Thursday, August 31, 2017
"ROSS POLDARK AND NOBLESSE OBLIGE"
"You are mistaken if you think greed and exploitation are the marks of a gentleman." - Ross Poldark to George Warleggan, "P0LDARK" (2015)
When I first heard Ross Poldark speak those words to his nemesis, George Warleggan in Episode Eight of the current "POLDARK" series, I found myself wondering if Ross might be full of shit. Or perhaps he was either illusional . . . or a class bigot. Regardless, I could not help but roll my eyes at his remark.
I realize that some might wonder how I could accuse Ross Poldark . . . Ross Poldark of class bigotry. This man has been a champion of the working-class in his little part of Cornwall. He has managed to befriend his workers. He has spoken out on behalf of them and other members of their class. And he has been willing to make any effort to come to their aid - especially those who work on his land, even if he sometimes come off as patronizing. He has certainly expressed anger when he believed any of them has needlessly suffered, due to the actions of the upper-class or other wealthy types. Ross had spent days in a state of drunken anger after one of his former employees, Jim Carter had died after spending over a year in prison for poaching. He had also married his kitchen-maid, Demelza Carne, despite the tongue-wagging of his elite neighbors and family members.
Also, one cannot deny that the Warleggans deserved Ross' scorn. George Warleggan's grandfather had been a blacksmith who eventually became a moderately wealthy man. His sons - George's father and uncle Cary - acquired even more wealth, leading the family to become their parish's wealthiest bankers. George was the first in his family to be and his family were a money hungry bunch that resort to grasping ways - legal or illegal - to not only acquire money, but also rise up the social ladder in order to become part of Cornwall's upper-class. They are pretty much an ambitious and venal bunch who do not seemed to give a rat's ass about the suffering of the lower classes. They also seemed willing to inflict suffering upon them for the sake of greater profits and social respectability. And yet . . . the interesting thing about the Warleggans is that they had managed to acquire great wealth on their own - meaning without the help of some aristocrat or member of the landed gentry.
So, why did I have a problem with Ross' words? Were viewers really expected to believe that only noveau riche types like the Warleggans were capable of greed and exploitation? History tells us that the landed gentry and the aristocracy were just as guilty of greed and exploiting not only their workers, but their land, despite occasional moments of taking care of those beneath them when times were tough. And yet, I get the feeling that those moments of compassion stemmed from the idea of "noblesse oblige" - people of noble birth being duty bound to take responsibility for the well being of those under their patronage or employment. However, "noblesse oblige" had not prevented aristocrats and members of the landed gentry from engaging in years of exploiting their land, their tenants and their employees; living greedily from their profits, and doing a poor job of managing their money led to a decrease in their wealth. This was the case for Polarks, the Chynoweths and other upper class families - fictional or not - who found themselves cash poor by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. British landowners had been enclosing their lands - forcing tenant farmers to become agricultural laborers - since the late seventeeth century, at least a century before George Warleggan had enclosed the Trenwith estate, following his marriage to Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. And they continued to do so well into the nineteenth century.
If Ross regarded himself, his uncle Charles Poldark, his cousin Francis Poldark and other members of the landed gentry like Sir Hugh Bodrugan, the Treneglos, Ray Penvenen and Unwin Trevaunance as "gentlemen", then his comments to George were spoken in error. Most, if not all, of these gentlemen were capable of greed and exploitation. Ross might occasionally criticize the behavior of his fellow members of the upper-class, just as he had did following the death of his former employee, Jim Carter. But he has never expressed antagonism toward them with the same level that he has toward the Warleggans. It is quite obvious that he regarded these men as "gentlemen". He seemed to have no problems with socializing or forming a business enterprise with them. And if this is the case, I cannot help but wonder about the true reason behind Ross' antipathy toward the Warleggans.
