The 19th Century in Television

Recently, I noticed there have been a good number of television productions in both North America and Great Britain, set during the 19th century. Below is a list of those productions I have seen during this past decade in chronological:

THE 19TH CENTURY IN TELEVISION

1. “Copper” (BBC America) – Tom Fontana and Will Rokos created this series about an Irish immigrant policeman who patrols Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood during the last year of the U.S. Civil War. Tom Weston-Jones, Kyle Schmid and Ato Essandoh starred in this 2012-2013 series.

2. “The Crimson Petal and the White” (BBC) – Romola Garai starred in this 2011 miniseries, which was an adaptation of Michel Faber’s 2002 novel about a Victorian prostitute, who becomes the mistress of a powerful businessman.

3. “Death Comes to Pemberley” (BBC) – Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell-Martin starred in this adaptation of P.D. James’ 2011 novel, which is a murder mystery and continuation of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel, “Pride and Prejudice”.

4. “Hell on Wheels” (AMC) – This 2012-2016 series is about a former Confederate Army officer who becomes involved with the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad during the years after the Civil War. Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, and Dominique McElligott starred.

5. “Mercy Street” (PBS) – This series follows two volunteer nurses from opposing sides who work at the Mansion House Hospital in Alexandria, Virginia during the Civil War. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Josh Radnor and Hannah James.

6. “The Paradise” (BBC-PBS) – This 2012-2013 series is an adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1883 novel, “Au Bonheur des Dames”, about the innovative creation of the department story – only with the story relocated to North East England. The series starred Joanna Vanderham and Peter Wight.

7. “Penny Dreadful” (Showtime/Sky) – Eva Green, Timothy Dalton and Josh Harnett star in this horror-drama series about a group of people who battle the forces of supernatural evil in Victorian England.

8. “Ripper Street” (BBC) – Matthew Macfadyen stars in this crime drama about a team of police officers that patrol London’s Whitechapel neighborhood in the aftermath of Jack the Ripper’s serial murders.

9. “Underground” (WGN) – Misha Green and Joe Pokaski created this series about runaway slaves who endure a long journey from Georgia to the Northern states in a bid for freedom in the late Antebellum period. Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge star.

10. “War and Peace” (BBC) – Andrew Davies adapted this six-part miniseries, which is an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s 1865–1867 novel about the impact of the Napoleonic Era during Tsarist Russia. Paul Dano, Lily James and James Norton starred.

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1931 novel, “The Sittaford Mystery”. And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read “The Sittaford Mystery”.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain’s new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter’s elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.

Much to Miss Marple and Enderby’s surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan’s death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan’s wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple’s help.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie’s original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie’s denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.

Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings – unnecessary, as far as I am concerned – that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer’s identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer’s identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock’s last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, “PYSCHO”. I found that moment so ridiculous.

I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie’s production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie’s setting – a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan’s home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.

The performances in “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole “verbose elderly lady” act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan’s performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan’s right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan’s past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film’s production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town’s local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story’s main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.

It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY”. I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie’s novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast’s acting – including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan’s.

New Ranking of JAMES BOND Movies

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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.

Top Ten Favorite COMIC BOOK HEROES Movies

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Below is a list of my ten favorite movies featuring comic book heroes: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES MOVIES

1-The Avengers

1. “The Avengers” (2012) – Joss Whedon directed this superb movie about a team of Marvel Comics heroes teaming together to battle an alien invasion.

2-The Incredibles

2. “The Incredibles” (2004) – Brad Bird created one of the best Disney animated films about a family of superheroes living a quiet suburban life and forced to hide their powers, who are forced out of retirement to save the world.

3-Spider-Man 2

3. “Spider-Man 2” (2004) – Tobey Maguire made his second appearance as Marvel Comic’s web-slinger, who contemplates retirement while facing a new threat, Doctor Octavius in this first-rate sequel.

4-Captain America - The First Avenger

4. “Captain America: The First Avenger” – Chris Evans made his first appearance as Steve Rogers aka Captain America, Marvel’s first superhero who deals with the threat of a madman during World War II. Joe Johnston directed.

5-Iron Man 2

5. “Iron Man 2” (2010) – Robert Downey Jr. reprised his role as Tony Stark aka Iron Man. In this excellent sequel, Iron Man battles a “ghost” from his family’s past and a professional threat. Jon Farveau directed.

6-The Rocketeer

6. “The Rocketeer” (1991) – Bill Campbell starred in this first-rate Disney adaptation of Dave Stevens’ comic novel about a pilot who discovers a rocket pack and struggles to keep it out of the hands of Nazi pilots in 1938 Los Angeles. Joe Johnston directed.

