Tuesday, April 25, 2017
Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Three of Netflix's series, "HOUSE OF CARDS", a remake of the 1990-1995 BBC miniseries trilogy that was based upon Michael Dobbs' 1989 novel. Produced and developed by Beau Willimon, the series stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.
"TOP FIVE FAVORITE "HOUSE OF CARDS" SEASON THREE (2015) Episodes
1. (3.03) "Chapter 29" - President Frank Underwood and First Lady (and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N.) Claire Underwood host a state dinner for President Viktor Petrov of the Russian Federation, while protesters surround the White House.
2. (3.11) "Chapter 37" - Frank prepares for an upcoming presidential debate between himself, U.S. Solicitor General Heather Dunbar and House Deputy Minority Whip Jacqueline "Jackie" Sharp, while Claire campaigns on his behalf.
3. (3.13) "Chapter 39" - While tensions between Frank and Claire come to a boil, Frank's former Chief of Staff Doug Stamper finds Rachel Posner, the former prostitute who knew about Frank's manipulation of the late Congressman Peter Russo and who had attacked Doug in the Season Two finale.
4. (3.08) "Chapter 34" - When a potentially devastating hurricane threatens the East Coast, Frank faces intense pressure from FEMA, Congress, and several governors, since he had defunded the Disaster Relief Fund (DRF) to pay for his America Works program in the capital. Meanwhile, stress from his job as Chief of Staff and his lingering feelings for Jackie Sharp nearly pushes Remy Danton to the edge.
5. (3.06) "Chapter 32" - Frank and Claire travel to Moscow to negotiate for the release of Michael Corrigan, an American LGBT rights activist, from prison.
Sunday, April 23, 2017
"INFERNO" (2016) Review
Author Dan Brown has written at least four novels featuring the character of Harvard University professor Robert Langdon. At least three of them have been adapted for film by producer Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard. Although three years had passed between the first two movies, "THE DaVINCI CODE" (2006) and "ANGELS & DEMONS" (2009), Grazer and Howard waited another seven years before their third adaptation, "INFERNO", hit the movie screens.
Based upon Brown's 2013 novel, "INFERNO" begins with a mystery. Robert Langdon awakens inside a hospital room in Florence, Italy, with no memory of what happened to him during the past few days, but with occasional visions of a scorched Earth. One of the doctors tending him, Dr. Sienna Brooks, reveals that he is suffering from amnesia, due to a bullet wound to the head. When the pair discovers that another doctor is actually an assassin after Robert, Sienna helps him escape. The pair find a "Faraday pointer", a miniature image projector with a modified version of Sandro Botticelli's famous painting "Map of Hell", which is based on Dante's 14th century painting, "Dante's Inferno". Robert and Sienna realize this is the first clue in a trail left by Bertrand Zobrist, a billionaire geneticist who believed that rigorous measures were necessary to reduce the Earth's growing population. Zobrist had earlier committed suicide after being chased by armed government agents. As Robert and Sienna set about finding the virus created by Zobrist, they are chased by two parties. One of them is the hospital assassin, a woman named Vayentha, who works for a private security company called "The Consortium", who is acting on behalf of Zobrist. They are also being chased by agents of the World Health Organization (WHO).
"INFERNO" proved to be a box office flop . . . at least in the United States. International moviegoers, on the other hand, embraced the film, making it an international hit. How did I feel about the film? To be honest, I rather liked. Actually, I like all three film adaptations of Dan Brown's novel. But I would place "INFERNO" at number two. I would not regard it as fascinating as "THE DaVINCI CODE", but I certainly found it more interesting than "ANGELS & DEMONS" due to a twist to the narrative that I did not see coming.
Was there anything I found negative about the film? A part of me wished that Robert Langdon's talent for religious iconology and symbology had played a stronger role in the movie. No, I take that back. Langdon's talent in these field did play a strong role. Through him, he was able to find the virus created by Zobrist. He was also able to find the location where Zobrist and later his followers planned to release the virus. But like "ANGELS & DEMONS", the narrative for "INFERNO" did not provide that much insight in the world of religious and historic iconology as the one for "THE DaVINCI CODE". It seemed a bit of a let down for me. I also have one other problem with "INFERNO" - namely the film's showdown between Langdon, the W.H.O. agents and Zorbrist's followers. Visually, I found the sequence's location inside the Basilica Cistern in Istanbul more than satisfying and strong in atmosphere. But I had a problem in how the leader of Zobrist's followers died. It seemed vague. And when I discovered that particular character had died before Langdon's struggle with another Zobrist follower, I was taken by surprise. Unpleasantly so.
