Top Five Favorite Episodes of “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” Season One (2013-2014)

ABC's "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." - Season One

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season One of Marvel’s “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.”. Created by Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, and Maurissa Tancharoen; the series stars Clark Gregg.: 

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” SEASON ONE (2013-2014)

1 - 1.17 Turn Turn Turn

1. (1.17) “Turn, Turn, Turn” – All hell breaks loose when the events of “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” leads to the downfall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the exposure of HYDRA moles within their ranks.

2 - 1.21 Nothing Personal

2. (1.20) “Nothing Personal” – Former S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill helps Coulson and his team track down fellow agent Skye, who has been snatched by HYDRA and former ally, Mike Peterson aka Deathlok.

3 - 1.13 - T.R.A.C.K.S.

3. (1.13) “T.R.A.C.K.S.” – The team’s search for the head of the Centipede organization, the Clairvoyant, takes a troubling turn when they board a train in Italy on which a Cybertek employee is shipping a package to Ian Quinn, a wealthy follower of the Clairvoyant.

4 - 1.10 The Bridge

4. (1.10) “The Bridge” – Coulson recruits Mike, who has become a new S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, to help him and the team track down fugitive Edison Po and the Centipede organization, which is a part of HYDRA. Unfortunately, trouble ensues when Centipede manages to kidnap Mike’s son.

5 - 1.15 Yes Men

5. (1.15) “Yes Men” – The team helps Asgardian Lady Sif hunt down enchantress Lorelei, who has plans to create an army with the help of Human males. Unfortunately, the team and Sif encounter trouble when Agent Grant Ward falls under her spell.

HM - 1.22 Beginning of the End

Honorable Mention: (1.22) “Beginning of the End” – In the first season’s finale, Coulson and his team raid the Cybertek facility controlled by HYDRA agents and receive much needed help from former S.H.I.E.L.D. director Nick Fury.

 

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“THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” (2001) Review

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“THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” (2001) Review

Over seventeen years ago, the BBC aired “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW”, a four-part television adaptation of Anthony Trollope’s 1875 novel. Adapted by Andrew Davies and directed by David Yates, the miniseries starred David Suchet, Shirley Henderson and Matthew Macfadyen. 

“THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” told the story of a Central European financier’s impact upon upper-crust British society during the Victorian era. Augustus Melmotte arrives in London with his second wife and his daughter, Marie in the 1870s. Not long after his arrival, Melmotte announces a new scheme to finance a railroad project from Salt Lake City in Utah to the Gulf of Mexico. And he promises instant fortune to those who would invest in his scheme. The Melmotte family is also surrounded by a circle of decadent aristocrats and nouveau riche businessmen, all trying to get a piece of the financial pie. One of the investors is Sir Felix Carbury, a young and dissolute baronet who is quickly running through his widowed mother’s savings. In an attempt to restore their fortunes, his mother, Lady Matilda Carbury writes historical potboilers – a 19th century predecessor to 20th century romance novels. She also plans to have Felix marry Marie, who is an heiress in her own right; and marry daughter Henrietta (Hetta) to their wealthy cousin, Roger Carbury. Although Marie falls in love with Felix, Melmotte has no intention of allowing his daughter to marry a penniless aristocrat. And Hetta shows no interest in Roger, since she has fallen in love with his young ward, an engineer named Paul Montague.  However, Montague also proves to be a thorn in Melmotte’s side, due to his suspicions about the legitimacy over the railroad scheme.

As one can see, the story lines that stream from Trollope’s novel seemed to be plenty. In a way, the plot reminds me of the numerous story arcs that permeated 2004’s “HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT”. Although some of the story arcs have nothing to do with Augustus Melmotte, nearly everyone seemed to have some connection to the financier. The exceptions to this rule proved to be the characters of American-born Mrs. Winifred Hurtle, Roger Carbury and Ruby Ruggles, a young farm girl who lives on Roger’s estate. Mrs. Hurtle’s story was strictly limited to her efforts to regain the affections of former lover and help Ruby deal with the licentious Sir Felix. Roger’s story arc was limited to his unsuccessful efforts to win Henrietta’s heart and deal with his knowledge of Paul and Mrs. Hurtle’s relationship. Fortunately, “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” seemed to possess a tighter story than “HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT”. To a certain degree.

