Thursday, July 31, 2014
"LEAP YEAR" (2009-10) Review
Every four years, the date February 29 appears, leading the West's Georgian calendar to name the year it occurs as Leap Year. Although Leap Year occurred this year, Hollywood had decided to release a romantic comedy on the subject, some two years ago.
Directed by Anand Tucker, "LEAP YEAR" is a romantic comedy about a woman who learns from her father that Irish tradition holds that men cannot refuse a woman's proposal for marriage on Leap Year. Upon learning this little Celtic tradition, an Irish-American woman named Anna Brady decides to head for Ireland, where her boyfriend is attending a medical conference, in order to force her boyfriend to accept her wedding proposal. Unfortunately, difficulties nearly disrupt Anna's plans when a storm forces her plane to land in Wales. Determined to reach her boyfriend in Dublin by Leap Year, she risks a ferry over to Ireland and ends up at a small village on the Dingle Peninsula. There, she hires a surly Irish innkeeper, Declan O'Callaghan, to drive her across the country to Dublin in order to pull off the proposal in time. However, Anna begins to question her feelings about Jeremy, when she finds herself becoming attracted to Declan.
While watching "LEAP YEAR", it occurred to me that it reminded me of a good number of other romantic road trip movies like the 1934 Oscar winning movie, "IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT" and 1985's "THE SURE THING". Unfortunately for "LEAP YEAR", it was not as original . . . or fresh. Even worse, it is not funniest or fascinating romantic comedy I have ever seen. Hmmm. I see that I have to be brutally honest. I might as well state that thanks to Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan's script, "LEAP YEAR" struck me as a trite and barely funny movie. Perhaps I had exaggerated a bit. There was a good deal about Elfont and Kaplan's script - along with Tucker's direction - that prevented "LEAP YEAR" from being funny as it could have been. Fortunately, it possessed certain elements that prevented the movie from becoming a complete waste.
One aspect of "LEAP YEAR" that I truly enjoyed was the movie's Ireland locations. Newton Thomas Sigel's photography took advantage of the Emerald Isle's magic. Even in a torrential rainstorm. Another aspect of the movie that made it more than bearable for me, were the interesting array of eccentric Irish characters that Anna and Declan encounter during their journey to Dublin. My favorite sequences featured the couple's encounter with a group of luggage thieves; an overnight stay at a bed-and-breakfast, while waiting for a Dublin-bound train; and a wild wedding party, where Anna eventually makes a fool of herself.
But the main aspect of "LEAP YEAR" that made it more than bearable for me were the two leads - Amy Adams and Matthew Goode. The screenwriters created two characters that struck me as a little extreme. Anna Brady is such a straitlaced and humorless character that she almost seemed out of place in a romantic comedy. By some magic of the cinema, Amy Adams managed to transcend the heavy-handed character, giving her a vulnerability and touch of humor that made her likable. While watching this movie, it occurred to me that in the hands of a lesser actor, the Declan O'Callaghan character could have ended up as a bitter man, with a heavy-handed sense of humor. But Matthew Goode's performance did something to the role. I believe the actor may have injected the character with some whimsical humor and romance that made it easier for me to accept the idea of Anna's view of Declan changing from dislike to love.
Although "LEAP YEAR" managed to earn as twice as its budget, it really did not earn very much at the box office. In some ways, I could see why. Anand Tucker's direction, along with a script written by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan failed to do this movie any real justice. There is no way I would spend money to see this film at my local movie theater. However, I cannot complete dismiss "LEAP YEAR". Thanks to Newton Thomas Sigel's photography, an entertaining array of Irish supporting characters and especially the performances of Amy Adams and Matthew Goode, I ended up enjoying the movie . . . despite itself.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Below are images from "THE BOURNE SUPREMACY", the 2004 adaptation of Robert Ludlum's 1986 novel. Produced by Doug Liman and directed by Paul Greengrass, the movie starred Matt Damon as Jason Bourne:
"THE BOURNE SUPREMACY" (2004) Photo Gallery
Monday, July 28, 2014
"BREATH OF THE UNDEAD"
The bell above Ostera's front door rang. Paige placed the last jar of St. John's Wort on one of the shelves and picked up an empty box. She then headed straight toward the front and found Harry standing near the counter. The clock on the wall read twelve fifty-four. Paige smiled at her boyfriend and kissed him. "Hey! Right on time."
