Jambalaya

Below is an article about the American dish known as “Jambalaya”:

JAMBALAYA

One of the most popular dishes to originate in the southern United States is a dish from Louisiana called Jambalaya. The dish has its origins in the Spanish dish known as paella. There is also a similar dish from the French province of Provence called jambalaia. Both are dishes that are mash-ups of rice, meat, vegetables and saffron.

Jambalaya originated in the French Quarter of New Orleans, during the late 18th century. The Spanish, who controlled Louisiana and the Mississippi Valley at the time, made an attempt to recreate paella in the New World. But since saffron was unavailable due to import costs, the Spanish used tomatoes as a substitute for saffron. Despite Spanish control of the region, the French dominated the population, since they were the original founders of the colony. The French utilized spices from the Caribbean to transform this paella copycat into a unique New World dish.

Many would be surprised to learn that Jambalaya proved to become a very flexible dish in Louisiana over the years. It has evolved into three distinct recipes. The original version, known as the Creole or “red” Jambalaya, featured tomatoes. The second version, which is common in the parishes in Southwestern and South-Central Louisiana, is a “rural Creole” Jambalaya that contains no tomatoes. The third version is known as “White or Cajun Jambalaya” in which the rice is cooked in stock and separately from the meat and vegetables.

The recipe for Jambalaya made its first appearance in the 1878 cookbook called “Gulf City Cook Book” by the ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Church in South Mobile, Alabama. Jambalaya experienced a brief surge of popularity during the 1920s and 1930s, due to its flexible recipe. And in 1968, Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen proclaimed Gonzales, Louisiana as the Jambalaya Capital of the World. Every spring, Gonzales hosted the annual Jambalaya Festival.

Below is a recipe from the Epicurious.com website for Jambalaya:

Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, peeled
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 celery stalks, diced
3 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, minced
4 oz extra-lean smoked ham, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes
1 can (8 oz) tomato sauce
3/4 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped into bite-sized pieces

Preparation

Add oil to a large nonstick saucepan. Over medium heat, sauté onion, garlic, bell pepper and celery until onion is translucent. Add parsley, ham, chicken, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring often, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes (with juice), tomato sauce, and 1 3/4 cups cold water. Gently simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Pour rice into the pan and stir well. Bring mixture to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until rice is cooked and absorbs most of the liquid. Stir in shrimp and cook 5 minutes more. Remove bay leaf. Season to taste with cayenne pepper and salt.

Ten Favorite SOUTHERN GOTHIC Movies

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Below is a list of my favorite movies with the theme of Southern Gothic:

 

TEN FAVORITE SOUTHERN GOTHIC MOVIES

1 - Written on the Wind

1. “Written on the Wind” (1956) – Douglas Sirk directed this lush adaptation of Robert Wilder’s 1945 novel about the damaging effects of a self-indulgent Texas family whose wealth stems from oil. The movie starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Oscar winner Dorothy Malone.

 

2 - The Beguiled

2. “The Beguiled” (1971) – Clint Eastwood starred in this surprisingly effective adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel about a Union soldier’s stay at a girl’s school in 1863 Mississippi. Directed by Don Siegel, the movie co-starred Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman.

 

3 - Eves Bayou

3. “Eve’s Bayou” (1997) – Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbie Morgan starred in this excellent tale about the affects of a Louisiana doctor’s extramarital affairs upon his family. The movie was written and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

 

4 - The Long Hot Summer 1985

4. “The Long Hot Summer” (1985) – Don Johnson and Judith Ivey starred in this excellent television remake of the 1958 film about an ambitious drifter’s experiences with a wealthy Mississippi family. Stuart Cooper directed this two-part television movie.

 

5 - Interview With a Vampire

5. “Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this excellent adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a former Louisiana planter-turned-vampire, who recalls his past history with a young reporter. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt starred.

 

6 - Heavens Prisoners

6. “Heaven’s Prisoners” (1996) – Alec Baldwin starred in this interesting adaptation of James Lee Burke’s 1988 novel about a former New Orleans detective, who investigates the circumstances behind a mysterious plane crash. Directed by Phil Joanou, the movie co-starred Kelly Lynch, Eric Roberts, Teri Hatcher and Mary Stuart Masterson.

 

7 - The Story of Temple Drake

7. “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933) – Miriam Hopkins starred in this controversial adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, “Sanctuary”; which told the story of a young Southern socialite who falls into the hands of a brutal gangster. Stephen Roberts directed.

 

8 - The Skeleton Key

8. “The Skeleton Key” (2005) – Kate Hudson starred in this atmospheric thriller about a New Orleans hospice, who becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding an old Louisiana plantation manor and Hoodoo rituals. Directed by Iain Sofley, the movie co-starred Gena Rowland, Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt.

 

9 - One False Move

9. “One False Move” (1992) – Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton starred in this fascinating crime thriller about a Arkansas sheriff anticipating the arrival of three violent drug dealers. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Cynda Williams and Michael Beach.

 

10 - The Long Hot Summer 1958

10. “The Long Hot Summer” (1958) – Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in this original adaptation of three William Faulkner novellas about the experiences of an ambitious drifter with a wealthy Mississippi family. The movie was directed by Martin Ritt.

Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

The-1950s

Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

Papa Rellena

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Below is an article I had written about a dish called Papa Rellena:

 

PAPA RELLENA

During one of my previous visits to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, I came across a dish served at a Cuban restaurant called Papa Rellena. I had assumed that this dish originated in Cuba. But I eventually learned that it originated elsewhere.

Actually, the Papa Rellena dish originated in Peru. Between 1879 and 1883; the countries of Peru, Chile and Bolivia were engaged in a conflict known as the War of the Pacific. The Peruvian soldiers had to march through extensive lands that were long distances from cities or towns in order to prevent the Chilean forces from discovering their position and where the next attack would come from. Due to these long journeys, the soldiers had to carry previously prepared food that could remain fresh, despite the lack of 20th century preserves.

The Peruvian troops cooked, chopped and seasoned either beef or some other meat. Then, they made dough from the previously cooked potatoes that grew naturally in the Andes Mountains. They formed a hollow in the potato dough and filled it with the cooked meat and sometimes, hard-boiled eggs. Then they would seal the dough, form it into a torpedo shape and fry it. The “Papa Rellenas” or stuffed potatoes were wrapped in cloth and carried by the soldiers. The Papa Rellenas were sometimes accompanied with Salsa Criolla, or an aji sauce. Other Latin American countries like Cuba and Puerto Rico eventually created their own variation on the dish.

