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A Little Chaos (2014)
A Little Slow, but Thoughtful and Moving with Words of Wisdom
Unfortunately, A Little Chaos has limited distribution. It was only showing in one theater where I live in downtown. I could have taken public transit and walked five blocks to get to the venue but kept putting it off. Good that I did, because A Little Chaos is currently streaming on Amazon with a run time of 1:53 minutes.
It's an interesting and unique story about a woman named Sabine, who has a gift for gardening. Yes, she has a quaint little backyard of flowers and trees, but her real talent is that of a landscape artist. She applies for the opportunity to work in the gardens of Versailles.
After obtaining the position, she is charged by the head architect, Andre (played by Matthias Schoenaerts who was just in Far From the Madding Crowd), to work on a special project that the two eventually design together. The fact that Sabine was a woman of great talent did not mean that her task was an easy one, but it was eventually successful.
However, underneath Sabine is a woman of great sadness. She is a widow and has also lost her daughter of six years of age. Ther reason for her family's passing isn't revealed until the end of the movie. How it occurs is heartbreaking, so I won't spoil that part in case you decide to watch the movie.
Of course, Andre, who is unhappily married to another woman, who possesses less than a stellar character, falls in love with Sabine. At first she resists because of her sorrow from the past, but eventually discovers solace and comfort in his arms.
Kate Winslet does the movie great charm. Her portrayal of Sabine is nothing but brilliant as all her movies. There is one particular scene that literally brought me to tears where she is among a group of women from the King's court. The ladies sit together and talk about what ladies talk about, but the conversation turns toward whether she is married and has children. Sabine, of course, can barely choke out the truth, and it is then that the majority of the woman in the room relay to her their sorrow of lost children of their own due to smallpox or other tragedies. It is so touching, I could barely keep from crying. Sabine is deeply moved when she realizes that she is not the only woman carrying such a deep burden of grief.
As the movie continues, you are made aware of her gracious character, wisdom, and kindness to others that eventually lead her to a road of healing. Yes, the movie is about the gorgeous gardens of Versailles, but it also much more. The story is rich with sidelines about others who are close to the King as well.
Alan Rickman plays Louis, but he also directs the movie. As beautifully touching as the story is at times, you may find it a bit slow in movement. There is construction of her portion of the garden, her interaction with the King and his court, her blossoming love for Andre, that all move toward the end at a leisurely pace. Some may like it -- some may not. I wanted to push it a bit myself but later scenes redeemed whatever discomfort I felt while waiting for the story to unfold.
You will see many characters played by British actors that you will recognize - Rupert Penry-Jones (Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen's Persuasion); Steven Waddington (who played the Duke of Buckingham in The Tudors); Adrian Scarborough (who has done his share of British television roles including Midsomer Murders); Stanely Tucci (who has been in plenty of movie roles that you can remember); and many other well-known faces. What you may find a bit unsettling is the majority of the cast lacking French accents from British and American actors, however, there are a few women who do have one.
Nevertheless, the costumes are quite stunning as well as the scenery and sets. The production was filmed in England at nine locations (click here to see where), including Hampton Court, which I immediately recognized the exterior and interior.
If you're looking for a touching, but not spectacular period movie, you may want to check this one out.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
Wonderful Period Movie
If you are looking for a sumptuous and gorgeously filmed period drama, I don't think you will be disappointed. The musical score is wonderful, too, and I've been listening to it for a few weeks. Hearing the music attached to the story only made me appreciate the score even more.
If you know nothing about Tom Hardy's novel written in 1874, you will undoubtedly enjoy the story as it unfolds on the screen. I had never read the book or seen earlier movie versions.
However, if you have read the novel, you should be fairly pleased at how closely it mirrors the original book, taking into consideration an entire novel has been scrunched into a two-hour film.
The four main characters portrayed by Carey Mulligan (Bathsheba Everdene), Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel Oak), Michael Sheen (William Boldwood), and Tom Sturridge (Frank Troy), were all well casted in their roles. Carey is a brilliant actress who settled perfectly into the strong-willed young woman. Her three suitors were equally wonderful in their roles, showing depth and emotion to their characters.
The story centers around Bathsheba Everdene, an independent and pretty young lady who inherits her uncle's farm. She has no need of a husband, so she says, and doesn't think any man could ever tame her. Of course, in those days if she married her wealth and farm would no longer belong to her but to her husband.
As the story first unfolds, she meets Gabriel Oak, a shepherd who falls for Miss Everdene. After an early proposal in their relationship, she refuses even though he owns his own farm. An unfortunate twist in fate overtakes his life, and Gabriel loses everything he owns. Eventually, he becomes one of her employees at her newly inherited farm and their roles have switched. Gabriel Oak continues to yearn for her heart.
Bathsheba intends to astound everyone as she takes control of her new life and catches the eye of another man who is her neighbor. He too swiftly falls for her and proposes marriage, but once again she refuses saying she does not need a husband. The brokenhearted Mr. Boldwood continues to hope, but his hopes are swiftly dashed when the woman he loves meets the dashing Sergeant Frank Troy.
The independent woman is swept off her feet by a pretty-boy in a red uniform. Handsome yes, but his character leaves much to be desired. Gabriel warns her of his ways and to stay clear, but she will hear nothing of it.
Love is blind, and Bathsheba falls hard for the handsome soldier. Played by Tom Sturridge, he is the epitome of male perfection compared to the middle-aged Mr. Boldwood. One kiss and one seductive touch of her womanhood while making out in the woods, and the heroine is putty in his hands.
Eventually, through her mistakes and a tragic outcome, she learns a difficult lesson that she does indeed need a man who has been at her side all along. So who does she pick -- the strong quiet type, the rich nobleman of a neighbor, or the handsome pretty boy in red? You'll have to find out for yourself.
If you have the chance, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at this beautifully filmed movie set in the English countryside and coastline.
The romance sweetly ends leaving a satisfied outcome. I thoroughly enjoyed being tucked away in the theater for two hours and far from the madding crowd outdoors to watch this splendid period drama.
Fairy Godmothers do Exist
Oh to be ten-years-old again -- innocent, impressionable, and mesmerized by the idea of meeting my Prince Charming.
Cinderella. How many adaptations can this story have? Apparently, not enough. One of my favorites is "Everafter" with Drew Barrymore, but this Disney version is pretty much a starry-eyed spectacle of beauty that bedazzles the childhood in everyone.
The perfect audience are females young at heart, girls five to twelve, and young teenage ladies. Although this morning on the radio I heard a middle-aged male critic gush over the movie too. Will little boys love it? Probably not, except perhaps for the mice and cat.
The Cinderella tale is slightly modified and extended, but it does the story absolutely no harm whatsoever. For the first time in a long time I give Disney kudos for putting together a movie with a message that drills down into your soul. It's the words of Ella's mother before she dies encouraging her daughter to, "have courage and be kind." The theme resounds throughout the entire movie and is played out with such precision that the message stays with you. In an age where kids are bullying one another or being the victims of bullies, it brings a beautiful message of the meaning of courage and kindness and the good that it can bring into your life.
Your wonderful Rose from Downton Abbey, Lilly James, portrays an endearing innocent and kind Cinderella. Daisy the cook from Downton Abbey, Sophia McShera, plays the stepsister Drizella, accompanied by Holliday Grainger as the other mean sister. Gorgeously attired and mean to the core stepmother is played by Cate Blanchett.
Some of the cutest scenes are the fairy godmother transforming the pumpkin, lizards, mice, and the duck into the carriage, horses, footmen, and driver. Their undoing at the stroke of midnight is an hysterical scene of undoing with fantastic special effects. Cinderella is turned into a gorgeous beauty in a blue dress, who twirls around dancing in a fantastic choreographed waltz with the prince. If I were ten, my eyes would probably be bulging out of my head. At sixty-five, I had a huge smile on my face watching the transformation, the ball, and the undoing of the spell.
All in all, it's an entertaining movie that is visually stunning. The anchor that holds it all together is the theme of "have courage and be kind" that is said time and time again until you believe it to be truth, witness that good prevails, and realize fairy godmothers do exist.
Oh, and Prince Charming isn't bad looking either.
The Judge (2014)
I'm glad that I'm not some famous critic judging movies for a living in the newspaper or any other media source. If I listened to every critic and tomato meter out there taking them seriously, I would miss movies that are personally for me some of my favorites.
Movies come in all genres - comedy, action, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, and romance. Every once in a while a movie comes along that is a powerful drama. Like the quote above, in each family there is a story playing itself out. Those stories can contain hope and despair, and The Judge is one of those gems filled with powerful performances that are creating Oscar buzz. I can see why.
Robert Downey, Jr. is so talented beyond his roles as Iron Man, Sherlock Holmes, and other movies of fluff he has done in the past. The Judge is a challenging role but well-played for an actor I never considered a contender for awards--not until now. Like the character Hank Palmer, who his father hoped would straighten out and make something of himself, Downey has proved to the audience that one can overcome his past and be a contender among the best. Perhaps that is why he is so passionate in this movie, since his past is riddled with substance abuse and time in prison.
