“IRON MAN 3” (2013) Review

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“IRON MAN 3” (2013) Review

One would think after the release of last year’s “THE AVENGERS”, Marvel Studios would call it quits on its saga about the team of superheroes who foiled an alien invasion in said movie. But the “THE AVENGERS” opened the possibility of a new threat to Earth, paving the way for a new slew of stories for the costumed Avengers. 

The beginning of this new group of films resulted in the release of “IRON MAN 3”, the third movie about the sole adventures of billionaire Tony Stark aka Iron Man. The alien invasion from “THE AVENGERS” had left its mark on Tony. He has become even more popular than ever with the public. The U.S. government (including S.H.I.E.L.D.) seemed to be leaving him alone for the moment. And his relationship with Pepper Potts seemed to be going strong. However, Tony also seemed to be in the process of ironing out the kinks for his new method of accessing his Iron Man armor – a method that turned out to be a technological copy of Thor’s habit of summoning the Mjölnir hammer. His chauffeur Happy Hogan has been promoted to Head of Security for Stark Industries. But Happy’s caustic “Super Friends” indicated the latter’s resentment toward Tony’s newly forged connections to the other Avengers. Worst of all, Tony has been experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the Avengers’ battle against the invading Chitauri aliens. 

But these problems are nothing in compare to the re-emergence of an old acquaintance whom Tony first met at a New Year’s Eve party in 1999. Thirteen years earlier, a drunken Tony and his date Dr. Maya Hansen encountered the disabled scientist Aldrich Killian, who offered them positions in his new company, Advanced Idea Mechanics. However, Tony rejects the offer, humiliating Killian in the process. Sometime after this encounter, Killian met Dr. Hansen and used her Extremis virus – an experimental regenerative treatment intended to allow recovery from crippling injuries – to heal his own disabilities. However, Extremis also gives the individual superhuman strength and allows him or her to generate heat. As it turns out, Killian is working for the latest threat to strike into the heart of American intelligence, a terrorist known as Mandarin. The latter has been responsible for a string of bombings that have left the intelligence agencies bewildered by any lack of forensic evidence. But Happy’s encounter with Killian’s major henchman, a former Army officer named Eric Savrin, in front of the Hollywood Chinese Theater leads him badly injured. And a very angry Tony issues a televised threat to capture the Mandarin. Former paramour Dr. Hansen appears at Stark’s Malibu home to warn him about Killian and the Mandarin, but the latter orders Savrin to lead an attack on the house. Tony, Pepper and Dr. Hansen all survive. But the house is destroyed and Tony is forced to disappear to somewhere in Tennessee and discover a way to defeat the Mandarin.

I was surprised to learn that Jon Favreau did not return as director for this third IRON MAN movie. Although “IRON MAN 2” proved to be a box office hit, many critics and moviegoers claimed that it was not as good as the first movie, “IRON MAN”. It was not an opinion that I shared, but . . . it was an opinion that led Marvel Studios to ask Favreau to step down as director of “IRON MAN 3”. Star Robert Downey Jr. suggested that the studio hire Shane Black to direct this third film. Downey Jr. and Black had first worked with each other in the 2005 comedy, “KISS KISS BANG BANG”. Did changing directors help the IRON MAN franchise? I do not think so. I am not saying that “IRON MAN 3” was a bad movie. I thought it was far from bad. But a change in directors did not improve the franchise. It was a change that I believe was unnecessary in the first place. However . . . I still enjoyed this third film very much.

One of the best things I could say about “”IRON MAN 3” is that it presented Tony with a very formidable opponent. The Mandarin proved to be not only scary, but very intelligent. The attack on Tony’s Malibu home was mind boggling. But the manner in which the Mandarin managed to track Tony down to a small Tennessee town and steal the War Machine (re-named Iron Patriot) armor by tricking American intelligence and the military regarding his location, and luring James Rhodes (aka War Machine) into a trap struck me as pretty flawless. And in using the Hansen/Killian Extremis virus on disabled military veterans, the Mandarin managed to create a formidable private army. There were other aspects of Black and Drew Pearce’s screenplay that I found very appealing. Although I had no problems with the Pepper Potts character in the previous two movies, I enjoyed the fact that Black and Pearce really put her through the wringer in this one – dealing with Tony’s panic attacks, surviving the Malibu house attack, and becoming a prisoner. Pepper’s ordeals finally paid off when she played a major role in defeating the Mandarin. Although Rhodey had a small presence in the movie’s first half, his presence increased tenfold in the second half. And like Pepper, he played a major role in the Mandarin’s defeat that I personally found very satisfying.

The movie also featured some top-notch action sequences. For me, the second best of them all was the Mandarin’s attack on Tony’s Malibu house. But there were other sequences that I found impressive; including Happy’s encounter with Eric Savrin and another benefactor of the Extremis virus in Hollywood, Tony’s encounter with Savrin and Extremis muscle Ellen Brandt in Tennessee, and the final battle on an oil rig. Mind you, the latter was not perfect, but Pepper and Rhodey’s actions in this sequence made it memorable for me. If the Malibu house attack was my second favorite action sequence, my favorite turned out to be Iron Man’s encounter with Savrin aboard Air Force One and his rescue of the President’s personnel following the plane’s destruction. The use of free fall in Iron Man’s rescue of the Presidential passengers really blew my mind. 

