“RAINTREE COUNTY” (1957) Review

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“RAINTREE COUNTY” (1957) Review

As much as some people would hate to admit it, “GONE WITH THE WIND”, the 1939 adaptation of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel, had really cast a long shadow upon the Hollywood industry. Before its release, movies about the Antebellum and Civil War period were rarely released. And by the mid-1930s, Civil War movies especially were considered box office poison. Following the success of “GONE WITH THE WIND”, many Hollywood studios seemed determined to copy the success of the 1939 movie. 

Although “GONE WITH THE WIND” was definitely a Selznick International product, it had been released in theaters by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios, thanks to a deal that allowed the latter to help producer David Selznick finance the movie. Although MGM had released a few movies set during the mid-19th century – including “LITTLE WOMEN” and “SOUTHERN YANKEE” – it did not really try to copy Selznick’s success with “GONE WITH THE WIND”, until the release of its own Antebellum/Civil War opus, “RAINTREE COUNTY”.

Based upon Ross Lockridge Junior’s 1948 novel, “RAINTREE COUNTY” told the story of a small-town Midwestern teacher and poet named John Shawnessy, who lived in 19th century Indiana. Although most of Lockridge’s novel is set in the decade before the Civil War and the next two-to-three decades after the war, the movie adaptation took a different direction. The movie began with John’s graduation from his hometown’s local academy. Many people in Freehaven, Indiana – including John’s father, his teacher/mentor Professor Jerusalem Webster Stiles, and his sweetheart Nell Gaither – expect great things from him, due to his academic excellence. But when John meet a visiting Southern belle named Susanna Drake and has a brief tryst with her during a Fourth of July picnic, his life unexpectedly changes. Susanna returns to Freehaven a month or two later with the news that she is pregnant with his child. Being an honorable young man, John disappoints both Nell and his father by marrying Susanna. Their honeymoon in Louisiana starts off well, but John becomes aware of Susanna’s mental instability and her suspicions that she might be the daughter of a free black woman who had been Susanna’s nanny for the Drake family. However, the Civil War breaks out. Susanna’s emotional state becomes worse and she eventually leaves Indiana for Georgia, the home of her mother’s family. John joins the Union Army in an effort to find her.

After viewing “RAINTREE COUNTY”, a part of me wondered why it was regarded as a Civil War movie. The majority of the film’s action occurred between 1859-1861, the two years before the war’s outbreak. A great deal of the film’s Civil War “action” focused on the birth of John and Susanna’s son – the day the war started, one night in which Susanna informed John about her family’s history, and his rescue of young Johnny at a cabin outside of Atlanta. Otherwise, not much happened in this film during the war. Hell, John eventually found Susanna at a Georgian asylum . . . right after the war. Why this movie is solely regarded as a Civil War movie, I have no idea.

I realize that “RAINTREE COUNTY” is supposed to be about the life of John Shawnessey, but he came off as a rather dull protagonist. Some critics have blamed leading actor Montgomery Clift’s performance, but I cannot. I simply find John to be a rather dull and ridiculously bland character. Aside from losing control of his libido when he first met and later married Susanna, and being slightly naive when the movie first started; John Shawnessey never really made a mistake or possessed a personal flaw. How can one enjoy a movie, when the protagonist is so incredibly dull? Even if the movie had followed Lockbridge’s novel by exploring John’s post-war involvement in politics and the late 19th century Labor movement, I would still find him rather dull and slightly pretentious. Characters like the volatile Susanna, the mercenary and bullying Garwood P. Jones, the witty Professor Stiles, the gregarious local Orville ‘Flash’ Perkins and even Nell Gaither, who proved to harbor flashes of wit, malice and jealousy behind that All-American girl personality were more interesting than John. How can I get emotionally invested in a movie that centered around such a dull man?

I find his goal in this movie – the search for the “raintree” – to be equally dull. Thanks to Lockridge’s novel and Millard Kaufman’s screenplay, the “raintree” symbolizes the Tree of Knowledge, whose golden boughs shed fertilizing blossoms on the land. In other words, John’s goal is to search for self-knowledge, maturity, wisdom . . . whatever. Two main problems prevented this theme from materializing in the story. One, Kaufman barely scratched the surface on this theme, aside from one scene in which Professor Stiles discussed the “raintree” to his students and how its location in Indiana is also a metaphor for American myth, another scene in which John foolish searches for this tree in the local swamp, a third scene in which John and Susanna discusses this myth and in one last scene featuring John, Susanna, their son James, and Nell in the swamp at the end of the movie. Am I to believe that the movie’s main theme was only featured in four scenes of an 182 minutes flick? And the idea of John spending most of the film finding self-knowledge, wisdom, etc. strikes me as superfluous, considering that he comes off as too much of a near ideal character in the first place.

To make matters worse, the movie had failed to adapt Lockridge’s entire novel. Instead, it focused on at least half or two-thirds of the novel – during John Shawnessey’s years during the antebellum period and the Civil War. Let me re-phase that. “RAINTREE COUNTY” has a running time of 160 minutes. At least spent 90 minutes of the film was set during the antebellum period. The next 40 minutes was set during the war and the right after it. at least half or two-thirds of the film during the antebellum period. The rest focused on the Civil War, which struck me as something of a rush job on director Edward Dmytryk’s part, even if I did enjoyed it. In fact, I wish that the film’s Civil War chapter had lasted longer.

Since the John Shawnessey character and his story arc proved to be so boring (well, at least to me), I did not find it surprising that Dmytryk and screenwriter Millard Kaufman ended up focusing most of the film’s attention on the Susanna Drake Shawnessey character. After all, she emerged as the story’s most interesting character. Her childhood neuroses not only made her complex, but also reflected the country’s emotional hangups (then and now) with race. And there seemed to be a touch of Southern Gothic about her personal backstory. But in the end, both Kaufman and Dmytryk fell short in portraying her story arc with any real depth. It is obvious that the conflict between Susanna’s love for her nanny Henrietta and her racism, along with the survivor’s guilt she felt in the aftermath of family’s deaths had led to so much emotional trauma for her. But Kaufman’s screenplay failed to explore Susanna’s racism, let alone resolve it one way or the other.

In fact, the topic of race is never discussed or explored in “RAINTREE COUNTY”. I found this odd, considering how Susanna’s emotional trauma played such a big role in the film’s narrative. The movie featured two African-American actresses – Isabel Cooley and Ruth Attaway – who portrayed the maids that Susanna brought with her from Louisiana. Their presence in the Shawnessey household created a major quarrel between the pair in which John had demanded that Susanna free them or he would leave. And yet . . . Kaufman’s screenplay never gave the two maids a voice. John Shawnessey never really explained or discussed his reasons for being an abolitionist. Although the movie did point out both Southern and Northern racism, no one really discussed slavery with any real depth. Racism only played a role in Susanna’s emotional hangups about her family and nothing else.

In one of the movie’s final scenes; John’s father, Professor Stiles, and Nell were among those who tried to encourage John, a former abolitionist, to run for Congress. To protect the South from the post-war Republicans like Garwood Jones . . . who was definitely a Copperhead Democrat during the war. Watching this scene, I found myself scratching my brow. To protect . . . which South? All of the South? Or the white South? One would think that a former abolitionist and pro-Lincoln supporter like John would be a Republican. I can understand him not being interested in “punishing the South”, or white Southerners. But what about the former slaves of the South? Kaufman’s screenplay did not seem the least interested in pointing out how the freedmen would need protection. And John Shawnessey seemed like the type of character – judging from his pre-war and wartime views on abolition – who would be interested in the fate of those former slaves. Unfortunately . . . the topic never came up.

I have two last complaints about “RAINTREE COUNTY” – its score and title song. I was surprised to learn that Johnny Green had earned an Academy Award nomination for the score he had written for the movie. How in the hell did that happen? I found it so boring. And bland. It was a miracle that the music did not put me to sleep while watching the film. Producer David Lewis had hired Nat King Cole to perform the movie’s theme song, also written by Green. Look, I am a big fan of Cole’s work. But not even he could inject any real fire into this song. Like the score, it was dull as hell. And the song’s style struck me as a bit too modern (for the mid 1950s) for a period movie like “RAINTREE COUNTY”.