The story itself revolves around a dysfunctional family, which most of humanity can relate to in one way or the other. Hank Palmer is the best of the best defense attorney in the big city, compared to his father who is the best of judges in a small town in Indiana. When his mother passes away, and he returns for the funeral, old wounds between father and son reopen. Not only is his relationship estranged with his father, but his elder brother is not a big fan of him either.
His father on the eve of burying his wife decides to take his classic Cadillac and run out for a dozen of eggs. A few days later, the sheriff is at the door and proof mounts that Judge Palmer killed another man in a hit-and-run accident. As the incident unfolds, his refuses to have Hank defend him but hires an inexperienced attorney who can't seem to stop throwing up on the courthouse lawn before going into the courtroom. Eventually, as things look dimmer for the judge's future, he relents and allows Hank to defend him when his case goes to trial.
Robert Duval, as the judge, is looking pretty old these days (after all he's 83 playing a 72 year-old-man). However, he's a legend in his right, and his performance is wonderful. Also in the movie is Vincent D'Onofrio, who you may know from Law & Order: Criminal Intent. He plays Glen Palmer the elder brother, while the younger brother, who is somewhat mentally challenged, is played by Jeremy Strong.
The movie is intense, but not without a few humorous reliefs sprinkled here and there to lighten things up. I highly recommend it if you're a lover of drama. However, the ending may tug at you if you're tenderhearted and prone to tears. I know that I had to wipe a few, inhale a deep breath, and find an ounce of composure as the credits rolled at the end.
Gone Girl (2014)
Meet a Psychopath
After a stressful day of work, I decided to go to the show and see Gone Girl. The reviews after release were strong, and I was intrigued. I will be frank that Ben Allfeck has never been one of my favorite actors. Nevertheless, I relented and found myself sucked into an intriguing plot about a story I knew nothing about. In a way, I like being surprised having not read the book before seeing the movie. I think had I known the outcome it wouldn't have been as interesting.
Unfortunately, I can tell you NOTHING in this review beyond the superficial gist of the movie. It would be a crying shame to spoil it for you, so I won't.
The story starts out on the truthful fact that marriage is hard work. Marriages can fail. People can drift apart. However, it's how the husband and wife of a marital union handle the challenges that determine the outcome of sticking together or getting a divorce.
We've all been privy to true-life instances in the media where a man has killed his wife. The plot is like watching the 6 o'clock news of the latest missing spouse. Nick Dunne returns home one day to find his cat wandering outside and his front door open. When he enters the house, he finds a scene reminiscent of a struggle and his wife has disappeared.
Of course, when the police get involved, Nick is the first person they attempt to eliminate in this strange disappearance of Amy Dunne. Nick is far too nonchalant about her disappearance, which sheds suspicion upon him. Everyone thinks he murdered his wife. As the story progresses, more evidence mounts against him making him look quite guilty of bludgeoning her to death. Nick, on the other hand, is playing a game of anniversary clue with his missing wife and decides that she is staging an elaborate prank.
Needless to say, the movie's first half is riddled with the question of whether he did or did not kill Amy. You are left with the evidence to sort out on your own until suddenly the story takes an 180 degree turn in the opposite direction. I will confess that I had this sneaking suspicion it was going to play out this way. Even though I was correct in my assumption, it certainly did not prepare me to see the outcome that leaves you speechless, questioning, unresolved, and unsatisfied. It's quite a void after the credits roll, which haunts you on the way out to the parking lot.
Even though Ben isn't my favorite actor, I will say his performance in this movie is well played. He was the droll and unconcerned husband at one point, worried at another, and mortified toward the end. As far as Rosamund Pike's performance, she was so disquieting I hope I never meet her face-to-face. Outstanding performance that will define her for years to come.
Somewhere in this story lurks a narcissistic psychopath that will make your skin crawl. The film doesn't have any fright factor, except for one horribly disturbing scene that will make you gasp as it plays out. However, like any good thriller it does a good job of leaving you inwardly distraught as a result. In conclusion, it's worth a movie ticket, a medium popcorn, and two and half hours of sitting in a dark theater. Though I read there was a scene of frontal nudity of Ben Affleck's prize possessions, I'm here to report I never saw anything. I mean that too! I'm not sure if they cut it out of the film or if my eyes just glazed over. Maybe I can get a partial refund since I didn't get my money's worth.
Outlander: Both Sides Now (2014)
Both Sides Now
Let's get the bad news out of the way. The remaining episodes of season one won't be back until April 4, 2015. That means you have 190 days from today to wait before the return of Outlander. Take a deep breath. You can do this! No doubt reruns will feed your addiction. I'm sure Starz doesn't want its fans to moan and groan from highlander withdrawals. Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about Episode 8 -- the mid-season finale.
Yes, all things come to an end. Even books in a series...eventually. And so it is with the first eight episodes of the much anticipated and highly coveted Outlander on Starz. In a diversion from the book, this episode is heavily focused upon Frank and his desperate search for his beloved wife, who has somehow vanished into thin air. Much of the focus of the story has been on Claire's experience being sucked back in time, but I think this diversion adds richness to the series by exploring what Frank is dealing with as well.
Rightly so this episode is named Both Sides Now, but I'd like to add a third that it had a rather dark side. The greatest criticism of this series has come from women who do not see this as a romantic novel, when there are instances of attempted rape, actual rape, and beating one's wife with a belt. I am staying neutral and not commenting. It doesn't mean I don't have an opinion. Of course, there are the groups of readers who have loved this story of Jamie and Claire regardless of the not-so-pleasant scenes of brutality tucked between the pages.
The police, after six weeks of searching, tell Frank they've done all they can do. Their theory is that she ran off with another man. Reverend Wakefield throws out the possibility that the river swept her downstream when she wandered off and got lost. His druid wife tells Frank the tall tale of Craigh na Dun and the stones that suck people back in time. As Frank screams to the copper, "My wife is not with another man," we are taken back to Jamie and Claire reminding us that's exactly where she is while wearing two wedding rings.
After a scene where Frank is set up in a dark alley by some woman in order to steal the reward he's offering, we see the dark ancestral side of the modern Mr. Randall. The men in the alley are no match for angry Frank, who nearly beats to death his attackers and almost strangles the woman for her complicity in leading him into a trap. Yes, the man is hurt, frustrated, and these poor people crossed Frank at the wrong time in his life. His actions get him a preaching session from the reverend about turning from the dark side and back into the light.
Claire is given lessons by Angus on how to defend herself with a dagger. She finds the opportunity to do so when Redcoats turn up unexpected, interrupting Jamie and Claire doing the deed on the grassy ground. Once again, we are faced with a potential rape, but Claire stabs her attacker in the back and Jamie brings down the other two men holding him from intervening.
The entourage of Dougal, Angus, Murtagh, Willie, Rupert, Jamie, and Claire (did I forget anyone?) continue on their journey to meet a man who might be able to clear Jamie's name. However, to be safe, Jamie leaves Claire alone with Willie in the woods. She promises Jamie to stay put, but when she realizes that they are near Craigh na Dun, she slips away and runs toward the mound.
This scene is the most powerful in the episode. Frank decides to visit the area before he gives up and leaves for Oxford. He stands by the stone crying (poor guy) and then begins to yell Claire's name. Claire hears him through time, and she yells his name in return. Frank hears her voice, but then it is suddenly silenced. Just as she reaches the stone to touch it and return, those pesky Redcoats capture and drag her away to Frank's disgusting ancestor, Black Jack Randall.
The dichotomy of the two characters has returned, as Randall and Claire play their cat and mouse game of let's tell the truth. Fed up, he binds her, pushes her face down on the table, and lifts her skirt. Another scene of attempted rape ensues. (Poor woman how much of this must she endure? I do see the point here.) When we think all is lost, Jamie bursts open the window, points a gun at Randall, and tells him to take his hands off his wife.
End of mid-season one, and the cliffhanger has been played. Of course, those who have read the book know the outcome. When it returns, it may be the most controversial if Ron Moore, the executive producer, goes down that road showing the consequences of Claire's disobedience and Jamie's belt meeting her often exposed bottom in this series. For some reason, I don't think that's going to go over well with some women in the audience not familiar with the written text.
Nevertheless, the episodes have ended. Get your calendars out, markers, and start checking off the next 190 days you must live before more episodes arrive. I just hope for your sake the world doesn't end before then.
Parade's End (2012)
Times Are Changing - The Parade's End
Benedict Timothy Carlton Cumberbatch (yes, that's his full name) has been busy. Between filming episodes of Sherlock Holmes, he worked elsewhere starring in this interesting and entertaining series entitled Parade's End. The story is based on a series of novels by Ford Maddox Ford.
Benedict plays the character of Christopher Tietjens in five episodes. After one indiscretion, his life takes an unexpected turn when he meets a woman on a train. She seduces him, and they end up copulating quite wildly in their private quarters. He deposits his seed into Sylvia on a one-train stand and ends up marrying her after she declares the child in her pregnant womb belongs to him. The entire affair is questionable because of her many lovers, but Christoper does what he does best--the right and proper thing.