Had Ross' antipathy originated with his exposure of the Warleggans' cousin, Matthew Sanson, as a card cheat? I rather doubt it. Ross and some of his other acquaintances had been making snide comments about the Warleggans' rise in wealth since the series began. No matter how many times George tried to befriend Ross throughout most of Series One, the latter would dismiss his effort with a sardonic or nasty comment. Yet, Ross seemed to have no problems with socializing with the likes of the snotty Ruth Teague Treneglos and her ineffectual husband; the money grasping blue-blooded politician Unwin Trevaunance, who sought heiress Caroline Penvenen's hand for her money; or the self-absorbed Sir Hugh Bodrugan, who seemed to have no concern for anyone or anything, aside from his own pleasures - including Demelza Poldark, whom he pursued like some aged satyr. Even Ross is not the epitome of "gentlemanly" sainthood. He seemed so hellbent upon finding a wealthy source of copper or even tin from his mine, Wheal Grace that he failed to consider that he lacked the funds to ensure a safe environment for his workers. This determination to strike a lode without any safety measures led to an accident and the deaths of a few men. And his aggressive, yet adulterous actions against his widowed cousin-in-law (I might as well be frank - his rape of Elzabeth) in the eighth episode of Series Two made it perfectly clear that "gentleman" or not, Ross can be repulsive.
And yet, despite all of this, Ross seemed to regard the Warleggans as an unworthy lot. I am not saying that George and his uncle are a nice bunch. They can be just as repulsive and greedy as their upper-class neighbors. And on several occasions, the Warleggans have made derisive comments about Demelza, who happened to be a miner's daughter. All this tells me is that contrary to Ross' comment to George, the latter's family is no better or worse than the other upper-class characters in the "POLDARK" saga. They are quite capable of being snobs. But what about Ross? Is he a snob? He may be friendly toward his workers and willing to help them out, but his friendly and compassionate regard for them seemed to have a patronizing taint. In fact, his love toward his working-class wife Demelza seemed to have the same taint.
Although his good friend, Dr. Dwight Enys, managed to rise from his working-class background to become a doctor, he did so with the help of upper-class patronage. And Ross provided his own patronage toward Dwight in helping the latter establish a medical practice in their part of Cornwall. Ross even helped Dwight in the latter's romance with the blue-blooded Caroline Penvenen. I cannot help but wonder if the Warleggans had the benefit of "noblesse oblige" - namely an upper-class mentor to guide them in their rise to great wealth, would Ross have been less hostile toward them?
Perhaps it is one thing for Ross Poldark to help the lower classes have a better life - by offering them jobs or homes, providing patronage for someone with potential like Dwight Enys, or marrying his kitchen maid. It is another thing - at least for him - to tolerate people from the lower classes like the Warleggans to rise up in wealth through their own efforts and not via the benefit of the "noblesse oblige". And my gut instinct tells me that the Warleggans’ rise via their own grit, ambition and brains was something that Ross could not stomach.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" (2017) Review
I have a confession to make. When the Disney Studios had released the fourth movie in the "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN"franchise, I wished they had never done it. I wished that a fourth film had never been made. I also believed that the franchise was fine after three movies. Then I learned that a fifth film was scheduled to be released this summer and . . . yeah, I was not pleased by the news. But considering that I can be such a whore for summer blockbusters, I knew that I would be watching it.
Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" seemed to be a story about the search for the trident of the sea god Poseidon. Two years after the post-credit scene from 2007's "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END", Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann Turner boards the Flying Dutchman to inform his father of his discovery that the mythical Trident of Poseidon is able to break the Flying Dutchman's curse and free him from his ship. Henry plans to seek Jack Sparrow's help to find it. Will does not believe the Trident exists and orders Henry to leave his ship and stay away from Jack. Nine years later, Henry finds himself serving aboard a British Royal Navy warship as a seaman. He realizes the ship is sailing into the Devil's Triangle. The captain dismisses his concerns and has Henry locked up for attempting a mutiny. Upon entering the Triangle, the ship's crew discovers a shipwreck that belongs to a Spanish Navy officer named Captain Armando Salazar and his crew, who had become part of the undead after being lured into the Triangle. Salazar and his crew slaughter everyone on board the warship, except for Henry. Discovering that Henry is searching for Jack, Salazar instructs Henry to tell Jack that death is coming his way. Some twenty to thirty years earlier, Salazar was a notorious pirate hunter who had been lured into the Triangle and killed by Jack, who was the young captain of the Wicked Wench at the time. Due to the Triangle's magic, Salazar and his crew became part of the undead.
