“THE HULK” (2003) Review

“THE HULK” (2003) Review

Poor Ang Lee. His 2003 adaptation of the Marvel Comics character, Bruce Banner aka the Hulk, has been the target of hostility and contempt from comic book fans for the past nineteen years. After Universal Pictures had released Louis Leterrier’s adaptation back in 2008, many had declared his film superior to Lee’s movie. But after recently viewing the 2003 movie, I do not believe I can agree with their assessment. Mind you, I am not claiming that Lee’s film was better than Leterrier’s. The 2008 film possessed certain aspects that Lee’s movie lacked. But I also believe that the 2003 film possessed traits that were certainly lacking in the later film.

”THE HULK” was basically an origins tale about how a genetics researcher from Berkeley, California became a massive, green-skinned creature named the Hulk. Ironically, this tale began years before his birth. In one of the most original and chilling opening credits sequences I have ever seen, the movie revealed how his father David Banner, a genetics researcher for the U.S. Army, was conducting experiments on himself to improve human DNA. The Army, represented by Lieutenant Colonel “Thunderbolt” Ross, learned of his experiment and ordered it shut down. Nothing came from Banner’s experiment at first. But he managed to inadvertently pass his mutated DNA to his son, Bruce. The sequence ended with Banner causing a massive explosion of the facilities’ gamma reactor, and accidentally killing his wife during an argument with her about Bruce. Banner ended up in a mental hospital for nearly three decades.

With his father in a mental hospital and his mother dead, Bruce Banner was sent into foster care and adopted by a family called Krenzler. Thirty years later found Bruce as a genetics researcher at the University of California in Berkeley. One of his colleagues happened to be Betty Ross, General Ross’ estranged daughter and Bruce’s ex-girlfriend. After saving another colleague from a Gamma radiation explosion, Bruce’s altered DNA (now affected by the radiation) led him to manifest into a green-skinned monster – ”a hulk” – whenever he lost his temper.

When I had earlier compared ”THE HULK” to the 2008 film, ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”; I was not trying to be diplomatic when I had stated that neither film was superior to the other. I honestly believe this. If there is one thing that the 2008 film can boast about was that its action sequences were superior to the ones found in Lee’s film. The Taiwanese-born director had a bad habit of shooting a good number of his action scenes from a long distance angle. This seemed very apparent in one sequence that featured the U.S. Army’s attempt (led by General Ross) to kill the Hulk, following the latter’s escape from a desert military facility to San Francisco. There were times when I found it difficult to maintain an interest in this particular scene. Another sequence I had problems with featured Bruce/the Hulk’s final confrontation with his genetically altered father, who had become a powerful electrical being. Frankly, it seemed nothing more than a vague display of CGI special effects against a dark backdrop that damn near made it impossible to watch their fight with a clear eye. One sequence that almost caught my attention featured the Hulk’s battle with David Banner’s mutated dogs that had been sent to kill Betty. I say “almost” because I thought the fight had lasted longer than necessary. And I simply could not get excited over Bruce’s fight with a trio of dogs that looked like something from the 1994 film, ”THE MASK”.

Where ”THE HULK” reigned supreme over ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK” was its story and strong characterizations. Quite frankly, it possessed more depth and pathos than the 2008 film. The movie managed to delve into Bruce’s childhood horrors, which had led to his tendency to bottle up his emotions. His personal demons also revealed how this trait had affected his past relationship with Betty and help contribute to the Hulk’s manifestation. Another interesting aspect of the movie was the father/child theme that seemed to dominate its story. Not only did both Bruce and Betty suffer from damaged relationships with their respective fathers, their past romance and continued love for each seemed to be regarded by David Banner and General Ross as potential threats. And both men seemed incapable of resisting an urge to manipulate and control their children’s lives.

Ang Lee managed to gather an impressive cast for his film. I believe kudos should have gone to Eric Bana for his on-spot portrayal of the emotionally repressed Dr. Bruce Banner. The Australian actor did an excellent job of delving into his character’s emotional psyche, yet keeping it all in check in order to reveal Bruce’s difficulties in expressing himself. Jennifer Connolly gave a subtle performance as Betty Ross, Bruce’s ex-girlfriend and fellow geneticist. She ably managed to portray Betty as a woman frustrated by Bruce and her father’s penchant for emotional repression; and also torn by her love and loyalty toward Bruce, and her fear that only her father’s military resources can save him.

Sam Elliot was top-notch as the intense and paranoid General Ross, who seemed more interested in branding Bruce as a danger to his daughter and the Establishment, due to the latter’s family connections. ”THE HULK” marked the second movie in which I heard Elliot used a growl to mark his character’s intense nature. And I hope that he never uses it again. In a rare performance, Josh Lucas portrayed minor villain Glenn Talbot, Bruce and Betty’s former colleague that left the U.S. Army to join the private sector for more cash. Lucas did a first-rate job in portraying Talbot’s venal and smarmy nature without going over the top. His character also had one of the oddest death scenes in film history.