He is not a man that is necessarily well liked and is socially awkward. The relationship with his family members is poor, he's the object of gossip, and appears to have trouble communicating his feelings. However, he is intelligent, and works at the Imperial Department of Statistics crunching numbers. In his spare time, he reads the encyclopedia and jots down corrections to the content in the sidelines of the book.
Sylvia, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. She's not exactly the stellar wife. To her shame she parties, flirts with men, and ends up having an extramarital affair. She blames her motives for living on the wild side on Christopher, who is the picture of perfection. She loathes him and his values, and is determined to destroy him one way or the other. In fact, she seems to treat all her men with disdain. When she leaves Christoper for another man because she's bored, abandoning even her son, Christopher keeps the proverbial stiff upper lip and parades before society, friends, and family that all is well. He refuses to divorce, because he's a good Catholic. You just don't do those things. You bear it. Live with it. And parade onward.
However, during his wife's escapades with another man, Christopher meets Valentine Wannop, played by Adelaide Clemens. She is young, intelligent, and a suffragette. It's one of those love at first sight moments for the two of them. Unfortunately, he's too proper to do anything about it even though they keep running into each other exchanging heartfelt glances and having pleasant conversation. When they are not in each other presence, they daydream of being lovers, but Christopher cannot cross that line.
Eventually, Sylvia returns to Christopher, after having a spot of remorse. She turns to religion, though you don't believe there's an ounce of purity in her conniving mind.
World War I breaks out, and the series takes a diversion toward wartime and life in the trenches. However, during this period of time, Christopher begins to change for the better. He becomes a stronger man who leads, and finally realizes that times are changing. It's no longer necessary to parade around as if life is peachy and all can be handled. The parade has ended, and he needs to do what is right for him as an individual--even if that means making immoral choices in order to find love and happiness.
It's a fairly good series, and you'll find that Benedict is not the Sherlock Holmes you know. The portrayal of this character is vastly different, but also extremely convincing and well done. He looks rather dashing in his military uniform with blond hair. You'll also enjoy the Edwardian fashions worn by Sylvia, the manipulating wife.
Parade's End is streaming on Amazon Prime for free. You might want to check it out. Only negative point is that I don't seem to be the only one complaining that you cannot understand what is being said about 10% of the time. Sometimes Benedict talks very fast, and it's difficult to catch the words with that thick British accent. On the other hand, it just might be poor sound quality on behalf of the producers of this film.
Outlander: The Wedding (2014)
Starz Delivers the Wedding and Much More
The Scottish referendum to depart from the United Kingdom did not pass on Thursday, September 18, 2014. However, millions of women passed out on Saturday, September 20, while watching Outlander, Episode No. 7, The Wedding.
Fainting episodes, heart palpitations, and profuse sweating can be attributed to Jamie Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser. The marriage was consummated (multiple times), and Starz made sure to give its audience what they wanted. They did warn viewers with "N=Nudity" and nudity we got.
It was a great episode, only put together a little oddly. Rather than making it sequential, it bounced back and forth from here to there, which I found a bit unsettling. Nevertheless, it starts with Claire and Frank deciding to wed in the spur of the moment, and Claire admits that after a while you forget your life in the past. Whether she truly does is another matter, because Frank's ring only comes off her finger and stuffed down her bulging bosom just before she weds Jamie.
The wedding scene starts with the kiss after pronouncement of husband and wife, making you wonder if you were late for the wedding. It quickly moves to Claire and Jamie alone with one task looming ahead of them -- the consummation. However, instead, it turns into hours of sharing, drinking, and talking, flashing back and forth between scenes. Jamie tells Claire about his family, expounds stories, and admits he married her to keep her safe from Randall. His chivalrous confession of promising to protect her with his body as well is endearing.
Everyone downstairs is enjoying the drunken reception of booze and food, along with a cat nibbling at the table leftovers. The purpose for the crowd hanging around is to await word the bride and groom have done the deed. Rupert and Angus burst into the room at Dougal's orders at one point hoping to witness something. Nothing's up yet, so Jamie kicks them out.
Claire appears extremely nervous and out of sorts in many scenes. Their time together is awkward at first. Jamie finally kisses her and tender moments of undressing one another occur. Well, after another kiss, Jamie loses it and sort of attacks her body from behind, but she turns him around and he ends up on top of her in bed. It doesn't take long to lose his virginity, but Claire doesn't look like she's really enjoying the experience while he enjoys his first time with a woman. Afterward, he asks her if she liked it, but she doesn't say anything. He just figures, like the men told him beforehand, that women don't care for it. He admits that he thought it was always done from behind like horses do it, and Claire has a good laugh.
As the evening progresses, it's more flashbacks that include Jamie's conditions for marrying Claire, which included: (1) a church wedding by a priest; (2) a wedding band; and (3) Claire must have a wedding dress. Obtaining each of those items were lighthearted moments as to how they came about. As they recall the wedding together, Jamie and Claire tell each other how they felt. The conversation is used for viewers to finally see the wedding itself. Jamie is extremely handsome in his full Scottish regalia, and Claire is beautiful in her wedding gown.
The wedding vows are touching, but it's not without blood as Dougal slits their wrists, binds them together, and their blood mingles. Those romantic words are spoken by Jamie and Claire: 'Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone. I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One. I give ye my Spirit, 'til our Life shall be Done.'" The remainder of the episode focuses on the lovemaking between Jamie and Claire. She finally relents to her situation and her shy nervousness dissolves. Her boldness with Jamie teaches him a few tricks, as she pleases him in ways he never dreamed.
The episode ends with Claire the next morning picking up her wedding dress and Frank's ring falling to the floor from the bodice where she shoved it before the wedding. It rolls across the floor, falls into a crack, and Claire picks it up and places it back on her finger on her right hand. She then looks at both of her hands and the two rings declare she belongs to two different men. It's quite the thought-provoking ending.
I dare not give this episode anything but a ten, even though it bounced back and forth in timeline.
Outlander: The Garrison Commander (2014)
Tobias Menzies Reveals the Heart of Black Jack Randall
Antagonist. Archenemy. Villain. Adversary. Foe. In Outlander, it is none other than Black Jack Randall.
At first, Tobias Menzies allows us to meet mild-mannered Frank, and then turns us around and makes us hate him as the vilest character whoever set foot in Scotland. Black Jack dwells in darkness, and darkness is where he belongs. Tobias does an excellent job of switching from light to darkness in his role, and he should be congratulated for his performance. Now that I really hate him, let's talk about Episode 6 - The Garrison Commander.
Last week we were left hanging with Claire while she stood speechless after being asked if she was in Dougal's company of her free will. It's a damned if I do and damned if I don't moment. She could risk the lives of all the men of the clan, or take her chances again with the captain of the dragoons. You know she'd rather just run off to the stones by herself and get the deed done without any help from the Scots or the Brits, but at this moment she can do neither. What's a woman to do? Well, Claire reiterates that she is a guest of the Clan MacKenzie. Nevertheless, the lieutenant informs her that Lord Thomas will want to meet her anyway, and leads her and Dougal to a small village swarming with Redcoats. The scene that follows, from what I can tell, is an addition from the producers, wherein the book she goes directly to Captain Randall. Claire is introduced to a room full of men dining in their British finery of red and gold, with those George Washington powdered wigs. Welcomed as a fine British lady, she sits at the head of the table, while Dougal stands beside her chair and looks at seven officers in the British army. She feels right at home, while she thinks Dougal is the outlander this time.
If Starz wanted to lace this series with the deep misunderstandings and prejudices between the Scottish and the English, they did a good job. It's enough to make the referendum pass on September 18 when Scotland will vote whether or not to leave the United Kingdom. Every cliché insult is flung toward Dougal from: (a) I can't understand a word you're saying to; (b) what's underneath that kilt? Even after he leaves the room, the comments continue about the Scottish being ignorant, superstitious, and impossible to make peace with because they're not loyal subjects. Ouch! The prejudice is as thick as the powder on their wigs.
Then to Claire's shock, Black Jack Randall bursts into the room, which is more like the scene in the book but also extended. He questions Claire further, and she tells another tall tale that sounds even more confusing than the one she told the Laird at the castle. When she mentions how she's heard rumors about Randall loving to flog people, it opens up another flashback. He recites the flogging of Jamie with a hundred lashes on top of the hundred lashes already received. We don't get just the story, we get the gory visual effects of sliced flesh, gashes, dripping and pooling blood, and untold suffering that Jamie endured. Jack wanted to break him, but Jamie was unbreakable.
Tobias Menzies does a rather good job of revealing the darkness of Jack's soul as he portrays the reason for Randall's brutality. His sadistic nature is unfurled as he tells Claire about how the crowd watched in horror while he beat Jamie, but he thought it a thing of beauty as he created a masterpiece upon Jamie's back. The man's heart is as black as hell itself, and Claire makes the mistaken assumption that he can be redeemed.
