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

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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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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.

“RETURN TO CRANFORD” (2009) Review

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“RETURN TO CRANFORD” (2009) Review

Due to the success of the 2007 miniseries, “CRANFORD”, the BBC aired a two-part sequel called “RETURN TO CRANFORD” (also known as the “CRANFORD CHRISTMAS SPECIAL”), some two years later. Like the original miniseries, it was adapted by Heidi Thomas and directed by Simon Curtis.

“RETURN TO CRANFORD” was based on material from Elizabeth Gaskell’s two novellas and a short story – “Cranford”“The Mooreland Cottage”, and “The Cage at Cranford”, were all published between 1849 and 1863. Also, themes from “My Lady Ludlow”“Mr. Harrison’s Confessions”, and “The Last Generation in England” were included to provide continuity with the first miniseries. The new miniseries took place between August and December 1844. The citizens of Cranford find themselves facing major changes in their society, as the railroad continues to be constructed near the edge of town. In fact, I was surprised to learn that a great deal of the story surrounding the new railroad was not in any of Gaskell’s novellas and short story. Only the storylines featuring about Mrs. Jameson’s (Barbara Flynn) cousin, Lady Glenmire (Celia Imrie) and Captain Brown (Jim Carter), Miss Pole’s (Imelda Staunton) Parisian “cage” for her pet cockatoo, and a magician named Signor Brunoni (Tim Curry) putting on a show came from Gaskell’s works.

I have to be frank. It did not bother me that most of the material featured in the miniseries did not come from any of Gaskell’s novellas and short stories. Thanks to some decent writing by Heidi Thomas, I believe that it all worked out fine. Unlike the 2007 miniseries, “CRANFORD”, the screenplay for “RETURN TO CRANFORD”seemed tighter and more focused. In fact, I noticed that the majority of major storylines featured in the miniseries have ties to the main story about the railroad’s construction. Because of this, “RETURN TO CRANFORD” avoided the episodic style of storytelling that I believe marred “CRANFORD”. My favorite storyline featured the budding romance between two newcomers to the town of Cranford – William Buxton (Tom Hiddleston), the Eton-educated son of a salt baron (Jonathan Pryce) and Peggy Bell (Jodie Whittaker), the daughter of a less-affluent widow (Lesley Sharp). Mr. Buxton wants William to marry his ward, the Brussels-educated Erminia (Michelle Dockery). But neither are interested in each other. And Peggy has to deal with her ambitious and greedy brother, Edward (Matthew McNulty), who dislikes William. What I liked best about “RETURN TO CRANFORD” was that most of the story lines were tied to the new rail line being constructed near Cranford – even the William/Peggy romance.

As much as I hate to admit it, “RETURN TO CRANFORD” had its problems. Another story line featured the problematic pregnancy suffered by Miss Matty’s maid, Martha Hearne (Claudie Blakley). The problem arose, due to the lack of doctors in Cranford. And I found this confusing. The 2007 miniseries ended with two doctors residing in the town – the recently married Dr. Frank Harrison and longtime resident Dr. Morgan. A year later, both no longer resided in Cranford and Heidi Thomas’ script never revealed their whereabouts or fate. Thomas’ real misstep featured the death of Lady Ludlow (Francesca Annis) and the arrival of her ne’er-do-well son, Septimus (Rory Kinnear). The latter’s attempt to cheat young Harry Gregson (Alex Etel) out of the money he had inherited from the late Mr. Carter was a poorly conceived and written storyline. And despite the built-up, it failed to have any real impact upon the Harry Gregson character, due to its vague ending. As much as I found Signor Brunoni’s Christmas show rather charming, I thought it also reeked of a sentimentality that made my teeth hurt. Especially when Miss Matty’s reunion with Jem Hearne (Andrew Buchan) and his daughter entered the picture.

The production design for “RETURN TO CRANFORD” was top notch as ever. And Alison Beard’s supervision of the costumes proved to be just as first-rate as Jenny Beavan’s work in the 2007 miniseries. The cast continued its first-rate work from the previous miniseries – especially Judi Dench as Miss Matty Jenkyns, Imelda Staunton as town gossip Octavia Poole, Francesca Annis as the aristocratic Lady Ludlow, Emma Fielding as her assistant Laurentia Galindo, Alex Etel as Harry Gregson, Julia McKenzie as Mrs. Forrester, Jim Carter as Mr. Brown, and Barbara Flynn as the pretentious Mrs. Jamieson. But the newcomers that impressed me were Tom Huddleston as William Buxton, Jonathan Pryce as the tyrannical Mr. Buxton, Jodie Whittaker as Peggy Bell, Celia Imrie as the earthy Lady Glemire and Tim Curry as the warm-hearted magician Signor Brunoni.

