Saturday, February 28, 2015
"MY BOY JACK" (2007) Review
The origin for the 2007 television movie, "MY BOY JACK" goes back quite a ways. Back in 1915, British author Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem as a response to the news that his only son John (also known as "Jack") had been reported missing after the Battle of Loos. Eighty-two years later, actor David Haig produced, wrote and starred a play, based upon the circumstances behind Kipling's poem. And Haig did the same for the television adaptation of his play, ten years later.
"MY BOY JACK" begins during the summer of 1914, when Great Britain enters World War I. Seventeen year-old Jack Kipling attempts to join the Royal Navy in England's war against Germany and Austria. His father, Rudyard Kipling encourages his desire to fight and uses his role as one of the country's war propagandists to make several arrangements for Jack to enlist in either the Navy or the Army. But Jack's poor eyesight proves to be a detriment. Finally, Kipling succeeds in securing Jack an officer's commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Irish Guards. Both Jack's mother Carrie and sister Elsie disapprove of this assignment, as they fear he might be deployed to the front line. Jack proves to be a popular officer with his troops, while he undergoes military training. Within six months, his regiment travels to France. And on his 18th birthday, Jack and his platoon participate in the Battle of Loos. After he is reported missing in action after the battle, the Kiplings become determined to learn of Jack's fate.
I did consider reading other reviews of "MY BOY JACK" and ended up reading only one. Other than a comment on Daniel Radcliffe's performance, I found the article irrelevant. I realized that my only concern should be my opinion. I must say that I found the television movie very interesting. I rarely watch movies about World War I. It is not that I found them boring. But I have noticed that films and television productions about World War I tend to be a little darker than movies about other past wars . . . even Vietnam War movies. Before one assumes that "MY BOY JACK" is lighter than other movies I have seen about the war, it is not. Anyone reading my summary of the film's plot could easily surmise that "MY BOY JACK" is not only based upon history, but is also a rather dark and tragic tale.
I would not consider "MY BOY JACK" one of the best World War I productions I have ever seen. It certainly is not one of my favorites. My problem is that I found the second half of the movie a bit too limiting for my tastes. The 1997 play ended with the Kiplings finally putting Jack's death to rest by the 1920s and Kipling fearing the possibility of a new war with Germany by the 1930s. The 2007 movie ended on a different note, with the Kiplings learning about Jack's death from one of his men by the end of the war. This left television audiences with a stiff upper lip ending in which Kipling finally deals with the loss of his son in a different manner. In the scene, Kipling emotionally connects with his king and friend, George V, while the latter remembers his youngest son Prince John, who had died two months after the war's end. I honestly wish that Haig had adhered closer to the play's ending. I believe it would have given the movie's second half a bit more substance.
However, the movie does feature some memorable moments. Most of those moments featured scenes between members of the Kipling family. In one early scene between Kipling and Jack, I found it interesting that although both father and son agreed over the latter's desire to join the military, there seemed to be some kind of tension . . . at least from Jack. His behavior reminded me of something his sister Elsie said in another outstanding dramatic scene - that Jack's true reason for joining the military was to escape the family and the shadow of his father's fame. The movie also featured excellent scenes conveying Jack's training with the Irish Guards, the Kiplings' emotional debates over Jack's fate and the King's mournful recollection of his recently deceased son. But I feel that the movie's most powerful scene was the Kiplings' discovery of Jack's fate through the recollections of a soldier who had served in their son's platoon. Between Private Bowe's guilt and regret, the Kiplings' reaction and the flashbacks that revealed Jack's fate, I thought it was an outstanding sequence.
Those memorable scenes would have never been possible by the first-rate actors and actresses that made up the cast. All of them gave excellent performances, including supporting cast members like Martin Freeman and Julian Wadham, who skillfully portrayed the guilt-ridden Private Bowe and the quietly grieving King George V. But the best performances came from the four cast members who portrayed members of the Kipling family. David Haig was incredibly intense as the emotional and somewhat intimidating Rudyard Kipling. For a moment, I feared he would eventually become hammy, but he managed to keep his performance under control. I read somewhere that Kim Cattrall had received mixed reviews for her portrayal of Kipling's American-born wife, Caroline. I found this rather shocking for I thought her performance was excellent and a lot more subtle than Haig's. I suspect many critics and viewers were incapable of overlooking her character from HBO's "SEX AND THE CITY". How pathetic. Carey Mulligan gave a strong hint of her exceptional talent in her portrayal of Kipling's outspoken daughter, Elsie. Although Daniel Radcliffe received positive reviews, I did come across one reviewer who found the young actor unconvincing as Jack Kipling. As it turned out, the reviewer could not reconcile Radcliffe in any role other than Harry Potter. I, on the other hand, had no problems with Radcliffe's portrayal of Jack Kipling. In fact, I thought he gave a superb performance,
"MY BOY JACK" featured some outstanding performances and powerful scenes. And yet, it failed to become one of the best World War I dramas, thanks to a less-than-satisfying ending. I really wish that Haig and director Brian Kirk had adhere a lot closer to the stage version's original ending. Oh well . . . it is still a movie worth viewing.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Three (2000-2001) of "CHARMED". Developed for television by Constance Burge, the series starred Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano:
TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "CHARMED" Season Three (2000-2001)
1. (3.06) "Primrose Empath" - As payback for the trap he had encountered in the last episode, "Sight Unseen", Cole Turner aka Belthazor leads Prue Halliwell to a shut-in that turns out to be a demon cursed with a strong empath ability. Stuck with the ability, Prue is unable to deal with the load of emotions from others.