7-X2

7. “X2: X-Men United” (2003) – Bryan Singer directed this second and best X-MEN film about the X-Men’s reluctant teaming with Erik Lensherr aka Magneto and friends to deal with the threat of a vengeful U.S. Army intelligence officer.

8-Batman Begins

8. “Batman Begins” (2005) – Director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale teamed for the first time in my favorite BATMANfilm about the origins of the Caped Crusader and his efforts to save Gotham City from a mysterious threat.

9-Iron Man

9. “Iron Man” (2008) – Robert Downey Jr. exploded on the scene as playboy millionaire in this origin tale about how the latter became costumed hero Iron Man. Jon Farveau directed.

10-The Dark Knight

10. “The Dark Knight” (2008) – Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale in this well-made BATMAN movie about the Caped Crusader’s conflict with the Joker. Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart co-starred.

“Being Pure to Ian Fleming’s James Bond”

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“BEING PURE TO IAN FLEMING’S JAMES BOND”

Lately, there has been a great deal of talk about EON Productions being pure to the James Bond novels written by Ian Fleming. Demands that Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli adhere closely to the novels have increased on many Bond forums. And I cannot help but wonder what has brought about the increasing number of demands.

Certain Bond fans have demanded the following: 

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether.

*Bond should smoke on screen.

*M should be a man.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels.

There are probably more demands, but the above are the ones I tend to encounter on the forums. I have also read demands that the Bond movies should either stick to the fantasy-adventure elements first introduced in “GOLDFINGER”or should stick to being tight spy thrillers like “FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”. In regard to the style of the Bond stories, I personally prefer tight spy thrillers like “CASINO ROYALE”“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”“FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”and “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. However, if a Bond movie with a fantasy-adventure style of storytelling is well written, I can be very tolerant of it. In fact, there are one or two of them that are favorites of mine – “THUNDERBALL”“THE SPY WHO LOVED ME” and “GOLDENEYE”.

Now, in regard to the demands I had listed earlier, here are my responses to them:

*The Bond franchise should avoid political correctness altogether – Why? Why should the Bond franchise stay mired in the political incorrectness of the past? I have always had the impression that EON Productions made sure that the Bond films kept up with the times. I have no problem with James Bond remaining sexist. That is the man’s character. But I would have a problem if the movies maintained some old-fashioned view on women, non-whites or non-British characters. In 1962’s “DR. NO”, there is a scene on Crab Key in which Bond ordered Quarrel to pick up his shoes. Every time I see that scene, I wince. Even for 1962 that seemed a bit too much, especially since the Civil Rights movement was going on at the time. Hell, in the same year, “THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE” featured a black psychiatrist working with U.S. Army intelligence. Many Bond fans have a problem with a Bond leading lady being a secret agent or someone capable of being an action character. I find this idea laughable. Are these people threatened by the idea of a woman being capable of shooting a gun or martial arts? Do they feel that such a character in a Bond movie would threatened their sense of well-being or their view of Bond as invincible and one-of-a-kind? I do not demand that all Bond women be spies or some kind of action figure. But I do not see the harm that they mix it up every now and then. In the end, I would find the idea of non-British and non-white characters being portrayed as inferior characters or the idea of Bond female leading ladies being nothing more than eye candy and bed warmers for Bond in all of the movies, repellent and a good excuse to avoid a Bond movie in the future.  In the end, these sexist moviegoers got their wish in the recent “SKYFALL”, when competent female MI-6 agent named Eve became secretary Miss Moneypenny at the end of the movie . . . on the grounds that she could not handle being a field agent.  This act pissed me off so much that I almost felt inclined to throw a shoe at the movie screen in anger.

*Bond should smoke on screen – Again, why? Why does Bond have to smoke on screen? What is the big deal? Personally, I could not care less. Connery smoked, but not that often and I barely noticed. I can say the same about Lazenby. As far as I know, Moore only smoked cigars in his first two movies. Dalton smoked in one scene of his first Bond movie. Did Brosnan smoked? If so, I do not remember . . . and I do not care. And I do not recall seeing Craig’s Bond smoking. In other words, the idea of Bond as a smoker can go either way with me. I simply feel that it is a matter that is not a big deal.