Randall's interrogation of her continues, asking if Dougal is raising money for the Jacobites. Claire lies, of course, but Randall doesn't believe a word. He quickly dashes her conclusion that he can be saved, by punching her in the stomach. Then he orders another soldier to kick her while she lays groaning on the floor. No doubt it would have continued if Dougal hadn't come to her rescue. Randall relents, but orders him to bring Claire back at Noon the next day for further interrogation.
Well, if you've read the book, you'll know that the Scottish people of 1743 were superstitious, and Dougal takes her to St. Ninian's spring. He asks her if she's a spy once more, and since she doesn't drop dead after drinking the water, he finally believes her declaration that she's not. "Anyone who drinks the water and then tells untruth will ha' the gizzard burnt out of him." Claire's gizzard survives.
Dougal then explains to her the only way of keeping her from Randall is to have her become Scottish through marriage. The plan is set in motion, the marriage contract drawn, and Jamie and Claire are going to wed. Never you mind she's not a virgin but he is. At least one of them will know what they are doing! At the end of the episode, Claire does what she does best to cope. She grabs a bottle of liquor from one of the men and storms off to get drunk.
Now, I know all you lasses cannot wait until next week when vows are spoken, wrists get slit, blood gets mingled, and consummation of the marriage bed comes to pass. The question on everyone's mind is how much skin are we going to see? Based on Claire's romps in the sack with Frank, this could get hot.
Frankly, I don't care if I see bared Claire again--what's under that kilt is on everyone's mind. In order to handle it, I suggest cold showers before and after the episode airs. I bet, though, you'll all just tune in and watch it again an hour later. Bring tissues in case you drool.
Powerful Characters and Emotional Stories
Across the pond comes more amazing television drama—this time from Wales. It is a series entitled, Hinterland. Huh, you say? Well, Hinterland means --- "the often uncharted areas beyond a coastal district or a river's banks." As you tune in, you will see the breathtaking landscape of Wales back country and be treated to intriguing murder mysteries and emotionally gripping characters.
As usual, we have the damaged head detective, Tom Mathias (played by Richard Harrington), who is akin to such other troubled characters like Wallander and Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. However, this DCI is an emotional and compassionate man with a heart toward the suspects and criminals, tempered by the will to solve the crime.
Like so many other detective shows, his senior officer is a behind-the-desk dud, who constantly questions Tom's tactics but ends up eating his words at the end of the episode. Tom's team is made up of three assistants who have excellent skills in digging out the facts. Our main character fights his own demons of a failed marriage and two daughters who he never sees—the reasons for which are not clearly revealed. Living a life of isolation on a windy, barren landscape that overlooks the ocean, his time away from work is filled with depression and booze in his small mobile home in need of repair. His exercise regimen consists of running along the cliffs of the rocky coastline while he broods about his life and cases.
Hinterland is filmed in Aberystwyth, Wales, and all of the crimes take place in remote areas of the region. The scenery of the coast, rolling bare hills, and forests are breathtaking. It's a harsh life of isolation and bad weather that keeps its characters cold and in coats. There is no green--only bare trees and brown landscape.
This series is topnotch because of the developed characters and deep emotional stories intertwined in the search for the murderer. Richard Harrington, in his role as the brooding DCI, is a man who takes his job seriously, but with a hint of compassion even for the killers—that is if the reason for their temporary insanity comes from their own painful past. Tom Harrington has been nominated for best actor for the Bafta Cymru awards for Welsh film and television. The show itself has gained nine nominations, which are well deserved.
Hopefully, this series will continue for many more seasons. The Welsh are giving the British competition. I don't care what anyone else says, because some of my closest friends and I agree that no one does murderous crime better than the United Kingdom when it comes to television.
If you're looking for a deep characters, intriguing mysteries, and emotional endings, check it out.
Outlander: Rent (2014)
Rent, Rebellion, and Raunchy Jokes
Rent comes in all shapes and sizes from a pence to a pig, handed over to Mr. Gowan, a solicitor, who collects and writes receipts. Claire is civil to this newcomer, which is quite contrary to her behavior with the rest of the clan the entire episode.
In this part of the story, there are three things striking about Claire. One, her hair is flowing and not tied back. Those beautiful curly locks make her look very attractive. Second, her wardrobe with the fur collar and cuffs, worn for traipsing through the Highlands, seems a bit out of place. It makes me wonder who is providing the obvious expensive wardrobe for Claire, or if the costume designer for the show is just have loads of fun dressing her up. Third, her attitude on this trip equates to one sour pickle. She flashes her scathing looks and wields a sharp tongue in almost every scene—except toward Jamie, of course. Frankly, I wanted to slap her a few times myself because her attitude had become a bit obnoxious.
The remainder of her companions—Dougal, Angus, Rupert and the lot of burly men around the campsite—are a raunchy bunch, telling lewd stories. Claire, on the other hand, is sulking propped up next to a tree. She grumbles to herself that everyone hates her and has excluded her from their presence. Frankly, let's face it—she doesn't exactly have much in common with the rutting band of merry men speaking Gaelic. Jamie feels sorry for her, comes over with a peace offering of bread, and leaves her with a reminder that they treat her that way because they don't trust her.
The next day during one of their rent gathering sessions, she gets bored and wanders off in the small community. She meets a band of women sitting around a table rolling fabric in a pool of hot pee. She joins the group, grabs the cloth, and gets down and dirty with the locals. Apparently pee sets the dye in the fabric. When she is about to add her tinkle in a bucket, Angus barges in and hauls her roughly away by the arm. The clan is ready to leave, and his physical treatment only enrages Claire further.
She ends up having a fit and an unpleasant scene unfurls with Angus and Dougal as she tries to return a goat to one of the women who needs it to feed her child milk. An Englishman intervenes over Claire's harsh treatment, who appears to be one of the villagers. He asks if she's all right, and Claire looks at him in astonishment. Before she can respond, the stranger is threatened by Angus. The Englishman doesn't press the matter but retreats. He disappears in the shadows and puts on his Redcoat uniform, which unfolds later in the episode.
It's obvious as we watch the hour continue that Claire becomes aware that more than rent gathering is occurring by Dougal. He is also raising funds for the rebellion, which she knows will end up in catastrophic loss. There are multiple flash-forwards between Claire and Frank as he tells her the history behind the massacre at the battle of Culloden. Ironically, in one scene Claire is standing by Frank at the battlefield location and looking at a MacKenzie memorial stone, which is one of many that commemorate those who lost their lives.
If you hated history as a subject, take a deep breath because you're going to get one regarding Jacobitism, King James, and the house of Stuarts in this episode. Claire tries her best to warn Mr. Gowan and Dougal that their efforts are for a lost cause. Of course, her advice isn't understood, and neither is her meddling as she tries to change the course of history without much forethought over the consequences. It's understandable that Claire has the burden of knowledge in the presence of these men, but is powerless to change their minds. She cannot help but wonder how many of the men she knows will still be alive in 1746.
Even though the episode is filled with jokes aimed as Sassenach, Claire learns a lesson. When a brawl ensues at one of their stops over an insult hurled at Claire, the men rise into action. Afterward, she discovers it ensued because someone called her a whore. To her surprise, Murtagh replies, "You're a guest of the MacKenzie. We can insult you but God help any other man who does." As far as Jamie and Claire, the scenes vary. Jamie admonishes Claire not to judge what she doesn't understand. He saves her from Angus' knife at her throat, brought on by her sharp tongue hurling insults. However, the memorable scene is Claire stumbling over Jamie outside her door. When she discovers he is there to protect her, she invites Jamie to sleep in her room instead of the floor. His cute virginal response and the look on his face is priceless. "Sleep in your room with ye? I could not do that! Your reputation would be ruined!"
The episode ends with a cliffhanger and the Redcoat she met earlier finding Dougal and Claire alone by a stream. He reappears with a band of Redcoats on horses and looks at Claire and asks her once again behind the boldness of his status, "Are you here by your own choice?" Don't expect an answer until next week.
Guess who's back? Your favorite sadistic Frank look-a-like, Black Jack Randall. The only good return of that blackguard is that it will soon lead to a marriage so all ye lasses can swoon over Jamie losing his virginity.
Overall, the episode was slower paced, historically rife, and not as exciting as others.
Outlander: The Gathering (2014)
Over the Rainbow Packed Episode
Episode four, The Gathering, is filled with fine-looking Highlanders swearing their allegiance to the clan MacKenzie at Castle Leoch. Our laird is looking a tad handsome with his hair pulled back and dressed in his finest, along with the rest of the male attendees in kilts. Once again it is an outstanding episode filled with so much that I can barely take notes fast enough to remember all the fine tidbits. Humor abounds in much of the episode, but it is toned with moments of pain and death.
