Friday, December 30, 2011

"UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS" (2010) Series One Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS", the updated version of the old BBC television series. The series stars Jean Marsh, Keeley Hawes, Ed Stoppard, Claire Foy and Eileen Atkins: 


"UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS" (2010) SERIES ONE Photo Gallery

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Keeley Hawes in Upstairs Downstairs 2011


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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"West to Laramie" [PG] - 4/4



Part 4 – The conclusion of a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.


"WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 4

May 10, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

How is your family? You should receive the last letter I had written to you from Fort Kearny with a few weeks. But so much has happened that I decided to write another.

Since leaving the Fort, the trip has become even more miserable. The weather remains hot and windy. A pale-colored dust called alkali continues to blow in our faces. Gnats take every opportunity to bite us. And we still have to contend with the constant verbosity of Mr. Hornbottom. The gambler, Mr. McEvers, once asked him to stop talking. Mr. Hornbottom actually managed to do so for one hour.

We have stopped at least two of these home stations where we ate and rested, while the horses were being changed. We have slept at three of these stations since the beginning of our trip. What wretched hives they have turned out to be! The beds barely seemed stable and are infested with bugs. The meals usually consisted of rancid meat (usually bacon) and fried corn dodgers. However, at least one of these home stations did provide satisfactory service. But I do find myself longing for Fort Kearny or anywhere east of Kansas.

At the first home station west of Fort Kearny, a Mr. William Duff joined our stagecoach. A former trapper and wagon train guide, he plans to head for Virginia City and prospect for silver in the Nevada mines. To our surprise, he turned out to be an old friend of Mr. Wright, the shotgun rider. Mr. Duff spent his first day riding with Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright on top. The following day, he switched places with Captain Pearson (thank goodness). He turned out to be a lively companion. Unfortunately, he also possesses an offensive body odor. Practically everyone inside the coach had no choice but to cover their noses with handkerchiefs in order to breath.

Two days following our departure from Kearny, we had encountered a ferocious thunderstorm. Mr. McEvers’ mistress went into hysterics and at one point, opened the door and tried to jump out of the coach. Fortunately, Mr. McEvers and Captain Pearson (who had rejoined us inside) managed to settle her back into her seat. It seems the ”lady” has a fear of thunderstorms dating from an incident during childhood. Before the storm finally subsided, the coach had found itself stuck in a quagmire of mud. We were forced to step outside and endure the last twenty minutes of the storm, while the men attempted to pry the coach loose. One of those Pony Express riders, a skinny young fellow with lanky brown hair and buckskins, stopped to offer his help. He and the other men finally managed to pry the coach loose from the mud after the storm subsided.

We reached another home station for a supper break within a few hours. Horrid as usual. The place – or more accurately, hovel – looked as if it could barely remain erect. The landscape looked flat and desolate. The stationmaster, a morose fellow with missing teeth, spent most of his time grunting orders to his two colored workers. His wife, an overweight slattern, prepared overcooked beans, bacon and greasy corn dodgers. Unfortunately for Mrs. Middleton, she found the meal unsettling and had to rush outside before her food could come back up. Later that evening, I had walked around the station for some fresh air in my own attempt to recover from the meal. One of the colored handymen, a tall fellow in his mid-thirties made lewd advances toward me. The other handyman, the only decent person on that station, attempted to intervene on my behalf. Before this gallant man could do so, I came to my own defense and let the lecherous pest know that I was the wrong woman to fool around with. There is nothing, I believe, like a good kick below the belt to teach a person a valuable lesson.

The next day, we passed the first of rock formations on this trail – Courthouse Rock. I swear Elizabeth, it looked as if it had been constructed by man himself. Mr. Hornbottom claimed that it strongly resembled the old courthouse in St. Louis. Our coach has now stopped near another monument called . This formation bears a strong resemblance to a large, craggy tower twisting toward the sky. The reason I am able to write this letter is that we have come across a band of Indians traveling from the south. At first sight, Mr. McEvers drew out his revolver in order to shoot. But Mr. Duff stopped this act of folly in time. According to the former trapper, the Indians had given a sign of peace.

There are five of them – three men and two women. Two of the men are tall. All are muscular and gaunt-looking. They wear muslin shirts and buckskin trousers or leggings colorfully decorated with beads. The women, who are attractive, wear doeskin dresses decorated with tassels and a wide ornamental belt. According to Mr. Duff, they belong to the Ogalalla Sioux tribe. All five are on horseback and on their way to Fort Laramie. The coach stopped in order to allow Mr. Duff to converse with the newcomers. He informed us that the Indians have asked to accompany the coach to Laramie. Mr. McEvers, his mistress Lucy and Mr. Hornbottom have all objected. Captain Pearson remained silent and both Mr. Kolp and Mr. Wright have given their consent.