But despite its flaws, I still enjoyed "INFERNO". It had a good, solid cast led by Tom Hanks. It was nice to see him portray Robert Langdon again. More importantly, I enjoyed how he conveyed Langdon's reaction over the unusual situation that the character found himself in the movie's beginning. I must admit that I was not that impressed by the news of Felicity Jones being cast as his co-star in this film. I simply could not imagine a possible screen chemistry between the pair. And yet, they worked well together. It helped that Jones gave an excellent performance, especially in those scenes in which her character seemed a bit overwhelmed in the situations in which they found themselves.
The movie featured other first-rate performances. Hanks had another female co-star - Sidse Babett Knudsen, who gave a warm and skillful performance as Langdon's former lover, W.H.O. director Elizabeth Sinskey. Omar Sy was exceptionally complicated and superb as Christoph Bouchard, leader of the SRS team (Surveillance and Response Support) of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control team looking for Langdon. Ana Ularu struck me as particularly intense as the Consortium agent ordered to follow Langdon. Ben Foster's performance as the transhumanist scientist Bernard Zobrist only appeared in a few scenes in the movie. Yet, the actor did an excellent job in conveying his character's charismatic personality. My favorite performance was given by Irrfan Khan, who was spot-on as head of "The Consortium", the security firm hired by Zobrist to ensure that the latter's virus would be found. I found Khan's performance to be not only entertaining, but also complex and ambiguous.
However, the performances were not the only aspect of "INFERNO" that I enjoyed. I will admit that I felt a bit of disappointment with the movie's Italian setting . . . especially since the previous Langdon film, "ANGELS & DEMONS" was also set in that country. However . . . I must admit that I found Salvatore Totino's sharp and colorful. I thought the cinematographer did an excellent job in capturing the beauty and color of Italy, Hungary and Turkey. And I thought both Tom Elkins and Daniel P. Hanley did a first-rate job with the film's editing - especially in the various action sequences and Langdon's flashbacks.
Despite my complaint that the film's narrative failed to engage in deeper exploration of Langdon's knowledge of iconology and the vague details of the main protagonist's death, I really had no problems with the narrative for "INFERNO". I thought it was a pretty damn good story. I liked how author Dan Brown and screenwriter David Koepp utilized Langdon's specialty to create a nail-biting thriller in which humanity's fate was threatened. Zorbrist proved to be another one of Brown's protagonist, whose extremist views set the story in motion. For some reason, I found myself admiring how the narrative for "INFERNO" combined elements of art history, philosophy, politics, a travelogue, and a James Bond thriller. All I can say is . . . good job.
I realize that "INFERNO" had received mainly negative reviews from critics. And personally, I would never regard it as one of the best films of 2016. But considering the original manner in which the plot commenced and the way screenwriter David Koepp balanced various elements to create an interesting story. And thanks to Ron Howard's slick direction and a first-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, "INFERNO" also proved to be very entertaining.
Friday, April 21, 2017
Below are images from Season Two of the AMC Series, "HELL ON WHEELS". Created by Joe and Tony Gayton, the series stars Anson Mount, Colm Meany, Common and Dominique McElligott:
"HELL ON WHEELS" SEASON TWO (2012) Photo Gallery
Monday, April 17, 2017
Below is an article about the dish known as Lobster Newberg:
LOBSTER NEWBERG (OR NEWBURG)
Some time ago, I had written a small article about a dish called Lobster Thermidor. Four years earlier, a similar dish that involved lobster meat cooked with eggs and alcohol was created on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean called Lobster Newberg.
I was surprised to discover that Lobster Newberg was created by a sea captain in the fruit trade named Ben Newberg in 1875 or 1876. The latter created the dish from lobster, butter, cream, cognac, sherry, eggs, and Cayenne pepper. Following Newberg's creation of the dish, he demonstrated the creation of the dish to Charles Delmonico, the manager of Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City. Delmonico's top chef, Charles Ranhofer, made refinements to the recipe before the former added the dish to the restaurant's menu as Lobster à la Wenberg. The dish became very popular.