It begins with Claire running through the woods appearing as if she's escaping, when in reality she's playing with a group of children scoping out the territory outside the castle grounds. She falls on her back and ends up looking up the kilt of Angus Mhor. He straddles above her head and peers down and says, "Something catch your eye there, lass?" The camera looks right up the kilt, but it's too dark to see! It is the first of many lighthearted comments coming from a group of rutting men looking to "settle their cock to roost for the night." Claire spends the majority of this episode planning her escape. Geillis visits Claire obviously aware that she is preparing and warns her that she would do well to remember that the Highlands can be a dangerous place. Undeterred by the warning, Claire continues but meets multiple obstacles during the evening.
When Mrs. Fitzgibbons dresses and drags her to the festivities of "The Gathering," she passes by Diana Gabaldon in her cameo role, who sputters a few words in such a thick Scottish accent that I didn't understand a word she said. The men begin their pledges and once again the laird speaks Gaelic and Murtagh translates for Claire. You've seen one pledge, you've seen them all, so Claire leaves. She gives a spiked bottle of port to her tag-along, a bottle of horse dung to Leary to win Jamie's heart, wallops Dougal over the head with a stool, and stumbles and falls upon Jamie in the stables during her grand escape gone wrong.
Finally, she gives up at Jamie's urging and returns to the castle to watch the remaining pledges, including Jamie's non-pledge to the Laird, but his sworn obedience. (All sorts of back story on that scene, so if you need more read the book or watch the episode.) Things are friendly between Claire and Jamie, and the smoldering looks are far and few between this episode.
The next day Claire rides out with the men who are in her words out to "kill a hairy pig," which turns into a near-death experience for her and a disaster for two men. One of the men, Jody, is ripped to pieces by a boar and lies dying in Dougal's arms. It's a very intense and moving scene, where Dougal sees a part of Claire that leaves a positive impression. She lets her skills as a nurse comfort a man facing death.
After the emotional scene, Dougal returns with his men and comes upon a group playing a rather rough game of stick ball apparently called "shinty." Obviously, looking for a way to let go of his pent-up emotions, he grabs a stick and joins in the game. It's a testosterone filled, stick-wielding competition that looks more like a brawl. While watching the colliding sticks and flying bodies around the turf, you can see the obvious tension between Dougal and Jamie behind each whack and jab between the two. I won't tell you who won that battle, only to say that it didn't sit well with Dougal that he had taught Jamie how to play the game so well.
The episode ends with Dougal approaching Claire the next day stating as a matter of fact, which she doesn't deny, that she has seen men die before from violence. He thanks her for helping him take Jody to a peaceful place, but then tells her she is leaving with him in the morning to travel the countryside collecting rents from the tenants. Claire sees it as another opportunity to find the right moment to flee back to the future.
The only very odd thing about this intense episode is that the background music in places is from the 1940's big band. At first, I thought I was hearing things, but it sounded terribly out of place. It came at portions while Claire was thinking of her life in 1943, but walking through the castle. The sound track wasn't exactly my cup of tea with modern tunes playing in a 1743 backdrop.
As someone who has only partially read and skimmed much of Outlander, I don't find very much to balk about as far as the show not closely following the book. I am not that emotionally involved in the story as some fans (gasp) but am enjoying the television version nonetheless. Starz is taking some creative liberty with the story, such as the ball-whacking game in tonight's episode. In an interview with Yahoo TV, Ronald Moore stated, "I wanted to realize the book, not change the book. But it is not a democracy. It is a piece of art...sometimes that means adding scenes or cutting and tweaking them." In conclusion...well done.
Most tender moment: Comforting the dying man.
Most humorous statement: Claire to Leary. "Tap your heels three times and say there's no place like love..." Or words something to that effect, after giving Leary instructions to sprinkle the horse dung in a love potion incantation to gain Jamie's heart.
Most disturbing moment: Blood and gore from the boar hunt.
Outlander: The Way Out (2014)
Religion, Superstitution, and the Castle's Booze
I think that I would have renamed the episode from The Way Out to Superstition 17th Century Style. Since we are all "educated" individuals from the 21st century, you need to step back and realize that Claire is in a world far different from her own in more ways than dress. It's a world where people are governed by beliefs to explain the unexplained. Everything that happens either comes from God or Satan.
The episode begins with a short flashback (or is that flash forward in time-travel lingo?) of Claire and her husband saying goodbye to each other. She's off to the front lines, strong and stubborn Claire, to do her bit, while Frank is left behind is a more cushy military job. He woefully begs, "Promise you will return to me." She promises.
Flashing back 200 years, Claire quickly gets to work in her new surgery as the nurse aka healer at Leoch. While she's mending people left and right, she is still watched and followed. In her imagination she plays the scene of what it would be like to tell Mrs. FitzGibbons that she's really 200 years from the future. Of course, when she concludes that her tall tale would probably get her a slap in the face and the term of "witch," she comes back to reality. Just when everyone was thinking Mrs. FitzGibbons was going to turn out a meany toward Claire, we were all just fooled in the previews by Starz.
We see that Claire tries her best to get into Colum's good graces. An opportunity presents itself when Colum requests that she massage his legs. She knows that rubbing his lower back would be far more effective. Well, to get to the back, he exposes his ass. Of course, nothing shocks nurse Claire as she goes to work easing his pain while he blames the devil for his affliction in life.
There are some entertaining scenes between Jamie and Claire that include smoldering looks from the Scot and dreamy-eyed, drunken gazes from Claire. She sure loves the laird's private stock of castle booze. Her emotions are stirred toward jealousy when she catches Jamie kissing Laoghaire, but she blames it on missing intimacy with Frank. Honestly, I doubt that's the reason.
However, the majority of the episode is heavily laced with religion versus superstition, and Claire's knowledge of what really is occurring in their world. What they think is demon possession is merely a case of poison. Everything that happens good or bad is attributed to heaven or hell, and everybody is making the sign of the cross multiple times to ward off the evil spirits. When she heals a young boy thought to be possessed, she's now the miracle worker. The priest, of course, has other ideas.
The character, Geillis Duncan, is in Episode 3 quite a bit, as well as the scene of the poor young lad and the Scottish barbaric ways of nailing his ear to the pillory for stealing. There will be no six months in juvenile detention for this guy, but Jamie does help with the removal of the nail and his fine statement, "Ye wouldna expect me to be less bold than a wee Sassenach lassie, now would ye?"
At the end, we see Jamie translating for Claire the folk tale that sounds strikingly similar to her travel through time. She knows that she must get back, or die trying. At this point, I think I would want to get back to Frank, too, after watching exorcism and nailing of ears. A hot bath would feel really good, compared to Claire's bucket dunks. I thought was a very timely scene since this past week we've seen nothing but ice-water bucket challenges on social media.
The scenes from Starz versus the book are a bit out of order here and there, but nothing of consequence. I will admit that some of Jamie's accent is really hard to understand. I'll probably watch it again to pick up what I missed. Again, it's another excellent episode.
Most tender moment: Claire massaging Colum's back. (Not all tenderness needs to be with Jamie, lasses.)
Most humorous statement: Colum to Claire, "Don't tell me my ass offends you too?"
Most disturbing moment: Nailing a boy's ear to the pillory.
Outlander: Castle Leoch (2014)
Castle Leoch - A Prisoner of the Past
Last night I tuned into Episode 2 (or EP 102 as Starz calls it) of Outlander. It had its lighthearted moments, tender moments, and disturbing moments. Claire arrives to a very muddy castle, filled with grubby Scotsman, and archaic scenes that starkly contrast her 20th century world. She is more or less standing around trying to acclimate herself to her situation, when Jamie finally introduces her to Mrs. FitzGibbons or Fitz for short.
She enters the castle and tends to Jamie's wounded shoulder, and finally breaks down into tears thinking about Frank. It's the first hint of weakness from Claire, who for the most part has been outspoken and defensive. Jamie comforts her in his arms, but when she becomes aware of their closeness she draws away. He tells her not to fear as long as he is with her, but of course "it's not a pretty thing to be English" among the Scottish.
The next morning Mrs. Fitz arrives to give her some decent clothing, and a humorous moment comes as Claire exposes her bra. Definitely not the corset of the day. Mrs. Fitz dresses her in layers of clothing, no doubt because it's a cold and damp castle with drafts. Afterward, she takes Claire to meet the Laird, Colum MacKenzie, and conjures up a story of how she came to be alone running about the woods in a shift and nearly raped by Black Jack Randall. It seems that no one is really buying her story, and they think she is an English spy. Dougal MacKenzie, the laird's brother, is not exactly pleased with Claire's presence.
With a feigned promise of being escorted back to Inverness in five day's time, Claire tries to lay low. She spends time getting to know Jamie a bit better, while she tends to his wounded shoulder. She watches the barbaric judgments in the hall, where Jamie takes the place of a young girl who was to be beaten for her morally loose behavior. It's a world unlike her own, and as much as Claire would like to speak out over the barbarous treatment, she's advised to stay silent.
In the end, just when she thinks she'll be taken back to Inverness so she can return to the stones and Frank, Colum tells her she must stay. Claire's personality is one of a kind, frankly. Had it been me, I would have dropped to my knees and begged him to let me go. However, she has this way of pursing her lips, sticking out her chin, and spewing out her displeasure. She is by no means a weak woman, but as the episode closes she stands alone dealing with the realization that for now she is a prisoner of the past.