In a few minutes, we shall resume our journey. The traveling party now consists of five Ogalalla Sioux Indians and the usual and now nervous passengers. I have no idea how Mrs. Middleton feels about our new companions. Personally, I see no reason for us to be apprehensive. The Sioux seem friendly and there are only five of them. As for the others, it never fails to surprise me how some people can be so easily frightened by the presence of others considered different. Some things never change. Good-bye for now. You shall hear from me, once we reach Fort Laramie.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North


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May 14, 1860

Mrs. Adalaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Addie,

This journey has been the most tedious and uncomfortable I have ever experienced. Except for the last day. I hope that I will never have to endure what I had experienced yesterday. All I can say is thank goodness it will be a while before Patricia and I will resume our journey back East.

Four days ago, a small group of Sioux Indians had joined our coach near an earth formation called Chimney Rock to travel with to Laramie. Personally, I found them to be a barbarous and colorful group. After our journey had resumed, we passed an imposing rock formation called Scott’s Bluff. I have never seen anything like this for it resembled a walled city.

Fifty miles later, we came upon another home station. Thankfully, this station – like a previous one we had encountered nearly a week ago – not only served decent meals, but had a stoic man named Fox and his family as competent stationmasters. If only other home stations along the route could be this satisfactory. Mr. Fox warned us to be on the lookout for a band of outlaws operating in the area. I do not believe that any of us had bothered to pay attention to his warning. We were more apprehensive of our red companions.

Around noon, the following day, the three male Indians went ahead to hunt for game and left their two women behind with us. Mr. McEvers began spouting that the men had left to ”fetch their red brethren in order to massacre the lot of us”. Both Mr. Duff and Mr. Wright scoffed at the idea, pointing out that the Sioux had left behind their women. However, the rest of the passengers and I agree with Mr. McEvers – Patricia being the exception. She regarded the rest of us with scorn, but remained silent. The coach ended up being attacked after all. Thirty minutes after the Sioux men left, the very outlaws that Mr. Fox had warned us about, swooped upon the stagecoach from an isolated patch of woods, situated below a low ridge. Within minutes, they had rifles trained on us.

They were nine outlaws. Their leader, a shifty-eyed short man on a bay roan ordered two of his men to grab the Sioux women - ”for some fun later”, he had remarked. His words made my blood chill thinking of the fate of those poor women. The leader then ordered our men to throw down their weapons. As Mr. Hornbottom started to comply, three shots rang out, killing three of the bandits. The outlaws became confused as more shots followed. Another bandit fell dead. Ahead, the three Sioux men galloped toward us, releasing horrendous war cries. The bandits attempted to escape the red men’s attack, but our men took the opportunity to join in the fray. Both Captain Pearson and Mr. Duff managed to climb out of the coach, while bullets flew in all directions. We women did our best to remain out of the line of fire by crouching in our seats. Rather difficult to accomplish in full skirts One bandit aimed his rifle at Patricia, when Captain Pearson blocked his line of fire and received a bullet in the temple. Both Patricia and myself found ourselves in a state of shock when we realized that the Army officer had given his life to save hers.

Less than eight minutes later, the gun battle finally ceased. One of the bandits managed to escape. Two other bandits fell dead – including the leader. Another two became our prisoners. One prisoner turned out to be the very fellow who had killed Captain Pearson. He was seriously injured. One of the Sioux women had been injured in the shoulder. Mr. Wright and Mr. Duff slung Captain Pearson’s body over a horse and tied the latter behind the coach. We resumed our journey until we came upon another home station. There, Captain Pearson’s killer died. And the good captain’s body was buried.

Patricia and I are still in shock over Captain Pearson’s sacrifice. Perhaps both of us should have realized that he had been the type who would defend anyone he felt it was his duty to do so – despite any bigotry on his part. This reminded me of those brave Sioux Indians who had come to our rescue. How ironic! We had been so concerned with their presence that we did not take heed of Mr. Fox’s warning about the outlaws. And the Sioux turned out to be our rescuers.

It took us eighteen hours upon leaving the last home station to reach Fort Laramie. Both Robert and Penelope were at the stage depot to greet us. The wounded Indian woman went to the infirmary and Mr. Kolp informed the fort’s commander about Captain Pearson’s death and the location of his body. The remaining outlaw was arrested by troopers and sent to the jailhouse. I can only assume that he will swing from a rope within a few days for his part in the attempted robbery and the captain’s death. Some officer offered the Army’s appreciation to the Sioux for their rescue. Yet, he seemed to be rather cool about it – as if he did not want to forget that he considered them his enemies. I also detected this attitude amongst the other military personnel – including Robert, I am sorry to say. Patricia, myself and the other passengers were more appreciative toward our rescuers. They had saved our hides, after all.

Three new passengers boarded the stagecoach, while Patricia, Mr. Hornbottom and I said our good-byes to the remaining travelers. As the coach resumed its journey west, Patricia turned around and remarked that it seemed a shame there was no chance of a railroad being built in time for our trip back east. Both Robert and Penelope merely treated her remark as a joke. I believe Patricia was being serious. I certainly felt the same.

Dearest Addie! The West is such a complex place. Yes, it has its physical beauties. But it so different and stark . . . so incredibly harsh in compare to the East. It is beyond my understanding. Why on earth would anyone want to settle here? There is still good farmland back East. My love to you and Harold and I hope to see you again by early September.

