“JANE EYRE” (1943) Review

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“JANE EYRE” (1943) Review

Many fans of Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 novel, “Jane Eyre”, are aware that numerous (probably over twenty) television and movie adaptations of it had been made over the past several decades. While perusing the Internet, I was surprised to discover that the opinion of the 1943 adaption seemed to be extremely divided. Fans either regard it as the best adaptation or the worst. There seemed to be no middle ground.

As many know, “JANE EYRE” told the story of young 19th century English orphan who is forced to live at the Yorkshire estate of her widowed aunt-by-marriage, Aunt Reed. After a recent altercation between niece and aunt, the latter sends Jane Eyre to be educated at an all-girls school operated by a tyrannical and religious zealot named Mr. Lowood. Jane spends eight years at the school as a student and two years as a teacher. She eventually leaves Lowood School after she is hired as a governess for Adèle Varens, the French-born ward of a mysterious landowner named Mr. Edward Rochester. Not long after her arrival at Thornfield Hall, the Rochester estate, Jane meets her enigmatic employer. It does not take long before Jane and Rochester’s relationship evolve from employee/employer to friends, before it eventually becomes romantic. However, a possible romantic rival for Jane and a secret in Thornfield’s attic prove to be major obstacles in the road to romance for the young governess and her employer.

So . . . how does “JANE EYRE” hold up after 71 to 72 years? Actually, I believe it holds up pretty well. I thought director Robert Stevenson and the screenplay he co-wrote with John Houseman, Aldous Huxley, and Henry Koster did a solid job in translating Brontë’s novel to the screen. Many critics and movie fans have noted that this adaptation seemed to have convey the novel’s Gothic atmosphere a lot stronger than other versions. I supposed one has cinematographer George Barnes, production designer William L. Pereira and set decorator Thomas Little to thank. However, I recently learned it was Orson Welles (who not only served as leading man, but also an uncredited producer) who had convinced Stevenson and his fellow co-producers William Goetz and Kenneth Macgowan to inject more Gothic visuals into the movie. I could not say that René Hubert’s costume designs contributed to the movie’s Gothic atmosphere. But I was impressed by how Hubert’s costumes reflected the movie’s early 1840s setting, as shown in the images below:

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I certainly had no problems with how the movie handled Jane’s story through most of the film. From the opening scene in which the leading character found herself harassed by the Reed film to her disrupted wedding to Edward Rochester. I usually find it difficult to endure the Lowood School scenes in other adaptations of Brontë’s novels. But I cannot say the same about this adaptation. I really had no problem with it. It could be that I was so fascinated by the performances of Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor and Henry Daniell that I completely forgot that I was watching one of my least favorite sequences in the story. And of course, the best part of “JANE EYRE” remained the growing friendship and romance between the titled character and Rochester. This was especially apparent in two sequences – Rochester’s courtship of Blanche Ingram during his house party and Jane’s confession of her love for him.

Although I was impressed by how Stevenson and the film’s other screenwriters handled Brontë’s tale up to Jane and Rochester’s disastrous wedding ceremony, I could not say the same about the rest of the film. In fact, it suffered from the same narrative problem that plagued several other adaptations – a weak finale. First of all, this is the only adaptation in which Jane never meets the Rivers siblings – St. John, Diana and Mary. She does meet a Doctor Rivers, who first treated Jane when she was a Lowood student. Instead of seeking refuge with the trio, Jane returns to Gateshead Hall, the home of her dying Aunt Reed. Following her aunt’s death, Jane reunites with Rochester. That is it. And I hate to say this, but the entire sequence – between Jane’s departure from Thornfield Hall to her return – seemed very rushed and unsatisfying.

I also have another major problem with the movie – its Gothic elements. There were times when these elements served the mysterious aspects of the movie very well. However, a good deal of these “Gothic touches” struck me as heavy handed . . . to the point that they ended up annoying me. This was apparent in Jane’s first meeting with Rochester, with so much fog swirling around the pair that at times they seemed almost hidden. The worst aspect of these “Gothic touches” occurred in the scene in which Jane and Rochester confessed their love for one another. The moment the pair sealed their engagement with a kiss, a bolt of lightning came out of the sky and struck a nearby log. I mean . . . come on! Really?

A good number of critics and movie fans did not seem particularly impressed by Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Jane Eyre. I never understood the complaints. I thought she did an excellent job. More importantly, her portrayal of the passionate, yet introverted Jane seemed spot on. What were these critics expecting? An over-the-top performance by Fontaine? Jane Eyre is not an overtly emotional character – at least as an adult. However, I am happy to note that Fontaine certainly had a strong screen chemistry with her leading man, Orson Welles. Many have stated that Welles pretty much dominated the movie. To me, that is like saying every actor who has portrayed Edward Rochester overshadowed the actresses who have portrayed Jane. Personally, I thought Welles’ enigmatic and quick-witted portrayal of Rochester complimented Fontaine’s more introspective performance rather well. I guess these fans and critics did not want balance . . . just two very theatrical performances.

