Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Below are images from Season Four of HBO's "BOARDWALK EMPIRE". Created by Terence Winter, the series stars Steve Buscemi:
"BOARDWALK EMPIRE" Season Four (2013) Photo Gallery
Sunday, June 28, 2015
"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:
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 71 to 72 years.
Friday, June 26, 2015
"LOST" RETROSPECT: (5.02) "The Lie"
Season Five of ABC's "LOST" has always struck me as the series' Odd Man Out. It is not the first season to break the rules of the series' format. Season Four not only featured flashbacks, but also flash forwards. But Season Five seemed to be all over the place. And I believe this was due to the cast being split up for the first half of its season.
Before I talk about the season's second episode, (5.02) "The Lie", I feel I should do a recap of what led to its events. As many of the show's fans know, at least five of the original Oceanic Flight 815 survivors made it off the island. They were Dr. Jack Shephard, Kate Austen, Sayid Jarrah, Sun-Hwa Kwon, and Hugo "Hurley" Reyes. Five others inhabitants also managed to leave - including Claire Littleton's son Aaron, who was born on the island; Desmond Hume, who had been stranded on the island for three years; former Others leader Benjamin Linus, who left around the same time as the Oceanic survivors; Frank Lapidus, an airline pilot who had been hired to join an expedition traveling to the island aboard a freighter called the Kahana; and John Locke, whose later departure would be revealed in details in a future episode. The Season Four finale, (4.12 - 4.14) "There's No Place Like Home", viewers discovered that the original five survivors, Desmond and young Aaron were floating in a Zodiac raft, when they were picked up by a yacht owned by Desmond's love, Penny Widmore. While Desmond and Frank remained aboard Penny's yacht; Jack, Kate, Sayid, Sun, Hurley and young Aaron arrived on Fiji with a cover story about Oceanic 815's crash and how they ended there. They became known as "the Oceanic Six".
The first half of Season Five seemed to be divided into two major time period. The episodes and scenes featuring the survivors back on the island are set during the time following the Oceanic Six's departure from the island and how they dealt with the various inhabitants they encountered, while flashing back and forth through time. Rather confusing . . . eh? The episodes and scenes featuring the Oceanic Six focused on their lives nearly three years after being off the island and Benjamin Linus' efforts to get them to return. "The Lie" continued the story of the Oceanic Six during the latter period of those three years and the efforts of the island castaways to survive the constant shifts in time, which seemed to have caused a good deal of upheaval for them.
In this particular episode, Hurley finds himself labeled as a fugitive, when the police blames him for the deaths of two men whom Sayid had killed in the previous episode, (5.01) "Because You Left". With a barely conscious Sayid as his companion, Hurley appears at the Reyes family home and seeks refuge from the police with his parents. During his stay, he reveals to the latter the truth behind the lies concocted by Jack Shephard for the media and Oceanic Airlines. Meanwhile, Jack, who is forced to deal with withdrawal symptoms, and Ben try to round up the other Oceanic Six members and John Locke for their return to the island. According to former Other and island inhabitant, Eloise Hawking, Ben has seventy (70) hours to get them on a plane for the South Pacific. In the previous episode, two men had approached Kate for a blood sample to determine Aaron Littleton's bloodline. Fearful that Aaron might be taken away from her, Kate decides to go on the run with the toddler. However, a visit from Sun-Hwa Kwon prevents her from doing so. And when Kate tells her about the two men, Sun suggests that she takes excessive steps to prevent them from taking Aaron.
"The Lie" also featured the further adventures of those castaways left behind. Unlike those who had managed to leave the island, their story is set two to three years earlier - following Ben Linus and the Oceanic Six's departure. "Because You Left" revealed that when Ben left by turning that Frozen Donkey Wheel inside the DHARMA Orchid Station, those left behind found themselves flashing back and forth through time. In "The Lie", the remaining castaways attempt to start a fire at the old beach camp. Daniel, who had instructed a past Desmond Hume to find Eloise Hawking, join the others before they are attacked by the Others with a barrage of flaming arrows. Fortunately for James "Sawyer" Ford and Juliet Burke, John Locke comes to their rescue before they can be killed.