Was there anything about “RAINTREE COUNTY” that I enjoyed? Well . . . I enjoyed the art direction and set decorations featured in it. Both teams received deserved Academy Award nominations for their work. Academy Award winner Walter Plunkett (who had won for “GONE WITH THE WIND”) had received an Oscar nomination for his work in this film:

However, I have noticed that like his costumes for female characters in “GONE WITH THE WIND”, Plunkett’s costumes for “RAINTREE COUNTY” have touches of modern fashion in them . . . especially some of the hats worn by Elizabeth Taylor and Eva Marie Saint.

The movie also featured scenes and sequences that I enjoyed. I thought the Fourth-of-July foot race between John Shawnessey and “Flash” Perkins rather permeated with the atmosphere of a mid-19th century Midwestern town. I also enjoyed the humor featured in this sequence. I was also impressed by the New Orleans ball that John and Susanna had visited during their honeymoon, along with John’s visit to a New Orleans “quadroon ball” (I think it was) in order to privately speak with Susanna’s cousin Bobby Drake. Thanks to Dmytryk’s skillful direction and the production designs, I was impressed with the sequence that began with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president on Freehaven’s streets and ended with the party as the Shawnessey home held in honor of Susanna’s emancipation of her two slaves. Another sequence that impressed me featured Susanna’s revelations about the true circumstances of her parents’ deaths to John. I found it very dramatic in the right way and it featured a fine performance from Elizabeth Taylor.

But the one sequence I actually managed to truly enjoyed featured John Shawnessey’s experiences as a Union soldier with the Army of the Cumberland. The sequence began with John’s humorous and enjoyable reunion with both “Flash” Perkins and Professor Stiles (who had become a war correspondent). The film continued with a fascinating montage featuring John and Flash engaged in battles at Chickamauga, Resaca and Atlanta, punctuated by Professor Stiles’ grim and sardonic commentaries on the warfare. The action and suspense, along with my interest, went up several notch when John and Flash had become two of Sherman’s “Bummers” (foragers) during the general’s march through Georgia. The entire sequence featured the pair’s arrival at Susanna’s Georgia home, the discovery of young Jim Shawnessey and their encounter with a Georgia militia unit led by a wily Confederate officer. This sequence featuring John’s Army experiences proved to be the movie’s high point . . . at least for me.

“RAINTREE COUNTY” featured some decent performances from the supporting cast. Walter Abel and Agnes Moorehead portrayed John’s parents, T.D. and Ellen Shawnessey. I found Moorehead’s performance satisfactory, but I thought Abel’s portrayal of the idealistic Shawnessey Senior rather annoying and a bit over-the-top. I have to say the same about John Eldredge and Jarma Lewis, who portrayed two members of Susanna’s Louisiana family. DeForest Kelley (who was eight or nine years away from “STAR TREK”) seemed both sardonic and witty as the Confederate officer captured by John and Flash. Rosalind Hayes gave a poignant performance as the housekeeper formerly owned by Susanna’s Georgia family, who rather “delicately” explained Susanna’s emotional turmoil to John.

The supporting performances in “RAINTREE COUNTY” that really impressed me came from Lee Marvin, who was a delight as the extroverted and good-natured Orville “Flash” Perkins. A part of me wishes that his role had been bigger, because Marvin’s performance struck me as one of the film’s highlights to me. I heard that Rod Taylor had went out of his way to be cast as the local scoundrel (read: bully) Garwood Jones. Taylor gave a first-rate performance, but his role struck me as a bit wasted throughout most of the film. I was impressed by Tom Drake’s restrained, yet sardonic portrayal of Susanna’s Cousin Bobby, especially in the scene in which he revealed that Susanna had been somewhat older at the time of her parents’ deaths. Nigel Patrick gave a very memorable performance as John’s mentor, Jerusalem Webster Stiles. Mind you, there were times when I found Patrick’s performance a bit theatrical or overbearing. But I also found his performance very entertaining and humorous – especially his monologue for the Army of the Cumberland montage in the film’s second half.

Eva Marie Saint had the thankless task of portraying the one character that most moviegoers seemed inclined to dismiss or ignore – local belle and John Shawnessey’s first love, Nell Gaither – the type most people would dismiss as some bland All-American girl. And yet, the actress managed to add a good deal of fire, passion and intensity in her performance, transforming Nell into a surprisingly complex character with some semblance of tartness. Elizabeth Taylor was luckier in that she was cast as the movie’s most interesting character – Susanna Drake Shawnessey. Taylor, herself, had once pointed out that she seemed to be chewing the scenery in this film. Granted, I would agree in a few scenes in which I found her Susanna a bit too histronic for my tastes. And Taylor’s Southern accent in this film struck me as somewhat exaggerated. I found this surprising, considering that I found her Upper South accent in 1956’s “GIANT” more impressive. But in the end, I could see how Taylor had earned her Oscar nomination for portraying Susanna. She took on a very difficult and complex character, who was suffering from a mental decline. And I was especially impressed by her performance in that one scene in which Susanna finally revealed the details behind her parents and Henrietta’s deaths. No wonder Taylor ended up receiving an Oscar nod.

Poor Montgomery Clift. He has received a great deal of flack for his portrayal of the film’s main protagonist, John Shawnessey. Personally, I agree that his performance seemed to be lacking his usual intensity or fire. There were moments when he seemed to be phoning it in. Many critics and moviegoers blamed his alcoholism and the car accident he had endured during the movie’s production. Who knows? Perhaps they are right. But . . . even if Clift had not been an alcoholic or had been in that accident, he would have been fighting a losing battle. John Shawnessey never struck me as an interesting character in the first place. Perhaps Clift realized it and regretted his decision to accept the role. However, the actor actually managed to shine a few times. He was rather funny in one humorous scene featuring Saint’s Nell Gaither and Taylor’s Garwood Jones. He was also funny in the moments leading up to John’s foot race against Flash Perkins. Clift certainly seemed to be on his game in the scene featuring John’s angry confrontation with Susanna over her slaves. Also, he managed to create some good chemistry with Marvin and Patrick during the Civil War sequence.

Yes, “RAINTREE COUNTY” had some good moments. This was especially apparent in the film’s Civil War sequences. I found the movie’s production values up to par and I was especially impressed by Walter Plunkett’s costume designs. Most of the cast managed to deliver excellent performances. But in the end, I feel that the movie was undermined by lead actor Montgomery Clift’s listless performance and uneven direction by Edward Dmytryk. However, the real culprit for “RAINTREE COUNTY” proved to be the turgid and unstable screenplay written by Millard Kaufman. Producer David Lewis should have taken one look at that script and realize that artistically, it would be the death of the film.

“Aligning the Franchise”

The article below was first written back in the spring of 2019:

“ALIGNING THE FRANCHISE”

I had learned from a Star Trek forum that the show runners of “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” had promised to “align” the series with “STAR TREK” (the Original Series) by the end of Season Two. And honestly, I believe making such a promise was a big mistake.

The timeline for “STAR TREK DISCOVERY” began in 2256. That is ten years before “THE ORIGINAL SERIES” began (in 2266) and nine years before James T. Kirk had assumed command of the U.S.S. Enterprise In other words, the series, as of Season Two, has nine-year gap between its current position in the Trek timeline and the beginning of Season One of “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”.

I have no idea how long “DISCOVERY” will be on the air, but why do the show runners think it is necessary to align the series with “THE ORIGINAL SERIES” by the end of its second season? Why? The worst thing about all of this is that many from the Trek fandom is taking this promise seriously. I am not surprised. I have the deepest suspicion that many want this series to fail so badly … and for a very shallow reason.

Personally, I refuse to take this promise rather seriously. I think it is a stupid promise. Nor do I believe it is a good idea to pay attention to what a show runner or producer promises. And I do not think it is a good idea for viewers to demand such promises or for a show runner to make such promises. I believe it is best to allow these show runners/writers/producers to tell the story that they want to tell and leave it up to the audiences to decide whether they like it or not. When the public succeeds in forcing writers, show runners, producers, etc. to tell the story how THEY want it told, then the series/movie/story, etc. usually ends up being either a mess or simply a piece of mediocrity. I have noticed that more and more writers/producers, etc. in the entertainment business are allowing themselves to be dictated by the public. And this is why I feel that pop culture or the arts today is basically in a state of mediocrity and slowly declining.