But I cannot deny that “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” was one of the most entertaining adaptations of a Trollope novel I have ever seen. If I must be honest, I enjoyed it more than I did “HE KNEW HE WAS RIGHT” or 1982’s “THE BARCHESTER CHRONICLES”. One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much was due to its portrayal of society’s greed and opportunism. I have heard that Trollope had written the novel in protest against the greed and corruption of the 1870s, which resulted in the Long Depression that lasted between 1873 and 1879. The ironic thing is that the economic situation that Trollope believed had permeated British society during the 1870s had been around for a long time and would continue to permeate the world’s economic markets time again – including the recent downturn that has cast a shadow on today’s economies. Trollope’s Augustus Melmotte is today’s Bernie Madoff or Robert Maxwell.

Another aspect of “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” is that it revealed the darker aspects of Victorian society on a more personal level. I did not know whether to be amused or disgusted by the manner in which young British scions such as Sir Felix Carbury scrambled to win the affections of Marie Melmotte and get their hands on her money; or desperate debutantes like Georgiana Longestaffe willing to marry Jewish banker Mr. Brehgert, despite her contempt for his religious beliefs and social position. I doubt that the likes of Georgiana would never contemplate becoming an author of cheesy novels, like Lady Carbury or marrying a man with no funds – like .

Thanks to Davies’ screenplay and David Yates’ direction, “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” permeated with a richly dark and comic style that beautifully suited Trollope’s tale. Hardly anyone – aside from a few such as Paul Montague, Hetta Carbury and Mr. Brehgert – was spared from the pair’s biting portrayal of Trollope’s characters. Two of my favorite scenes featured a ball held by the Melmottes in Episode One and a banquet in honor of the Chinese Emperor in Episode Three. The banquet scene especially had me on the floor laughing at the sight of British high society members gorging themselves on the dishes prepared by Melmotte’s cook.

Although “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” is my favorite Trollope adaptation – so far – I must admit that I had a few problems with it. One, Andrew Davies’ portrayal of the Paul Montague character struck me as slightly boring. Like his literary counterpart, Paul found himself torn between his love for Hetta and his sexual past with Mrs. Hurtle. But Davies’ Paul seemed so . . . noble and stalwart that I found it hard to believe this is the same gutless wonder from Trollope’s novel. And if I must be brutally honest, I found his relationship with Hetta Carbury to be another example of a boring romance between two boring young lovers that seemed to permeate Victorian literature. A part of me longed for Paul to end up with Winifred Hurtle. At least he would have found himself in a more interesting romance. I have one more quibble. In a scene featuring a major quarrel between Melmotte and his daughter Marie, there was a point where both were in each other’s faces . . . growling like animals. Growling? Really? Was that necessary? Because I do not think it was.

One would think I have a problem with Cillian Murphy and Paloma Baeza’s performances as Paul Montague and Hetta Carbury. Trust me, I did not. I thought both gave solid and competent performances. I feel they were sabotaged by Trollope’s portrayal of their characters as “the young lovers” and Davies’ unwillingness to put some zing into their romance. Miranda Otto made a very interesting Mrs. Hurtle, despite her bad attempt at a Southern accent. And Allan Corduner and Fenella Woolgar both gave solid performances that I did not find particularly memorable. On the other hand, I felt more than impressed by Cheryl Campbell as the charming and somewhat manipulative Lady Carbury; Douglas Hodge as the love-sick Roger Carbury; Oliver Ford-Davies as the grasping, yet bigoted Mr. Longestaffe; Helen Schlesinger’s funny performance as the clueless Madame Melmotte; a poignant performance from Jim Carter, who portrayed Mr. Brehgert; and Anne-Marie Duff, who managed to create a balance between Georgiana Longstaffe’s strong-willed willingness to marry a man of another faith and her self-absorption and bigotry.