Below is a recipe for “Papa Rellena” from the About.com website:

Papa Rellena

Ingredients

1/2 cup raisins
3 pounds yellow potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced aji pepper, or jalapeno
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 pound ground beef
1 cup beef broth
1 egg
Flour for dusting
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Place the raisins in a small bowl and pour 1 cup boiling water over them. Let them soak for 10 minutes.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Peel the potatoes and place them in the pot. Cook the potatoes until they are tender when pierced with a fork.

While the potatoes are cooking, cook the onions, garlic, and peppers in the vegetable oil until soft and fragrant.

Add the cumin and paprika and cook 2 minutes more, stirring. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.

Drain the raisins and add them to the ground beef. Add the beef broth and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes more, until most of the liquid is gone.

Season mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and let cool.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them in a colander. Mash the potatoes thoroughly, or pass them through a potato ricer. Season the mashed potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the potatoes for several hours, or overnight.

Once the potatoes are very cold, stir the egg into the mashed potatoes until well mixed.

Shape the papas rellenas: with floured hands, place about 1/4 cup of mashed potatoes in one hand, and make a well in the center. Fill the well with 1-2 tablespoons of the beef mixture. Mold the potatoes around the beef, adding more potatoes if necessary, and shape the whole thing into an oblong potato shape, with slightly pointy ends, about the size of a medium potato.

Repeat with the rest of the mashed potatoes. Coat each stuffed “potato” with flour.

In a deep skillet or deep fat fryer, heat 2 inches of oil to 360 degrees. Fry the potatoes in batches until they are golden brown. Drain them on a plate lined with paper towels.

Keep the potatoes warm in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve.

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Gumbo

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GUMBO

Gumbo is a dish that is not only popular throughout Deep South states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina; but is available to many Americans at restaurants that featured Gulf State cuisine throughout the country. For me, my first real introduction to gumbo was at a food stand inside Los Angeles’ Farmers Market called “The Gumbo Pot”. It is probably one of my favorite dishes ever . . . if prepared properly. 

It is believed that gumbo was first introduced in southern Louisiana sometime during the 18th century. No one knows exactly where in Louisiana or when it first appeared in the Americas. It is basically a stew that consisted of stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables that usually included celery, bell peppers and onions (known as the “holy trinity”). Gumbo is often categorized by the type of thickener used. Cooks usually used the African vegetable okra, the Choctaw spice filé powder (dried and ground sassafras leaves), or roux. The name of the dish either came from the Bantu word for okra – “ki ngombo” or the Choctaw word for filé – “kombo”.

Gumbo combines the ingredients and culinary practices of several cultures like West African, French, Spanish, German, and Choctaw. Gumbo may have been based on traditional West African or native dishes, or may be a derivation of the French dish bouillabaisse. Some believed that gumbo is a reinterpretation of traditional West African cooking. West Africans used the vegetable okra as a base for many dishes, including soups, often pairing okra with meat and shrimp, with salt and pepper as seasonings. In Louisiana, the dish was modified to include ingredients introduced by other cultural groups. Surviving records indicate that by 1764, African slaves in New Orleans mixed cooked okra with rice to make a meal. Some believe that gumbo may have been derived from traditional French soups, particularly the fish stew bouillabaisse. When the Acadians moved to Louisiana in the mid-18th century, they were unable to find many of their traditional ingredients for the soups they usually made for the winter months, so they substituted fish, turnips and cabbage with shellfish and ingredients from other cultures. Culinary experts like Celestine Eustis insisted that gumbo was an early dish for native tribes. It was first described in 1802 and was later listed in various cookbooks in the second half of the 19th century. Gumbo gained more widespread popularity in the 1970s, after the United States Senate cafeteria added it to the menu in honor of Louisiana Senator Allen Ellender. It is now the official state dish of Louisiana.

There are many types of variations on gumbo. Among them are:

*Gumbo Ya-Ya
*Seafood Gumbo
*Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Considering there are so many different types of gumbo dishes out there, I tried to find a recipe of the most basic kind prepared in Louisiana. Below is a recipe found on the Smithsonian Institute magazine website, from an article written by Southern Louisiana native, Lolis Eric Elie. The recipe came from his mother:

Creole Gumbo

Ingredients

• 5 quarts water
• 1 dozen fresh crabs, raw, boiled or steamed
• 2 pounds medium to large shrimp, peeled and deveined (reserve the shells and heads to make seafood stock)
• 2 pounds smoked sausage, cut into 1 inch rounds (1 pound each of two different sausages is optimal)
• 3/4 pound Creole hot sausage (if available), cut into 1 inch rounds
• 2 pounds okra cut into rounds
• 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
• 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
• 2 large onions, coarsely chopped
• 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
• 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• 5 stalks celery, chopped
• 1 bunch green onions, tops and bottoms, chopped
• 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
• 1 pound crab meat, picked and cleaned of shells and cartilage
• 2 tablespoons Creole seasoning, such as Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning
• 4 bay leaves
• 4 tablespoons filé powder
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 6 cups steamed white rice

Preparation

Clean the crabs, removing the lungs, heart and glands and other parts so that only the pieces of shell containing meat (including the legs, swimmers and claws) remain. Refrigerate the meaty parts of the crabs. Put the portions of the crabs that have been removed into a 6- or 8-quart stockpot. Add the shrimp heads and shells and 5 quarts water to the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Cook the sausages in a skillet in batches over medium heat, turning occasionally, until the pieces are slightly brown and much of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausage and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Discard the excess fat remaining in the skillet before cooking the next batch of sausage.

Once all the sausage has been cooked, wipe the excess oil from the skillet, being careful not to scrub away those bits of sausage that have stuck to the bottom of the skillet. Add the 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Heat the oil over medium heat and then add the okra. Lower the heat to medium and cook the okra until it is slightly brown and dried, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes.

While the okra cooks, place the 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a 12-quart stockpot. Heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, a tablespoon at a time slowly add the 1/2 cup flour to prepare the roux, stirring constantly. Once all the flour has been added, continue heating and stirring the roux until it becomes a medium brown color, somewhere between the color of caramel and milk chocolate, about 10-15 minutes. Add the onions to the roux, stirring constantly. Once the onions are wilted, add the garlic, parsley, celery, green onions and bell pepper. Strain the seafood stock into the large stockpot. Add the browned sausage and bay leaves and bring everything to a boil over medium-high heat. Then reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook.