And if certain members of the public find themselves in a snit that the television series or movie was not written the way they wanted it to be, I suggest they consider writing fan fiction or ignoring that movie or television show. For an artist/producer/show runner to allow the public to dictate someone’s story for the sake of dollars is just abominable to me. It is abominable. And we might as well toss away the concept of arts and entertainment. What is the damn point in being an artist if a person allows someone else to dictate his or her creation? If the majority of the public see nothing wrong with that … then this whole situation is just disturbing on so many levels. If “DISCOVERY” ever aligns with “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”, then fine. But there is no need for the show runners to engage in a rush job and achieve this by the end of this season. And it is sad that so many cannot or will not understand this.

Many have claimed that “DISCOVERY” desperately needs this alignment. They have also complained that the series is riddled with plot holes. One of the biggest plot holes, they have claimed, was the revelation that the series’ leading character, Michael Burnham, was Spock’s adopted sister and the adopted daughter of Ambassador Sarek and his wife, Amanda Grayson. This is a plot hole? Then those critics really need to check the franchise’s canon. Since when has Spock ever volunteered any information about any member of his family? Since when? He never said a word about his older half brother Sybok until Kirk and the Enterprise’s other senior officers met him in “STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIERS”, which is set some twenty years after “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”. When Kirk and McCoy were first introduced to Sarek and Amanda in Season Two of “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”, Kirk had suggested to Spock that he beam down to Vulcan to visit his parents. Only then did Spock inform the good captain that Sarek and Amanda were his parents. Spock not mentioning Michael is not plot hole. It was just Spock being in character. I am still amazed that so many fans have forgotten this.

Speaking of plot holes, the Star Trek franchise has been messing around with its canon since the films from the 1980s. And yet, certain fans have NOW started demanding that this one particular series – especially one led by a woman of color – refrain completely from plot holes? It sounds like these fans simply want an excuse to dislike and complain about this show. If so, they should stop watching it.

The question of Michael Burnham’s connection to the House of Sarek or the spore drive arc (another complaint by detractors) does not strike me as a good reason for the show runners to align the series with “THE ORIGINAL SERIES” so soon. According to the Trek timeline, “DISCOVERY” is about nine years away from the beginning of “THE ORIGINAL SERIES”Nine years. I believe I may know why the show’s producers have made this ludicrous promise to align the two shows by the end of Season Two. They want to maintain viewers for the show and stop the constant complaining about the series. The problems with this goal are that “DISCOVERY” is a hit series, its third season had begun airing and there was no need for this “rush job” to align the two shows by the end of this season. There is no need. I keep saying this, but many are ignoring my words, because they want the producers to keep what I believe is a ludicrous promise to begin with.

Or perhaps these negative fans believe that this quickie alignment will never materialize and they will have another reason to complain about this show. I have no idea. But from what I can see, the producers are making the same mistake that show runners and producers of other television shows have made. They seem so busy paying attention to those fans who are constantly bitching and moaning about a particular series or franchise, that they are ignoring the signs that their series, movie or franchise is successful and has acquired a good number of fans. And that is just sad to me.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” (2018) Review

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” (2018) Review

Following the success of the 2016 movie, “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, Warner Brothers Studios and author J.K. Rowling continued the adventures of former Hogwarts student, Newt Scamander with the 2018 sequel called “FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”. Starring Eddie Redmayne, the movie was directed by David Yates.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” began in 1927, less than a year after the events of the 2016 movie. In the film’s opening, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) is transferring the powerful dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald from their maximum security prison in New York City to London. The latter is be tried for his crimes in Europe. But with the aide of Grindelwald’s follower, MACUSA agent Abernathy, the wizard manages to escapes during the transfer. Three months after Grindelwald’s escape, magizoologist Newt Scamander appeals to the Ministry of Magic in London to restore his revoked international travel rights following his previous adventures in New York City. While at the Ministry, Newt learns that his former Hogwarts classmate, Leta Lestrange, is engaged to his brother Theseus, an auror in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. The Ministry offers to restore Newt’s travel rights if he assists Theseus in locating Credence Barebone, the American obscurial believed to have been killed in Paris. He has been detected in Paris.

Grindelwald is also searching for Credence. He believes that only the latter is powerful enough to kill his “equal”, Hogwarts Professor Albus Dumbledore. Newt declines the Ministry’s offer, but is is secretly summoned by Dumbledore, who also tries to persuade Newt to locate Credence. Dumbledore under constant Ministry surveillance for refusing to confront Grindelwald, who was a former close friend from the past. Upon his return home, he discovers that his American friends, the non-magical Jacob Kowalski and witch Queenie Goldstein had left New York. Jacob has retained memories of his past adventures with Newt and the Goldstein sisters, despite MACUSA’s citywide Obliviation order. Queenie and Jacob had followed Queenie’s sister Tina to Europe, where the latter is searching for Credence. Newt also discovers that Queenie has enchanted Jacob into eloping to Europe with her to circumvent MACUSA’s marriage ban between wizards and Muggles. After Newt lifts the charm, Jacob and Queenie quarrel about the marriage law, and the upset witch leaves to find Tina. Newt ignores the Ministry’s travel ban and with Jacob, head for Paris in search for the Goldstein sisters and Credence.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” proved to be an unpopular entry in the HARRY POTTER movie franchise. Even a year before the film’s release, many had criticized the film’s producers, including J.K. Rowling, for allowing actor Johnny Depp to take over the role of Gellert Grindelwald in the wake of his controversial divorce. Ironically, once “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” hit the movie theaters, both the critics and many moviegoers expressed other reasons for their displeasure. Either these criticisms were merely used as shields to hide their displeasure at Depp’s presence in the movie, or they genuinely did not like it. Although “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” actually managed to make a profit, it did not make as much as its 2016 predecessor. Nor did it make as much as Warner Brothers Studios had anticipated. So . . . how did I feel about the movie?

I will admit that I have some problems with “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”. I never admitted this in my review of “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, but I had noticed Rowling’s habit of creating two or more disjointed story lines and allowing them to connect near the end of the film. As much as I admired her use of this narrative structure, I must admit that there were times when I found it frustrating. To be honest, I found it more frustrating in “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”, especially Newt Scamander’s search for his missing animals. But in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”, there were times when I found myself wondering why Rowling had focused so heavily on Leta Lestrange’s character arc/backstory and Queenie Goldstein’s problems with her non-magical love, Jacob Kowalski. I also had a problem with Colleen Atwood’s costumes. On one level, I found her costumes very attractive, as shown in the images below:

And yet . . . aside from the costumes and hairstyle worn by actress Katherine Waterston, I found the other costumes and hairstyles reminiscent of the early 1930s, instead of 1927, the film’s actual setting. Speaking of the timeline, could someone explain why Minerva McGonagall was a teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, when either the Harry Potter novels or the franchise’s official website made it clear that she was born in 1935, eight years after this movie’s setting. And since Dumbledore was the Transfiguration professor at Hogwarts in 1927, what was the young Professor McGonagall teaching?

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” had its flaws, like any other movie. But I enjoyed it very much. Actually . . . I enjoyed it slightly more than I did the 2016 movie. The reason why I enjoyed it more than the first film is probably the reason why many others liked it less. J.K. Rowling had written an emotionally complicated tale that reminded me that humans beings are a lot more ambiguous than many are STILL unwilling to admit. They might pay lip service to the ambiguity of humans, but I have encountered too much hostility directed at movies willing to explore the complex nature of humans and society in general . . . especially in pop culture films. Some might claim that such ambiguity has no place in pop culture films and franchises. My response to that claim is . . . why not? I see no reason why humanity’s ambiguity should only be tolerated in films being considered for the film industry’s award season.