The other performances in the movie struck me as first-rate. Agnes Moorehead, who was part of Welles’ Mercury Theater company before her arrival in Hollywood, portrayed Jane’s haughty Aunt Reed. And I must say that she did an excellent job in portraying the character with a not-too-shabby English accent. Henry Daniell was equally impressive as the tyrannical head of Jane’s school, Mr. Lowood. But I was really impressed by Margaret O’Brien, who did a remarkable job as Rochester’s French ward, Adèle Varens. I would not know an authentic French accent, if I was stuck in the middle of Paris. But I must say that O’Brien’s accent was just as good as the other young actresses who portrayed Adèle. And she gave such a charming performance . . . at the age of six.

But O’Brien was not the only child star who gave an excellent performance. Peggy Ann Garner was equally impressive as the young Jane Eyre, who had no qualms about butting heads with the haughty Reed family. Also in the film was a young Elizabeth Taylor, who gave a mesmerizing performance as Jane’s doomed young friend, Helen Burns. I was surprised to discover that Hillary Brooke, who portrayed Blanche Ingram, was an American actress. I thought she was very convincing as the charmingly bitchy and very English Blanche. The movie also featured solid performances from Sara Allgood, John Sutton, Edith Barrett and Barbara Everest.

So . . . do I feel that “JANE EYRE” is the best or worst adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s novel? Honestly? I would say neither. Yes, there were times I could barely deal with the movie’s over-the-top Gothic atmosphere. And yes, I found the last quarter of the film both weak and rushed. But overall, I would say that it is a pretty good film. And I believe that it still holds up rather well after 73 to 74 years.

“VANTAGE POINT” (2008) Review

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“VANTAGE POINT” (2008) Review

“VANTAGE POINT” is a tightly woven thriller about eight strangers with eight different points of view of an assassination attempt on the President of the United States, during an anti-terrorism summit in Salamanca, Spain. Directed by Pete Travis and written by Barry Levy, the movie starred Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver and William Hurt.

When I had first saw the trailer for “VANTAGE POINT” four years ago, I had assumed it would be one of those remakes of the Japanese film, “RASHOMON” (1950). I figured there would be an assassination attempt on the President and the film would follow with various points of view on the incident. This is what actually happened in “VANTAGE POINT” . . . but not quite.“VANTAGE POINT” did reveal the assassination attempt from various points of view. In “RASHOMON” and other versions of the film, those views are shown as flashbacks. But in “VANTAGE POINT” each point of view is not a flashback. Instead, each POV merely gives a certain view of the story, while the story moves forward. For example, the movie started out with the point of view of a news producer (Sigourney Weaver), before ending at a particular point in the story. The next point of view belongs to Secret Service agent Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid), which ends a little further in the story than the news producer’s POV. And so on. The movie ends with an exciting action sequence told from the various viewpoints of the major characters – heroes and villains.

The more I think about “VANTAGE POINT”, the more I realize how much I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the tight setting of Salamanca, Spain (actually the film was shot in Mexico). I must add that one of the things I enjoyed about this movie was that Levy’s script had a way of putting a twist on any assumptions anyone might form about the plot. I loved how Travis handled the film’s action, making it well-paced. I enjoyed the performances of the major cast members. I was especially impressed by the performances of Dennis Quaid as the emotionally uncertain Barnes, who eventually pieced together the real plot. I also enjoyed the performances of Matthew Fox as his fellow Secret Service agent, Forest Whitaker as an American tourist and Edgar Ramirez (“THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM”) as a Spanish Special Forces soldier involved in the plot against the President. But more importantly, I loved Barry Levy’s script, which put a twist on any assumptions the moviegoer may have formed about the story’s plotlines and characters. My only quibble with “VANTAGE POINT” was the interaction between Whitaker’s character and a Spanish girl, which I found slightly contrived near the end of the movie.

“VANTAGE POINT” did pretty well at the box office. Unfortunately, most critics compared it unfavorably to “RASHOMON”. Personally, I do care about the critics’ opinion. “VANTAGE POINT” was the type of movie that forced the audience to think. And I suspect that many moviegoers and critics would have preferred a film that laid everything out in the open. And since I have a history of liking movies that are not popular with the public or film critics, all I can say is that I am personally glad that I had purchased the DVD for this movie. It ended up becoming one of my favorite 2008 movies.

 

Notes and Observations of STAR WARS: “Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back”

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Notes and Observations of “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”

The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”. I hope that you enjoy them:

*Exactly who was in command of the Rebel Alliance base on Hoth – Leia or General Rieekan?