There were some complaints that Robert Downey Jr. seemed to be going through the motions in his portrayal of Tony Stark in this film. I cannot say that I agree with this opinion. Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Tony seemed more sober or stressed out, due to the character’s inability to deal with the aftermath of the events in “THE AVENGERS”. Perhaps this is not a Tony Stark that fans and critics wanted to see. But I congratulate both Downey Jr., Black and Pearce for allowing audiences to see how Tony dealt with the aftermath of encountering invading aliens. My only complaint is that his PTSD seemed to have resolved by the end of the film without any explanation.  I had been impressed by Gwyneth Paltrow’s portrayal of a stressed out Pepper Potts in “IRON MAN 2”. Considering what she had endured in this movie, Paltrow pulled out the stops as she conveyed Pepper’s array of emotions from wariness to fear and finally to anger. Frankly, I feel this movie featured her best performance as Pepper. I noticed that Don Cheadle seemed a lot more relaxed in the role of Lieutenant-Colonel James Rhodes aka War Machine (re-named Iron Patriot). As I had earlier stated, his presence in the movie’s first half seemed rather minimal. But once the movie shifted toward Tony and the American government going after the Mandarin in Miami, his role became more prominent. Not only did Cheadle displayed his talent for comedy, but his James Rhodes proved to be just as much of a bad ass without his War Machine armor, as he was with it. Denied the director’s chair for this movie, the screenwriters gave Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan was allowed a bigger role in the story, when the injuries he suffered at Eric Savrin’s hands snapped Tony out of his lethargy to deal with the Mandarin. And Favreau gave a performance that I found both funny and poignant.

In one article I had read, Guy Pearce described his role in “IRON MAN 3” as merely a cameo. Frankly, I think he may have exaggerated a bit. Like Don Cheadle, Pearce’s presence in the movie’s first half seemed minimal. In fact, his presence as Aldrich Killian did not seem to fully develop until the movie’s last forty-five minutes or so. And his character slightly reminded me of the Dr. Curt Conners (the Lizard) character from last year’s “THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN”. But I must admit that Pearce did a great job of conveying the character’s development from a pathetic and desperate man eager to use science to heal his disabilities to a charming former acquaintance of Pepper’s and finally a truly scary and difficult-to-beat villain. I have never seen James Badge Dale portray a villain. But I have heard that he once portrayed a serial killer on two carryover episodes from “CSI: MIAMI” and “CSI: NEW YORK”. I need to see those episodes, but I found Badge Dale’s portrayal of henchman Eric Sevrin rather frightening and intimidating. Rebecca Hall portrayed Dr. Maya Hensen, the true creator of the Extremis virus, who found herself regretting her decision to work with Dr. Killian. Hall gave a sharp and witty performance, but I think her presence seemed pretty much wasted. William Sadler gave a solid performance as the President of the United States. Considering his talent, I do wish the script had allowed him to do more. I can say the same about Miguel Ferrer’s ambiguous portrayal of the Vice-President. I finally come to Ben Kingsley’s portrayal of the Mandarin. Many fans were upset over the changes that Black and Pearce made to the Mandarin character. I was not. I found their portrayal of the super villain amazing and mind boggling. And one has to thank Kingsley for giving what I feel was the most entertaining performance in the movie. In fact, I feel that the scene in which Tony meets the Mandarin for the first time is one of my favorite “hero-meets-villain” scenes of all time from any Marvel film. It is a scene I will always cherish.

I do have a few complaints about “IRON MAN 3”. I had already pointed out my slight disappointment at the limited manner in which the Maya Hensen character was utilized. And I had a complaint about the quick resolution of Tony’s PTSD.  Also, Tony’s trip to Tennessee seemed a bit offbeat to em. I did not need to watch his developing friendship with the kid Harley, which struck me as trite. And I also wish that the script had been a little clear on how the Mandarin and Killian tracked Tony down to Tennessee. Although I found some satisfaction in the oil rig sequence – especially in regard to Pepper and Rhodey’s action – I must admit that overall, it struck me as somewhat convoluted. It did not help that the entire sequence was shot at night. Between the night setting, Jeffrey Ford and Peter S. Elliot’s shaky editing and the numerous Iron Man droids, I almost found the sequence very disappointing. Well, let me put it another way . . . I have seen better.

Marvel Studios and Paramount Pictures are promoting this film as the best IRON MAN film ever. I cannot say that I agree. I feel it has a more complex story than the somewhat simplistic narrative  for “IRON MAN”. But it has a set of flaws that makes it difficult for me to declare it as “the best”. I guess “IRON MAN 2” is still my favorite. But I do believe that “IRON MAN 3”proved to be a very entertaining and exciting film. In the end, Shane Black did a top-notch job with the help of a decent script and excellent performances from a cast led by Robert Downey Jr.

