Flashback Friday-The Siege (1998)

September 11th, 2001 is a day that forever changed the world. Before 9/11, the idea of a terrorist attack within the borders of the United States seemed more fiction than fact.

That is the premise of the 1998 film, The Siege. When the leader of a Islamic religious sect is abducted by the US military, the response is a series of terrorist attacks on New York City. Anthony Hubbard (Denzel Washington) is the head of the FBI’s Counter-Terrorism Task Force in New York. Working with Elise Kraft (Annette Bening), a CIA operative, they must work together to find the terrorists who are attacking the citizens of New York. While Elise and Anthony work on finding the terrorists before they wreak more havoc and take more lives, General Devereaux (Bruce Willis) takes control of the city and declares martial law.

What strikes me about this film is life has imitated art, especially in the last 15 years. While this film is obviously a work of fiction, some of the elements in the film have become part of our every day lives. It also reminds me of how innocent we all were in the pre-9/11 years.

I recommend it.


Pride and Prejudice Character Review: Elizabeth Bennet

*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Pride and Prejudice. Read at your own risk if you are unfamiliar with the book.

*A note before going forward-Unfortunately, life has gotten in the way of my usual scheduled character reviews. Thank you to those who have been reading for your patience. I decided to end my character reviews with the human characters from Star Wars and not write about the non human characters. It’s time to start on a new series of characters.

There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.

In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using the characters from Pride and Prejudice to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.

The romantic heroine has been around since the dawn of story telling. Her story, with a variety of twists and turns (depending on the writer and the heroine) usually ends with the traditional happy ending.  When she published Pride and Prejudice and introduced the world to Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen took the traditional romantic heroine and spun her in a completely new direction.

Elizabeth Bennet is the second of the five daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Her father’s favorite and emotional mini-me, Elizabeth is smart, sarcastic and has a sharp tongue. Because she is without any brothers (and living in a world that seriously undervalues women), the family estate will go to a distant cousin, Mr. Collins, upon her father’s death. She also has a small dowry, which means that she must marry and marry well. In that world, marrying well-meant that marriage was more about income and status than affection and mutual interests.

When she meets Fitzwilliam Darcy, a friend of the Bennet’s new neighbor, Charles Bingley, she think he is a rich snob who is full of himself. Though I doubt anyone could blame her (“Which do you mean?” and turning round, he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said, “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me.” Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 3 Volume 1).

Over the course of the book, Elizabeth will turn down a marriage proposal from the gag inducing Mr. Collins, be temporarily taken in by the charming smile of Mr. Wickham, and finally see Mr. Darcy for the good man he truly is. But first she needs kiss the frogs (Collins and Wickham) before she meets the prince (Darcy) and learn that first impressions may not always been correct.

Though Elizabeth Bennet was created over 200 years ago, she is a modern heroine.  She is a smart, spunky, nonconformist who is not willing to sell herself in the name of marriage just to keep a roof over her head.  Though she lived in a time with a very rigid class structure, Elizabeth is not the type of heroine who will unquestioningly give in to the demands of the upper class simply due to the mere differences of income and title. While she experiences some emotional bumps and bruises, Elizabeth is her own woman and is not willing to compromise who she is just to fit into the mold that women of her era blindly fit into.

To sum it: A romantic heroine does not have to be the fainting “rescue me” damsel in distress type. She can be her own woman and still get the guy (or girl, if one is so inclined) at the end of the story. Women still relate to Elizabeth Bennet  because she speaks truth to power to readers today as much as she did in the 19th century.  By creating characters that are human, modern and stand the test of time, the writer is sure to hook a reader or an audience member and keep them coming back for me.

Throwback Thursday-The Heiress (1949)

The first man in a woman’s life is her father. No matter how old she gets or whom she meets (especially in the realm of romantic relationships, if she is straight), her father will always cast a shadow in her life.

In the 1949 movie, The Heiress (based on the book by Henry James), Catherine Sloper (Olivia de Havilland) appears, on the surface to have it all. A loving father, a secure home, clean clothes, fresh food, etc. But appearances are deceiving. Her widower physician father, Dr. Austin Sloper (Ralph Richardson) is still in mourning for his late wife and son decades after their deaths. His treatment of his daughter, who is his only surviving child, borders on emotional abuse.