Once the okra is cooked, add it to the gumbo pot. Continue cooking the gumbo for 60 minutes. Add the reserved crabs and shrimp and cook for 15 minutes longer. Remove the gumbo from the heat and stir in the Creole seasoning and filé powder. Let the gumbo rest for 15 to 20 minutes. As it cools, oil should form on the top. Skim the oil with a ladle or large spoon and discard. Stir in the picked crab meat. Taste the gumbo and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper as needed. Serve the gumbo ladled over steamed rice.

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“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode One “Only the Rocks Live Forever” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode One “Only the Rocks Live Forever” Commentary

Over thirty-two years ago, NBC Television aired a sprawling miniseries called ”CENTENNIAL”. Produced by John Wilder, The miniseries was an adaptation of James Michner’s 1973 novel of the same title. Because the miniseries stretched to twelve episodes, NBC aired the first seven episodes aired during the late fall of 1978. After a one-month hiatus, the remaining five episodes aired during the early winter of 1979. 

Michner’s tale followed the history of the fictional town of Centennial, Colorado and its surrounding region from the late 18th century to the 1970s. By focusing upon the history of the town, ”CENTENNIAL” managed to cover nearly every possible topic in the Western genre. Some of those topics include Native American societies and their encounters with the white trappers and traders, American emigration along the Western trails, the Indian Wars, a gold rush, a cattle drive, the cattle-sheep range wars and environmental issues. The first episode ”Only the Rocks Live Forever”centered on an Arapaho warrior named Lame Beaver, his daughter Clay Basket, a French-Canadian fur trader named Pasquinel, and his partner, a young Scottish-born trader named Alexander McKeag.

”Only the Rocks Live Forever” began with the death of Lame Beaver’s father in the mid-1750s, at the hands of the Pawnee. The episode also covered moments of the warrior’s life that include his theft of much needed horses from the Commanche for the survival of his village, his first meeting with Pasquinel and later, McKeag; and his village’s wars with their nemesis, a Pawnee chief named Rude Water and his fellow warriors. The episode focused even longer on the fur trader, Pasquinel. Viewers followed the trader on his adventures with various Native Americans such as the Arapaho and the Pawnee; and his two encounters with a keelboat crewed by murderous French Canadian rivermen. After being wounded in the back by a Pawnee arrow and barely escaping death at the hands of the French Canadian rivermen, Pasquinel made his way to St. Louis, then part of the Spanish Empire. An American doctor named Richard Butler introduced him to a German-born silversmith named Herman Bockweiss and the latter’s daughter, Lise. Pasquinel formed a partnership with Bockweiss, who provided him with trinkets to trade with the Native Americans and fell in love with Lise.

Upon his return to the West, the Pawnee introduced Pasquinel to the Scottish-born Alexander McKeag, who became his partner. After experiencing a series of adventures, the two arrived at Lame Beaver’s village. There, Pasquinel strengthened his ties with Lame Beaver, while McKeag fell in love with the warrior’s daughter, Clay Basket. The pair eventually returned to St. Louis with a profitable supply of furs. There, Pasquinel married Lise. During the two partners’ visit to St. Louis, Lame Beaver and his fellow Arapaho became engaged in another conflict with the Pawnee in an effort to rescue a child that had been snatched by the other tribe. The conflict resulted in the rescue of the child, Rude Water’s death at the hands of Lame Beaver, and the latter’s death at the hands of Pawnee warriors. When Pasquinel and McKeag returned to the Pawnee village, they discovered that Rude Water had been shot by a bullet molded from gold by Lame Beaver. They also learned about Lame Beaver’s death. And upon their return to the Arapaho village, they learned from Clay Basket that her late father had ordered her to become Pasquinel’s wife. Because of the French Canadian’s desire to learn about the location of Lame Beaver’s gold, he agreed to make Clay Basket his second wife, despite McKeag’s protests.

Directed by Virgil W. Vogel and written by producer John Wilder, ”Only the Rocks Live Forever” was a surprisingly well paced episode, considering its running time of two-and-a-half hours. Viewers received a detailed look into the society of the Arapaho nation (despite the fact that many of the extras portraying the Arapaho were of Latino descent). And through the adventures of Pasquinel and McKeag, viewers also received a detailed and nearly accurate look into the perils of the life of a fur trader in the trans-Mississippi West. Wilder managed to make one historical goof. When asked in late 18th century St. Louis, circa on how far he had traveled upriver, Pasquinel said, “Cache La Poudre”. However, that particular river was not known by this name until after the 1820s, when a severe storm forced French trappers to “cache their gun powder” by the river bank. And although the episode never stated outright, it did hint that St. Louis and the rest of the Mississippi Valley was part of the Spanish Empire during that period, through the characters of Senor Alvarez and his wife, portrayed by Henry Darrow and Annette Charles.

This episode also benefitted from the strong cast that appeared in the episode. I was especially impressed by Michael Ansara’s charismatic performance as the Arapaho warrior, Lame Beaver. Well known character actor Robert Tessier (of Algonquian descent) gave an equally impressive performance as Lame Beaver’s main nemesis, the Pawnee chief Rude Water. Not only was I impressed by Raymond Burr’s performance as St. Louis silversmith, Herman Bockweiss, I was also impressed by his use of a German accent. Whether or not it was accurate, I must admit that his take on the accent never struck me as a cliché. Sally Kellerman’s own handling of a German accent was also well done. And I thought she gave a poignant performance as the slightly insecure Lise, who found herself falling in love with Pasquinel. Barbara Carrera gave a solid performance as Clay Basket, but I did not find her that particularly dazzling in this episode. Hands down, ”Only the Rocks Live Forever” belonged to Robert Conrad and Richard Chamberlain. Both actors did an excellent job in adapting foreign accents. And both gave exceptional performances in their portrayal of two very different and complex personalities. Superficially, Conrad’s portrayal of Pasquinel seemed superficial and very forthright. However, I was impressed how he conveyed Pasquinel’s more complex traits and emotions through the use of his eyes and facial expression. And once again, Chamberlain proved to be the ultimate chameleon in his transformation into the shy and emotional Scotsman, forced to learn about the West and who seemed bewildered by his morally questionable partner.