2. (3.16) "Death Takes a Halliwell" - An encounter with the Angel of Death forces Prue to deal with the loss of her loves ones and others she was unable to save. Meanwhile, her sisters Piper and Phoebe help Cole deal with demonic bounty hunters.
3. (3.07) "Power Outage" - Cole finds a way to break the Power of Three, by utilizing Andras, a demon who creates petty anger within others, against the sisters.
4. (3.01) "The Honeymoon's Over" - In the Season 3 premiere, the sisters help police Inspector Darryl Morris deal with a series of demons known as guardians, who help mortal murderers go free in exchange for the souls of their victims. Meanwhile, they first become acquainted with ADA Cole Turner; and their whitelighter, Leo Wyatt, proposes marriage to middle sister Piper.
5. (3.18) "Sin Francisco" - This hilarious episode features the problems the Halliwells and Leo encounter when they are infected with the seven deadly sins by a demon, in order to release their personality flaws.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Below are images from "BEAU GESTE", the 1939 adaptation of P.C. Wren's 1924 novel. Directed by William Wellman, the movie starred Gary Cooper, Ray Milland, Robert Preston and Brian Donlevy:
"BEAU GESTE" (1939) Photo Gallery
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" (2008) Review
Since it first aired on television, I must admit that I have paid scant attention to "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", ITV's 2008 adaptation of Agatha Christie's 1952 novel. I find this amazing, since the novel has always been a favorite of mine. I am not claiming that the 2008 movie is terrible. I was simply distracted by other matters during my last two viewings. This third viewing proved to be the charmed and I finally was able to ascertain the movie's quality.
Unlike its literary source, "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" was not set in the early 1950s. Because the television adaptation was an episode of "AGATHA CHRISTIE'S POIROT", screenwriter Nick Dear transform the setting to the 1930s. There is some unwritten rule for the series' producers that all "POIROT" adaptations had to be set during that decade. Why . . . I do not know or understand to this day. However, changing the story's setting to another decade did not harm it, unlike "THIRD GIRL" or "TAKEN AT THE FLOOD". Dear also remove a few characters - including two from a newspaper article that is featured in the plot. And the literary characters of Maude Williams and Dierde Henderson are merged into one - Maude Williams. Fortunately, these changes had no negative impact upon the story.
In "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", the lodger of a dead charwoman is convicted of her murder and sentenced to be executive. Superintendent Spence, the case's investigating officer, suspects that James Bentley is innocent of Mrs. McGinty's murder and asks Hercule Poirot to investigate the case for him. Poirot travels to the village of Broadhinny and discovers that Mrs. McGinty had often worked as a cleaner at the houses of people in the village. He also discovers among her possessions a newspaper published a few days before her death and that a particular article had been cut out, which he later discovers was about four women connected with famous murder cases. Mrs. McGinty had also purchased a bottle of ink from a local shop. Poirot concludes that Mrs. McGinty had recognized one of the four women and had written to the newspaper for more information. One of Mrs. McGinty's cleaning learned of her discovery and killed her before she could talk.
After my recent viewing of "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD", I realized that I did this movie a disservice by paying scant attention to it during my earlier viewings. The movie proved to be very entertaining and a worthy adaptation of a novel that has long been a favorite of mine. First of all, Christie created an intriguing, yet entertaining mystery that kept me guessing, until the last pages. And both Dear and director Ashley Pierce did an excellent job in translating Christie's story to the screen, maintaining its drama with links to the mysterious past and humor. Speaking of the latter, "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" proved to be one of the funniest Poirot mysteries I have ever come across. Since this story is a "village mystery", a rarity for a Poirot story, audiences get to witness the Belgian-born sleuth struggle as a guest at an untidy country manor-turned-guesthouse. The movie also dealt with Ariadne Oliver's frustrating collaboration with a playwright, who wants to adapt (meaning change) one of her Sven Hjerson novels. And the movie provides plenty of laughs from both story arcs. I do have one major regret regarding Dear and Pierce's adaptation of Christie's novel - they never included that fabulous scene in which Poirot revealed the murderer by giving the latter a major scare with the murder weapon. It was such a memorable scene that I felt some regret that it had not been included in the movie.