"Isn't this a bit late for you?" Harry asked. "You usually have lunch about an hour earlier."
A hot wave of embarrassment washed over Paige's face. "Yeah, well . . . since Maddy had been covering my disappearances . . ." She paused. "We had decided to switch lunch hours for a month or two."
"Hmmm." Naturally, Harry knew about her recent trouble with Barbara. "So, that means Maddy should be returning just about . . ."
At that moment, the shop's second assistant, Maddy Oser, strolled into the shop. "Paige, I'm back!" She glanced at the red-haired witch. "Hi Harry."
"Maddy," Harry greeted with a smile. Then he turned to Paige. "Ready?"
Paige nodded. "Yeah. So, where are we going?" She grabbed his hand.
"How about the Grand Palace in Chinatown? I thought you might like some dim sum."
"The Grand Palace it is." Paige orbed her and Harry out of the shop and into an alley, off Grand. A few minutes after they had merged into a crowd of pedestrians, the couple entered a crowded restaurant.
A smiling maitre'd led Paige and Harry toward a table next to a green-and-red lacquered column. Another five minutes passed before a waitress appeared and asked if they wanted drinks. Both ordered hot tea. Once the waitress left, Harry glanced around and declared, "God, I'm hungry. I hope the waitress comes back with a menu, soon. And with one of the carts." He referred to the numerous carts that held bamboo baskets filled with dim sum. The servers pushed them around the dining room from one table to another, allowing customers to make their selections on the spot.
Paige glanced to her right and saw their waitress return with two menus in her hands. "Looks like it might happen very soon."
"Oh my God!" The woman's voice took Paige by surprise. She and Harry glanced up and found a very attractive Asian-American woman hovering beside their table. The woman stood at least five-feet six and seemed to be in her mid-to-late twenties. She possessed very delicate features that included high cheekbones, pale golden skin and dark hair styled in a long bob. "Harry McNeill? Is that you?"
Much to Paige's surprise, Harry sprung to his feet. He enveloped the woman into a bear hug. "Janet!" he cried. "Janet Hui! My God! How are you?"
"Pretty good, as a matter of fact." Miss Hui's eyes swept over Harry's figure in an appreciative manner that Paige found annoying. "Wow! You've certainly filled out since I last saw you. How long has it been since we had graduated from college?"
Still smiling, Harry replied, "Nearly five years ago, as a matter of fact. Five years in late May. Why don't you join us for lunch?"
Janet turned down Harry's offer - much to Paige's relief. "I'd love to, honey, but I'm meeting a friend for lunch. However . . . how about dinner, tonight? You can bring . . ." She glanced at Paige. ". . . your friend along."
"Paige," Harry added. "This is Paige Matthews. Paige, this is Janet Hui. She's an old school friend of mine."
Offering her hand to Paige, Janet greeted, "Nice to meet you." Then she returned her attention to Harry. "I wondered when you were going to introduce us to each other."
"I was about to," Harry protested.
Janet rolled her eyes. "Right." She said to Paige, "I hope to see you for dinner, tonight. You'll be in for a real treat."
A dim smile touched Paige's lips. "Thanks," she said in a lukewarm voice. "I'm looking forward to it."
"And you, Mr. McNeill," Janet said to Harry, "we've got a lot of catching up to do. By the way, I live at 6012 Tenth Avenue. In the Outer Richmond District."
Harry nodded. "That's not far from where Paige lives. We're looking forward to tonight. I only hope that I can say the same about your cooking."
"Watch it, McNeill!" Janet retorted with a mock glare. "I just might take back that dinner invitation. Besides, my boyfriend will be cooking, tonight. We usually have dinner around seven-thirty."
