Thursday, August 29, 2013
Below are images from "THE WOLVERINE", the sixth movie in the X-MEN movie franchise. Directed by James Mangold, the movie stars Hugh Jackman as Logan aka the Wolverine:
"THE WOLVERINE" (2013) Photo Gallery
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
TIME MACHINE: THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the event known as the The March on Washington. Also known as The March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom or The Great March on Washington, the famous Civil Rights event took place in Washington D.C., on August 28, 1963.
The event was organized by a group of civil rights, labor, and religious organizations under the theme "jobs, and freedom". Estimates of the number of participants varied from 200,000 to 300,000. Observers also estimated that 75–80% of the marchers were African-Americans. Organization of the march originated with A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro American Labor Council and vice-president of the AFL-CIO and activist Bayard Rustin had begin planning the march as early as December 1962. They hoped for two days of protest that included sit-ins and lobbying, followed by a mass rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Randolph and Rustin wanted to focus on joblessness and to call for a public works program that would employ blacks. In early 1963, they publicly announced "a massive March on Washington for jobs". Amalgamated Clothing Workers unionist Stanley Aronowitz gathered support from radical union organizers who could be trusted not to report their plans to the Kennedy administration. The unionists offered tentative support for a march that would be focused on jobs.
Without securing the cooperation of the NAACP or the Urban League, Randolph announced an "October Emancipation March on Washington for Jobs" on May 15, 1963. He reached out to union leaders, winning the support of the UAW's Walter Reuther, but not of AFL–CIO president George Meany. Randolph and Rustin intended to focus the March on economic inequality, stating in their original plan that "integration in the fields of education, housing, transportation and public accommodations will be of limited extent and duration so long as fundamental economic inequality along racial lines persists". While negotiating with other leaders, the pair expanded their stated objectives to "Jobs and Freedom", acknowledging the agenda of groups that focused more on civil rights. A coalition of civil rights and union leaders known as "the Big Six", which includedReverend Martin Luther King, Jr., met with President John F. Kennedy on June 22, 1963. Kennedy warned against creating"an atmosphere of intimidation" by bringing a large crowd to the nation's capital. The activists insisted on holding the march. After a good deal of negotiations with the Kennedy administration and with the different activist groups, finally agreed to a date in late August for the march.
While the event was being organized, it encountered a great deal of opposition from the country's conservative element. Many conservative politicians branded the event as being organized and inspired by Communists, despite the planners' rejection of help from Communist groups. This mindset was especially espoused by Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who singled out Rustin as a Communist and homosexual. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover ordered an investigation into the event's organizers for any Communist ties. When he received a report citing Communists' failure to infiltrate the Civil Rights movement, Hoover immediately rejected it. However, opposition to the event also came from liberal activists. Rustin harbored doubts due to his fears that the march might turn violent. Malcolm X, spokesperson for the Nation of Islam, condemned the event as a joke as labeled it the "farce on Washington".
On August 28, 1963; participants who lived outside of the Washington D.C. area arrived in large numbers. The event attracted a media assembly larger than President Kennedy's inauguration over two years ago. The march failed to start on time, due to its leaders meeting with members of Congress. To their surprise, the participants began the march at the Washington Monument and headed for the Lincoln Memorial. The event's leaders arrived late and linked arms in front of the marchers on Constitution Avenue in order to be photographed leading the march. At least 50 members of the American Nazi Party staged a counter-protest, but were dispersed by the local police. Most of the city's citizens stayed at home and watched the event on television. The official program, which began after the march reached the Lincoln Memorial included performances by Camilla Williams (who sang the National Anthem), Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Odetta Holmes and the group - Peter, Paul and Mary. Speakers included both Randolph and Rustin, John Lewis (of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe), Joachim Prinz of the American Jewish Congress, and Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays, who closed the program. Roy Wilkins announced activist W.E.B. DuBois' death, which occurred the night before. However, the highlight of the event proved to be Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
Historians and activists have been debating on the consequences of the March for the past five decades. Many radicals have embraced Malcolm X's criticism of the event as a co-optation of the white establishment. Others tend to focus more on King's famous speech and the civil rights legislative successes that followed in 1964 and 1965. And recently, many historians have been focusing on Bayard Rustin's organization of the event. Just recently, President Barack Obama The symbo of the March has been contested since before it even took place. In the years following the March, movement radicals increasingly subscribed to Malcolm X's narrative of the March as a co-optation by the white establishment. Liberals and conservatives tended to embrace the March, but focused mostly on King's "I Have a Dream" speech and the legislative successes of 1964 and 1965, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The cooperation of the Kennedy Democratic administration on the issue of civil rights led the Democrats to give up its Southern Democratic support, undivided since Reconstruction to lure a high proportion of black votes from the Republican Party. More recently, historians and commentators have acknowledged the role played by Bayard Rustin in organizing the event. President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 8 of this year. There was one negative consequence from the March. Two months after the event, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy gave Hoover and the F.B.I. permission to initially begin a wiretapping campaign against Dr. King. It lasted until the activist's death in April 1968.