The production values for "MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" seemed top notch. Production designer Jeff Tessler and his team did an excellent job in re-creating the English countryside of the 1930s. His work was solidly supported by Miranda Cull and Paul Spriggs' art direction and especially Sheena Napier's costume designs. I was especially impressed by the fact that Napier did not go over-the-top with her costumes, considering the movie's village setting. I wish I could be just as complimentary about Alan Almond's photography. Mind you, I found his photography beautiful and rich in color. But there were scenes I wish had been filmed with more light. And I could have done without the soft-focus photography.
David Suchet gave one of his funniest performances as Poirot in this movie. Mind you, he perfectly conveyed Poirot's pragmatic nature, intelligence and detective skills. But Suchet was hilarious as the long-suffering Poirot forced to deal with the incompetent housekeeping skills of his hosts, the Summerhayes. Zoë Wanamaker gave an equally hilarious as mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver, forced to endure playwright Robin Upward's changes in the stage adaptation of one of her novels. And both Suchet and Wanamaker once again created magic whenever they appeared together on the screen.
"MRS. McGINTY'S DEAD" also featured some first-rate supporting performances. After his first appearance in 2006's "TAKEN AT THE FLOOD", Richard Hope returned as Superintendent Harold Spence, the police investigator whose dissatisfaction with James Bentley's conviction, drew Poirot into the McGinty case. He gave a solid performance, just as he did in the 2006 movie. However, both his performance and the character did not knock my socks off. And Amanda Root's portrayal of the doctor's wife, Mrs. Rendell, seemed a bit over-the-top. But I did enjoy Raquel Cassidy, Mary Stockley, Sarah Smart and Paul Rhys's performances. The latter was especially funny as the pretentious playwright, Robin Upward, who drove Mrs. Oliver crazy. But the two performances that really impressed me came from Joe Absolom, who was interesting as the wrongly convicted and anemic lodger James Bentley; and Siân Phillips, who portrayed the enigmatic and secretive Mrs. Upward with great skill and mystery.
In the end, "MRS. McGINTY" proved to be a first-rate adaptation of the 1952 novel. In fact, it was a lot better than I remembered from my first (and second) viewing. I thought it was well written by Nick Dear and directed with skill by Adrian Pearce. Most of all, it featured hilarious performances by both David Suchet and Zoë Wanamaker, who re-ignited their screen chemistry with great ease. I really enjoyed this film.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
"STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" RETROSPECT: (5.04) "Nor the Battle to the Strong"
It has been a long time since I have watched an episode of "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE". A long time. I have several DVD box sets for "STAR TREK VOYAGER" and the Syfi Channel now airs "STAR TREK NEXT GENERATION" episodes on a daily basis. So when I had decided to re-aquaint myself with the 1993-99 series, I chose the Season Five episode, (5.04) "Nor the Battle to the Strong".
To understand the background for "Nor the Battle to the Strong", I had to recall the series' political background that sometimes came off as slightly chaotic. Between the series' late Season Four and early-to-mid Season Five, the Federation had been embroiled in a war against the Klingon Empire. Captain Benjamin Sisko, his senior staff and the Federation learned that the Founders - the Changeling leaders of the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant - had planted another Changeling to impersonate the Klingons' head of state, Gowron in the Season Five premire, (5.01) "Apocalypse Rising". Despite this discovery, the Second Federation-Klingon War continued to rage. The war eventually ended, but not before the airing of "Nor the Battle to the Strong".
In a nutshell, "Nor the Battle to the Strong" began with Dr. Julian Bashir and Jake Sisko traveling back to the Deep Space Nine space station after attending a medical conference. Jake had accompanied the Starfleet doctor to write a story about the latter, who had given a lecture. The pair receive a distress call a Federation colony on Ajilon Prime. Despite the recent cease fire after the events of "Apocalypse Rising", the Klingons have resumed their war with the Federation. The Ajilon Prime colony is under attack by the Klingons has requested assistance. Bashir is reluctant to bring Jake along, but the latter convinces the doctor to respond to the distress call. Jake suspects that situation on Ajilon Prime might prove to be a better story than Bashir's conference lecture.
