Tuesday, April 29, 2014



Below are images from "THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING", the 1997 television adaptation of Henry Fielding's 1749 novel. The miniseries starred Max Beesley and Samantha Morton: 


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Sunday, April 27, 2014

"JANE EYRE" (1996) Review


"JANE EYRE" (1996) Review

According to the Wikipedia website, there have been sixteen film adaptations of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel, "Jane Eyre". And there have been ten television adaptations of the novel. That is a hell of a lot of adaptations for one novel. A lot. And judging by the numbers, I have no immediate plan to see every movie or television adaptation. But I have seen at least five or six adaptations. And one of them is Franco Zeffirelli's 1996 movie adaptation. 

Adapted by Zeffirelli and Hugh Whitemore, "JANE EYRE" told the story of a 19th century English orphan named Jane Eyre, who is rejected by her aunt and sent to a strict girls school. After eight years as a student and two years as an instructor, Jane is hired as governess to the French ward of Edward Rochester, the brooding owner of an estate in Yorkshire called Thornfield Hall. Although Jane possesses a mild, unprepossing manner, she also possesses strong internal passions and strength in character that her employer finds attractive. Eventually, Jane and her Mr. Rochester fall in love. But a deep secret that exists at Thornfield Hall threatens their future relationship and forces Jane to mature in a way she did not expect.

I could have delved more into the movie's plot, but why bother? The story of Jane Eyre is so familiar and has been recounted so many times that I believe it would be best to describe how I feel about this adaptation. And how do I feel about it? Honestly, it is not one of my favorite adaptations. Mind you, it is not terrible. In fact, I find it pretty solid. The movie's production values seemed to be first rate. I was impressed by Roger Hall's production designs, which did a very good job of re-creating Northern England of the 1830s and 1840s. Jenny Beavan, whom I am beginning to believe is one of the best costume designers on both sides of the Atlantic, did an excellent job in re-creating the fashions for both decades. And I also liked how David Watkin's photography captured the beauty of Haddon Hall in Derbyshire, which served as the Rochester estate, Thornfield Hall.

I would probably rate Zeffirelli and Whitemore's adaptation of Brontë's novel as slightly below above average, but not quite average. I feel they did a first-rate job of re-creating at least three quarters of Brontë's tale. However, their adaptation fell apart, following Jane's departure from Thornfield Hall. They allowed Bertha Rochester's death and the burning of Thornfield to occur not long after Jane's departure. At first, I found that odd. But now, I realize that Zeffirelli and Whitemore wanted to rush the story as fast as they possibly could. Matters did not improve when Jane met St. John and Mary Rivers. Jane's inheritance of her uncle's fortune and St. John's loveless marriage proposal happened so fast that my head nearly spinned when she finally returned to Thornfield. The movie's weakest writing proved to be in the last twenty to thirty minutes.

The biggest criticism that "JANE EYRE" received from critics proved to be Zeffirelli's casting of William Hurt as Edward Rochester. Mind you, I found Hurt's English accent a little shaky. But I really enjoyed the cynical and world weary air he projected into the character . . . especially in scenes featuring Rochester's meeting with his brother-in-law, Richard Mason. And he also managed to achieve some kind of screen chemistry with leading lady Charlotte Gainsbourg. I find this quite miraculous, considering my belief that Gainsbourg's portrayal of Jane Eyre proved to be the movie's weakest link. I realize that this is not a popular view. But aside from one scene, I found Gainsbourg's performance to be completely BORING. All she had to do was open her mouth and her flat tones nearly put me to sleep. The only time she really managed to effectively convey Jane's deep emotions was in the famous scene in which the character revealed her love for Rochester. Only in this scene did Gainsbourg gave a hint of the acting talent she would eventually develop.

Other members of the cast gave solid performances. I noticed that the movie featured three cast members from 1995's"PERSUASION" - Fiona Shaw, Amanda Root and Samuel West. Shaw was very emotional, yet vicious as Jane's cold Aunt Reed. Root gave a warm performance as Miss Temple, Jane's favorite teacher at Lowood. And West was very effective in his portrayal of Jane's religious cousin and savior, St. John Rivers. It seemed a pity that the movie's script did not allow for a further look into his character. John Wood was perfectly hypocrtical and cold as Jane's religious headmaster, Mr. Brocklehurst. Joan Plowright gave a delightful performance as the outgoing housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. And I was surprised by Elle Macpherson's effective portrayal of the charming and self-involved Blanche Ingram. Edward de Souza gave a solid performance as Rochester's emotionally delicate brother-in-law, Richard Mason. But like West, he was barely in the movie long enough to make any kind of an impression. Julian Fellowes made an appearance as one of Rochester's friends, a Colonel Dent; but aside from a few witty lines, he was not that impressive. But the one supporting performance that really impressed me came from Anna Paquin's portryal of the young and passionate Jane. It seemed a pity that Paquin was only 13 to 14 years old at the time. Because I believe that her performance as Jane seemed ten times better than Gainsbourg.

Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of Brontë's novel is not bad. Despite a shaky English accent, Hurt proved to be an effective Edward Rochester. And the movie also featured fine performances from many supporting performances. The director did a solid job of re-creating Brontë's tale for at least three-quarters of the movie. However, the adaptation fell apart in the last quarter, when Jane flet Thornfield Hall following her aborted wedding. And Charlotte Gainsbourg's flat performance as the titled character did not help matters. Like I said, "JANE EYRE" did not strike me as above average, but it seemed a little better than average.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - Episode Two "July 1861 - August 1862" Commentary

"NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" (1986) - EPISODE TWO "July 1861 - August 1862" Commentary

Episode Two began with the aftermath of Bull Run.  It also featured Brett Main Hazard and Semiramis' journey to South Carolina, Orry Main's wedding to his widowed neighbor Madeline LaMotte, and Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon's smuggling operations. I wish I could be objective about this particular episode, but I cannot. I dislike it too much. It is one of the main reasons why I have so much difficulty with "NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II" in the first place.

My main beef with this episode  centered around the plot line that featured Brett and Semiramis' journey south to Mont Royal, following the Bull Run battle. First of all, I believe that this particular plot line was badly written. Brett and Semiramis should not have had any difficulties getting past Union lines, since nearly the entire Union Army had fled to Washington in disarray, following the battle. Second, once they had reached Richmond and delivered the message about Clarissa Main's injury, they could have accompanied Orry back to South Carolina. They would have arrived at Mont Royal in late July or early August 1861, instead of November 1861. And why did it take them so long to reach South Carolina in the first place? Surely, the two could have traveled by train. The Union Army had not began destroying Southern railroad tracks during the summer of 1861. And one last question – why on earth was a message sent to Brett in Washington D.C. in the first place? An accommodating neighbor of the Mains or a local doctor could have sent the message about Clarissa to Orry in Richmond. It would have been a lot easier. And quicker. Talk about bad writing!

I have a few other qualms about Episode Two.  I find it odd that Justin La Motte never encountered any legal repercussions for his attack upon Mont Royal in Episode One.  Nor did Orry Main entered any repercussions for La Motte's death, when he rescued Madeline from her venal husband.  And could someone please explain Orry's war duties to Jefferson Davies and the Confederacy.  Was he the main quartermaster for the Confederate Army?  Was he involved in investigating war profiteers?  Or was he some unrealistic jack-of-all-trade?  This is very sloppy writing.  Both Charles Main and his fellow officer Lieutenant Ambrose Pell are still unnecessarily carting around those swords, during their duties as scouts.  And I still see no signs of enlisted men under their command.  Episode Two also featured a moment when President Lincoln announced his "Emancipation Proclamation" to his cabinet.  I realize this should have been a profound moment, but the pretentious dialogue left me feeling cold.

However, there were some good moments in this episode. George and Orry had a bittersweet reunion inside a barn, while both were traveling to their respective capitals. Charles visited the widowed Augusta Barclay’s farm after being injured by Union cavalry.  Stanley and Isobel Hazard scheme to profit from the war and make enough money to take over Hazard Iron.  And in one brief scene, Congressman Greene had an embarrassed reaction to a wounded soldier that did David Odgen Stiers’ skills proud as an actor.  Of all of these scenes, the one that really impressed me proved to be the one that featured Stanley and Isabel's scheming.  For me, this was a step up from their narrative in John Jakes' 1984 novel.   The reason I was so impressed by these scenes was due to the first-rate performances from the cast.  

Aside from the Stanley and Isabel story arc, I feel that the rest of the scenes benefited from the cast's excellent acting.  This was especially apparent by James Read and Patrick Swayze's performances in the scene that featured George and Orry's reunion, and also the performances by Lewis Smith, Kate McNeill and first-time actor John Nixon.  Both Philip Casnoff and Terri Garber continued to amazing heat in their portrayals of Elkhannah Bent and Ashton Main Huntoon.  Kurtwood Smith gave an intense and fascinating portrayal of Billy Hazard's commander Hiram Burdan.  And Whip Hubley, an actor I have never been that particularly impressed with, gave an interesting performance as Billy's regimental rival, Lieutenant Stephen Kent. 

Kevin Connor continued to handle his actors with skill.  And the miniseries' photography by Jacques R. Marquette continued to strike me as colorful, but not particularly impressive.  But there is one aspect of this production that continued to really impress me was Robert Fletcher's costume designs - especially for the women.  Below are examples of his work in this episode:

But if I must be brutally frank, Episode Two featured some of the worst writing in this miniseries, and probably in the entire trilogy.  No amount of excellent performances or dazzling costume designs could improve my opinion or save what proved to be an otherwise dull episode.

Thursday, April 24, 2014



Below are images from "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER", the 2014 sequel to the 2011 movie, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER" and 2012's "THE AVENGERS". Directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, the movie stars Chris Evans as Steve Rogers aka Captain America: