“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” (2016) Review

 

 

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” (2016) Review

I never thought any film or television production would find another story written by Jane Austen to adapt. Not really. The author only had six novels published. And I was never really aware of any other novels, novellas or short stories . . . until I learned about “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s 1794 epistolary novel, “Lady Susan”

Set during the 1790s, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” began with the aristocratic and lovely young widow, Lady Susan Vernon, being forced to leave the Manwaring estate due to her dalliance with the married Lord Manwaring and the hysterical reaction to the affair by the latter’s very wealthy wife. Lady Susan had been staying with the Manwarings in order to arrange a possible marriage to her adolescent daughter Frederica and the wealthy, yet brainless Sir James Martin. But after being forced to leave by Lady Manwaring, Lady Susan and her widowed companion, Mrs. Cross, head to Churchill, the country home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon and his wife, Catherine Vernon. While at Churchill, Lady Susan becomes acquainted with her sister-in-law’s handsome younger brother, Reginald DeCourcy. Reginald becomes deeply attracted to Lady Susan, who views him as a potential husband or lover. She also continues her plans to ensure that Fredrica becomes Sir James’ wife.

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” offered at least two reunions for actress Kate Beckinsale. The movie marked her second foray into the world of Jane Austen. Some twenty years earlier, she had portrayed the lead in the 1996-97 adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”. Beckinsale also found herself reunited with director/writer Whit Stillman and her her co-star Chloë Sevigny. She had worked with both on the 1998 comedy-drama, “THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO”. In the end, I must admit that I enjoyed “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” very much. I would not regard it as one of my favorite Austen adaptations or one of its best. But I must admit that due to its unique protagonist and Whit Stillman’s witty direction, I really enjoyed this film.

However, there is one aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” that I found confusing. And there is another that I found somewhat disappointing. For the likes of me, I do not understand why Stillman did not use the novel’s original title for the movie. Instead, he borrowed the title, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, from another one of Austen’s early works that had been written in 1790. Why Stillman had decided to use this title instead of the one from the 1794 novel upon which this movie was based . . . I have no idea. Frankly, I found it not only unnecessary, but also confusing.

I was also confused by Lady Susan’s movements in the film’s third act. She seemed to travel back and forth between London and Churchill without any real reason. And if there were reasons for her constant traveling, they seemed to be presented with a blink of an eye, due to Stillman’s unusual direction style. There were times when I found Stillman’s pacing just a bit too fast. This led to my last problem with “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” – namely its running time. I realize that the movie’s literary source is a short novel written in epistolary form (usually, a series of letters or other documents). But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” could have possessed a longer running time. For me, 93 minutes is not long enough – especially for a lush Jane Austen cinematic adaptation.

But as I had earlier pointed out, I still managed to enjoy “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” very much. Unlike the other Austen stories familiar to me, this tale struck me as rather unusual. Most Austen movie or television adaptations were set between 1800 and 1820 – with the exception of 1995’s “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, which seemed to be set on the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries. Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs seemed to make it clear that “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” is definitely set during the first half of the 1790s.

But the most original aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” was the story’s protagonist – Lady Susan Vernon. Villainous protagonists are not exactly new in various movie and television protagonists throughout the years. But they barely exist in a Jane Austen story. The closest she has come to creating a villainous protagonist in the six novels familiar to millions was Emma Woodhouse in her 1815 novel, “Emma”. But Emma proved to be more of a misguided protagonist forced to learn a lesson in the end. Lady Susan Vernon, on the other hand, is not a nice woman. She seemed to harbor a good deal of contempt toward others – including her own daughter, Frederica. Which means she is not a good parent. She is self-involved, a liar, a manipulator, a gold digger and quite possibly a borderline sociopath. Some have compared her to Mary Crawford from “Mansfield Park”. However, I suspect Mary might be more of an anti-heroine than a villainess. Unlike Lady Susan, she is capable of warmth and compassion. I cannot say the same for this movie’s leading lady. And yet . . . unlike Emma Woodhouse or Mary Crawford, Lady Susan did not learn a valuable lesson about her character or faced punishment for her sins.

And like many other Austen productions, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” was filled with a great deal of wit. I suspect a good deal of it came from Stillman’s own pen. Among my favorite lines – many of them from Lady Susan herself:

*”Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such dynamic.”

*”That’s the parent’s lot! We bring these delightful creatures into the world—eagerly, happily—and then before long they are spying upon and judging us, rarely favourably. Having children is our fondest wish but, in doing so, we breed our acutest critics. It is a preposterous situation—but entirely of our own making.”

*”My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

*”He has offered you the one thing he has of value to give . . . his income.”

Speaking of Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs, I noticed that they had failed to earn any Academy Award or Golden Globe nominations. Mhaoldomhnaigh did earn nominations from the Satellite Awards and the San Diego Film Critics Society. But they are not exactly regarded in the same sphere as the Oscars or Golden Globes. I did come across one blog – Frock Flicks – in which the writer felt that Mhaoldomhnaigh had failed to created historically accurate costumes. Well . . . historically accurate or not, I found them rather colorful and beautiful, as shown in the image below:

Another aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” that I found colorful was Anna Rackard’s production designs. I thought she did a wonderful job in re-creating the world of the Georgian Era of the 1790s in both London and in several landed estates. Both Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs and Rackard’s production designs benefited from Richard Van Oosterhout’s colorful cinematography.

As for the cast . . . I find it mind boggling that none of the major cast members managed to acquire a major acting nomination. Especially three of the main leads. First of all, the movie featured some first-rate acting from the supporting cast, which included Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell and Morfydd Clark. But there were three performances that I found truly outstanding.

Tom Bennett gave a hilarious performance as the dimwitted baronet, Sir James Martin. His character reminded of the numerous Austen characters who would ramble on, spouting some of the most inane comments. But thanks to Bennett’s skillful performance, Sir James proved to be the most inane and hilarious character ever created by Austen. Chloë Sevigny, who had co-starred with Beckinsale in “THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO”, gave a very charming and subtle performance as Lady Susan’s American-born confident, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. Thanks to Sevigny’s performance, her Alicia proved to be just as unscrupulous as Lady Susan, but a bit more subtle and much wiser – as the final act would eventually prove. But the star of the movie proved to be Kate Beckinsale, who an outstanding performance as the witty, yet calculating Lady Susan Vernon. Beckinsale’s Lady Susan was not only deliciously bitchy, but also stylish and skillful in the way she pursued her goal that I could not help but cheer her own . . . despite the manner in which she treated others, especially her daughter. To this day, I still cannot understand how Bennett, Sevigny and especially Beckinsale failed to garner major nominations for their performances.

As I had earlier pointed out, I do not regard “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” as one of the best Austen productions I have ever seen. I had a few problems with the movie’s pacing and some of the narrative in the third act. The humor featured in “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” did not leave me laughing on the floor with laughter. But Whit Stillman’s delicious screenplay and direction had me smiling continuously throughout the film and sitting on the edge of my seat, anticipating Lady Susan’s final fate. However, it was the excellent performances of the cast, led by the superb Kate Beckinsale, that truly sold me on the movie in the end.

Advertisement

“The Engagement News” [PG-13] – 2/5

 

“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”

Part Two

Cole materialized in the middle of a deserted mews, unseen by others. He glanced at his watch. It read three two thirty-eight in the afternoon, San Francisco time. Even though he happened to be standing next to a Dublin townhouse, at the moment. The very townhouse owned by his uncle. 

After a quick glance around, the half-daemon made his way to the townhouse’s front door. He rang the doorbell. Minutes later, a plumpish, handsome-looking woman with freckled pale skin and fading red hair opened the door. She gasped. “Oh! Good heavens! Mr. Turner!”

Smiling at his uncle’s housekeeper, Cole replied, “Hello Bridie. Is my uncle in?”

The housekeeper smiled back. “Yes sir. He and Miss Mauve are in the drawing-room, watching television.”

“At this hour?” Cole murmured.

Bridget stepped aside, as she ushered Cole inside the house. “I’ll take you to them.” She then led him to an elegant drawing-room, decorated in the Empire style of the early 19th century. Inside sat Cole’s demonic uncle and his aunt-by-marriage. They seemed engrossed by the television set. “Sir, Miss Mauve . . . look who’s here!”