However, the three performances that stood head above the others came from David Suchet, Shirley Henderson and Matthew Macfadyen. Suchet could have easily portrayed the scheming and gregarious Augustus Melmotte as a cartoonish character. And there were times when it seemed he was in danger of doing so. But Suchet balanced Melmotte’s over-the-top personality with a shrewdness and cynicism that I found appealing – especially when those traits mocked the pretentiousness and hypocrisy of British high society. Shirley Henderson proved to be the perfect person to portray Melmotte’s only daughter, Marie. Superficially, she seemed like a chip off the old block. But Henderson injected a great deal of compassion and poignancy into Marie’s character, making it very easy for me to sympathize toward her unrequited love for Sir Felix Carbury and the heartache she felt upon discovering his lack of love for her. Matthew Macfadyen must have finally made a name for himself in his memorable portrayal of the dissolute Sir Felix Carbury. I cannot deny that Macfadyen revealed a good deal of Sir Felix’s charm. But the actor made it pretty obvious that his character’s charm was at best, superficial. Considering some of the roles he has portrayed over the decade that followed “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW”, I believe Macfadyen’s Sir Felix must have been one of the most self-absorbed characters in his repertoire. And he did a superb job with the role. It is a pity that he never received an acting nomination or award for his performance.

One cannot talk about “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” without pointing out the sumptuous production designs created by Gerry Scott. They were superb. With contributions from Diane Dancklefsen and Mark Kebby’s art direction, Caroline Smith’s set decorations, Chris Seager’s photography and Andrea Galer’s costume designs; Scott and his team did a wonderful job in re-creating Victorian society in the 1870s. I was especially impressed at how Galer’s costumes captured the early years of that decade. I would never call Nicholas Hooper’s score particularly memorable. But I cannot deny that it suited both the story’s theme and setting.

Although I found a few aspects of “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” to complain about – notably the Paul Montague and Hetta Carbury characters. I cannot deny that it is a first-rate production, thanks to Andrew Davies’ adaptation, David Yates’ direction and a fine cast led by David Suchet. More importantly, the story’s theme of greed and corruption leading to economic chaos was not only relevant to the mid-to-late Victorian era, but also for today’s society. “THE WAY WE LIVE NOW” strike me as a story for all times.

 

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“SOME LIKE IT HOT” (1959) Review

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“SOME LIKE IT” (1959) Review

It has been called one of the greatest film comedies of all time . . . and possibly the greatest. Billy Wilder’s 1959 comedy, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” has been the topic of many books and documentaries on both Hollywood and the director’s career. I have seen the movie more times than I can remember. And for the first time, I have decided to publicize my feelings on it.

Directed by Billy Wilder and co-written by him and I.A.L. Diamond, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” is a remake of a 1935 French film called “FANFARE D’AMOUR”, which was based upon a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan. “FANFARE D’AMOUR” was first remade in 1951 by director Kurt Hoffmann as “FANFAREN DER LIEBE”. However, the French and German versions did not feature gangsters as an integral part of their plots. “SOME LIKE IT HOT” told the story of a pair of struggling jazz musicians who end up witnessing the Saint Valentine Day Massacre – at least a fictionalized account of it. When the Chicago gangsters, led by “Spats” Columbo see them, the two flee Chicago for their lives by taking a job as members of an all-girl band heading for Florida . . . disguised as women. The musicians, Joe and Jerry, become enamored of a “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk, the band’s vocalist and ukulele player. And both struggle for her affection, while maintaining their disguises. In order to win Sugar’s affection, Joe assume a second disguise as a millionaire named “Junior”, the heir to Shell Oil. As for Joe, he has attracted the attention of a real millionaire named Osgood Fielding III. But when “Spats” Columbo and his men make an unexpected appearance at a gangster’s convention at their hotel, all hell breaks loose.

