“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” – Series One (2010) Retrospective

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“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” – Series One (2010) Retrospective

Not long after ITV had aired its premiere of Julian Fellowes and Gareth Neame’s 2010-2015 series, “DOWNTON ABBEY”, the BBC announced its plans to air an updated version of the old 1970s television classic, “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”. The news had taken me by surprise. I had naturally assumed that the series’ creators Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins decided to revive the series in response to the news about “DOWNTON ABBEY”. Had I been wrong? I do not know. Did it really matter? I do not think so.

The new “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” picked up six years following the old series’ finale. The London townhouse at 165 Eaton Place in the Belgravia neighborhood is no longer occupied by any member of the Bellamy family. A Foreign Office diplomat and his wife – Sir Hallam Holland and Lady Agnes Holland – have returned to Britain and inherited the Eaton Place townhouse. The couple hired former parlourmaid Rose Buck, now running her own agency for domestic servants, to find them staff as they renovate the house to its former glory. The Hollands are forced to deal with the arrivals of Sir Hallam’s mother, Maud, Dowager Lady Holland and her Sikh secretary Amanjt Singh; and Lady Agnes’ sister, Lady Persephone Towyn – all of whom cause major stirs within the new household. The three-episode series spanned the year 1936 – covering the death of King George V, the Battle of Cable Street and King Edward VIII’s abdication.

Because it came on the heels of the critical and popular darling, “DOWNTON ABBEY”“UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” received a good share of negative criticism from the media and television viewers. And if they were not comparing it to the series written by Julian Fellowes, they were comparing it to the old “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” from the 1970s. Among the negative press it received was a report of a brief clash between Marsh and Fellowes regarding the two series. If I must be honest, I was just as guilty as the others for I had believed the negative press without having seen the series. But my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch it.

I did have a few problems with “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”. It had its moments of over-the-top maudlin, courtesy of screenwriter Heidi Thomas. I suppose I should not have been surprised. Thomas had served as screenwriter for 2007’s “CRANFORD” and its 2009 sequel. And she managed to inject plenty of wince-inducing sentiment into those productions, as well. I also found Rose Buck’s hunt for the Hollands’ new staff rather tiresome. It dominated the first half of Episode One, “The Fledgling” and I nearly gave up on the series. And I also found the cook Clarice Thackeray’s encounter with society photographer Cecil Beaton in the third episode, “The Cuckoo”, disgustingly sentimental. But . . . that encounter led to one of the best cat fights I have seen on television, so I was able to tolerate it. I have one last problem – namely the series’ three episode running time. Three episodes? Really? I would have given it at least five or six. Instead, the three episodes forced the first series to pace a lot faster than I would have liked.

For me, the virtues of “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” far outweighed the flaws. First of all, I was delighted that Marsh, Atkins and Thomas had decided to set the new series in the 1930s. I have been fascinated with that decade for a long time. It witnessed a great deal of potential change and conflict throughout Europe – including changes within Britain’s Royal Family that had a major impact upon the nation. “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” did an excellent job in conveying how these changes affected ordinary Britons and the Holland household in particular. Many had complained about the strong, political overtones that permeated “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”. I, on the other hand, loved it. The political overtones not only suited the series’ 1930s setting, but also jibed with the fact that one of the major characters happened to be a diplomat from the Foreign Office, with friendly ties to a member of the Royal Family.

Production wise, “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” looked gorgeous. Designer Eve Stewart did a superb job in re-creating London in the mid-1930s for the series. Along with set decorator Julia Castle, she converted 165 Eaton Place into a wealth of Art Deco eye candy. Amy Roberts’ costumes – especially for Keeley Hawes and Claire Foy – were outstanding and contributed to the series’ 1930s look. My only complaint regarding the series’ production is the series’ theme and score. Quite frankly, the only memorable thing about Daniel Pemberton’s work was that I found it too light for my tastes. It suited Heidi Thomas’ occasional forays into sentimentality very well. Unfortunately.

Not being that familiar with the original “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” series from the 70s, I did not find myself comparing the old cast with the new one. First of all, I thought the new cast did just fine – including the recurring characters. Blake Ritson gave a subtle performance as Prince George, Duke of Kent and youngest living brother at the time to King Edward VIII. I noticed that Thomas took great care to ensure that Ritson’s Duke of Kent would be critical of Wallis Simpson’s pro-Nazi sympathies. I found this interesting, considering rumors of his past reputation as a Nazi sympathizer. Speaking of Mrs. Simpson, I was slightly disappointed by Emma Clifford’s portrayal of the future Duchess of Windsor. The actress portrayed Mrs. Simpson as some kind of negative archetype of American women found in many British productions – gauche and verbose. This portrayal seemed completely opposite of how Mrs. Simpson had been described in the past – cool and tart. Edward Baker-Duly was given a more ambiguous character to portray – namely German ambassador Joachim von Ribbentrop – which allowed him to give a more subtle performance.