Another smile curved Harry's lips. "Then I guess I'll be looking forward to dinner, tonight." He pecked Janet's cheek. "We'll see you then." Janet smiled once more and moved on.
Once Harry had settled back into his seat, Paige went on the attack. "So, who is this Janet Hui to you?"
Harry calmly replied, "Ex-girlfriend from college. And a very good friend."
"So, how long did you two date?"
Harry peered closely at Paige. "You're not jealous, are you?"
"I hope, for your sake that you're not reading my thoughts!" The words came out of Paige's mouth before she could stop herself.
The red-haired man broke into a wide smile. "Well that answers my question."
"I am not jealous!" Paige exclaimed vehemently.
The smile still stamped on his face, Harry shrugged. "If you say so." Paige opened her mouth to retort, when he added, "Looks like the waitress is back with our tea and menus. And here comes the dim sum."
Paige shot a dark glare at her boyfriend before the waitress appeared at the table.
"I'm back, your Honor." Bourgh's secretary poked his head through the doorway of the judge's private office. "Just to let you know. Is there anything you need?"
Bourgh immediately stuffed a few items back inside the yellow envelope and glanced up. "No, thank you Ross," he said with a dim smile. "I'm fine."
Ross nodded. "Okay. But you should know that they will be sending jury candidates for the new trial in about . . ." He glanced at his watch. ". . . another twenty minutes or so."
Ah yes, the Becker trial. Bourgh had forgotten. Again, he thanked his secretary and dismissed him. Once Ross had left, the judge went to the door and locked it. Then he returned to his desk and dumped the contents of the yellow envelope on his desk.
The material that greeted Bourgh's eyes filled him with horror. Photographs of him having sex with his mistress inside a hotel room and at her private home, copies of bills for expensive gifts and bank statements, and a CD-ROM disk laid scattered on the desk. Bourgh picked up three of the photographs. Each one featured him and his mistress, Laura, in positions straight from the KAMA SUTRA book. His heart racing rapidly, Bourgh inserted the CD-ROM disk into his computer drive. Nearly a minute later, the judge found himself watching a video clip that featured him engaged in sex with Laura and a second woman beside a pool at Laura's Palo Alto home.
Cries and moans from the computer's speaker filled the office. A horrified Bourgh continued to stare at the screen. Then a woman's loud moan snapped the judge out of his reverie and he stopped the video clip. He was ruined. There seemed to be no doubt about that. The judge wondered if the Decker family had sent the package. It seemed like something to expect from such a corrupt family.
One last object caught Bourgh's eyes. A business card that read:
Cedric Lloyd, Attorney-at-Law (415) 653-8080
Bourgh stated at the card in his hand. He then glanced at the clock on the wall. It read one forty-eight. His first instinct was to tear up the card. But the photographs, the disk and other material from the yellow envelope made him realize it would not be wise to ignore the card's owner. Instead of using his office telephone, Bourgh reached inside his jacket pocket for his cell phone. He dialed the number on the card. Seconds later, a man's voice answered. "Cedric Lloyd, speaking."
After a brief hesitation, Bourgh said, "This is William Bourgh. I believe that you had sent a yellow envelope to my home, yesterday."
"Oh yes! Judge Bourgh! I wondered when you would call. I had expected to hear from you, yesterday." The man's voice oozed with smugness.
Feeling a shaft of anger, Bourgh growled, "You know I should have you disbarred for this! Blackmailing a Federal . . ."
A heavy sigh from Lloyd interrupted Bourgh. "Please, your Honor. I think you're the last person to be casting stone, judging from those photographs and the disk. I understand that keeping a mistress can be very expensive. You've even accepted a few bribes over the years to keep your finances in the black. Including one from a certain businessman named Paul Hans . . ."
The judge brusquely demanded, "What do you want?"
"Your help." Lloyd paused. "I suggest that we meet this evening. I know this little café on Balboa Street called Larkin's. It's in the Inner Richmond District. I'm sure that we might be able to enjoy some coffee, while we continue this conversation."