*M should be a man – The United Kingdom has had a female monarch for the past sixty-one years. For a period of ten or eleven years, it had a female Prime Minister. And MI-6 – until recently – was led by a woman. Why in the hell should gender matter in regard to M’s role? Are those who are demanding that M return to being a man are telling us that only a man can be an authority figure? This is the 21st century! That idea is ridiculous! Hell, it was ridiculous when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England back in the 16th century as one of the country’s greatest monarchs. I have also encountered complaints about M (Dench) castigating Bond whenever he screwed up. They act as if she did not have the right to lecture him. What nonsense! Dench is not the first M to castigate Bond. Bernard Lee’s “M” did it in “GOLDFINGER” after Bond had screwed up his assignment in Miami. He was bitchy with Bond in “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, following the conclusion of the latter’s revenge search for Blofield. And Lee did it again in “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” when Roger Moore’s Bond and Lieutenant Hip lost that solar power device – “Solex agitator”. Robert Brown’s M castigated Timothy Dalton’s Bond in their two movies together. So why have certain fans decided to complain about Dench’s M doing the same during her tenure in the Bond franchise? Was it because they could not deal with Bond being castigated by a female authority figure? And why on earth is it necessary for M to be a man?  Unfortunately, EON Productions heeded the fans and replaced Judi Dench’s M – in the most gruesome and politically incorrect way possible – with a male M now portrayed by Ralph Fiennes.  The Bond franchise has taken another step backward.

*Felix Leiter should be a white blond Texan, as described in the novels – What in the hell? Why on earth is it necessary for Felix Leiter to be a blond, white Texan? Because he was one in the Fleming novels? So what? In the 44-year history of the Bond franchise, has the movie version of Felix Leiter EVER been a blond, white Texan? I certainly do not recall one. John Terry, who portrayed Leiter in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”, was born and raised in Florida, if that would help. But he certainly was not a blond. I do not even know if Rik Van Nutter of “THUNDERBALL” was a blond or simply prematurely gray. Neither Jack Lord, Norman Burton, Cec Linder or David Hedison were tall, lanky blonds from Texas. In fact, none of these actors have ever used a Texas accent in portraying Leiter. But they have all been white. Is that the problem? Are they upset that the latest actor to portray Leiter, Jeffrey Wright, was an American black? Well another black American actor, Bernie Casey, portrayed Leiter in the 1983 unofficial Bond movie, “NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN”. I do not recall any outrage over his casting. However, I do believe there should have been one. Although good-looking, Mr. Casey did not strike me as a very good actor. Since Felix Leiter has NEVER been portrayed as a lanky blond white Texan in the Bond film franchise’s 50-year history, I see no reason why EON Productions should consider one now.

As for being a Fleming purist, I can honestly say that I am not one. Quite frankly, aside from a few titles like “From Russia With Love”“Thunderball” and “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, I am not a real fan of Ian Fleming’s writing. And I do not consider those three novels as the best example of action or noir literature. Although Fleming seemed to have had a talent for characterization and picturesque settings, I do not think that most of his narratives were that hot. In fact, his plots seemed to be the weakest part about his writing. I do not think that a Fleming plot is needed for a Bond movie to be great. As for the battle between the fantasy-adventure elements and the spy thriller elements, EON Productions have switched back and forth between the two styles. In fact, so has Ian Fleming. The switch between the two styles can be viewed as one aspect in which EON Productions has been “pure” to the novels.

And this all brings me back to this demand that EON Productions be pure to the Fleming novels. I am not saying that many of these “purist” fans stop posting complaints about the differences between the novels and the movies. Hell, they have every right to express their opinions. But if they are going to post these complaints for the world to see, then fans such as myself have the right to express why I do not agree with them. Just as these same “purists” have the right to express their disagreement with this article – which I suspect will soon happen.

I have one last question to ask – since when has EON Productions ever been completely “pure” to the novels? Was it in“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, the 1969 adaptation of Fleming’s 1963 novel? Well, there are some differences between the novel and the movie. One, the literary Tracy is a blond. The movie Tracy (Diana Rigg) obviously is a brunette. And in the movie, Bond is portrayed by an Australian actor, whose accent popped up every now and then. If EON Productions has never been completely “pure” to the novels – aside from changing back and forth between using fantasy elements and thriller elements – why on earth should it start now?

“HOT FUZZ” (2007) Review

“HOT FUZZ” (2007) Review

I have never never seen “SHAUN OF THE DEAD”. Nor have I ever seen “SPACED”, the TV series that first made British comics Simon Pegg and Nick Frost well known. And if I must be honest, I never really had any intention of seeing “HOT FUZZ” in the theaters. Until I saw the commercials for the movie on television five years ago. Thank God I had changed my mind. 