For more information about the March on Washington, check out the following books:
*"The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights" by William P. Jones
*"Nobody Turn Me Around: A People's History of the 1963 March on Washington" by Charles Euchner
Monday, August 26, 2013
"RED 2" (2013) Review
The 2010 adaptation of Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner's comic book series proved to be very popular at the box office. Yet, I was surprised that it took another three years for the sequel, "RED 2" to be released in the movie theaters. Unless the movie in question is part of the STAR WARS franchise, it usually takes two years or less for a sequel to appear on the scene.
"RED 2" picks up a few years after "RED", which finds ex-C.I.A. agent Frank Moses trying to lead a normal life with his girlfriend, Sarah Ross. The effort seems to be a strain for both, although Frank seems to be more successful in accepting a "normal life". Frank's former colleague Marvin Bogge interrupts this "idyllic life" by warning Frank that people might be following them. Frank dismisses Marvin's fears before the latter drives off before his car is blown up. After Frank and Sarah attend Marvin's funeral, the former is captured by government agents to a Yankee White Facility, where he is interrogated by a C.I.A. operative named Jack Horton. Frank manages to escape the facility with the help of a resurrected Marvin. And the latter reveals that he and Frank were being hunted for being part of a secret operation called Nightshade, which smuggled a nuclear weapon created by one Dr. Edward Bailey, piece by piece into Russia back in the late 1970s or early 80s. Horton is ordered to label Frank, Marvin and Sarah terrorists to other countries. Former MI-6 assassin, Victoria Winslow informs her friends that she has been recruited by her former agency to kill them. She also informs them that former South Korean agent-turned-top contract killer Han Cho-Bai has been hired by the C.I.A. to kill Frank and Marvin. With so many after them; Frank, Marvin and Sarah are forced to learn the truth about Nightshade in order to clear themselves of the terrorist charge.
I had enjoyed "RED" when the movie first came out, three years ago. But if I must be honest, I did not love it. My opinion of it grew over the years. But after seeing "RED 2", I realize that my views of it will never be as high as "RED 2". The summer of 2013 seemed to be plagued by box office flops and from what I have seen of the box office take for "RED 2"after it had been in the theaters for three weeks, it is clear that it is a flop. Once again, I am faced with a movie that I seemed to like a lot more than the majority of moviegoers and critics. If I had been younger, I would have taken the public's rejection of the film personally. But when I think of the number of failed movies that I have enjoyed over the years, I have come to the conclusion that I no longer cared whether the rest of the public share my feelings for a particular movie. As far as I am concerned, I enjoyed "RED 2" very much and look forward to its DVD release.