On a closing note, let's just say that Black Jack Randall is a sadist. Be forewarned that you will see much of his behavior that will turn your stomach, which will be the parts I will probably close my eyes. I just don't like disturbing violence, and unfortunately that is part of the dark side of Outlander you will be able to handle or not. The story has been coined a "bodice-ripper type" novel, much to the chagrin of some fans. But let's face it, when Black Jack Randall rips open the bodice of Jamie's sister to expose her breasts, what else would you call it?
Kudos to Starz for the fantastic sets, costumes, and filming of this series. It's probably going to garnish a few awards for the detail they have put into Outlander. I'll tune in next week and let you know if Claire shows an ounce of weakness, or if she keeps that proverbial English stiff upper lip.
Most tender moment: Jamie comforting Claire
Most humorous statement: Claire to Jamie, "Try not to get flogged or stabbed today."
Most disturbing moment: Anything Black Jack Randall says or does
Magic in the Moonlight (2014)
Do You Believe in Logic or Magic?
Magic in the Moonlight is a lighthearted movie set in 1929 southern France, written and directed by Woody Allen. It stars the noteworthy Colin Firth, who plays Stanley Crawford, a world famous magician by trade. He is a rather arrogant and cynical individual who lives a life driven by logic. He sees no grand creation, purpose, or life beyond the grave. As a result, he's a rather rational, dull, and unhappy person.
When a friend and professional colleague invites him to meet a woman who claims to be a spiritualist, Stanley jumps at the chance to debunk and expose the charlatan. Everyone who meets Sophie, played by Emma Stone, is fascinated by her obvious psychic abilities. Along with her mother, they have infiltrated a very rich family that will be donating to Sophie's planned psychic foundation. In addition, she has caught the eye of Brice, a very rich young man who wants to marry her and take her around the world.
Stanley, however, is convinced that it is all a ruse. She is, after all, planning to dupe and steal from unsuspecting and simple-minded individuals who don't know any better. Invited by his friend to expose her trickery and save the Catledge family from being scammed, Stanley challenges Sophie soon after their first meeting. After his unsuccessful attempts to debunk her authenticity, his own beliefs regarding life and death are tested. In an uncharacteristic change, he admits defeat and embraces the gift that Sophie has been given. For the first time in his life, he believes in something beyond logic.
I will not spoil the outcome of Stanley's quest for truth in life, except to say that it was a mildly entertaining film. Woody Allen's movies have a flavor, and this one is no different. The music, cars, and fashions of the roaring twenties fill your senses. The movie is visually soft and golden, with breathtaking scenery. Colin is looking fit and trim, but definitely not the young Mr. Darcy of his day. Emma Stone, beautiful and young, is an unlikely match for the much older Mr. Firth. Nevertheless, their sparring with each other made for a certain humorous chemistry. Once again, it is an age appropriate movie for the older generation. By the count of elderly patrons in the theater, it is definitely not for the younger generation. I had a few good laughs with my friend, who attended the show with me, as we counted the gray-haired moviegoers.
In the end, the movie does succeed in challenging the audience regarding their own beliefs about life. We either believe the logical in what we can see and prove, or we believe in the magical of the unseen and things we cannot explain. Are people who are logical likely to be unhappy and cynical, compared to those who believe and have hope? Whether you believe in anything or not, perhaps it's just experiencing love that gives us a reason for living. That is, the Magic in the Moonlight.
What's Underneath the Kilted Series Outlander
Before I watched the first episode, I had never read Outlander or any of Diana Gabaldon's books. Since social media has been ripe with fans talking about the "highly anticipated" Outlander television series on Starz, I decided to pay more attention.
Before I watched, I knew very little about Outlander, except for what I've read in multiple blog posts and reader reviews--some good but others critical. What makes a story extremely popular is uniqueness. Outlander is apparently one of those novels, as it takes the reader back in time from the 1940's into 1700's Scotland. It contains all of the right elements – mystery, danger, surprise, handsome Scottish hunk, bodice ripping, passionate lovemaking, and a difficult decision for the heroine to make.
Starz has apparently put a lot of money into promotional activities for Outlander, from releasing photos, interviews, merchandise related to the show, and building hype for the release. It apparently paid off, from what I've read of the millions who tuned in for the first episode. It is a big budget production, that brings the book to life by using fantastic scenery, costumes, and stars that fit the characters.
***Spoilers Ahead*** It begins after WW2, when Claire is reunited with her husband, Frank. Frank, decides on a second honeymoon in Scotland before they settle back into life and he takes a teaching job at Oxford. Enter a few hot sex scenes, an old village with strange practices, Frank's interesting genealogy, and the story begins to unfold with a touch of mystery. On one excursion, Claire and her husband watch in secret as a group of women from the village reenact a druid dance amongst a grouping of stone monuments.
Claire returns to the ruins alone the next day to look for a flower that caught her eye the day before. As she walks between the monoliths, things become a bit odd and sounds catch her attention. She is drawn to a particular stone, and after she places her hands upon it, she is transported back in time.
After she awakens finding herself lying on the ground, she goes back to where she parked her car only to find it gone. To make things more confusing, she wanders about until she sees Redcoats who are chasing someone and shooting their rifles. Of course, she thinks she's walked into some movie set by accident. However, as a real bullet flies by her head, it becomes all too real and she takes off running. Unfortunately she bumps into her modern husband's ancestor, Captain Black Jack Randall, who quickly attempts to rape her thinking she's a whore.
Enters the first of many Scots who intervene in Claire's life and saves her from harm. She is kidnapped and introduced to a group of rather rough looking individuals who look at her with suspicion. When her nursing skills come in handy helping an injured man, they find some worth in her and drag her off to their castle on a two-day trip.
If episode one is anything like the remaining ones to come, I think that fans are in for a treat. Whether you've read the book or not, it's easy to pick up the story and find yourself transported back into a perilous time. The feisty feminist lady from the 20th century, doesn't exactly fit into the 18th century male thoughts of a woman's place in society. That in itself, makes for a good story, as well as the forthcoming love affair with Jamie Fraser, the heartthrob played by the handsome Sam Heughan. With his thick and sexy Scottish brogue, you just want to kiss him, if you don't mind the sweat and blood on his face to get there.
The rest of the burly Scottish men have no attraction whatsoever. Starz has done a great job of costumes and makeup to give us scenes of long greasy hair, sweaty faces, and bodies that probably haven't bathed in months.
Has the first episode intrigued me? I have since read a good portion of the book, but did skim over less important areas I thought could have been shortened. I will say, however, that I do think a few of the scenes in the book would be good to leave out of the series. There are graphic sexual scenes in the first episode, which will no doubt increase in intensity between Jamie and Claire.
However, along with the lovemaking, there are other not so nice portions of the book that are very controversial. One happens to be the time Jamie beats Claire with a belt for her disobedience. The others graphically entail the hatred and cruel torture by the British of Scottish prisoners that can be very disturbing. I guess we will have to wait and see how far Starz goes with the gruesome to bring the remainder of the series to life. Some things don't necessarily need to be seen to have the impact.
So far, it's a great show. But be forewarned it could get disturbing as the story unfolds. But all in all, it is well worth tuning in to watch the kilted men swing their swords and speak in their Scottish brogue.
The only critical point I would mention is that they need to tighten up on their editing. There are obvious inconsistencies here and there that I found annoying.
The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)
A Warm Dish Missing a Dash of Spice
This past week, I went to see The Hundred-Foot Journey with a friend of mine. I ordered my usual small bag of popcorn and small drink costing me a total of $10.05, plus my $7.75 ticket price for the 1:45 p.m. show. It's easy to equate the value of a movie based on what I've paid for refreshments and a ticket. Since this was a whopping $17.80 excursion, The Hundred Foot-Journey was worth about $7.50 in my opinion.
I'm not saying the movie doesn't have some good qualities, which it does. The story focuses upon a family from Mumbai, who have suffered loss and are looking for a new life. They are restauranteurs and cooks. After losing their establishment and a family member, they travel from India to London. Eventually, they move to France, complaining about the quality of vegetables in the U.K. While traipsing about the countryside looking for a place to live, the brakes on their car fail. The head of the family, Papa Kadam, takes it as a sign that the nearby town is the place to live. Papa decides to purchase a run-down restaurant one hundred feet across the street from Madame Mallory's famous French restaurant, in spite of his family's objection.
The movie is about a clash of not only cuisine, but one of of ethnicity between people. Madame Mallory is not pleased with her new neighbor, who upon opening night raises the Maison Mumbai's bright Taj Mahal entrance. A tit-for-tat battle ensues between Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam, which leads to an unfortunate incident of an attack upon the Kadam family restaurant.
Manish Dayal plays Hassan, the son who has a gift for cooking. Eventually, Madame Mallory admits that he is talented and agrees to hire him at her restaurant to further his career. A peaceful co-existence between the madame and papa ensues as the two of them begin to learn and accept each other in spite of their ethic differences.