 

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“POLDARK” Series One (1975): Episodes Five to Eight

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“POLDARK” SERIES ONE (1975): EPISODES FIVE TO EIGHT

Last winter, I began watching the BBC’s 1975-77 adaptation of Winston Graham’s literary series about the life of a British Army officer and American Revolutionary War veteran, following his return to his home in Cornwall. The first four episodes proved to be adaptation of the first novel in Graham’s series, 1945’s “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787”. Episodes Five to Eight focused on the series’ second novel, 1946’s “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”

Episode Four ended with Ross Poldark, a Cornish landowner and mine owner, discovering that his young kitchen maid, the 17 year-old Demelza Carne, is pregnant with his child. Abandoning his plan to reunite with his former fiancée, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, who had married his cousin Francis Polark; Ross decides to marry Demelza and take responsibility for their unborn child. Episode Five opened up six to seven months later with the birth of their daughter, Julia Poldark. Ross and Demelza decide to hold two christenings – one for his upper-crust family and neighbors and one for her working-class family. Unfortunately, fate upsets their plans when Demelza’s family crash the first christening. Episode Five also featured the introduction of new characters – a young doctor named Dwight Enys, who quickly befriends Ross; Keren Daniels, a young traveling actress who married a local miner named Mark Daniels; and George Warleggan, the scion of the Warleggan family, who became Ross’ archenemy.

The four episodes that formed the adaptation of “Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall” pretty much focused on the first two years of Ross’ marriage to Demelza. Their relationship seemed to thrive, despite the unromantic reasons why they got married in the first place. It was nice to see Ross and Demelza quickly settled into becoming an established couple. This was especially apparent in first christening for Ross and Demelza’s newborn, Julia, attended by Ross’ family and upper-class neighbors. However, this sequence also revealed that Ross and Demelza still had a long way to go, when Demelza’s religious and fanatical father and stepmother crashed the first christening. I enjoyed the sequence very much, even if it ended on an irritating note – namely Demelza and Mr. Carne’s shouting match that played merry hell on my ears. Although there were times when their relationship threatened to seem a bit too ideal, I have no other problems with it.

From a narrative point of view, the only hitch in Ross and Demelza’s relationship – so far – proved to be Demelza’s determination to help her cousin-in-law Verity Poldark’s renew the latter’s disastrous relationship with a Captain Andrew Blamey . . . behind Ross’ back. Following Blamey and Francis’ disastrous encounter in the second (or third) episode, Ross made it clear that he had no intention of helping Verity and Blamey’s romantic situation. Demelza, being young, romantic and naive; decided to intervene and help them continue their courtship. Her efforts were almost sidetracked when Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles, was stricken with Putrid Throat. Ross’ new friend, Dr. Enys, had recruited Verity to nurse Geoffrey Charles, believing that Elizabeth was incapable of serving as her son’s nurse. I must be honest . . . I found this plot line a bit contrived. One, it seemed like a theatrical way to inject tension into Verity’s romance with Captain Blamey and their plans to elope. And two, Elizabeth has never struck me as the type of woman incapable of nursing her own son, let alone anyone else. Nevertheless, Demelza’s efforts proved to be successful in the end when Verity and Captain Blamey finally eloped in Episode Seven.

Verity and Captain Blamey’s elopement also produced an ugly reaction from her brother Francis, who had been against their relationship from the beginning. That ugly reaction formed into an emotional rant against his sister that not only spoiled his wife Elizabeth and son Geoffrey Charles’ Christmas meal, but concluded with him succumbing to Putrid Throat. I will say this about Francis Poldark . . . his presence in Episodes Five to Eight proved to be a lot stronger than it was in the first four episodes. Viewers learned in the conclusion of Episode Six that he had betrayed the shareholder names of Ross’ new Carnmore Copper Company, an smelting organization formed to break the Warleggans’ monopoly on the mining industry in that part of Cornwall.

I am a little confused by why so many claim that Clive Francis had portrayed the character as less of a loser than Kyle Soller did in 2015. For example, in an article posted on the Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, the writer made this description of Francis in Episode Eight of the 1975 series – “I’ve come to realize that Francis is made considerably more appealing by Wheeler’s script: Graham’s Francis is witty, but his open self-berating and guilt are from Wheeler; also his generosity of spirit now and again.”.

That was not the Francis Poldark I saw in Episode Eight. Come to think of it, that was NOT the Francis I saw between Episodes Three and Eight. Well . . . I do recall Francis engaging in self-pitying behavior. I also recall Francis being half-hearted in his attempt to reconcile with Elizabeth, his occasionally self-defensive attitude and anger at Verity for eloping. The only sign of wit I can recall was Francis’ clumsy and slightly insulting reaction at the Warleggan ball to news of prostitute Margaret’s recent wedding. And although I enjoyed Clive Francis’ performance, there were moments when he was guilty of some really histrionic acting – especially in Episode Eight, when his character went into a rant against Verity’s elopement during his family’s Christmas dinner. Either these fans and critics had failed to notice how much of a loser Francis Poldark was in the 1975 series, they remembered the actor’s performance in the episodes that followed Episode Eight, or they were blinded by nostalgia for the 1975 series. Clive Francis’ portrayal of the character struck me as much of a loser as Soller’s portrayal.