I noticed in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” that the majority of Gellert Grindelwald’s followers were not “dark wizards” or superficially evil. I must admit that the Vinda Rosier, Grindelwald’s loyal right-hand follower, seemed to be the film’s closest example of the future Deatheaters that followed Lord Voldemort aka Tom Riddle Jr. Most of Grindelwald’s other followers seemed to be typical human being who has allowed his or her emotions to indulge in the usual prejudices or make bad choices. One example is the MACUSA agent Abernathy, who had earlier supported President Seraphina Picquery in the 2016 film. But the prime example in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” proved to be Queenie Goldstein, the New York-born Legilimens (telepath), who out of her desperation to be with the non-magical Jacob Kowalski, turned to Grindelwald to help her achieve her desire. Many fans had condemned the movie for this portrayal of Queenie. And I do not understand why.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” had already hinted Queenie’s desperation to be with Jacob, when she conveyed reluctance to follow MACUSA President Seraphina Picquery’s orders to ensure the erasure of his recent memories. She broke the rules even further by paying a visit to Jacob’s new bakery in one of the film’s final scenes. More importantly, Queenie had discovered that Jacob had retained some memories of his adventures with her, Tina and Newt. This is why I am not surprised that Queenie had resorted to desperate measures in “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” to make Jacob her husband. Love might lead a person to do wonderful things. But it can also lead someone to make questionable or terrible decisions. J.K. Rowling understood this. I never understood why so many people were incapable of doing so.

The ironic thing about “FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” is that the movie not only featured former protagonists like Queenie Goldstein and Agent Abernathy, who had decided to follow Grindelwald, it also featured . . . Leta Lestrange. Any fan of Potterverse will remember another character with the Lestrange name – Voldemort follower Bellatrix Lestrange. Although Bellatrix had married into the Lestrange family, fans learned that her husband was another one of Voldemort’s highly murderous and faithful followers. I do recall that the 2016 film may have hinted that Leta was briefly as someone from Newt’s past who may or may not have deliberately led him into trouble and expelled from Hogwarts. Thanks to “THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD”, audiences learned that Leta was NOT someone who lived up to her pure-blood family’s name and who proved to be a different kettle of fish. She was not perfect. Her one crime . . . which led to years of guilt . . . stemmed from resentment toward her father’s sexist desire for a male heir. As a young girl aboard a sinking ocean liner headed for the United States, she made an ugly decision that affected both her family and Credence Barebone.

The characterizations of both Queenie Goldstein and Leta Lestrange, along with Gellert Grindelwald’s followers made J.K. Rowling’s intent to continue her ambiguous portrayal of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But instead of viewing this ambiguity from a growing child, audiences get to witness this ambiguity through the eyes of an adult. Instead of realizing that individuals we might perceive as “bad” can also possess decency within, Rowling seemed to be hinting that those whom we might originally perceive as “good or decent” can allow their emotions to make terrible choices or embrace evil. Granted, fans learned in the previous series that Albus Dumbledore had once skated on the edge of giving into some parts of his baser nature. But through characters like Queenie Goldstein and Agent Abernathy, agents get to see how originally perceived “decent” characters can allow their emotions and desires to embrace evil . . . not for any moral good, but due to their own selfishness or prejudices. It is a pity that so many are unwilling to explore this journey with Rowling.

Although I had criticized the film’s costumes for resembling the fashions of the early 1930s, instead of the late 1920s, I must admit that I found Colleen Atwood’s designs very attractive and very original. I rarely comment on a film’s editing, but I found Film Editor Mark Day’s work in the movie first-rate. I was especially impressed by his work in two particular sequences – Grindelwald’s escape in the film’s first action sequence and another one featuring a wizarding freak show in Paris. I was also impressed by Philippe Rousselot’s cinematography . . . to a certain extent. Rousselot’s photography struck me as beautiful and memorable – especially in the Parisian scenes and one particular flashback scene in the Atlantic Ocean. But I really disliked the monochromatic tones (blue, yellow or green) that seemed to dominate the movie’s photography . . . as much as I disliked the brown tones that dominated “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM”. Also, production designer Stuart Craig, set designer Anna Pinnock, the art direction team led by Martin Foley and the special effects team all did an exceptional job to re-create the wizarding worlds of New York, London, Scotland and Paris.

“FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD” featured some first-rate performances. Lead actor Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Carmen Ejogo, Claudia Kim and Ezra Miller all gave excellent performances. But there were performances that I found more than first-rate. Jude Law was superb as the enigmatic and younger Professor Albus Dumbore, who seemed warm and manipulative as ever. William Nadylam gave a very complex and passionate performance as Yusuf Kama: A French-Senegalese wizard who has spent many years obsessively searching for Credence, whom he believed was responsible for the death of a family member. Callum Turner’s portrayal of Theseus Scamander, Newt’s brother, first seemed pretty solid. But his performance became more complex and interesting, thanks to Turner’s skillful acting. Alison Sudol gave an outstanding performance as the increasingly desperate Queenie Goldstein, who allowed her love for Jacob and emotions to lead to a morally questionable decision. Zoë Kravitz was equally outstanding as Newt’s former love, Leta Lestrange, who became emotionally troubled and confused over a morally questionable decision from the past. But the best performance, in my opinion, came from Johnny Depp, who portrayed the film’s main villain, Gellert Grindelwald. Depp’s Grindelwald seemed like a completely different kettle of fish from the more obvious villains of the Harry Potter novel. More subtle, subversive and manipulative. Insidious. The franchise’s Palpatine perhaps? Honestly, Depp’s Grindelwald made Tom Riddle Jr. aka Lord Voldemort seem like a rank amateur as far as villains go.

This 2018 sequel to “FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM” proved to be a disappointment at the box office. Between the controversy over Depp’s casting and the hostile reaction to the Queenie Goldstein character, I guess I should not be surprised. But I am disappointed that the majority of moviegoers had failed to appreciate Rowling’s story, because I thought it was first-rate, thanks to her screenplay, David Yates’ direction and the excellent cast led by Eddie Redmayne. To be honest, I personally feel that it was slightly better than its 2016 predecessor. Perhaps one day, more filmgoers will be able to appreciate it.

Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1930s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1930s:

FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1930s

1. “Agatha Christie’s Poirot” (1989-2013) – David Suchet starred as Agatha Chrsitie’s most famous sleuth, Hercule Poirot, in this long-running series that adapted her Poirot novels and short stories.

2. “Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War” (1980) – Tony Curtis starred as David O. Selznick in the second episode of the miniseries, “Moviola”. The television movie featured Selznick’s search for the right actress to portray the leading character in his movie adaptation of “Gone With the Wind”.

3. “Edward & Mrs. Simpson” (1978) – Edward Fox and Cynthia Harris starred the 1978 adaptation of the events leading to the 1936 abdication of King Edward VIII of Great Britain. The seven-part miniseries was based upon Frances Donaldson’s 1974 biography.

4. “Mildred Pierce” – Todd Haynes directed and co-wrote this television adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1940 novel about a middle-class divorcee, who struggles to maintain her family’s position during the Great Depression and earn her narcissist older daughter’s respect. Emmy winners Kate Winslet, Guy Pearce and Emmy nominee Evan Rachel Wood starred.

5. “Upstairs, Downstairs” (2010-2012) – Heidi Thomas created this continuation of the 1971-1975 series about the Hollands and their servants, the new inhabitants at old Bellamy residence at 105 Eaton Place. Jean Marsh, Keely Hawes, Ed Stoppard and Claire Foy starred.

6. “And Then There Were None” (2015) – Sarah Phelps produced and wrote this television adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel. Craig Viveiros directed.

7. “The Last Tycoon” (2016-2017) – Billy Ray created this television adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s unfinished novel about a Hollywood producer during the mid-1930s. Matt Bomer starred.

8. “Indian Summers” (2015-2016) – Paul Rutman created this series about the British community’s summer residence at Simla during the British Raj of the 1930s. The series starred Henry Lloyd-Hughes, Nikesh Patel, Jemima West and Julie Walters.

9. “Damnation” (2017-2018) Tony Tost created this series about the labor conflicts in the Midwest, during the Great Depression. Killian Scott and Logan Marshall-Green starred.

10. “The Lot” (1999-2001) – This series centered around a fictional movie studio called Sylver Screen Pictures during the late 1930s. The series was created by Rick Mitz.