Two actors portrayed Bruce’s father, Dr. David Banner – Paul Kersey and Oscar nominee Nick Nolte. Kersey portrayed the young Dr. Banner, whose obsession with improving human DNA in the film’s mesmerizing opening credits ended up having major consequences for his family – especially his son. I am amazed at how Kersey managed to convey such a strong presence with very little screen time. It was a damn good thing Lee cast Nick Nolte in the role of the older David Banner, because Kersey struck me as a hard act to follow. However, Nolte gave what I believe was the best performance in the movie. He certainly did an excellent job in conveying Banner’s continuing obsession with his original experiment. Yet, thirty years in a prison managed to unhinge Banner’s personality, making him even more obsessive. He also acquired a possessive attitude toward Bruce’s Hulk alter-ego, viewing the latter as his true son. Nolte not only beautifully captured this aspect of the scientist’s personality, but also the latter’s hostile view of Betty Ross, and an increasingly hostile attitude toward the military industry complex and society at large. This hostility was openly revealed in what I can only describe as a fascinating speech that dripped with contempt.

Frederick Elmes did an excellent job in photographing the movie’s settings of Berkeley, San Francisco and the Nevada desert. I also have to commend visual effects supervisor Dennis Muren for a split screen technique that allowed Lee to cinematically mimic the panels of a comic book page. I thought that was truly inspired – especially in the scene that featured Talbot’s death. At Industrial, Light and Magic, Muren also supervised the movie’s CGI effects – especially the computer generated Hulk. The interesting thing about this movie’s Hulk is that his facial expression seemed more varied than the expressions of the 2008 version. However, I was not that impressed by Muren’s design of David Banner’s ”hulkish” dogs. They struck me as something from 1994’s ”THE MASK” – a little too cartoonish for my tastes.

In the end, ”THE HULK” is a well-written movie with interesting characters. I believe it was only marred by questionable action sequences. If Marvel Entertainment ever decide to combine this movie’s characterizations and depth with the action sequences from ”THE INCREDIBLE HULK”, it would have one hell of a movie on its hands.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1970s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1970s:

FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1970s

1 - American Gangster

1. American Gangster (2007) – Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe starred in this biopic about former Harlem drug kingpin, Frank Lucas and Richie Roberts, the Newark police detective who finally caught him. Ridley Scott directed this energetic tale.

2 - Munich

2. Munich (2005) – Steven Spielberg directed this tense drama about Israel’s retaliation against the men who committed the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Eric Bana, Daniel Craig and Ciarán Hinds starred.

3. Rush (2013) – Ron Howard directed this account of the sports rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1976 Formula One auto racing season. Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl starred.

4 - Casino

4. Casino (1995) – Martin Scorsese directed this crime drama about rise and downfall of a gambler and enforcer sent West to run a Mob-owned Las Vegas casino. Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone starred.

5 - Super 8

5. Super 8 (2011) – J.J. Abrams directed this science-fiction thriller about a group of young teens who stumble across a dangerous presence in their town, after witnessing a train accident, while shooting their own 8mm film. Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Kyle Chandler starred.

6 - Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

6. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (2011) – Gary Oldman starred as George Smiley in this recent adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel about the hunt for a Soviet mole in MI-6. Tomas Alfredson directed.

7 - Apollo 13

7. Apollo 13(1995) – Ron Howard directed this dramatic account about the failed Apollo 13 mission in April 1970. Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton and Kevin Bacon starred.

8 - Nixon

8. Nixon (1995) – Oliver Stone directed this biopic about President Richard M. Nixon. The movie starred Anthony Hopkins and Joan Allen.

9 - Starsky and Hutch

9. Starsky and Hutch (2004) – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson starred in this comedic movie adaptation of the 70s television series about two street cops hunting down a drug kingpin. Directed by Todd Phillips, the movie also starred Vince Vaughn, Jason Bateman and Snoop Dogg.

10 - Frost-Nixon

10. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Ron Howard directed this adaptation of the stage play about David Frost’s interviews with former President Richard Nixon in 1977. Frank Langella and Michael Sheen starred.

“JULIE AND JULIA” (2009) Review

“JULIE AND JULIA” (2009) Review

Written and directed by Nora Ephron, “JULIE AND JULIA” depicts events in the life of chef Julia Child during the early years in her culinary career; contrasting with the life of a woman named Julie Powell, who aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Child’s cookbook during a single year. Ephron had based her screenplay on two books – “My Life in France”, Child’s autobiography, written with Alex Prud’homme; and “Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” by Powell. Two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep portrayed Julia Child and two-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams portrayed Julie Powell.

The plot is simple. A New Yorker named Julie Powell, who works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to help victims of the 9/11 bombings, has become disatisfied with her life when she realizes that her friends (or should I say acquaintances?) have more exciting professional lives. To help her deal with her apathy and knowing that she is an excellent cook, husband Eric (Chris Messina) suggests that she create a blog to record her experiences in cooking a recipe (each day) from Julia Child’s famous cookbook, ” Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. Woven in to Powell’s story is Child’s experiences as the wife of an American diplomat in Paris during the late 1940s and early 1950s. The movie also reveals Child’s entry into the world of French cuisine and her attempts to write and publish a cookbook on French cooking for Americans.

“JULIE AND JULIA” was not a movie that exactly shook my world. It was a warm and engaging look into the lives of two women whose interest in French cuisine attracted the attention of the public. In the case of Julia Child, her decade long attempt to write a cookbook on French cuisine led to her becoming a television celebrity and icon. Julie Powell’s attempt to recount her experiences in preparing the recipes from Child’s cookbook led to her blog, media attention and this movie. I have read a few reviews of the movie and most critics and filmgoers seemed more interested in Child’s early years as a chef in France than they were by Powell’s experiences with her blog. Granted, the Child sequences were a lot of fun, due to Streep’s performance of the charming, enthusiastic and fun-loving chef. But I must admit to being surprised by how much I had enjoyed Powell’s experiences with her blog. I realize that I am going to be bashed for this, but Powell’s experiences seemed to have more emotional substance to them.