*What was Leia doing on Hoth with the Rebel Alliance military personnel? Why wasn’t she with the other political Rebel leaders?

*Ah yes! The ”I’ just as soon kiss a Wookie!” dialogue between Leia and Han. Charming, although slightly . . . childish.

*How . . . or should I say when did Han and Leia reach the point in which they became attracted to one another?

*It was interesting to see how Obi-Wan’s ghost faded with the emergence of Han on a tauntaun.

*”Why, you stuck up,… half-witted… scruffy-looking …nerf-herder!” – Another charming, yet childish exchange between Leia and Han.

*Jealousy and ambition seem quite obvious within the Imperial command structure, if General Ozzel’s glare at Piett is anything to go by.

*I find it interesting that the exchange between Luke and Han before the commencement of the Battle of Hoth would be the last between them for at least a year.

*Vader’s ability to strangle Ozzel with the Force from such a large distance seemed very impressive for someone whose strength with the Force has been weakened.

*The pilots’ point of view of the Battle of Hoth seemed like another cliché of a World War II dogfight . . . like the Battle of Yavin.

*Luke was made commander of the Rebel pilots because he had destroyed the Death Star . . . with Han’s help? What about Wedge, who was also a competent pilot and more experienced?

*The Imperial AT-AT Walkers remind me of the Oliphaunts from the ”LORD OF THE RINGS” saga.

*Wasn’t Leia taking her duty just a bit too seriously by delaying her departure from Hoth?

*I noticed that Han never seemed to follow the ladies first rule. When he, Leia and Chewie and Threepio had escaped both from Hoth and the exogorth in the asteroid field, he made sure that he boarded the Millennium Falcon first. Not exactly a man of the Old Republic.

*Han really revealed how much of a hot shot pilot he was in this movie.

*”Into the belly of the beast” – This metaphor seemed to fit the Falcon’s entry into exogorth even more than Luke, Han and Leia’s brief adventures inside the Death Star’s trash compactor.

*The audience got a brief glimpse of the price Anakin paid for his past mistakes – namely his scalded head.

*”Feel like what?” – Yoda’s first words in any ”STAR WARS” movie.

*”Great warrior? Hmmm . . . wars do not make one great.” – Ironic words from the very being who led the first attack, during the first battle of the Clone Wars. His words also revealed the true Yoda behind the comic façade. I think Luke may have been too impatient or full of himself to notice.

*”You like me because I’m a scoundrel. There aren’t enough scoundrels in your life.” – One can only assume that Leia’s age – 22 years – and limited experience with men would explain why she bought that bilge pouring from Han’s mouth.

*”He’s just a boy. Obi-Wan can no longer help him.” – Surely these words must have hinted to Palpatine that Vader had been aware of Luke for some time?

*I see that Clive Revill has been replaced by Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor Palpatine in this version of the movie. Which makes sense, considering that McDiarmid is more identified with the role.

*”This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away . . . to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” – I believe that Yoda had just described himself and many other Jedi Masters and Knights of the Old Republic, nearly a quarter of a century ago. If he and Obi-Wan could learn to overcome this distraction from the future, why not Luke? Why was Yoda so reluctant to teach Luke? Is it Luke he doubts? Or himself as a teacher?

*”If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.” – I hope that Yoda was trying to say that a person will always be affected by his or her earlier decision to take a dark path or commit dark acts. Because if he was trying to say that a person will always remain evil, after taking the dark path, I must say that I disagree.

*Han used a neat trick to evade the sensors of Captain Needa’s starship, after the Falcon left the asteroid field.

*”Luminous beings are we. Not this crude matter.” – A favorite line of mine.

*It was very clever of Han to attach the Falcon to an Imperial starship before disguising it as garbage to be disposed with the other. Unfortunately for him, Boba Fett had witnessed a similar trick pulled by Obi-Wan near Geonosis, some 25 years ago. Even worse, it is a shame that Han was so busy congratulating himself over his trick that he failed to realize that Fett was tracking him.

*”Through the Force, things you will see. Other places. The future… the past. Old friends long gone.” – I wonder if Yoda was thinking of Mace Windu.

*According to LucasFilm, it took the Falcon three months to reach Bespin without a hyperdrive. If only Lucas and the others had made this clear in the movie.

*The Falcon was practically escorted to one of the landing platforms on Cloud City. I wonder why.

*Great entrance for Billy Dee Williams as Lando Calrissian.

*Was CP-30 really that dense in that he would be so easily distracted from the group by the sound of an R2 unit?

*”Stopped they must be. On this all depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor”. – Did that mean Yoda had never intended for Luke to help Anakin find redemption?