“HOT FUZZ” tells the story of New Scotland Yard police constable, Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg), whose uber-dedication to law and order, spotless arrest record (400% superior to his colleagues), and no-nonsense personality drives his superiors (which include Bill Nighy and Steve Coogan) to promote him to sergeant . . . and reassign him to the supposedly crime-free village of Sanford. Feeling like a fish out of water, Sergeant Angel struggles to adjust to rural crime fighting (like arresting underaged drinkers and a drunken future partner; and searching for a missing pet swan) and the slightly offbeat citizens of Sanford – especially his new partner, the affable Constable Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). What starts out as a mind-numbing experience for Angel, becomes intriguing when Sanford is rocked (well, as far as the intrepid police sergeant is concerned) by a series of grisly accidents. Angel eventually uncover the truth behind the so-called accidents. With the help of the eager Butterman (who happens to be an action movie fan) and the seemingly inept Sanford Police, Angel brings the . . . uh, guilty party to justice in a blaze of action-stylle gunplay.

Not only is “HOT FUZZ” one of the funniest movies I have seen in years, the screenwriters (director Edgar Wright and star Pegg) have created an array of eccentric and memorable characters that include Oscar winner Jim Broadbent (who plays Danny’s equally affable chief of police dad, Frank Butterman) and Billie Whitelaw (“THE OMEN” fame) and BAFTA nominee Anne Reid (“THE MOTHER”). Also portraying some of the villagers are a collection of British talent from famous action-adventure sagas – Timothy Dalton (the 4th James Bond), Edward Woodward (“THE EQUALIZER”), Paul Freeman (Belloq in “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK”), David Threlfall (“PATRIOT GAMES”) and Stuart Wilson (“LETHAL WEAPON 3”). Even Pegg has appeared as an IMF computer tech and agent in the last two “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE” movies. And they are all hilarious . . . especially Dalton’s smarmy supermarket owner who reminds me of a stock villain straight out of“THE PERILS OF PAULINE”.

I must admit that I truly enjoyed watching Nick Frost’s Danny get under Angel’s skin. Not only was he extremely funny – and witty, but he was also so charming that it was easy how he managed to break down Angel’s chilly exterior and befriend the London cop. And his penchant for American action films has endeared me to his character more than ever. I suffer from the same penchant.

But the real revelation – at least for me – turned out to be Sergeant Nicholas Angel, portrayed with such humorless zeal by star, Simon Pegg. Straight arrow types usually turn out to be the hero or anti-hero’s long-suffering superior or rival in many action films. And it is usually the screw-up or anti-social characters who turn out to be the main character that end up being transferred away from the action. But in “HOT FUZZ”, Angel’s zealous competence causes him to lose his girlfriend (Cate Blanchett in a cameo), but earn the antipathy of his Scotland Yard colleagues (who are eager to get rid of him). I cannot explain it, but is something about Angel that I found very appealing and funny. I guess I simply found him fascinating. In real life, this guy would have seriously annoyed me. But thanks to great writing and Pegg’s tight performance, I found myself rooting for him. The ironic thing about Nick Angel is that he will eventually discover that his nemesis is just as anal as he. Danny Butterman turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.

Some critics have complained that “HOT FUZZ” seemed to long for a comedy with a running time of 121 minutes. Considering that the movie was a send-up of action movies, which usually ran at two hours, I saw nothing wrong with the movie’s length. To be honest, I was too busy laughing to notice. I have to say that without a doubt, “HOT FUZZ” is one of the funniest movies I have seen since . . . one of Danny Butterman’s favorite movies, “BAD BOYS 2” and “STARSKY AND HUTCH” (both were released in 2003). It has become increasingly difficult to find a comedy that is smart and filled with rich characterization. “HOT FUZZ” can also boast some memorable scenes that I will never forget:

-Sergeant Angel’s New Scotland Yard superiors giving him the news about his reassignment
-Angel’s first night in Sanford (which includes arresting his future partner)
-David Threlfall and Lucy Punch’s hilarious take on “ROMEO AND JULIET”
-Police Constable Doris Thatcher’s witty repartee after dealing with one of Simon Skinner’s employees
-Danny Butterman’s send up on a scene from “POINT BREAK”
-Angel and Skinner’s crazy hand-to-hand fight amidst a model of Sanford.

“HOT FUZZ” managed to reach American theaters at least two weeks before the start of the Hollywood summer season. And already, it has become one of my favorite movies from 2007. It is a hilariously rich and sharp tale about murder, consipiracy and a great friendship. Thank you Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright.