As in the 2010 movie, "RED 2" featured a past operation that has come back to haunt two of its main heroes - Frank Moses and Marvin Bogges. But in "RED 2", the circumstances and plot surrounding the Nightshade Operation struck me as more plausible and better written that the covert operation featured in "RED". Even the villains' objectives struck me as a lot more plausible. Realizing this has made me wonder why my opinion of "RED" has increased in the past three years."RED 2" also delved more into Frank's relationship with his Kansas City-born paramour, Sarah Ross. I found it rather amusing that the ever paranoid Marvin seemed to understand Sarah's need for action a lot better than Frank, who seemed determined to treat her as a china doll. But as Marvin pointed out - Frank is blinded by his fear of losing Sarah. Their relationship is also tested by Frank's reunion with a former paramour - a KGB colonel named Katya, and Sarah's talent for using her feminine wiles to deal with terrorists such as "The Frog" and a Russian Army officer at the Kremlin. Best of all,"RED 2" featured some top-notch villains - including the proficiently murderous C.I.A. agent Jack Horton and one Han Cho-Bai, viewed as the best contract killer in the world. "RED 2" also possess one of the best plot twists I have seen in some time. It certainly proved to be better than any of the plot twists featured in the 2010 movie. Jon and Erich Hoeber did a great job with a complex script.
Did I have any problems with "RED 2"? I had a little problem with Marvin's ability to fake death. Considering that he was presumably killed due to a car bomb, I was surprised that no one found the idea of a pristine body inside the coffin rather questionable . . . especially Sarah Ross. And who really had been responsible for Operation Nightshade? The C.I.A. or MI-6? Or was it a joint effort? The Hoebers' script never really made the matter clear.
The performances in "RED 2" were marvelous. Beginning with the three leads - Bruce Willis, John Malkovich and Mary-Louise Parker - and down to Titus Welliver, who more or less gave a cameo appearance; the movie rocked with some first-rate acting. For the second time, Bruce Willis and Mary-Louise Parker created comic and romantic screen chemistry as the love-struck Frank Moses and Sarah Ross. Thanks to the actors' comedic skills, both did a great job in conveying the pair's relationship struggles of her boredom of being an "ordinary" couple and his penchant for being over protective. Once again, John Malkovich was marvelous as the deliciously paranoid Marvin Bogges, who in this film, also displays a talent for romantic counseling. Helen Mirren not only gave a deliciously witty performance as British assassin Victoria Winslow, she also proved that to be a bad-ass action star in some of the scenes in the movie's second half. When I had learned that Lee Byung-hun from the "G.I. JOE" had been cast in the film, I assumed his character would be a great deal like the one he had portrayed in the Hasbro film franchise. I proved to be right . . . superficially. Thankfully, the actor's portrayal of the assassin Han proved to be a great deal more emotional and rather funny, despite being deadly.
The movie also featured an excellent performance from Neal McDonough as the very dangerous and rather cold-blooded C.I.A. agent, Jack Horton. His character's takedown of the agents at the Yankee White Facility struck me as somewhat creepy. Brian Cox reprised his role as Russian intelligence official, Ivan Simanov. He was funnier than ever - especially in one scene in which he was lovingly admiring Victoria's form as she rescued Frank, Sarah and Marvin from a Russian firing squad. Catherine Zeta-Jones gave a sly and sexy performance as Frank's paramour, Russian agent Katya. David Thewlis made a brief appearance as a techno-terrorist named "The Frog". Not only did the actor did a great job during a chase scene in Paris, he was absolutely hilarious in a scene in which "The Frog" finally surrendered to Sarah's wooing during an interrogation. The one performance that really impressed me came from Anthony Hopkins, who portrayed the scientist who first created Nightshade, Dr. Edward Bailey. Hopkins' performance struck me as strange . . . and I am being complimentary. The actor was superb in projecting Bailey's eccentricity, which developed after years of being stuck in an assylum by MI-6 for nearly three decades. And it was quite a thrill to see him in his only scene with Brian Cox . . . especially since both actors had portrayed Hannibal Lector with great acclaim.
Box office flop or not, I cannot deny that I enjoyed "RED 2" very much. Not only did it struck me as better than the original 2010 movie, but also proved to be one of my favorite movies for the summer of 2013. And I have director Dean Parisot, a great script written by Jon and Erich Hoeber, and a fabulous cast led by Bruce Willis to thank.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Below are images from "EMMA", the 1972 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's 1815 novel. The six-part miniseries starred Doran Godwin and John Carson:
"EMMA" (1972) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I" (1985) - EPISODE FOUR "1854-1856" Commentary
If I had to pick one or two episodes from 1985's "NORTH AND SOUTH" that I would view as personal favorites, one of my choices would be Episode Four. This episode provided a series of sucker punches to the audience that provided the miniseries' narrative with a strong forward drive.