Does “SOME LIKE IT HOT” deserve its reputation as one of the greatest film comedies of all time? I believe it does. In fact, it happens to be my personal favorite comedy of all time. Fifty-nine years have passed since it was first released and it is just as fresh and hilarious as ever. More importantly, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” features some twisted humor that does not seem dated at all. Mind you, there have been other movies and television series (think “BOSOM BUDDIES” of the early 1980s) with a gender bender theme. But not one of them have been as funny as “SOME LIKE IT HOT”. Not even 1982’s “VICTOR/VICTORIA” – which is a close second for me – is not as funny. Both movies featured the insidious possibilities of cross-dressing. But whereas the 1982 movie is a bit more obvious and a little preachy in its attempt to convince moviegoers to accept what is presented on the screen, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” is a lot more subtle and funny, thanks to Wilder and Diamond’s script. In fact, the movie’s last line said a lot more about the consequences of cross dressing than any other movie ever had. I only have one complaint about Wilder and Diamond’s script. From the moment “Spats” Columbo and his men arrived in Florida, I found the movie’s plot and pacing somewhat rushed. Only Marilyn Monroe’s poignant rendition of “I’m Through With Love”, Pat O’Brien, Nehemiah Persoff and the last scene saved the movie’s final fifteen to twenty minutes.

Production-wise, “SOME LIKE IT HOT” seemed pretty top-notch. Production manager Allen K. Wood did his best to re-create the late 1920s for the film. I certainly had nothing to complain about Edward G. Boyle’s sets and Ted Haworth’s art direction, both earning Academy Award nominations. Although a part of me find the idea of “SOME LIKE IT HOT” shot in color somewhat appealing (see the photograph above), I must admit that Charles Lang’s black-and-white photography (also an Oscar nominee) looked very attractive – especially his photography of San Diego’s famous Hotel Del Coronado standing in as the Florida hotel where Sweet Sue’s band performed. Legendary Hollywood veteran Orry-Kelly won the film’s only Academy Award for his costume designs. I must admit that I found them very impressive and captured the late 1920s beautifully. I only wish that the women’s shoes worn with the costumes had been just as accurate. Looking at Marilyn Monroe’s famous walk along the train station platform, I could easily tell that her shoes were circa 1958-59. And I could say the same for the hairstyles worn by the female cast members.

Speaking of the cast,they were superb . . . every last member. The supporting cast provided brief, but memorable moments from the likes of Billy Gray as a young hotel bellhop lusting after Joe (as Josephine), Nehemiah Persoff as the colorful crime boss Little Bonaparte, Beverly Willis as band member and lover of raunchy jokes Dolores, Dave Barry as the band’s “dignified” manager Beinstock and a delicious Pat O’Brien as the sardonic police detective Mulligan. The movie also featured a funny performance from Joan Shawnlee as the band’s tough talking leader, Sweet Sue. And George Raft was effectively menacing as bootlegger/gangster “Spats” Columbo. I have only seen Joe E. Brown in perhaps two roles . . . and one of them was Osgood Fielding III, the sweet and hilarious millionaire whose heart is captured by Jerry aka “Daphne”. I have a deep suspicion that Osgood may have been one of Brown’s best movie roles ever. And he also had the good luck to utter one of the funniest and memorable last lines in Hollywood history.

But the movie truly belonged to Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. Monroe won a Golden Globe award for her performance as the love-sick chartreuse, “Sugar” Kane Kowalczyk. She may or may not have been difficult during the movie’s production, but she more than earned that Golden Globe award. She was funny, poignant, sweet . . . and slightly mercenary – especially in her character’s pursuit of the fictional Shell Oil heir, “Junior”. It is heartening to see that so many have finally learned to appreciate Tony Curtis’ talents as an actor. While co-stars Monroe earned a Golden Globe and Jack Lemmon earned an Oscar nomination, Curtis ended up with the “short end of the lollipop”. Pity, because he was just as funny as the seductive trombone player Joe. But I found his portrayal of the fictional “Junior” even funnier and he managed to utter the second funniest line in the movie. Bull fiddler Jerry aka “Daphne” led to a second Academy Award nomination for Jack Lemmon . . . and he deserved it. One, he formed a great comedy team with Curtis (with whom he would reunite six years later in “THE GREAT RACE”). Two, watching him assume the airs of woman had me rolling on the floor. But what really cracked me up were his acceptance of the possibility of becoming Osgood’s next bride, while basking in the throes of their night together at a Cuban restaurant. It was a superb comedic moment for Lemmon and I would not be surprised if it was the very one that led to his nomination.