Years later, a young woman named Carina Smyth is about to be executed for witchcraft on the British-held island of Saint Martin, due to her knowledge of astronomy and horology. She is also interested in finding the Trident, for she sees it as a clue to her parentage. During a prison break, she gets caught up in an attempt by Jack and his small crew, which includes Joshamee Gibbs and Scrum (from the fourth film), to steal a bank vault on the island of Saint Martin. Jack is abandoned by his crew when the vault turns up empty. Desolate, he gives up his magical compass for a drink at a tavern and unexpectedly frees Salazar and his crew from the Triangle. He is also captured by the British Army. Carina meets Henry, who is awaiting execution for what happened aboard his ship. Both realize that for different reasons, they are searching for Poseidon's Trident. Henry escapes, but Carina finds herself a prisoner again. Henry arranges both hers and Jack's escape from execution. Jack also becomes interested in finding the Trident, for he hopes to use it free himself from Salazar's wrath.
I once came upon an article that complained about the lack of consistency in the "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" franchise. When I first heard about this movie, I must admit that I was annoyed to learn that Will Turner would still be entrapped by the Flying Dutchman curse after the post-credit scene from "AT WORLD'S END". I realize that the Disney suits had believed that Will was permanently trapped by the Flying Dutchman curse, but I thought that Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott's claim - that Elizabeth's ten year wait - had broken the curse. Apparently I was wrong . . . and annoyed at the same time. But Will's situation was a mere annoyance for me. The situation regarding Jack's compass - you know, the one that directs a person to one's heart desire - really annoyed me. According to the 2006 movie, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN'S CHEST", Jack had first acquired the compass from Vodou priestess Tia Dalma aka the goddess Calypso. Yet, according to a flashback in this movie, Jack was given the compass from his dying captain, during the Wicked Wench's encounter with Captain Salazar. What else is there to say, but . . . blooper.
Another matter that annoyed me was the setting for the protagonists' final battle against Captain Salazar and his crew. I wish I could explain it. I believe that the setting was located . . . underwater, thanks to the mysterious stone that Carina Smyth had inherited from her parents. I simply found it murky and unsatisfying. And I wish that final conflict had been set elsewhere. I have one last complaint. The movie's post-credit scene featured a character's dream of former antagonist Captain Davy Jones in shadow form. The character had awaken, but the scene's last shot focused on puddles of water and a few bits of tentacles. Was this the franchise's way of hinting the return of Davy Jones? I hope not. Captain Jones was a great villain, but two movies featuring his character were enough. The last thing I want to see in another film is the return of the Flying Dutchman curse or Jones.
Yes, "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" has its flaws. But it also had plenty of virtues that made me enjoy the film. One of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed was the story written by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Old "ghosts"from the past have always played a role in the plots from the franchise's past four films. But the past played a major, major role in this film for not only Jack Sparrow, but also four other characters - Henry Turner, Carina Smyth, Hector Barbossa and even Captain Armando Salazar. I found the story between Jack and Captain Salazar rather ironic, considering that the latter proved to be the franchise's first villain to seek personal revenge against the former. For the other three, I found their stories rather poignant in the end. And because of this, I found "DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" to be the most emotionally satisfying entry in the franchise. This proved to be the only PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film in which I broke into tears at least three times.