When Catherine meets Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), it looks like she has found a spouse and lifetime partner. But Dr. Sloper has a different view of Morris. He believes that Morris is only interested in his daughter for her fortune. Catherine is torn between loyalty to her father and her love for Morris. In the end, she must choose one man and resign a relationship with the other man.

I enjoy this film for several reasons. The first is, that unlike other film adaptations of novels from this period, the screenwriters and creative team kept to the source material. What the reader reads on the page is what the audience sees on-screen. The other reason is that it is my favorite Olivia de Havilland performance. Her performance is quiet and subtle, with moments of strength and emotion that are surprising.

I absolutely recommend this film.

To Walk Invisible Review

The key elements of a successful biopic, especially one where the subjects are legendary in their own right, are as follows: a compelling narrative and adherence to the facts of the subject’s life to engage both the novice viewer and the viewer who is well versed on the subject’s life.

On Sunday night, PBS aired To Walk Invisible, a biopic of the Brontes. The Reverend Patrick Bronte (Jonathan Pryce) is a widower living with his surviving children, who are all grown and seem to be flailing emotionally. The eldest daughter, Charlotte (Finn Atkins) is passionate and ambitious. Branwell, the only boy (Adam Nagaitis) is the ne’er-do-well dreamer with the growing alcohol addiction. Emily (Chloe Pirrie) is as fiery as she is private. The baby of the family, Anne (Charlie Murphy) is the peace maker.

As the sisters work towards their dream of becoming published authors, Branwell descends rapidly into a haze of grief and addiction that will overtake the entire family.

Anyone who knows me (or has read this blog), knows that I worship the literary ground that the Brontes walk on. Their books are nothing short of genius. Unfortunately, I cannot say that same about this television movie. Granted, it is one shot, 2 hour television movie, so for timing reasons, cannot contain every moment of their lives. That’s not my issue.

My issue is that it went a little too fast and the ending felt very abrupt. Certain facts (which I will not mention here due to the fact that they are a little spoiler-y for novice Bronte fans) were not mentioned. Not only that, but the narrative spent too much time on Branwell and not enough time on his sisters, who are the main characters.

Do I recommend it? As much as I would love to say an enthusiastic yes, I can’t. I have to give a mere maybe.

Flashback Friday-Cleopatra (1963)

Cleopatra is one of those polarizing figures in history. From a certain perspective, one could argue that she was a strong female leader in a world where men normally ruled. On the other hand, her time in power was not scandal free.

In the 1963 film, Cleopatra, Elizabeth Taylor plays the eponymous queen. Rex Harrison is Julius Caesar and Richard Burton is Mark Anthony. The film starts with the initial introduction of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar and ends years later with Cleopatra’s suicide after the death of Mark Anthony.

I have complicated feelings about this film. One hand, it is as historically accurate as films of this nature can be from this period (including the fact that Arab/African characters, including Cleopatra herself, are played by white actors). The other thing is that this film will forever be associated with the Eddie Fisher/Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton scandal. At the time of the making of the film, Elizabeth Taylor was married to Eddie Fisher, who left his first wife, Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor. By the time filming was complete, Eddie and Elizabeth’s relationship was at an end and Elizabeth was headed toward her next husband, Richard Burton.

Do I recommend it? Well it is super long and it is, for lack of a better term a spectacle that I am not quite sure is 100% historically accurate. The answer is maybe.

Throwback Thursday-Wag The Dog (1997)

Politics and the entertainment industry make strange bedfellows, at least to the naked eye. On the surface, each seems so different, but it doesn’t take much digging to find out that both have a lot in common.

In the 1997 movie, Wag The Dog, the Presidential election season is nearly at its end. It seems like the sitting President will not be leaving office anytime soon. That is, until a sex scandal is about to hit the press just days before the election. To cover up the scandal, an aide to the President contacts Stanley Motss (Dustin Hoffman) and Conrad Brean (Robert De Niro). One is a spin doctor, the other is a Hollywood producer. They are tasked with faking a war in Albania and leaking it to the press to ensure that the real scandal is not made public.