What else can I say about “SOME LIKE IT HOT”? Okay, it is not perfect. I was able to spot a few flaws in the costumes and one in the plot. But it is the closest to a perfect film comedy I have seen so far. And remember . . . this movie had been made fifty-nine years ago. William Wyler’s remake, “BEN-HUR” ended up sweeping the Oscars for that year. Pity. I have never been a fan of that movie. And if it had been up to me, I would have given the top awards to “SOME LIKE IT HOT”.

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Steak Diane

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Below is an article that features the history and a recipe for a dish called “Steak Diane”: 

STEAK DIANE

Tracing the history of the culinary dish, Steak Diane, proved to be a complicated affair. From some of the articles I have read, the dish’s history could be traced back to the late 19th century and early 20th century, when European chefs rediscovered the recipe for an ancient dish that required sauce served over venison. Its sharp sauce was intended to complement the sweet flavor of deer meet. It was named after the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon, Diana.

But the actual Steak Diane evolved from Steak au Poivre, which was coated with cracked peppercorn before cooked and smothered with sauce. But Steak au Poivre did not include flambéing with brandy in its recipe. Steak Diane did. Sometime during the 1950s, Steak Diane made its first appearance either at the The Drake Hotel, the Sherry-Netherland Hotel or the Colony Restaurant in New York City. Beniamino “Nino” Schiavon, an Italian-born chef who worked at the Drake Hotel. I do know that Steak Diane became a very popular dish for those who hobnobbed within New York’s high society during the 1950s and 1960s.

The following is a recipe for the dish from celebrity chef, Emeril Lagassee:

Steak Diane

Ingredients
4 (3-ounce) filet mignon medallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 teaspoons minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup sliced white mushroom caps
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup reduced veal stock, recipe follows
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 drops hot red pepper sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped green onions
1 teaspoon minced parsley leaves

Preparations

Season the beef medallions on both sides with the salt and pepper. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook for 45 seconds on the first side. Turn and cook for 30 seconds on the second side. Add the shallots and garlic to the side of the pan and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until soft, 2 minutes. Place the meat on a plate and cover to keep warm.

Tilt the pan towards you and add the brandy. Tip the pan away from yourself and ignite the brandy with a match. (Alternatively, remove the pan from the heat to ignite, and then return to the heat.) When the flame has burned out, add the mustard and cream, mix thoroughly and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the veal stock and simmer for 1 minute. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce and stir to combine. Return the meat and any accumulated juices to the pan and turn the meat to coat with the sauce.

Remove from the heat and stir in the green onions and parsley. Divide the medallions and sauce between 2 large plates and serve immediately.

Here is the recipe for the Reduced Veal Stock:

Preparation

4 pounds veal bones with some meat attached, sawed into 2-inch pieces (have the butcher do this)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions
1 cup coarsely chopped carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped celery
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/4 cup tomato paste
6 quarts water
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups dry red wine

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Place the bones in a large roasting pan and toss with the oil. Roast, turning occasionally, until golden brown, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and spread the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic over the bones. Smear the tomato paste over the vegetables and return the pan to the oven. Roast for another 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour off the fat from the pan.

Transfer the bones and vegetables to a large stockpot. Do not discard the juices in the roasting pan. Add the water, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and peppercorns to the stockpot and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, place the roasting pan over two burners on medium-high heat. Add the wine and stir with a heavy wooden spoon to deglaze and dislodge any browned bits clinging to the bottom of the pan. Add the contents to the stockpot. When the liquid returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for 8 hours, skimming occasionally to remove any foam that rises to the surface.