I am not saying that the Powell sequences were better written or more entertaining. But due to Ephron’s portrayal of the Texan-turned-New Yorker, the Powell sequences seemed more complex and emotionally satisfying. In other words, Amy Adams – who portrayed Powell – had the meatier role. Most critics and fans of the film would disagree with me. After all, it seemed very obvious that Streep was having a ball portraying the enthusiastic and fun loving Julia Child. Her ability to easily befriend many of the French and her deepening love for French cuisine made it quite easy to see how she quickly became a celebrity. But Ephron never really delved into the darker aspects of Child’s character or marriage – except touch upon the chef’s disappointment at being childless. She certainly did with Powell. And Amy Adams did a superb job in re-creating a very complex and occasionally insecure personality. But I suspect that when the awards season rolls around the corner, it will be Streep who will earn most of the nominations . . . or perhaps all of them.

The rest of the cast of “JULIE AND JULIA” were just as excellent as Streep and Adams. Stanley Tucci portrayed Child’s diplomat husband, Paul Child. He gave a warm, yet more restrained performance as a man happily caught up in his wife’s growing interest in becoming a chef; yet at the same time, conveyed his character’s unhappiness with his failing diplomatic career due to a change in the country’s political winds. Like Adams, Chris Messina had a more difficult role as Powell’s husband, Eric Powell. Unlike Child, he has to deal with his frustration in his wife’s growing obssession with her blog . . . along with her occasional bouts with arrogance, insecurity and self-absorption. And at one point in the film, he loses his temper in spectacular fashion. I also enjoyed Linda Emond’s performance as French cook Simone Beck, who co-authored Child’s cookbook; and Mary Lynn Rajskub as Powell’s acerbic friend, Amy. One other performance that really caught my eye belonged to Jane Lynch as Julia Child’s equally extroverted sister, Dorothy McWilliams. Watching Lynch and Streep portray the McWilliams sisters take Paris by storm was a joy to behold.

Although I had enjoyed “JULIA AND JULIA”, I had a few problems with it. One, it was too long. The movie’s pacing started out fine. Unfortunately, I was ready for it to end at least twenty minutes before it actually did. By 100 minutes into the film, the pacing began to drag. And although I had no problems with the movie’s alternating storylines, I felt that it failed to seque smoothly between Child and Powell’s stories. The jump from Powell’s story to Child’s and back seemed ragged and uneven to me. And as I had pointed out before, the story surrounding Child’s story seemed less emotionally complex and more frothy in compare to Powell’s story, giving me another reason to view the movie as uneven.

Despite its flaws, “JULIE AND JULIA” is an entertaining film that many who are into cooking or food would enjoy. Both Meryl Streep and Amy Adams gave first-rate performances. And the movie also gave filmgoers a peek into life for Americans in post-World War II Paris. In the end, I found the movie enjoyable, but not earth-shattering. I would recommend it.

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” (2011) Review

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” (2011) Review

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, author John le Carré wrote a series of popular novels called The Karla Trilogy that featured MI-6 officer George Smiley as the leading character. At least two versions of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” had been made The most recent is the 2011 movie in which Gary Oldman starred as Smiley.

Set in 1973, “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” has George Smiley, who was recently forced to retire, recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole named “Gerald” in MI-6 (a.k.a. the “Circus”), the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence Service. The movie began with “Control” – the head of MI-6 – sending agent Jim Prideaux to Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who wishes to sell information. The operation is blown and the fleeing Prideaux is shot in the back by Hungarian intelligence. After the international incident that followed, Control and his right-hand man, Smiley were forced into retirement. Control, already ill, died soon afterwards. When field agent Rikki Tarr learned through his affair with the wife of a Moscow Centre intelligence officer in Turkey that the Soviets have a mole within the higher echelon of MI-6, Civil Service officer Oliver Lacon recalled Smiley from retirement to find the mole known as “Gerald”. Smiley discovered that Control suspected five senior intelligence officers:

*Smiley
*Percy Alleline (new MI-6 chief)
*Bill Haydon (one of Alleline’s deputies)
*Roy Bland (another Alleline deputy and the only one from a working-class
background)
*Toby Esterhase (Alleline’s Hungarian-born deputy, recruited by Smiley)

I have never seen the 1979 television version of le Carré’s 1974 novel, which starred Alec Guinness. In fact, I have never been inclined to watch it. Until now. My interest in seeing the television adaptation has a lot to do with my appreciation of this new film version. I enjoyed it very much. I did not love it. After all, it did not make my Ten Favorite Movies of 2011 list. It nearly did, but . . . not quite.

Why did “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” fail to make my favorite 2011 movies list? Overall, Tomas Alfredson did an excellent job in translating le Carré’s story to the screen. However . . . the pacing was slow. In fact, it crawled at the speed of a snail. It was so slow that in the end, I fell asleep some fifteen to twenty minutes before the movie ending, missing the very moment when Smiley exposed “Gerald” at the safe. However, I did wake up in time to learn the identity of “Gerald” and the tragic consequences of that revelation. I have one more problem with the film. Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Peter Guillam, a former division head recruited to assist Smiley in the latter’s mole hunt. There was a brief scene featuring “DOWNTON ABBEY” regular, Laura Carmichael, in which Guillam revealed his homosexuality. Cumberbatch did an excellent job in conveying this revelation with very little dialogue and a great deal of facial expressions. And yet . . . this revelation seemed to have very little or no bearing, whatsoever, in the movie’s main plot. Even Smiley’s marital problems ended up being relevant to the main narrative. End in the end, I found the revelation of Guillam’s sexuality a wasted opportunity.