The renewal of Verity and Captain Blamey’s romance was not the only relationship shrouded in secrecy. As I had earlier pointed a traveling actress named Keren had abandoned her tawdry profession life to remain in the area and marry local miner, Mark Daniels, after meeting him at the second christening for the newborn Julia Poldark. I admire how the production went out of its way to portray Keren’s growing disenchantment with life as a miner’s wife and her marriage to Mark. In doing so, screenwriter Mark Wheeler allowed audiences to sympathize with Keren’s emotions and understand what led her to pursue an extramarital affair with the neighborhood’s new physician, the quiet and charming Dr. Dwight Enys. Although this sequence featured solid performances from Richard Morant and Martin Fisk as Dwight Enys and Mark Daniels; the one performance that really impressed me came from Sheila White, who portrayed the unfortunate Keren Daniels. However, I was not particular thrilled by how the affair ended. Mark Daniels deliberately murdered Keren, when he discovered the affair. What really riled me was that both Ross and Demelza went out of their way to help Mark evade justice. Their actions seemed to justify and approve of Mark’s violent action against his wife. The entire scenario smacked of another example of misogyny in this saga.

Episode Six of “POLDARK” not only introduced the character of George Warleggan, it also featured one of my favorite segments in the series, so far – the Warleggan ball. I thought Wheeler and Paul Annett did a solid job in this particular sequence. It was not perfect, but it proved to be an elegant affair, capped by a tense situation when Ross engaged in a gambling showdown with the Warleggans’ cousin Matthew Sanson, before exposing the latter as a cheat. One aspect of the ball sequence that really impressed me were the costumes and the music provided by Kenyon Emrys-Roberts, which helped maintained the sequence’s atmosphere. I also enjoyed both Robin Ellis and Milton Johns’ performances as Ross Poldark and Matthew Sanson in the card game sequence. Both actors did a very good job of injecting more tension in what was already a high-wired situation. By the way, both actors, along with Clive Francis, had appeared in the 1971 adaptation of “SENSE AND SENSIBILITY”.

There were other moments and sequences that I enjoyed. Aside from the Warleggan ball, I was very impressed by two other scenes. One featured Demelza’s attempt to play matchmaker for Verity and Captain Blamey in Truro. Well, the sequence began with Demelza playing matchmaker before all three became swept into a food riot that led to a violent brawl between some very hungry townsmen and local military troops trying to prevent the men from breaking into Matthew Sanson’s grain storehouse. I found the entire scene rather well shot by director Paul Annett. I was also impressed by Annett’s work in Episode Seven that featured Ross’ attempt to help Mark Daniels evade arrest for Keren’s murder. I may not approved of what happened, but I was impressed by Annett’s direction. But I feel that the director did his best work in Episode Eight, which featured the wreck of the Warleggans’ ship on Poldark land. It began on a high note when the Paynters and other locals began pillaging the ship’s cargo for much needed food, clothing and other materials. But it really got interesting when a riot broke out between the Poldark workers, miners from a nearby estate and the local troops who tried to stop them. Again, Annett really did a first-rate job in making the sequence very exciting, despite the fact that it was shot in the dark.

I noticed that Paul Wheeler, who wrote the transcripts for these four episodes and Episode Eleven, made several changes from Graham’s novel. To be honest, I can only recall one major change that did not bother me one whit. In Episode Seven, young Geoffrey Charles Poldark was stricken with Putrid’s Throat before Verity had the chance to elope with Captain Blamey. Once Verity and Elizabeth helped the boy recover, she finally took the opportunity to elope. Yes, I am aware that Verity had eloped before the Putrid fever outbreak, but I see that Wheeler was trying to create a little tension for her situation. When Francis was struck with Putrid’s Throat on Christmas, Demelza arrived at Trenwith to help Elizabeth nurse him. The two women engaged in a warm and honest conversation that showcased both Jill Townsend and Angharad Rees as talented actresses they were. However, this conversation never occurred in the novel. In fact, the literary Elizabeth Poldark also came down with Putrid’s Throat. But this change did not bother me, due to the excellent scene between Townsend and Rees.

Unfortunately, I had problems with some of Wheeler’s other changes. One change originated back in Episode Four with the “Demelza gets knocked up” storyline that led to hers and Ross’ shotgun wedding. I had assumed that the Trenwith Christmas party sequence, which followed Ross and Demelza’s wedding, would appear in Episode Five. After all, it was one of my favorite sequences from the 1945 novel. But the sequence never appeared – not in Episode Four or Episode Five. Instead, the latter opened with Julia Poldark’s birth and the christening. And I felt very disappointed.

Another change involved Ross’ former employee, Jim Carter. Back in Episode Three, Jim was tried and convicted for poaching on another landowner’s estate. In Episode Six, Ross received word that Jim was severely ill inside Bodmin Jail. With Dwight Enys’ help, the pair break the younger man out. But instead of dying during Dwight’s attempt to amputate an infected limb, Jim survived . . . until Episode Seven. This change allowed Ross to indulge in a speech on the inequities suffered by the poor and working-class in British. Personally, I had difficulty feeling sympathetic, considering that he had fired Jud and Prudie Paynter, earlier in the episode. Mind you, Jud had deserved to be fired for his drunken behavior and insults to Demelza. But Prudie did not. She tried to stop Jud and ended up fired by Ross (who found her guilty by matrimony to the perpetrator). And I ended up regarding Ross as nothing more than a first-rate hypocrite.