Ladle through a fine-mesh strainer into a large clean pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a gentle boil, and cook, uncovered, until reduced to 6 cups in volume, about 1 hour. Let cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove any congealed fat from the surface of the stock. The stock can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or frozen in airtight containers for up to 2 months.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1980) Review

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“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” (1980) Review

As far as I know, Guy Hamilton is the only director who has helmed two movie adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. The 1982 movie, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN” was the second adaptation. The first was his 1980 adaptation of Christie’s 1962 novel, “The Mirror Crack’d From Side to Side”

A big Hollywood production has arrived at St. Mary’s Mead, the home of Miss Jane Marple, to film a costume movie about Mary, Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I of England, starring two Hollywood stars – Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster. The two actresses are rivals who despise each other. Marina and her husband, director Jason Rudd, have taken residence at Gossington Hall, where Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly used to live. Due to Colonel Bantry’s death, Mrs. Bantry – who is one of Miss Marple’s closest friends – has moved to a smaller home.

Excitement runs high in the village as the locals have been invited to a reception held by the movie company in a manor house, Gossington Hall, to meet the celebrities. Lola and Marina come face to face at the reception and exchange some potent and comical insults, nasty one-liners, as they smile and pose for the cameras. The two square off in a series of clever cat-fights throughout the movie.

Marina, however, has been receiving anonymous death threats. After her initial exchange with Lola at the reception, she is cornered by a gushing, devoted fan, Heather Badcock (played by Maureen Bennett), who bores her with a long and detailed story about having actually met Marina in person during World War II. After recounting the meeting they had all those years ago, when she arose from her sickbed to go and meet the glamorous star, Babcock drinks a cocktail that was made for Marina and quickly dies from poisoning. It is up to Miss Marple and her nephew, Detective-Inspector Dermot Craddock of Scotland Yard to discover the killer.

I surprised to learn that Guy Hamilton was the director of “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. This movie was the first of two times in which he directed an Agatha Christie adaptation that placed murder in the world of show business. Frankly? I am beginning to suspect that he was more suited for this particular genre that he was for the James Bond franchise. Like the 1982 film, “EVIL UNDER THE SUN”, I enjoyed it very much. I am not a big fan of Christie’s 1962 novel. I understand that the origin of its plot came from Hollywood history, which gives it a touch of pathos. Along with the quaint portrayal of English village life and the delicious bitch fest that surrounded the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster, I believe that Hamilton and screenwriters Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler in exploring that pathos in the end. There is one aspect of Christie’s story that the screenwriters left out – namely the connection between Marina and the photographer Margot Bence. Honestly, I do not mind. I never cared for it in the first place. I found this connection between Marina and Ms. Bence a little too coincidental for my tastes.

I did not mind the little touches of English village life featured in “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. Although I must admit that I found them occasionally boring. Only when the citizens of St. Mary’s Mead interacted with the Hollywood visitors did I find them interesting. On the other hand, the rivalry between Marina Gregg and Lola Brewster was a joy to watch. And I feel that Hamilton and the two screenwriters handled it a lot better than Christie’s novel or the 1992 television movie. And to be honest, I have to give Elizabeth Taylor and Kim Novak most of the credit for the venomous and hilarious manner in which their characters’ rivalry played out on screen.

The behind-the-scene productions for “THE MIRROR CRACK’D” certainly seemed top-notch. Christopher Challis’ photography struck me as colorful and beautiful. However, there were moments when he seemed to indulge in that old habit of hazy photography to indicate a period film. Only a few moments. Production designer Michael Stringer did a solid job of re-creating the English countryside circa early-to-mid 1950s. His work was ably supported by John Roberts’ art direction and Peter Howitt’s set decorations. Phyllis Dalton did a very good job of re-creating the fashions of the movie’s 1950s setting. I especially enjoyed the costumes she created for the fête sequence. The only aspect of the production that seemed less than impressive was John Cameron’s score. Personally, I found it wishy-washy. His score for the St. Mary’s Mead setting struck me as simple and uninspiring. Then he went to another extreme for the scenes featuring the Hollywood characters – especially Marina Gregg – with a score that seemed to be a bad imitation of some of Jerry Goldsmith’s work.