Smug bastard! Bourgh closed his eyes for a brief moment and took a deep breath. "Fine!" he finally snapped "I'll see you around eleven. Tonight."
Delight radiated from Lloyd's voice. "I'll be there. Good day." The line went dead.
Bourgh paused before he disconnected his cell phone. Then he sighed. Heavily.
END OF CHAPTER TWO
Friday, July 25, 2014
Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1850s:
TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1850s
1. "Django Unchained" (2012) - Quentin Tarantino directed this Oscar winning tale about a newly freed slave who searches for his still enslaved wife with the help of a German-born bounty hunter in Mississippi. Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson starred.
2. "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (1938) - Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland starred in this exciting adventure story set in both British India and the Crimean War. Michael Curtiz directed.
3. "Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad" (1994) - Courtney B. Vance and Janet Bailey starred in this television drama about the adventures of four slaves who escape from a North Carolina plantation, while being tracked by a pair of slave catchers. Don McBrearty directed.
4. "Skin Game" (1971) - James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr. starred in this dark comedy about a pair of con artists who clean up in a slave selling scheme in Missouri and Kansas, before their scam finally catches up with them. Paul Bogart directed.
5. "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" (1954) - Stanley Donen directed this famous 1954 musical about six backwoodsmen brothers When a backwoodsman in the Oregon Territory, who decides to marry after their oldest brother brings home a wife. Jane Powell, Howard Keel and Russ Tambyln starred.
6. "The First Great Train Robbery" (1979) - Michael Crighton wrote and directed this adaptation of his novel about three Victorian criminals who plot to rob a shipment of gold for British troops serving during the Crimean War, from a moving train. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland and Lesley Anne Down starred.
7. "Wuthering Heights" (1939) - William Wyler directed this superb adaptation of Emily Brontë's 1847 novel. Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier and David Niven starred.
8. "Westward the Women" (1951) - William Wellman directed this excellent Western-adventure about a trail guide hired by a Californian rancher to escort a wagon train of women heading west to marry men who have settled in the rancher's valley. Robert Taylor, Denise Darcel and John McIntire starred.
9. "Mountains of the Moon" (1990) Patrick Bergin and Iain Glen starred in this historical account of Victorian explorers Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke's expedition to find the source of the Nile River on behalf of the British Empire. Bob Rafelson directed.
10. "Jezebel" (1938) - William Wyler directed Oscar winners Bette Davis and Fay Bainter in this adaptation of Owen Davis Sr.'s 1933 play about a headstrong Southern woman, whose actions cost her the man she loves. Henry Fonda and George Brent co-starred.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
"AFTER THE THIN MAN" (1936) Review
Following the phenomenon success of 1934's "THE THIN MAN", Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided to cash in on that success with a sequel, two years later. "AFTER THE THIN MAN", released in 1936, proved to be the first of five sequels that starred William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles..
Although the story for "AFTER THE THIN MAN" was created for the screen by Dashiell Hammet; Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who adapted Hammet's novel for the 1934 movie, wrote the screenplay for this sequel. And W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke, who directed the first film, returned to direct "AFTER THE THIN MAN". Set nearly a week after "THE THIN MAN", this movie finds Nick and Nora Charles returning to San Francisco, following their vacation in New York. It is not long before they find themselves embroiled in the lurid problems of Nora's socialite cousin, Selma Landis. Apparently her ne'er do well husband Robert has disappeared to join his mistress, a nightclub singer named Polly Byrnes. Robert also tries to extort $25,000 from Selma's ex-love David Graham, on the promise that he will leave for good. Selma and her haughty mother, Aunt Katherine Forrest, asks Nick to find Robert and bring him back. Although Nick and Nora track Robert down to a Chinatown nightclub, where Polly sings, it is not long before he leaves and someone murders him before he can get that $25,000 and permanently be out of Selma's life.