I found the casting for the Holland servants very satisfying. Many have complained that Jean Marsh’s role as Rose Buck seemed woefully reduced in compared to the old production. If her role had been reduced, I did not mind. After all, Rose was a familiar figure and I believe it was time for the lesser-known characters to shine. As much as I had enjoyed Adrian Scarborough’s solid yet nervous butler, Mr. Pritchard, and Anne Reid’s tart-tongued cook Clarice Thackeray; I found myself impressed by Neil Jackson’s cool portrayal of the ambiguous chauffeur Harry Spargo. I thought he did a great job in conveying the changing passions of Harry, without resorting to histrionics. Ellie Kendrick did an excellent job in her portrayal of the young and very spirited housemaid, Ivy Morris. Although Art Malik seemed a bit noble as the Dowager Lady Holland’s Sikh secretary, Mr. Amanjit, I believe that he managed to come into his own when his character befriended the German-Jewish refugee Rachel Perlmutter in Episode Two, “The Ladybird”. Like Scarborough and Red, Helen Bradbury gave solid performance as Frau Perlmutter. However, there were a few moments when she managed to inject a great deal of pathos into her performance, making it a pity that she only appeared in one episode. Heidi Thomas’ portrayal of the Hollands’ servants really impressed me. She managed to portray them as multi-dimensional characters, instead of the one-dimensional portrayals that marred the characterizations of the servants featured in Series One of “DOWNTON ABBEY”.

Heidi Thomas certainly did a marvelous job with her characterizations of the members of the Holland family. I had noticed that most fans and critics were impressed by Eileen Atkins’ portrayal of the Maud, Dowager Lady Holland. I cannot deny that she did a superb job. Atkins was overbearing, intelligent, wise and impetuous. But . . . the Lady Holland character also struck me as a remake of the Dowager Countess of Grantham character from “DOWNTON ABBEY” . . . who struck me as a remake of the Countess of Trentham character from “GOSFORD PARK”. In other words, the Lady Holland character struck me as being a somewhat unoriginal character. One could almost say the same about the Sir Hallam Holland character, portrayed by Ed Stoppard. Many fans have complained about his “noble” personality and penchant for political correctness – especially in his handling of Lotte, the orphaned daughter of Holland maid, Rachel Perlmutter, and his distaste toward the British Fascist movement. However, Stoppard did an excellent job in making Sir Hallam a flesh-and-blood character. And this came about, due to Stoppard’s opportunity to reveal Sir Hallam’s reaction to the conflict between his mother and wife, making him seem like a bit of a pushover.

But for me, the two most interesting characters in the series proved to be Lady Agnes Holland and Lady Persephone Towyn, the two daughters of an impoverished Welsh peer. In their unique ways, the two sisters struck me as very complex and ambiguous. At first glance, Keeley Hawes’ portrayal of Lady Agnes Holland seemed like a cheerful, slightly shallow woman bubbling with excitement over establishing a new home in London. Hawes’ performance, along with Thomas’ script, even managed to inject some pathos into the character after the revelations about Lady Agnes’ past failures to maintain a successful pregnancy. But once her mother-in-law and rebellious sister became a permanent fixture in her house, the cracks in Lady Agnes’ personality began to show. Thanks to Hawes’ superb performance, audiences were allowed glimpses into the darker side of Lady Agnes’ personality. After watching Series One of “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS”, many would view Lady Agnes’ younger sister – Lady Persephone – as the series’ villain. And she seemed so perfect for the role, thanks to Claire Foy’s brilliant performance. Her Lady Persephone was a vain, arrogant and temperamental bitch, who treated the Hollands’ staff like dirt – save for Harry Spago, with whom she conducted an affair. At first, it seemed that Harry managed to bring out Lady Persephone’s softer side, especially in her ability to emphasize with his woes regarding the country’s social system. Harry also introduced her to the British Fascist movement. But whereas he ended up finding it repellent, Lady Persephone became even more involved . . . to the point that she developed a relationship with the German ambassador, Joachim von Ribbentrop, before following him back to Germany.

I am not going to pretend that the new “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” is an exceptional series. Because I do not think that it is. Basically, it is simply a continuation of the old series from the 1970s. I thought that its running time was ridiculously short – three episodes. It could have benefited from at least two or three more episodes. And screenwriter Heidi Thomas marred it even further with a good deal of over-the-top sentimentality, especially in the first and third episodes. However, Thomas managed to tone down that same sentimentality in the characters. Nor she follow Julian Fellowes’ mistake in “DOWNTON ABBEY” by portraying the servants as one-dimensional characters. And the cast, led by Ed Stoppard and Keeley Hawes, were first rate. But what really worked for me was the 1930s setting that allowed Thomas to inject the political turmoil that made that era so memorable. Thankfully, Thomas and Marsh managed to continue that setting in the second series. “UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS” may not have been perfect, but I believe it was a lot better than a good number of critics and fans had deemed it.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set During the 1600s

Below is a list of my favorite movies set during the 1600s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET DURING THE 1600s

1. “The Four Musketeers: Milady’s Revenge” (1974) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the second half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

2. “The Man in the Iron Mask” (1977) – Richard Chamberlain portrayed duel roles in this loose adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1847-50 novel, “The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later”. Directed by Mike Newell, the movie co-starred Jenny Agutter, Patrick McGoohan and Ralph Richardson.

3. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) – Richard Lester directed this adaptation of the first half of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel, “The Three Musketeers”. The movie starred Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch and Faye Dunaway.

4. “Adventures of Don Juan” (1948) – Errol Flynn starred in this swashbuckling movie as the infamous Spanish nobleman and fencing master for King Philip III and Queen Margaret of Spain’s court, who comes to the aid of the couple when another nobleman plots to steal the throne from them. Vincent Sherman directed.

5. “The New World” (2005) – Terrence Malick wrote and directed this cinematic look at the founding of the Jamestown, Virginia settlement. The movie starred Colin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale.

6. The Three Musketeers” (1948) – George Sidney directed this adaptation of Alexandre Dumas père‘s 1844 novel. The movie starred Gene Kelly, Van Heflin, Lana Turner and June Allyson.

7. “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (2005) – Colin Firth and Scarlett Johansson starred in this adaptation of Tracy Chevalier’s 1999 historical novel about a Dutch housemaid; her employer, painter Johannes Vermeer; and the creation of his famous 1665 painting. Peter Webber directed.

8. “The Wicked Lady” (1945) – Margaret Lockwood starred in this adaptation of Magdalen King-Hall’s 1945 novel, “Life And Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton”. Directed by Leslie Arliss, the movie co-starred James Mason and Patricia Roc.

9. “Forever Amber” (1947) – Otto Preminger directed this adaptation of Kathleen Winsor’s 1944 novel about the rise of a 17th century English orphan. Linda Darnell and Cornel Wilde starred.

10. “The Crucible” (1996) – Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder starred in this adaptation of Arthur Miller’s 1953 stage play about the Salem Witch Trials. The movie was directed by Nicholas Hytner.

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Three “The Wagon and the Elephant” Commentary

“CENTENNIAL” (1978-79) – Episode Three “The Wagon and the Elephant” Commentary

The third episode of “CENTENNIAL”“The Wagon and the Elephant”, picks up at least fifteen to sixteen years after the last episode ended. This episode also shifted its focus upon a new central character; a young Mennonite from Lancaster, Pennsylvania named Levi Zendt.

The story begins in the early spring of 1845, in which young Levi Zendt irritates his more conservative family by forgetting to appear on time for Sunday supper with a local minister. This infraction proved to be nothing in compare what follows. Encouraged by the flirtations of a local Mennonite girl named Rebecca Stolfitz, Levi kisses her after they deliver market scrapings to a local orphanage. Unfortunately, Rebecca becomes aware that the orphanage’s head mistress is observing them and accuses Levi of attempted rape. The accusation not only leads Levi to be shunned by the Mennonite community, but also by his older brothers – include Mahlon, who had plans to marry Rebecca. The only people who know the truth are two late adolescent girls – Elly Zahm and Laura Lou Booker. After befriending Elly, Levi decides to leave Lancaster and head west to Oregon. He also makes a surprise visit at the orphanage and asks Elly to accompany him on the journey west, as his bride. During their journey west, Levi and Elly quickly fall in love. Upon their arrival in St. Louis, they meet three other men who will play major roles in their future – Oliver Seccombe, an Englishman with plans to write a book about the American West; Army Major Maxwell Mercy, the husband of Lisette Pasquinel, who has been assigned to find and establish an Army fort on the Plains; and the venal mountain man Sam Purchas, who acts as a guide to the wagon train that the Zendts accompany.

“The Wagon and the Elephant” is without a doubt, my favorite of all the twelve episodes featured in “CENTENNIAL”. I love it. I am not saying that it is perfect. But I love it. I do have a few quibbles about the episode. One, I was not that impressed by Helen Colvig’s costumes for the female characters. I am willing to give leeway to the costumes worn by Stephanie Zembalist, Barbara Carrera and Christina Raines; considering their characters’ social positions. But the costumes worn by actress Karen Carlson and numerous female extras portraying middle and upper-class females seemed a bit . . . cheap. It seemed as if Colvig failed to put much effort into their costumes, in compare to the female costumes featured in “Only the Rocks Live Forever” and “The Yellow Apron”. Another complaint I have is the presence of white families in the sequence that featured Major Mercy and McKeag’s efforts to negotiate with various tribes for help in establishing an Army fort. This particular incident occurred after the Zendts, Oliver Seccombe, Sam Purchas and the rest of the wagon train continued its journey west. Which meant that Mercy and McKeag’s meeting with the Pasquinel brothers and other tribal leaders must have occurred in mid-to-late August. Any westbound white emigrants still at Fort Laramie (Fort John) during that time of the year, had probably left western Missouri a good deal later than any emigrant with common sense would. The presence of those white families at Laramie in that particular sequence made not only lacked any logic, but was also historically incorrect.

But these are minor quibbles in what I otherwise consider to be a superb episode. I have admitted in past reviews of my love for tales featuring long distance traveling. This theme was featured in “The Wagon and the Elephant” in a manner that more than satisfied me. The episode covered the Zendts journey from Pennsylvania to (present day) Northern Colorado with plenty of drama and action that left me breathless. Although this chapter in James Michner’s saga was set in 1844 in the novel, producer-writer John Wilder had decided to set it one year later. Why? Who knows? And frankly, who cares? After all, this minor change did no harm to the story. But I never understood why he made the change in the first place. Another aspect about this episode is that after watching it, I realized that it served as the first half of a two-part tale that introduced Levi Zendt into the saga. The incidents in “The Wagon and the Elephant” severed Levi from everything that was familiar to him in Pennsylvania – family, home, and all of his assets. By the end of the episode, McKeag spoke of how Levi’s losses and upheavals brought him to a crossroad in his life.

After watching “The Wagon and the Elephant”, I was amazed at the number of memorable moments featured in it. Those moments included:

*A tardy Levi and the rest of the Zendt family entertain the Reverend Fenstermacher for Sunday supper

*Rebecca Stolfitz falsely accuses Levi of attempted rape

*The elderly Mrs. Zendt encourage Levi to leave Lancaster and head west

*Levi and Elly meet Oliver Seccombe for the first time

*Oliver introduce Sam Purchas to the Zendts and Major Mercy

*Purchas exchange the Zendts’ team of gray horses for oxen

*Levi’s conversation with Sergeant Lykes about “seeing the elephant”

*The wagon trains’ encounter with Jacques and Michel Pasquinel

*Maxwell Mercy introduce himself to McKeag, Clay Basket and Lucinda as Pasquinel’s son-in-law at Fort Laramie

*Mercy and McKeag’s meeting with the Pasquinel brothers, Broken Thumb, Lost Eagle and other tribal leaders

*Purchas’ attempted rape of Elly

*The Zendts’ decision to part from the wagon train and return east

*McKeag and Levi form a trading partnership

*Elly’s encounter with a rattlesnake

I could go into detail on the scenes mentioned above, but that would require an entire article on its own. The fact that this episode featured so many memorable scenes made it a favorite of mine. However, there are two or three scenes that I had failed to mention. Two of them featured private and intimate discussions between Levi and Elly, conveying their deepening love for one another. But my favorite scene featured Levi’s arrival at the local orphanage to ask Elly for her hand in marriage and to accompany him on his journey to Oregon. With John Addison’s score and the first-rate performances by Gregory Harrison, Stephanie Zimbalist and Leslie Winston; director Paul Krasny created a magical and emotionally satisfying scene that still makes my skin tingle . . . and tears fall.

But it was not only Krasny’s direction and Jerry Ziegman’s script that made this episode so memorable. “The Wagon and the Elephant” also featured some superb performances. They came from the likes of Richard Jaeckel, who was given a chance to shine in his “seeing the elephant” speech; John Bennett Perry, who effectively portrayed Levi’s overbearing older brother, Mahlon Zendt; Leslie Winston, who shone in two scenes as Elly’s vivacious best friend, Laura Lou Booker; Stephen McHattie, who gave a first hint of his brilliant portrayal of the mercurial Jacques Pasquinel; Chad Everrett, who provided a great deal of strength as Major Maxwell Mercy; and Irene Tedrow, who gave a very warm portrayal of the compassionate Mrs. Zendt. Before portraying Sam Purchas in this episode, Donald Pleasence had portrayed a mountain man in the 1965 comedy, “THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL”. In “CENTENNIAL”, he ended up portraying a very unpleasant frontiersman, namely the venal Sam Purchas. Although Pleasence’s Purchas was not what I would call a complex character, I must admit that he was memorable and the British actor portrayed him with a great deal of relish. Richard Chamberlain continued his role as Alexander McKeag in this episode. Although his role had been diminished, he still continued his superb portrayal of the character. And Timothy Dalton made his first appearance as Oliver Seccombe, the Englishman that ended up falling in love with the West . . . for better or worse. Even in “The Wagon and the Elephant”, Dalton would skillfully provide a great deal of charm and moral ambiguity in what I believe turned out to be one of his best roles ever.

However, “The Wagon and the Elephant” truly belonged to Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist as Levi and Elly Zendt. Years ago, I had learned that these two had worked together at least four times. It seemed a pity that they did not work more often together, because these two were magic. They took a couple that seemed unrequited (at least from Elly’s point of view) at the beginning of their marriage and created one of the most loving and believable romances in the entire miniseries. They really were quite wonderful. I wish I could say more about their excellent performances . . . but I suspect that I have said enough.

In fact, I believe I have said enough about “The Wagon and the Elephant”. I mean . . . what else can I say? Producer John Wilder took a first rate script written by Jerry Ziegman, an excellent cast led by Gregory Harrison and Stephanie Zimbalist and one of my favorite themes – long distance travel – to create what has become my favorite episode in “CENTENNIAL”.

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.17) “. . . In Translation”

 

“LOST” RETROSPECT: (1.17) “. . . In Translation”

Before I commence upon this article, I should reveal that the “LOST” Season One episode, (1.17) “. . . In Translation” is one of my all-time favorites from the series. I will try to be as biased as possible regarding the episode, but do not expect me to succeed.

To understand “. . . In Translation”, one has to watch the previous episode, (1.06) “The House of the Rising Sun”. The flashbacks in that episode revealed the backstory of the marriage between Jin-Soo Kwon and Sun-Hwa Kwon (née Paik) before they had ended up stranded on the island via Oceanic Flight 815. Told from Sun’s point of view, the flashbacks revealed that Jin had to take a job working for Mr. Paik, Sun’s father in order to win her hand in marriage. The couple became increasingly estranged, as Jin began spending more time doing his father-in-law’s bidding than with his wife. One night, after they had been married for a period of time, Jin returned home covered in someone else’s blood. Fearing that her husband might be a dangerous killer, Sun secretly plotted to leave Jin (hence the secret English lessons); but changed her mind while on route to Los Angeles, via Sydney. “The House of the Rising Sun” also revealed the growing animosity between Jin and fellow castaway Michael Dawson, when the former attacked the latter for wearing Sun’s father’s watch – something that Michael had discovered on the beach.

“. . . In Translation” continued the revelation of the Kwon marriage, only from Jin’s point-of-view. The flashbacks revealed the circumstances behind Jin asking Sun’s father her hand in marriage, the bargain he had made to work for the older man, Jin’s growing awareness of Sun’s frustration with his duties and more importantly the real circumstances surrounding the infamous blood on his hands that Sun had spotted. Sun saw a man who may have committed a brutal murder. What really happened is that Jin prevented a government official – who had refused to re-open one of Mr. Paik’s factories – from being murdered by one of his father-in-law’s henchmen by convincing the man to cooperate after a severe beating. Realizing that he was in danger of losing Sun, Jin decided to take his fisherman father’s advice to use a business trip to leave South Korea and stay in the U.S. for good. Only the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 intervened. Following the events of (1.14) “Special”, Michael Dawson decided to build a raft in order to get his ten year-old son away from the dangers of the island. The hostility between Michael and Jin finally came to a head when someone mysteriously set fire to the raft. Believing that Jin had set the fire, Michael attacked the former. Sun’s desperate cries for Michael to stop revealed her knowledge of English to Jin and the other castaways. The revelation not only led to a further rift between the South Korean couple, but also to the beginning of a friendship between Jin and Michael, as they proceeded to rebuild the raft.