I love you always,

Mother


THE END

Monday, December 26, 2011

"HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY" (1984) Review



Seven months ago, I had posted a gallery featuring screencaps from the 1984 television movie, "HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY". Below is my review of that movie:


"HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY" (1984) Review

Years ago, I had come across a television movie, at my local video store, about a 19th African-American who found himself kidnapped into slavery. Being a history nut about 19th century America, I decided to check it out. The movie turned out to be 1984's "HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY".

Directed by photographer Gordon Parks, "SOLOMON NORTHRUP'S ODYSSEY" told the story of an African-American carpenter and musician from Saratoga Springs, New York named Solomon Northrup. Because of his reputation as a skilled violinist, he attracts the attention of two men calling themselves Merrill Brown and Abram Hamilton. They claimed that they wanted to hire Solomon to play his fiddle in a circus in Washington, D.C., for the rate of one dollar per day and three dollars per musical performance. This was considered a good wage in 1841 Believing the trip to be short, Solomon decides not to notify his wife, Anne. Unfortunately, not long after his arrival in the nation's capital, Solomon is drugged and sold to a slave dealer named Jim Birch. At Birch's slave market, Solomon is beaten by Birch in an attempt to coerce the former into accepting his new name of Platt. He also meets a Virginia-born slave named Jenny, with whom he strikes up an immediate friendship. And during the sea journey to Louisiana, he meets another female slave named Eliza and her children during a stopover in Norfolk. Upon their arrival in New Orleans, all three are sold to a planter named Thomas Ford. After two years at Ford's plantation, Solomon has a violent encounter with one of the planter's white employees and is sold to a second owner, a self-made planter named Edward Epps. Solomon spends another nine-and-a-half years at Epps' plantation until his meeting with a Canadian-born carpenter named Bass allows him to send a letter to Anne of his whereabouts. With the help of a childhood friend and son of his father's former owner, Henry Northup, Solomon is free and returns to his family in Saratoga Springs.

I really did not know how I would react to "SOLOMON NORTHRUP'S ODYSSEY" when I first saw it so many years ago. After all, the movie had not been directed by someone from the established Hollywood community or from any of the film industries overseas. Gordon Parks was a well-established photographer who had worked for "LIFE" magazine and a documentary director, before turning his attention to directing films. And before "SOLOMON NORTHRUP'S ODYSSEY", he had only directed eight films, his most successful being the 1971 movie "SHAFT". I must admit that Parks did a first-rate job in his direction of the movie, but I would not go as far to say that it was perfect.

First of all, I wish that Parks had managed to curtail some of leading man Avery Brooks’ penchant for theatrical acting. I realize that "SOLOMON NORTHRUP'S ODYSSEY" was the actor’s first job in screen acting, but traces of hammy acting – a leftover from years of success on the stage – remained in his performance. Come to think of it, I could say the same about a handful of cast members in minor roles, including Janet League as Eliza, the slave mother who ended up losing her children during the journey to Louisiana and eventually, her mind. I had no problems with the movie's slow pacing, which I felt perfectly reflected its setting of antebellum Louisiana circa 1841-53. But there were times when the pacing threatened to slow down to a halt, especially in scenes that featured montages of Solomon's duties on the Epps plantation.

Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad. Between Parks' direction and Hiro Narita's photography, "SOLOMON NORTHRUP'S ODYSSEY" reeked with the semi-tropical setting of central Louisiana. The Southern Georgia locations that stood in for the area surrounding the Ford and Epps plantations radiated with a natural beauty and a lush green that nearly took my breath away. Yet, the photography also conveyed how the setting served as a physical prison for the outsider from New York. I noticed that Parks was billed as the composer for the movie's score. Quite frankly, I did not find it memorable. However, I did enjoy Parks' use of 19th century music throughout the movie and especially in the opening scene that featured a social dance in Saratoga Springs. Most importantly, Parks did an excellent job in guiding television viewers into the world of antebellum United States and Solomon Northup's journey from freedom in New York, to the slave marts of Washington D.C. and New Orleans, and eventually the slave plantations of Louisiana.

I was also impressed by the screenplay written by Lou Potter and Samm-Art Williams. I have never read Solomon Northup's 1853 autobiography. But it would not be difficult for me to assume that the movie was an exact adaptation of his memoirs. After all, we are dealing with a movie based upon historical facts, not a documentary. However, Potter and Williams did an excellent job in capturing the shock, despair and eventual resignation of Solomon's experiences and situation. They also captured the conflicting and chaotic nature that had an impact upon all of those who participated in American slavery - willingly or not.

One aspect of Potter and Williams' script that I found especially fascinating was how they pointed out how slavery enabled those trapped in the system to use others as scapegoats for their frustrations and anger. A good example of this is the strange relationship between Solomon's second master and the latter's wife, Mr. and Mrs. Epps, the Virginia-born slave Jenny and Solomon. Mr. Epps was a self-made man from the working class, who married a woman from the old planter aristocracy. However, this marriage failed to lessen his insecurities about his origins and his fears that his wife might view him as inferior being. Because of his inferiority complex, he preferred the company of Jenny, the Virginia-born slave with whom Solomon had a brief romance during their time on the Ford plantation. His preference for Jenny (who yearned for Solomon) made him jealous of the New Yorker. However, Mrs. Epps genuinely loved her husband and harbored jealousy toward Jenny. And Solomon harbored jealousy and frustration toward Jenny's relationship with their master. The interesting thing about this love triangle/quadrangle was that Mr. Epps vented his jealousy upon Solomon; and both Mrs. Epps and Solomon used Jenny as a scapegoat for their anger toward Mr. Epps. And poor Jenny ended up as a sexual victim of Mr. Epps, and a scapegoat of both Solomon and Mrs. Epps' anger and frustration.

