Friday, March 16, 2018

"UNDERGROUND" Season Two (2017) Photo Gallery

Below are images from Season Two of the WGN series, "UNDERGROUND". Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, the series stars Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Aldis Hodge: 

"UNDERGROUND" SEASON TWO (2017) Photo Gallery


Wednesday, March 14, 2018

"TOWARDS ZERO" (2007) Review

"TOWARDS ZERO" (2007) Review

When it comes to the television adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Jane Marple novels, I tend to stick with those that featured the late Joan Hickson as the elderly sleuth. However, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided to watch a movie that starred Geraldine McEwan as Miss Jane Marple. And this movie is the 2007 adaptation of Christie’s 1944 novel called "Towards Zero"

The adaptation of Christie’s novel has drawn a good deal of criticism from purists. First of all, the novel is not a Jane Marple mystery. Instead, the main investigator in "Towards Zero" turned out to be Superintendant Battle, who had been featured in a few other Christie novels, including one Hercule Poirot tale - "Cards on the Table". However, Battle did not appear in the 2007 adaptation. Jane Marple replaced him as the story’s main detective, with the police represented by Alan Davies as one Superintendant Mallard. Since "Towards Zero" has always been one of my favorite Christie novels, I decided to give the movie a chance.

In "TOWARDS ZERO", Jane Marple is invited to a house party hosted by an old school friend named Lady Camilla Tressilian. Also included in the party are the following:

*Neville Strange – Professional tennis star and Lady Tressilian’s ward

*Kay Strange – Neville’s younger second wife

*Audrey Strange - Neville’s reserved ex-wife

*Thomas Royce – Owner of a Malaysian plantation and Audrey’s distant cousin

*Mary Aldin – Lady Tressilian’s companion

*Ted Latimer – Kay’s childhood friend

*Mr. Treves- Lady Tressilian’s friend and solicitor

The house party turned out to be a tense affair, due to emotions running rampant between the characters. Neville discovered that he was still in love with his first wife, Audrey. She seemed to harbor emotions for him, despite her reserved behavior. Thomas seemed jealous of Neville, due to his love for Audrey. Mary seemed attracted to Thomas and a little envious of Audrey. Kay was obviously jealous of Audrey. And Ted was also jealous of Neville, due to his love for Kay.

During a supper party, Mr. Treves recalled an old murder case in which a child had made deliberate preparations to kill another and make it look like an accident. That child, according to Mr. Treves, had a peculiar physical trait. All of the suspects possessed a peculiar physical trait. And following the supper party, Mr. Treves died from a heart attack after climbing some stairs that lead to his hotel room. Someone had placed a NOT IN SERVICE sign in front of his hotel’s elevator. Another day or two later, this same person brutally murdered old Lady Tressilian with a blow to the head.

As I had earlier stated, the 1944 novel has always been a favorite of mine. Christie had crafted a complex and original mystery filled with characters of great psychological depth. By inserting another Christie creation – Jane Marple – as the story’s main investigator, I feared that this 2007 adaptation would prove to be a bust. Imagine my surprise when my fears proved to be groundless. Thanks to director David Grindley and screenwriter Kevin Elyot, I found myself surprisingly satisfied with this movie. Despite a few changes – namely the post-World War II setting, Jane Marple as the story’s main detective, the deletion of a character named Andrew MacWhirter, the addition of another character named Diana, the new police officer in charge of the case – Superintendant Mallard, and the budding romance in the story’s conclusion that did not happen in the novel. Perhaps that is why I had enjoyed it so much. Both Grindley and Elyot recognized the novel’s first-rate plot and tried to follow it as closely as possible.

The production values for "TOWARDS ZERO" impressed me as well. Production designer Michael Pickwoad did an excellent job in re-creating Britain of the early-to-mid 1950s. And he was ably supported by Sue Gibson’s beautiful photography, which struck me as rich in color and sharp. Sheena Napier’s costumes not only captured the era perfectly, but also the personality of each character. I do have one quibble – namely Saffron Burrows’ hairstyle. I am aware that some women wore their hair slightly long past the shoulders. But I got the impression that the hairdresser could not decide whether to give Burrows a 1950s hairstyle or a modern one. Her hair struck me as a confusing mixture of the mid 20th century and the early 21st century.