For a while, I had been reluctant to watch “RETURN TO CRANFORD”. Because it was a sequel to the 2007 miniseries, I figured that it could never be as good as “CRANFORD”. I was wrong. I do not know if I would consider it better than the first miniseries. But the latter is certainly not better than the sequel. And “RETURN TO CRANFORD” does have one major advantage . . . namely Heidi Thomas’ screenplay turned out to be more tightly written, due to her decision not to use much of Elizabeth Gaskell’s material. Personally, I find that rather ironic.

“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Seven “The Breaking Point” Commentary

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“BAND OF BROTHERS” (2001) – Episode Seven “The Breaking Point” Commentary

Easy Company continues its experiences in Belgium in ”The Breaking Point”, Episode Seven of HBO’s ”BAND OF BROTHERS”. Following the Bastogne campaign, the paratroopers find themselves in the Bois Jacques Forest just outside of Foy, Belgium. There, they to prepare for an assault on the town, while dealing with the competency of their commander, Lieutenant Norman Dike. 

”The Breaking Point” proved to be just as much of an epic episode as ”Bastogne” and ”Carentan”. Narrated by First Sergeant Carwood Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg), the episode depicted Easy Company’s experiences in the Bois Jacques Forest, just outside of Foy. The episode began with Corporal Don Hoobler’s (Peter McCabe) killing of a German soldier and his acquisition of a Luger. However, this minor incident proves to foreshadow a series of rather depressing incidents for Easy Company to endure. While displaying his new treasure trove to some of his fellow troopers, Hoobler accidentally shot himself in the leg and severed a major artery. He died on the way to the nearest aid station. The rest of the episode’s first half focused around the company’s discussion of Hoobler’s death, the need for a new company commander to replace the incompetent Norman Dike, Babe and Guarnere’s discussion of platoon leader “Buck” Compton’s increasingly odd behavior and more rumors about Dog Company’s Lieutenant Ronald Spiers.

Unfortunately for Easy Company, matters grow worse when German artillery in Foy begin shelling the 101st Airborne’s lines in the Bois Jacques Forest. One series of shelling results in Sergeant Joe Toye losing part of his leg. When Bill Guarnerne tries to come to his rescue, another series of shelling commences and “Wild Bill” meets with the same fate. Worse, both Lipton and Sergeant George Luz witness a moment of cowardice from Lieutenant Dike. The injuries suffered by the two sergeants leads Compton – who is still recovering from his wound in Holland and a stint in an Army hospital – to have a nervous breakdown. He is relieved of duty and Easy Company finds itself short of one of its more competent officers. Easy Company has a short respite before another round of shelling by the Germans. Poor Luz finds himself crawling through the forest, searching for a foxhole for refuge. Before he could reach Warren “Skip” Muck and Alex Penkala’s foxhole, a German shell completely obliterated it . . . and them. Lipton tries to warn battalion XO Winters that Dike might prove to be a disaster for Easy Company’s assault upon Foy. But Winters can do nothing without any cause, due to Dike’s connections. But when Dike panics in the middle of the assault, causing the needless deaths of many men, Winters finally has an excuse to get rid of him and replaces him with Ronald Spiers. His choice proves to be the correct one, as Spiers manages to extract Easy Company from disaster and lead them toward victory.

”The Breaking Point” proved to be on such an epic scale that it could have easily been stretched into a 90 minute movie on its own. It had everything – drama, humor, action, and suspense. Screenwriter Graham Yost did a magnificent job in re-creating Easy Company’s experiences in the Bois Jacques and during the assault on Foy. I did have one quibble about this episode. I found myself slightly confused over the consequences of Don Hoobler’s death. The reaction of the men around the paratrooper seemed to indicate that he had died, while “Doc” Roe tried to revive him. Yet, according to Lipton, Hoobler had died on the way to an aid station. Despite this, the episode had some outstanding sequences. Some of the best featured “Skip” Muck’s recount of the wounds suffered by some of Easy Company’s men during their six-to-seven months in France, Holland and Belgium; Lipton’s attempt to warn Winters of Dike’s inadequacies as a company commander; and Spiers assuming command of Easy Company. I cannot decide whether the episode’s pièce de résistance were the shelling sequences that led to Toye and Guarnere’s injuries and the deaths of Muck and Penkala, or Easy Company actual assault upon Foy. Perhaps ”The Breaking Point” might prove to be that one episode with two exceptional sequences.

