So much so that I found myself sighing with relief when Bond finally killed her.

And then there was Denise Richards as the American nuclear physicist, Dr. Christmas Jones. I realize that I might be castigated for saying this, but I honestly found nothing to criticize about Richards’ performance. I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by stating that she was just as good as Marceau and Caryle. Of course she was not as good. At best, Richards is a competent, though uninspiring actress. But she did portrayed Dr. Jones (no Indy jokes, please) as an intelligent and observant woman. She handled the techno babble quite well. Nor did she seem slightly wooden like Lois Chiles in “MOONRAKER” or Barbara Bach in “THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”. I think that many fans and critics had simply took a look at Richard’s face, age (she was 26 or 27 when she shot the movie) and boobs and decided that she was unfit to portray a young nuclear physicist. It was nice to see Robbie Coltrane as the former KGB agent, Valentin Zukovsky, again. Although he was just as funny as he was in “GOLDENEYE”, I must admit that he seemed a bit more imposing in the 1995 film. In “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”, there were times he seemed to be in danger of being viewed as a bit of a joke . . . until his final scene.

Judi Dench gave her second best performance as M (her first would be seven years later in “CASINO ROYALE”) in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”. In this particular outing, she becomes emotionally handicapped by the death of her friend, Sir Robert. This allows Elektra to take advantage of the MI-6 chief – who had advised Sir Robert not to pay the ransom for Elektra’s kidnapping – and seek revenge. One of the highlights of Dench’s performance was watching her express . . . and suppress M’s guilt, when Bond exposes the debacle over Elektra’s kidnapping. Other cast members such as Michael Kitchen, Colin Salmon and Samantha Bond do their usual routine. “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” marked Desmond Llewellyn’s last appearance as MI-6’s armourer – Q and John Cleese’s first appearance as his future replacement. Although the sight of Llewellyn in the movie tugged the heartstrings a bit (considering his death in a traffic accident about a month following the movie’s original release), I cannot say there was anything memorable about his performance. Cleese, on the other hand, was his usual biting self, although I could have done without his clumsy antics.

“THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” not only boasted pretty good acting by the cast, it also possessed an interesting script that maintained its quality . . . until the finale. The story started out fine with Sir Robert King’s mysterious murder, followed by the increasingly complex triangle established between Bond, Elektra and Renard. But once Renard had sabotaged one of the King pipelines and Elektra kidnapped M, the movie sank into a typical Bond movie that ended with a wet and tiresome showdown between Bond and Renard inside the stolen Russian sub. Aside from its cast, one of “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”’s strengths were the movie’s dramatic scenes – including Bond’s accusations regarding M’s participation in Elektra’s kidnapping, Elektra’s loss at the gaming table, Christmas’ exposure of Bond at the ICMG base, Bond accusing Elektra of being Renard’s ally and Renard’s jealousy over Elektra’s relationship with Bond. Ironically, I cannot say the same about the movie’s action sequences. One or two were pretty good – the opening sequence (which I admit seemed a bit too long), and Bond and Christmas’ escape from the ICMG base, and their escape from one of the King pipelines. But the ski chase, the confrontation at Zukovsky’s caviar facility and Bond’s showdowns with both Elektra and Renard simply did not move me. And the finale inside the Russian sub simply struck me as tedious.

If there is one major weakness that “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” did suffer, it was the movie’s locations. Quite simply, they were uninspiring. It seemed sad that the movie’s most exotic looking location happened to be London, along the Thames River. It seemed even sadder that this took place in the movie’s pre-title sequence. As for the movie’s theme song by Garbage . . . well, it was not the best Bond song I have ever heard. In fact, I did not even like it when the movie was first released. But for some odd reason, the song has grown on me, and now it is a personal favorite of mine.

But despite uninspiring locations and action sequences, “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH” can still boast enough strengths that allowed director Michael Apted to provide a pretty good Bond movie . . . good enough to be considered Brosnan’s second-best. And a recent viewing has allowed me to realize that it was better than I had originally surmised.

Memorable Lines

“One tires of being executed.” – Renard

Zukovsky: I’m looking for a submarine. It’s big and black, and the driver is a very good friend of mine. [sees captain hat] Bring it to me!
Elektra: [takes hat] What a shame, he’s just gone. [Shoots Zukovsky]

Lachaise: So good of you to come see me, Mr Bond, particularly on such short notice.
Bond: If you can’t trust a Swiss banker, then what’s the world come to?

[Bull is shocked to see Zukovsky survived the explosion at the safehouse]
Bull: Boss? You’re alive! I’m so glad to see you!
Zukovsky: Me to! [Shoots Bull]

Christmas: The world’s greatest terrorist running around with six kilos of weapons-grade plutonium can’t be good. I gotta get it back, or someone’s gonna have my ass.
Bond: First things first.

Bond: What’s your business with Elektra King?
Zukovsky: I though you were the one giving her the business.

Elektra: I could have given you the world.
Bond: The world is not enough.
Elektra: Foolish sentiment.
Bond: Family motto.

[after Q introduces Bond to his successor]
Bond: If you’re Q, does that make him R?
R: Ah yes, the legendary 007 wit, or at least half of it.

Christmas: Wait a minute. Are you going to do what I think you’re going to do?
Bond: What do I need to defuse a nuclear bomb?
Christmas: Me.

Bond: Construction isn’t exactly my speciality.
M: Quite the opposite, in fact.

“You wanna put that in English for those of us who don’t speak Spy?” – Christmas Jones

“Oh, look. We have no roof, but at least we have four good walls.”
[the factory falls apart] “The insurance company is NEVER going to believe this.” – Zukovsky

Bond: I’ve always wanted to have Christmas in Turkey.
Christmas: Was that a Christmas joke?
Bond: From me? Never.

“Can’t you just say “hello” like a normal person?” – Zukovsky

Zukovsky: [to Bull] You! Where have you been, you gold encrusted buffoon?
Bull: Sorry, boss, I must have bumped my head.
Zukovsky: Oh, really? Get me out of here. I’ll show you what a bumped head feels like.

Q: I’ve always tried to teach you two things. First, never let them see you bleed.
Bond: And the second?
Q: Always have an escape plan.

“Revenge is not hard to fathom for a man who believes in nothing.” – Bond

Bond: What business do you have with Elektra King?
Zukovsky: I thought it was *you* who was giving her the business.

Moneypenny: James! Have you brought me a souvenir from your trip? Chocolates? An engagement ring?
Bond: I thought you might enjoy one of these. [gives Ms. Moneypenny a cigar tube]
Moneypenny: How romantic. I know exactly where to put that. [throws the cigar tube in the garbage]
Bond: Oh Moneypenny, the story of our relationship: close, but no cigar.

[Zukovsky enters his office, sees Christmas Jones] “How did you get in here? I’m going to call Security… and congratulate them.” – Zukovsky

Bond: …A shadow operation?
M: …Remember 007, shadows always remain in front or behind… never on top.

Bond: Where’s M?
Elektra: Soon she’ll be everywhere.