The cast turned out better than I had expected. If I must be honest, I could not spot a bad performance amongst the entire cast . . . even from Julian Sands, whom I have never been that impressed by in the past. But there were a handful that really impressed me. One came from Saffron Burrows, who gave one of the most enigmatic and intense performances I have ever encountered in a Christie film. I could never tell whether her character was guilty of the two murders or not. And Burrows did a superb job in conveying this ambiguity of the Audrey Strange character with very little dialogue. I was also impressed by Zoe Tapper’s portrayal of the more extroverted Kay Strange. Tapper could have easily given an over-the-top performance, considering the type of character she had portrayed. But the actress conveyed Kay’s passionate nature without turning the character into a one-note scream fest. I also enjoyed Alan Davies as Superintendant Mallard, the new police investigator in this mystery. I not only enjoyed his wit, but also his transformation from his contempt toward Jane Marple’s investigative skills to a full partnership with the elderly amateur sleuth. And Eileen Atkins provided a great deal of comic relief as the second victim, Lady Camilla Tressilian. Not only did she provide much of the story’s sharp humor, Atkins also captured the character’s bombastic and arrogant nature. Her Lady Tressilian struck me as a modern day Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but with a stronger moral center.

But I believe the two best performances came from Greg Wise and Geraldine McEwan as Jane Marple. I found myself completely surprised by Wise’s impressive portrayal of the tennis pro with the two wives, Neville Strange. His performance perfectly portrayed Neville as the complex force of nature that had a major impact upon the other characters in "TOWARDS ZERO", without indulging in any hammy acting. But I was more than impressed by Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Jane Marple. I had seen McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Marple in "THE SITFORD MYSTERY", and found her performance ridiculously mannered and annoying. No such exaggerated mannerisms marred McEwan’s performance in "TOWARDS ZERO". The actress gave a subtle performance laced with subtle humor and her character’s intelligence. One of McEwan’s best moments featured very little dialogue on her part in a scene between Miss Marple and the verbose Lady Tressilian, inside the latter’s bedroom.

Most Agatha Christie purists might automatically dismiss this adaptation of "TOWARDS ZERO". Especially since the script changed the main investigator from the literary Superintendant Battle to a cinematic Jane Marple. But despite this major change, along with another that included a romance that emerged in the film’s final scene; David Grindley’s direction and Kevin Elyot’s script remained surprisingly faithful to Agatha Christie’s novel. Normally, I would care less about changes in an adaptation of a novel. But in the case of "TOWARDS ZERO", this close adherence ended up working in the movie’s favor.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"POLDARK" Series Two (1977) Episodes One to Five



A very strange thing occurred some forty-four years ago. Twenty years following the publication of the fourth novel of his "POLDARK" series, "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793", Winston Graham's fifth novel in the series was published - namely "The Black Moon: A Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795" (1973). Producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn had already adapted Graham's first four novels in 1975. The pair waited another two years before they adapted the next three novels in the series, including "The Black Moon" 

Most of the cast managed to return for the second series of "POLDARK". At least those who characters were still alive by the end of Series One. Barry and Coburn were lucky to keep at least four actors from the 1975 series - Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees, Jill Townsend and Ralph Bates; along with several other cast members. Only two roles were replaced with different actors. Michael Cadman replaced Richard Morant as Dr. Dwight Enys, and Alan Tilvern ("WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?") replaced Nicholas Selby as Nicholas Warleggan. The first five out of thirteen episodes for Series Two focused on the 1973 novel, "The Black Moon". The following two novels - "The Four Swans: A Novel of Cornwall, 1795-1797" (1976) and "The Angry Tide: A Novel of Cornwall, 1798-1799" (1977) were adapted within four episodes each. I found this surprising, considering that "The Black Moon" is not the longest of the three novels published in the 1970s. Why Coburn and Barry had decided to give this particular novel five episodes? I do not have the foggiest idea.

Episodes One to Five of "POLDARK" Series Two aka "The Black Moon" picked up several months after Episode Fifteen of the 1975 adaptation of "Warleggan: A Novel of Cornwall, 1792-1793" (1953). The series protagonist, Ross Poldark, has returned home after serving a few months as a British Army officer during the War of the First Coalition. Ross' close friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, is serving as a surgeon for the Royal Navy and is secretly engaged to local heiress Caroline Penvenen. Demelza Carne Poldark's two brothers - Sam and Drake Carne arrive in the Truro neighborhood to make their living. And Ross' first love and former cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan, recently married to wealthy banker George Warleggan, gives birth to her second son, Valentine Warleggan. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to George, Valentine was conceived when Ross had raped Elizabeth in the previous series. 