Despite Avery Brooks' occasional forays into theatrical acting, I must admit that I found his movie/television debut to be very impressive. He did a great job in conveying his character's emotional journey in what must have been a traumatic period and end in the end, earned well-deserved praise from the critics. I was also impressed by Rhetta Greene's complex portrayal of Jenny, the slave caught between her love for Solomon and her master's desire. Both John Saxon and Lee Bryant were excellent as Mr. and Mrs. Epps, who added a great deal of ambiguity into roles that could have easily been a portrait of one-dimensional villainy - especially Saxon's role. Joe Seneca gave an interesting role as Noah, the elderly slave who tried to guide Solomon into establishing relationship with their fellow slaves and remind the latter of the difficulties in escaping from central Louisiana. Art Evans provided amusing comic relief as Harry, a slave and Solomon's fawning close friend. Petronia Paley gave a solid performance as Solomon's wife, Anne, who was beset with worry and frustration over her missing husband. And Mason Adams' portrayal of Mr. Ford, Solomon's first master, was an interesting contrast between a genuinely decent man, and a no-nonsense slave master was not above issuing veiled threats whenever he felt they were needed.

Yes, "HALF SLAVE, HALF FREE: SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY" had a few flaws that include the occasional slow pacing and hammy acting from a few members of the cast (including the leading man). But the movie is a well made and fascinating look into the experiences of a free man who found himself trapped into the institution of 19th century slavery. Director Gordon Parks and star Avery Brooks proved to be the driving force in a first-rate movie that was at times entertaining, horrifying, educational and especially poignant. "SOLOMON NORTHUP'S ODYSSEY" might prove to be hard to find. I would recommend Netflix or Amazon. But in the end, the movie is worth the search. I assure you.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"THE IDES OF MARCH" (2011) Review




"THE IDES OF MARCH" (2011) Review

While watching George Clooney's recent political thriller, "THE IDES OF MARCH", it occurred to me that two-and-a-half years have passed since I last watched a movie about politicians . . . inside a movie theater. It also led me to wonder if Hollywood has become increasingly reluctant to make movies about politicians. It would be a shame if that were truth. Because I believe the studios need to release more movies about them.

On the other hand, I am grateful to Clooney for directing, co-producing and co-writing "THE IDES OF MARCH", an adaptation of co-writer Beau Willimon's 2008 play called "FARRAGUT NORTH". The movie is about Stephen Meyers, an idealistic junior campaign manager for Democratic presidential candidate, Governor Mike Morris of Pennsylvania, and his crash course on the brutal realities of politics on the campaign trail in Southern Ohio. His life and role in Governor Morris' presidential campaign is threatened when Tom Duffy, the senior campaign manager of Governor Morris' Democratic rival, Arkansas Senator Ted Pullman, offers him a job. Unfortunately for Meyers, his boss, Governor Morris' senior campaign manager, Paul Zara learns about the job offer. Complicating Meyers' situation is his romance with one of the campaign interns and daughter of the Democratic National Committee chairman, Molly Stearns, leads him to discover about her one night liaison with Governor Morris and her eventual pregnancy.

On paper, "THE IDES OF MARCH" looks and reads like a lurid melodrama with political overtones. But I believe the movie revealed to be a lot more. This is just a theory, but I believe that "THE IDES OF MARCH" served as a warning for those who tend to look toward politicians as saviors or leaders who can solve the problems of society. At the beginning of "THE IDES OF MARCH", Stephen Meyers is a sharp and canny political campaigner. He has seen enough of the world to be somewhat jaded. But he is still young enough at age thirty to believe that one man can change his world for the better. And in his mind, that man is Michael Morris. But his own ambitions for a career as a political adviser and the revelation of Morris' brief affair with Molly Stearns forces Meyers to grow up . . . in a most painful way. Considering the methods that he used in an effort to save his career, one might view Stearns' loss of idealism with a negative eye. Or one might now. Personally, I believe that loss turned out to be a mixture of good and bad for Stearns.

"THE IDES OF MARCH" received a good deal of positive reviews from many of the media's critics. Did the movie deserve the positive word-of-mouth? I believe so. I really enjoyed the story. And I believe that Clooney, Willimon and the third co-writer, Grant Heslov, did an excellent job of conveying Stephen Meyers' final loss of innocence with plenty of melodrama (oh, that word!), tight pacing, political wheeling-dealing and plot twists. What is interesting about this movie is that all of the characters involved in the story are Democrats. There is no Republican or hard line conservative in sight. And I have to hand it to Clooney, Willimon and Heslov for being willing to show that in their own way, Democratic politicians and political wheeler-dealers could be just as dirty and manipulative as their Republican counterparts. Personally, I believe that this is a good lesson to learn that when it comes to the world of politics - and the media, for that matter - you cannot trust anyone, regardless of political suasion.