“Bride of Belthazor” [PG-13] – 3/16

“BRIDE OF BELTHAZOR”

Chapter Three

Davies and two other servants entered the McNeills’ west drawing-room carrying silver trays filled with refreshments for the afternoon tea. They placed the trays on the large Sheraton sideboard, before Davies announced to Gweneth, “Tea is ready, Mrs. McNeill. And your relatives should be downstairs very soon.”

“Thank you Davies,” Gweneth replied.

Margaret McNeill Ferguson gave Gweneth a curious stare. “Has your father decided to attend the wedding, after all?” The elderly woman had arrived yesterday morning from Inverness, representing the Scottish branch of the McNeill family at the upcoming wedding.

A mixture between a derisive snort and a guffaw escaped from Jack’s throat. Gweneth glared at her husband. “Not exactly,” she replied. “Father couldn’t make it.” She paused momentarily. “Bad health.” The lie settled unhappily in her mind. “But my younger brother, Brion – you remember him, don’t you? Well, he’s decided to join Mother, instead.”

“It’s a shame that your father couldn’t make it to the wedding,” Claude Dubois commented. “Vivian told me that he was at Bruce’s wedding.”

Jack commented in a snide voice, “That’s because Bruce was marrying a human.” Gweneth sighed. It seemed understandable that her husband would be angry on behalf of their daughter. But she also found it sad that years of effort to form a reconciliation between her husband and father had eventually gone down the drain. Gweneth wondered how her parents would react to the recent news regarding the McNeills’ family line.

“Gwen, does that mean that your family knows about Jack’s . . . uh, family history?” Vivian Dubois asked.

“You mean that my family is descended from three daemons?” Jack finished.

Gweneth glanced at the middle-aged man, who sat in one of the chairs near the bookcase. Michael McNeill, who bore a strong resemblance to Jack’s mother, winced at his brother’s words. Gweneth recalled Jack’s description of Michael’s reaction to Sean McNeill’s surprising revelation – confusion and disbelief. “I haven’t told my parents, yet,” she finally said, answering Vivian’s question. “Knowing Dad, I don’t know how he would rea . . .”

Two people entered the drawing-room. Gweneth immediately stood up and rushed forward to greet her mother. “Mother! You made it!” she cried, hugging the older woman. “I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you at the airport. Bruce and I had a bit of an emergency at one of the restaraunts.”

Bronwyn Morgan kissed her daughter’s cheek. “It’s all right, Gwennie. I understand. Besides, it’s lovely to see you, again.” She glanced around the room. “But where is Bruce? And Livy? Where is she?”

“She’ll be down any minute,” Gweneth replied. “You remember Vivian Dubois, don’t you?” She proceeded to introduce the other visitors to her mother. Once she finished, Gweneth turned to the other newcomer. “And this is one of my younger brothers, Brion Morgan,” she coolly added. “I’m glad that you could join us, Brion. I’m sure that Livy would appreciate your presence.”

A faint smile touched her younger brother’s lips. “Well, she is my niece, after all.”

Jack spoke up. “I’m glad to hear that.” He stood to greet the Welshman. “Brion.”

Brion’s greeting was equally chilly. “Jack. It’s . . . good to see you.”

“I’m sure,” Jack replied cynically. He turned to his mother-in-law and smiled. “Bronwyn! You look beautiful, as usual.”

“Jack!” Bronwyn kissed her son-in-law’s cheek. “Look at you! Still a handsome devil! You’re not nervous, are you?”

“Nervous?”

The elderly woman slapped her son-in-law’s arm. “About Livy’s wedding, of course!”

Jack snorted with mock derision. “Nonsense! If I can survive Bruce’s wedding – which nearly became a disaster – I can survive Olivia’s.”

“My dear boy, you’ll be giving away your only daughter. Which can be nerve-wracking for any father,” Bronwyn declared.

Claude grumbled, “You can say that, again. My daughter, Cecile, will be getting married, next month.”

“Congratulations!” Bronwyn said.

Brion mumbled, “At least your daughter won’t be marrying a notorious half-daemon.” His face turned red, as both Gweneth and Bronwyn glared at him.

“What was that, Brion?” Jack asked in a hard voice.

“Nothing. I . . .” Brion paused and inhaled sharply. “By the way, when will I meet the groom?”

Gweneth’s mother-in-law, Elise McNeill, entered the drawing-room. “Tonight. We’re holding a small dinner party. Cole should be here . . . along with his family.” She turned to Gwen’s mother and smiled. “Bronwyn, you’re looking quite well.”

“Thank you, darling. So do you.” Excitement lit up Bronwyn’s dark eyes. “You said something about Cole’s family? And they would be . . .?”

A familiar voice answered, “His mother Nimue and his uncle, Marbus.” Olivia breezed into the drawing-room like a gust of fresh air. She rushed forward and enveloped her maternal grandmother into her arms. “Nana!”

“Livy, darling! Oh, look at you!” Bronwyn smiled happily at her granddaughter. “I’ve never seen you look so radiant.”

Olivia smiled back. “Thanks.”

“Did you say that your fiance’s mother is named Nimue?” Brion asked. Everyone stared at him.

“Uncle Brion,” Olivia greeted in a less than cheerful voice. She dutifully pecked his cheek. “Nice to see you.”

But Brion had other matters on his mind. Namely Cole’s mother. “About this Nimue, you say that she’s . . .?”

“Cole’s mother. Yes.” Olivia frowned. “Wait a minute! You know her, don’t you?” A bright smile lit up her face. “Of course! She had stolen Aeronwy’s Grimoire from you. I remember Nimue telling me about it, when I mentioned you and Nana.”

A deadly silence filled the room. Gweneth noticed that her brother’s face had turned red . . . with anger. Olivia’s eyes widened innocently. “Did I just say something wrong?”

At that moment, Cecile burst into the drawing-room, breathless. “Has the tea started? I hope that I haven’t missed anything.”

Gweneth heaved a sigh of relief at the young woman’s outburst. Everyone relaxed, including Brion. And at her suggestion, they all helped themselves to the refreshments.

————–

Piper entered the manor, carrying Wyatt in one arm and two plastic bags filled with groceries, in the other. As she struggled to balance both the ten month-old baby and the bags, she muttered darkly, “Why does this always happen to me?” Then she yelled, “Hello? Is anyone home? Paige?”

To her surprise, both of her sisters emerged from the Solarium. “Hey Piper,” Paige greeted cheerfully. “Here, let me get that for you.” She removed the grocery bags from the other woman’s arm.

Piper, however, barely paid attention to her youngest sister. Her eyes widened in shock, as the middle sister gave her a quick hug. “Phoebe? What are you doing here?”

“For the wedding, of course.” Phoebe’s too-bright tone raised the hackles on the back of Piper’s neck.

The oldest Charmed One stared at her sister in disbelief. “You’re here for Cole and Olivia’s wedding?” After a long pause, she added, “Why?”

“Huh?” Phoebe blinked.

Holding the grocery bags, a sardonic Paige cleared the matter for Piper. “What she’s saying, Feebs, is why on earth would you want to attend your ex-husband’s wedding?”

“I didn’t . . .” Phoebe huffed aloud. “I mean . . .”

A small suspicion wiggled in the back of Piper’s mind. “Wait a minute,” she said, shifting Wyatt to her other arm. “You don’t want to go to this wedding, do you?”

Phoebe sighed. “No, not really.”

“Then why are you . . .?”

Another sigh left Phoebe’s mouth. “Jason. He . . . Cole and Olivia had sent us wedding invitations. And since Olivia and Jason have ‘buried the hatchet’, so to speak, he had decided to accept for both of us.”

“Buried the hatchet?” Paige frowned. “You mean, after that night Olivia had invited him to her parents’ party, so that he could meet Cecile?”

Piper added dryly, “That’s one night I won’t forget.” How could she? On the night of the McNeills’ party, her son’s nanny – who also happened to be a female Vodoun bokor and drug dealer – had stolen Wyatt’s powers.

Phoebe continued, “Ever since that night, Jason and Olivia have been . . . well, friends.”

“Hence the wedding invitation,” Piper said.

“And Jason’s decision to accept.” Phoebe sighed. “Oh God. I can’t believe that I’ll actually be going to Cole’s wedding. To another woman. This is so depressing.”

Phoebe’s lamentation over Cole’s upcoming wedding revived Piper’s worries that her younger sister had not recover from the divorce. And to think that recently, she had believed otherwise. Piper sighed. She should have known better.

————

The Anduin Marketplace was known throughout the supernatural world as the premiere flea market in the universe. Located in the Anduin Dimension, it lured merchants, antiquity collectors and dealers, cooks, animal traders and others who offered services, food, stock and other goods to magical beings and practitioners throughout the Universe. Male or female, bi-pedal or otherwise, good or evil – witches, warlocks, wizards, sorcerers and sorceresses, daemons and fairies of all kinds would converge upon the village-like community near the Arda River to enjoy these services.

Idril teleported next to a large, green-and-white striped tent that stood over an open aired restaurant. Crowds of various beings filled the wide, dirt lane that paved through the village. Idril merged into the crowd and walked. She passed a tent that housed a daemonic seer, two stands that offered liquor and a third tent, whose owner sold used books. Finally, a pale-blue tent west of the lane, appeared before her. It belonged to a sorceress from this dimension that sold knick-knacks – seemingly cheap goods that turned out to be magical objects of great power.

The demoness paused before the tent. She took a deep breath and passed through the opened flap. Once inside the tent, she paused at the sight of two figures haggling over a pair of silk scarves. Idril recognized the pale pink-skinned sorceress, whose curly gold curls were barely hidden underneath a blue head scarf. The tall, dark-haired woman was a stranger – and obviously a human.

“Six ducats?” the dark-haired woman exclaimed. “For a pair of scarves?”

A cunning look crept into Valindal’s green-blue eyes. “These are more than just a pair of scarves. And you know it, Nathalie. Your friend will greatly enjoy using them. Trust me. All she has to do is use them just as I had described. I . . .” She glanced to her right and noticed Idril. “Oh! Idril. Welcome back. It’s been a while.”

Idril responded with a dim smile. “Valindal. I’ll uh . . . I’ll just wait until you finish with your customer.”

Valindal hesitated. “Well, I . . .”

“Two ducats,” the human said. “I’ll pay two for the scarves.”

“Four.”

The human countered, “Three.”

A sigh left Valindal’s mouth. “If you insist. Sold.” The human smiled, as she handed over three gold coins to the sorceress. Who handed over a package wrapped in blue tissue paper.

Once the mortal woman left, Idril said to Valindal, “She ended up paying half of your original price.”

Valindal shrugged. “Actually, the scarves are worth two ducats. At least I’ve made a profit of one ducat. So,” she sat down in a nearby chair, “how may I help you? See anything that interests you?”

Idril shook her head. “I’m more interested in information.” She handed a photograph of Evendril’s Amulet to Valindal. “Have you ever seen this, before?”

“Of course,” Valindal said with a shrug, “Evendril’s Amulet. If you’re looking for it, I no longer have it.”

The news disappointed Idril. But she refused to give up. “But I was told otherwise.”

Valindal replied, “I used to own it. Until I had sold it to a human, some time ago. A warlock.” A satisfied smile curled the sorceress’ lips. “And he had to pay through the nose.”

“What’s the name of this warlock?” Idril demanded.

Cool green-blue eyes stared at Idril. “And what can I expect in return for this information?” the sorceress demanded.

With any other being, Idril would have countered with a death threat. But the demoness knew that a threat would have been useless against Valindal. As a native of Anduin, the pink-skinned sorceress could easily repel any of Idril’s attacks. Which is why the latter came prepared – just in case Valindal wanted to bargain. With great reluctance, Idril removed a silver chalice from her tote bag. “It’s a chalice,” she said. “It once belonged to the old Seer. Filled with water, it can enable anyone to see the future. Or the past.”

“This used to belong to the old Seer? The one who used to serve your Source?” Valindal demanded. “The one killed by the Charmed Ones?”

Idril nodded. “Ever since her death, others have searched for her chalice. Especially this other seer named Kira. The old Seer . . . well, she would sometimes use her chalice for greater visions. It can be a very powerful tool, when used properly.”

“Why give it to me?” Valindal asked. “Why not keep it for yourself?”

Because the chalice frightened her. Only Idril did not want to admit it. Her mother had once told her that although divination and precognition can be very useful, it could also be dangerous. Great power have been acquired through the use of precognition. However, knowledge of the future has been known to lead toward great disaster, every now and then. And some past seers have been known to be eventually driven insane by constant visions of the future. Idril’s mother believed that sometimes it was wise to be ignorant of the future.

Idril kept all of these thoughts to herself and lied. “To be honest, I don’t really know how to use the chalice. Summoning visions of the future have never been my forte. So, you can have it . . . in exchange for information.”

Valindal eyed the chalice, hungrily. “I had sold the amulet to a warlock. His name . . . is Gary Wheeler. I don’t know where he lives. Somewhere in the mortal world, one can only assume. I’ve only met him once. But I’ve heard of him and his former coven – the Gaea Coven. They no longer exist.”

“What happened to them?”

With a shrug, the sorceress replied, “The coven was destroyed by assassins. Haldane assassins. Apparently, this Gary Wheeler had hired them. He wanted complete possession of the coven’s Book of Shadows.”

Idril nodded. “I’ve heard of the Gaea Coven. It was located at a place called Baltimore. Perhaps I should start there.” She handed the chalice over to Valindal. “Thanks for the information.”

A satisfied sigh eased out of Valindal’s mouth. “By the way,” she added, “if you’re thinking of stealing the amulet from this Wheeler person, consider this – he’s a strong magic practitioner and has killed his share of daemons. High-level ones, included. And if you plan to use the amulet, you’ll have to get close to your target in order to do so.”

Which meant that she would have to get close to Belthazor. And Idril could not see that happening. “Thanks for the advice,” she said to the sorceress. “And good luck with the chalice.”

“I think you’ll need more luck than me.” Valindal’s words rang in Idril’s ears, as she left the tent.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

Five Favorite Episodes of “LOST IN SPACE” Season One (2018)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the Netflix remake of the 1965-1968 science-fiction series, “LOST IN SPACE”. Written by Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless and Zack Estrin; the series stars Molly Parker and Toby Stephens:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “LOST IN SPACE” SEASON ONE (2018)

1 - 1.10 Danger Will Robinson

1. (1.10) “Danger, Will Robinson” – The Robinson family scrambles to launch from the dying planet they had earlier crashed on, stage an impossible rescue, and reach the colony starship Resolute before it leaves orbit for good.

2 - 1.07 Pressurized

2. (1.07) “Pressurized” – Judy Robinson, Don West and a group of other stranded colonists race home across the planet’s desert with their precious cargo of fuel from the Jupiter 18 ship, needed to launch from the planet. Meanwhile, John and Maureen Robinson’s rover gets stuck in a tar pit and slowly begins to sink to the bottom.

3 - 1.03 Infestation

3. (1.03) “Infestation” – Flashbacks reveal the past of con artist June Harris, who is impersonating a colonist named Dr. Zachary Smith. The Robinsons face a natural threat when the ice layer over their ship Jupiter 2 cracks and exposes an eel infestation.

4 - 1.08 Trajectory

4. (1.08) “Trajectory” – Maureen finds a solution to the colonists’ fuel issue, but putting her plan into action proves trickier than expected. Dr. Smith realizes her deception has been blown.

5 - 1.06 Eulogy

5. (1.06) “Eulogy” – Maureen debates whether to inform the other colonists about the black hole she had spotted in the sky. Don leads a mission to find his crashed Jupiter 18 for fuel, and the alien robot’s presence creates tensions within the group.

“EMMA” (1972) Review

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“EMMA” (1972) Review

I am aware of at least four adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”. But I have noticed that the one adaptation that rarely attracts the attention of the novelist’s fans is the 1972 BBC miniseries, “EMMA”.