*Apparently, the original deal between Vader and Lando did not include Han being turned over to Boba Fett. And later, Vader broke his word and insisted that Leia and Chewie accompany him. Interesting. It is a miracle that the Sith Lord did not renege on the deal even further by destroying Bespin and its population.

*And why did Han and Leia fail to understand the situation that Vader had placed Lando? Were they too blinded by anger?

*I find it interesting that not once did Vader set eyes upon C3-P0, his own creation. Why? Because Chewbacca had the droid strapped to his back.

*How stupid were Leia and Chewbacca? It was obvious that Lando had released them from Vader’s stormtroopers. Yet, all they could do was lose their tempers. Chewbacca immediately began to strangle Lando and Leia encouraged the Wookie. Because their temper tantrums, they prevented Lando from rescuing Han from Boba Fett.

*I must admit that I found the dialogue during the Bespin duel rather irritating. The most important thing about the duel seemed to be Vader’s revelation as Anakin Skywalker . . . after the fighting stopped.

*Vader’s reaction to Luke and Leia’s escape from Bespin was an excellent moment of silent acting on David Prowse’s part. With his use of body language, he managed to express Vader’s regret over losing Luke . . . and the beginning of Anakin Skywalker’s resurgence.

“EVELYN PRENTICE” (1934) Review

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“EVELYN PRENTICE” (1934) Review

“EVELYN PRENTICE” marked the third collaboration between William Powell and Myrna Loy in 1934. MGM Studios first had the pair co-star with Clark Gable in the hit crime melodrama, “MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. Then the pair hit gold and became solidified as a screen team in “THE THIN MAN”. Following the success of the latter, MGM paired them in a melodrama called “EVELYN PRENTICE”.

William K. Howard directed this adaptation of W.E. Woodward’s 1931 novel about Evelyn Prentice, the neglected wife of a successful attorney, who drifts into dangerous waters when she becomes involved with another man. Although she loves her husband, John Prentice, Evelyn begins to despair of his long hours and begins to wonder if his career is more important to him than his family. John becomes engrossed in defending a young socialite named Nancy Harrison and has a brief affair with her before she is acquitted. Before Evelyn can celebrate his latest success, John is called to Boston for another case and during the train journey, encounters Miss Harrison. When Evelyn learns about Miss Harrison’s presence aboard the Boston-bound train, she commences upon a flirtation with a handsome man named Lawrence Kennard. Unfortunately, Lawrence proves to be a gold-digging gigolo, who blackmails Evelyn with a compromising letter. Just as Evelyn finds a gun inside a desk drawer, Lawrence’s girlfriend, Judith Wilson hears gunfire. But Evelyn manages to leave Lawrence’s room before being spotted by Judith. Evelyn eventually learns that Judith has been arrested for murder. And out of a sense of guilt, she convinces John to defend the younger woman.

I did not know what to expect with “EVELYN PRENTICE”. I had never heard of it, until recently. I knew it was a drama and did not expect any of the usual witty exchanges that highlighted the best of their “THIN MAN” movies and other comedies. Actually, screenwriters Lenore J. Coffee and Howard Emmett Rogers (uncredited) provided a good deal of witticism in “EVELYN PRENTICE”, but only for Una Merkel, who portrayed Evelyn’s best friend, Amy Drexel. I liked the costume designs created by Dolly Tree, who had served as Myrna Loy’s usual designer at MGM . . . even if I found them a tad over-the-top. Frank E. Hull’s editing proved to be valuable in the scene that featured Lawrence Kennard’s shooting. As for the performances, they proved to be solid, although not exactly dazzling. There were two or three performances that impressed me. They came from Merkel’s sharp-witted performance as best friend Amy; Isabel Jewell, who gave a passionate performance as Lawrence’s abused girlfriend, Judith Wilson; and even veteran actress Jessie Ralph, who gave a brief, yet lively performance as a charwoman who lived in the same building as the victim. Rosalind Russell made her screen debut as John Prentice’s lovesick client, Nancy Harrison. Mind you, I found her performance a bit theatrical, but at least she injected some fire into the movie.

Unfortunately, there was a good deal about “EVELYN PRENTICE” that made it difficult for me to really enjoy this film. I have nothing against melodrama. But there is good melodrama and there is bad. As far as I am concerned, “EVELYN PRENTICE” was not good melodrama. One, the performances of the two leads – Myrna Loy and William Powell – annoyed me. They did not give bad performances. But Loy spent a good deal of the movie utilizing enough pensive expressions that rivaled Evangeline Lilly from Season One of “LOST”. She almost bored me senseless. Powell, on the other hand, bored me. Although his John Prentice did not cheat on his wife during that train journey from New York to Boston, he did sleep with his client earlier in the film. I never realized that adultery could be so boring and I am afraid that Powell is to blame, not Russell. Cora Sue Collins portrayed the Prentices’ young daughter, Dorothy. She was sweet, cute and typical of the early 1930s child actors that I have always found nauseating. Shirley Temple made this kid look refreshing. And Harvey Stephens’ Lawrence Kennard proved to be one of the dullest gigolos in film history. This guy made sexiness seem like a bore.