“THE MIRROR CRACK’D” certainly featured some first-rate performances. Angela Landsbury made a very effective Jane Marple. She not only seemed born to play such a role, there were times when her portrayal of the elderly sleuth seemed like a dress rehearsal for the Jessica Fletcher role she portrayed on television. Elizabeth Taylor gave an excellent performance as the temperamental Marina Gregg. She did a great job in portraying all aspects of what must have been a complex role. Rock Hudson was equally first-rate as Marina’s husband, the sardonic and world-weary director, Jason Rudd. He did a great job in conveying the character’s struggles to keep his temperamental wife happy and the impact these struggles had on him. Edward Fox was charming and very subtle as Miss Marple’s nephew, Scotland Yard Inspector Dermot Craddock. I especially enjoyed how his Craddock used a mild-mannered persona to get the suspects and others he interrogated to open up to him.

I was never impressed by Agatha Christie’s portrayal of the Lola Brewster character . . . or of two other actresses who portrayed the role. But Kim Novak was a knockout as the somewhat crude and highly sexual Hollywood starlet. Watching the comic timing and skill she injected into the role, made me suspect that Hollywood had underestimated not only her acting talent, but comedy skills. Tony Curtis certainly got a chance to display his comedic skills as the fast-talking and somewhat crude film producer, Martin Fenn. And I rather enjoyed Geraldine Chaplin’s sardonic portrayal of Ella Zielinsky, Jason Rudd’s caustic-tongued secretary, who seemed to be in love with him. The movie also featured solid performances from Charles Gray, Wendy Morgan, Margaret Courtenay and Maureen Bennett. And if you look carefully, you just might spot a young Pierce Brosnan portraying a cast member of Marina’s movie.

Overall, I enjoyed “THE MIRROR CRACK’D”. I thought Guy Hamilton did an excellent job in creating a enjoyable murder mystery that effectively combined the vibrancy of Hollywood life and the quaintness of an English village. He was assisted by a first-rate crew, a witty script by Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler, and a very talented cast led by Angela Landsbury.

 

“LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) Review

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“LIVE AND LET DIE” (1973) Review

Between 1967 and 1972, EON Productions spent a chaotic five years trying to find one man to portray James Bond following Sean Connery’s decision to retire from the role. Nineteen sixty-eight found Australian model, George Lazenby in the role. But after one movie, the excellent “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE”, Lazenby decided that he did not want to continue the role. Connery came back for one last movie – “DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER”, but did not bother to stick around. 

Then in 1972, Broccoli and Saltzman hired Roger Moore (famous for the TV series, “THE SAINT”) to portray the British agent. And Moore went on to play the role for the next 12 years. But he had to start somewhere and he did with 1973’s “LIVE AND LET DIE”, an adaptation of Ian Fleming’s 1954 novel. This was the very first Bond movie I had ever seen. Although I have a great sentimental attachment to the movie, I do not really consider it to be among the finest in the franchise. Nor is it a personal favorite of mine.

Following the murders of three MI-6 agents (in New York, New Orleans and the fictional island of San Monique), Bond is assigned by “M” to investigate their deaths. His investigations in New York leads him to a Harlem gangster named Mr. Big. But as it turns out, Mr. Big is also San Monique’s foreign minister, Dr. Kanaga. Bond eventually learns that Kanaga/Mr. Big plans to use the heroin grown in the San Monique opium fields to flood the current heroin market and gain complete control of the U.S. drug market (very similar to the schemes of Harlem gangster, Frank Lucas). He ordered the three British agents killed, because apparently they were in danger of stumbling upon his scheme.