The premise of the story is a good one with a theme of co-existence and acceptance of others unlike yourself. It also contains the elements of competition, of course, when each party has their own goals. Madame Mallory seeks another star for her restaurant, Papa a new life for his family, and Hassan the chance to become a renowned chef. However, somewhere during the movie, I found it bland. The film lacked a certain spice. It was intellectually tasteful, but the heartfelt emotion you expect from the story felt like a lukewarm plate of food.
Helen Mirren, who is never bad in anything she does, made Madame Mallory's character. Along with Om Puri, who played papa, they delivered a good mix of banter. There is a side element of romance between Hassan and another cook hundred feet across the street, but nothing like a spicy dish of Indian food.
Waking the Dead (2000)
British Crime, Not Zombies
Let's clarify this title early on - it's not about Zombies. Waking the Dead is a BBC series that focuses on a cold case murder squad. They probably could have chosen a better title, because I passed over this show multiple times after seeing the word "dead" and thinking "waking" was "walking." (That was before I got my new glasses.)
Anyway, I just finished five seasons, but apparently there are many more. If you like British detective programs and love hearing, "I'm DCI..." whoever, you'll probably get into this one too. The British titles are so much cooler...Detective Chief Inspector.
It focuses around Detective Boyd, who runs the show, played by Trevor Eve (not bad looking for a man his age). Dr. Grace Foley, played by Sue Johnston, is always analyzing everyone as the profiler of killers and her coworkers. Like so many other shows, this one reminds me not to get emotionally involved with the actors and certain characters.
Claire Goose, who plays one of the detectives, leaves the show (via a horrific on-screen death), which totally changes the flavor of the team after her departure. Coupled with a change in the forensic team at the same time, it's a shocker. When that happens, I grieve the loss and often find myself loosing a tad bit of interest trying to get into the replacements who I often don't like as well. It was no different in this case either, but it's like work -- people come and go all the time.
After watching so many British detective police shows, this one carries the usual underlying themes in the series that I am finding occur over and over.
- The main detective is a bit wonky with either work or personal problems. They are either emotionally detached from others, unable to make close relationships, have some fault like yelling, drinking, or whatever.
- The top guy always is a little rebellious refusing to obey orders, and there is usually someone on the force that is out to get them in the upper echelons.
- Though the team works well together, there is always some undermining strife and rivalry in the ranks.
- Some of the crime stories can be downright sick, especially upon the discovery of a dead body and how gruesomely the poor victim had been killed. The newer shows go for the shock factor more than the mystery, and I wish they would spare me the gory details.
Of course, these stories always leave me with unanswered questions:
- Is forensic science that advance it figures out everything?
- Do DCI's ever carry guns?
- How much tea do they drink on the job and what kind?
- When they are in the pub sloshing down the ale, are they on duty or off?
I may never know the answer to these perplexing questions, however, it doesn't stop me from searching for the next BBC crime show. As you can see, I've watched a few. Do I have favorites? I am a bit partial to the older shows with less gore and murders of only stabbings, strangulation, and poison, which occur at night while the peacocks are screeching in the background. The more complicated the lead detective, the better. These are some of my favorites:
- Midsommer Murders
- Detective Lewis
- Prime Suspect
- Murder in Suburbia
So that about sums it up. BBC or ITV better keep cranking these series out, or I'm going to be disappointed.
It's time for an Earl Grey.
Jersey Boys (2014)
A Baby Boomer's Dream Sherry Baby!
Today I saw The Jersey Boys, which is the newly released film version directed by Clint Eastwood. I took in the 1:05 p.m., Saturday afternoon showing, and sat in a nearly full theater of baby boomers, or those not far from that generation. At my age, you do have to chuckle when you are clearly placed in the demographics of those who remember the heyday of The Four Seasons as part of their teenage years.
I have no idea what it is about those songs of the 60's and '70's, except that they remain in your memory and are a part of your DNA. In my case, it is especially true because I was born and raised Detroit—the home of Motown and doo-wop. I danced to those songs at sock hops during junior high and high school. I suspect that many who attended the movie came because of the music, which is the highlight of the film.
The movie is based off the Tony Award Winning Jersey Boys, with three of the stage stars reprising their role in the film version. John Lloyd Young, who plays Frankie Valli, is fantastic. He won the 2006 Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. He carries that talent and performance well onto the screen, frankly making the movie what it is. The others in the cast who played members of the band were no less talented. Clint Eastwood keeps true to the stage version, from what I've read, in that the performers narrate directly into the camera in various spots. It works well and did not distract from the film.
Of course, behind the music are the lives of those who perform. Like most bands of that era, they started under humble circumstances. Much of the beginning of the film depicts their roots in Jersey and rise to stardom. Thanks to the songwriter, Bob Gaudio, who joined and wrote hit after hit, they quickly rose to fame flying out of the gates with "Sherry." I'm sorry, but every time I say the name Sherry, my brain starts singing:
Sherry, Sherry baby Sherry, Sherry baby Sherry, can you come out tonight
The cream of the crop of their biggest hits are performed, such as "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Walk Like a Man," and many others. A lighthearted moment in the film is when Bob Gaudio comes up with the idea for "Big Girls Don't Cry." I'm not sure if that was true, but it sure was good for a laugh.
Of course, like other groups, The Four Seasons were not without their problems, most of which focused around Tommy DeVito. Though he was the founder of the group and the one who encouraged Frankie in his early days, he also brought about the group's breakup by incurring a huge debt with a loan shark. One member quits, and Frankie and Gaudio spin off on their own, which led to other memorable songs, such as "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." That performance in the film is undoubtedly my favorite not only for entertainment value, but mainly because they sung it at the Roostertail Club in Detroit. Boy, that place was the hub-bub of entertainment and a common household name when I lived there. Long before the current city went bankrupt, in the fifties and sixties Detroit had the handle on music in its heyday.
All in all, I enjoyed the movie, even though it did have a few slow parts. There is very little about Frankie Valli's personal life, though it is touched on briefly throughout the film. The music, of course, transports you back to your teens if you are from that generation. Frankly, I couldn't stop tapping my foot to the beat a few times. The audience seemed just as enthralled and lost in nostalgia.
I'm sorry that I never saw the stage version, even though I had an opportunity while in Vegas quite a few times. I have no idea why I didn't go see it. From what I read online, it's going on tour in the UK in the fall of 2014. Even though I missed the experience of live performances, the movie is a good replacement.
Will the younger generation like the film? Probably not as much as the baby boomers. If you are 40, 50, 60, or a bit older, it's right up your alley -- Sherry baby!
In Secret (2013)
Depressing, Dark, and Melodramatic Period Movie
Where do I start? Reviewing this melodramatic movie that leaves you dead at the end (no pun intended), is going to be a task. I can honestly classify it as the most depressing film I have seen in a long time. The story is apparently based on a writing by the name of "Thérèse Raquin," written in 1867 by Emile Zola.
In short, the movie is about a young girl, who after her mother dies, is placed with her aunt and her sick, coughing cousin. Jessica Lange plays a controlling mother (Madame Raquin), who orchestrates Therese's life at every turn. Her father passes away, and Therese is left with a small annuity. No doubt for her own financial gain, she insists that Therese marry her cousin. Unfortunately, he is not appealing in personality or looks, while she on the other hand is attracted to handsome men and deals with an uncontrollable sex drive.
When they relocate from the country to Paris, down a dark and dingy street to open a shop, Therese meets Laurent, a friend of the family. It doesn't take long for the two of them to fall into a lust-driven, sexual relationship that borders on the ridiculous as they meet in secret. Her domineering aunt has no idea that while she is tending the store below, her niece is copulating like a nymphomaniac upstairs in the room she shares with her son. Though you are led to believe it is love between the two, I frankly thought it bordered on physical obsession. Her lover knows how to control her need for him by pleasuring her at every turn, just as well as her aunt who manipulates her to do her bidding.
As far as Therese's husband, played by Tom Felton, he is a boring and idiotic man, and a mama's boy. His relationship with his mother is frankly as sickly as his health (cough, cough), as his mother dominates and coddles him into adulthood.
Laurent, as sexually driven as Therese, wants her all to himself. He suggests that they orchestrate an accident to do away with her husband. After all, accidents happen every day. Therese is hesitant to carry out the plan, but Laurent takes it to the end when the three of them go boating. He pushes her husband overboard, beats him with a paddle, and they watch him drown. Of course, they are dragged back to shore feigning a terrible boating accident wherein he loses his life. His body is recovered, buried, and no one is the wiser, except for one family friend who has her suspicions.
Of course, after the murder and time passes, Laurent and Therese marry and live together with Madame Raquin at the shop. Their relationship turns sour very quickly, as guilt for murdering Camille and their debase personalities come to the forefront. In the meantime, Madame Raquin has a stroke, no doubt brought on by her excessive grief over her son's death, and is left unable to move or speak. As she is confined to a wheelchair, she discovers through their yelling fights with one another that they murdered her son.
