Thursday, July 31, 2014

"THE WAY WE LIVE NOW" (2001) Photo Gallery

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Below are images from "THE WAY WE LIVE NOW", the 2001 television adaptation of Anthony Trollope's 1875 novel. Directed by David Yates, the four-part miniseries starred David Suchet, Shirley Henderson, Cillian Murphy and Matthew Macfadyen:


"THE WAY WE LIVE NOW" (2001) Photo Gallery

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

"FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" (1963) Review

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"FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" (1963) Review

Have you ever heard the song, "What a Difference a Day Makes"? Well, the song's title kept going through my head, while viewing 1963’s "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE", which was based upon Ian Flemnig's 1957 novel. It seemed such a difference from the very inferior "DR. NO" (and would prove to be quite a difference in my eyes to 1964’s "GOLDFINGER").

Not only do I consider "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" to be one of the finest Bond films in the franchise, I also view it as Connery’s best. In fact, as with 1965’s "THUNDERBALL", his acting was superb in this film. James Bond not only seemed mature, but . . . [gasp] human. All one has to do is examine his interactions with leading lady Daniela Bianchi to notice this. Connery has never been so human as he was in this movie. And sadly, he was never this human again.

Connery was supported by a first-class supporting cast. Italian-born actress Daniela Bianchi portrayed the Soviet cipher clerk assigned to seduce him, Tatiana Romanova. What started as an assignment for Tania, ended up as full-blown love affair. Although, Bianchi had her dialogue dubbed by Zena Marshall (from "DR. NO"), she did an excellent job in projecting Tania’s wide range of emotions – including her disgust at ex-Soviet turned SPECTRE agent, Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya).

Speaking of Lenya . . . my goodness, I am speechless! What can I say? The woman was superb! I found her creepy in her scenes with Bianchi and Walter Gotell, yet fearful in the scenes featuring SPECTRE’s leader, Ernst Stavos Blofeld. In fact, she gave one of the best performances by any actor or actress portraying a Bond villain/villainess. And I must say the same for the highly revered Robert Shaw. Not only did his Donovan Grant turned out to be the template for many Bond henchmen to come (with only Andreas Wisniewski from "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS" coming close), Shaw and Connery provided one of the best dramatic moments and fight sequences in the entire franchise.

Hollywood character actor, Pedro Armendariz, portrayed Bond’s Turkish contact, Kerim Bey. Sadly, the role of Bey would prove to be Armendariz’s last one. After finishing his scenes, he committed suicide, rather than suffer any longer from cancer. But fortunately for many Bond fans, Kerim Bey would prove to be his greatest role. Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell were competent as usual. And the movie would serve as the debut of Desmond Llewellyn as MI-6’s Quartermaster.

The plot for "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" centered around SPECTRE’s scheme to lure James Bond into stealing a valuable Soviet decoding machine, and unknowingly deliver it into their hands. In the process, Agent 007 is to suffer a disgraceful death, in revenge for the death of Dr. No. The movie not only had the good luck to be based upon one of Ian Fleming’s few well-written novels, the screenwriters Richard Maibaum and Johanna Harwood, did an excellent job of translating it to the screen. Rich with atmosphere and mystery, "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" almost seemed like the perfect spy thriller – a far cry from the schizophrenic and inferior "DR. NO". A few changes had been made, but overall they seemed to serve the story very well.

Did I find "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE" perfect? No. I have a few complaints. One of my complaints happened to be the Bond-Grant confrontation aboard the westbound Orient Express. From a dramatic viewpoint, it gave Connery and Shaw to exercise their acting chops. From a storytelling viewpoint, it made no sense. It just did not make any sense to me that Grant would take his time preparing to kill Bond, once he got the drop on the British agent. While Grant was busy searching through the unconscious Bond’s jacket and putting on his gloves, I found myself screaming at my TV screen – "What in the hell are you waiting for? Kill him!" I also found the two action sequences that preceded Bond and Tania’s arrival in Venice a bit too much. I had the feeling that the writers added an extra action sequence in order to fill in the movie’s running time. I could have done with either the helicopter sequence or the Adriatic Sea boat chase.

But you know what? Not even these flaws could deter my love for "FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE". It is one of the few James Bond films that do not adhere to the franchise's rather silly formula. The movie also possessed a first-rate espionage thriller seeped in Cold War politics. And it featured excellent direction from Terence Young, memorable performances from a talented supporting cast and Sean Connery's best performance as James Bond.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top Ten Favorite HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

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Below is a list of my favorite history documentaries:



TOP TEN FAVORITE HISTORY DOCUMENTARIES

1 - Ken Burns The Civil War

1. "The Civil War" (1990) - Ken Burns produced this award-winning documentary about the U.S. Civil War. Narrated by David McCullough, the documentary was shown in eleven episodes.



2 - Supersizers Go-Eat

2. "The Supersizers Go/Eat" (2008-2009) - Food critic Giles Coren and comedian-broadcaster Sue Perkins co-hosted two entertaining series about the culinary history of Britain (with side trips to late 18th century France and Imperial Rome).



3 - MGM - When the Lion Roared

3. "MGM: When the Lion Roared" (1992) - Patrick Stewart narrated and hosted this three-part look into the history of one of the most famous Hollywood studios - Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).



4 - Africans in America

4. "Africans in America: America’s Journey Through Slavery" (1998) - Angela Bassett narrated this four-part documentary on the history of slavery in the United States, from the Colonial era to Reconstruction.



5 - Queen Victoria Empire

5. "Queen Victoria's Empire" (2001) - This PBS documentary is a two-part look at the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria. Donald Sutherland narrated.



6 - Motown 40 - The Music Is Forever

6. "Motown 40: The Music Is Forever" (1998) - Diana Ross hosted and narrated this look into the history of Motown, from its inception in 1958 to the 1990s.



7 - Ken Burns The War

7. "The War" (2007) - Ken Burns created another critically acclaimed documentary for PBS. Narrated by Keith David, this seven-part documentary focused upon the United States' participation in World War II.



8 - Manor House

8. "The Edwardian Manor House" (2002) - This five-episode documentary is also a reality television series in which a British family assume the identity of Edwardian aristocrats and live in an opulent Scottish manor with fifteen (15) people from all walks of life participating as their servants.



9 - Elegance and Decadence - The Age of Regency

9. "Elegance and Decadence: The Age of Regency" (2011) - Historian Dr. Lucy Worsley presented and hosted this three-part documentary about Britain's Regency era between 1810 and 1820.



10 - Ken Burns The West

10. "The West" (1996) - Directed by Steven Ives and produced by Ken Burns, this eight-part documentary chronicled the history of the trans-Appalachian West in the United States. Peter Coyote narrated.



HM - Fahrenheit 9-11

Honorable Mention: "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004) - Michael Moore co-produced and directed this Oscar winning documentary that took a critical look at the presidency of George W. Bush, the War on Terror, and its coverage in the news media.