Director David Frankel not only put it all together with some exceptional action sequences, but also with his guidance of the cast. It did help that this episode featured some first-class performances. I found myself especially impressed by Frank John Hughes, who made his last appearances in the miniseries as the memorable William “Wild Bill” Guarnere; Peter O’Meara as the incompetent Norman Dike; Scott Grimes, who gave a poignant performance as Donald Marlarkey; Matthew Settle as the formidable Ronald Spiers, who proved to be a lot more human than Easy Company had earlier surmised; Neal McDonough, who brilliantly conveyed the strain Buck Compton suffered upon his return from an Army hospital and his eventual breakdown; and Rick Gomez, who proved to be both funny and dramatic as the company’s own comic, George Luz. Damian Lewis, Ron Livingston Richard Speight Jr. and Peter McCabe also gave solid support. But the best performance came from Donnie Walhberg in his portrayal of Easy’s dependable first sergeant, Carwood Lipton. Walhberg not only gave a subtle performance as the soft-spoken Lipton, but also had the screen presence to hold this epic episode together. He also captured Lipton’s style of speech in his narration of the episode.

In earlier articles, I had already indicated that there were at least three ”BAND OF BROTHERS” that I held above the others in terms of quality. Two of them were ”Bastogne” and ”Carentan”. The third episode turned out to be ”The Breaking Point”. In fact, I would go as far to say that David Frankel’s direction, Graham Yost’s script and Donnie Walhberg’s performance made it the best in the entire series.

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“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

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“STATE OF PLAY” (2009) Review

Aside from the Liam Neeson thriller, ”TAKEN”, I must admit that I had never regarded those movies released between January and April of 2009, all that impressive. Many of them were not terrible.  But for me, it seemed as if I had been wallowing in a sea of mediocrity during that period.  Thankfully, this cinematic slog ended when I saw Kevin Macdonald’s 2009 thriller called, ”STATE OF PLAY”.

Based upon the critically acclaimed 2003 British miniseries of the same name, ”STATE OF PLAY” is about a Washington D.C. newspaper’s investigation into the death of a young congressional aide named Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer) and centers around the relationship between leading journalist Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) and his old friend Robert Collins (Ben Affleck), a U.S. congressman on the fast track and Baker’s employer. When Congressman Collins learns of his aide’s death, he asks his old friend, McAffrey to investigate her death when it is labeled as a suicide. McAffrey and a blogger with his newspaper named Della Frye (Rachel McAdams) not only learn that Baker was Congressman Collins’ mistress, but there might be a connection between her death and the private military company that the congressman was investigating.

I have heard a few proclaim that the original British miniseries is superior to this version. If so, then it must have been one hell of a production. Do not get me wrong.  I did enjoy the British television version very much.  But like this film, it had its flaws.  And I must admit that despite its own flaws, I found this version of ”STATE OF PLAY” to be very impressive in its own right. Kevin Macdonald’s solid direction, along with screenwriters Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray created a tight thriller filled with interesting glimpses into the press and Washington politics. I doubt that this film will ever be critically acclaimed like the British miniseries or earn any award nominations, but it was a solid, well-acted movie filled with first-rate performances. And its story – unlike previous movies I have recently watched – did not end on a disappointing note. The movie ended with an unexpected twist that surprised me.

Russell Crowe led the cast, portraying Washington Globe journalist, Cal McAffrey. I would not consider his role to be as interesting as the Ed Hoffman character from ”BODY OF LIES”, Bud White in ”L.A. CONFIDENTIAL”, Jeffrey Wigand in ”THE INSIDER” or his Oscar winning role in ”GLADIATOR” – Maximus Decimus Meridius. His Cal McAffrey is on the surface, an affable, yet slightly jaded reporter who becomes a relentless truth-seeker when pursuing a special story. In the case of Sonia Baker, McAffrey’s relentless investigation seemed rooted in his desire to extract his friend Collins from the gossip slingers over the latter’s affair with the aide and focus upon bringing down the private military company being investigated by Collins. Crowe is at turns relaxed and at the same time, intense and single-minded in his pursuit of journalistic truth.

Years ago, I had found myself thinking that if there was ever a remake of the 1950 classic, ”SUNSET BOULEVARD”, who could portray the doomed Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The first person that immediately came to my mind was Ben Affleck. Actress Nancy Olson once described William Holden at the time that particular movie was filmed as the typical handsome Hollywood leading actor . . . but with a touch of corruption that made his Joe Gillis so memorable. Frankly, I could say the same about Affleck. I saw him display this same trait in movies like ”BOUNCE””HOLLYWOODLAND”, “GONE GIRL” and “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”.  And I could see it in his performance as Congressman Robert Collins. Affleck managed to skillfully project Collins not only as a dedicated crusader who is determined to bring down the private military company with a congressional investigation, but also a flawed man who became sexually attracted to his beautiful aide, while struggling to control his anger at the knowledge of his wife Anne’s (Robin Wright Penn) past affair with McAffrey.