The end of Episode Three saw the Hazard family leave their home in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1854 for a visit to the Main's plantation in South Carolina's low country. Episode Four picked up a week or two later with the Hazards attending a ball held by the Mains at Mont Royal, the latter's plantation. Everything seems to be all right in the world for the two families. Both Billy Hazard and Charles Main are on furlough following two years at West Point. And even Virgilia Hazard seemed to be behaving cordially toward her hosts and their neighbors. And then . . . everything goes to pot. On the very night of the ball, Virgilia meets Grady, the slave of neighbor James Huntoon. Ashton Main, still angry at Billy for rejecting her sexual offer two years ago, makes a beeline for sister Brett's current beau Forbes LaMotte, Madeline LaMotte's nephew-in-law and the two engage in a sexual tryst inside the plantation's barn. Unfortunately for Ashton, Billy walks in on her and Forbes and he swings his attention to Brett. The Hazard family's visit ends when Virgilia becomes romantically involved with Grady before she aids his escape from slavery and South Carolina. Two weeks after the Hazards' departure, Madeline discovers from her dying father that her dead mother was one-fourth black, making her one-eighth black.
The second half of Episode Four features Billy and Charles' graduation from West Point in June 1856. George and Orry reconcile after the debacle following Grady's escape two years earlier. Both discuss Billy's marriage proposal to Brett. However, Orry is reluctant to give his approval, due to the couple's regional differences. Billy and Brett's continuing romance leads a jealous Ashton to sleep with some of Billy's Northern-born friends at the cadet. Three months later, Madeline informs Orry about her father's revelation during one of their trysts at Salvation Chapel. Orry suggests they leave South Carolina together, before her husband Justin LaMotte learns about her family secret. Unfortunately, Ashton discovers she has become pregnant, due to her sexual trysts at West Point. She seeks Madeline's help to abort the unborn child. Madeline leads her to a free woman named Aunt Belle Nin to act as an abort Ashton's pregnancy. Unfortunately for Madeline, she had lied to Justin about her whereabouts. And upon her return to Resolute - the LaMotte plantation - she learns that Justin had exposed her lie about meeting a friend at a Charleston hotel for lunch. Angry over her lie and unwillingness to tell the truth about her whereabouts, Justin locks Madeline in one of the manor's bedrooms, allowing her to sustain on bread and water for several days. Madeline's free born servant, Maum Sally, tries to free her; but Justin prevents the escape attempt and kills the older woman with a punch to the face.
Wow! Not only did a great deal occurred in Episode Four, but important factors in the narrative that drove the story forward. However, before I wax lyrical over this episode, I must point out some of the flaws. One, I found it a little ridiculous that Billy and Charles wore their West Point cadet uniforms during most of their furlough in the episode's first half. Two, West Point was not in the habit of hosting balls on its campus following a graduation. Following the graduation ceremony, it was traditional for graduates to travel to New York City for a celebration luncheon at an elite hotel during the 19th century. And they would NOT be wearing their cadet uniforms long after the ceremony. Three, Grady told Virgilia that he had taught himself how to read. How? How does one achieve that without anyone else acting as tutor?
My biggest problem with Episode Four centered on Ashton's trysts with several West Point graduates during the night of the Academy's ball. I found the entire sequence rather unpleasant and sexist. Let me get something straight. Although I found Terri Garber's portrayal of Ashton Main very entertaining and well-done, I believe that Ashton is a repellent woman. But what I found even more repellent is author John Jakes' idea of what constitutes a villainous woman. Ashton, like a good number of his villains both female and male, tend to possess some kind of sexual perversion. In Ashton's case, she is portrayed as sexually promiscuous. And it is this promiscuity that is allegedly a hallmark of her villainy. Episode One introduced George Hazard arriving at a New York train station in the company of two prostitutes, with whom he previously had sex. The episode makes it clear we are to view George as a young, cheerful womanizer for us to admire. Episode Four featured Ashton having pre-marital sex with Forbes LaMotte and two years later, with a handful of West Point graduates. The episode makes it clear we are to view her as a sexual pervert and morally bankrupt. For me, Ashton's moral bankruptcy is stemmed from her racism and other elitist views, her selfishness and vindictive nature. Unless she had used her sexuality to engage in rape or some other violent behavior, I refuse to view Ashton's sexuality as something evil.