I am going to be frank. As much as I like “LIVE AND LET DIE”, I have never been impressed by the screenplay written by Tom Mankiewicz. It never made any sense to me that the British government would be interested in the activities of a diplomat from an island that had obviously been a former French colony, or an American gangster. If the three agents and Bond had been French, I could see them working with CIA agent Felix Leiter on this case. But there you have it. And Bond’s San Monique showdown with Kanaga had always struck me as being rather disappointing. Another aspect of the movie I found disappointing was the leading lady – namely Jane Seymour as Kanaga’s Tarot card seer, Solitaire. I have nothing against Seymour’s performance. She seemed to be her usual, competent self. But other than predicting Bond’s arrival in New York and later, at Kanaga’s San Monique estate; and warning Bond about Rosie Carver (via a Tarot card), I found nothing impressive about Solitaire’s role in the story. Especially since she eventually became nothing more than a moaning damsel-in-distress. And Geoffrey Holder as Baron Semedi did not really do much for me, but his ghostly appearance at the end of the movie was memorable.

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Fortunately, “LIVE AN LET DIE” had its virtues. Roger Moore’s long experience with action roles in television (“MAVERICK”“THE SAINT”, and “THE PERSUADERS”) allowed him to segued into the Bond role with great ease. He already seemed very comfortable in the role. And without any problems, Moore managed to establish his own style. Unfortunately, very few people appreciated this at the time. And Yaphet Kotto created an impressive villain in an interesting duel role as the smooth and intelligent Kanaga/the bombastic Mr. Big. To this day, Julius Harris’ TeeHee remains one of my favorite Bond henchmen of all time. All I can say was that the man was perfect – humorous, yet very menacing. David Hedison’s friendship with Moore proved to be very effective in his first outing as CIA agent, Felix Leiter. The warmth and easy manner between Leiter and Bond seemed more apparent than in any other Bond film. And I rather enjoyed Gloria Hendry’s performance as the amusingly clumsy, yet treacherous Rosie Carver. And let us not forget the hilarious and unforgettable Clifton James as the long-suffering Southern lawman, Sheriff J.W. Pepper. James’ peformance was so impressive that the producers brought him back to reprise his role in 1974’s “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”.

Also among the movie’s virtues was its smooth direction by Guy Hamilton, which included a rather fun boat chase through the Louisiana bayou, fine performances and the rich atmosphere of New York’s Harlem and New Orleans. Cinematographer Ted Moore did much to contribute to the film’s atmosphere. But it is the movie’s score by George Martin and theme song by Paul McCartnery and Wings that seemed to be the movie’s most impressive virtue . . . other than Moore, Kotto, Harris and James’ performances. Although the story for “LIVE AND LET DIE” struck me as unimpressive, I still find the movie to be very entertaining.

 

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Top Five Favorite Episodes of “BABYLON 5” (Season One: “Signs and Portents”)

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Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season One (1994) of “BABYLON 5”. Created by J. Michael Straczynski, the series starred Michael O’Hare, Claudia Christian, Jerry Doyle and Mira Furlan:

TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “BABYLON 5” (SEASON ONE: “SIGNS AND PORTENTS”)


1. (1.13) “Signs and Portents” – In this episode, a Centauri noble comes to Babylon 5 to transport an important Centauri relic in Londo’s possession back to the homeworld. And a mysterious man named Mr. Morden visits all the alien ambassadors in order to ask them an unusual question.

2. (1.08) “And the Sky Full of Stars” – Commander Sinclair is kidnapped and interrogated by two war veterans determined to prove that he had betrayed Earth at the Battle of the Line, during the Earth-Minbari War.

3. (1.20) “Babylon Squared” – The previous Babylon station, Babylon 4, reappears at the same place it had disappeared four years earlier. Sinclair and Garabaldi lead an evacuation team for the station’s crew. The story concludes in Season Three. Meanwhile, Ambassador Delenn is summoned by Minbar’s Grey Council and is asked to become the new leader.

4. (1.22) “Chrysalis” – In the season finale, Delenn commences upon a physical transformation, Ambassador Londo Mollari receives an offer from Mr. Morden to deal with a problem regarding the Narns, and Garabaldi uncovers a deadly conspiracy against the President of Earth Alliance.

5. (1.12) “By Any Means Necessary” – Following a fatal accident in the station’s docking bay, an increasingly exhausted Sinclair is forced to deal with a potential labor uprising. And Ambassador G’Kar has to get a replacement G’Quan-Eth plant for an important religious ceremony.