However, an argument between Wenberg and Delmonico caused the dish to be removed from the menu. Despite this move, many of the restaurant's patrons continue to request it. To satisfy their demands, the dish's name was rendered in anagram Lobster à la Newberg or Lobster Newberg and return to the restaurant's menu. The dish is still popular and can be found in French cookbooks, where it is sometimes referred to as "Homard sauté à la crème".
Below is a recipe for Lobster Newberg from the Epicurious website:
Lobster Newberg (or Newburg)
*Three 1 1/2-pound live lobsters
*1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
*2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon medium-dry Sherry
*3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon brandy
*1 1/2 cups heavy cream
*1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
*Cayenne to taste
*4 large egg yolks, beaten well
*Toast points as an accompaniment
Into a large kettle of boiling salted water plunge the lobsters, head first, and boil them, covered, for 8 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil. Transfer the lobsters with tongs to a cutting board and let them cool until they can be handled. Break off the claws at the body and crack them. Remove the claw meat and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces. Halve the lobsters length-wise along the undersides, remove the meat from the tails, discarding the bodies, and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces.
In a heavy saucepan cook the lobster meat in the butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the Sherry and 3 tablespoons of the brandy, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 2 minutes. Transfer the lobster meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the cream to the Sherry mixture and boil the mixture until it is reduced to about 1 cup. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon Sherry, the remaining 1 teaspoon brandy, the nutmeg, the cayenne, and salt to taste. Whisk in the yolks, cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it registers 140°F. on a deep-fat thermometer, and cook it, whisking, for 3 minutes more. Stir in the lobster meat and serve the lobster Newburg over the toast.
Sunday, April 16, 2017
"SUICIDE SQUAD" (2016) Review
The year 2016 has proven to be a strange one for Warner Brothers Studios and fans of DC Comics. Their creation - the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise had released two films that proved to be box office hits, yet critical flops. One of those movies was the Zack Synder film, "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE". And the other was the summer film, "SUICIDE SQUAD".
Three years before the release of these two films, the DCEU franchise witnessed its kickoff with the release of "MAN OF STEEL", another origin tale of Clark Kent aka Superman. Whereas "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN" seemed to be more of a direct sequel to the 2013 movie, the narrative for "SUICIDE SQUAD" seemed to be something of a reaction to Superman's death in "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN".
Written and directed by David Ayer, "SUICIDE SQUAD" began several months after the previous film. Amanda Waller, director of the Federal agency Advanced Research Group Uniting Super-Humans (A.R.G.U.S.), convinces the Defense Department to allow her to assemble "Task Force X", a team of dangerous criminals imprisoned at Belle Reve Prison in Louisiana, to engage in high risk black ops missions. The criminals that she has selected are:
*Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot - an elite marksman and professional assassin, who has a warm relationship with his only daughter
*Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn - a former psychiatrist and crazed supervillain who is in a relationship with the psychotic gangster "the Joker"
*Chato Santana aka El Diablo - a former Los Angeles based gang member with a powerful pyrokinetic ability, who had turned himself in after accidentally killing his wife and children
*George "Digger" Harkness aka Captain Boomerang - an Australian-born thief with an unpredictable personality and a talent with deadly boomerangs and knives
*Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc - a supervillain who suffers from a skin condition that causes him to develop reptilian features and a powerful strength
*Dr. June Moone aka Enchantress - an archaeologist who is possessed by an ancient evil force that transforms her into a powerful sorceress
*Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot - a mercenary and assassin who specializes in tactical grappling and scaling
Waller assigns an Army Special Forces officer named Colonel Richard "Rick" Flagg to lead the squad into the field. He is assisted by a group of Navy SEALS led by GQ Edwards, and a widowed Japanese vigilante and martial arts expert named Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, who also happens to be a friend of Flagg's. While Waller and Dr. Moore are in Midway City, the latter transforms into the Enchantress and manages to escape from the former's control. The Enchantress then frees her brother Incubus from a South American artifact, allowing him to take control of a Midway City businessman's body. While both the Enchantress and Incubus besiege the city, the former transforms many of its citizens into her monstrous minions and decides to build a mystical weapon to eradicate mankind. Meanwhile, Waller finally decides to deploy the squad to extract a high-profile mark from the besieged Midway and from possible capture by the Enchantress.