Following Valentine's difficult birth, Elizabeth summons her younger cousin Morwenna Chynoweth to serve as governess for her older son, Geoffrey Charles Poldark. Upon Ross' return, he discovers to his dismay that his great-aunt Agatha Poldark is now living with Elizabeth and George at a third Poldark estate where she and her brother Benjamin Poldark use to live. Agatha had lost the estate when the Warleggan Bank had foreclosed on it. Ross' cousin-in-law Verity Poldark Blamey informed him that Elizabeth had asked George to allow Agatha to live with them. Despite Elizabeth's kind gesture, Agatha and George take an instant dislike to each other. 

Episodes One to Five cover the following subplots:

*Ross Poldark' efforts to find and rescue Dwight Enys, who ended up captured by the French
*The developing romance between Drake Carne and Morwenna Chynoweth
*Sam Carne's efforts to create a Methodist church and congregation in the Truro neighborhood
*Elizabeth Warleggan's concerns over her newly born son's health
*George Warleggan and Aunt Agatha Poldark's feud

I like the Dr. Dwight Enys character very much. Thanks to Winston Graham's pen and Richard Morant's performance in the 1975 series, Dwight managed to be complex and ambiguous without losing any sympathy from my perspective. And actor Michael Cadman, who took over the role in the 1977 series, did a solid job . . . at least from what I could garner from his performance in Episode Five. But I have to be honest. I simply could not summon enough interest in Ross Poldark's efforts to rescue Dwight from France. One, I found Ross' initial trip to France in Episode Three rather foolish, especially since he did not speak French. And sure enough, Ross was captured and nearly executed during that first trip. And when Ross returned to France with his brother-in-law, Drake Carne, and other men to literally rescue Dwight in the second half of Episode Four . . . I was simply bored with the entire sequence. There was no one to blame. The actors did their parts. Philip Dudley did an excellent job in directing the sequence. I realized that I was simply not that interested in watching another sequence in which Ross Poldark played action hero. Especially not after the events of the 1975 adaptation of "Warleggan".

A more interesting story arc focused on the young star-crossed lovers, Morwenna Chynoweth and Drake Carne. This particular romance in the "POLDARK" saga seemed forbidden three-fold. One, the two lovers came from different classes. Morwenna was born into the impoverished, but upper-class Chynoweth family. Drake was the son of a working-class miner. Worse, their romance found itself smacked dab in the middle of the ongoing feud between Ross Poldark and George Warleggan. Morwenna was the cousin of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan and cousin-in-law to George. Drake was one of Demelza Carne Poldark's younger brothers and brother-in-law to Ross. The situation of their romance grew worse, due to George's determination to marry off Morwenna to a widowed and slightly plump young vicar named Reverend Osborne Whitworth in order to secure patronage from the latter's powerful and elite family. 

Looking back on this story arc, it was almost the most interesting aspect of the adaptation of "The Black Moon". Thanks to the performances of Kevin McNally and Jane Wymack, who portrayed the young lovers, I found myself highly vested in this story arc. I have only two complaints about this story arc. One, instead of showing the audience that moment when Morwenna had decided to marry Whitworth, the episode's screenwriter decided to convey this revelation to television audiences . . . after the wedding had occurred. In fact, audiences learned about Morwenna's marriage to Whitworth following Ross and Drake's return from France. Graham had not only conveyed the details of the wedding to readers in his 1973 novel, he also conveyed that on their wedding night, Whitworth raped his young bride, giving a hint to the marital horrors that Morwenna would face. Considering what Ross had done to Elizabeth in Episode Fourteen of the 1975 series, I suspect that Coburn and Barry wanted to skirt controversy by avoiding this incident. Only, I found their gesture rather irrelevant, considering that sooner or later, their writers would be forced to convey that Morwenna became a victim of marital rape.

The arrival of Demelza's brothers also kick started another story arc - namely Sam Carne's efforts to establish a Methodist congregation in the neighborhood. Look, I am a firm believer in religious freedom. And I thought the show runners did a mildly effective job of conveying the struggles that Sam, who had inherited his father's conversion to Methodism, faced in dealing with local prejudices against a new religious sect. Mildly effective. There were times when I found it difficult to sympathize with Sam's efforts . . . especially when he developed this habit of trying to enforce Methodist forms of worship upon a congregation inside the local Anglican church. I found it rather controlling. In fact, I was annoyed by this habit that there were times when I actually found myself sympathizing with the likes of George Warleggan, who felt outraged and threatened by Sam's efforts. If Sam had wanted a congregation that badly, he could not conduct his own services in some outdoor location . . . at least until he could find a building to serve as the neighborhood's first Methodist church?