The pair glanced up and regarded their visitor with surprise. “Belthazor!” Marbus shot up from the sofa and rushed forward to greet his nephew. “Good to see you, lad! What brings you here?”

Cole greeted his beloved uncle with a bear hug. “I have some news that you will find very interesting.” He turned to Marbus’ wife, who planted a warm kiss on his cheek. Cole returned the gesture. “It’s been a while, Aunt Mauve.”

“Only six weeks,” Mauve Donohue Farrell warmly replied. She was a tall, thin and elegant-looking woman with graying dark brown hair and intense hazel eyes. Unlike her husband, Aunt Mauve happened to be a wizard. And human. “How is Olivia?”

A smile touched Cole’s lips. “Great. In fact . . . the news I have concerns her.”

Marbus handed the younger daemon a glass of whiskey. “Oh? What news would you be talking about?”

Cole hesitated. Then, “Olivia and I are engaged.” The announcement drew gasps from the older couple. “It happened. Last night.”

Both Marbus and Mauve reacted with pleasure and congratulated the half-daemon. His uncle gave him a bear hug, while the female wizard congratulated him with another kiss. “I’m so happy for you!” she cried. “When is the wedding?”

“Probably the second week of December,” Cole replied. “We haven’t decided where we’ll spend our honeymoon.” Thoughts of Walt Disney World flashed in his head and he shook his head, determined not to think of Olivia’s choice.

Mauve surprised him by asking, “What about Olivia’s family? I wondered . . . how they would react to the news.” She paused. “Have you told them, yet?”

Cole hesitated, as a flash of anxiety struck him. “Uh . . . not yet. You don’t think . . . you don’t think they’ll approve?”

Marbus retorted, “Of course they will, lad! You’re practically a member of the family, as far as they’re concerned. And when you consider their own family history . . . I doubt that you’ll get any resistance from them.”

“Marbus is right,” Mauve added. “I don’t believe you will have anything to worry about.”

Cole took comfort in the couple’s words. So much so that Marbus’ next question took him by surprise. “By the way,” the older daemon began, “have you told your mother the news?”

A jolt of displeasure flared within Cole’s chest, as he briefly contemplated his uncle’s question. He quickly retorted, “Of course not! Nor do I plan to tell her. It’s none of her business, as far as I’m concerned.”

Marbus protested, “How could you keep such news from your mother? You’re her only child!”

“A connection that I don’t particularly relish,” Cole replied in a chilly voice.

“Belthazor . . .”

Maeve interrupted, “For heaven’s sake, Miles!” She used Marbus’ human name. “Leave the boy be! Cole and Elizabeth haven’t been close in years! Perhaps it’s just as well.”

Marbus glared at his wife. “Just as well, eh? Is that common sense speaking, Maeve? Or simply your dislike of my sister?”

Cole knew all about the chilly relationship between his mother and Marbus’ wife. He never could fathom why the two females detested each other so much. It was possible that Nimue had disapproved of her brother’s marriage to a female wizard – a non-demon. But Cole found that hard to believe, considering his mother’s marriage to the very mortal Benjamin Turner. And he doubted that Maeve’s dislike toward Nimue stemmed from the latter’s service to evil. Maeve had never exactly been the epitome of goodness. And Cole’s own role as a demonic assassin had never affected his relationship to the female wizard. Perhaps the two women simply rubbed each other the wrong way.

“This has nothing to do with my feelings toward Nimue!” Maeve retorted. “You just can’t tell Cole how he should feel about his mother. Whatever is wrong between them, they will have to work it out, themselves!”

Marbus scowled, but remain silent. Meanwhile, Cole pecked his aunt’s cheek. He had no argument with her advice. As far as he was concerned, the less he saw his mother . . . the better.

———-

“Hey! Look who’s here!” Harry declared, as Olivia and Cole entered the McNeill dining room. “Aren’t you two a little late for dinner? We’re almost finished.”

Olivia gave her younger brother a tart smile. “Cole and I already had dinner, thank you very much.” She and her new fiancé sat down in two of the empty chairs, around the table. Then she noticed another empty chair, next to Barbara. “Is Bruce working tonight?”

“Yes he is, pet,” Gweneth McNeill commented. “Now, what brings you two here, tonight?”

Olivia’s father added, “Before you answer, I have my own news.” He paused, before he addressed everyone. “Cousin Sean will be in town, tomorrow. Tomorrow afternoon.” Jack turned to his wife. “And Gwen, you don’t mind preparing a special dinner to welcome him, do you?”

“Of course not, love,” Gweneth replied. “In fact, I’ll ask Bruce if he would help me.”

Harry said, “Mind if I ask Paige to join us?”

“You can invite her entire family.” Gweneth turned to her daughter. “And Livy, Cecile and Andre are welcomed, as well. But right now, I want to hear what news you and Cole have.”

Olivia and Cole exchanged a brief glance. Then the former took a deep breath and declared, “Cole had proposed to me, last night. I said yes, and we’ll be getting married, next month.” She punctuated her announcement with a disarming smile.

The McNeills reacted . . . all at once.

“Bloody hell!” Gweneth cried.

Gran broke into a wide smile. “Congratulations!”

“Wow!” Barbara exclaimed. “Talk about your bombshell!”

A bewildered-looking Jack merely blinked his eyes and said, “Huh?”

Harry raised his hand and asked, “So, where do you plan to go for your honeymoon?”

———–

Later than night, Cole and Olivia lay side-by-side on the large bed, inside the penthouse’s master bedroom. “Well, that was interesting,” the half-daemon commented. “Do you think that your dad has recovered from shock, yet?”

Olivia sighed. “I don’t know. It had taken him at least two days, when I first became engaged to Richard. And you should have seen Mr. Bowen’s reaction when Barbara and Bruce first became engaged.” She shook her head and laughed. “For a minute, it seemed as if he had regarded Bruce as some kind of molester.”

“I think your dad was too stunned to regard me as one,” Cole murmured. “But I could see visions of a large wedding in your mother’s eyes. Uh . . . you’re not thinking of the same, are you?”

Another sigh – this one deliberate – escaped from Olivia’s mouth. “Oh, I don’t know. I think that Mom would like a big wedding, without any incubi or succubae to worry about.” She placed her head on Cole’s chest.

The half-daemon moaned. “Oh God, I hope not! I still have vague memories of that large wedding Phoebe had planned. And that’s something I have no desire to repeat, possessed or not.” He paused. “Hey, if we can forgo a big wedding, I’ll consider Walt Disney World for our honeymoon.”

Mission accomplished. The redhead leaned forward and gave him a brief, warm kiss on the lips. “You have a deal,” she crooned. “Don’t worry. I’ll make sure that any grandiose plans Mom may have for our wedding will be quickly nipped in the bud. I’ll suggest that we keep it . . . moderate. A few friends and family. Okay?” She kissed him, again.

Cole smiled. “Is it any wonder why I love you?” He wrapped his arms around Olivia’s torso and kissed her.

“Hmmm,” Olivia moaned, after their lips had parted. “Oh boy! I’m really looking forward to the honeymoon. By the way, since you’ve already told Marbus about our engagement, when will we tell your mother? I figured that tomorrow evening . . .”

A scowl appeared on Cole’s face. He sat up, causing Olivia to roll off his body. “Has Marbus talked to you recently?” he demanded harshly.

Olivia stared at him. “Huh? What are you talking about?”

With a sigh, Cole explained that his uncle had suggested – and argued – that he announce their engagement to his mother. “Naturally, I said no. I didn’t think it was any of her business. And I still don’t. After all, I never told her about my marriage to Phoebe, and I don’t intend to inform her about this one.”

“Cole, you were possessed by the Source during your last marriage. How could you tell your mother?”

The half-daemon snapped, “I wasn’t possessed when Phoebe and I first became engaged.”

Olivia rolled her eyes. “For heaven’s sake, Cole! Why won’t you tell your mother? You’re her only . . .”

“Don’t! Don’t tell me that I’m her only son! Or her only child! It’s an association that I don’t particularly relish!” Cole replied in a hard voice. “And I’m not in the habit of inviting my father’s killer to something I would consider a special moment for me.”

Contempt dripped from Olivia’s voice. “Oh, I see. It’s okay for us to forgive you for past crimes. Or, you can forgive the Halliwells for killing you when you were possessed. And I can just forget the fact that you and Dad once tried to kill each other, over twenty-five years ago. But your mother? I guess she doesn’t deserve your forgiveness, huh?”