“WESTWARD HO!”: Part Three – “CENTENNIAL” (1978-79)

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Below is Part Three to my article about Hollywood’s depiction about the westward migration via wagon trains in 19th century United States. It focuses upon “”, the third episode of the 1978-79 television miniseries, “CENTENNIAL”

 

“WESTWARD HO!”: Part Three – “CENTENNIAL” (1978-79)

I. Introduction

Between the fall of 1978 and the winter of 1979, NBC aired an adaptation of James Michner’s 1973 novel, “Centennial”. The twelve-part miniseries spanned 180 years in the history of a fictional town in Northern Colorado called Centennial. Episode Three, titled “The Wagon and the Elephant”, revealed the experiences of a Pennsylvania Mennonite from Lancaster named Levi Zendt and his bride, Elly, during their overland journey to the west.

In the early spring of 1845 (1844 in the novel), Levi found himself shunned by his conservative family after being falsely accused of attempted rape by a local Mennonite girl named . Apparently, Miss Stoltzfus did not want the community to know about her attempts to tease Levi. Only two other people knew the truth, two 17 year-olds at the local orphanage – Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. Levi eventually befriends Elly. And when he decides to leave Lancaster, he asks Elly to accompany him to Oregon as his bride.

Since “CENTENNIAL” was about the history of a Northern Colorado town, one would easily assume that Levi and Elly never made it to Oregon. Instead, a few mishaps that included Elly nearly being raped by their wagon master named Sam Purchas and a bad wagon wheel, convinced the Zendts to turn around and return to Fort Laramie. There, they teamed with former mountain man Alexander McKeag and his family to head toward Northern Colorado and establish a trading post.

“The Wagon and the Elephant” is my favorite episode of “CENTENNIAL”. One of the reasons I love it so much is well . . . I love the story. And aside from one of two quibbles, I believe the episode gave a very effective portrayal of life for an emigrant traveling by wagon train.

II. History vs. Hollywood

From a historical perspective, I believe producer John Wilder made only one major blooper in the production. The fault may have originated with writer James Michner’s novel. Before leaving Lancaster, Levi Zendt purchased a large Conestoga wagon from a teamster named Amos Boemer. As I have stated in the Introduction, a Conestoga wagon was a heavy, large wagon used for hauling freight along the East Coast. It was considered too big for mules or oxen to be hauling across the continent. Which meant that the Zendts’ Conestoga was too heavy for their journey to Oregon.

The wagon eventually proved to be troublesome for Levi and Elly. Yet, according to the episode’s transcript and Michner’s novel, the fault laid with a faulty left wheel, not the wagon’s impact upon the animals hauling it. In St. Louis, both Army captain Maxwell Mercy and wagonmaster Sam Purchas had advised Levi to get rid of his teams of gray horses, claiming they would not survive the journey west. Levi refused to heed their warning and Purchase swapped the horses for oxen behind his back. This was a smart move by Purchas. Unfortunately, neither the wagonmaster or Captain Mercy bothered to suggest that Levi rid himself of the Conestoga wagon. Since the miniseries said nothing about the size of the Zendts’ wagon, it did not comment on the amount of contents carried by the couple and other emigrants in the wagon party.

But I must congratulate both Michner and the episode’s writer, Jerry Ziegman, for at least pointing out the disadvantages of using horses to pull a wagon across the continent. “The Wagon and the Elephant” also made it clear that the Zendts were traveling along the Oregon Trail, by allowing their wagon party to stop at Fort Laramie. The miniseries called it Fort John, which was another name for the establishment. Before it became a military outpost, the fort was known officially as “Fort John on the Laramie”.

The miniseries’ depiction of the emigrants’ encounter with Native Americans was not exaggerated for the sake of Hollywood drama . . . thank goodness. The Zendts, Oliver Seccombe and other emigrants encountered a small band of Arapahos led by the mixed-blood sons of a French-Canadian trapper named Pasquinel. Levi, who was on guard at the time, became aware of Jacques and Michel Pasquinel’s presence and immediately alerted his fellow emigrants. A great deal about this encounter reeked with realism. The emigrants were obviously well armed. The Pasquinels and the other Arapaho only consisted of a small band of riders. More importantly, no violence erupted between the two parties, despite Sam Purchas’ obvious hostility. Due to Paul Krasny’s direction, the entire encounter was tense, brief and polite. The miniseries also conveyed a realistic depiction of whites like Purchas to randomly murder an individual brave or two out of sheer spite or hatred.

Thanks to the episode, “The Wagon and the Elephant”“CENTENNIAL” provided a brief, yet realistic portrait of westward emigration in the mid 19th century. The miniseries was historically inaccurate in one regard – the Conestoga wagon that Levi and Elly Zendt used for their journey west. But in the end, this episode provided a injection of history, without allowing Hollywood exaggeration to get in the way.