Bad luck seemed overshadow the life of Elizabeth Warleggan's second son, Valentine. One, he was born out of wedlock, thanks to Ross' rape of Elizabeth near the end of the 1975 series. He was born on the evening when a black moon appeared in the sky, prompting Agatha Poldark to declare that he was cursed. In a way, the elderly Poldark was proven right for Valentine developed rickets in his legs either in Episode Three or Episode Four. Valentine's illness produced some interesting reactions in his mother and stepfather. 

George Warleggan became immediately upset over the idea that his "son" was not as perfect as he had hoped the latter would be. This led George to nearly go into panic mode summon the rigid thinking Dr. Behenna to help Valentine. The doctor's treatment proved to be barbaric, when he insisted that Valentine be kept in a tight swaddling that proved to be painful for the infant. Valentine's illness produced a different reaction in Elizabeth. In one of those rare moments, Elizabeth revealed how strong-willed and almost scary she could be when she took charge of Valentine's "treatment", allowing her son great comfort in a cleaner room. And when George protested, she knocked the socks off him by insisting on helping her son "her way". Although Ralph Bates gave a first-rate performance in this scene, it was truly a great moment for actress Jill Townsend. And this scene proved to be the first among a few scenes that proved Elizabeth was a lot tougher than she had previously let on.

But aside from the Drake Carne/Morwenna Chynoweth romance, the real highlight of Episodes One to Five proved to be the feud between George Warleggan and his wife's former great-aunt, Agatha Poldark. Ironically, this feud began with bad writing, thanks to Coburn and Barry's 1975 adaptation of "Warleggan" that left Trenwith burned to the ground by a mob. Why did they include this scenario that was not in the novel? In order to divert the viewers' attention from Ross' rape of Elizabeth. Without Trenwith, Coburn and Barry had no way to get George and Aunt Agatha in the same house to carry out their feud. So what did they do? They created a third Poldark estate called Penrice. According to the new narrative, Agatha was living alone at Penrice, following the death of her brother Benjamin. The Warleggan Bank repossessed the estate and Elizabeth saved Agatha from a homeless state by convincing her husband to allow the old lady to live with them. 

Did it work? To an extent. Despite the creation of a new estate, despite the fact that "The Black Moon" adaptation marked the first appearance of Agatha Poldark in the series . . . it worked. Somewhat. Thanks to Ralph Bates and Eileen Way's intense and skillful performance, I nearly forgot about some of the questionable writing that surrounded this story arc. And that included the final confrontation between the pair. 

The adaptation of "The Black Moon" ended with George and Agatha engrossed over a bitter quarrel. Agatha, who had been looking forward to a major birthday party to celebrate her 100th birthday, was informed by George that there would be no party due to his discovery that she was only 98 years old. Agatha retaliated by informing George that young Valentine's birth father was her great-nephew Ross. Dramatically, this was a great moment that led to another outburst by George and Agatha's eventual demise. However, I found myself wondering how Agatha knew that George was not Valentine's father. She had never appeared in the 1975 series. Which meant she had not been at Trenwith on the night Ross had forced himself on Elizabeth. So how did she know? Throughout Episode One, Agatha contemplated on whether Elizabeth was eight or nine months pregnant. She based this upon the position of the younger woman's baby bump. How would she have known? As a spinster and member of the upper-class, Agatha would have never been in a position to nurse a pregnant woman, let alone act as a midwife. This was simply more bullshit from Coburn and Barry in their attempt to rectify their mistakes from Series One. But I was willing to slightly overlook this, due to Bates and Way's performances and dynamic manner in which the adaptation of "The Black Moon" ended.

Aside from Ross' two trips to France, I really had nothing to say about him or his wife Demelza in these five episodes. They managed to conceive daughter named Clowance during the same month of Valentine Warleggan's birth. Both Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees had one fantastic scene together in Episode Two (or Three) in which Demelza tried to convince idiot Ross not to travel to revolutionary France without the benefit of an interpreter. Before that, the pair and Caroline Penvenen attended a reception that included aristocratic refugees from France. Otherwise, they were not particularly interesting in these first five episodes. At least not to me.