But there is a great deal to admire about “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY”. One, it is a fascinating tale about one of the time-honored plot lines used in more espionage – namely the mole hunt. I suppose one could credit le Carré for creating such a first-rate story. But I have seen too many mediocre or bad adaptations of excellent novels to solely credit le Carré for this movie. It would not have worked without great direction from Alfredson; or Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s superb script. I found Maria Djurkovic’s production designs for the film rather interesting. She injected an austere and slightly cold aura into her designs for 1973 London that suited the movie perfectly. And she was ably assisted by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, and art designers Tom Brown and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner.

The heart and soul of “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” was its cast led by Gary Oldman, as George Smiley. The cast almost seemed to be a who’s who of British actors living in the United Kingdom. Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik portrayed the four men suspects being investigated by Smiley. All four did an excellent and kept the audience on their toes on who might be “Gerald”. However, I do have one minor complaint. Hinds’ character, Roy Bland, seemed to have received less screen time than the other three. Very little screen time, as a matter of fact. Mark Strong gave one of the movie’s better performances as the MI-6 agent, Jim Prideaux, who was betrayed by “Gerald” and eventually forced to leave “the Circus” following his return to Britain.

Both Simon McBurney and Kathy Burke gave solid performances as Civil Service officer Oliver Lecon and former MI-6 analyst Connie Sachs. However, Roger Lloyd-Pack seemed to be a bit wasted as another of Smiley’s assistants, Mendel. I have already commented on Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Peter Guillam. However, I must admit that I found his 1970s hairstyle a bit artificial looking. I can also say the same about the blond “locks” Tom Hardy used for his role as MI-6 agent Rikki Tarr. Fortunately, there was a good deal to admire about the actor’s emotional, yet controlled performance as Tarr. I really enjoyed John Hurt’s portrayal of Smiley’s former superior, the gregarious Control. I thought it was one of his more colorful roles in recent years.

However, the man of the hour is Gary Oldman and his portrayal of MI-6 officer, George Smiley. Many found the selection of Oldman to portray Smiley a rather curious one. The actor has built a reputation for portraying characters a lot more extroverted than the mild-mannered Smiley. His minimalist performance in “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” took a great deal of people by surprise. So much so that Oldman ended up earning an Academy Award nomination for his performance. And he deserved it, as far as I am concerned. I consider George Smiley to be one of Oldman’s best screen performances during his 40 odd years in movies. In fact, I suspect that the actor has made George Smiley his own, just as much as Alec Guinness did over forty years ago.

As I had stated earlier, “TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY” was not perfect. Its pacing is as slow as molasses. I thought actor Ciarán Hinds and the plot revelation regarding Peter Gulliam’s homosexuality was vastly underused. But thanks to Tomas Alfredson’s direction, Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan’s Oscar nominated screenplay, and an excellent cast led by Gary Oldman in a superb Oscar nominated performance; the movie turned out to be a surprising treat and has ignited my interest in the world of George Smiley.

“TIMELESS”: Secrets and Mistrust

“TIMELESS”: SECRETS AND MISTRUST

Ever since Season Two of NBC’s “TIMELESS” completed its run, I have found myself re-watching the series from the beginning. It has been something of a slow burn, but I did not wish rush through it. Recently, I watched Season One episode called (1.06) “The Watergate Tape” and discovered something unpleasant about the series’ trio of protagonists. Well . . . at least two of them.

Ever since the series’ premiere, (1.01) “Pilot”, the initial protagonist, the former NSA agent and rogue time traveler Garcia Flynn, has been trying to convince main protagonist Dr. Lucy Preston that they would become future colleagues and that he had possession of her future diary. Flynn also tried to warn Lucy about Rittenhouse, a mysterious political organization that has been at the forefront of the United States’ development since the American Revolution. Horrified by the idea of being a colleague with a man she regarded as nothing more than a murderer, she kept silent about the encounters.

In the same episode, the creator of the two time machines and head of Mason Industries, Connor Mason, had instructed his programming engineer/time machine pilot Rufus Carlin to provide an audio recording of his missions with Lucy and U.S. Army Delta Force operative Master Sergeant Wyatt Logan. Although Rufus agreed, he changed his mind in the next episode, (2.02) “The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln”. To convince Rufus to cooperate, Mason reminded the engineer that he had bankrolled the latter’s education. When Rufus had refused to continue recording their missions in (1.04) “Party at Castle Varlar”, a Rittenhouse operative threatened to harm Rufus’s family if he did not cooperate. Rittenhouse’s threat was issued again in “The Watergate Tape” when an older operative (or official) appeared outside of Rufus’ home with Mason inside a limousine. The Rittenhouse official made it clear that the organization was monitoring Rufus’ family. He also made it clear that if Rufus continues to refuse recording the time travel missions, the Carlin family might cease to exist.