Poignant or not, the franchise's trademark humor and action were on full display in this movie. In fact, I can think of at least three major scenes that I believe effectively displayed both traits. One of them involved Jack and the Dying Gull (appropriate name for Jack's latest ship) crew's attempt to rob the new bank on Saint Martin. Not only did it lead to Carina's first escape from a hangman's noose, but also a merry chase that involved the Dying Gull's crew, the British Army, along with Jack and the banker's wife inside of a stolen vault. The second scene that had me both laughing and on edge involved Henry and the Dying Gull's successful rescue of Jack and Carina from being hanged. The third scene had me more on edge than laughing for it involved Jack, Henry and Carina's attempt to survive Salazar's attack upon their rowboat (ghost shark anyone?) as they headed for shore.
"DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" featured the fourth major location for the movie franchise - Australia. Although I found it a pity that the movie did not use any of the Caribbean islands for filming locations, I must admit that production designer Nigel Phelps made great use of the Australian locale, especially in his creation of the Saint Martin town and the Turners' home. On the other hand, I found Paul Cameron's photography rather beautiful, colorful and sharp. I thought Roger Barton and Leigh Folsom Boyd's film editing was first-rate, especially in the action sequences that featured the bank vault chase, the rescue of Jack and Carina, and the shark attack. I wish I could say the same about the final action sequence, but I must admit that I was not that impressed.
I was impressed by the performances featured in "DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES". The movie possessed a first-rate supporting cast that featured the return of Kevin R. McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Stephen Graham as Scrum, Martin Klebba as Marty, Angus Barnett as Mullroy and Giles New as Murtogg. Scrum, who was last seen as part of Hector Barbossa's Queen Anne's Revenge crew, had decided to join Jack Sparrow's crew aboard the Dying Gull. And the presence of Marty, Mullroy and Murtogg revealed that Barbossa was not the only who had escaped Blackbeard's capture of the Black Pearl. The movie also revealed the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth. Their final reunion near the end of the film proved to be one of the most emotionally satisfying and poignant moments in the entire franchise.
There were other great supporting performances that caught my eye. One came from David Wenham, who was in fine, villainous form as Lieutenant John Scarfield, a very bigoted Royal Navy officer who was after Jack, Henry Turner and Carina Smyth. Golshifteh Farahani gave a rather interesting and strange performance as a witch named Shansa, whom many seafarers sought for advice. Adam Brown (from "THE HOBBIT" Trilogy) and Delroy Atkinson proved to be entertaining additions to Jack's crew and the franchise. Juan Carlos Vellido gave a rather intense performance as Captain Salazar's first officer, Lieutenant Lesaro. Since Keith Richards was unable to return as Jack's father, Captain Edward Teague, producer Jerry Brockheimer managed to cast former Beatles Paul McCartney as the former's brother and Jack's uncle, Jack Teague. And I did not know that McCartney was not only a first-rate actor, but one with great comic timing.
I had been familiar with Brenton Thwaites' previous work in movies like "MALEFICENT" and "GODS OF EGYPT". But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his portrayal of Will and Elizabeth's son, Henry Turner. Thwaites did an excellent job in combining the traits of Henry's parents, while making the character a complete individual on his own. Kaya Scodelario was equally effective as science enthusiast, Carina Smyth. Thanks to Scodelario's skillful performance, Carina was an intelligent and charismatic woman. The actress also had a strong screen chemistry with her co-star, Thwaites.