What else can I say about Episodes One to Five of "POLDARK"? Not much. Both Ross and Demelza Poldark were not that particularly interesting in this adaptation of "The Black Moon". If I must be honest, these five episodes really belonged to characters like George and Elizabeth Warleggan, Drake Carne, Morwenna Chynoweth and Agatha Poldark. Although Episodes Four and Five featured what many would regard as a rousing adventure in revolutionary France, I found myself more fascinated by the family dramas and romances that permeated. Overall, I was satisfied. I enjoyed this adaptation of "The Black Moon" a lot more than I did Coburn and Barry's adaptation of "Warleggan" from two years ago.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

"THE BEGUILED" (2017) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "THE BEGUILED", the 2017 adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan's 1966 novel. Directed by Sofia Coppola, the movie starred Nicole Kidman, Colin Farrell and Kirsten Dunst: 

"THE BEGUILED" (2017) Photo Gallery

Tuesday, March 6, 2018



When I first learned that Universal Pictures planned to release an eighth film for its FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, a collective groan swelled within me. I was not in the mood for this franchise to continue. Hell, I was not in the mood for a seventh film, two years ago. And to be perfectly frank, I was not that impressed by that seventh film, "FURIOUS 7". In fact, I was willing to delay my viewing of this latest film, until it was released on DVD. However, a family member was determined to see "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" in the theaters. And . . . you can assume the rest. 

Directed by F. Gary Gray ("STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON"), "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" began with veteran street car racer Dominic ("Dom") Torretto and his wife, Letty Ortiz, enjoying their long-delayed honeymoon in Havana, Cuba. After winning a local street race, Dom is approached by an American woman named Cypher. It turns out that she is a cyberterrorist who has mysteriously coerced Dom into working for her. When Dom, Letty and their friends are recruited by Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) agent Luke Hobbs to help him retrieve an EMP device from a military outpost in Berlin, Dom betrays the others by stealing the device for Cypher. Hobbs is arrested and locked up in the same high-security prison he had helped imprison Deckard Shaw in "FURIOUS 7". Another character from the seventh film, After escaping, both are recruited by intelligence operative Frank Petty/Mr. Nobody and his protégé, Eric Reisner/Little Nobody, to help the team find Dom and capture Cipher.

"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" was not perfect. Like many other films in the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise, it was filled with silly dialogue and over-the-top machismo, thanks to the characters portrayed by Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham. Now, I realize that the franchise originated with the theme of street car racing. But what is really necessary to start the movie off with a street race in Havana, Cuba? Perhaps I am being a killjoy, but I cannot help but feel that Dom Toretto is getting a touched too old to be competing in street races. I am also curious about another matter. Is Dom of Italian descent, Spanish descent or both? Because I was surprised to learn that he and Letty were visiting his cousin in Cuba. Cuba?

There were other aspects of the film that I either did not like or rubbed me the wrong way. One, the Elena Neves character portrayed by Elsa Pataky proved to be the plot device used by Cipher to blackmail Dom into assisting her. As it turned out, she and Dom had conceived a son before the events of "FAST AND FURIOUS 6". He never found out about the kid until this movie. Yet, the movie never revealed if Luke Hobbs had ever learned about the baby, considering he and Elena were partners at the DDS between the events of FAST AND FURIOUS 6" and "FURIOUS 7". Frankly, I am confused. Speaking of the DDS, have Dom, Letty and the others become private contractors for the DDS? I was surprised that Hobbs had automatically recruited the group to help him steal that EMP device in Berlin without offering them something in return. 

Otherwise, "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" turned out to be a pretty decent movie. I was more impressed by it than the previous film. Chris Morgan really stepped up his game by creating a surprisingly original tale in which Dom found himself opposing his friends . . . against his will. This twist in the narrative not only provided something new in the franchise, but also dialed down the machismo aspect of the Dom Toretto character and made him a more ambiguous character . . . well, at least until the film's last act.

One cannot talk about a FAST AND FURIOUS movie without bringing up the topic of action sequences. And "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" featured some pretty first-rate action sequences. Mind you, I was not that impressed with the Havana street race and the Berlin sequence. But I did enjoy the movie's final action sequence in Russia in which Letty, Roman and the others attempt to stop Cipher and Dom from disabling and hijacking a nuclear submarine to trigger a nuclear war. I also enjoyed how Morgan interacted this sequence with Deckard and Owen Shaw's attempt to save Dom's son from Cipher. But for me, the best action sequence occurred in New York City where Letty, Roman and the others try to stop Dom and Cipher from stealing a Nuclear football from the visiting Russian Minister of Defence. If I must be honest, I found that particular sequence rather mind blowing and tense . . . especially since it was filmed on the streets of Manhattan and at the same time, Dom had to make an important contact with Magdalene Shaw behind Cipher's back. Director F. Gary Gray really outdid himself in this particular sequence.