As I had earlier pointed out, the moment "SUICIDE SQUAD" hit the theaters, most of the critics trashed it. I must admit that I was baffled by their reactions. It is one thing to trash the DCEU's earlier entry, "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", even though I did not agree with their negative opinions. But "SUICIDE SQUAD" got trashed as well? Two DCEU movies in one year?
"SUICIDE SQUAD" was not perfect. One of the problems I had with the movie's narrative is that the setting struck me as a bit constricted, considering its 123 minutes running time. At least two-thirds of the film was set during one night in the downtown area of a major city. Also, I never understood why Amanda Waller and Rick Flagg went out of their way to keep the identity of the high-profile mark that the squad had to rescue a secret. Even if they had revealed the truth to Deadshot and the squad's other members, the latter would have been forced to go ahead with the rescue, due to the nano bombs injected into their necks that coerced the squad to cooperate.
Speaking of the nano bombs, I found myself thinking about the character portrayed by Adam Beach, Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot. I hate to say this, but David Ayer really wasted his role. Unlike the other members of the Suicide Squad, there were no glimpses of his backstory in flashbacks. In fact, his name was not even mentioned in the scene in which Amanda Waller introduced her scheme to create the squad. Nor was he seen in the sequence in which Waller and Flagg "recruited" the other members. Audiences knew nothing about Slipknot's role in the film, until he made his first appearance at a military base, where the other squad members had gathered. So . . . what was the point of Slipknot's role in the movie? Utilizing a scene from one of the comic books for "Suicide Squad" in which Captain Boomerang managed to convince Slipknot to join him in an escape attempt from the military, he was merely used as a plot device to show what would happen to the squad's other members if they try to escape. Death by an explosion from an injected nano bomb. That is all.
Despite the above problems I had with this film, overall, I liked it very much. Okay, who am I kidding? Hell, I loved this movie! It was a hell of a ride and a lot of fun. And it did a great job in expanding the DCEU even more. Just as Zach Synder had connected "MAN OF STEEL" with "BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE", David Ayer did the same by connecting the latter with "SUICIDE SQUAD". More importantly, he also connected this movie with one of the upcoming DCEU films, "JUSTICE LEAGUE" in one scene featuring Captain Boomerang getting arrested by Barry Allen aka the Flash in a flashback and in a post-credit scene featuring Amanda Waller and Bruce Wayne aka Batman. The latter scene proved to be a special connection between Waller's failed attempt to make the Enchantress a part of the squad, her files on other meta humans like the Flash and Aquaman, and Bruce Wayne's government contacts that would allow her to avoid any consequences from the whole Enchantress/Midway City debacle.
I also enjoyed how "SUICIDE SQUAD" began with the introduction of the squad's "recruits". While Amanda Waller narrated, the movie embarked upon a series of entertaining flashbacks that revealed the squad members' talents, crimes and how they were captured. Naturally, my two favorite backstories were about Deadshot and Harley Quinn. Both of them revealed how their encounters with Batman led to their incarceration. I was surprised to see another member of the future Justice League of America, namely the Flash, in Captain Boomerang's flashback.
Another aspect of "SUICIDE SQUAD" that I found interesting was how the squad's members managed to form a well tight unit on their own, even when their ties to others were either disconnected like Deadshot's to his daughter Zoe during his time in prison; questionable like Harley Quinn's disturbed and abusive romance with the Joker; and in the case of three other members, non-existent. El Diablo has spent most of his time in prison mourning over the family he had killed and indulging in self-isolation. Killer Croc's reptilian appearance has led him to be isolated and reviled by his fellow criminals and society at large. As for Captain Boomerang, he made it quite clear in a flashback when he double-crossed a colleague that he preferred to work alone. Despite these disparate situations, the squad learned to work together. More importantly, they even learned to work with Rick Flagg, Katana and the Navy SEALs, despite the distrust between the squad and their military watchdogs.