Cole shot back with equal contempt, “Speaking of forgiveness, I don’t recall you extending that sentiment toward Leo for what he and Margolin had done to us, last summer.”

“Leo hasn’t bothered to express any remorse for his actions!”

The half-daemon retorted, “Neither has my mother!”

“At least I know why Leo tried to coerce me into killing you!” Olivia sat up and gave Cole a penetrating stare. “Tell me Cole, do you know why your mother had killed your dad?”

With a contemptuous snort, Cole replied, “Yeah! She was an evil bitch, who wanted my father out of the way.”

“Cole, your mother had waited four to five years to kill your father. Now that’s a hell of a long time to wait to get someone out of the way. Haven’t you ever asked yourself . . . why?” With those words, Olivia turned away, her back facing Cole. A sigh rose from her throat. “But, if you don’t want to tell her about us . . . fine. It’s your choice.”

Olivia closed her eyes. And pretended that she did not hear the oath that came from her fiancé’s mouth.

End of Part Two

Five Favorite Episodes of “THE FLASH” Season One (2014-2015)

Below is a list of my five favorite episodes from Season One of the CW series, “THE FLASH”.  Created by Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, and Andrew Kreisberg; the series stars Grant Gustin as Barry Allen aka the Flash:

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE FLASH” SEASON ONE (2014-2015)

1.  (1.15) “Out of Time” – A meta-human criminal named Mark Mardon returns to Central City to seek revenge against Barry Allen aka the Flash’s guardian, Detective Joe West.

 

 

 

2.  (1.23) “Fast Enough” – In this season finale, Barry Allen contemplates on going back in time fifteen years earlier to prevent his nemesis, Eobard Thawne aka Reverse-Flash, from killing his mother.

 

 

 

3.  (1.13) “Nuclear Man” – Team Flash attempt to help scientist Dr. Martin Stein and STAR Labs engineer Ronnie Raymond, whose atoms have been in conflict ever since the lab accident.  The team discovers that their merged bodies forms into a being with a powerful fire power.  Meanwhile, Joe enlists the help of STAR Labs’ other engineer, Cisco Ramon, to investigate Nora Allen’s murder.

 

 

 

4.  (1.07) “Power Outage” – While the Flash’s speed is drained by a meta-human with electrical energy, a murderous thief named William Tockman aka the Clock King holds Joe, his fellow cops and his daughter Iris hostage at the police station.

 

 

 

5.  (1.10) “Revenge of the Rogues” – Thief Leonard Snart aka Captain Cold makes a second appearance in Central City with a new partner in tow, Mick Rory aka Heatwave.  Snart and Rory hope to set a trap for the Flash in order to prevent the latter from interfering in a heist.

 

 

 

Honorable Mention – (1.17) “Tricksters” – Twenty years ago, a criminal named Jesse James aka the Trickster terrorized Central Ctity.  A copycat has appeared to carry on the original criminal’s misdeeds.  Flashbacks reveal how the Reverse Flash assumed the persona of Harrison Wells, owner of STAR Labs.

 

 

 

 

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “Pilot – The First Seventeen Hours”

101-titkao

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”

It took me quite a while to get over CBS’ cancellation of the 2006-2008 post-apocalypse series, “JERICHO”. Quite a while. But when I recently watched the series’ first episode, “Pilot: The Seventeen Hours”, my anger returned. Somewhat. After all, five years had past since the series’ cancellation. And I know it will never come back. 

Oh well. I still have my DVD collection of all the episodes. Watching “Pilot: The Seventeen Hours” brought back good memories for me. The episode not introduced most or all of the players that would have a major role in the series’ saga. The episode and the story begins with the return of Jake Green to his hometown of Jericho, Kansas. Estranged from his family for five years, he only returns to to pay respect to his recently deceased grandfather and to claim the money left to him by the latter. Due to his estrangement with his father, Mayor Johnston Green and the latter’s refusal to hand over the money, Jake decides to leave town again. While driving away from Jericho, he witnesses the mushroom cloud of a nuclear bomb in the far distance before colliding with an oncoming car.

That mushroom cloud, also witnessed by Deputy Jimmy Taylor’s son and a few others. Mayor Green surmises that the bomb must have hit Denver, Colorado. However, his wife Gail learns from a local named Dale Turner that the latter’s mother was killed in Atlanta, Georgia – the location of second nuclear attack. Realizing that a school bus full of children and their teacher, Heather Lisinski, is missing; Mayor Green orders the sheriff and his deputies to find it. However, an injured Jake ends up finding the bus. He saves the life of a young girl and manages to drive the bus back to Jericho with an injured leg. Unfortunately for the sheriff and one deputy, they are killed by a group of convicts that managed to escape from a prison bus following the nuclear attack.

“Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” struck me as a pretty good episode. It did not allow “JERICHO” to begin on a sensational note like many science-fiction/fantasy television series I have seen in the past decade. And perhaps that is a good thing. Most recent serial television shows that begin on a high note have great difficulty in maintaining such a high level of quality. I am not stating that the pilot episode for “JERICHO” was terrible. Not by a long shot. But I would not view it as among the series’ best episodes. Did “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” have any flaws? Well, some of the crowd scenes featuring the good citizens of Jericho struck me as overwrought and cliched. This is the episode that tried to introduce the idea of Jake Green and Heather Lisinski as a potential couple. While some fans bought the . . . uh, “chemistry” between the two. It did not work for me and the pair has always struck me more as siblings. The episode also introduced Lennie James as the mysterious Robert Hawkins. While the screenwriters did a good job in establishing Hawkins’ mysterious nature, I was not that impressed by the British-born James’ American accent.

Despite these flaws, I still enjoyed “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours”. Not only did the episode did a solid job in introducing the series’ overall narrative, it also provided plenty of good action and mystery. Director Jon Turteltaub did a good job in handling such action scenes like the car accident that prevented Jake’s departure from Kansas and the escaped convicts’ murder of Jericho’s sheriff. And although I had some trouble with one or two crowd scenes – especially the one in which the town citizens nearly panicked over getting their hands on available supplies. But there were some dramatic scenes that I enjoyed; including Jake’s quarrel with his father and brother Eric, Jake saving the life of the young schoolgirl, Robert’s attempt to offer his help to the sheriff and the fire chief, Dale Turner’s revelation of a second nuclear explosion in Atlanta, and Jake’s uneasy reunion with his ex-girlfriend Emily Sullivan. Despite the resolution of the missing school bus plot line, “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” made sure that audiences knew that “JERICHO” would be a serial drama by leaving the following plot lines hanging:

*The escaped convicts
*Emily Sullivan’s nighttime road trip to the pick up her fiancé from a nearby airport
*The emergence of businessman Gray Anderson as a future political opponent for Johnston Green
*The reason behind Robert Hawkins’ appearance in Jericho

Of these four plot lines, only one will be resolved by the following episode.

The performances in this episode seemed pretty rock solid. My only complaints are directed at the extras and minor characters who portrayed the citizens of Jericho. The main reason I found some of the crowd scenes overwrought was that I found the performances portraying the citizens over-the-top. I realize they were supposed to be portraying the citizens in a state of panic. I simply did not find their performances satisfying. However, Skeet Ulrich expertly set the tone as the show’s leading man. Lennie James injected that mysterious tone in his character right off the bat, even if I found his American accent a little shaky. Michael Gaston did a good job as Gray Anderson and I found Sprague Grayden’s portrayal of Heather Lisinski rather charming. But there were three performances that really impressed me. One came from Gerald McRaney, who gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as mayor Jericho, Johnston Green. Another came from Pamela Reed, who seemed to be the heart and soul of this episode as the mayor’s wife, Gail Green. And the last impressive performance came from Erik Knudsen, who did an excellent job in setting up the complexities of the adolescent Dale Turner, one of the show’s most complex characters.

Although not as impressive as other pilots I have seen from recent science-fiction/fantasy television shows. As I had earlier stated, “Pilot: The First Seventeen Hours” is not terrible, nor mediocre. But it is not great. However, this is not a problem for me. I have never demanded that the pilot of a science-fiction/fantasy series blow me away. All I demand that it does a good job in setting up the series’ premise. And I believe that this pilot episode for “JERICHO” certainly accomplished this.

“KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” (1953) Review

“KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” (1953) Review

Twentieth-Century Fox was never a studio that I would associate with movies about the British Empire. Mind you, the studio had released several during the period between its formation in 1935 and the 1953 release of “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES”. Yet . . . it never seemed to produce many productions on European imperialism in compare to studios like Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. 

Just recently, I watched “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” and discovered that it was a remake of John Ford’s 1929 adventure film, “THE BLACK WATCH”. And both movies were film adaptations of Talbot Mundy’s 1916 novel, “King of the Khyber Rifles”. However, the 1929 film seemed to be a closer adaptation of Mundy’s novel, than this 1953 film that starred Tyrone Power. Was I disappointed by my discovery? Honestly, no. I have read the synopsis of the original novel. It did not quite pique my interest the way Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts’ screenplay did.

“KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” told the story of a Sandhurst-trained British Army officer named Captain Alan King, who has been assigned to a North-West Frontier Province garrison near the Khyber Pass in 1857. His fellow officers, including his commander Brigadier-General J.R. Maitland, discover that King’s mother was a Muslim and native Indian before subjecting him to many subtle forms of bigotry. His roommate, Lieutenant Geoffrey Heath, even moves out of their quarters in protest to sharing a bungalow with someone who is not completely white. Only the general’s daughter, Susan Maitland, harbors no prejudice against King and slowly begins falling in love with him.

The garrison under Maitland finds itself facing a political storm in the form of an Afridi deserter named Karram Khan, who has created his own following among nearby local tribesmen. Unbeknownst to the British garrison, many native sepoys (soldiers) across British India are in an uproar over British acquisition of more Indian kingdoms and the new Enfield rifles. When Maitland discovers that King knew Karram Khan as a boy, he orders the latter to train and command a company of native calvary troopers to deal with Karram Khan. But when he becomes fully aware of the romantic feelings between the younger officer and Susan, Maitland considers an earlier suggestion of King’s . . . one that could endanger the latter’s life.

When I began to watch “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES”, I had no idea of how I would regard it in the end. Superficially, it seemed like the typical pro-Imperial adventure film that Hollywood had been churning out since the silent era. The movie featured the usual Imperialist adventure traits – dashing, yet handsome British officer/hero, the charming heroine that happened to be daughter/sister/niece of the hero’s commanding officer, Muslim fanatic leader and villain, Northern Indian tribesmen under the villain’s leadership, and personal connection between the hero and the villain (well . . . sometimes). I also wish that “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” had been ten to fifteen minutes longer. If it had, then the narrative would not have seemed so rushed.

One could also see that the 20th Century Fox Studios gave little thought to the movie’s production values. Despite the presence of A-list actors in the cast – Tyrone Power, Terry Moore and Michael Rennie – I could not decide whether Fox Studios considered “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” an “A” or “B” movie. Everything about the movie’s production design and visual style seemed to reek of a “B” movie. The only exception seemed to be Travilla’s costume designs, especially for Moore. I have one last major problem with “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” – namely British actor Guy Rolfe, who portrayed Karram Khan. I realize that the Hollywood industry was (and continues to be) reluctant to give non-Western or non-white roles to non-Western actors. I suspect this is something that will last for a very long time. But . . . poor Rolfe was forced to don blackface for his role as the Northern Indian rebel. I found this unnecessary, especially since a dark-haired and dark-eyed white actor with a slight tan could have portrayed this role. Many natives of the region are among the most light-skinned in the India subcontinent. But blackface . . . for a character who was supposed to be a native of Northern India? Rolfe looked like a performer of a minstrel show – being held in Calcutta.

But despite the subpar production values, the rushed ending and Guy Rolfe’s makeup, I must admit that “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” proved to be a decent, yet almost mediocre film. I certainly had no problems with the performances. Tyrone Power gave an intelligent, yet charming performance as the movie’s leading character – the very competent Alan King who is torn between his parents’ two worlds and his feelings for the leading lady. I noticed that he did not bother to attempt a British accent. I did not mind. He still managed to project the style of a man born and raised in Europe . . . or by Europeans. More importantly, he skillfully portrayed a man torn between his loyalties toward his father’s people and resentment toward their treatment of him. Terry Moore did not bother to hide her American accent as well, despite portraying the young and English-born Susan Maitland. And she also gave an intelligent and spirited performance that I found personally appealing. I was especially impressed with her acting in one scene in which she conveyed Susan’s disgust toward the bigotry that surrounded Alan King. Michael Rennie’s portrayal of Susan’s father, Brigadier-General J.R. Maitland, struck me as very interesting. On one level, he seemed like the typical intelligent and well-bred British officer that seems to be idealized in many other film productions. Yet, behind the idealized portrait, Rennie subtlety revealed General Maitland’s insidious bigotry and wiliness to send Captain King to his death in order to nip any potential romance between the mixed blood officer and his daughter. One last performance I have to comment upon was Guy Rolfe’s portrayal of the Afridi leader, Karram Khan. Yes, I found his blackface makeup offensive. But I also cannot deny that he gave a surprisingly subtle and intelligent portrayal of the tribal leader determined to rid his country of the invading British. I found it odd that his character was described as “fanatic”, but I never got that vibe, thanks to Rolfe’s subtle performance. He simply portrayed Karram as an intelligent and charismatic leader who is not above utilizing violence to achieve his goal.

Earlier, I had commented that “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” possessed the basic ingredients of a typical imperialist adventure film made in Hollywood. Trust me . . . it does. And yet, the movie’s screenwriters undermined the Imperialist genre by transforming the main character into an officer of mixed Anglo-Indian blood. The screenwriters also did not hesitate to convey the ugly bigotry that existed in British India. I was also impressed by how they touched on the issues that led Indian sepoys to rebel against the British military and government leaders in 1857 – especially the distribution of the new Enfield rifles. Many sepoys feared that the cartridges of the new rifles were coated with beef and/or pork grease and would compromise their religious beliefs. This fear played out in an interesting and intense scene in which King’s men were hesitant to follow him into battle as long as he insisted upon them using the rifles. I could not help but wonder if the more realistic politics of British Imperialism have been found in other imperial adventures released by Hollywood during the post-World War II era.

In the end, “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” proved to be an . . . interesting movie to a certain extent. Yes, the movie ended on an abrupt note. And it possessed all the attributes of your typical Hollywood imperial adventure. Yet, thanks to the screenwriters and director Henry King, the story undermined its more conservative element with a somewhat realistic portrayal of the Alan King character and his impact upon the other characters in the story. “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” also benefited from excellent performances from a cast led by Tyrone Power.

“The Engagement News” [PG-13] – 1/5

“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”

RATING: PG-13 Adult language.
SUMMARY: Friends and family receive news of Cole’s engagement to Olivia McNeill. Set after “The Power of One”. AU Season 6.
FEEDBACK: – Be my guest. But please, be kind.
DISCLAIMER: The Charmed Ones, Leo Wyatt, Darryl Morris and Cole Turner belong to Constance Burge, Brad Kern and Spelling Productions. The McNeills, Cecile Dubois, and other characters are, thankfully, my creations.

————————–

“THE ENGAGEMENT NEWS”

Part One

Cole strolled along Jackman, Carter and Kline’s sixth floor corridor, with his mouth stretched unknowingly into a wide grin. He greeted passing co-workers without his usual reserve, generating surprised reactions from them.

“Good morning!” he cheerfully greeted a fellow attorney from the Corporate Law Division. The man stared at him, goggle-eyed and quietly returned the greeting.

A familiar figure approached Cole from the opposite direction and stared at him. “Cole?” she uttered in a bewildered voice.

The half-daemon smiled happily at his colleague. “Veronica! Good morning!” The dark-haired, statuesque Veronica Altman halted before him. Still staring at him with a stunned expression. Cole frowned at her. “What?”

“Are you taking drugs, or something?” the other attorney commented sarcastically.

Cole threw back his head and laughed, startling his colleague. “I keep forgetting about that crazy sense of humor of yours.” Then another smile stretched his lips. “You have a nice day, Veronica. See you.” He brushed past her and continued toward his office.

After surprising his assistant, Eleanor, with a cheerful grin, Cole finally entered his office. He dumped his suitcase on the desk and settled into his leather chair. Not long after he had closed his eyes, the familiar odor of gardenias filled his nostrils. He sighed, as his eyes flew open. “Veronica, what are you doing here?”