Earlier, I had expressed my contempt toward the air of machismo featured in "THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS". That contempt still stands and it was really rampant in a few scenes featuring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson and Jason Stratham. This was especially apparent in the Havana street car sequence and the scene that featured Shaw's attempt to escape from prison and Hobbs' attempt to stop him. Thankfully, the machismo level in "THE FATE AND THE FURIOUS" was few and far between. All three actors - especially Diesel - managed to prove that yes . . . they can be first-rate actors when given the chance. For Johnson, this was especially apparent in a scene in which Luke Hobbs was torn between being with his daughter during her soccer match and embarking upon a mission for the DDS. Stratham proved that his Deckard Shaw is more than just a macho man in his scenes with Luke Evans, as he played big brother to Evans' younger brother. And in the same sequence, he proved to be both funny and tender as his character rescued Dom's son from Cipher's clutches. As for Diesel, his character's situation - being blackmailed by the main villain - allowed the actor to prove that he can give a subtle and skillful performance. And aside from a few scenes, his Dom seemed like a . . . well, like a complex human being. I have to give kudos to Michelle Rodriguez for her emotional performance as Letty Ortiz-Toretto, who is torn between her confusion over her husband's behavior and her determination to get him back. 

There were other performances that impressed me. Charlize Theron really impressed me by her portrayal of the villainous Cipher. I thought she skillfully conveyed Cipher's manipulative and cold-blooded personality with great ease. I regard Theron's Cipher as among the best villains in a franchise filled with first-rate villains. I was upset to see that screenwriter Chris Morgan had continued his portrayal of the Roman Pearce character as the franchise's clown. I just recently watched 2003's "2 FAST AND 2 FURIOUS"and found myself longing for that younger Roman, who was verbose, impulsive and belligerent at times, but certainly not a clown. And yet, Tyrese Gibson went on to prove that despite Morgan's depiction of his character, he was still the best actor among the franchise's long-standing cast. Once again, Kurt Russell provided a much-needed sense of sharp wit and class when he reprised his role as government honcho Frank Petty aka Mr. Nobody. 

Despite the fact that her character had been used as nothing more than a plot devise, I have to give kudos to Elsa Pataky for giving an emotionally satisfying performance as Dom's former lover, Rio cop-turned-DDS agent, Elena Neves. Helen Mirren provided a good deal of sharp humor as the Shaw brothers' domineering mother, Magdalene Shaw. The movie also featured satisfying performances from Chris Bridges and Nathalie Emmanuel as Tej Parker and Ramsey (from "FURIOUS 7"), Luke Evans as Owen Shaw, and also Scott Eastwood, who portrayed Eric Reisner aka Little Nobody, Agent Petty's assistant. Speaking of Mr. Eastwood, I was surprised that he and Gibson managed to create this . . . interesting and rather funny screen team during the film. I mean . . . it took me completely by surprise. And if you look real sharp, you just might spot both Tego Calderón and Don Omar as Tego Leo and Rico Santo, last seen in 2011's "FAST FIVE".

"THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS" is not perfect. There were scenes and some dialogue that I found somewhat off-putting. And if I must be honest, I found myself missing the late Paul Walker. I found it odd that the Luke Hobbs character was able to recruit Dom and his friends for a mission that really had nothing to do with them. But I must admit that I really enjoyed the story created by Chris Morgan. Like "FAST FIVE", it went beyond the franchise's usual shtick of the later films. And thanks to F. Gary Gray, it also featured at least two or three first-rate action sequences and surprisingly excellent performances from a cast led by Vin Diesel. Personally, I thought it was one of the franchise's better films.

Monday, March 5, 2018

"THE CHISHOLMS" (1979): Chapter III Commentary

thechisholms 3.1

"THE CHISHOLMS" (1979): CHAPTER III Commentary

Chapter II of the 1979 miniseries, "THE CHISHOLMS" focused on the second leg of the western Virginia family's westbound journey to California in 1844. This last episode focused on their journey through Illinois and Missouri, culminating in their arrival in Independence, Missouri. Chapter III focused on the family's trek along the eastern half of the Oregon Trail, culminating with an unwanted encounter on the plains. 

A great deal had happened to the Chisholm family in Chapter II. Their traveling companion, Lester Hackett, managed to seduce Hadley and Minerva Chisholm's older daughter Bonnie Sue and later, steal Will Chisholm's horse in an effort to evade a group of men who suspected him of stealing some items of their friend. Will and the family's second son, Gideon broke away from the family outside St. Louis and headed for Lester's family farm in Iowa. The pair was eventually arrested for trespassing on the Hackett farm and forced to spend one month on a prison work gang. The other members of the Chisholm family encountered a family from Baltimore, Maryland named Comyns and formed a wagon party with them. Following their arrival in Independence, the family discovered that most of the wagon trains had set out on the Oregon Trail over a month ago. The two families encountered a former Army scout named Timothy Oates, who asked if he and his Pawnee wife could accompany them as far as present-day Nebraska. Unaware that Will and Gideon had been detained in Iowa, the Chisholms and their traveling companions continued their western trek.