What I like about this movie is that it is cynical and calls out the b*llsh*t that happens in both politics and the entertainment industry. It is one of those movies that hits a little too close to home (especially in our current political climate) and reminds us that art can imitate life instead of the other way around.

I recommend it.

Beauty and The Beast Movie Review

For a generation, the 1991 animated adaptation of Beauty and the Beast has defined how modern audiences view fairy tales.

This past weekend, the live action Beauty And The Beast hit theaters. Based off of the original story written by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve Belle (Emma Watson) is a young lady living in a small rural town in 18th century France. The odd girl out in her town, she dreams of seeing the world and escaping the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans). Gaston cannot understand why Belle won’t marry him and doggedly pursues her.

When Maurice (Kevin Kline), Belle’s father does not return home from a short trip, she goes searching for him and finds him locked away in dark and scary looking castle. The master of the castle, simply known as Beast (Dan Stevens) is a cursed prince in beastly form. The curse is simple: if he cannot forgo his selfish ways, love another and be loved by them in return, he will forever be a beast. Belle makes a deal with the Beast: she will take her father’s place. The Beast’s servants (who have been cursed into household objects) are overjoyed that Belle has walked into their lives and there is a chance that they all will return to their former human selves. But Belle and the Beast don’t exactly get off on the right foot and it seems like the curse is here to stay.

How do I love this movie? Let me the count the ways: it is brilliant, funny, romantic, human and it reminds me why we all fell in love with the original film 26 years ago. Building upon the affection that we as the audience have for the 1991 film, this film is the definitive Beauty And The Beast for this generation. If I had to choose one quality that made this the best film of 2017 (so far), I would say that the writers smartly filled in the minor gaps in character and narrative that left a few questions open from the 1991 film.

I absolutely recommend it.

Before I end this review, I have to bring up the gay rumors. The moments that are getting some up in arms are so quick that it’s really nothing with nothing. I could go on, but I will let Randy Rainbow speak further about this topic.

Beauty And The Beast is presently in theaters.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street Book Review

Life is often a role of the dice. We don’t know where the dice will land, but we often follow the path anyway.

In the 2014 novel, The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, by Susan Jane Gilman, Malka Treynovsky, arrives in New York City in 1913. A young girl of Jewish descent, Malka and her family have escaped the harsh life they lived in Russia. Their plans were originally to go elsewhere, but Malka tricks her family to emigrate to New York.

Soon after they arrive in America, Malka is not only permanently disabled from an accident, but she is also abandoned by her family. Taken in by the Dinellos, another immigrant family of Italian Catholic descent, she grows up to become Lillian Dunkle, “The Ice Cream Queen”. The book starts just as Malka and her family are about to leave Europe and ends decades later when Lillian is about to lose everything she has worked her whole life for.

What I liked about this book is that Malka/Lillian is a fully formed character, warts and all. Even nowadays, it is hard to find a character as human as Malka/Lillian is. The problem is that while the book is engaging, I was not completely caught up in it.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

RIP Chuck Berry-The King Of Rock And Roll

On Saturday, the world lost an icon of modern music. Chuck Berry died at the age of 90.

Chuck Berry was more than a mere musician. He changed the music industry as we know it to be today. Blending a bit of country music with the blues music that was part of the African-American culture in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, he created a whole new genre of music. He paved the way for artists such as Elvis Presley, Ritchie Valens,James Brown, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc.

Beloved for generations, his music appeals to everyone. There is nothing so appealing as a song with lyrics that anyone can sing along with and a melodie that anyone can dance to. That was Chuck Berry’s music.

RIP Chuck. You are gone, but never forgotten.

Flashback Friday-Houdini (1953)

Harry Houdini was without a doubt, one of the most iconic magicians in our modern age. He revolutionized the magic act as we know it to be today.

The 1953 movie, Houdini, starred then IRL couple Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh as Harry and Bess Houdini. The film follows the life and career of Houdini as he becomes known for doing what seems to be the impossible.

The best way I can describe this film is that it is the average biopic. In addition, it was made during the height of the power of the studio system and Hays code, which means that some of the narrative of the real couple that inspired this movie maybe more fiction than fact.

Do I recommend it? Maybe.

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