“You never did answer my question,” Veronica replied. She gave Cole an appraising look. “You seem very happy this morning, Turner. And that’s rare. Especially for you.”

Cole leaned further back into his chair. “What are you talking about? I’ve been in a good mood, before.”

Veronica rolled her eyes. “At this level? Oh please! C’mon Turner, what gives? Right now, you make Bozo the Clown seem like the Grinch.”

At first, Cole felt hesitant to reveal the news he now harbored like a loving secret. Both he and his better half – namely one Olivia McNeill – had decided not to tell her family the news, until tonight. But since it seemed unlikely that Veronica would ever have the opportunity to break the news first . . . he decided to tell her. He took a deep breath. “You remember Cecile Dubois, don’t you?” he said. “My latest client, who also happens to be dating a close friend of mine?”

“Of course, I do. The computer software designer from New Orleans,” Veronica replied. “What about her?”

Cole continued, “She and Andre – my friend – just became engaged a few days ago. They’re getting married in January. Or maybe February.”

Veronica smiled. “How nice. That’s the reason why you’re wearing a shit-eating grin, this morning?”

Shooting his colleague a dark look, Cole continued, “No! I . . .” His smile returned. “Let’s just say that Andre and Cecile aren’t the only ones engaged.” He paused dramatically and waited for Veronica’s reaction.

A slight moment passed before the other attorney’s gray eyes grew wide, as realization struck her. “Oh! Oh my God! Are you . . .?”

“I had proposed to Olivia, last night,” Cole said, still smiling. “And she accepted.”

Veronica reacted with delight. “Well congratulations!” she cried. Then she bombarded him with a dozen questions. Had the happy couple set a date? What kind of wedding ceremony will they have? Where did they plan to honeymoon?

Cole interrupted his colleague’s question in protest. “Veronica? Please? One question at a time. For your information, the answer for each question is . . . I don’t know. Well, except for the second question. The ceremony will probably be the same as the one for her brother Bruce’s wedding.”

“You know, I had no idea that the McNeills were into one of those New Age religions.” Veronica regarded Cole with a questioning gaze. “Are you?”

“I’m not into any religion at the moment. However,” the half-daemon gave Veronica a friendly smile, “you are certainly invited to the wedding.”

Veronica smiled back. “Great! And what about our employers, Mister Jackman, Carter and Kline? Will you invite them, as well?”

Cole responded with a pained expression. “Must I?”

———-

A frustrated grunt escaped from the suspect’s mouth, as Olivia McNeill snapped a pair of handcuffs around his wrists. “Jeremy Alvers, you have the right to remain . . .”

“I’m gonna get you, bitch!” Alvers cried, as he attempted a swipe at the female police inspector. “No woman is gonna take me! Especially some bitch cop!”

Ignoring the stares of her colleagues, Olivia grabbed hold of Alvers’ arm and pressed – not too gently – into a particular nerve inside his elbow. The suspect groaned with pain. “Listen here,” she hissed under her breath, “I’m not in the mood to deal with your misogynist bullshit. Now, get your act together, so I can Miranda you and haul your ass inside that squad car. Understand?” When Alvers failed to respond, Olivia pressed harder into his nerve. “I asked if you understood.”

“Ye-e-ess!” Alvers groaned.

Olivia nodded. “Good. Now – Jeremy Alvers, you have the right to remain silent . . .” She continued to read the suspect’s Miranda rights. When she finished, she summoned two uniformed officers to escort him to a squad car.

A sigh left the redhead’s mouth, as her partner and squad leader, Darryl Morris, approached her. A frown creased his brow. “That guy give you any trouble?” he asked.

“Nothing I can’t handle,” Olivia replied jauntily. “What about Hector Aquilar? Was he caught?”

Darryl nodded. “Scott and Marcus got him.” He scrutinized Olivia through narrowed eyes. “You seemed to be in a good mood, this morning. Has it anything to do with Cecile and Andre’s engagement?” Olivia’s family had invited Darryl and his wife to attend the engaged couple’s celebration party, last night.

Olivia allowed herself a private smile. “Not quite. I mean . . . I’m happy for both of them.”

“Uh-huh.” Taking the redhead by surprise, Darryl grabbed her right hand.

Olivia protested. “Hey! Darryl! What are you . . .?”

The older cop interrupted. “Then I can only assume that your present good mood has something to do with this!” He lifted her hand, displaying the ring on her finger. “Something new?”

With a sigh, Olivia said, “It’s a ring.”

“No kidding,” Darryl shot back. “It’s interesting that it’s on the very finger that Sheila had worn her engagement ring, years ago.” One of his brows rose questioningly. “Does this mean you have some news to announce?”

After a long pause, Olivia finally confessed. “This goes no further than you, until I say so. I haven’t even told my family or Cecile, yet.” Then she allowed herself a radiant smile. “Cole had asked me to marry, last night. And I said yes.”

Darryl immediately enveloped her into a bear hug. “I thought so! Congratulations!” Then he sobered quickly. “So . . . you don’t mind marrying a half-demon, considering what had happened to Phoebe and Cole?”

“If I did, I would have said so.” Olivia broke away from his embrace. “Cole isn’t exactly the first daemon to get involved with a McNeill, you know.”

With a sigh, Darryl replied, “You’re talking about something that happened nearly a thousand years ago.” The two partners watched the squad car drive away with Alvers inside.

“I know that,” Olivia said, “but don’t forget that I still carry the blood of that incubus within me. Or else I wouldn’t be . . .” She paused, as a uniformed cop strode past them. “. . . Keeper of the Aingeal Staff. Besides, I had come pretty close to killing Cole last summer, thanks to Leo. I’d say that Cole and I could be a danger to each other.”

Olivia and Darryl climbed into their car. The latter heaved a sigh. “I guess you have a point. So, when is the happy event?”

“I don’t know.” Olivia sighed. “We haven’t set a date, yet. To be honest, I’m not really in the mood for a long engagement. Maybe we’ll get married before Cecile and Andre’s wedding. Or after.” She patted Darryl’s arm. “Don’t worry. You, Sheila and the boys are definitely invited.”

Darryl murmured, “I only hope that it’ll be less eventful than Bruce’s wedding. Or Piper’s. Or Phoebe’s.” He switched on the car’s engine and seconds later, guided the car through San Francisco’s streets.

————

The New Orleans couple stared at the half-daemon and the witch, after the latter made their announcement. The two couples had met for lunch at Gweneth McNeill’s second restaurant – Morgan’s.

“I can’t believe it!” Cecile exclaimed. “Only you two would get engaged, while having a fight.”

Olivia smiled. “What can I say? We were inspired.”

“This inspiration is getting to be a habit. Didn’t you two first start dating, after a fight?” Olivia and Cole merely exchanged a private smile and ignored Cecile’s question.

Andre grinned at his close friend. “So, you had finally decided to give her that ring after all. Huh?”

Cecile frowned. “Finally?”

Cole’s face turned red with embarrassment. “I, uh . . . I had bought the ring, over two months ago. I just needed the right mom . . .” He broke off, under Olivia’s direct stare. Which reminded him of their argument, last night. “I mean I just finally worked up the nerve to ask her.” Olivia smiled.

“When is the wedding date?” Cecile asked. “I hope it won’t be around the same time as ours.” She and Andre had planned their wedding for mid-February.

Olivia shot a quick glance at her fiancé. “Well, I’m not exactly in the mood for a long engagement . . .”

“Neither am I,” Cole added. “How about next month? At least a week or two before the Winter Solstice and Christmas?”

After a brief pause, Olivia commented, “Sounds good to me.”

Andre threw back his head and laughed. “Oh man! You two should hear yourselves. You sound like a bunch of lawyers negotiating over a contract.”

Cole allowed himself a brief smile. “Well, both of us have studied the law. What do you expect?”

“Oh, I see. I guess you consider that a great requisite for a happy marriage.”

Cecile asked, “What about your honeymoon? Andre and I have decided to go to Bermuda.”

“That sounds nice,” Cole commented.

However, Olivia had another idea. “How about Walt Disney World?”

The half-daemon stared at her with disbelief. “Are you serious?”

“Of course I am.”

“Disney World is for children,” Cole protested.

Olivia argued, “Maybe, but it’s also one of the top honeymoon resorts. Why not? We can stay at the Grand Floridian.”