Both Lucy’s previous encounters with Flynn and Rufus’ secret recordings finally came to light in this episode. After Flynn managed to capture the trio not long after their arrival in 1972 Washington D.C., he revealed his previous encounters with Lucy to both Rufus and Wyatt. Needless to say, both men were surprised and upset. While Flynn kept Wyatt as a hostage, he tasked both Lucy and Rufus to find the missing “doc” that was mentioned in the infamous 18 1/2 missing minutes from one of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. Both Lucy and Rufus discovered that the “doc” is actually a young African-American woman, whose family has been associated with Rittenhouse for generations. The “Doc” wanted to make her escape from the organization. Lucy overheard Rufus contact Rittenhouse and discovers that he had been providing the organization with audio recordings of their missions and reacts with anger. Meanwhile, Flynn informed Wyatt of his discovery that Rittenhouse had bankrolled Mason Industries and the organization’s murders of his wife and child. Because of this, Flynn became determined to bring down Rittenhouse, using the stolen time machine created by Mason. By the end of the episode, a very angry Wyatt learned about Rufus’ recordings on Rittenhouse’s behalf and instructed the latter to continue recording their missions.

I must not have understood the emotions that emitted from the protagonists in this episode, when I first saw it. As far as I knew, Lucy was angry at Rufus for recording their missions for Rittenhouse. Rufus was angry (at first) over Lucy’s previous discussions with Flynn. And Wyatt was angry at both of them for keeping secrets from him. I did not pay much attention to all of this, because in the following episode, (1.07) “Stranded”, the trio made their peace with each other. But after this latest re-watch of the episode, I found myself speculating on the two secrets kept by Rufus and Lucy and the reactions to them.

I understood why Rufus and Wyatt were upset over Flynn’s revelations that he had been in contact with Lucy. As far as both men were aware, Garcia Flynn was an enemy determined to bring down the United States government and the man who had murdered his family. The U.S. government have been trying to capture or kill him since the first episode. And considering that Lucy had failed to inform them of her interactions with Flynn since the first mission, I would not have been surprised if Wyatt and Rufus had began to wonder about her role on their team or whether she had been associated with Flynn all along.

However, my feelings regarding Rufus’ situation proved to be different. I understood Lucy and Wyatt’s initial anger over their discovery that the former had been recording their missions. But Rufus had made it clear that after their first mission he had refused to continue his recording until Rittenhouse had threatened to kill his family. He had even made an effort to point out that the organization had been observing him, his mother and his brother. Although Wyatt had instructed Rufus to continue recording the missions until they can learn more about Rittenhouse . . . he remained angry at and distrustful of the engineer. So did Lucy. And for some reason, I found myself feeling angry at both of them.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Wyatt and Lucy had allowed their anger to get the best of them . . . to the point that they seemed unwilling to comprehend the threat that Rittenhouse had personally posed to Rufus. It was bad enough that Connor had used his past sponsorship of Rufus’s career to blackmail the latter into cooperating.

Following Wyatt’s discovery of Flynn’s past history of Rittenhouse and the threats that Rufus had received, I found myself wondering why he still remained angry at the engineer. Surely he understood why Rufus had agreed to cooperate with Rittenhouse? The latter’s family had been threatened. And considering Flynn’s revelation that Rittenhouse had murdered his family, surely Wyatt understood that Rufus had a good reason to cooperate and keep those recordings a secret in the first place. On one level, he seemed to understand. After all, he did instruct Rufus to continue the recordings. But why remain angry at the other man? Why declare in an angry voice that he could never trust Rufus again? Was Wyatt really that self absorbed and hypocritical? Did he really believe that Rufus should have thought of the team over the Carlin family? Was he privately pissed that he might have to consider that Garcia Flynn’s conflict with Rittenhouse had some merit?

One might accuse Rufus of hypocrisy, considering his reaction to the revelation that Lucy had been in contact with Flynn since the first mission. However, I realized that Rufus had a better excuse for keeping his secret than Lucy had for keeping hers. His family had been threatened. Their safety, along with his, was at stake. Had Flynn threatened Lucy to keep their past conversations a secret? Had he threatened to kill her mother, Carol Preston, if she reveal their encounters to Rufus, Wyatt and Agent Christopher? The answer to both questions were “no”. Not only did Flynn not threatened Lucy to keep their private encounters a secret, he was the one who revealed those encounters to Rufus and Wyatt. And he had seemed a bit surprised that Lucy’s teammates never knew.

And yet . . . like Wyatt, Lucy had remained angry at Rufus by the end of the episode. I found myself wondering why she had remained angry. She seemed well aware that Rittenhouse was a threat. Not only had Rufus informed her that the organization had threatened him and his family, but that it also wanted “the Doc” killed. More importantly, the latter had explained to Lucy on just how dangerous Rittenhouse could be. Yet, she was still pissed at Rufus by the time they had returned to 2016. What the fuck? Was she pissed . . . jealous that Rufus had a better excuse to keep his activities a secret than she had for keeping her conversations with Flynn a secret? Frankly, I found Lucy’s hypocrisy even worse than Wyatt’s. After all, what was her excuse? She was appalled at the idea of her future self becoming a friend and/or ally of Garcia Flynn?

I am certain that many fans of the show would find my above ramblings inconsequential. As I had pointed out earlier, the tensions between Rufus, Lucy and Wyatt were eventually settled by the next episode. Why make a fuss over what happened between them in “The Watergate Episode”. Well . . . I had read several articles about the episode. Although some reviewers had discussed how tensions had arose between the three colleagues, no one had really bothered to discuss the hypocrisy that seemed rampant in this episode. Or how this episode had pretty much exposed the uglier side of their natures – especially that of Lucy and Wyatt. At this point in the series, no one seemed willing to discuss this. And perhaps . . . the episode had annoyed me so much that I had to express myself in some form.