Although "AFTER THE THIN MAN" failed to follow in its 1934 predecessor and earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination, Hackett and Goodrich's screenplay did. It is a pity that director "Woody" Van Dyke and the movie itself did not receive any nominations. Because the movie is regarded by many as the best of the six THIN MAN movies. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I do not know. But I can say that it is my favorite in the series. I love "THE THIN MAN". But I really love this 1936 sequel. I feel that one of the reasons I regard it in such high regard is the story. The mystery surrounding Robert Landis' death and the other deaths that followed permeated with human drama. This will especially become obvious in the scene featuring Nick Charles' revelation of the murderer. Surprisingly, this seemed to be the case for both Nick and Nora, some of the other supporting characters and even Asta.
As many people know, the Production Code finally came into effect in July 1934, two years and five months before the release of "AFTER THE THIN MAN". Yet, there is something about Hackett and Goodrich's screenplay that reeked with a Pre-Code sensibility. Who am I kidding? There is so much about this movie that practically screamed PRE-CODE. For one, the story is filled with extramarital sex, adultery, hatred, love, extortion, class bigotry, and some of the raciest humor to come out of a MGM film from the 1930s. As an added bonus, "AFTER THE THIN MAN" featured at least three musical numbers - two of them performed by Dorothy McNulty (the future Penny Singleton from the "BLONDIE" movies). My favorite proved to be the lively New Year's Eve tune, . Only one aspect of "AFTER THE THIN MAN" makes it clear it was released during the post-Code period - twin beds for Mr. and Mrs. Charles. I do have one major complaint about Van Dyke's direction of "AFTER THE THIN MAN" - following Robert Landis' murder, the movie's pace starts to drag a bit, while Nick and Lieutenant Abrams conduct the investigation of the murder at the Chinatown nightclub and at Aunt Katherine's home.
Both William Powell and Myrna Loy returned in top form as Nick and Nora Charles. What can I say about them? What is there to say? They were perfect. They were magic. They were yin and yang . . . peanut butter and jelly. They were . . . oh, never mind. Whoever is reading this review probably has a very good idea about what I am trying to say. They were Nick and Nora . . . and that is all I have to say. The two second best performances came from James Stewart as Selma Landis' former boyfriend, David Graham and Joseph Calleia as the nightclub owner/con man "Dancer". Watching Stewart in "AFTER THE THIN MAN", it was easy to see how he became a star within two to three years. He gave a very natural and relaxed performance. And Calleia was deliciously menacing, yet suave as "Dancer". Frankly, I think he was one of the best character actors between the 1930s and 1950s.
Sam Levene gave a fine comic performance in his first appearance in a THIN MAN movie as Lieutenant Abrams. And Penny Singleton (I might as well call her that) was hilarious as the whining songstress/mistress Polly Byrnes. Elissa Landi gave an emotional portrayal as the much put upon Selma Landis, although there were times I found her a bit hammy. Alan Marshal has never struck me as an exceptional actor . . . just competent. But I must admit that I was very impressed by his portrayal of the slimy Robert Landis. William Law was deliciously subtle as "Dancer's" nightclub partner, George Zucco took his suave villainy schtick to portray Selma's sly and menacing psychiatrist. And yet, he gave one of the most emotional and funniest lines in the entire film. And what can I say about Jessie Ralph? I should have included her performance as the haughty and manipulative Aunt Katherine Forrest as one of the best in the film. Because she was magnificent in conveying Aunt Katherine's manipulative efforts in keeping her family together and her class bigotry against her nephew-in-law, Nick Charles.
I supposed there is nothing else to say about "AFTER THE THIN MAN". I cannot say that it is perfect. I feel that the sequence following the first murder could have been trimmed a bit. And one of the supporting performances occasionally drifted into hamminess. But aside from these complaints, I feel it was . . . perfect. In fact, thanks to Dashiell Hammett's story, Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich's screenplay, W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke's direction and a superb cast led by William Powell and Myrna Loy; I feel that "AFTER THE THIN MAN" is one of my favorite films from the 1930s . . . and my favorite in the six-film series.
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Below are images from Season One of "THE AMERICANS", the new FX television drama. Created by Joe Weisberg, the series stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys:
"THE AMERICANS" SEASON ONE (2013) Photo Gallery