“Sounds good to me,” Andre commented. He turned to Cecile. “You know, maybe we should consider . . .”

Cecile declared firmly, “I would prefer Bermuda, thank you very much.”

“So would I,” Cole protested.

Olivia rolled her eyes. “Why don’t we talk about it, later?”

Shaking his head, Cole turned his attention to Cecile. “By the way, I had received your message about your upcoming meeting with Jason Dean.”

“You have a meeting with Jason?” Olivia asked her friend.

Cecile nodded. “Tomorrow morning. Jason and I had a talk about my new software program, at your folks’ party, last Thursday. It seems that he’s interested in becoming a customer.”

“Hmmm.” Olivia lifted a dubious brow. “I’d be careful, if I were you, Cecile. I realize that you’re an experienced businesswoman, but Jason is one of those types who collect companies and conglomerates like old stamps. He might try to buy your company. Or hire someone to create a program design, similar to yours.”

Cecile’s mouth twisted into a caustic smile. “And your daddy and little brother are above such things?”

“Of course not! They’re businessmen! But they know you a lot better than Jason does. Hell, if they had tried a stunt like that, you would probably find a way to get even. And they know that.” Olivia returned her friend’s smile with one equally tart. “And you would, wouldn’t you?”

Cole spoke up. “As Cecile’s new West Coast attorney, I can assure you that everything she has created for her company has been patented under her name. If someone does try to steal her software designs, I’ll make sure that she’ll end up with at least twenty-five percent of that person’s assets.”

Cecile gave him a smile. “Isn’t he great? Everyone should have a lawyer like him.”

A smirk curved Olivia’s mouth. “Yes, he is. As for Jason, I don’t think you have to worry about him, now. From what Paige has told me, he’s recently preoccupied with another matter. Like trying to convince a certain girlfriend to accompany him to Hong Kong.”

————-

Inside the supermarket, Paige Matthews guided her shopping cart along one aisle. She struggled to maintain her patience, while her older sister babbled endlessly over a personal matter.

“. . . mean, oh my God! Hong Kong? That’s like on the other side of the world!” Phoebe Halliwell exclaimed. She strode beside the younger woman. “But I can’t keep putting it off. Sooner or later, I’ll have to tell Jason, no.”

Paige added in a laconic voice, “Even though you want to go?”

“Even though I . . .” Phoebe broke off and glared at her sister. “What makes you think that I want to go?”

Rolling her eyes, Paige reached for two cans of tomato paste. “C’mon Pheebs! It’s written all over your face. You would like nothing more than to go to Hong Kong with Jason. Why bother reading that Chinese-English dictionary he gave you?” She and Phoebe continued along the aisle.

“Cantonese,” Phoebe corrected. “There’s no such thing as the Chinese language. They speak many different dialects throughout China. Cantonese, Shanghainese, Mandarin, and . . .”

Paige rudely interrupted, “Excuse me, but I didn’t realize that we were in the middle of a Discovery Channel program, here.”

With a sigh, Phoebe continued, “As I was saying, I can’t go.”

“Why not?” Paige paused, before she guided the shopping cart around a corner. The two sisters started down another aisle.

“Hel-lo? Power of Three?” Phoebe paused, as a woman walked past them. She continued, “How can we kick demonic ass and protect the innocent, when I’m on the other side of the Pacific?”

Paige heaved a long sigh. “God, Phoebe! You’re actually going to give up a chance to be with the man you love for that? Besides, you and Piper did just fine, while I was in Scotland, last summer. For a whole month.”

“What if you encounter a demon that requires the Power of Three to vanquish it?”

Paige retorted, “Then I’ll ask Olivia or Harry for help. Or maybe even Cole.”

Doubt crept into Phoebe’s eyes. “I don’t know . . .” she began.

“Well, I do!” Paige snapped. “Look Phoebe, if you want to be with Jason that badly, maybe you should go to Hong Kong, after all. Something tells me that if you don’t, you’ll probably regret it someday.” With that, she dumped a box of LIFE cereal into the cart and continued along the aisle. Phoebe followed in her wake.

———-

His secretary’s voice rang clear from the intercom box. “Mr. McNeill, your cousin is on Line Four.”

Jack McNeill glanced up from the report on his desk and frowned. “Cousin? Which one?”

“A Mr. Sean McNeill, calling from Australia.”

“Thanks, Beatrice.” Jack allowed himself a smile, as he pushed the intercom button for his telephone. “Sean? Is that you?”

Sean McNeill’s Australian accent seemed as thick as ever. “Jack! How are things in California, mate?”

Jack leaned back into his chair. “San Francisco is just fine. How’s Sydney?”

The two men shared a common great-grandfather – one Charles McNeill, whose own father had been the first in the family to arrive in San Francisco, near the end of the 1840s. Charles’ younger son, an Alec McNeill, had immigrated to Australia, over ninety-five years ago. One of Alec McNeill’s grandsons happened to be the 57 year-old Sean. “Actually, I’m calling you from the airport in Melbourne,” Sean said. “I just finished a three-day visit with Belinda and her family.”

“And how is my little sister?” Jack asked in a warm voice. His only sister, Belinda, happened to be nine years younger than him. She had married an Australian university professor named Warren Grant.

In a hesitant voice, Sean replied, “Oh . . . she’s fine. I think. I, uh . . . I gave her and Warren some news that I think they found . . . well, surprising.” He paused. “And I think you’ll also find it surprising.”

Now, Jack became intrigued. “What exactly is this news?”

The sound of a PA system vibrated in the background, as Sean replied, “I’ll tell you when I get to San Francisco, tomorrow afternoon. I have a stopover in Honolulu. Look, I have a flight to catch. See you later mate. Bye.” He hung up, after Jack had bid him good-bye.

The middle-aged witch slowly turned off the phone’s intercom. Then he leaned his chair further back, as he pondered over his cousin’s mysterious call. What kind of news did Sean harbor that proved so surprising to his younger sister?

END OF Part One

“THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” (1956) Review

 

“THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” (1956) Review

It has been a long time since I saw Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 movie, “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”. A long time. When I was young, my family and I used to watch the film on television, every Easter Sunday. By the time I reached my early to mid-twenties, I stopped watching the movie. 

I spent the next decade or two deliberately ignoring “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”. One, I had pretty much burned out on the 1956 film by then. Two, I had very little interest in Biblical films. I still do to a certain extent. And three, my opinion of DeMille’s movie had pretty much sunk over the years. By the time, I reached my thirties, I came to the conclusion that it was an overrated film. So . . . what led me to change my mind for a recent viewing of “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”? To be honest, the recent release Ridley Scott’s Biblical film, “EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS”. Both the 1956 and 2014 movies pretty much told the same story – the exodus of Hebrews from Egypt, under the leadership of Moses. I eventually plan to watch “EXODUS: GODS AND KINGS”. But out of curiosity, I decided to watch “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” first.

Anyone who has seen or heard about “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” knows the story. Pharaoh Rameses I of Egypt orders the death of all firstborn Hebrew males upon hearing a prophecy in which a “Deliverer” will lead Egypt’s Hebrew slaves to freedom. A Hebrew woman named Yochabel saves her infant son by setting him adrift in a basket on the Nile River. The Pharaoh’s daughter Bithiah, who recently lost her husband, finds the child and adopts him as her own, despite the protests of her servant Memnet. Prince Moses grows up to be a part of Egypt’s royal family. He becomes a successful general who wins a war against Ethopia and forms an alliance with the country. Moses falls in love with loves Nefretiri, who is the throne princess and must be betrothed to the next Pharaoh. He also becomes in charge of constructing a new city in honor of Pharoah Sethi’s jubilee. But when his rival for the throne and Nefretiri’s hand, Prince Rameses, accuses him of being the Hebrew slaves’ “Deliverer” after he institute reforms in regard to the slaves’ treatment; Moses responses by showing the completed city and claiming that he wanted the slaves more productive in order to finish the project. Despite being on top of the world following his construction of the new city, Moses’ privileged world is threatened when Nefretiri learns from a royal slave named Memnet that Moses is the son of a Hebrew slave.