Directed by John Glenister and adapted by Denis Constanduros, “EMMA” told the story of the precocious younger daughter of a wealthy landowner that resides near
the village of Highbury. Emma Woodhouse imagines herself to be naturally gifted matchmaker, following her self-declared success in arranging a love match between her governess and Mr. Weston, a village widower. Following their marriage, Emma takes it upon herself to find an eligible match for her new friend, a young woman named Harriet Smith. However, Emma’s efforts to match Harriet with Highbury’s vicar, Mr. Elton, end in disaster. Also the return of two former Highbury residents, Jane Fairfax and Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill, and her continuing efforts to find a husband for Harriet leads Emma to question her talents as a matchmaker and her feelings for long time neighbor and friend, George Knightley.

Aired in six episodes, this “EMMA” was given the opportunity to be a lot more faithful to Austen’s novel. Many critics and fans would view this as an example of the miniseries’ ability to delve deeper into the story’s plots and characterizations. I do not know if I would agree. The 1815 novel seems such a strong piece of work that even a 90 to 120 minute film could do justice to the story by adhering to the main aspects of the plot. Mind you, I have complained about Andrew Davies’ adaptation of the novel in the 1996-97 television movie. But even I cannot consider that a failure.

I do have a few complaints about “EMMA”. The majority of my complaints have to do with the casting. But there were some aspects of the production that I found less than satisfying. Director John Glenister’s direction of major scenes such as the Westons’ Christmas party and the Crown Inn ball failed to impress. The sequence featuring the Westons’ Christmas party lacked the holiday atmosphere that I found in the other versions. And I failed to noticed any sense of a change in the weather that led the Woodhouses and the Knightleys to depart from Randalls (the Westons’ estate) earlier than they had intended. As for the Crown Inn ball, it struck me as somewhat rushed. Dialogue seemed to dominate the entire sequence . . . to the point where only one dance was featured to the tune of the miniseries’ theme song. Both Glenister and screenwriter Denis Constanduros made such a big effort in building up the ball in the previous episode or two. But when it came to the actual execution, it simply fell flat and rushed for me. Even worse, they failed to provide the audience with the Emma/Knightley dance, which could have provided the first real hint of romantic feelings between the pair. And what happened to Jane Fairfax and Mr. Elton at the Box Hill picnic? Where were they? Frank Churchill’s flirting with Emma during the picnic had led to Jane’s eventual breakdown and observations of the Eltons’ quick marriage. The Box Hill sequence played an important part in Jane and Frank’s relationship. But without Jane in the scene, the importance of their storyline was somewhat robbed.

And there were performances, or should I say . . . casting that seemed rather off to me. Fiona Walker made an interesting Mrs. Augusta Elton. In fact, she was downright memorable. However, her Mrs. Elton came off as rather heavy-handed . . . to the point that she seemed more like an over-the-top 1970s divorcee, instead of a vicar’s pushy and ambitious wife of Regency England. She seemed to lack both Juliet Stevenson and Christina Cole’s talent for sly and subtle humor. Belinda Tighe gave a solid performance as Emma’s older sister, Isabella Knightley. But she seemed at least a decade-and-a-half older than Doran Godwin’s Emma. Donald Eccles would have made a perfect Mr. Woodhouse, if he had not come off as slightly cold in a few scenes. I find it odd that many Austen fans had complained of Godwin’s occasionally chilly performance. But Eccles seemed even more chilly at times, which is how I never would describe Mr. Woodhouse. At least Godwin’s Emma became warmer and slightly funny in the miniseries’ second half. It seemed as if the arrival of Augusta Elton allowed Godwin to inject more warmth and humor into the role. I also had a problem with Ania Marson as the reserved Jane Fairfax. I understand that Jane went through a great deal of stress and fear, while awaiting for a chance to finally marry Frank. But Marson’s performance struck me as . . . odd. The intense look in her eyes and frozen expression made her resemble a budding serial killer.

I really enjoyed Robert East’s portrayal of the mercurial Frank Churchill. Although I felt that East did not seem effective in his portrayal of Frank’s penchant for cruel humor and at times, his handling of the character’s many traits seemed a bit off balanced, I still believe that his performance was overall, first-rate. Timothy Peters was excellent as Mr. Elton. In fact, he was spot on. Of all the characters featured in Austen’s novel, Mr. Elton seemed to be the only that has been perfectly cast in all four productions I have seen. I really enjoyed Debbie Bowen’s performance as the slightly naive Harriet Smith. In fact, I believe she was the perfect embodiment of Harriet. One of the funniest scenes in the entire miniseries featured Harriet’s efforts to make up her mind on which color ribbons she wanted to purchase. And Constance Chapman made an excellent Miss Bates. She perfectly conveyed all of the character’s likeability and verbosity that made her irritable to Emma. And the scene that featured Emma’s attempt to apologize for the insult during the Box Hill picnic was beautifully acted by Chapman.

But I was impressed by John Carson’s performance as George Knightley. Perhaps he seemed a bit old for the role, at age 45. But he perfectly conveyed all of Mr. Knightley’s warmth, dry humor and love for Emma. And surprisingly, he and Doran Godwin had a strong screen chemistry. I also have to give credit to Doran Godwin for a first-rate portrayal of Emma Woodhouse. Mind you, there were times in the first three episodes when she seemed a bit too chilly for the gregarious Emma. But Godwin did an excellent job in developing the character into a more mature young woman, who became mindful of her flaws. And as I had stated earlier, her Emma also became warmer and slightly funnier upon the introduction of Augusta Elton.

There were also aspects of the miniseries’ production that I enjoyed. Aside from the Weston Christmas party, I was very impressed by Tim Harvey’s production designs. The miniseries’ photography seemed crisp and colorful, even after 39 years. I found this impressive, considering that most BBC television miniseries between 1971 and 1986 seemed to fade over the years. I also liked Joan Ellacott’s costume designs – especially for Emma and Jane. However, I noticed that the high lace featured in some of Emma’s dresses seemed a bit theatrical and cheap . . . as if they came off outfits found in some minor costume warehouse.

Yes, I do have some quibbles regarding the production and casting for “EMMA”. After all, there is no such thing as perfect. But the good definitely outweighed the bad. And for a miniseries with six episodes, I can happily say that it failed to bore me. Personally, I think it is the best Jane Austen adaptation from the 1970s and 1980s I have ever seen.

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

“THE KING’S SPEECH” (2010) Review

Inspirational movies have been the hallmark of Hollywood films over the decades. They especially became popular between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. After the mid-90s, I never thought they would become popular again. But the recent release of the historical drama, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” proved me wrong.

Directed by Tom Hooper and written by David Seidler, ”THE KING’S SPEECH” told the story of Great Britain’s King George VI’s difficulties with a speech impediment and his relationship with Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue, who helped him overcome his stutter. The movie opened with George VI (then Prince Albert, Duke of York) at the closing of the 1925 Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium, with his wife Elizabeth by his side. There he gives a stammering speech that visibly unsettles the thousands of listeners in the audience. After nine years of unsuccessfully finding a speech therapist that can help him, Elizabeth recruits Australian-born Lionel Logue to meet him. The two men eventually bond and Logue helps the Duke of York overcome the latter’s stammer during a series of crises that include the death of George V; his brother, King Edward VIII’s romance with American divorcee, Wallis Simpson; the abdication of Edward; the Duke of York’s ascension to the throne as George VI; his coronation and the start of World War II. Also during this period, both king and speech therapist become close friends.

What can I say about ”THE KING’S SPEECH”? I cannot deny that it was a heartwarming tale about the growing friendship of two men from disparate backgrounds. Seidler’s script was filled with wit, charm, warmth and pathos that filled the heart. The cast, lead by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush, did great credit to the script. There have been complaints about the film’s historical accuracy from both the media and historians. And there is a good deal of the story that is historically inaccurate. George VI and Lionel Logue’s collaboration began as far back as 1926, not 1934. And the king was also pro-appeasement in the late 1930s. In fact, the majority of Britons during that period were pro-appeasement. What historians fail to realize is that appeasement was popular due to a lack of desire for another war against Germany. World War I had traumatized a generation that included George VI. One also has to remember that ”THE KING’S SPEECH” is a drama based upon historical fact, not a documentary. One would know by now that complete historical accuracy in a work of fiction is rare. It has been rare for as long as there have been fictional work based upon history. And to be honest, I do not believe that the movie’s fiddling with historical fact has not harmed the story.