Clooney managed to gather a fine collection of actors and actresses for his movie. I do have one minor quibble about this . . . and it involves actress Jennifer Ehle, who portrayed Governor Morris' wife, Cindy Morris. I had no problem with her performance. But aside from a brief scene with Clooney in which the two discussed his future in the White House, she seemed wasted in this film. I almost found myself thinking the same about Jeffrey Wright, who portrayed a North Carolina senator, whose support both Democratic candidates sought. He only had brief scenes in the movie. But he made the most of it portraying Senator Thompson as an egotistical power seeker with great relish. Max Minghella gave a decent performance as Meyers' assistant who harbored ambitions to achieve the latter's position. Marisa Tomei gave a witty performance as a snarky New York Times reporter, whose attitude toward Meyers changes drastically by the end of the movie. The year 2011 seemed to be a busy year for Evan Rachel Wood. She returned in her third role this year to portray the young intern Molly Stearns. Wood did an excellent job in portraying the vulnerable and scared young woman behind the sexy temptress. Her description of Morris' seduction of Molly at an Iowa hotel left my skin crawling.

Both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti gave powerhouse performances as the two rival senior campaign managers, Paul Zara and Tom Duffy. Watching these two manipulate and trip up Meyers was like watching two warhorses showing the world how to give colorful performances. George Clooney's portrayal of Governor Mike Morris was a lot more restrained than Hoffman and Giamatti, but equally memorable as Democratic candidate, Michael Morris. Superficially, Clooney invested a great deal of subtle charm and idealism into the character. But I liked the way he slowly revealed the ambition and corruption behind the Mr. Smith persona. If anything, Clooney's Governor Morris reminded me of the numerous so-called ideally liberal politicians, who are revealed to be not only corrupt, but disappointing.

Despite the powerhouse appearances of veterans like Clooney, Giamatti, Hoffman, Wright and Tomei, the real star of "THE IDES OF MARCH" turned out to be Ryan Gosling. The ironic thing is that his portrayal of political campaign manager Stephen Meyers made Clooney's restrained performance look absolutely subtle. Yet, along with Clooney's direction, Gosling more or less managed to carry the movie. I am not saying this because Gosling is the star of the movie. In his quiet way, he managed to carry a film featured with more colorful performances from an older cast. More importantly, Gosling did an excellent job in quietly conveying Stephen Meyers from a savy, yet idealistic junior campaign manager to a harder and wiser politico who is willing to embrace corruption in order to save his career. I thought he gave a very impressive performance.

So far, "THE IDES OF MARCH" has earned accolades during this award season. It won an award at the Venice International Film Festival, was listed as one of the year's ten best films by the National Board of Review and earned four Golden Globe nominations, recently. I believe the movie deserve these accolades. Thanks to George Clooney's direction, the script and a talented cast led by Ryan Gosling, I was very impressed by it.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season One (2010) Photo Gallery



Below are images from the HBO series called "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". Produced by Terence Winter, Mark Wahlberg and Martin Scorcese, the series stars Steve Buscemi:


"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season One (2010) Photo Gallery











































Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Six "The Longhorns" Commentary





"CENTENNIAL" (1978-79) - Episode Six "The Longhorns" Commentary

After the bleak narrative of "The Massacre", the fifth episode of "CENTENNIAL", the following episode is almost a joy to watch. I can state with absolute certainty that "The Longhorns" is one of my favorite episodes of the series.

"The Massascre" ended with Englishman Oliver Seccombe's return to the West and his declaration to start a ranch in Northern Colorado on behalf of a major British investor, one Earl Venneford of Wye. Upon Levi Zendt's recommendation, Seccombe hires John Zimmerhorn, the son of the disgraced militia colonel, to acquire Longhorn cattle in Texas and drive them back to Colorado. Upon his arrival in Texas, John meets a Latino cook by the name of Ignacio "Nacho" Gomez, who recommends that he hired an experienced trail boss named R.J. Poteet to lead the cattle drive to Colorado. Poteet hires a few experienced hands such as ex-slave Nate Pearson, Mule Canby and an ex-thief named Mike Lassiter to serve as cowboys for the drive. He also hires a handful of inexperienced young hands that includes a sharpshooter named Amos Calendar and a former Confederate soldier from South Carolina named Bufe Coker. To avoid any encounters with Commanche raiders and ex-Confederate bandits from Kansas, Poteet suggests to John that they travel through a trail established by Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving that would take them through the Llano Estacado (Staked Plains) and New Mexico. Before leaving Texas, Poteet hires one last cowboy - one Jim Lloyd, who happens to be the 14 year-old son of his best friend who was killed during the Civil War.

One of things that I like about "The Longhorns" is that it is filled with characters trying to make a new start in life, following the chaos of war. Most, if not all, are outsiders. For example:

*Jim Lloyd is the only cowhand on the drive who is under the age of 16.