Despite being a month behind and two missing members of the family, the Chisholms' western trek seemed to be going well. For once, Hadley has managed to contain his prejudice against Native Americans and regard Timothy's Pawnee wife, Youngest Daughter, in an affable light. The youngest member of the Chisholm family, Annabel, has managed to click rather well with the Oates. However, it was not long before the travelers encountered their first barrier on the trail. After their first river crossing (possibly the Wakarusa River), they encounter a family named Hutchinson. When the family's patriarch informed the travelers that he and his family were returning east due to a mysterious fever striking their wagon party, Mr. Comyns decided to do the same. The youngest member of his family happened to be an infant and he did not want to risk the child becoming sick. The Chisholm family continued their western trek in the company of Timothy and Youngest Daughter Oates. They first encountered the very wagon train that the Hutchinson family had abandoned. Unfortunately, members of that wagon train were still stricken by the fever. The traveling party then encountered two Kansa couples traveling on foot, with whom they traded coffee for butter. Timothy hid his wife inside the Chisholms' wagon, due to the Pawnee and the Kansa being at war. Eventually, the Chisholms said good-bye to Timothy and Youngest Daughter, who continued on to the latter's Pawnee village. And the Chisholms continued their California-bound trek.

Ten or fifteen minutes into the episode, Will and Gideon were finally released from the prison work gang after thirty days. The pair stumbled across a ramshackle cabin in Missouri, where they found dead bodies, a wrecked interior and a traumatized Native American woman who seemed to have been assaulted. Will managed to convince her to accompany them as far as Independence for medical attention. The Chisholm brothers finally discovered the tavern where Hadley and Beau had first met Timothy Oates. The bartender informed them that the other Chisholms had already continued west. The pair also learned that their traveling companion was named Keewedinok and she wanted to accompany the two brothers on their journey. Meanwhile, back on the trail, Beau managed to shoot a buffalo, allowing the Chisholms to enjoy a meal with bison meat for the first time. Unbeknownst to them, a Pawnee warrior had spotted them and raced back to his companions to report their presence. The Pawnees hold a campfire before deciding to raid the Chisholm camp for the family's mules and the women. The episode ended with Bonnie Sue becoming the first family member targeted by the Pawnee raiders.

I felt as if I experiencing an oncoming train wreck, while watching Chapter III. This is no negative reflection on the miniseries' writing. The train wreck I was referring to were the series of decisions and bad luck that led to the episode's last moment - the Pawnee raiders' attack upon the Chisholms. To be honest, this series of bad luck and questionable decisions began when the family discovered they had set out for California a month late in Chapter I and continued in Chapter II. But the series of small disasters that the Chisholms experienced in Chapter III seemed to form a crescendo, until it ended with a pay off that culminated in a disaster.

Although the previous two episodes featured decisions made by Hadley Chisholm that led to that disastrous moment in the final scene of Chapter III, screenwriter David Dortort did a great job in building up to that moment with a series of memorable scenes. For me, the one most dramatic scenes included the Chisholms' encounter with the fever-infected wagon train. This led to Hadley and Minerva's last quarrel over whether they should continue west to California or turn back. I also enjoyed the Chisholms and the Oates' encounter with the two Kansa couples. It featured an interesting mixture of comedy surrounding the Chisholms' efforts to trade with the two couples; and dramatic tension over Timothy's effort to Younger Daughter from the Kansa, due to a war between the two tribes.

Viewers got a chance to experience the beginning of Will and Gideon's adventures on the road as they struggle to catch up with their family, following their release from the prison work gang. The miniseries never really indicated on whether they had met the widowed Keewedinok in Iowa or Missouri. But I cannot deny that Dortort did a great job in detailing the brothers' budding relationship with her. I especially enjoyed how the pair, especially Will, went out of his way reassure Keewedinok that he and Gideon will not harm her with a soothing manner. Another interesting aspect about this scene was the brothers' discussion on who was behind the attack on the cabin. When Will speculated on the idea of hostile Native Americans in that part of the world (Iowa or Missouri, circa 1844), Gideon responded with an even more interesting suggestion that whites may have been behind the attack that left a traumatized Keewedinok as the sole survivor. Although Will managed to convince Keewedinok to accompany him and Gideon, she barely spoke a word during their journey. She finally spoke up at an Independence saloon, where she revealed her name and asked Will if she could accompany the brothers further west.