One would think that I consider ”THE KING’S SPEECH” to be one of the best movies this year. Frankly, I find labeling what is ”the best” rather subjective. I did enjoy the movie and it made the list of my Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2010. However, I must admit that I do not consider it to be a particularly original film. One, it is one of those inspirational films that moviegoers tend to love – movies like ”SEABISCUIT””CINDERELLA MAN” and the 1976 Oscar winner, ”ROCKY”. And if I must be brutally honest, there was nothing original about ”THE KING’S SPEECH” – even for an inspirational film. I already have a nickname for it – ’ROCKY in the Palace’. Another problem I have with the movie is that I was not that impressed by its visual style. I found Danny Cohen’s photography rather pedestrian. And Eve Stewart’s production designs and Judy Farr’s set decorations were very disappointing. Only the movie’s exterior shots prevented ”THE KING’S SPEECH” from becoming another filmed stage play. And the actual sets struck me as very dull. My hopes of a rich look at London and the rest of Great Britain during the 1920s and 30s fell short. I suppose I should not have been surprised by the movie’s uninspiring visual style. It only had a budget of $15 million dollars. I suspect the producers had very little money to work with.

With a few exceptions, the cast turned out to be first-rate. Colin Firth gave a superb and complex performance as the insecure sovereign with the speech impediment. I am not that surprised that he managed to earn nominations and win a good number of acting awards. Geoffrey Rush, who portrayed Lionel Logue, gave a first-rate performance filled with a great deal of sly humor. Also, he and Firth generated a strong screen chemistry. Helena Bonham-Carter was a charming and witty Duchess of York/Queen Elizabeth. However, I would have never considered her performance worth of any acting award nomination. She was simply portraying the “loyal wife” schtick. I was surprised to find Guy Pierce portraying the love obsessed and selfish Edward VIII. And I must he was very subtle and effective in revealing the man’s less admirable traits. The movie also benefitted solid performances from the likes of Michael Gambon as King George V, Claire Bloom as Queen Mary, and Anthony Andrews, who was surprisingly effective as Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin.

However, there were some performances that I found unsatisfying. Being a fan of Jennifer Ehle, I was disappointed in the limitations of her role as Logue’s wife, Myrtle. She hardly had a chance to do anything, except murmur a few words of encouragement to Logue. Her only great moment occurred in a scene that featured Myrtle Logue’s realization that the King of England was one of her husband’s clients. Seeing Ehle and Firth in the same scene together brought back memories of the 1995 adaptation of ”PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. I also had a problem with Eve Best’s portrayal of American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. Her Wallis came off as more extroverted than the divorcee in real life. And I hate to say this, but Timothy Spall’s interpretation of Winston Churchill seemed more like a parody than a serious portrayal. Every time he was on the screen, I could not help but wince.

In conclusion, I enjoyed ”THE KING’S SPEECH” very much. Despite its lack of originality, I found it heartwarming, humorous, and dramatic; thanks to Tom Hooper’s direction and Seidler’s writing. And aside from a few performances, I was impressed by the cast, especially leading men Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. I would never consider it artistically worthy of an Oscar for Best Picture. But I cannot deny that it was entertaining.

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga” – Jar-Jar Binks

Here is the seventh article on moral ambiguity found in the STAR WARS saga: 

“The Moral Landscape of the STAR WARS Saga”

Jar-Jar Binks

I have encountered many articles on the Internet about why many fans consider the “STAR WARS” Prequel movies a failure. A number of these articles tend to be dominated by opinions on what was wrong with the Gungan character known as Jar-Jar Binks and why he is so hated. 

First of all, what was really wrong with Jar-Jar Binks? Well . . . I have several opinions. And they are not pretty. One, Jar-Jar clumsy and naive. Jar-Jar’s clumsiness had irked Boss Nass and the other Gungans for years. And when the young Gungan wrecked the Boss’ personal heyblibber submarine, the latter had him banished from Otoh Gunga, the city underneath Naboo’s waters. In “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”, Jar-Jar’s meeting with Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn and Jedi padawan Obi-Wan Kenobi, the adventures he shared with them and his participation in the Battle of Naboo, allowed Jar-Jar to resume his position within Gungan society.

Many fans still solely blame Jar-Jar for Chancellor Sheev Palpatine’s growing political power, when he, as the Junior Representative for Naboo in the Galactic Senate, had proposed that the Sith Lord receive emergency executive powers during the political crisis leading up to the Clone Wars in “STAR WARS: EPISODE II – ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. But other Star Wars characters had committed their own share of mistakes – including those Original Trilogy characters worshiped by the franchise’s fans. Naboo’s Queen Padmé Amidala (later Senator) had declared a no-confidence vote against Chancellor Finis Valorum in “STAR WARS: EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE”, unintentionally paving the way for Palpatine’s election as the Galactic Republic’s chancellor. The Original Trilogy leads had committed their own mistakes – especially in “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. Padmé was never crucified by the fans for her mistake in “THE PHANTOM MENACE”. As far as many are concerned, her only mistake was marrying then Jedi padawan Anakin Skywalker (the future Darth Vader) in “ATTACK OF THE CLONES”. Many fans have been willing to criticize Padmé, Anakin and many other Prequel Trilogy characters. But I do not ever recall any of them being crucified for their flaws and mistakes like Jar-Jar. I could almost say the same about the Original Trilogy leads. However, very few STAR WARS have been willing to even acknowledge their mistakes. 

So, why had so many fans had dumped so much hatred upon Jar-Jar’s head? Why do they still crucify him in such an excessive manner? Many claimed that due to Jar-Jar’s naivety and clumsiness and especially his dialect that seemed to resemble a Caribbean patois, Jar-Jar was a racist fictional trope. The ironic thing is that actor Ahmed Best, who is African-American, was responsible for the creation of the Gungan dialect, not George Lucas. Best, who had initially been hired to provide Jar-Jar’s motion capture performance, was the one who had created Jar-Jar’s speech pattern. He was also the one who had convinced Lucas to allow him to also provide the character’s voice. Because of this, I have a great difficulty in agreeing with those criticisms that Jar-Jar was a racist trope. Unless this accusation stemmed from the fact that an African-American actor had provided the character’s voice. For me, that says a lot about many moviegoers and film critics and not the character or Lucas. 

Had Jar-Jar’s lack of social graces created so much hatred from certain fans?After all, he was clumsy and naive. Considering that the franchise’s biggest fans tend to be “geeks”, did many of these fans (who tend to be the loudest on the Internet) view Jar-Jar of their own personal flaws? Or lack of social graces? Was that another reason why they hated him so much? He reminded them too much of themselves? I can understand why many of these fans would rather associate themselves with characters that are regarded as “cool” or “ideal”, instead of a character who may have possibly been a reflection of themselves. 

There is also the consideration that Jar-Jar was a part of the Prequel Trilogy. And in the eyes of the Darth Media and rabid fanboys, anything or any character that originated with the Prequel Trilogy was bad. It is still bad, as far as they are concerned. Why? Even more so than the Original Trilogy or the Sequel Trilogy, the Prequel Trilogy seemed to come closer to being a TRUE reflection of mankind and its societies’ ambiguous nature. For me, watching a Prequel Trilogy movie seemed to be the equivalent of a human being looking into a mirror and seeing his or her true self. And for some reason, this seemed to bother many fans. Most of their complaints about the Prequel Trilogy seemed to stem from this ambiguity. The only STAR WARS movies that seemed to have come close to the Prequel movies’s ambiguity are “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and “ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY”. These films did not allow moviegoers allowed their characters to make some ambiguous decisions without being painted as “heroic” or “cool”. Nor did these movies have their characters triumph in the end. 

In a way, both Jar-Jar Binks and the STAR WARS Prequel Trilogy seemed like a true reflection of humanity. Jar-Jar’s clumsiness and naivety could easily be a reflection of the same level of social graces as many of the franchise’s fans. And the Prequel Trilogy definitely struck me as a reflection of our societies throughout history. As I finish this article, I find myself wondering if this is more of a exploration of the STAR WARS fandom’s ambiguity than of Jar-Jar’s character. Because I find these fans’ hatred of Jar-Jar rather disturbing . . . and odd.

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