Because Jim Cater had survived Episode Six, Ross did not attend the Warleggan ball angry and in a drunken state. Instead, he remained a perfect and sober gentleman throughout the sequence. Which was a pity . . . at least for me. Perhaps Wheeler had decided that Prudie’s fate was sufficient enough to expose Ross’ less pleasant side of his personality, I did not. The card game between Ross and Sanson provided some tension during the ball sequence, thanks to the skillful performances of Robin Ellis, Milton Johns and Ralph Bates. But it was not enough for me. I thought a good deal of the sequence’s drama was deleted due to “our hero” not having an excuse to get drunk and surly. I suspect that Wheeler, along with producers Morris Barry and Anthony Coburn, wanted to – once again – maintain Ross’ heroic image.

The Warleggan ball also featured another change. At the end of Episode Six, George Warleggan revealed to his father, Nicholas, that he knew the names of Ross’ Carnmore Copper Company. The revelation left me feeling flabbergasted. In the novel, Francis had not exposed the shareholders’ names to George until after Verity and Blamey’s elopement. He had believed Ross was responsible for arranging it and betrayed the latter in retaliation. Since Francis had obviously betrayed Ross before Episode Six’s final scene in the 1975 series, I found myself wondering why he had betrayed his cousin’s company in the first place. Why did he do it? Someone had hinted that Francis felt jealous over Elizabeth’s feelings for Ross. Yet, the relationship between those two had been particularly frosty since the revelation of Demelza’s pregnancy back in Episode Four. If Francis had been experiencing jealousy, what happened before the end of Episode Six that led him to finally betray Ross and the Carnmore Copper Company shareholders? It could not have been for money. Although George Warleggan had paid back the money that his cousin had cheated from Francis and the other gamblers at the ball, he did not dismiss Francis’ debt to the Warleggan Bank. If only Wheeler had followed Graham’s novel and allowed Francis to betray Ross following Verity’s elopement. This would have made more sense. Instead, the screenwriter never really made clear the reason behind the betrayal. Rather sloppy, if you ask me.

Overall, Episodes Five to Eight of “POLDARK” struck me as an interesting and very entertaining set of episodes. This is not surprising, considering that they were basically an adaptation of “Demelza – A Novel of Cornwall, 1788-1790”. Director Paul Annett and Paul Wheeler did a very solid job in adapting Graham’s novel. Yes, I had some quibbles with Wheeler’s screenplay – especially his handling of the Francis Polark character. But overall, I believe the two men, along with the cast led by Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees did an first-rate job. On to Episode Nine and the adaptation of the next novel in Graham’s series.

“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” (1969) Review

George-Lazenby

 

“ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE” (1969) Review

At least ten years or more must have passed since I last saw the 1969 Bond movie, “ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (OHMSS)”. EON Production’s sixth entry in the Bond franchise has the distinction of being the only movie that starred Australian male model-turned-actor, George Lazenby. It was the first EON movie that did not star Sean Connery – already fixed in the public’s mind as the only actor who can portray James Bond. And it was the only movie that was directed by former film editor, Peter Hunt. 

I first became aware of “OHMSS” back in the mid-1980s. I had seen it on television once, when I was a child. But ABC Television’s botched editing had turned me off from the movie. I eventually became a fan during repeated viewings of the movie during the mid and late 1980s. By the beginning of the 1990s, “OHMSS” had been fixed as my favorite Bond movie. For years, it remained in this position, despite repeating viewings of other Bond movies, the release of the Brosnan films and my own mysterious reluctance to watch “OHMSS”. It seemed as if I was afraid to watch it again, fearful that my earlier adulation of the film might prove to be misguided. And then EON Productions released “CASINO ROYALE” in the theaters back in 2006. “CASINO ROYALE” had impressed me so much that my doubts about “OHMSS”increased even further. After seeing “CASINO ROYALE” for the third time and 2008’s “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, I finally decided to watch “OHMSS” for the first time in years.

In the end, my fears seemed groundless. My latest viewing of “OHMSS” proved that I had every right to view it as one of my all time favorite Bond movies. After 41 years, the movie still holds up as one of the finest Bond movies in the entire franchise, if not the finest. And it also one of the few Bond films to closely follow its source, namely the 1963 novel penned by Ian Fleming. What makes the latter remarkable is that the previous Bond entry, “YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE” barely resembled its literary source, aside from a few characters and the setting.

“OHMSS” picks up with Bond searching for Blofeld, now wanted by various governments for his past forays into international terrorism and extortion. His search leads to meeting the most important woman in his life other than Vesper Lynd – Teresa (Tracy) Draco di Vicenzo. Not only will his meeting with Tracy lead to a serious change in his private life, it will also affect his professional life, thanks to Tracy’s father, Marc-Ange Draco when he provides Bond with information leading to Blofeld. Of course, Draco was only willing to provide this information, if Bond courts his daughter. In the end, Bond not only tracks down Blofeld, but destroy the latter’s latest attempt to extort the United Nations. But as many know, Bond’s latest professional conflict will result in tragedy for his private life.