Wow! That seemed a lot for one particular episode. Was "The Lie" supposed to part of a two-part episode with "Because You Left"? If not, one could easily describe this episode as convoluted. There seemed to be at least three . . . perhaps four story arcs going on. At least a few of the episode's story arcs seemed to relate to its title. Hurley and Sayid's stay at the Reyes home and the former's confession to his mother about the lies Jack had concocted for the media and Oceanic Airlines seemed to be one. I could also say the same about the story arc featuring Kate's anxiety over losing Aaron. And Daniel did fail to tell Sawyer and Juliet that he had instruct the past Desmond to pay a visit to Eloise Hawking. The episode's title seemed to suggest there were consequences in the Oceanic Six's lies about their survival of the Flight 815 crash, their time on the island and return to civilization. But honestly, these consequences only seemed apparent in two story arcs - Hurley's survival guilt and Kate's anxiety over losing Aaron.
The consequences of Oceanic Six's lies seemed to stem in the episode's flashback aboard Penny Widmore's yacht, where Jack presented the story he planned to tell Oceanic Airlines and the media. There were two very interesting reactions to his revelations. Hurley seemed very reluctant to accept Jack's lies, making it clear that he found them unnecessary. But . . . being Hurley, he caved in from Jack's pressure to accept the false story for them to tell Oceanic Airlines and spent the next three years being haunted by his decision and the lies, until he finally confessed them to his mother. Another interesting reaction to Jack's suggestion came from Kate, who seemed unusually quick to accept it. Did Kate believe that his suggestion enabled her to pretend to be Aaron's mother? This seemed rather surprising to me when"LOST" was still on the air, considering that between the time she helped Claire Littleton give birth to Aaron in (1.20) "Do No Harm" and Oceanic Six's flight from the island in (4.14) "There's No Place Like Home, Part III", Kate had expressed very little interest in Claire or Aaron. Yet, nearly three years later found Kate willing to flee from Los Angeles with Aaron, due to her fear that the courts would have a legal reason to take him away from her. These two story arcs seemed to have the strongest connections to the episode's title.
However, I had trouble making any connections between the Oceanic Six's lies and the other story arcs. If there were any connections, they struck me as a bit weak - in the case of Ben's visit to Eloise Hawking and the butcher shop that was holding Locke's body, or barely non-existent - the remaining survivors' travails with time traveling. Mind you, I found both story arcs fascinating. Ben's visit with Ms. Hawkings eventually played out in a near future episode. And the story arc surrounding those left behind on the island proved to be action-filled and very exciting. But again, their story arcs seemed to have a stronger connection to the island incidents in "There's No Place Like Home" than the Oceanic Six's lies. Speaking of the latter, I do have to give Horowitz, Kitsis and director Jack Bender for injecting a good deal of mystery regarding the island inhabitants' time traveling experiences, along with both drama and action. I am sure that many viewers were on the edge of their seats over the identities of the castaways' attackers - especially the two uniformed men who tried to kill Sawyer and Juliet.
But the crux of the episode seemed to be all about the climax over Hurley's emotional dilemma over his return to Los Angeles, along with his guilt over leaving behind many of his fellow castaways. I have rather mixed feelings about this particular story arc. On one hand, I thought Hurley's confession to Mrs. Reyes about the island seemed like an emotional payoff of his survivor guilt that first manifested in the flash forward scenes from the Season Four episode, (4.01) "The Beginning of the End". But Horowitz and Kitsis undermined this emotional payoff by having Hurley turning himself in to the authorities, after Ben Linus confronted him about returning to the island. What was the point of that? Ben gave him the opportunity to finally return to the island and put his mind at ease over leaving some of his fellow castaways behind . . . and "poof" . . . he decides to ignore Ben's offer? Even after Ana-Lucia Cortez's ghost had warned him to avoid the police?
There are some who believe that "The Lie" is an unevenly paced episode. Perhaps. I thought the episode featured too many story arcs. And if it was supposed to be the second half of a two-part episode, I wish that show runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindehof had not given the two episodes different titles . . . with different themes. Their actions only left me in a conundrum over whether "The Lie" is a two-part episode or not. Regardless, the opening episodes of Season Five struck me as unevenly handled, despite some very memorable scenes and performances, especially from Jorge Garcia.