”Only the Rocks Live Forever” is not my favorite episode in ”CENTENNIAL”. I can think of at least three or four that I would personally rank above it. But I must admit that thanks to Vogel’s direction and Wilder’s script, this episode proved to be a perfect start for what I consider to be one of the best minseries that ever aired on television.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides” (2011) Review

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” (2011) Review

When the Disney Studios and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had first released news of their intention to make sequels to their 2003 hit movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl”, I reacted to the news with a greatdeal of wariness. In fact, I was against the idea. But after seeing 2006’s “Dead Man’s Chest” and 2007’s “At World’s End”, my opinion had changed. I ended up enjoying the two movies just as much as I had enjoyed “Curse of the Black Pearl” . . . especially the second film. 

About two years after “At World’s End” hit the theaters, the Disney people and Bruckheimer had released news of their intention to make a fourth film. Again, I expressed wariness at the idea. I thought the three movies released between 2003and 2007 made a neat little trilogy. There was no need for a fourth movie. But Disney and Bruckheimer went ahead with their plans and a fourth movie was recently released. But unlike “Dead Man’s Chest” and “At World’s End”, I found it difficult to enjoy “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: On Stranger Tides”.

I cannot say that I disliked the film. There were aspects of it that I genuinely enjoyed. Both Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in top form as Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hector Barbossa. But I noticed something odd about their characters in this movie. For once, Jack did not have a particular goal to attain in this film. In “Curse of the Black Pearl”, he was after the Black Pearl. He was after the chest that contained Davy Jones’ heart in “Dead Man’s Chest” to be used to avoid a debt that he owned. And in “At World’s End”, he was still after Jones’ heart in order to gain the opportunity to become master of the Flying Dutchman and immortality. In this fourth movie, Jack seemed to have become swept up in Blackbeard and the British Crown’s agendas. And Barbossa seemed out of place as a privateer for His Majesty King George II and the Royal Navy. There was a scene that featured him eating slices of fruit arranged on a plate. He seemed to be doing his best to project the image of an officer and a gentleman . . . only he looked rather odd. However, both actors gave top notch performances and I could find nothing to complain about.

I could also say the same about the performances of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Stephen Graham as Angelica, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and a sailor named Scrum, respectively. All three were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Cruz did an excellent job in portraying the complex Angelica, who happened to be the daughter of Blackbeard. Although it is obvious that she is attracted to Jack – a former lover, she seemed to have this . . . need for her father’s love that made her into some kind of twisted Daddy’s girl wannabe. Unfortunately, McShane’s Blackbeard seemed like poor father material. There were times when he conveyed the image of a concerned and loving father. And yet, he proved to be nothing more than an emotional vampire who would easily kill his daughter if she got in the way of his goal – the Fountain of Youth. And I must admit that not only did McShane made a witty and terrifying Blackbeard, he handled his character’s twisted relationship with Angelica beautifully. Graham’s Scrum almost struck me as a younger version of Jack’s old friend, Joshamee Gibbs. And considering that the latter’s appearance in this film seemed somewhat limited, it seemed just as well that Graham received more screen time.

There were other aspects of “On Stranger Tides” that I enjoyed. Or should I say, scenes? The mermaids’ attacks upon Blackbeard’s men and upon the H.M.S. Providence were among the most terrifying scenes I have seen in the franchise since the Kracken’s attacks in “Dead Man’s Chest”. I also enjoyed the scene that featured Jack’s mutinous meeting with members of Blackbeard’s crew. Personally, I found it very funny and it brought back memories of former characters such as Pintel, Ragetti, Marty and Cotton. Jack’s meeting with King George II proved to be somewhat entertaining. And it led to an equally entertaining chase sequence through the streets of mid-18th century London. But my favorite scene featured Jack marooning Angelica on a deserted island, following the death of Blackbeard. The humor not only permeated strongly in their verbal exchange, but also in director Rob Marshall’s visual style. And I must admit that I also enjoyed the photography featured in the London scenes and the “island” where the Fountain of Youth was located. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did justice to the lush Hawaii jungle that served as one of the movie’s settings.

So, if I had so much to enjoy about “On Stranger Tides”, why did it fail to resonate within me in the end? What went wrong? At least for me? My main problem with the movie is that I felt it tried to repeat many aspects of the first film,“Curse of the Black Pearl”. This is odd, considering that “On Stranger Tides” was allegedly inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 novel, “On Stranger Tides”. The fourth film did not come off as a remake or anything of such. But there were too many aspects of the first film that seemed to be repeated in “On Stranger Tides”. One, Jack’s reunion with Angelica in a London tavern almost seemed like a remake of his first meeting with Will Turner in “Curse of the Black Pearl”. Scrum almost seemed like a remake of Joshamee Gibbs. This is not surprising, since he had more scenes with Jack that Gibbs and the latter (along with actor Kevin McNally) seemed wasted in the movie. Two of Blackbeard’s crew turned out to be zombies (if you can call them that). And they seemed like remakes (physical and otherwise) of Barbossa’s first mate from the first film, Bo’sun. More importantly, the romance between missionary Philip Swift and the mermaid Syrena almost seemed like a remake of the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance . . . but without the character developments. If I must be honest, Philip and Syrena’s romance nearly put me to sleep on several occasions. I feel sorry for actors Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. They seemed like two decent actors forced to work with a pair of boring and undeveloped characters.

There were other problems I had with “On Stranger Tides”. The movie saw the return of Royal Navy officers Theodore Groves (from the first and third film) and Gillette (from the first film). What on earth did Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot did to their roles? Both characters almost seemed lobotomized. Well, Gillette did. Groves seemed to have lost his sense of humor. I recalled that he was a big fan boy of Jack in the first and third films. Yet, when he finally met Jack . . . nothing happened. He was too busy being a rather boring and stiff character. What happened to Jack and Barbossa’s own quests for the Fountain of Youth, which was first introduced in “At World’s End”? After a few years of failure, the audience is led to believe that Jack simply lost interest. And Barbossa’s earlier encounter with Blackbeard and the latter’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, led to the loss of one leg and the Black Pearl. And how did Barbossa managed to survive the loss of his leg. Apparently, Barbossa had to cut off his leg to free from Blackbeard’s enchanted ship lines. So, how did he manage to keep himself from bleeding to death in the ocean? How did he manage to swim to safety with one leg?

And then we come to the mermaids. How did the mermaids manage to destroy Barbossa’s ship, the H.M.S. Providence? It was one thing to lure men from small boats or smash said boats. It was another to do the same to a large frigate. I have never heard of such a thing in the mermaid mythology. One last major problem I had with the movie dealt with the presence of the Spanish. Like the British, they were after the Fountain of Youth. Only their leader, known as the Spaniard (portrayed by Óscar Jaenada), called himself destroying the Fountain in the name of his king and the Catholic Church, as some kind of stance against paganism. Worse, he possessed the very chalices that needed to be used to drink the Fountain’s water. Yet, he did not bother to smash them, until he was at the Fountain’s location. Why? And what in the hell were Elliot and Rossio thinking? Why include such a storyline that proved to be irrelevant, epsecially since Jack was able to use the Fountain’s water after its so-called destruction?