This episode was aptly named “. . . In Translation”, a take on the title of Sofia Coppola’s 2003 movie. If anything, it focused upon the main problem that surrounded the Kwon marriage – namely the bad communication that existed between the couple before and after the crash of Oceanic 815. For some time, Sun believed that Jin may have murdered on her father’s behalf, due to the blood she had spotted on his hand. This would explain why she had continuously declared to people like Michael and fellow castaway Kate Austen about Jin’s dangerous nature and how “he was capable of anything”. And this would explain why she took the trouble to learn English and not tell Jin. However, Jin was also guilty of keeping secrets from Sun. He never told Sun the details behind the blood on his hands, believing that it was not her place to know. More importantly, he lied about his father, Mr. Kwon, telling both Sun and her father that the latter was dead. Which is ironic, considering he left Sun after learning that she spoke English. Even more ironic is the fact that Sun knows that his father is alive . . . but never bothered to reveal this to Jin. Some viewers translated that last shot of Sun revealing her bikini without Jin hovering about, as a sign of her “freedom”. Whatever “bondage” that Sun found during her marriage, it had been created by bad communication between her and Jin. For me, Sun’s removal of her wrap struck me as a hollow and irrelevant gesture. Her “freedom” came at the cost of losing – at least for a while – the very man that she would always love more than anyone.

On a minor level, a lack of communications also continued to exist between Michael and Walt. Most fans tend to blame Michael for this by accusing him of being a poor parent. There were moments when Michael became forgetful of Walt. And there were other times when Michael’s jealousy of Walt’s friendship with castaway John Locke got in the way. However, many of these fans failed to recall that Walt was just as responsible as Michael, due to his residual resentment toward the major changes in his life – losing his mother and gaining a long lost father. Because of this resentment, Walt had a bad habit of disobeying his father when he should have done the opposite. As far as these fans are concerned, Locke would have made a better parent than Michael. Personally, I disagree. Locke was adept at being a friend to Walt. Being a friend did not necessarily mean one is a good parent. The latter has to be an effective disciplinarian, as well. Unfortunately, being a disciplinarian does not jibe with the early 21st ideal of parenthood.

A third story line centered on the triangle that existed between Shannon Rutherford, Sayid Jarrah and Shannon’s stepbrother, Boone Carlyle. But I barely paid attention. In a nutshell, Sayid declared his intentions to court Shannon to Boone. The latter decided to stir up trouble by hinting to Sayid that Shannon likes to use older men for her own benefit. Needless to say, Shannon set things to right and resumed her romance with Sayid after receiving sound advice from Locke.

Screenwriters Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Leonard Dick really did a great job in continuing the revelations behind the Kwon marriage in this very emotional episode. The island incidents balanced very well against Jin’s flashbacks regarding his marriage. And this episode really worked, due to the outstanding performances from Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. Also Harold Perrineau (Michael Dawson), Bryan Chung (Mr. Paik), and John Shin (Mr. Kwon) gave excellent support.

Some of my favorite scenes in the episode included Jin’s successful attempts to save the life of the South Korean government official, his marriage proposal to Mr. Paik and especially the poignant conversation he has with his father, Mr. Kwon, about his marriage. I also enjoyed the scenes that featured Michael’s two attempts to bond with ten year-old Walt – the second being more successful. I also enjoyed Locke’s revelation that Walt was responsible for burning the raft. But my favorite scene featured the moment when Jin discovered that Sun spoke English. Director Tucker Gates did an excellent job in conveying Jin’s confusion with spinning camera work and muffled babble, as the the South Korean castaway tried to understand the English words that swirled around him. The only dark spot in this episode was Sawyer’s attempt to form a lynch mob for Jin, after the raft caught on fire. It was an unpleasant reminder that Mr. Ford’s penchant for resorting to violent retribution remained with him until the last season.

A few years ago, I had created a LIST of my ten favorite episodes from “LOST”“. . . In Translation” ranked at number six on my list. After my recent viewing of the episode, that ranking still stands.

 

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” (2017) Review

 

“JUSTICE LEAGUE” (2017) Review

The D.C. Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) released its fifth film utilizing several characters that were either featured or hinted in its previous four films during the fall of 2017. Directed by Zack Snyder (well, most of it), “JUSTICE LEAGUE” proved to be an even more controversial entry than two of its previous films. Only for different reasons.

Set some time after the present-day events of “WONDER WOMAN”“JUSTICE LEAGUE” begins with the Gotham City costumed vigilante Batman aka Bruce Wayne attempting to arrest a thief. However, his efforts are interrupted by the arrival of an alien creature known as a parademon. Realizing that he had dreamed of a similar creature in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, Batman realizes that Earth is about to face another alien threat. Before he can summon Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince, she learns of an even bigger threat from her mother, Queen Hippolyta of Themyscira. A former foe known as Steppenwolf has arrived on Earth to acquire the three Mother Boxes, sentient, miniaturized, portable supercomputers from his homeworld of Apokolips. One of the boxes had been guarded by the Amazons of Themyscira for thousands of years. The pair decides to find the other metahumans – Barry Allen aka the Flash, Victor Stone aka Cyborg (whose body was cured by a Mother Box) and Arthur Curry aka Aquaman – and form a team to fight against Steppenwolf. Bruce manages to easily recruit the Flash, but is unable to recruit Aquaman. And Diana encounters difficulty in recruiting Cyborg. But when Steppenwolf manages to acquire the second Mother Box in Aquaman’s world of Atlantis, the “King of the Seven Seas” decides to join the newly formed Justice League to defeat the alien from Apokolips. However, it is not long before the League realizes they need a sixth member to help them defeat Steppenwolf – namely the recently deceased Superman.