There had been a good deal of criticism from critics and some fans about how Ayer dealt with the relationship between Harley Quinn and the Joker. Many seemed to believe that Ayer had whitewashed the abusive nature of their relationship. That is not the relationship I had seen on screen. It really was not that difficult for me to notice how the Joker seemed to be in control of their relationship. Flashbacks revealed how he had exploited her infatuation for him. I also noticed his disturbing penchant for infantilizing her at times. Even the wardrobe that Harley wore to Midway City seemed to indicate that the Joker regarded her as his possession - namely her "Daddy's Lil Monster" T-shirt and "Puddin" choker:
And yet, I do not recall the Joker wearing any clothing or accessories hinting that he is Harley's possession. Curious. In fact, the controlling nature of their relationship seemed indicative in other relationships in the movie. The Enchantress proved to be something of a control freak. Brimming with resentment over humanity for imprisoning her and her brother Incubus, the sorceress decides to mankind. And yet . . . she transformed many of Midway City's citizens into her minions and seemed to be the dominant half of her relationship with Incubus. On the other hand, Amanda Waller seemed to be the "Queen of Control" in "SUICIDE SQUAD". She uses her position as Director of A.R.G.U.S. to assume control of the criminals who form the squad. And to insure that they will cooperate, she has small nano bombs implanted in their necks. She also tried to use her possession of the Enchantress' heart to control the latter. And she encouraged a romance between Rick Flagg and the Enchantress' human identity, Dr. June Moone, to guarantee Flagg's undivided cooperation.
What can I say about the cast? Personally, I thought the cast members were the best thing about "SUICIDE SQUAD". I have not seen Will Smith in a really good movie since 2012's "MEN IN BLACK III". And I really enjoyed his entertaining, yet first-rate and ambiguous portrayal of sharpshooter Floyd Lawton aka Deadshot. Margot Robbie gave what has turned out to be a superb performance as the hilarious, yet somewhat insane Dr. Harleen Quinzel aka Harley Quinn. Frankly, I think her performance was one of the best in the movie. Another performance that really impressed me came from Viola Davis, who nearly ruled above the others as the ruthless and diabolical Amanda Waller, Director of A.R.G.U.S. The ironic thing is that Waller's character was not the movie's main antagonist, yet Davis' portrayal of her was so scary that she might as well have been.
Jay Hernandez was marvelous as the emotionally tortured Chato Santana aka El Diablo, whose guilt over his family's deaths have led him to be reluctant to participate in the fight against the Enchantress. Karen Fukuhara was equally marvelous as Tatsu Yamashiro aka Katana, the expert martial artist/swordswoman, who guarded Rick Flagg and mourned her dead husband with the intensity of El Diablo's flames. Speaking of Rick Flagg, it is amazing that I have never noticed Joel Kinnaman before this movie. I was surprised to learn that he was not the first choice for the role, for I believe he fitted it like a perfectly well-tailored suit. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's role as Waylon Jones aka Killer Croc was not as big as I would have liked. But the British actor still managed to give a great performance as the isolated supervillain, who managed to maintain a healthy attitude about his own self-esteem . . . despite what others may have thought about him. The biggest surprise proved to be Jai Courtney's portrayal of Australian criminal George "Digger" Harkness aka Captain Boomerang. I have seen Courtney portray a series of intense characters - both heroes and villains. I never knew that he had a talent for comedy. Because . . . dammit! The man was funny as hell.
I thought Jared Leto gave one of the most interesting and original portrayals of the D.C. Comics supervillain, the Joker, I have ever seen. It was . . . well, very dangerous, but in a very sexy way. A sexy Joker. I never thought I would ever say that about the famous villain. But Leto did give a rather sexy and entertaining performance. "SUICIDE SQUAD" also featured some solid supporting performances from the likes of Cara Delevingne as Dr. June Moone aka the Enchantress, Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne aka Batman, David Harbour as a Federal official named Dexter Tolliver, Shailyn Pierre-Dixon as Zoe Lawton, Corina Calderon as Grace Santana, Scott Eastwood as Navy SEAL GQ Edwards, Common as a Gotham City criminal named Monster T and yes, even Adam Beach as Christopher Weiss aka Slipknot . . . despite his limited appearance.
Although I had a problem with director David Ayer's use of the Slipknot character and other minor aspects of the narrative for "SUICIDE SQUAD", I must admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. Very much. In fact, it has become my favorite movie from the summer of 2016 and one of my favorite movies of the summer. Despite what other critics may have thought about it, I thought it was one hell of a film. I look forward to a sequel.
Friday, April 14, 2017
Below are images from "CHINA SEAS", the 1935 adaptation of Crosbie Garstin's 1931 novel. Directed by Tay Garnett, the movie starred Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and Wallace Beery:
"CHINA SEAS" (1935) Photo Gallery