I hear that Disney Studios and Bruckheimer are planning a fifth movie. I can understand this decision, considering that“On Stranger Tides” raked up a great deal of profit at the box office. Frankly, I wish they would change their minds. I honestly do not care how much money the movie had made. After watching it, I realized that a fourth movie should not have been made . . . at least from an artistic point of view. It featured too much sloppy writing and characterizations for me to truly enjoy. “On Stranger Tides” might prove to be the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie that I cannot consider as a favorite.

“ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” (2007) Review

“ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” (2007) Review

Nine years after the release of 1998’s “ELIZABETH”, director Shekhar Kapur returned to direct a sequel called,“ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE”. Like the 1998 movie, it stars Cate Blanchett as England’s “Virgin Queen” and Geoffrey Rush as the sovereign’s most trusted spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. The movie covers a period during Elizabeth I’s reign in which she had faced the double threat of Philip II of Spain (Jordi Mollà) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Samantha Morton). The movie also features a romantic triangle for Elizabeth that features Clive Owen as Walter Raleigh, famous poet and explorer (and the Queen’s object of desire) and Abbie Cornish as one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waitng and Raleigh’s future wife, Bess Throckmorton. 

Despite having the same director and star as the previous film, “ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” seems like a different kettle of fish from its predecessor. Michael Hirst and new writer, William Nicholson’s screenplay seem more somber and less violent than the 1998 film. The most graphic violence shown in the movie is actually heard as Mary Stuart’s neck is severed by a sword (or axe). And its sensuality almost seem subdued in compared to the earlier film. The most titillating scene seemed to be Cate Blanchett’s backside after she disrobes in one scene.

The movie covers a period in Elizabethan history that has been featured many times in the past – namely Elizabeth Tudor’s decision to execute Mary Stuart for plotting treason. It also covers the consequences of this act – namely Spain’s decision to send an armada to England. Although I found this mildly interesting, I wish that one day in the future, some filmaker would focus upon a period in Elizabeth’s reign that did not cover her early years as queen, Mary Stuart’s death or the Spanish Armada. Unfortunately, these incidents seem to define her reign in history. Perhaps that is why I found the story’s main conflict anti-climatic. At least the royal triangle between Elizabeth, Raleigh and Throckmorton managed to provide some spark in the story . . . even if this actually played out in the early 1590s, instead of the 1580s as shown in the film.

The performances are basically first-rate – especially by Rush, Owen and Cornish. Although I must confess that I found Owen’s presence in the movie to be almost irrevelant. Aside from participating in the defense of England against Spain, he had no serious role in the movie’s main story – namely Elizabeth’s conflict with Mary and Philip.

I really do not know what to make of Jordi Mollà’s portrayal of Philip II. I guess I found it rather odd. I think he had tried to portray the Spanish sovereign as someone more eccentric than he actually was. And quite frankly, screenwriters Hirst and Nicholson did not serve him well by dumping some rather pedantic dialogue upon him that seemed focused around insulting Elizabeth’s character. I do not know what he had called English queen more – ‘whore’‘bastard’ or simply‘darkness’. Quite frankly, he had made a much better villain in “BAD BOYS II”.

As for Blanchett, I really enjoyed her performance in the movie’s first half. She seemed more self-assured, mature and perhaps manipulative than she was in the 1998 movie. Yet, once when affairs of both the state and the heart began to sour for her, she engaged in more over-the-top mannerisms than Bette Davis did during her entire 17 years at Warner Brothers. Before one starts thinking that I was more impressed by Blanchett’s performance in “ELIZABETH”, let me assure you that I was not. If anything, her twitchiness in the movie’s second half only reminded me of the same mannerisms that I almost found annoying in the first movie. Yet . . . she still managed to turn in an excellent performance.

Like its 1998 predecessor, “ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE” is not perfect. It lacks the previous movie’s colorful panache, despite the lavish costumes and sets. In fact, those very traits nearly threaten to overwhelm both the story and its characters. Thankfully, Kapur manages to prevent this from actually happening. And although it is historically incorrect, at least it is not marred by an unforgivable revision of history as was the case with the Elizabeth/Dudley storyline in the first film. Despite its imperfections, I suggest you go see “ELIZABETH: THE GOLDEN AGE”. Especially if you enjoy lavish costumes in a historical setting.

“THE SEA HAWK” (1940) Review

“THE SEA HAWK” (1940) Review

If anyone has ever read Rafael Sabatini’s 1915 novel, ”The Sea Hawk”, he or she has clearly seen that the so-called 1940 film adaptation with the same title . . . is not the same story. I have never read Sabatini’s novel. But I have a friend who has. And according to him, the 1924 silent film adaptation bore a closer resemblance to the novel. 

In the end, it is not surprising that this 1940 adventure bore little or no resemblance to Sabatini’s novel – aside from the main protagonist enduring a stint as slave aboard a Spanish galley. Although Warner Brothers studio had owned the film rights to the novel and released the 1924 version, one of their staff screenwriters – Seton I. Miller – had written a treatment that happened to be an Elizabethan adventure called ”Beggars of the Sea” in 1938. Warners decided to use Miller’s treatment and the title of Sabatini’s novel for an Errol Flynn vehicle.

”THE SEA HAWK” told the story about an Elizabethan privateer (official pirate for the English Crown) named Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn) who belongs with a group of other privateers known as the Sea Hawks. Thorpe’s capture and plunder of a galley carrying Don José Alvarez de Cordoba (Claude Rains), the Spanish ambassador to the English Court and his niece, Doña Maria de Cordoba (Brenda Marshall); attracts the attention of Spain and a traitorous minister in Elizabeth I’s court – Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell). The privateer proposes to Elizabeth (Flora Robson) an expedition to plunder Spanish gold in Panama. Lord Wolfingham and Don Alavarez learn of his plans via one of their English spies and set a trap for Thorpe in Panama. At the same time, Don Alvarez uses the privateer’s capture as an excuse to pressure the Queen to disband and arrest the other Sea Hawk captains.