In the end, it was Coffee and Rogers’ adaptation of Woodward’s novel, along with Howard’s direction that sunk this movie for me. For about the first fifteen or twenty minutes, I had no problems maintaining interest in this movie. But it did not take long for my interest to drift away from the plot. I was in danger of falling asleep. My interest perked again, following the death of the Lawrence Kennard character. I found myself wondering when Evelyn would tell the truth about what happened and save the girlfriend from a noose. I have never read the 1933 novel, so I do not know whether the solution to the movie’s plot came directly from the novel or was created by Coffee and Rogers. Needless to say, the legal solution to the Kennard murder took me by surprise . . . in a very negative way. I found myself disgusted by how the writers resolved the whole matter, when I first saw the film. And thinking about it later, I am still shaking my head in disbelief.

What else can I say about “EVELYN PRENTICE”? I have read some reviews of the movie and there are some movie fans who liked it. I had hoped to become a fan of the movie. But between the lackluster performances of the leads, the mind-boggling bad writing, and William K. Howard’s dull direction; I can honestly say that I hope to never lay eyes on this film again. I am a big fan of Powell and Loy, but I feel this movie was one of their major missteps during their tenure as a screen team.

“BATMAN BEGINS” (2005) Review

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”BATMAN BEGINS” (2005) Review

When Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the BATMAN franchise first made its debut during the summer of 2005, many critics and moviegoers hailed it as the second coming. They also viewed it as a vast improvement over the four films released between 1989 and 1997. Since then, ”BATMAN BEGINS” has been overshadowed by its 2008 sequel, ”THE DARK KNIGHT”. After a recent viewing of the 2005 movie, I must admit that I have a deeper attachment for it.

”BATMAN BEGINS” was basically an origin tale about the scion of a wealthy Gotham City family, who endured a personal tragedy before become a costumed vigilante. The movie began in a Chinese person where Bruce Wayne was serving time for robbery. A mysterious man named Henri Ducard offered to arrange for Bruce’s freedom if the latter would consider joining his organization called the League of Shadows. Once Bruce began his training under Ducard’s tutelage, flashbacks revealed his childhood; his friendship with Rachel Dawes, the daughter of a family servant; his parents’ tragic deaths; and the murder of their killer. Once Bruce’s training ended, Ducard and the League’s head – Ra’s al Ghul – ordered the Gotham City native to execute a murderer they had captured. They also revealed their intent to destroy Gotham City, due to its growing corruption. Unwilling to become an executioner and appalled by the League’s plans for Gotham, Bruce began a fight that led to the Temple’s destruction. After Bruce saved Ducard’s life, he returned to Gotham City to commence his life as the vigilante, the Batman.

Aside from a few minor problems that I will discuss later, I must admit that after four-and-a-half years, I enjoyed ”BATMAN BEGINS” more than ever. One, I thought that Christopher Nolan and fellow screenwriter David S. Goyer did an exceptional job in revealing Bruce Wayne’s childhood and the circumstances that led him to China in flashbacks. Very exceptional. Also, through Bruce Wayne/the Batman, Henri Ducard and other characters, the screenwriters managed to convey the pitfalls of vigilantism. Considering the movie’s title, I thought Nolan and Goyer also did an excellent job in presenting a examination of the main character.

Speaking of the main character, Christian Bale earned a well deserved Saturn Award for his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/the Batman. I only wish that Bale could have received a Golden Globe or Academy Award nomination, as well. He did a superb job of capturing all of the nuances of Bruce’s personality. Even more impressive was the way he developed the character from an immature and vengeful twenty-something young man to the somewhat more wiser thirty-something man who had learned to restrain himself from allowing his penchant for vigilantism to spiral out of control. Unless Nolan used a stunt man for Bruce/Batman’s action scenes, I thought that Bale managed to handle the action – especially the fight scenes – very well. Was this his first time in dealing with heavy action sequences? Someone please let me know.

I must admit that I have been a fan of Liam Neeson for a long time, admiring his array of performances that included a randy Irish ghost, a Jedi Master, the ambiguous Oskar Schindler and a determined ex-CIA agent searching for his kidnapped daughter. I cannot honestly say that his best role was Henri Ducard, Bruce Wayne’s mentor. But I would probably view it as one of his better roles. Most people have compared his Ducard to his performance as Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn in ”STAR WARS: The Phantom Menace”. Perhaps. However, I saw major differences in the two roles. Ducard turned out to be a darker character, who despite his words of wisdom, was unable to let go of his past tragedy. Instead, he used it to inflict his desire to punish the guilty and the corrupt through some of the most Draconian means possible. Neeson did a beautiful job in capturing not only Ducard’s wisdom, but also his subtle, yet psychotic personality. In some ways, his Ducard was a lot scarier than the Joker in ”THE DARK KNIGHT”. Only, his villainy was not as colorful. And like Bale, he had earned a Saturn Award nomination. Only he lost to Mickey Rourke (”SIN CITY”). Hmmmm.