*John Skimmerhorn has to deal with the reverberations of his father's murderous actions in the last episode.

*"Nacho" Gomez is the only Latino and has to constantly deal with comments about his use of beans in his cooking.

*Nate Pearson is the only African-American on the drive and a former slave.

*Mike Lassiter is a former thief who uses the drive to clear his name and start a new life of respectability.

*Bufe Coker is the only Easterner (from South Carolina) with very little experiences in dealing with the West.

The ironic thing about "The Longhorns" is that instead of constant conflict between the cowboys, all of them managed to form a strong bond during the long drive between Texas and the Colorado Territory. This strong bond is formed through a series of shared experiences - battling the environment, Native American raiders and Kansas bandits; along with humorous stories around a campfire and sensible wisdom from the experienced hands. One of the episode's long-running joke are Lassiter and Canby's recollections of an eccentric named O.D. Cleaver. The drive not only introduced one of the miniseries' major characters, Jim Lloyd; but also the strong bond formed by the cowboys that would end up having consequences in future episodes.

If viewers are expecting "The Longhorns" to be a 90-minute version of the 1989 CBS miniseries, "LONESOME DOVE", they will be in for a disappointment. "The Longhorns" is basically a contribution to the narrative and history of "CENTENNIAL", not a major storyline. The relationships formed in the episode does have consequences on the story . . . but that is about it. I certainly did not expect it to be another "CENTENNIAL". In fact, I was too busy enjoying the episode to really care.

When I said that I enjoyed "The Longhorns", I was not joking. One, it featured one of my favorite themes in any story - long distance traveling. Two, I enjoyed watching the characters - major and minor - develop a strong camaraderie within the episode's 97-minute running time. And thanks to screenwriter John Wilder and director Virgil W. Vogel, the miniseries featured some strong characterizations, allowing many of the actors to shine. I wish I could pinpoint which performance really impressed me. This episode was filled with some strong performances. But if I had to be honest, the performances that really impressed me came from Dennis Weaver as the tough and pragmatic trail boss, R.J. Poteet; Michael St. Clair as the young Jim Lloyd who in a poignant scene, eventually realizes that he will never see Texas and his family again; Cliff De Young, who continued his solid performance as the very steady John Skimmerhorn; Glynn Turman as the warm, yet competent Nate Pearson; Greg Mullavey as the gregarious Mule Canby; Rafael Campos as the tough, yet friendly "Nacho" Campos; Les Lannom as the slightly caustic Bufe Coker who is also desperate to start a new life in the post-war West; Jesse Vint as soft-spoken, yet slightly intimidating Amos Calendar; Dennis Frimple as the enthusiastic, but odor-challenged Buck; and Scott Hylands, who gave a very entertaining performance as the verbose teller of tall tales, Mike Lassiter.

For an episode that is considered part of a miniseries called "CENTENNIAL", I found it interesting that it featured the setting in question in only two minor scenes. One of them featured the cowboys arrival in the vicinity of Centennial. The other and more important scene featured the continued feud between Seccombe and immigrant farmer Hans Brumbaugh. Both Timothy Dalton and Alex Karras played the hell out of this brief scene, reminding viewers that the hostility between the two is destined to spill over in a very ugly way.

What more can I say about "The Longhorns"? I loved it. I loved it when I first saw it and I still do. It featured long-distance traveling, strong characterizations and a strong, yet steady narrative. Both Virgil Vogel and John Wilder, along with the cast made this episode one of the most memorable in the entire miniseries.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

"West to Laramie" [PG] - 3/4



Part 3– The third part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.


"WEST TO LARAMIE”

Chapter 3


May 3, 1860

Mrs. Adelaide Taylor
231 Green Street
Philadelphia, PA

Dear Addie,

Patricia and I have arrived at this small prairie town in the Kansas Territory. Our coach stopped for a few minutes to retrieve mail and other packages. The sooner we are on our way, the better. Stagecoach travel has proved to be quite unbearable. You cannot imagine how I long to be at Fort Laramie by now. Being here in Kansas has reminded me of the violent outbreaks over slavery that has tainted this part of the country, recently. I fear that some Missouri border ruffians or Kansas Jayhawkers might descend upon our coach and harass us before we can leave the territory.

Addie my love, whoever said that stagecoach traveling would be comfortable was either the greatest charlatan on this earth or worse, a drunk. No reflection upon your brother, but we must remember that he has been blind with love for nearly a year. I should really listen to Patricia more often.

I must say that the land here in Kansas seem quite impressive – at least visually. The eastern part of the territory resembled Missouri with its green woods and expansive plains filled with tall grass that swayed like graceful dancers. Eventually, the land became flat as a pancake with hardly a stem of grass or flowers in sight. An occasional tree or prairie animal would break the monotony of the open wide spaces. Thank goodness for the bright orange that glows across the western skyline when the sun descends for the night.