Ever since the release of “MAN OF STEEL” in 2013, critics and some moviegoers have been highly critical of the DCEU. With the exception of “WONDER WOMAN”, the franchise’s movies have either received mixed reviews or panned. In the case of “JUSTICE LEAGUE”, it has been panned . . . perhaps even more so than the other four films. Personally, I have been a major fan of the DCEU films before “JUSTICE LEAGUE”. Do I believe the movie deserved to panned? Honestly? No. But I do feel that “JUSTICE LEAGUE” is probably the first DCEU film toward which I felt some disappointment.

There was a good deal from “JUSTICE LEAGUE” that I enjoyed. The creation of the Justice League began when Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman formed a team to battle Lex Luthor’s creation, Doomsday, in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. This creation continued with Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince’s recruitment of the Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. And if I must be honest, I enjoyed how the movie’s screenplay took its time in fusing these characters into the League. I found this especially satisfying, since both Cyborg and Aquaman proved rather difficult to recruit. What finally drove them all together as a team proved to be the threat of Steppenwolf.

This leads me to something else I enjoyed about the film. Steppenwolf’s acquisition of two Mother Boxes provided some first-rate action sequences featuring the Amazons on Themyscira and the Atlantis inhabitants’ efforts to stop him. And they did not make it easy for him. I especially enjoyed the sequence featuring Steppenwolf’s theft of the Mother Box on Themyscira. There were other action sequences that enjoyed. One of them included the League’s first encounter with Steppenwolf inside an abandoned facility near the Gotham City Harbor. I also enjoyed the League’s second attempt to defeat Steppenwolf and his Parademon army at a small Russian village, where the Apokoliptian planned to fuse the three Mother Boxes and terraform the Earth’s surface. I also enjoyed an early action sequence that featured Wonder Woman’s confrontation with a group of terrorists in London. But for me, my favorite action sequence featured the League’s confrontation with a recently resurrected and amnesiac Superman. Although I found it rather scary, thanks to Henry Cavill’s chilling performance, there was a comedic moment that I found very funny.

As much as I enjoyed most of the film’s action sequences, I found a good deal of its comedic and dramatic moments even more satisfying. It seemed pretty obvious to me that the film’s two comedy relief characters were Barry Allen aka the Flash and Arthur Curry aka Aquaman. And I found both characters more than satisfactory, thanks to Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa’s performances. Miller’s Barry Allen was an extroverted and nervous personality that was at odds with his inability to easily befriend others. This was especially apparent in one scene that featured the initial meeting between Barry and Bruce Wayne at the former’s abode and his attempts to befriend Victor Stone aka Cyborg. But the one scene that truly made me appreciate Miller’s comedic talent occurred when the League clashed with a resurrected, yet amnesiac Superman and the Flash attempted to attack the Man of Steel from behind . . . and failed. Jason Momoa’s portrayal of Arthur Curry also provided a good deal of the movie’s comedic moments. Momoa’s portrayal of the blunt and cynical King of the Seven Seas practically had me in stitches. But I especially enjoyed that moment when Aquaman unexpectedly went into a comedic spiel about fighting Steppenwolf and his appreciation for Wonder Woman . . . unaware that he was sitting on her Lasso of Truth.

However, there were many dramatic moments that made me happily realize that “JUSTICE LEAGUE” was not all comedy and action. The movie’s opening credits featured a poignant montage that revealed the world’s grief over Superman’s death. One particular scene – a homeless man holding a “I TRIED” sign next to him – really resonated within me. I thought Martha Kent’s visit to Lois Lane in Metropolis and the two women’s shared grief over Clark/Superman’s demise was particularly poignant, thanks to Diane Lane and Amy Adams’ performances. I particularly enjoyed one scene that featured a tense conversation between Cyborg and his father, Dr. Silas Stone over the latter’s decision to use a Mother Box to save the former’s life. May I be frank? Both Ray Fisher, who portrayed the superhero and Joe Morton, who portrayed his father, really knocked it out of the ballpark in this scene. I was not that impressed by the CGI used for the Steppenwolf character. But I must admit that I enjoyed Ciarán Hinds’ voice performance for the villain. The actor projected a good deal of style and menace into the character.

I enjoyed Clark’s reunion with both Lois and Martha. Although I feel that it was a bit too brief for my tastes, I cannot deny that I found it emotionally satisfying. And I enjoyed the tense conversation between Aquaman and future love interest, Mera of Atlantis. The scene seemed to give audiences a preview of the screen dynamics between Momoa and Amber Heard, who portrayed Mera. But if I had to pick my favorite dramatic moment in “JUSTICE LEAGUE”, it would have to be the scene that featured Bruce Wayne and Diana Prince’s conversation regarding his continuing guilt over his past attempt to kill Superman and her lingering grief over the death of her former lover/colleague, Steve Trevor. Thanks to superb and subtle performances from Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot, the scene was a tense and angst-riddled moment that I truly enjoyed.