Once the pair arrive at Ajilon Prime, Jake realizes that he has landed into a situation beyond his control and understanding. The colony endures repeated attacks by the Klingons, while Bashir and the base's Federation personnel (medical or otherwise) deal not only with the warfare raging outside the field hospital. At first, Jake lends his assistance as an orderly. But the bloodshed, the cries of the wounded, the bombardment and the varied reactions of the Federation personnel prove too much for him. And in the end, he has to resort to desperate and non-heroic actions in order to survive.
"Nor the Battle to the Strong" has become one of the most highly regarded episodes of "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" by fans and critics alike. And I can see why. Writers René Echevarria and Brice R. Parker, director Kim Friedman and production designer Herman F. Zimmerman did a top-notch job of creating a somewhat realistic vision of war in the STAR TREK universe. I noticed there seemed to be very little technobabble in this episode . . . for which I utterly am grateful. I suspect that the writers wanted to emphasize the grittier aspect of war and focus less on the science aspect. One example of the episode's gritty style proved to be dialogue spoken by the medical and military personnel at the Federation base. For some reason, the dialogue reminded me of that found in war movies . . . especially those set during the Vietnam War. There were other aspects in "Nor the Battle to the Strong" that practically reeked "combat" - Jake's encounters with a young Starfleet combatant who claimed that his foot had been shot by a Klingon disruptor, a badly wounded Starfleet soldier outside of the base, and a dead Klingon; and the Klingons' final attack upon the base. What made episode's gritty atmosphere really effective was the writers' decision to make Jake Sisko the main character. Jake was an eighteen year-old with ambitions to be a writer and not follow in his father's footsteps as a Starfleet officer. So it only seemed natural that his character would react to the conditions that he and Dr. Bashir had encountered at Ajilon Prime; which included reacting with horror to the violence and blood he had witnessed, running away to avoid further scenes and defending himself from attacking Klingon troops.
The episode also benefitted from first-rate performances. The supporting cast did a solid job in conveying Federation troops and medical personnel under siege. This was especially apparent in the performances of Andrew Kavovit as the orderly named Kirby, Karen Austin as Dr. Kalandra, and Danny Goldring, who strongly impressed me as the dying Starfleet soldier, Chief Burke. Alexander Siddig gave a nuanced performance as Dr. Julian Bashir, who became guilt-stricken for bringing Jake with him to the Ajilon Prime battlefront. But for me, the best performance came from Cirroc Lofton, who gave a superb performance as Jake Sisko. Lofton did a skillful job of conveying Jake's emotional journey in this episode - from the cocky adolescent who wanted to prove his journalistic skills with an exciting story to the guilt-ridden young man, traumatized by his experiences in combat.
Although I was impressed by most of the cast, there was one performance that failed to impress me. It came from an actor named Jeb Brown, who portrayed the Starfleet ensign who claimed he had been wounded by the Klingon. Try as he may, Brown simply failed to convince me of a young man expressing guilt over and attempting to hide what may have been an act of cowardice. I simply found his performance a bit heavy-handed. In fact, it was Brown's performance that led me to take a closer look at the episode. There was something about "Nor the Battle to the Strong" that prevented me from fully embracing it. I could not put my finger upon it, until I asked my sister. She believed that "they" hard tried too hard. By "they", she meant the episode's production staff. She thought they had tried to hard to convey the atmosphere of a gritty war drama. And I agree.
Starting with the wounded Starfleet ensign, it seemed as if the writers, Friedman and the producers tried to utilize every war drama cliché to create an effective combat episode. Even worse, there were plenty of moments when their efforts struck me as heavy-handed. If it were not for the setting, the props and the Federation/Starfleet costumes, and those scenes at Deep Space Nine and aboard the Defiant, I would have sworn I was watching a war movie, instead of TREK episode. Some might see this as a good sign - a TREK episode venturing beyond the usual franchise's umbrella. I cannot agree with that opinion. I see no reason to do so in the first place. Why? Because the TREK franchise managed to produce plenty of dark and gritty episodes that were not only first-rate, but also managed to maintain its science-fiction style. The ironic thing is that two years later, the production staff for "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE" made another attempt to present an episode about the grittiness of combat. Only (7.08) "The Siege of AR-558" was set during the Dominion War.
I have to admit that my original opinion of "Nor the Battle to the Strong" is not as positive as it used to be. It has its virtues - namely a solid narrative and some excellent performances by the cast - especially from Cirroc Lofton. But for me, the episode possesses a heavy-handedness that I found a little off-putting. After all, this is supposed to be "STAR TREK DEEP SPACE NINE", not"PLATOON".
Friday, February 20, 2015
Below are images from 1973 James Bond movie, "LIVE AND LET DIE". Based on Ian Fleming's 1954 novel, the movie was directed by Guy Hamilton and marked Roger Moore's first appearance as James Bond:
"LIVE AND LET DIE" (1973) Photo Gallery