The rest of the cast included Rachel McAdams’ solid portrayal of a popular blogger turned junior political reporter named Della Frye, who finds herself in the midst of the career-making story and mentored by McAffrey. Helen Mirren’s Washington Globe editor Cameron Lynne is wonderfully splashy and strong, without being over-the-top. I could say the same for Jason Bateman’s performance as a bisexual fetish club promoter named Dominic Foy, who has the information that McAffrey and Frye need. Michael Berresse portrayed a mysterious hitman named Robert Bingham and he does a pretty good job. However, I must admit that I found his performance as a sociopath a little over-the-top . . . especially in his last scene. Although not as memorable as some of the other supporting cast, both Harry Lennix as a Washington D.C. cop and Jeff Daniels as Affleck’s congressional mentor gave solid support to the movie. And there is Robin Wright Penn, who portrayed the congressman’s wife, Anne Collins. Penn gave a complex performance as the politician’s wife who is not only hurt and betrayed by her husband’s infidelity, but wracked with guilt over her own past indiscretion with McAffrey, along with desire for him.

If you are expecting ”STATE OF PLAY” to be the next ”ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN” or ”SEVEN DAYS IN MAY”, you are going to be slightly disappointed.  I have seen better quality political films than this movie. But I can honestly say that I still found ”STATE OF PLAY” to be a solid and entertaining movie filled with intelligence, humor and a strong and steady cast.

 

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“PERSUASION” (1995) Review

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“PERSUASION” (1995) Review

Twenty-four years after the BBC aired its 1971 version of Jane Austen’s 1818 novel, ”Persuasion”; and twelve years before ITV aired its adaptation; Columbia Pictures released its own version on British television and in movie theaters across the U.S. The movie went on to become highly acclaimed, the winner of a BAFTA TV award for Best Single Drama, and regarded as the definitive version of Austen’s novel. 

Directed by Roger Michell, ”PERSUASION” told the story of Anne Elliot, the middle daughter of an impoverished baronet in Regency England. Seven or eight years before the story began, she had been persuaded to reject the marriage proposal of a young and ambitious Royal Navy officer named Frederick Wentworth by her godmother and late mother’s friend, Lady Russell. After spending so many years in deep regret over her action, Anne found herself facing Wentworth again during a visit to her younger sister’s home. Now a captain and wealthy from the spoils of the recent Napoleonic Wars, Wentworth continued to harbor a good deal of residual anger and resentment toward Anne. And the latter continued to harbor remorse over her actions and a passionate love for the naval officer.

After watching the 2007 version of ”PERSUASION”, I found myself wondering how I would regard this particular version. Needless to say, I found it very satisfying. Michell did an excellent job in capturing the ambivalence of Austen’s novel. The center of that ambivalence rested on the underlying passion of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth’s romantic history. And this passion beautifully permeated the movie; thanks to Michell, screenwriter Nick Dear and the two leads – Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. The movie relived all of the passion and emotions of their relationship – both positive and negative. Michell and Dear also did a top-notch job in revealing the initial dangers that the British aristocracy and landed gentry faced from their complacency, arrogance and unwillingness to match the ambitious endeavors of the rising middle-class; especially through characters like Anne’s father, Sir Walter Elliot.

As much as I had enjoyed ”PERSUASION”, I believe it had its flaws. One of those flaws turned out to be the scene featuring Anne and Wentworth’s final reconciliation on one of the streets of Bath. It could have been a wonderful and poignant moment . . . if it were not for the circus performers and pedestrians making a ruckus in the background. It nearly spoiled the romantic mood for me. And there were at least two performances that did not sit right with me. I will discuss them later. This version of ”PERSUASION” seemed to be the only adaptation that portrayed Mrs. Croft as the younger sister. Fiona Shaw, who is at least five years younger than Ciarán Hinds and looked it even with minimal makeup, portrayed his sister. Yet, both the 1971 and 2007 versions had cast an actress that was older than the actor portraying Wentworth. And I happened to know for a fact that at age 31, the Fredrick Wentworth character is at least seven (7) years younger than his sister. There is no way that the 42 year-old Hinds could have passed as a man eleven (11) younger, despite his handsome looks.