Zack Snyder had collaborated with cinematographer Larry Fong on four films – “300” (2007)“WATCHMEN” (2009)“SUCKER PUNCH” (2011) and especially, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE” (2016). For “JUSTICE LEAGUE”, Synder ended up collaborating with Fabian Wagner, who had previously spent most of his career in television – especially HBO’s “GAME OF THRONES”. However, I am not that familiar with Wagner’s previous work. But I must admit that I was impressed by his work in “JUSTICE LEAGUE”. His work proved to be a bit brighter than Fong’s work in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”. This is not that surprising, considering that the movie’s narrative is slightly less angsty than the 2016 film. But I was especially impressed by his photography of the film’s protagonists, as shown below:

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One would be inclined to wonder why I had regarded “JUSTICE LEAGUE” as something of a disappointment, due to my positive comments on it. Well . . . I had problems with the film. Hell, I have expressed quibbles for about every comic book movie I have seen. My first problem with “JUSTICE LEAGUE” there were times when it seemed I was viewing a movie with two directors . . . with two different styles. Well of course the movie seemed to possess two different directors. As everyone knows, Zack Snyder had experienced a family tragedy while dealing with the film’s post-production. Unable to continue, he asked Joss Whedon, who had directed the two Avengers films for Marvel/Disney, to complete the post-production reshoots, using his notes. Well . . . Whedon did more than that. At the behest of the Warner Brothers executives, he chopped out a good deal of Snyder’s work, re-shot and re-wrote at least 30 percent of the movie in a similar style he had used for the Avengers films. In the end, there were times when “JUSTICE LEAGUE” seemed like a DCEU film trying to look like a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) movie. I found this very confusing – especially in the film’s third and final act.

One of the results of this hack job by Whedon and Warner Brothers was the decision to change the film’s composer. They tossed out Junkie XL (who had co-written the “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN” score with Hans Zimmer)’s score and hired Danny Elfman to replace it. Now . . . I have been a fan of some of Elfman’s work for years. But what he did for this film’s score? As far as I am concerned . . . nothing. Elfman fell back on the nostalgia factor by utilizing his old score from the two Batman films directed by Tim Burton. Worse, there was a moment following Superman’s resurrection – I do no know if this happened or not, but I could have sworn that right after the resurrection or when the Man of Steel confronted Steppenwolf for the first time – Elfman even used a few bars from John Williams’ score for the 1978 film, “SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE”. All I can say that it was a very cringe-worthy moment for me.

Speaking of Superman . . . what in the hell happened? Granted, I really enjoyed the sequences featuring his resurrection, his clash with the League’s other members and his reunions with Lois and Martha. But once Superman joined the League’s battle against Steppenwolf . . . I just do not know what happened. It seemed as if someone – I suspect it was Whedon – tried to transform him into Christopher Reeve’s version of the Man of Steel. Ugh! Look, Chris Reeve’s Superman was fine for the late 20th century. But we are nearing the end of the 2010s. Henry Cavill had managed to establish his own version of Superman. There was no need to force him to copy another actor’s style. One other fact bothered me. I am referring to the questionable CGI that tried to hide the mustache he was sporting, while filming “MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT”. Apparently, Paramount Studios refused to allow Cavill to shave the moustache for the “JUSTICE LEAGUE” re-shoots. Between the cringe-worthy grinning, the cheesy dialogue and that ridiculous race against the Flash in the first post-credit scene, I simply found myself feeling sorry for Henry Cavill. In fact, either Snyder or Whedon (I suspect the latter) tried to lighten up Affleck’s performance as Batman by forcing the latter to spew some pretty lame jokes. Poor man. In their attempt to transform the movie into an Avengers film, the Warner Brothers suits damn near sabotaged both the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight.

But for me, the real problem proved to be the film’s last act. It brought back bad memories of the last act of the 2015 movie, “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON”. The entire sequence featuring the Justice League’s battle against Steppenwolf and the latter’s parademon army at some Russian village struck me as simply confusing. It was beyond confusing. Between the questionable editing, the unattractive lighting, and the rushed action, I simply found the entire sequence hard to swallow. I can only thank God that Russian village was not rising in the sky, while the Justice League battle Steppenwolf. That shit would have been even more difficult to swallow. The first post-credit scene featuring Superman and the Flash’s race to see who was the fastest did not help. Why is it so damn important in a D.C. Comics movie or television production to show a Kryptonian (whether it was Superman or Supergirl) in a race with the Flash? I disliked it in this movie and I disliked it in a Season One episode of the Arrowverse’s “SUPERGIRL”. Fortunately, the second post-credit scene nearly made up for the film’s last thirty minutes or so. I will say that it involved Lex Luthor and one of Batman’s former foes, Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke. It proved to be a great surprise.

So, there you have it. Do not get me wrong. “JUSTICE LEAGUE” provided some great action scenes and dramatic moments. It also featured some excellent performances, as well. However, it is quite obvious that the Warner Brothers executives and Joss Whedon made a serious mistake in ignoring Zack Snyder’s post-production instructions and trying to transform the movie into their own version of a Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film. In a way, they did. “JUSTICE LEAGUE” strongly reminded me of Marvel’s 2015 movie, “THE AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON” – both the good and the bad.

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Top Five Favorite Episodes of “THE CROWN” Season One (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the Netflix series, “THE CROWN”. Created by Peter Morgan, the series starred Claire Foy and Matt Smith as Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “THE CROWN” SEASON ONE (2016)

 
1. (1.02) “Hyde Park Corner” – Due to King George VI’s poor health, Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh embark upon a tour of the Commonwealth on his behalf. However, a family tragedy forces the couple to end their tour in Kenya and return home to Britain.
 
 
 
 
 
 
2. (1.05) “Smoke and Mirrors” – This episode focuses on the death of Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother and on her own coronation over two months later. Meanwhile, the Queen’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, clashes with her private secretary, Tommy Lascelles, after being asked not to attend the coronation.
 