I had noticed something rather curious about the movie’s cast. A good number of them happened to be American-born – including leading lady Brenda Marshall (born in the Philippines to American parents), Alan Hale, Edgar Buchannan (of”PETTICOAT JUNCTION” fame) and a good number of others. This was not the first Flynn movie with an English or British setting. After all, Hale had appeared in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD” (1938), along with fellow American Eugene Pallette. And actor Ross Alexander had appeared in ”CAPTAIN BLOOD” (1935). But this is the first time I can recall this number of Americans in a Flynn movie set outside the United States. I wonder if this had anything to with the possibility that many younger British actors – leading and supporting – had left Hollywood to join the British forces after the war began.

Amongst the supporting players in the cast was a veteran from one of Flynn’s past – namely Ona O’Connor. As she had done in”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”, she portrayed another plain-faced maid of a noblewoman, who manages to find romance with one of Flynn’s men. In ”THE SEA HAWK”, the lucky fellow in question turned out to be Hale. And if one is sharp, one would recognize Gilbert Roland as the Spanish sea captain, whose ship is captured by Thorpe in the film’s first action sequence. Being just as handsome and dashing as Flynn, it seemed only natural that Roland’s character would get his revenge in the movie’s second half. I must say that the collection of supporting actors and extras that had made up Geoffrey Thorpe’s crew did a first-rate job, despite the number of American accents. Unlike those who portrayed Robin Hood’s Merrie Men in the 1938 film, the actors that portrayed Thorpe’s crew had the opportunity to display their talents for on-screen suffering during two major sequences in the film.

Another one of Warner Brothers’ top character actors and veteran of past Flynn movies was Alan Hale, who portrayed Thorpe’s first officer Carl Pitts. I have been trying to think of something original to say about Hale, but why bother? Let’s face it. Everyone knows that he was a talented actor until his death in 1950. ”THE SEA HAWK” not only provided enough proof of his talent, but also his obvious screen chemistry with Flynn. I had especially enjoyed one of their scenes that involved a humorous discussion on Panamanian mosquitoes. And it still amazes me how an American actor can project an Old World aura while sporting a questionable accent. ”THE SEA HAWK” also marked legendary British character actress Flora Robson second portrayal of the Tudor queen, Elizabeth I. She had first portrayed this role in the 1937 movie, ”FIRE OVER ENGLAND” with Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh. In this movie, her Elizabeth possessed a witty and extroverted nature that easily became commanding and a little frightening when crossed. I have only seen ”FIRE OVER ENGLAND” once and it happened over a decade ago. But I must admit that I enjoyed Robson’s interpretation of Elizabeth in this movie, very much. And her scenes with Flynn crackled with the obvious chemistry of two people who seemed to enjoy each other’s company.

One could always count upon an Errol Flynn swashbuckler to include first-rate villains. ”THE SEA HAWK” certainly had two – namely Henry Daniell as the traitorous Lord Wolfingham and Claude Rains as the Spanish ambassador, Don José Alvarez de Cordoba. Rains had already appeared as the backstabbing Prince John in ”THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD”. Although his Don Alvarez is clearly Geoffrey Thorpe’s enemy, one could never accuse the character of being perfidious, like Prince John. Don Alvarez is first and foremost a patriot. Despite his plotting against Thorpe, the other Sea Hawks and the Queen, his actions clearly stemmed from his patriotic fervor and loyalty to Spain and outrage toward Thorpe’s piratical actions against his country. He also seemed to have a close and warm relationship with his Anglo-Spanish niece, Doña Maria. Their kinship turned out to be strong enough to withstand her feelings of love toward Thorpe and her decision to remain in England, instead of returning to Spain with him. Henry Daniell’s Lord Wolfingham turned out to be a different kettle of fish . . . a true villain. He was an Englishman who clearly seemed bent upon working against the English Crown. One could assume that he was a practicing Catholic with hostile feelings toward Elizabeth’s Protestantism – like the Duke of Norfolk character in the 1998 film”ELIZABETH”. But Miller and Koch had never offered any hints of his religious affiliation. It did reveal his desire for more political power if Spain had ever conquered England. Which made his betrayal all the more distasteful. And I must say that actor Henry Daniell had superbly portrayed Wolfingham with a lively relish I have rarely seen in his other roles.

One of the commentators for the movie’s DVD featurette had described actress Brenda Marshall as ”good at playing outraged”. That was it . He said nothing about her skills as an actress or screen presence. As for other critics, they tend to point out that in ”THE SEA HAWK”, the leading lady was not Olivia De Havilland. As if that is supposed to explain everything. I have been a fan of the movie for years and to be frank, I have never been bothered by Brenda Marshall as Flynn’s leading lady in this film, instead of De Havilland. The American-born actress seemed more suited for this role as the Anglo-Spanish Doña Maria, who found herself falling in love with her uncle’s enemy – Geoffrey Thorpe. She may not have generated the same level of chemistry with Flynn as De Havilland did. But she and Flynn certainly managed to create a strong screen chemistry. And what I especially liked about Marshall’s performance was her ability to flesh out Maria’s strength of character beneath the delicate façade. Especially when the character helped smuggled a wanted Thorpe into the royal palace for an audience with the Queen. Yet, Marshall’s finest moment in ”THE SEA HAWK” occurred during Doña Maria’s encounter with the British galley slaves pouring from beneath the ship, following Thorpe’s victory in the film’s first quarter. The mixture of shock and embarrassment on Marshall’s face seemed to confirm her skills as a talented actress.

Based upon some of the online reviews I have read for ”THE SEA HAWKS”, most critics seemed impressed by Errol Flynn’s portrayal of Captain Geoffrey Thorpe. They seemed to be impressed by his on-screen daring-do and sense of command. The critics labeled Flynn’s Thorpe as a mature Captain Blood or Robin of Locksley. Like the critics, I was impressed by Flynn’s performance. However, I certainly do not agree with their assessment of role merely as a mature Captain Blood”. Geoffrey Thorpe struck me as a different kettle of fish. Yes, believe that Thorpe was a more mature character than his previous ones. But I saw him as a mature professional that possessed an intense, no-nonsense personality. Yet, Thorpe also managed to retain a sharp sense of humor that seemed to come from nowhere and bite his victim in the ass. When it came to romance, he became a shy, tongue-twisted lover-to-be – something that has never been apparent in his previous roles. And Flynn captured all of these different nuances of the Geoffrey Thorpe character with a competent skill that should have garnered him more professional respect from Warners Brothers and the Hollywood community at large. I view Geoffrey Thorpe as one of Flynn’s best roles during his twenty-something long career.