But the three performances that stood above the others came from Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem and of course, Johnny Depp. It is hard to believe that Rush first portrayed Hector Barbossa as a slightly crude, yet cunning, cold-blooded and ambitious pirate. Thanks to Rush's superb portrayal, Barbossa still possessed those traits, but the latter had developed into a successful man, who also possessed a heartbreaking secret that he managed to keep close to his chest. I must admit that I did not particular care for Javier Bardem's portrayal as a Bond villain in 2012's "SKYFALL". I found it too hammy. Thankfully, Bardem's portrayal of the villainous Captain Armando Salazar seemed a great deal more skillful to me. Bardem's Armando Salazar was no mere over-the-top villain, but a vengeful wraith willing to use any method and form of manipulation to capture his prey. Someone once complained that Depp's Jack Sparrow seemed different or a ghost of his former self. I could not agree. Depp's Sparrow was just as selfish, manipulative, horny and humorous as ever. Yet, this Jack Sparrow was at least nineteen years older than he was in "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD'S END". Despite having a miniaturized Black Pearl in his possession for several years, Jack has been forced to settle for a creaking tub called the Dying Gull and a small crew. Worse, he and his men have experienced a series of failures in their attempt to make that great score. If Jack seemed a bit different in this film, it is because he is older and not as successful as he would like to be. And Depp, being the superb actor that he is, did an excellent job in conveying Jack's current failures in his performance.
Would I regard "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" as my favorite film in the Disney franchise? Hmmm . . . no. The movie possessed one or two bloopers in regard to the franchise's main narrative. I was not that impressed by the watery setting for Jack and Salazar's final confrontation. And I did not care for the hint of a past villain's return in the film's post-credit scene. But I really enjoyed the excellent performances by a cast led by the always talented Johnny Depp and the first-rate direction of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. And I especially story created by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Not only did it feature the usual hallmarks of a first-rate PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film, for me it made "DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" the most poignant and emotionally satisfying movie in the entire franchise.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Below are images from the 2017 Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film, "SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING". Directed by Jon Watts, the movie stars Tom Holland as Spider-man aka Peter Parker:
"SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING" (2017) Photo Gallery
Sunday, August 27, 2017
Below are my top ten favorite movies directed by the winning director, William Wellman:
TEN FAVORITE WILLIAM WELLMAN MOVIES
1. "Beau Geste" (1939) - Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston starred in this exciting adaptation of P.C. Wren's 1924 novel about three British brothers who join the French Foreign Legion to stave off a potential family scandal.
2. "Westward the Women" (1951) - Robert Taylor starred in this unusual Western about a wagonmaster hired to guide a wagon train of marriageable women to a region in 1850s California. Denise Durcel, Henry Nakumara and John McIntire co-starred.
3. "A Star Is Born" (1937) - Janet Gaynor and Fredric March starred in this award winning drama about a rising Hollywood actress and her marriage to a fading movie star. Wellman won the Best Writing (Original Story) Oscar for this movie.
4. "Safe in Hell" (1931) - Dorothy Mackaill starred in this fascinating tale about a New Orleans prostitute who struggles to survive and avoid the law, while dealing with an array of men out to exploit her.
5. "Wild Boys of the Road" (1933) - This highly acclaimed adaptation of Daniel Ahern's novel, "Desperate Youth", told the story about a group of teenagers forced to become hobos during the Great Depression. Frankie Darro, Edwin Phillips and Dorothy Coonan (Wellman's fourth and final wife) starred.
6. "Nothing Sacred" (1937) - Carole Lombard and Fredric March starred in this biting comedy about a young woman erroneously diagnosed with radiation poisoning and a newspaper reporter pretending that she really is dying for the sake of money and a series of articles.
7. "Night Nurse" (1931) - Barbara Stanwyck starred in this neat crime thriller about a young nurse who enlists the help of a petty criminal to foil a sinister plot to murder two children from a wealthy family. Ben Lyon, Joan Blondell and Clark Gable co-starred.
8. "Heroes For Sale" (1933) - Richard Barthelmess starred in this poignant tale about a World War I veteran who suffers a series of personal mishaps from the post-war period to the Great Depression. Loretta Young and Aline MacMahon co-starred.
9. "The Public Enemy" (1931) - James Cagney became a star portraying a young Chicago hoodlum who becomes a successful bootlegger via a bloody mob war. Edward Woods, Jean Harlow and Joan Blondell co-starred.
10. "The High and the Mighty" (1954) - John Wayne starred in this tense disaster movie, an adaptation of Ernest K. Gann's 1953 novel, about a commercial airplane that develops engine trouble during a trans-Pacific flight. Robert Stack, Claire Trevor and Larraine Day co-starred.