One of the most interesting scenes in both this episode and the entire miniseries proved to be the conference between the four (or three) Pawnee braves who had targeted the Chisholms for a raid. Frankly, it happened to be one of the funniest scenes in the series as the Pawnees debated over the Chisholms' valuable belongings. They also debated over who would lead the prayer for a successful raid. One particular brave seemed to be rather annoyed when the youngest Pawnee kept erroneously praying for horses, when it had already been established that the Virginia family only had mules. It seems odd to think that this rather humorous scene occurred right before they made their first strike at the end of the episode.

As usual, the performances featured in this episode of "THE CHISHOLMS" were top-notch. Solid performances from the likes of Stacy Nelkin, James Van Patten and Susan Swift, who portrayed the younger members of the Chisholm family. The episode also featured solid performances from the likes of Silvana Gallardo (whom I remembered from NBC's "CENTENNIAL"), Tenaya Torres, Joe "Running Fox" Garcia, Ronald G. Joseph, Don Shanks and Jerry Hardin. I rather enjoyed Geno Silva's entertaining performance as an Osage man named Ferocious Storm, who proved to be quite a canny trader when the Chisholms and the Oates made their river crossing. Another performance that caught my eye came from none other than Billy Drago, who portrayed Teetonkah, the leader of the four Pawnee raiders. Eight years before his appearance in the 1987 movie, "THE UNTOUCHABLES", Drago made it clear in this production that he would become a screen presence that many would not forget. David Hayward proved to be both solid and charismatic as the dependable former Army scout, Timothy Oates. Hayward did a great job in conveying Timothy's competence as a guide . . . to the point that his departure from the story was clearly felt when the character and the latter's wife parted from the Chisholms on the Nebraska plains.

Both Ben Murphy and Brian Kerwin finally got the chance to develop a solid screen chemistry when their two characters - brothers Will and Gideon Chisholm - were released from the prison work gang. I especially enjoyed their performances in one scene that featured Will and Gideon's discovery of the traumatized Keewedinok and their speculation on whether Native Americans or whites were responsible for assaulting her and killing the ransacked cabin's other inhabitants. Speaking of Keewedinok, I thought Sandra Griego gave an excellent portrayal of a woman dealing with the trauma of being assaulted. Griego managed to perfectly convey Keewedinok's state of mind without any acting histronics. She also formed a very good chemistry with Murphy. As for the miniseries' two leads - Robert Preston and Rosemary Harris - they were outstanding as usual. However, there were two scenes featuring the veterans in which I thought they truly shined. The first was a small scene that featured Hadley and Minerva enjoy a brief private conversation together (which included Minerva's astonishment at the different languages spoken by various Plains tribes) that led to more intimate nocturnal activities. Both Preston and Harris were at their most charming in this scene. I also enjoyed their acting in another scene that featured a brief quarrel between the couple over whether to continue west or not, following the family's encounter with the fever-induced wagon train.

I did have a few quibbles regarding Chapter III. One, the passage of time struck me as rather vague. In fact, the passage of time for this production has been vague since the last half hour of Chapter I. The miniseries revealed that the Chisholms had arrived in Louisville, Kentucky in mid-May 1844. As of the end of Chapter III, I have no idea how much time had passed since their departure from Louisville. All I know is that Will and Gideon are probably a little over a month behind the rest of the family, thanks to their month long sentence on an Iowa prison work gang. I also had two problems regarding the episode's photography. For some reason, cinematographer Jacques R. Marquette thought it was necessary to film this episode in earth tones, due to the Chisholms traveling west of Independence. I found this unnecessary, considering that the landscape in eastern Kansas and Nebraska is green and the Chisholms had yet to travel that far west. Also, unlike the production's first two chapters, I noticed that this chapter's photography not only did not seem that colorful, but also not that sharp. I get the feeling that whoever transferred this miniseries to DVD did not bother improve the visuals for this episode.

Quibbles or not, Chapter III of "THE CHISHOLMS" proved to be both entertaining and very interesting. The episode featured a major shift in the Chisholms' western journey, the addition of new characters and dangers. Chapter III also featured some excellent performances, especially by the leads Robert Preston, Rosemary Harris and Ben Murphy and a series of interesting scenes that led to the episode's cliffhanger.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

"JUSTICE LEAGUE" (2013) Photo Gallery

Below are images from "JUSTICE LEAGUE", the fifth entry in the DCEU franchise. Directed by Zack Snyder, the movie starred Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot and Henry Cavill: 

"JUSTICE LEAGUE" (2013) Photo Gallery










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