I have one last thing to say about both Errol Flynn and Brenda Marshall’s roles in ”THE SEA HAWK”. The last time I had viewed this movie, something about their characters that I found curious. The characters of both Geoffrey Thorpe and Doña Maria Alvarez reminded me of two literary characters from a novel I have not read in over a year. Has anyone ever read ”The Shadow of the Moon” by M.M. Kaye? It is a novel about the 1857-58 Sepoy Rebellion in India that was first published in 1959 – nineteen years after ”THE SEA HAWK”. The two main characters – Contessa Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall – bore a strong resemblance to Thorpe and Doña Maria. Both Thorpe and Alex Randall are two military men that possessed an intense, professional demeanor countered by a sharp sense of humor. And both Doña Maria and Winter de Ballesteros are two young Anglo-Spanish women who hide their emotional personalities behind a reserved manner. Curious indeed.

I have never read Rafael Sabatini’s novel. But I have read the synopsis. And I must say that it read like a first-rate adventure. I can honestly say the same about this 1940 film version as well. Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch (who co-wrote”CASABLANCA”) had created a top-notch script that eventually became one of Errol Flynn’s best movies. It provided plenty of humor, action, intrigue, pathos and romance. And like some of Flynn’s better movies, it possessed something unique that made it memorable. ”THE SEA HAWK” had been released about year after World War II began in September 1939. Many film critics and fans have pointed out that the movie’s plot seemed to serve as some kind of allegory of the war in 1940. In the movie, England stood alone against the growing threat of Imperial Spain. Around the time of the movie’s release in July 1940, Great Britain found itself standing alone against the growing threat of Nazi Germany. Sixteenth century Spain. Nazi Germany in 1939-1940. I get the feeling that Miller and especially Koch knew what they were doing when writing the movie’s script. Especially since Spain (under Franco’s Fascist rule) happened to be one of Germany’s allies in 1940. The strongest indication of ”THE SEA HAWK” being an allegory of World War II’s early years came in the form of the Queen’s speech in the final scene that hinted for all free men to defend liberty, and that the world did not belong to any one man. She might as well have been speaking to the British subjects of 1940, instead of 1588.

Right now, I want to speak about some of the movie’s major sequences. At least those sequences that left a big impression upon me. The first major sequence involved Thrope’s sea battle against the Spanish galley conveying Don Alvarez and Doña Maria to English. In all honesty, I found myself feeling less impressed with this sequence. Although filled with thunderous canon fire, men swinging from one ship to the other and plenty of swordplay, the entire battle seemed to possess a lack of urgency. And the large number of men participating in the battle struck me as over-the-top in a way that made me wonder how so many people – a good number of them that became Thorpe’s prisoners – managed to reach England without the English ship sinking from the sheer weight. I wondered if producer Hal Wallis and director Michael Curtiz had originally mistaken this sequence with the final cavalry charge from ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”.

Thankfully, there were other sequences in ”THE SEA HAWK” that I found impressive. Thorpe’s private meeting with Queen Elizabeth had allowed Flynn and Robson to sparkle on screen. I understand that they were very fond of each other. In fact, Flynn had so much respect for Robson that he eschewed his usual lax discipline and appeared on the set on time and always knew his lines. This behavior baffled director Michael Curtiz, who had grown used to Flynn’s less than admirable on-the-set behavior.

The one sequence that left a strong impression in my mind featured the adventures of Thorpe and his crew in Panama. Thanks to cinematographer Sol Polito, the entire Panama sequence had been filmed with a sheen of yellow sepia to evoke a tropical world filled with humidity and corruption. This became especially effective in the scenes that featured Thorpe and his men’s attempts to escape the Spanish troops hunting them down in the jungle. Personally, I found the entire sequence rather chilling . . . at least a first. It became downright depressing when one of Thorpe’s men – an elderly sailor – dies in the longboat taking them back to the ship.

And if you thought that the Panama sequence seemed a little horrifying, try watching the following one that featured Thorpe and his surviving crew as slaves aboard a Spanish galley. Stripped to the waist and sporting torn breeches and scraggly beards, Thorpe and his men readily physically reflected the hellish situation in which they found themselves. While the galley is docked in Cadiz, Thorpe learns from a new prisoner (an English spy) that there are papers aboard ship indicating Wolfingham as a traitor and Spain’s plans to send an armada against England. The escape attempt that followed harbored an air of a grim deadliness, resulting in the deaths of some Spanish crewman.

Thorpe and his men finally make their escape from the Cadiz docks to the tune of a rousing Korngold score. The movie eventually shifts back to England, where Thorpe reunites with Doña Maria. She helps him overcome obstacles in his efforts to acquire an audience with the Queen. One of these obstacles turned out to be a duel between Thorpe and Wolfingham. Frankly, I consider this duel to be one of Flynn’s best on screen. Unfortunately Henry Daniell, Flynn’s opponent, lacked the experience and skills for on screen fencing and the Australian actor ended up fighting against a stunt double. Despite this little setback, Curtiz managed to create a more than credible fencing duel by mixing actual fighting between Flynn and the stuntman with occasional close-ups of both Flynn and Daniell, and shadows of the two swordsmen reflected on the palace walls. In terms of action, I consider this to be one of Curtiz’s finest moments. I must also say the same for Flynn. I had noticed a series of cuts on the actor’s upper body and face, following Thorpe’s fights with Wolfingham and the palace guards. I cannot ever recall Flynn looking so exhausted and bedraggled following an on-screen duel in any movie – before or after this one.

The last major sequence in ”THE SEA HAWK” featured Geoffrey Thorpe being knighted Queen Elizabeth for his service. A patriotic speech by the Queen followed, in which she urged the English citizens to persevere against the upcoming threat of the Spanish Armada. This speech was a clear indication that the movie was more than just another Flynn costumed adventure. It was also an allegory of Great Britain’s wartime position in 1940. Unfortunately, the speech bored the pants off me. Miller and Koch’s attempt to express their sympathy toward Britain’s struggles against Nazi Germany struck me at best, heavy handed.

For years, ”THE SEA HAWK” used to be my favorite Errol Flynn movie. After a recent viewing of the 1936 movie, ”THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE”, the movie has slipped to number two on my list. But thanks to solid performances by Flynn and a first-rate supporting cast, superb photography by Sol Polito, Erich Wolfgang Korngold’ stirring score, an excellent yet occasionally heavy-handed script by Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch, and exciting direction by Michael Curtiz; ”THE SEA HAWK” is still a superb costumed adventure that has not lost its touch in the past seventy (70) years. I feel that it is a must see for everyone.