On the other hand, Katie Holmes was given a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Bruce’s childhood friend and Gotham’s crusading Assistant District Attorney, Rachel Dawes. And for the likes of me, I do NOT understand why. I found nothing wrong with her performance. I thought she did a splendid job portraying Rachel as Bruce and Gotham City’s moral center. I especially enjoyed her scenes with not only Bale, but also her confrontations with Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane/the Scarecrow. Many have praised Maggie Gyllanhaal’s portrayal of Rachel in ”THE DARK KNIGHT’. Personally? I think that Holmes was lucky not to appear in the 2008 film. At least her Rachel Dawes had not written as a mere object of desire and a barely irrelevant character.

Speaking of Cillian Murphy, I truly enjoyed his performance as Dr. Jonathan Crane, the cold-blooded and manipulative city psychiatrist who became arch villain, the Scarecrow. He did an excellent job in conveying the character’s subtle villainy and sardonic wit. Another villain that possessed the same wit turned out to be Gotham City’s crime boss, Carmine Falcone. Although Tom Wilkinson portrayed the character with a good deal of wit and verve, it seemed a pity that his performance was nearly ruined by a questionable American accent seemed like a bad parody of a old Warner Brothers gangster character. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman portrayed mentors and allies for Bruce Wayne/the Batman – faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, Wayne Enterprises executive Lucius Fox and police sergeant Jim Gordon, respectively. And they all did solid jobs; especially Caine, whose wisdom and concern for his employer’s personal life allowed him to be Bruce’s true mentor.

Linus Roache portrayed Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s doomed father. He gave a solid performance, but I found his American accent rather questionable. And I also had other problems with Bruce’s parents. One, they seemed impossibly good – almost pure. And I found that aspect of their portrayal a bore. Two, Thomas and Martha Wayne must have also been incredibly stupid. The Wayne family went to the opera via public transportation. Okay, perhaps I can excuse that on the grounds that perhaps they could not afford a limousine or wanted to save gas. But when Bruce wanted to leave the opera early, they left the theater through the goddamn back door. No wonder that thug, Joe Chill, was able to accost them so easily.

Speaking of problems, I have a few more regarding ”BATMAN BEGINS”. One, I hate the growl that Bale had used, while portraying the Batman. There were times when I found Bale slightly coherent and I also found it unnecessary and annoying. Two, I have a problem with Ra’s al Ghul, the so-called leader of the League of Shadows whom Bruce had killed in Tibet (or China). Apparently, the Gotham City native had killed a psychic manifestation of Ducard’s mind. How Ducard managed to create this manifestation and how Bruce managed to kill it were plot points that Nolan and Goyer failed to explain.

When all is said and done, I must admit that I really enjoyed ”BATMAN BEGINS”. Personally, I feel that Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer had written a better movie than ”THE DARK KNIGHT”, despite its flaws. The movie not only featured excellent direction from Nolan and an interesting score by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, it also had top-notch performances from Christian Bale, Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast . . . even those with questionable American accents. In fact, I would go as far to say that I consider it to be one of my favorite comic book movie ever made.

“ANGELS & INSECTS” (1995) Review

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“ANGELS & INSECTS” (1995) Review

I never thought I would come around to writing this review. I have seen the 1995 movie, “ANGELS & INSECTS” a good number of times during the past five years. Yet, I never got around to posting a review of this movie, until recently. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. Nor do I have any idea why I had finally decided to write that review.

Based upon A.S. Byatt’s 1992 novella called “Morpho Eugenia”, “ANGELS & INSECTS” tells the story of a poor naturalist named William Adamson, who returns home to Victorian England after having spent years studying the natural wildlife – especially insects – in the Amazon Basin. Despite losing all of his possession during a shipwreck, he manages to befriend a baronet named Sir Harald Alabaster, who is also an amateur insect collector and botanist. The latter hires William to catalog his specimen collection and assist his younger children’s governess the natural sciences.