I only have a few problems with “OHMSS”. One of them was the director Peter Hunt’s decision to have actor George Baker (portraying the real Sir Hilary Bray), dub Lazenby’s voice, while Bond is impersonating Sir Hilary at Piz Gloria. Why they had decided to do this confounds me. It seemed very unnecessary, unless the director was aiming for Sir Hilary to sound like a cliché of a British scholar. Another problem I had were some of the jokes that came out of Bond’s mouth. I consider this problem minor, since “OHMSS” – like many other Bond movies had its share of good and bad jokes. One particularly good joke was the St. Bernard who came to Bond’s “rescue” after the latter had survived his bobsled fight against Blofeld. And last, but not least, there were a few moments when the editing seemed a bit . . . questionable. A good example would be the scene that featured Bond’s first meeting with Draco. There is a moment when it seemed that Bond had asked Draco for Blofeld’s whereabouts. It seemed as if Lazenby had spoken too soon, cutting off actor Gabriele Ferzetti’s lines too soon. Another viewing seemed to reveal that poor editing might have been at fault and not Lazenby’s acting. And another review seemed to agree with my findings.

Aside from the previously mentioned quibbles, I had no problems with “OHMSS”. In fact there is so much to enjoy about this movie – including the main star, George Lazenby. Many critics and fans either tend to dismiss his performance as wooden or give him minor credit for his valiant attempt at a decent performance. Frankly, I think that he was a lot better than many give him credit for. I must admit that he has a rather odd voice (which I suspect has been influenced by his Australian accent), but so did most of the other Bonds – including Connery’s tendency to indulge in pre-adolescent diction, Moore’s drawl, Dalton’s Welsh accent and Brosnan’s . . . well, I cannot really describe Brosnan’s voice. I just find it odd. But despite Lazenby’s odd voice, his acting comes off very natural and he seems to project Bond’s emotions with an ease that should not have come easy to him. But he does. And instead of portraying Bond as some kind of action/sexual icon, he portrays the character as very human. This is very obvious in the following scenes:

-Bond’s growing impatience with Tracy’s antics
-Bond’s surprise that M had given him leave instead of accepting his resignation
-Bond’s breakthrough with Tracy
-the Piz Gloria dinner sequence
-Bond’s fear of capture during his escape from Piz Gloria
-Bond’s proposal of marriage to Tracy
-Bond’s quarrel with M over Tracy and Blofeld
-Tracy’s death

Personally, I thought that Lazenby really shined in the marriage proposal scene, those scenes that featured Bond’s quarrels with M and the Piz Gloria dinner sequence. Despite having his voice dubbed by George Baker in the latter, Lazenby managed to express Bond’s emotions during that scene effortlessly without having to say a word.

The movie also benefited from the presence of Diana Rigg, who had recently left “THE AVENGERS” to begin a movie career. What can one say about the great Diana? Not only did she effortlessly combine all the complex personality traits of Tracy di Vicenzo – witty, emotional, sad, brave, determined, etc. Is it any wonder that Tracy is viewed by many actresses as the ultimate Bond woman? Even better, both Rigg and Lazenby managed to create great chemistry together as the romantically doomed pair.

Not only did “OHMSS” benefited from both Lazenby and Rigg’s performances, the pair was ably supported by a fine cast that included the warm and charismatic Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father, the talented Ilse Steppat who portrayed the intimidating Irma Bunt shortly before her death (she never lived to experience the movie’s release), the always dependable Bernard Lee as M – giving one of his better performances, and the charming and fun Angela Scoular as Blofeld’s English patient, Ruby. Of course one cannot forget the legendary Telly Savalas, who became the second actor to portray Ernst Blofeld on-screen. And as far as I’m concerned, he was the best. He was not impeded by Donald Pleasance’s ridiculous scar and questionable accent or Charles Gray’s foppish portrayal. Instead, he radiated intelligence and menace, making him the only Blofeld (in my opinion) worthy of being Bond’s nemesis.

I also have to commend Peter Hunt’s direction. “OHMSS” was his first time at bat as a director. Any other inexperienced director could have turned one of Ian Fleming’s best novels into a hash job. Fortunately, Hunt proved to be a talented director and did justice to the novel – although I did have a problem with the editing of a few of his scenes. Hunt was not only ably supported by a fine cast, but by screenwriter Richard Maibaum, editor and future director John Glen, and John Barry’s marvelous score and Hal David’s haunting lyrics to the song, “We Have All the Time In the World”. Cinematographer Michael Reed superbly recaptured the majesty of the Swiss Alps and the exotic elegance of Portugal with his photography. And one cannot forget skier Willy Bogner Jr. and Alex Barbey for creating the first and probably best ski chase in the Bond franchise.

I could probably go on about how much I love “OHMSS”, but I do not want to sound repetitive. What can I say? After 48 years, I consider to still be one of the best Bond movies in the franchise . . . and definitely one of my favorites. And I am happy to see that “OHMSS” is finally being recognized by many as the fine film it is. If you have not seen this film, I suggest that you rent or buy it as soon as possible. Or else you will be missing something special.