“SLEEPING MURDER” (2006) Review

“SLEEPING MURDER” (2006) Review

I might as well say it. The 1976 novel, “Sleeping Murder” is one of my favorites written by mystery writer, Agatha Christie. In fact, it is such a big favorite of mine that when I learned about the recent 2006 adaptation that aired on Britain’s ITV network, I made a great effort to find it on DVD.

Although the 1976 novel proved to be the last Christie novel featuring elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple, the author wrote it during the early years of World War II. In fact, she did the same for the 1975 Hercule Poirot novel, “Curtain”. Christie wrote both novels and placed them in a bank vault, in case she failed to survive the Blitz. During the early 1970s, the author authorized the publication of “Curtain” for 1975 and “Sleeping Murder” for 1976. I never warmed up to the 1975 novel, but I became a fan of the latter one. The novel produced two television adaptations and a radio version. Just recently, I watched a DVD copy of the 2006 television movie that featured Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple.

“SLEEPING MURDER” begins in 1933 India, where British diplomat Kelvin Halliday receives news that his wife Claire had just been killed in a traffic accident. The widower returns home to England with his three year-old daughter Gwenda and meets one Helen Marsden, a singer with a troupe of music performers known as “The Funnybones”. Nineteen years later, a recently engaged Gwenda Halliday returns to England in order to find a home where she and her future husband Giles, who is a wealthy businessman living in India, can live. Accompanied by Giles’ assistant, Hugh Hornbeam, Gwenda finds a house in Dillmouth, a town on the south coast of England. While workmen set about repairing the house, Gwenda realizes that it seems familiar to her. Hugh suggests she speak to an old acquaintance of his, Miss Jane Marple of St. Mary Mead. Gwenda and Hugh meet with Miss Marple at a local theater showing the John Webster play, “The Duchess of Malfi”. During one of the play’s climatic scenes, Gwenda screams in terror , as she remembers witnessing a pair of hands strangling a woman. Along with Miss Marple and Hugh, Gwenda realizes she may have witnessed a murder when she was a child living in Dillmouth. All three also discover that the murdered woman may have been Gwenda’s stepmother, Helen Marsden Halliday.

I . . . did not dislike “SLEEPING MURDER”. I thought this adaptation featured fine performances from a cast led by the always superb Geraldine McEwan. The television movie also featured memorable performances from Sophia Myles and Aidan McArdle as Gwenda Halliday and Hugh Hornbeam. I was also impressed by Julian Wadham as Kelvin Halliday; Martin Kemp, Dawn French and Paul McGann as three of Helen’s Funnybones colleagues; and Phil Davis as Dr. James Kennedy, Kelvin’s original brother-in-law. It was nice to see Harriet Walter give a cameo as an actress portraying the lead role in “The Duchess of Malfi” production. The rest of the cast gave solid performances, aside from two struck me as slightly problematic. Sarah Parish’s portrayal of Funnybones wallflower-turned successful singer Evie Ballatine seemed to be an exercise in character extremism . . . and a bit over-the-top. I could say the same about Geraldine Chapln’s portrayal of the gloomy Mrs. Fane, mother of Walter Fane, a mild-mannered lawyer who knew Gwenda’s mother.

“SLEEPING MURDER” also benefited from colorful and sharp photography, thanks to Alan Almond’s cinematography. I also found Frances Tempest’s costume designs for the early 1950s sequences rather gorgeous to look at. However, her designs for the 1930s scenes seemed to be something of a mixed bag. Overall, I had no complaints about the movie’s production designs and the performances. But I did not love this movie. In fact, I barely liked it.

The problem – at least for me – is that the positive aspects of “SLEEPING MURDER” failed to hide or compensate what proved to be the movie’s real problem . . . namely the screenplay written by Stephen Churchett. I do not completely blame him. The producers of “AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MARPLE” and director Edward Hall were willing to use it. I have no problems with a screenwriter changing certain aspects of a source novel or play for a screen adaptation. Especially if said change manages to improve the story or make it more effective for a screen adaptation. But the changes Churchett made to Christie’s story did not improve it in the end or made it effective for the television screen. Personally, I found Churchett’s changes more convoluted than a novel written by James Ellroy.

First of all, Churchett, Hall or both allowed the Gwenda Reed character from the novel to become the unmarried Gwenda Halliday, engaged to be married. The Giles Reed character was reduced to Gwenda’s unseen and wealthy fiancé, who turned out to be a jerk. Churchett and Hall decided to create a new love interest for Gwenda, the quiet and faithful Hugh Hornbam, who works for her fiancé. Why did Hall and Churchett give Gwenda a new love interest? What was wrong with using the original Giles Reed character from the novel? Was it really that important to inject a new romance, which seemed to be the hallmark of many “MARPLE” productions? Also, a musical troupe known as the Funnybones was introduced to this story. Three of the original suspects – Richard “Dickie” and Janet Erskine, and Jackie Afflick – became members of the Funnybones, along with Helen. The addition of the Funnybones also produced another suspect for the story – a singer named Evie Ballatine. Why did Churchett create the Funnybones in the first place? Perhaps he and Hall thought the musical troupe would make Helen’s character more “colorful”. On the other hand, I found the addition of the musical troupe UNNECESSARY . . . like other changes and additions to this story.