“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS” (2008) Review

 

“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” (2008) Review

As much as I enjoyed this latest installment of the INDIANA JONES saga – ”Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” – I had found myself perplexed by it. There was something about the movie’s tone that failed to strike a chord similar to the past three movies. It took a second viewing of the movie for me to understand that it had a lot to do with its setting. 

”INDIANA JONES and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” is set in 1957, in which Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) leads a convoy of Soviet troops, dressed as American soldiers on a mission to infiltrate a military base in the Nevada desert called “Hangar 51”. Spalko and her men force Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) to lead them to a crate holding the remains of an extraterrestrial creature that crashed ten years before in Roswell, New Mexico. When Jones attempts to escape, he is foiled by his old partner, George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone), who reveals that he is working with the Soviets. Jones then escapes on a rocket sled into the desert, where he stumbles upon a nuclear test town and survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. While being debriefed, Jones discovers he is under FBI investigation because his friend Mac is a Soviet agent. Jones returns to Marshall College, where he is offered a leave of absence to avoid being fired because of the investigation. As he is leaving, Jones is stopped by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and told that his old colleague, Harold Oxley (John Hurt), disappeared after discovering a crystal skull in Peru.

Like ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD” of last year, I had harbored some serious doubts on whether George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could relive the old magic of their previous three Indiana Jones adventures of the 1980s. Needless to say, my fears proved to be groundless. Like the Bruce Willis “DIE HARD” movie, this fourth installment ended up being very entertaining. And although it had some of the old magic of ”RAIDERS””TEMPLE OF DOOM” and ”LAST CRUSADE”, it had a tone that made it different from the other three. It took a movie review by someone named Lazypadawan and a second viewing of the movie to not only notice the difference, but to eventually appreciate it.

The main problem I originally had with ”CRYSTAL SKULL” was the presence of a spaceship at the end of the story. The City of Gold that Indy, Spalko, Oxley and others wanted to find, ended up with something to do with . . . an inter-dimensional beings. One might as well call them aliens, judging by their look. This is something that has never been seen in an Indiana Jones film before. And of course it has not. The other three movies had been set in the 1930s. It would be only natural that they had a feel of a 30s B-serial adventure. But I made the mistake of expecting a 1930s serial adventure in a story set in the late 1950s. What I should have realized – and what Lazypadawan had pointed out in her review – was that ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” was not supposed to be a 30s serial adventure set in the 1950s. It was supposed to be a send up of the 1950s “B” movies. And what are the elements of a “B” movie from the 1950s? Here are just a few:

*atomic power
*the presence of Soviet troops or spies
*science fiction
*horror
*hybrid of science fiction and horror
*conflicts between biker hoods and high school/college jocks
*the “Red” scare
*Soviet (and American) interests in psychic paranormal activities and UFOs

”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” had most, if not all elements in the film. I had just read a review in which someone had complained that the movie seemed like a “rip-off” of a cheesy B-movie. I had made that same mistake when I saw the spaceship sequence near the end of the movie. But now I know better. Lucas and Spielberg had every intention of the movie being a “rip-off” of 1950s B-movies. Like I had said before, it would only make sense.

Someone else had mentioned that Harrison Ford had not seemed this animated in years. I am not surprised. Indiana Jones had always been amongst his favorite characters. And it really showed in his performance. It is also nice to see that after 27 years, his chemistry with Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood) seemed as strong as ever. By the way, she was great. And I was very impressed by Shia LaBeouf as Marion and Indy’s love child – Mutt Williams aka Henry Jones III. As much as I liked his performance in ”TRANSFORMERS”, I have always thought it seemed a bit too frantic for my tastes. I much preferred his role as Henry III (I’m sorry, but I can barely bring myself to say – let alone write – “Mutt”). LaBeouf managed to convey a strong screen presence that matched Ford, without resorting to the frantic acting he had utilized in “TRANSFORMERS”.

Like Ford, I could tell that Cate Blanchett really enjoyed her role as the villainous Soviet Colonel-Doctor Spalko. She was as obsessive and ruthless as the past Indy villains. But Blanchett’s performance had a verve and theatricality I have not seen since Amrish Puri’s portrayal of Mola Ram in ”THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”. And John Hurt filled Denholm Elliot’s role as friend/mentor of the Jones family quite beautifully. But unlike Marcus Brody, Harold Oxley had a good reason for his loopy behavior. I also enjoyed Ray Winstone’s performance as Indy’s treacherous old friend and colleague, McHale. In a way, he reminded me of the Elsa Schneider character in “LAST CRUSADE”. But as much as I like Alison Doody, I must say that Winstone’s take on a very morally ambiguous character had been handled with more skill.

Is there anything about ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” that I disliked? Well, I was not impressed by John Williams’ score. There was nothing original or memorable about it, aside from moments of the old Indy theme being rehashed. Rather disappointing. Nor was I fond of the movie’s heavy-handed style of action and special effects. However, I could honestly complain about the same about the other three films. But the one thing that really irritated me was the sequence featuring the villain’s defeat/destruction. In the end, it was not Indy who had defeated the villain or set her destruction in motion. It was the inter-dimensional being. In other words, Indy became nothing more than a passive bystander of the villain’s defeat. This is the one major fault I have noticed in two other Indiana Jones films. And it gave those films – at least in my eyes – an anticlimatic feeling that I found disappointing. In ”RAIDERS”, the opening of the Ark of the Covenant set in motion Belloq and the Nazis’ deaths. Both Indy and Marion were tied to a pole, unable to do anything except keep their eyes closed. In ”THE LAST CRUSADE”, Elsa Schneider turned out to be responsible for the main villain’s death and the destruction of his men through her handling of the Grail Cup. Perhaps Lucas and Spielberg were trying to convey some message about humans being too arrogant to take heed of things/beings that are more powerful or more evolved than mankind. But that same message had also been conveyed in ”TEMPLE OF DOOM”. Only in that particular movie, Indy’s action – namely invoking the power of Shiva with the Sanakara stone – did lead to the villain Mola Ram’s destruction. Perhaps this is why I have always found the 1984 movie’s finale a lot more impressive than those of the other three movies.

But despite my initial confusion on what Lucas and Spielberg were doing with the movie’s 1950s theme, along with my disappointment of the score and the handling of the villain’s defeat, I found ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” to be very enjoyable. It was great to see Indiana Jones back in action, again. And even more satisfying was his marriage to his lady love, Marion Ravenwood, in the end. After 30 odd years, those two finally got it right.