 

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Plum Pudding

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Below is a brief look at the traditional Christmas dish known as Plum Pudding:

PLUM PUDDING

Many people tend to associate the dish known as Plum Pudding (aka Christmas Pudding or Plum Duff) with the Christmas holiday, Victorian Britain, and especially Charles Dickens. I know I certainly did for a good number of years. But I was surprised to discover that Plum Pudding’s association with the Christmas holiday in Britain went back as far as the medieval period. During that particular period, it was the custom for pudding to be prepared on the 25th Sunday after Trinity. It was also customary for the pudding to be prepared with thirteen ingredients to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. Also, every family member was required to stir the pudding in turn from east to west in honor of the Magi and their alleged journey in that direction.

The origin of the current Plum Pudding made popular during the Victorian Age could be traced back to the 1420s. The dish emerged not as a confection or a dessert, but as a means of preserving meat at the end of the harvest season. Because of shortages of fodder, all surplus livestock were slaughtered in the autumn. The meat was then kept in a pastry case along with dried fruits acting as a preservative, developing into large “mince pies”. These pies could then be used to feed hosts of people, particularly at the festive season. The chief ancestor of the modern pudding was a thick soup or stew made from vegetables, dried fruit, sugar, grain, spices and some form of meat (if available) called “pottage”; which originated in Roman times. , however, was the pottage, a meat and vegetable concoction originating in Roman times.

Then in 1714, King George I began to request that this particular kind of pottage, which became known as “Plum Pudding” be served as part of his royal feast every Christmas. But it was not until the 1830s in which the current Plum Pudding assumed its form – a round tower of flour, fruits, suet, sugar and spices, all topped with holly – and was served during the Christmas holiday. Below is a recipe for the tradition Plum (or Christmas) Pudding from the About.com website:

Plum Pudding

Ingredients

1lb /450g dried mixed fruit (use golden raisins/sultanas* , raisins, currants)
1 oz /25 g mixed candied peel, finely chopped
1 small cooking apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped Grated zest and juice
½ large orange and
½ lemon
4 tbsp brandy, plus a little extra for soaking at the end
2 oz /55 g self-raising flour, sifted
1 level tsp ground mixed spice
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4 oz /110 g shredded suet, beef or vegetarian
4oz /110g soft, dark brown sugar
4 oz /110 g white fresh bread crumbs
1 oz /25 g whole shelled almonds, roughly chopped
2 large, fresh eggs

Preparation

Lightly butter a 2½ pint/1.4 litre pudding basin.

Place the dried fruits, candied peel, apple, orange and lemon juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the brandy and stir well. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to marinate for a couple of hours, preferably overnight.

Stir together the flour, mixed spice and cinnamon in a very large mixing bowl. Add the suet, sugar, lemon and orange zest, bread crumbs, nuts and stir again until all the ingredients are well mixed. Finally add the marinaded dried fruits and stir again.

Beat the eggs lightly in a small bowl then stir quickly into the dry ingredients. The mixture should have a fairly soft consistency.

Now is the time to gather the family for Christmas Pudding tradition of taking turns in stirring, making a wish and adding a few coins.

Spoon the mixture in to the greased pudding basin, gently pressing the mixture down with the back of a spoon. Cover with a double layer of greaseproof paper or baking parchment, then a layer of aluminum foil and tie securely with string.

Place the pudding in a steamer set over a saucepan of simmering water and steam the pudding for 7 hours.

Make sure you check the water level frequently so it never boils dry. The pudding should be a deep brown color when cooked. The pudding is not a light cake but instead is a dark, sticky and dense sponge.

Remove the pudding from the steamer, cool completely. Remove the paper, prick the pudding with a skewer and pour in a little extra brandy. Cover with fresh greaseproof paper and retie with string. Store in a cool dry place until Christmas day. Note: The pudding cannot be eaten immediately, it really does need to be stored and rested then reheated on Christmas Day. Eating the pudding immediately after cooking will cause it to collapse and the flavours will not have had time to mature.

On Christmas day reheat the pudding by steaming again for about an hour. Serve with Brandy or Rum Sauce, Brandy Butter or Custard.

“THE PACIFIC” (2010) Episode Two “Guadalcanal II’ Commentary

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“THE PACIFIC” (2010) EPISODE TWO “Guadalcanal II” Commentary

Episode Two of HBO’s ”THE PACIFIC” continued the saga of the U.S. Marines during the Guadalcanal campaign. Episode One focused mainly on Robert Leckie’s combat experiences during the campaign. This latest episode centered on the combat experiences of Sergeant John Basilone and his fellow comrades from the 7th Marines regiment.

By the time I had finished watching Episode Two, I found myself battling a tension headache. And it was all due to action sequences featured in this episode. Granted, I also found the battle scenes in Episode One rather tense, but the action in this second episode knocked it out of the ballpark for me. Around late October 1942, John Basilone and a handful of his fellow Marines were forced to fight off a frontal assault by the Japanese Army. Between the assault and Basilone’s encounters with Japanese troops, while fetching more ammunition literally had me squirming on my living room sofa. And I must say that Jon Seda did a great job of portraying Basilone’s heroics and making it look natural in the process. I also have to give kudos to actor Joshua Biton for his emotional portrayal of one of Basilone’s close friends, J.P. Morgan.