William eventually falls for Sir Harald’s oldest daughter, Eugenia, who is mourning the suicide of her fiance. Both of them eventually become emotionally involved and decide to marry. Much to William’s surprise, both Sir Harald and Lady Alabaster seems encouraging of the match. The only member of the Alabaster family who is against their upcoming wedding is Sir Harald’s eldest child, the arrogant Edgar. Not only is the latter close to Eugenia, he believes that William is unworthy of his sister’s hand, due to having a working-class background. The marriage between William and Eugenia seemed to be a happily lustful one that produces five children (among them two sets of twins). But Eugenia’s hot and cold control over their sex life, a constantly hostile Edgar, William’s growing friendship to Lady Alabaster’s companion Matilda “Matty” Crompton, and William’s own disenchantment over his role as Sir Harald’s official assistant brings their marriage to a head after several years of marriage.

The film adaptation of Byatt’s novella seemed to be the brainchild of Philip and Belinda Haas. Both worked on the film’s screenplay, while Philip also served as the film’s director and Belinda served as both co-producer (there are three others) and film editor. From my perusal of many period drama blogs, I get the feeling that “ANGELS & INSECTS” is not very popular with many of the genre’s fans. On the other hand, many literary and film critics seemed to have a very high regard for it. Despite my love for the usual romantic costume drama, I must admit that my opinions of the 1995 film falls with the latter group. It is simply too well made and too fascinating for me to overlook.

There were times I could not tell whether “ANGELS & INSECTS” is some look at the age of Victorian science exploration, the close study of an upper-class 19th century family, or a lurid tale morality. Now that I realize it, the movie is probably an amalgamation of them all, wrapped around this view on Darwinism and breeding – in regard to both the insect world and humans. The topic of breeding seemed to seep into the screenplay in many scenes. Some of them come to mind – Sir Harald and Edgar’s debate on the breeding of horses and other animals, William and Eugenia’s second encounter with moths in the manor’s conservatory, Sir Harald’s despairing rant on his declining usefulness within his own household, the reason behind Edgar’s hostility toward William, and the visual comparisons between the bees and the inhabitants of the Alabaster estate, with Lady Alabaster serving as some metaphor for an aging Queen bee on her last legs. The metaphor of the Queen bee is extended further into Eugenia. Not only does she assume her mother’s role as mistress of the house following the latter’s death; but like Lady Alabaster before her, gives birth to a growing number of blond-haired children. If a person has never seen “ANGELS AND INSECTS” before, he or she could follow both the script and cinematographer Bernard Zitzerman’s shots carefully to detect the clues that hint the cloistered degeneracy that seemed to unconsciously permeate the Alabaster household.

I cannot deny that “ANGELS & INSECTS” is a gorgeous film to behold. Philip and Belinda Haas, along with the film’s other producers did an excellent job in creating a visually stunning film with a bold and colorful look. Cinematographer Bernard Zitzermann, along with production designer Jennifer Kernke and Alison Riva’s art direction provided great contributions to the film’s visual style. But in my opinion, Paul Brown’s Academy Award nominated costume designs not only conveyed the film’s colorful visual style more than anything else, but also properly reflected the fashion styles of the early 1860s for women – including the growing penchant for deep, solid colors – as shown below:

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Adding to the movie’s rich atmosphere was Alexander Balanescu’s memorable score. I thought the composer did an excellent job of reflecting both the movie’s elegant setting and its passionate, yet lurid story.

As much as I enjoyed and admired “ANGELS & INSECTS”, I believe it had its flaws. I understand why Philip Haas had opened the movie with shots of William Adamson socializing with inhabitants of the Amazonian jungle, juxtaposing with the Alabaster ball given in his honor. Is it just me or did Haas use white – probably British – actors to portray Amazonian natives? I hope I am wrong, but I fear otherwise. I also feel that the movie was marred by a slow pacing that nearly crawled to a halt. I cannot help but wonder if Haas felt insecure by the project he and his wife had embarked upon, considering that “ANGELS & INSECTS” was his second motion picture after many years as a documentarian. Or perhaps he got caught up in his own roots as a documentarian, due to his heavy emphasis on the natural world being studied by William, Matty and the younger Alabaster children. In a way, I have to thank Balanescu’s score for keeping me awake during those scenes that seemed to drag.

I cannot deny that the movie featured some top-notch and subtle performances. Mark Rylance, who has a sterling reputation as a stage actor, gave such a quiet and superb performance that his reputation has extended to film, resulting in a Best Actor Oscar over a year ago. Kristin Scott-Thomas was equally superb as the Matty Crompton, Lady Alabaster’s very observant companion, who shared William’s interests in natural sciences. I have no idea what reputation Patsy Kensit has as an actress, but I certainly believe she gave an excellent performance as William’s beautiful and aristocratic wife, Eugenia Alabaster, whose hot and cold attitude toward her husband kept him puzzled. Jeremy Kemp gave one of his more complex and entertaining performances as William’s father-in-law, the amateur scientist Sir Harald Alabaster. Douglas Henshall had a difficult job in portraying the bullying Edgar Alabaster, who seemed to view William as both beneath contempt and something of a threat to his views of the world. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Anna Massey, Saskia Wickham, Chris Larkin, Clare Redman and Annette Badlands.