 
 
 
 
 
3. (1.08) “Pride & Joy” – While Elizabeth and Philip embark upon a stressful Commonwealth tour in 1954, the Queen’s younger sister Princess Margaret takes on more royal engagements, much to the consternation of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
 
 
 
 
 
 
4. (1.07) “Scientia Potentia Est” – While the Soviet Union tests their new H-bomb, both Prime Minister Churchill and Deputy Prime Minister experience major health crisis, unbeknownst to the Queen. Meanwhile, she becomes aware of her limited education and hires a tutor.
 
 
 
 
 
 
5. (1.06) “Gelignite” – When Princess Margaret and her divorced lover, Peter Townsend, ask Elizabeth’s permission to get married, the latter promises to give her support. Unfortunately, Private Secretary Lascelles and the Queen Mother advise against supporting the marriage.

“CHARMED” Retrospect: (1.12) “The Wendigo”

 

“CHARMED” Retrospect: (1.12) “The Wendigo”

I really do not know what to say about the ”CHARMED” Season One episode, (1.12) “The Wendigo”. You know what? Of course I do. After all, it is one of my favorite episodes from that first season. In fact, it is one of my top twenty (20) ”CHARMED” episodes of all time.

”The Wendigo” began with one Piper Halliwell stranded at a local San Francisco park, thanks to a flat tire. The episode immediately kicked into high gear when a supernatural beast attacked her. The beast managed to inflict a deep scratch on her arm before a savior arrived in the form of a young man, who used a flare gun to scare off the beast. While being treated at the hospital for her scratch, Piper and her two sisters – Prue and Phoebe – learned that Prue’s old flame, Inspector Andy Trudeau of the San Francisco Police Department, had been in contact with an FBI agent named Ashley Fallon, due to previous attacks by the beast in the city. The three sisters also discovered that Piper’s savior, Billy Waters, had a previous encounter with the beast that left his fiancée dead, in Chicago. Ever since his fiancée’s death, Billy and FBI Agent Fallon have been tracking the beast. It was Piper who learned from the family’s Book of Shadows that the beast is called a Wendigo, a werewolf/Sasquatch hybrid that hunts victims during the three days of the full moon in order to eat their hearts. Because of her scratch, Piper ended up in danger of also becoming a Wendigo.

Written by Edithe Swensen and directed by James Conway, ”The Wendigo” had its flaws, despite my feelings about it. The majority of those flaws stemmed from moments of bad acting and a problem with the script. The only problem I had with the script centered on FBI Agent Fallon’s failure to work with agents from the local FBI office in San Francisco. I realize that the local law enforcement would have been drawn into the case, once the attacks in San Francisco began. But it never made sense to me that Fallon, an agent from another regional office, would be the only one from her agency working on the case in San Francisco and not an agent from the local FBI office.

“The Wendigo” also featured a subplot in which Phoebe manages to wangle a job at Bucklands as Prue’s assistant. While handling a bracelet to be sold at auction, Phoebe has flashes of a car accident. She discovered that the car in her vision had belonged to a private detective who was conveying a five year-old girl that had been kidnapped by her father. The subplot ended with Phoebe and Prue delivering the now eleven or twelve year-old girl to her mother. The subplot struck me as short, emotional and yet somewhat meaningless. Mere fodder to pad the episode.

As for the acting, there are three moments I found . . . questionable. One involved Piper’s gradual transformation into the Wendigo. Perhaps Holly Marie Combs had been instructed by director James Conway to portray this as a comedy scene. Unfortunately, Combs did not come off as funny to me. Her timing seemed off. Nor did she seem ominous. Just awkward. Another moment featured Jocelyn Seagrave’s performance in a scene in which her Special Agent Fallon had described a past heartbreak over being rejected by a former love. No offense to Miss Seagrave, but she did come off as slightly theatrical. The last scene featured Prue and Phoebe confronting the original Wendigo and Piper, who had finally transformed into the beast. After Phoebe fired a flare gun at Wendigo Piper, the latter froze the flare and the original Wendigo. While Prue and Piper debated over who was the real Wendigo, the actor or actress (it could have been Holly Marie Combs) inside the Wendigo Piper suit stood in one spot with hands in attack position, stood in one spot and wore an idiotic expression that seemed to say ”what do I do next?”. It was a rather stupid moment.

But despite these minor quibbles, I genuinely enjoyed ”The Wendigo”. It was an entertaining monster-of-the-week episode that featured a first-rate performance by Holly Marie Combs as the anxiety-ridden Piper who feared she was turning into a monster. Although both Shannen Doherty and Alyssa Milano gave fine support, I was especially impressed by T.W. King, whose Andy Trudeau seemed suitably torn over his broken romance with Prue and his attraction to Special Agent Fallon. Despite my complaint over Jocelyn Seagrave’s reading over one particular scene, I must admit that she did a stand-out job of portraying a credible Federal agent and had a strong screen chemistry with King. I also have to commend actor Billy Jayne for giving a strong and charismatic performance as Piper’s savior, Billy Waters.

Thanks to director James L. Conway, ”The Wendigo” was not only entertaining, but well-paced. And despite the missing presence of local FBI agents in San Francisco and the subplot, I have to admit that Edithe Swensen wrote a lively and solid episode with plenty of horror and suspense. Swensen was also sensible enough not to reveal the human identity of the Wendigo, until two-thirds into the episode.

Watching ”The Wendigo” reminded me of how entertaining ”CHARMED” could be during its early seasons. Before the writing in the series began to decline at a serious rate. Before the dark times. With the entire series now on DVD and airing as reruns on TNT, fans have a constant reminder of its glory days . . . including episodes like ”The Wendigo”.