With the exception of an aerial bombing sequence, this particular episode did not feature Leckie and his friends in actual combat. Instead, the episode focused upon them dealing with various other problems during their stay on Guadalcanal – lack of supplies, inadequate arms and . . . um, health issues. Poor Runner dealt with an attack of the runs and Leckie found himself throwing up after consuming stolen canned peaches on a half-empty stomach. Leckie and a good number of other Marines stole supplies left on the beach for the arriving U.S. Army. In a hilarious scene, Leckie managed to pinch the peaches, along with cans of other food; and a pair of moccasins and a box of cigars that belonged to an Army officer. I never knew that actor James Badge Dale had a talent for comic timing . . . until now.

Episode Two also revealed a glimpse of Eugene Sledge back in Mobile. He and his father, Dr. Sledge, have discovered that Sledge’s heart murmur no longer exists. Upon this discovery, Sledge wasted no time in announcing his intention to join the Marines. And viewers will eventually see the results of that decision by Episode Five.

By the end of the episode, the Marines were ordered to leave the island, much to the relief of many. Both Basilone and Morgan found themselves trying to rationalize the death of their friend, Manny Rodriguez, while other Marines loaded up in boats taking them off the island. A scene that featured good, solid acting by both Seda and Biton. The episode’s last scene featured Leckie and his friends learning from a Navy cook aboard ship that their actions on Guadalcanal had been reported in American newspapers and that they were now all regarded as heroes. Judging from the expressions on the Marines’ faces, they seemed conflicted on how to accept the news. This wonderfully performed scene by Badge Dale and the actors portraying Leckie’s friends – Josh Helman (Chuckler), Keith Nobbs (Runner) and Jacob Pitts (Hoosier)- was mentioned in Leckie’s memoirs.

Like Episode One, this was a well done that left me feeling tense and an array of other emotions. I only hope that the miniseries’ remaining episodes will match the quality of the first two.

“THE DIVORCEE” (1930) Review

 

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“THE DIVORCEE” (1930) Review

I just watched “THE DIVORCEE” last night. This 1930 MGM film tells the story of a happily married couple, whose marriage crumbles under the taint of infidelity. This is the second time I have seen this film and again, found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed it.

Norma Shearer portrayed Jerry Martin, a happily marrried New York socialite, who discovers that her husband, Ted (Chester Morris), had a drunken one night stand with some blowsy woman. She tried to pretend that it was bridge under the water and openly forgave him. But his infidelity continued to bother her. And when he leaves New York for a business trip to Chicago, she has a one night stand with his best friend, Don (Robert Montgomery). Jerry confesses her infidelity . . . and discovers that as far as Ted is concerned, what was good for the goose, was not for the gander. The couple divorces and spends an unhappy year trying to forget one another. They eventually reconcile at a party in Paris.

I understand that the Jerry Martin role nearly evaded Norma Shearer, because husband and MGM production chief Irving Thalberg did not feel that the role suited her. She used a series of sexy photographs taken by George Hurrell to convince Thalberg that she could do the role. And she certainly proved that she was the right woman for the role. What I liked about Shearer’s take on Jerry was that she was not one type of woman or another. She was a complex woman who discovered that she could not hide her feelings – whether she was disturbed by her husband’s infidelity and hypocricy; or her longing to reconcile with him, despite enjoying the company of other men. Shearer certainly deserved the Academy Award she had received for Best Actress.

Although he had some moments of over-the-top acting as Ted Martin – Jerry’s husband, Chester Morris did a pretty good job portraying the newspaper man, who tried to dismiss his own infidelity . . . and discovered how his wife truly felt in the worst possible way. What I found interesting about Ted’s character was how alcohol led to a great deal of his troubles. It was alcohol that encouraged Ted to cheat on Jerry. And it was the booze that he had indulged, following the breakup of his marriage that led to the loss of his job. Morris did a great job in portraying a complex and flawed man without becoming some one-note antagonist.

Robert Montgomery was at turns rather funny and sexy as Don, Ted’s best friend with whom she cheated on. Many have dismissed Conrad Nagel as a boring actor, who performance in the movie was not worth mentioning. Mind you, his role as Paul, Jerry’s former boyfriend was not as splashy as Morris or Montgomery’s, but Nagel still managed to invest enough angst as a man who is dealt a double blow in life when the woman he loves (Jerry) marries another man and he finds himself in a loveless marriage with a woman (Judith Wood), whose face he had disfigured due to a drunken car accident.

While watching this film, I was surprised how the attitudes and personalities of most of the major characters seemed revelant today. Despite the late 20s/early 30s wardrobe and slang, the so-called “Bright Young Things” were really not that different from the Twenty and Thirtysomethings in the dating scene, today. I felt as if I had been watching some comedy-drama about a marriage, set in the late 20th or early 21st centuries. As a sideline, I also enjoyed the movie’s East Coast setting and set designs by Cedric Gibbons. And I especially liked Shearer’s wardrobe, designed by the famous Adrian.

I realized that “THE DIVORCEE” had a “happy ending” that many modern viewers do not care for. But for me, it was an ending in which both husband and wife were humbled. They not only forgave each other, but forgave themselves. Hell, I bought it. But more importantly, “THE DIVORCEE” continued to be an entertaining and fascinating movie, even after eighty-six years.