Right now, I am sure you are asking - ”What is Mother complaining about?” Well, there is this series of elements that seem bent upon assaulting my face – namely the wind, dust, heat and insects. Rocks and other objects of this so-called “road” cause the coach to bump and sway over long periods of time. It had taken me nearly three hours to recover from a case of maldemere, after our departure from St. Joseph. The coach leaves very little room for passengers. There are only six of us, inside the vehicle – including three females who did not have the sense to don narrower skirts for this journey. Patricia and I have the best seats – right behind the front boot, facing backward. We can see the backs of two men seated in the coach’s most uncomfortable spots.

The passengers come from an extremely interesting selection of humanity. First, there is Mr. Atticus Hornbottom (trust me, I am not making this up), a whiskey drummer from St. Louis. This rotund and balding man wears a horrid checked suit and spends most of his time either talking about himself or snooping into the background of other passengers. He sells whiskey to various Army and trading posts throughout the Plains. He is also destined for Fort Laramie.

Another passenger happens to be Captain Jonas Pearson, an Army officer destined for Fort Hall, which is further west of Laramie. After Mr. Hornbottom managed to coerce that bit of information from him, the good Captain kept to himself. It took the subject of the violence here in Kansas raised by Mr. Hornbottom for Captain Pearson to finally speak again. He declared that the Jayhawkers were to blame for the troubles here in Kansas. This prompted Patricia to declare that the Missouri border men were also not exempt from blame. She also accused the bordermen of attempting to vote in a pro-slavery constitution by fraudulent means. The captain did not take kindly to such an outburst – especially from a colored woman. The two have been exchanging dark looks ever since. By the way, Captain Pearson hails from Georgia.

Sitting against the rear boot is a flashy-looking couple that consist of a gentleman (I use this word in the broadest sense) named Reese McEvers and an overdressed woman with gold curls named Lucy. By the look of his and dark hair slicked back with Madagascar oil, Mr. McEvers must be a professional gambler or a distributor of women’s favors. As for his golden-curled companion, Mr. McEvers claimed that she is his wife. Yet, I saw no wedding ring on her finger. Curious.

Our ”jehu” or driver is Mr. Kolp, a no-nonsense type who is all business. Every now and then, he encourages the horses on with cries of "Ha!” or ”Giddap there!”. Riding shotgun is a Mr. Harvey Wright, a former muleteer who is as talkative as Mr. Hornbottom. Unlike the whiskey-drummer, we rarely have the chance to listen to his talk. Except at way stations and stops such as this place. I would love to continue this letter, but we are about depart. Writing in a jostling stagecoach is virtually impossible. Give my love to Harold for me.

I love you always,

Mother

P.S. I will write another letter when we reach Fort Kearny, near the Platte River.


=====================================================


May 6, 1860

Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Falmouth, MA

Dear Cousin Elizabeth,

We have finally reached Fort Kearny in the Nebraska Territory late this afternoon and will not depart until tomorrow, due to certain complications. The coach’s left axle wheel (or whatever) was in danger of loosening. Mr. Kolp, our driver, ordered us out of the coach and we were forced to walk the last twelve miles to the fort. Once inside, Mr. Kolp informed us that the axle should be repaired by tomorrow morning.

Both Mrs. Middleton and I were at first relieved to be outside that stuffy coach. Sitting inside with four other passengers became quite unbearable. The prairie winds had covered everyone’s faces with layers of dust. Do you remember that Army captain from Georgia that I had written about in my last letter? Well, I find it amusing that the captain’s face now closely resembles mine. What delicious irony. But after walking eight miles, we found ourselves missing that coach a great deal. My pair of sturdy was nearly ruined by the time we reached the fort.

Fort Kearny is one of the many forts that station the Army’s First Calvary (the same regiment that Robert Middleton serve) on the Great Plains. Named after Philip Kearney, a Mexican War army officer, it is situated near the Platte River. And what a dismal looking body of water the Platte is! The Missouri and Ohio Rivers are beautiful and even the Mississippi River possesses a certain magnificence. But the Platte? Good Lord! I have never looked upon a more turgid stream of water in my life.

The fort’s commander was kind enough to offer Mrs. Middleton, Mr. McEvers’ mistress (wife indeed!) and myself the guest rooms. For which I am eternally grateful! The men accepted room in the enlisted men’s barracks. For one evening, we have walking space to stretch our legs and comfortable beds to sleep upon. I do not have much to say about the fort. It is merely a collection of adobe, sod and wooden buildings that include the kitchen, the stables for the horses, one for the sutler (civilian trader for the military), two dining rooms, a recreation hall, a billiard’s room, barracks for the enlisted troopers and living quarters for the officers. All of these buildings surround a central parade ground. Yet, the fort lacks fortified walls.

This evening, we dined on an edible meal (the only one we will have, I suspect, until Fort Laramie) that consisted of pheasant, roasted potatoes, sage stuffing, beans and salt pork, garden vegetables, sourdough bread and a dried apple pie. The memory of that meal still lingers. Afterwards, the wife of a junior office sang ”Listen to the Mockingbird” and other selections for our entertainment. She has a sweet voice, but not as strong as your Charlotte’s. She also struck me as a poor, delicate creature. I suspect that she will not last very long on the frontier. Her husband, in my opinion, apparently lacked the sense and compassion to realize that she needs to be sent back East. Preferably with relations or friends. Or perhaps he cannot afford to do so. It would be a shame if this is true. Anything would be better for her than staying in this wilderness.