I now realized why I had stopped watching “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” for so many years. I had simply burned out on the film. My refusal to watch the movie for so many years had nothing to do with its quality. I am not saying that “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” is one of the best films ever made. Not by a long shot. “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”, quite deservedly, is known for its over-the-top melodrama, bombastic style and preachiness. But the one thing the movie is known for it is the turgid dialogue that seemed to permeate the film. I cannot help but wonder if the screenwriters had disliked actress Anne Baxter or her character, Nefretiri. After hearing her spout lines like – “You will be king of Egypt and I will be your footstool!” – throughout the entire film, I am beginning to suspect that I may be right. Even the other performers – including Charlton Heston, Yul Brenner, Yvonne DeCarlo, Edward G. Robinson, Vincent Price, Debra Paget, John Derek, Judith Anderson, John Carradine, Martha Scott, Nina Foch and Sir Cedric Hardwicke – spoke their lines with a ponderous style that left me wondering if this movie had been shot at a slower speed. And to think, movie fans had to endure this ponderous style and turgid dialogue for slightly over three-and-a-half hours. Whew!

However, my re-watch of “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” made me appreciate it a lot more. I appreciated the epic feel of DeMille’s movie, as he guided audiences into Moses’ life – from Moses’ birth to his glory years as an Egyptian prince, to his years as an outcast and shepherd and finally to his years as a prophet and conflicts with Rameses – all in great detail and glorious Technicolor. DeMille even took the time to delve into the romance of supporting characters like Joshua and Lilia. There are some epic films that can bore me senseless with a ponderous style and equally ponderous pacing. Yes, the dialogue for “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” can be quite ponderous. But I cannot say the same for DeMille’s pacing. I found his direction well-paced, despite the movie’s 220 minutes running time. One of the aspects of “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” that I found truly impressive was Loyal Griggs’ cinematography for the film. Shot in glorious Technicolor, Griggs’ Oscar nominated photography left me breathless, especially while viewing scenes such as those shown below:

tumblr_nmcp7rgyxl1qetb0ho1_1280

1956-Ten-Commandments-The-08

I was also impressed by other technical aspects of the film. That last scene, which featured the parting of the Red Seas, led to an Academy Award for John P. Fulton, who had created the movie’s special effects. That scene hold up pretty damn well after 59 years. “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” earned Oscar nominations for Edith Head’s colorful costume designs, Anne Bauchens’ film editing, Sam Comer and Ray Noyer’s set decorations; and for art directors Hal Pereira, Walter H. Tyler, and Albert Nozaki.

What can I say about the movie’s performances? Despite the ponderous dialogue, the performances seemed to hold up . . . okay. Charlton Heston earned a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of Moses. Granted, Heston projected a strong presence in his performance. But honestly . . . I would not regard Moses as one of his greatest performances. I merely found it solid. I was a little more impressed by Yul Brenner’s portrayal of Ramses. He won the Best Actor National Board Review Award for his performance. Then again, Ramses proved to be a more complex and ambiguous character than Moses. As much as I liked Brenner’s performance, it did not exactly blow my mind. Anne Baxter, who was already an Oscar winner by the time she did “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS”, was saddled with some of the movie’s worst dialogue. And there was nothing she could do to overcome the bad dialogue . . . well, except in two particular scenes. One of those scenes featured Nefretiri’s discovery of Moses’ origin as a Hebrew slave. And the other featured her character’s angry goading of Ramses to take action against the Hebrews, following their son’s death.

I read that Paramount had submitted Yvonne De Carlo, John Derek, and Debra Paget as possible nominees for a supporting Academy Award. All gave pretty good performances; especially Yvonne De Carlo, who portrayed Moses’ wife Sephora, and Debra Paget, who portrayed Lilia, the slave woman who seemed doomed to attract the attention from the wrong kind of men. But none of them received any acting nominations for their work. There were other solid performances from the likes of Judith Anderson, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Nina Foch, John Carradine, Martha Scott, Henry Wilcoxon and Woody Strode. But two particular performances really caught my attention. Ironically, they were portrayed by Vincent Price and Edward G. Robinson, who portrayed characters that proved to be the bane of Lilia’s life. Both gave interesting performances as two very oily men who use Lilia as their personal bed warmer – Price as the well-born Egyptian architect Baka and Robinson as the ambitious Hebrew overseer Dathan, who later proves to be a thorn in Moses’ side.

“THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” proved to be the last film directed by Cecil B. DeMille to be seen in movie theaters. The last in a career that by 1956, had spanned forty-two years. The director passed away over two years following the movie’s release. Frankly, “THE TEN COMMANDMENTS” struck me as a nice high note for DeMille to end his career. Yes, one has to endure the extremely long running time, occasional bouts of over-the-top drama and ponderous dialogue. But the movie’s visual style, first-rate story, excellent direction in the hands of a legend like DeMille and solid performances from a cast led by Charlton Heston; makes this Hollywood classic worth watching over and over again.

“POLDARK” Series One (2015): Episodes Five to Eight

20150726_poldark_6_02

 

“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (2015): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT

Within the past three years, I had developed a major interest in author Winston Graham’s 1945-2002 “POLDARK” literary saga and the two television adaptations of it. Series One of the second adaptation produced by Debbie Horsfield, premiered on the BBC (in Great Britain) and PBS (in the United States) back in 2015. Consisting of eight episodes, Series One of “POLDARK” was an adaptation of 1945’s “Ross Poldark – A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787” and the 1946 novel, “Demelza – A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”. Whereas Episodes One to Four adapted the 1945 novel, Episodes Five to Eight adapted the 1946 novel.

Episode Four left off with the death of Ross Poldark’s uncle, Charles; leaving Trenwith, the family’s premiere estate, in the hands of his cousin Francis. Ross’ former kitchen maid and new bride, Demelza Carne Poldark, formed a friendship with Francis’ sister Verity and accompanied Ross to a rather tense Christmas celebration at Trenwith, which was further marred by an unexpected appearance of the noveau-riche Warleggan family and friends. Ross also learned that copper had been discovered inside his mine and that Demelza had become pregnant with their first child.

Episode Five began several months later with the arrival of a traveling theater company that includes a young actress named Keren, who attracts the attention of miner Mark Daniels. The episode also marked the arrival of two other players – Dwight Enys, a former British Army officer and doctor, who happens to be a former comrade of Ross’; and young Julia Poldark, whose birth interrupted her parents’ enjoyment of the traveling theater company’s performance. The four episodes featured a good number of events and changes in Ross Poldark’s life. Julia’s birth led to a riotous christening in which he and Demelza had to deal with unexpected guests. Francis lost his fortune and his mine to George Warleggan’s cousin Matthew Sanson at a gaming party. Ross learned that his former employee Jim Carter was seriously ill at the Bodomin Jail and tried to rescue the latter with Dwight Enys’ help. The tragic consequences of their attempt led to Ross’ ill nature at the Warleggan’s ball. Dwight drifted into an affair with Keren Daniels, with tragic results.

Ross and several other mine owners created the Carnmore Copper Company in an effort to break the Warleggans’ stranglehold on the mineral smelting business, while Demelza plotted to resurrect her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark’s romance with Captain Andrew Blamey. The success of her efforts led to an estrangement between Ross and Frances. Demelza’s matchmaking also led to financial disaster for her husband’s new business venture. A Putrid’s Throat epidemic struck the neighborhood, affecting Francis, Elizabeth and their son Geoffrey Charles. Not long after Demelza had nursed them back to health, both she and Julia were stricken by disease. The season ended with a series of tragic and tumultuous events. Although Demelza recovered, Julia succumbed to Putrid’s Throat. The Warleggans’ merchant ship wrecked off the coast of Poldark land and Ross alerted locals like Jud and Prudie Paynter to salvage any goods that wash up on the shore. This “salvaging” led to violence between those on Poldark lands and neighboring miners and later, both against local military troops. One of the victims of the shipwreck turned out to be the Warleggans’ cousin, Matthew Sanson. After Ross insulted Sanson’s death in George Warleggan’s face, the season ended with the latter arranging for Ross’ arrest for inciting the riot.

I must admit that I liked these next four episodes a bit more than I did the first quartet. Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed those first episodes very much. But Episodes Five to Eight not only deepened the saga – naturally, considering a they were continuation of the first four – but also expanded the world of Ross Poldark.