But my main problem with this adaptation turned out to be the same problem I had with the 2007 version – namely the character of William Elliot, Sir Walter’s heir presumptive. Because the baronet had no male issue, his baronetcy and the Kellynch estate will pass to William, his cousin. But William, fearing that Sir Walter might marry Mrs. Clay, the companion of the oldest Elliot daughter; schemed to woo and marry Anne in order to prevent Mrs. Clay from becoming Sir Walter’s second wife and protect his inheritance. As I had explained in my review of the 2007 version, this scenario failed to make any sense to me. Even if William had succeeded in preventing any marriage between Sir Walter and Mrs. Clay, there was no way he could constantly prevent the Elliot patriarch from considering another bride for matrimony. Even if he had married Anne. Quite frankly, it was a situation that was beyond his control. Dear tried to give urgency to William’s situation by portraying him as financially broke after spending all of his late wife’s money. As far as I am concerned, Dear’s efforts failed. Sir Walter’s lawyer had made it clear around the beginning of the story that it would take years for Kellynch to recover from the Elliots’ debts. Nor did following Austen’s story by making William and Wentworth romantic rivals for Anne’s affections really help. Anne did not seem that impressed by William’s character, despite his charm and wit. And if Dear had simply avoided Austen’s characterization of William Elliot and allowed him to retain his fortune; he could have been a formidable rival for Wentworth, just as Louisa Musgrove proved to be a strong rival for Anne in the story’s first half.

I cannot deny that ”PERSUASION” strongly benefited from the excellent performances of the two leads, Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds. Root was superb as a sad and remorseful woman who began to bloom again over the possibility of a renewed love. With very little dialogue, she was excellent in a montage that featured her character’s reaction to the Musgroves’ carping over Anne’s younger sister, Mary Musgrove. But my favorite scene happened to featured Anne and Wentworth’s first meeting after eight years at Charles and Mary Musgrove’s cottage. With her eyes and body language, Root conveyed Anne’s series of emotions from seeing the naval officer again after so many years with great skill. Despite being a decade older than his character, Ciarán Hinds was equally impressive as Captain Frederick Wentworth, the successful Royal Navy officer who tried to hide his continuing resentment toward Anne’s rejection of him with a hearty manner and friendly overtures toward the Musgrove sisters – Louisa and Henrietta. One particular scene that impressed me featured Wentworth’s recollection of the year 1806 (the year Anne had rejected his marriage proposal). Hinds skillfully conveyed the character’s lingering resentment . . . and love for Anne in what struck me as a subtle moment.

Other excellent performances came from Sophie Thompson, who did a top-notch job as Anne’s younger sister, the emotionally clinging Mary Elliot Musgrove; Simon Russell Beale as Charles Musgrove, Mary’s consistently exasperated husband; Fiona Shaw, who wonderfully conveyed Sophia Wentworth Croft’s strong mind, along with her love for her husband and her role as a naval officer’s wife in a charming scene; and Susan Fleetwood, who have a complex performance in her last role as Anne’s well-meaning, yet prejudiced godmother, Lady Russell. But the one supporting performance that really impressed me came from Samuel West’s portrayal of the conniving William Elliot. He gave a deliciously smooth performance that radiated wit and charm. I found him so likeable that I almost felt sorry for him when Anne finally announced her engagement to Wentworth.

Unfortunately, not all of the performances impressed me. Despite my admiration for the late Corin Redgrave’s skills as an actor, I must admit that I found his portrayal of Anne’s narcissist and arrogant father, Sir Walter Elliot, a little off-putting. I realize that the character happened to be one of the outrageous characters in the novel. Unfortunately, Redgrave’s portrayal of Sir Walter’s narcissism seemed a little too mannered and broad. But Redgrave’s Sir Walter seemed like a mild annoyance in compare to Phoebe Nicholls’ portrayal of the eldest Elliot sibling, Elizabeth. Nicholls portrayed the character as an over-the-top diva suffering from a damaged nervous system. I could not help but wonder if she had been on crack during the production. Or perhaps Michell was on crack for allowing such a performance to remain in the film. And why did Dear’s script include a complaint from Nicholls’ Elizabeth about Anne usurping Wentworth’s attention? Why was she even upset over the news regarding Anne’s engagement? I do not recall her ever being interested in Wentworth.

Overall, ”PERSUASION” was an excellent adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel. Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds’ performances, Nick Dear’s screenplay and Roger Michell’s direction infused the movie with a mature passion rarely touched upon in the adaptation of Austen’s other novels. Does this mean that I regard this movie as the best adaptation of Austen’s 1818 novel? No. Like the 2007 version, it had a number of flaws that prevented it from becoming “the” best. But I must admit that it is pretty damn good.

 

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