It is late and I need my rest. I do not look forward to resuming our journey in that stagecoach. But I fear I would need to take advantage of our stay here for peaceful rest. Who knows how long it will be before we find ourselves at Fort Laramie and in decent beds again. Give my love to your family and take care of yourself.

Your loving cousin,

Patricia North

Friday, December 16, 2011

"TAKERS" (2010) Review




"TAKERS" (2010) Review

Over a year ago, a crime thriller about a group of bank robbers operating in Los Angeles was released to the theaters with little fanfare and a great deal of scorn. Although "TAKERS" earned over twice its budget, it barely made a dent with filmgoers. Out of curiosity, I decided to see what the lack of fuss was all about.

In a nutshell, "TAKERS" began with a successful bank robbery committed by a team of seasoned criminals - including Gordon Cozier, John Rahway, A.J., and brothers Jake and Jesse Attica. Following the success of their heist, the five lead a life of luxury while planning their next job. Unfortunately, a former member of their team named "Ghost" is released from prison. He convinces the group to strike an armored car carrying $20 million. While the bank robbers carefully plot their strategy, a pair of L.A.P.D. police detectives named Jack Welles and Eddie Hatcher investigate their last job. Welles and Hatcher, aware of Ghost's release, finally become aware of the five robbers, and set about apprehending them.

"TAKERS" is basically a run-of-the-mill crime drama filled with complex characters and fast-paced action sequences. The movie also unfolded a peak into the private lives of both the robbers and cops - culminating into a series of familial and romantic frustrations, betrayal, and loyalty. The screenplay written by Peter Allen, Gabriel Casseus, John Luessenhop and Avery Duff pretty much touched upon every topic one could find in a story about bank robbers - aside from the hostage situation featured in movies such as 1975's "DOG DAY AFTERNOON" and 2006's "INSIDE MAN". If I must be honest, the story structure and characterizations in "TAKERS" strongly reminded me of Michael Mann's 1995 opus, "HEAT", but with less complexity. To a certain degree.

In a way, I could see why most reviewers and moviegoers failed to warm up to "TAKERS" - aside from the controversial presence of Chris Brown in the cast. It is not exactly an crime epic in compare to some of the other movies I have mentioned. Although Michael Barrett's photography struck me as colorful and glossy, there was nothing unique about it. Some of the dialogue in the film seemed wooden and unmemorable. And I could tell that some of the inexperienced actors like Tip "T.I." Harris had a little trouble handling it. One of the action sequences featured a shoot-out between the five bank robbers and Russian mobsters at Hollywood's Roosevelt Hotel. Both Barrett and director John Luessenhop tried to be ambitious by shooting most of the sequence in slow motion, while maintaining the sound effects - dialogue included - at a regular pace. Paul Haslinger's mournful score somewhat helped the sequence, but the screenwriters' insipid dialogue nearly undermined it.

I realize that many might find this hard to believe, but "TAKERS" possessed virtues that managed to outweigh its flaws. One, it possessed a first-rate cast lead by the likes Idris Elba and Matt Dillon. Both actors were superb in their roles as British-born immigrant and current leader of the robbers Gordon Cozier and veteran L.A.P.D. detective Jack Welles. The movie also featured first-rate performances from Michael Ealy, Hayden Christensen, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jay Hernandez, Zoë Saldaña and yes, even Chris Brown. Paul Walker, Glynn Turman and Tip Harris gave solid support as well. I realize that I had been a little critical of Harris' handling of some of the dialogue, but I must admit that his handling of the manipulative and vindictive "Ghost" character really impressed me.

Aside from the Roosevelt Hotel shoot-out, "TAKERS" was filled with some outstanding action sequences, thanks to Luessenhop's direction, Barrett's photography and the editing of both Armen Minasian and Colby Parker, Jr. Some of the best sequences featured Hayden Christensen's (A.J.) encounter with a double-crossing explosive dealer and his crew; the entire heist of an armored truck in downtown Los Angeles; and a chase sequence that featured Chris Brown, Jay Hernandez and Matt Dillon.

However, the one virtue that really made "TAKERS" work for me was the screenplay written by Luessenhop and three other writers. I realize that I might attract a good deal of flap of pointing this out, but the screenplay for "TAKERS" possessed one virtue that the highly regarded "HEAT" lacked - the minor plot lines featuring the some of the characters' personal lives had strong connections to the movie's main narrative. This prevented the movie's pacing from dragging at an unnecessarily long pace.

Although "TAKERS" actually made a profit at the box, it was only able to do so, due to the movie's low budget. Because otherwise, one might as well call it failure. Well, failure or not, I ended up enjoying "TAKERS" . . . much to my great surprise. It may not be one of the best crime dramas ever made, but I cannot deny that I found it entertaining, suspenseful and exciting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" (1953) Photo and Screenshot Gallery



Below are galleries featuring photos and screenshots from the 1953 Western drama called "ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO". Directed by John Sturges, the movie starred William Holden, Eleanor Parker and John Forsythe:


"ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO" (1953) Photo and Screenshot Gallery

Photos




















Screenshots