Some fans of period drama might be taken aback by the graphic sexuality featured in the film, along with the story’s lurid topic. And director Philip Haas’ pacing might be a bit hard to accept. But I feel that enduring all of this might be worth the trouble. Philip and Belinda Haas, along with the crew and a cast led by Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Patsy Kensit did an excellent in re-creating A.S. Byatt’s tale on the screen, and creating a first-rate movie in the end.

“HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

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“HEARTBREAKERS” (2001) Review

Directed by David Mirkin, HEARTBREAKERS” is a romantic comedy caper about an elaborate con set up by a mother-daughter team to swindle wealthy men out of their money, and what happens during their “last” con together. This 2001 comedy starred Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love-Hewitt as the mother-daughter pair, along with Gene Hackman and Ray Liotta as their wealthy marks.

The movie begins with Max and Page Connors (Weaver and Love-Hewitt) conning an auto-body shop owner and small time crook named Dean Cumanno (Liotta). The con, which is implied has been done a number of times before on other men, involves Max marrying Dean, passing out on their wedding night to avoid consummating the marriage, and then Page (posing as Dean’s secretary) luring Dean into a compromising position to justify Max’s immediate divorce and hefty settlement. Following the success of this con, Page decides that she wants her half of their money before going solo. Max relents, but the two learn from an I.R.S. agent (Anne Bancroft) that that they owe the government a considerable sum on top of the rest of their savings, which have already been seized. Page reluctantly agrees to work together with Max on one last con in Palm Beach (which would result in enough money to pay off the I.R.S. and set Page up to work on her own). For their target, they choose widower William B. Tensy (Gene Hackman), a tobacco millionaire and chain smoker who is addicted to his own product. Complicating matters is beachfront bartender named Jack Withrowe (Jason Lee), whom Page meets without her mother’s knowledge, while attempting to go after another target on her own.

Robert Dunn, Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur; who wrote the screenplay for ”HEARTBREAKERS”, were also responsible for movies like ”THE LITTLE RASCALS” and ”LIAR, LIAR”. But quite frankly, those two movies were chopped liver as far as I am concerned in compare to ”HEARTBREAKERS”. The movie’s story struck me as sly, witty and absolutely hilarious. Page’s romance with Jack; along with Max and Dean’s love stories were romantic and at the same time, sharp and unsentimental. Max’s attempts to seduce William Tensy, while impersonating a Russian expatriate featured some of the most hilarious moments in the movie – especially a particularly biting sequence that featured the Connors’ dealings with Tensy’s hard-nosed and grasping maid, portrayed by Nora Dunn. Between Tensy’s smoking and pallor and Max’s ordeal in being forced to consume steak tartare, this movie has put me off smoking and raw beef for all eternity. And if the Connors’ misadventures with Tensy were not bad enough, emotions jump a few notches when Dean arrives in Palm Beach in search of Max. It seems that he was really in love with her . . . and she has admitted to having feelings for him. Much to Page’s disgust.

It is not simply the script for ”HEARTBREAKERS” that had me in stitches. Weaver and Love Hewitt lead a first-rate cast that was just as funny as the script. Weaver (deservedly) earned a Golden Satellite Awards nomination as the elegant and quick-thinking Max. However, Love Hewitt matched her in screen presence and comedic skills as the equally intelligent, yet brusque Page. For once Ray Liotta’s intensity came into comedic use as Max’s faux husband, auto shop owner Dean Cummano whose love for the grafter/mother refuses to die, despite his discovery that Max and Page had conned him. Anne Bancroft gave a sly performance as Barbara aka Gloria Vogel, the I.R.S. agent who turned out to be Max’s mentor . . . and the woman who had stolen Max and Page’s bank funds. And of course, there was Gene Hackman, who played the chain smoking William Tensy. I loved his portrayal of the self-absorbed and caustic tobacco magnate. I could tell that he was truly enjoying himself. The only hiccup in this first-rate cast turned out to be Jason Lee. He played Jack Withrowe, the bartender who turned out to be owner of a beachfront bar and minor millionaire. Actually, the problem was not Lee’s performance. It was the writers’ portrayal of him. Quite frankly, Jack was a rather dull boy – a character unworthy of the talented and usually funny Lee. Not even the so-called one-liners they fed the character could not overcome his dullness.

”HEARTBREAKERS” turned out to be another example of a caper film featuring grifters that I find enjoyable. It had a first-rate plot, hilarious and complex characters (with the exception of Lee’s character), delicious scenery featuring Palm Beach and Southern California (standing in as Palm Beach) and a catchy score written by John Debney and Emmanuel Kiriakou. Director David Mirkin was given all of this – some at the last moment – and created comedy magic with it.