The above changes seemed nothing to me compared to the changes made to the Helen Halliday character. It is bad enough that Churchett transformed her from a nice, young woman who became a stepmother and wife to a professional singer. Go figure. Worse . . . Helen Marsden Halliday was eventually revealed to be Kelvin Halliday’s first wife, Claire. In other words, Gwenda’s mother and stepmother proved to be one and the same. How did this happen? Well, when Claire Kennedy went to India to get married, she changed her mind and became a thief. She met Kelvin Halliday, married him and gave birth to their only child Gwenda. However, when the police in British India became suspicious of her, Claire and Kelvin plotted her fake death, she returned to England and joined the Funnybones, and “married” Kelvin as Helen Marsden, following his and Gwenda’s return to India. Confused? I was when Miss Marple revealed all of this to Gwenda, Hugh and the suspects. When this whole scenario regarding Claire/Helen’s background was revealed, I could only shake my head in disbelief. What on earth was Churchett thinking when he created this confusing background for her? What were the producers and Hall thinking for accepting it? In fact, all of the changes made for this adaptation proved to be unnecessary, but also transformed “SLEEPING MURDER” into one convoluted mess.

What else can I say about “SLEEPING MURDER”? It featured some pretty good performances from a cast led by Geraldine McEwan. I liked its production values very much, especially Alan Almond’s photography and Frances Tempest’s costume designs for the 1950s sequences. But . . . I feel that screenwriter Stephen Churchett made a lot of unnecessary changes to Christie’s original story that left the movie into a big, narrative mess. And I cannot help but wonder what director Edward Hall and the producers were thinking to allow these changes to happen.

Lobster Roll

Below is a small article about the American sandwich known as the Lobster Roll:

LOBSTER ROLL

One of the most popular sandwiches created in the United States in the New England dish known as the Lobster Roll. Not only is the latter native to the New England states, but also the Canadian Maritimes.

The sandwich consists of lobster meat served on a grilled hot dog-style bun. The lobster filling is served with the opening on top of the bun, instead of the side. The filling usually consists of lemon juice, salt, black pepper diced celery (or scallions) and melted butter. However, in some parts of New England, the butter is substituted with mayonnaise. Potato chips or french fries are usually served as sides for the sandwich.

According to the “Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink”, the Lobster Roll may have originated in 1929, as a hot dish at a restaurant named Perry’s in Milford, Connecticut. Over the years, the sandwich’s popularity spread up and down the Connecticut coastline, but not far beyond it. In Connecticut, when the sandwich is served warm, it is called a “Lobster Roll”. When served cold, it was called a “Lobster Salad Roll”. Over the decades, the Lobster Roll’s popularity had spread to other states along the Northeastern seaboard. As far back as 1970, chopped lobster meat heated in drawn butter was served on a hot dog bun at road side stands such as Red’s Eats in Maine.

Although it is believed to have originated in Connecticut, the Lobster Roll in the United States is usually associated with the State of Maine. But as I had pointed out, it is commonly available at seafood restaurants in the other New England states and on Eastern Long Island, New York; where lobster fishing is common. The sandwich has also become a staple summer dish throughout the Maritime provinces in Canada, particularly in Nova Scotia, where hamburger buns, baguettes, or other types of bread rolls and even pita pockets are used. The traditional sides are potato chips and dill pickles. McDonald’s restaurants in the New England states and in Canadian provinces such as Nova Scotia and Ontario usually offer Lobster Rolls as a limited edition item during the summer.

Below is a recipe for the classic Maine Lobster Roll from the Destination Kennebunkport website:

Maine Lobster Roll

Ingredients

*1lbs (or slightly more) cooked lobster meat, keeping 4 of the claw meat intact for garnish
*1/4cup finely minced celery
*1/4cup best-quality mayonnaise(I prefer Stonewall Kitchen’s Farmhouse Mayo), plus additional to garnish (only if you didn’t get the claw meat out in one piece!)
*1/2tsp fresh lemon juice(I literally just squeeze a few drops on the lobster)
*Sea salt, only if necessary
*Finely ground black pepper, to taste
*4 best quality New England-style hot dog rolls
*5tbs very soft salted butter
*Optional but good – paprika to garnish

Preparation

1. In a medium bowl, lightly combine the lobster, celery, mayonnaise, and lemon juice. Taste first, seasoning with salt only if necessary and lightly with pepper. Chill until ready to use, but no more than 8 hours in advance.

2. When ready to serve, place a griddle or a large non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Spread both sides of the rolls with the butter and cook each side until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side (check your first roll, I found the bakery rolls browned faster, and it only took slightly more than a minute per side).

3. Fill and mound each roll with the lobster mixture—they will be quite full. Garnish the top of each with a piece of claw meat, or place a little dollop of mayonnaise on top of each roll and sprinkle it with a smidge of paprika or chopped chives. Serve immediately.

“FEUD” Season One – “Bette and Joan” (2017) Episode Ranking

Below is my ranking of the episodes from Season One (and the only season so far) of the F/X series called “FEUD”. Titled “Bette and Joan” and created by Ryan Murphy, the season starred Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon:

“FEUD” SEASON ONE – “BETTE AND JOAN” (2017) EPISODE RANKING

1. (1.05) “And the Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)” – The fallout from the Oscar nominations for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” leads to underhanded tactics from Joan Crawford, while co-star Bette Davis relishes the opportunity to break a record.