Saturday, August 26, 2017
"GIRLS ABOUT TOWN" (1931) Review
When he first arrived in Hollywood in 1929, New York stage director George Cukor served as a dialogue coach at Paramount Pictures and occasionally, at other studios like Universal. Then in 1930, he co-directed three movies, two of them with Cyril Gardner. He had to wait a year later to serve as sole director for his first two movies. One of them turned out to be the 1931 comedy called "GIRLS ABOUT TOWN".
Written by Zoe Akins, Raymond Griffith, and Brian Marlow; "GIRLS ABOUT TOWN" is about two gold diggers named Wanda Howard and Marie Bailey who entertain stody, but wealthy Midwestern businessmen visiting Manhattan. However, Wanda has tired of her demeaning lifestyle until she meets the handsome Jim Baker during a yacht party. Also on board is Jim's friend, stingy tycoon Benjamin Thomas, who is the richest man in Lansing, Michigan. While Marie entertains Benjamin and becomes the victim of his practical jokes, Jim makes his feelings about her and Marie's racket. However, the pair fall in love when she nearly drowns and Jim rescues her. And when he proposes marriage to her, Wanda makes her feelings clear by ripping up her payment for entertaining him. But an obstacle stand in Wanda and Jim's path to a happy ending in the form of her shiftless ex-husband Alex, who wants Jim to pay him a hefty sum for a divorce from Wanda.
In the movie's secondary plot, Marie has become weary of Benjamin's practical jokes. But she is also determined to swindle him into giving her as much money as possible . . . which proves to be increasingly difficult, due to his tightfisted ways. However, Marie acquires an unexpected ally in the form of Benjamin's wife, Daisy. The latter is determined to divorce him for his stinginess, despite the fact that she still loves him. The two women, realizing that Benjamin is using his stinginess to string them along, the two women scheme to shame Benjamin into spending more money for them both.
How can I put this? I would not consider "GIRLS ABOUT TOWN" to be a particularly original tale. Or perhaps I simply found predictable - at least the main narrative about Wanda and Jim. Only a blind man would fail to predict how their relationship would unfold, especially when her ex-husband Alex entered the picture. But despite this element of predictability, I must admit that I found Wanda and Jim's story rather entertaining, thanks to winning performances from Kay Francis and Joel McCrea. Not only did I predict that ex-husband would prove to be an obstacle for Wanda, so did Hattie, the maid that she and Marie shared. Louise Beavers, who portrayed Hattie, had one of the funniest moments in the film when she hysterically spilled out how Alex would prove to be a lot of trouble for Wanda and Jim.
But it was the movie's subplot involving Marie and the Thomases that proved to be the movie's pièce de résistance. When Daisy Thomas first visited Marie and Wanda's apartment, I had no idea on how this story would played out. It was not long before I found myself flabbergasted by the budding friendship between Marie and her sugar daddy's wife, Daisy. And watching them scam the tightfisted Benjamin into spending cash for both of them made me appreciate how this movie seemed to be a prime example of Hollywood's Pre-Code era. This subplot also benefited from some hilarious performances from the husky-voiced Lilyan Tashman, Eugene Pallette (another performer known for an unusual voice) and Lucile Gleason.
Overall, "GIRLS ABOUT TOWN" is an entertaining and slightly wicked film, well directed by George Cukor in one of his earlier Hollywood efforts. Mind you, I did not find the movie's main narrative particularly original. But the subplot really took me by surprise and in my view, really made the film; along with a fine cast led by Kay Francis, Lilyan Tashman and Joel McCrea.
Thursday, August 24, 2017
Below are images from "RIVER LADY", the 1948 adapatation of Frank Waters and Houston Branch's 1942 novel. Directed by George Sherman, the movie starred Yvonne DeCarlo, Rod Cameron and Dan Duryea:
"RIVER LADY" (1948) Photo Gallery