Despite my disgust at the portrayal of Ashton's sexuality and other flaws found inEpisode Four, I still enjoyed it very much. Once again, director Richard T. Heffron displayed his talent for big crowd scenes. This particular episode featured the dazzling Mont Royal ball sequence. Not only did Heffron and Larner did an excellent job with a carefully choreographed dance number accompanied by the tune, "Wait For the Wagon", they managed to capture the detailed little dramas that filled the sequence - including Virgilia's first meeting with Grady and the beginning of Ashton's trysts with Forbes LaMotte. The other major sequence featured in Episode Four also include Billy and Charles' graduation from West Point. George and Orry's West Point graduation in Episode Two merely featured a few graduates receiving diplomas and the friends congratulating their fellow classmates. Audiences get to see their younger kinsmen march in an elaborate parade for the Academy's guests. The screenplay and Heffron's direction also explored minor dramas that included George and Orry's discussion about Billy and Brett at Benny Haven's tavern and Ashton's encounters with her cousin's fellow Academy graduates.
But the episode featured some other delicious dramatic moments. The best include the beginning of Virgilia and Grady's romantic relationship inside a deserted barn, during a hurricane. This scene not only benefited from Heffron's direction, but also some outstanding performances from Kirstie Alley and Georg Stanford Brown, who created a sizzling screen chemistry together. Another outstanding dramatic scene turned out to be the breakfast scene at Mont Royal during which the Hazards and Mains learn about Grady's escape and Virgilia's participation in it. Heffron's direction, along with excellent performances from Terri Garber, Jim Metzler (who was a bit hammy at times), John Stockwell, James Read and Patrick Swayze infused a great deal of delicious tension into this scene. But the stand-out performance came from Alley, who did a great job of expressing Virgilia's lack of remorse over Grady's escape and highly-charged words about the country's future with slavery. The actress and Brown also shined in a well-acted scene that featured a visit from abolitionist William Still to Grady and Virgilia's Philadelphia slum home. The scene also included a first-rate performance from Ron O'Neal as the famous abolitionist.
My article on Episode Three had commented on Garber and Genie Francis' portrayals of the Main sisters, Ashton and Brett. However, the actresses really knocked it out of the ballpark in a conversation scene between the two sisters during the West Point graduation parade sequence. Another excellent scene featured fine performances from the two leads - Swayze and Read - as George and Orry discuss the possibilities and drawbacks of a marriage between Billy and Brett. However, the episode's final outstanding scene displayed the brutalities of spousal abuse in the LaMotte marriage. Lesley-Anne Down, David Carradine and Olivia Cole gave superb performances during the ugly circumstances that followed Madeline's assistance in Ashton's abortion.
Cinematographer Stevan Larner and film editors Michael Eliot and Scott C. Eyler did excellent jobs in capturing the superficial glitter and glamour of the Mont Royal ball. Larner's photography perfectly captured the dark squalor of Virgilia and Grady's Philadelphia's hovel. And once again, he worked perfectly with Heffron, Eliot and Eyler in re-creating the military color of Billy and Charles' West Point graduation. Once again, Vicki Sánchez's costumes impressed me. Mind you, I was not that impressed by the costumes worn by Alley, Down and Wendy Kilbourne during the Mont Royal ball sequence. Their costumes looked more Hollywood than anything close to mid-19th century gowns. And the jewelry that gowns that Genie Francis and Terri Garber wore in that sequence, along with some other costumes:
Granted, Episode Four featured some flaws in the narrative regarding the West Point graduation sequence and a few other matters. But the episode not only featured some outstanding performances, but also plot lines that really drove it forward. Not surprising, it is one of my favorite episodes in the 1985 miniseries.