2. (1.02) “The Other Woman” – With production on “Baby Jane?” underway, Bette and Joan form an alliance, but outside forces in the form of Warner Brothers studio chief Jack Warner, director Robert Aldrich and an unsuspecting bit player conspire against them.

3. (1.07) “Abandoned!” – Following the beginning of production for “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, the feud between Bette and Joan intensifies. Meanwhile, Bette reveals her vulnerabilities to Aldrich during their affair.

4. (1.03) “Mommie Dearest” – The “Baby Jane” production reaches its climax, while Bette and Joan clash over every last detail. And both actresses face private struggles.

5. (1.01) “Pilot” – Cast aside by Hollywood and struggling to maintain their film careers, Bette and Joan sign up for “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” before they commence upon a feud.

6. (1.06) “Hagsploitation” – Hungry for another hit after “Baby Jane?”, Jack Warner pressures Aldrich into bringing the original team back together for a second project – “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”. Meanwhile, Joan receives a surprising blackmail threat from her brother.

7. (1.08) “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” – In this finale, Joan accepts a leading role on a new film (her last one), despite her deteriorating health. Faced with a possible new rival, Bette reflects on her misplaced feud with Joan.

8. (1.04) “More or Less” – When “Baby Jane?” opens in movie theaters, Bette and Joan face uncertain prospects, Aldrich deals with his own personal and professional difficulties, and his assistant Pauline Jameson makes a surprising offer.

“CAPOTE” (2005) Review

“CAPOTE” (2005) Review

I finally got around to watching the first of two movies about writer Truman Capote and his work on the non-fiction novel, “In Cold Blood”. This particular movie, “CAPOTE”, starred Philip Seymour Hoffman, who eventually won a SAG award, a Golden Globe award and an Oscar for his performance.

Penned by actor Dan Futterman and directed by Bennett Miller, “CAPOTE” turned out to be a more somber affair than its 2006 counterpart, “INFAMOUS”. Miller had once commented that he wanted to create a more subtle portrait of the flamboyant author in order to emphasize on Capote’s lonely and alienated state . . . despite his relationships with authors, Nelle Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and Jack Dunphy (Bruce Greenwood); and his popularity with New York high society. This subtle approach not only permeated the movie’s tone and pace, it also affected the cast’s performances – especially Hoffman and Clifton Collins Jr., as Perry Smith.

I do not know if I would have automatically given Philip Seymour Hoffman that Oscar for his performance as Truman Capote. I am still inclined toward Heath Ledger receiving the award for his performance in “BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN”. But I must admit that Hoffman certainly deserved his nomination. He managed to skillfully portray Capote’s ambition and determination to create a literary masterpiece from the real life murders surrounding the Herb Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Hoffman also revealed how Capote used his charm to manipulate others . . . especially Perry Smith. Catherine Keener earned both BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for her warm portrayal of “To Kill Mockingbird” author, Nelle Harper Lee. Granted, she deserved her nominations and I especially enjoyed how she managed to project a mixture of friendly warmth, reserve and moral fortitude in her performance. But I could not help but wonder if she could receive acting nominations, why not Clifton Collins, Jr.?

It seemed a shame that more praise had not been heaped upon Clifton Collins’ shoulders for his portrayal of the intense and soft-spoken convicted murderer, Perry Smith. His scenes with Hoffman gave the movie an extra bite of emotionalism that saved it from being too subtle. Like Daniel Craig’s performance of Smith in “INFAMOUS”, Collins brought an interesting balance of soft-spoken politeness and intense danger in his performance. Well . . . almost. The real KBI investigator in charge of the Clutter case, Alvin Dewey, had once described Perry Smith as a quiet, intense and dangerous man. In “CAPOTE”, Smith’s own sister had warned Capote that despite her brother’s quiet and polite demeanor, he was easily capable of committing the crimes against the Clutters. And yet, I never did sense any real danger in Collins’ performance. Not quite. Except in two scenes – namely his confrontation with Capote over the “In Cold Blood” title; and the flashbacks revealing the Clutters’ murders. The ironic thing is that I suspect that Collins was not to blame. I suspect that Miller’s direction and Futterman’s script simply did not really allow Collins to reveal Smith’s more dangerous aura.

All of this led to what became my main problem with “CAPOTE” – namely the somber subtlety that seemed to permeate the production. Not only did the director’s desire to create a subtle film seem to mute Collins’ potential for a more balanced portrayal of Perry Smith, it also forced Hoffman to hold back some of Capote’s more flamboyant traits. I am quite certain that this was both the director and the screenwriter’s intentions. But I also feel that this deliberate attempt at subtlety may have robbed both the Capote and Smith characters of a more balanced nuance. It also denied the audience a deeper look into Capote’s New York lifestyle and bogged down the movie’s pacing in the end. During the last thirty or forty minutes, I found myself begging for the movie to end.

But despite the movie’s “too somber” mood and pacing, “CAPOTE” is an excellent movie and I would highly recommend it for viewing.

L.A. Noir III (1994-2000)

Below is the third set of images from some famous film noir movies set in Los Angeles:

L.A. Noir III (1994-2000)

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“Pulp Fiction” (1994)

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“Devil in the Blue Dress” (1995)

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“Heat” (1995)

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“L.A. Confidential” (1997)

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“Jackie Brown” (1997)

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“The Big Lebowski” (1998)

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“Memento” (2000)