One of the aspects of Series One’s second half that caught both my attention and my admiration was the production’s continuing portrayal of Britain’s declining economic situation during the late 18th century . . . especially for the working class. Both Episodes Five and Seven featured brief scenes that conveyed this situation. In Episode Five; Ross, Demelza and Verity encounter a starving family on the road to Turo, begging for food or money. A second brief scene in Episode Seven featured Demelza baking bread and later, dispersing it to the neighborhood’s starving poor. However, the series also featured bigger scenes that really drove home the dire economic situation. Upon reaching Truro in Episode Five, both Demelza and Verity witnessed a riot that broke out between working-class locals and the militia when the former tried to access the grain stored inside Matthew Sanson’s warehouse. I found the sequence well shot by director William McGregor. The latter also did an excellent job in the sequence that featured locals like the Paynters ransacking much needed food and other goods that washed ashore from the Warleggans’ wrecked ship. I was especially impressed by how the entire sequence segued from Ross wallowing in a state of grief over his daughter’s death before spotting the shipwreck to the militia’s violent attempt to put down the riot that had developed between the tenants and miners on Ross’ land and locals from other community.

Even the upper-classes have felt the pinch of economic decline, due to the closing and loses of mines across the region and being in debt to bankers like the Warleggans. Following the discovery of copper inside his family’s mine in Episode Four, Ross seemed destined to avoid such destitution. Not only was he able to afford a new gown and jewels for Demelza to wear at the Warleggan ball in Episode Six, he used his profits from the mine to create a smelting company – the Carnmore Copper Company – with the assistance of other shareholders in an effort to break the Warleggans’ monopoly on the local mining industry. One cannot say the same for his cousin Francis, who continued to skirt on the edge of debt, following his father’s death. Unfortunately, Francis wasted a good deal of his money on gambling and presents for the local prostitute named Margaret. In a scene that was not in the novel, but I found both enjoyable and very effective, he lost both his remaining fortune and his mine, Wheal Grambler, to the Warleggans’ cousin, Matthew Sanson, at a gaming party. But this was not the end of the sequence. Thanks to director William McGregor and Horsfield’s script. The sequence became even more fascinating once the Poldarks at Trenwith learned of Francis’ loss, especially Elizabeth. And it ended on a dramatic level with Francis being forced to officially close Wheal Grambler in front a crowd. I realize the sequence was not featured in Graham’s novel, but if I must be honest; I thought Horsfield’s changes really added a good deal of drama to this turn of events. Not only did McGregor shot this sequence rather well, I really have to give kudos to Kyle Soller, who did an excellent job in portraying Francis at his nadir in this situation; and Heida Reed, who did such a superb job conveying the end of Elizabeth’s patience with her wayward husband with a slight change in voice tone, body language and expression.

I was also impressed by other scenes in Series One’s second half. The christening for Ross and Demelza’s new daughter, Julia, provided some rather hilarious moments as their upper-crust neighbors met Demelza’s religious fanatic of a father and stepmother. Thanks to Harriet Ballard and Mark Frost’s performances, I especially enjoyed the confrontation between the snobbish Ruth Treneglos and the blunt Mark Carne. It was a blast. Ross and Dwight’s ill-fated rescue of a seriously ill Jim Carter from the Bodmin Jail was filled with both tension and tragedy. Tension also marked the tone in one scene which one of the Warleggans’ minions become aware of the newly formed Carnmore Copper Company during a bidding session. Another scene that caught my interest featured George Warleggan’s successful attempt at manipulating a very angry Francis into revealing the names of shareholders in Ross’ new cooperative . . . especially after the latter learned about his sister Verity’s elopement with Andrew Blamey. Both Soller and Jack Farthing gave excellent and subtle performances in this scene. Once again, McGregor displayed a talent for directing large scenes in his handling of the sequence that featured the wreck of the Warleggans’ ship, the Queen Charlotte, and both the looting and riot on the beach that followed. Series One ended on a dismal note with Ross and Demelza dealing with the aftermath of young Julia’s death and Ross’ arrest by the militia for leading the beach riot. Although I found the latter scene a bit of a throwaway, I was impressed by the scene featuring a grieving Ross and Demelza, thanks to the excellent performances from series leads, Aidan Turner and Elinor Tomlinson.

If there is one sequence that I really enjoyed in Series One of “POLDARK”, it was the Warleggan ball featured in Episode Six. Ironically, not many people enjoyed it. They seemed put out by Ross’ boorish behavior. I enjoyed it. Ross seemed in danger of becoming a Gary Stu by this point. I thought it was time that audiences saw how unpleasant he can be. And Turner did such an excellent job in conveying that aspect of Ross’ personality. He also got the chance to verbally cross swords with Robin Ellis’ Reverend Dr. Halse for the second time. Frankly, it was one of the most enjoyable moments in the series, so far. Both Turner and Ellis really should consider doing another project together. The segment ended with not only an argument between Ross and Demelza that I found enjoyable, but also a rather tense card game between “our hero” and the Warleggans’ cousin Matthew Sanson that seemed enriched by performances from both Turner and Jason Thorpe.

I wish I had nothing further to say about Episodes to Eight of Series One. I really do. But . . . well, the episodes featured a good number of things to complain about. One, there were two sequences in which Horsfield and McGregor tried to utilize two scenes by showing them simultaneously. Episode Seven featured a segment in which both Demelza and Elizabeth tried to prevent a quarrel between two men in separate scenes – at the same time. And Episode Eight featured a segment in which both Ross and Demelza tried to explain the circumstances of their financial downfall (the destruction of the Carnmore Copper Company and Verity Poldark’s elopement) to each other via flashbacks . . . and at the same time. Either Horsfield was trying to be artistic or economic with the running time she had available. I do not know. However, I do feel that both sequences were clumsily handled and I hope that no such narrative device will be utilized in Series Two.

I have another minor quibble and it has to do with makeup for both Eleanor Tomlinson and Heida Reed. In Episode Eight, the characters for both actresses – Demelza Poldark and Elizabeth Poldark – had been stricken by Putrid’s Throat. Both characters came within an inch of death. Yet . . . for the likes of me, I found the production’s different handling of the makeup for both women upon their recovery from Putrid’s Throat rather odd. Whereas Elizabeth looked as if she had recently recovered from a serious illness or death (extreme paleness and dark circles under the eyes), the slight reddish tints on Demelza’s face made her looked as if she had recently recovered from a cold. Winston Graham’s portrayal of Demelza has always struck me as a bit too idealized. In fact, she tends to come off as a borderline Mary Sue. And both the 1970s series and this recent production are just as guilty in their handling of Demelza’s character. But this determination to make Demelza look beautiful – even while recovering from a near fatal illness – strikes me as completely ridiculous.

If there is one aspect of this second group of Series One’s episodes that really troubled me, it was the portrayal of traveling actress Keren Smith Daniels and her affair with Dr. Dwight Enys. After viewing Debbie Horsfield’s portrayal of the Keren Daniels character, I found myself wondering it Debbie Horsfield harbored some kind of whore/Madonna mentality. Why on earth did she portray Keren in such an unflattering and one-dimensional manner? Instead of delving into Keren’s unsatisfaction as Mark Daniels’ wife and treating her as a complex woman, Horsfield ended up portraying her as some one-dimensional hussy/adultress who saw Dwight as a stepping stone up the social ladder. Only in the final seconds of Keren’s death was actress Sabrina Barlett able to convey the character’s frustration with her life as a miner’s wife. Worse, Horsfield changed the nature of Keren’s death, by having Mark accidentally squeeze her to death during an altercation, instead of deliberately murdering her. Many had accused Horsfield of portraing Keren in this manner in order to justify Mark’s killing of her, along with Ross and Demelza’s decision to help him evade the law. Frankly, I agree. I find it distasteful that the portrayal of a character – especially a female character – was compromised to enrich the heroic image of the two leads – especially the leading man. Will this be the only instance of a supporting character being compromised for the sake of the leading character? Or was Horsfield’s portrayal of Keren Daniels the first of such other unnecessary changes to come?

Despite my disppointment with the portrayal of the Keren Daniels character and her affair with Dwigh Enys and a few other aspects of the production, I had no problems with Episode Five to Eight of Series One for “POLDARK”. If I must be honest, I enjoyed it slightly more than I did the first four episodes. With the adaptation of “Demelza – A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790” complete, I am curious to see how Debbie Horsfield and her production staff handle the adaptation of Winston Graham’s next two novels in his literary series.