Well, where does this leave this sordid tale of dysfunctional family, adultery, lust, and whatever else you want to term it? It comes to an end where Therese and Laurent grow to hate each other so much they plot each other's demise. In the end, they both go mad as a hatter, and commit suicide in front of Madame Raquin, who finally obtains justice for her son's murder. The scene is no Romeo and Juliet moment, believe me. Instead, it is a sad commentary to two selfish people who committed a senseless murder that leads to no happy ending.
As far as performances, Jessica Lange, I thought carried the insatiable grief about her son's death to a psychotic level. Whether it was the intention of her performance to do so because of the script, I have no idea. However, I thought it felt excessive. Elizabeth Olsen's portrayal, as well as Oscar Isaac's, as the colliding lovers (definitely not star-crossed lovers), were well done conveying the characters' crazy drive for sex and ultimate demise due to guilt that borders on lunacy.
The setting overall, especially in Paris, is very dark and gloomy, which frankly mirrors the story. The costumes were mid-Victorian era and dull in color for the most part.
If you like depressing, dark, and dramatic period movies that leave you feeling uninspired, this one is for you.
The Railway Man (2013)
Astounding Performances - Astounding Movie
This evening I saw The Railway Man, which is still showing in a few theaters in my area. The movie is filled with Oscar worthy performances that are by far the best I have seen this year.
Let me preface this review by saying that the story is an emotionally charged depiction of war, some of which you may find deeply disturbing. The movie includes scenes of torture, beatings, captivity, and inhumane treatment. Nevertheless, it is well worth the watch. I saw it on a Friday night at 7:30 p.m., and there were a whopping seven people in the theater, all of which were my generation or older. Everybody else packed the fantasy movies, leaving the reality plenty of space. That tidbit of information leads me to my next thought.
As the generation of those who fought in WW2 die and are buried, I often think that new generations will never fully comprehend or appreciate what their parents or grandparents sacrificed to win this war. During the Second World War, over 60 million people were killed worldwide. It is termed the deadliest conflict in human history. In another twenty years from now, will we remember those who suffered--both military and civilian? Will the new generations even care? Today, our youth are deeply entrenched in a make-believe, comic world of super heroes, endowed with special powers who save the day. It is a fantasy and not the reality of true human suffering and sacrifice. The Railway Man is a stark reminder of what it means to be a hero regardless of the horrendous treatment received at the hands of the enemy.
Okay, I'm off my soapbox and onto the review.
The film is an adaptation of an autobiography of a British officer (Eric Lomax), who was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. He was captured when Singapore fell to the Japanese, and became part of a group of soldiers who were forced to help build the Thai-Berma Railway.
The movie is set during 1980, with multiple flashbacks to what occurred during WW2. Eric Lomax, played by Colin Firth as the elder character, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Though it has been decades since the war ended, he still suffers flashbacks of the torture he endured at the hands of the Japanese. He meets with others in his unit who survived the POW camp, but no one ever talks about what happened.
Lomax discovers that the Japanese translator who aided in his torture is alive. To his shock, he manages the war museum where he was held prisoner. To end the psychological torment he still endures, Lomax goes to see him for the purpose of revenge. When he meets his enemy, he discovers the man of today is not the enemy of yesterday.
As far as performances, I was frankly astounded by Colin Firth's portrayal as the older Lomax, and Jeremy Irvine as the younger Lomax. I would be extremely surprised if nominations are not forthcoming for this movie or its actors.
For me, it was a ten star movie. It will leave you in tears and perhaps give you a ray of hope that after the most trying of circumstances, there can still be peace and forgiveness between enemies.
'Til Death (2006)
Born Good for a Laugh - Died a Boring Death
When first released, 'Til Death was a show that had me in stitches. I cannot remember another sitcom that has made me laugh aloud so often with each episode. Having been divorced twice and single for more years than I can remember, this show takes a look at marriage that will make you roar. What makes it work is the fact that it compares a pair of crazy newlyweds to a couple married over twenty years - The Woodcocks and the Starks.
However, sadly, the show dispenses with the anchor of the show (the characters who play the Woodcocks), and the sitcom sinks to the bottom of ridiculous. Gone are the laughs and the beginning of the slow death that leads to cancellation.
I just felt like I went through another heartrending divorce that has left me convinced I'll never marry again.
Score: Definite 10 before the demise of the Woodcocks; 3 after they left the show.
Connected to Technology and Disconnected from the Human Race
If you haven't seen it, you might enjoy it - then again, you might not. It's a movie about the human need to connect.
Set a few decades ahead of 2014, HER is about a society that is in touch with technology. If you think it's bad now with everyone's telephone in their face, you've seen nothing yet. Society is technology hyped, though I can't say that the fashions have evolved much in the movie.
Basically, it's about a man going through a divorce, who is lonely and broken. His dating endeavors have not been going well. Theodore finds it hard to connect and open up to anyone - even his former wife. However, when he's given the opportunity to buy the latest technology - an OS (operating system) - his life changes.
Just think about it. A perfectly programmed mate for your life made just for you. You can choose a male or female voice. The system grows, adapts and learns everything about you. And while doing so, it evolves to discover what it means to be human by getting in touch with its own electronic "feelings" if you will.
Theodore finds Samantha (his OS) easy to talk to. They go places together. He walks, she's in his shirt pocket. They explore the world, talk, keep each other company, and have make believe sex. She tells him that she is in love, and Theodore has fallen in love with HER.
Well, it's a complex relationship. At one point he almost walks away because of the absurdity of it all. It's obvious he has trouble with human relationships, so should he pursue the electronic ones instead? After a brief struggle, he throws all caution to the wind. However, even like real relationships, it ends in heartbreak after he learns that Samantha is not a one-guy OS. In fact, she has over 8,000 other companions and declares love to over 600. Talk about fickle! Of course, the news devastates Theodore, and in the end, the OS's evolve and abandon humans for their own kind (or at least that's what I got out of it).
It's a strange movie, but it is filled with the honesty of struggling to be a single and sole individual who has a deep need to connect. If one can't connect humanly, then companionship can be found electronically. However, I strongly believe that our society is becoming disconnected because of technology. Our phones are in our faces, along with computers, iPads, Kindles, and every other device that we use to get lost in, so we can depart from the human race. Rather than giving us a stronger society, it is giving us a society that connects through electricity, but cannot connect humanly.
If you're single, I think you would enjoy and relate. Joaquin Phoenix is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and heartfelt through the entire movie. He's a man who wants to be loved and accepted. And if that love comes from an operating system named Samantha that understands him more than any other thing on this earth, then so be it.
That is HER. Now, if I could only have a HIM with a voice like Jeremy Northam, I'd die a happy woman with my OS next to me in bed.
Sins, Guilt, Secrets, and Discovery
Based on a true story of an Irish woman's search for her son, the movie is a journey of discovery. Because it has so many twists and turns that will completely surprise you, I won't spoil the outcome. (Tissues may be required.) The story begins with Philomena's encounter with a young man at a fair, with whom she has sex. As a result of her encounter, she becomes pregnant. Her family sends her away to Sean Ross Abbey in Ireland, where she gives birth at a convent that houses young girls who are pregnant out of wedlock.
During her time there, Philomena endures the harshness of working seven days a week and the constant condemnation of the nuns for her sexual indiscretion. Eventually, her young son and another baby girl are adopted by a family. For 50 years, she has kept the secret of what happened to her, even though she eventually married and had other children. In her mind, it was a sin to have given birth out of wedlock and a sin to have kept it secret for 50 years. She can't decide which is the worse of the two.
A journalist, Martin Sixsmith, decides to do a human interest story about Philomena's experience and search for her son. Her own attempts to find out what happened to him have been unfruitful, but with his journalist connections he is able to help her discover his whereabouts. They continue their search in Washington, D.C. It is here, that the story begins to surprise and shock its audience, but it culminates in a discovery you don't see coming.
The movie is filled with themes, mostly around faith, guilt, regrets, unconditional love, and the ability to forgive the cruelty of the sisters' actions. Unfortunately, Philomena is a woman driven by guilt of sins past and those present, which have been placed upon her by the church. Martin is a man who doesn't believe in God or understands the reasoning of the Catholic faith, and he often clashes with her beliefs.
The true story is also a very sad commentary of the practices of this particular Catholic abbey regarding their own lack of compassion and secrets. From 1930 to 1970 they housed pregnant, unwed mothers, buried the ones who died in childbirth from poor care, sold babies, and continued to make the girls pay for their transgressions with heartless treatment and hard work. In the end, it was a story that had to be told.
Judi Dench is wonderful, of course. She was nominated for best actress multiple times for this movie, and the winner of multiple awards. Steve Coogan humorously portrayed the journalist, along with his cynicism over religion and the church. At times, you chuckled over some of his comments and the sparring between Philomena and himself.
All in all, it's quite a good movie.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Have you ever had that feeling that something is terribly wrong, but you cannot put your finger on it? You analyze it, try to find the reason, and end up like a marble statue of indecision. That's how I felt with The Monuments Men.
As far as the storyline, I had no idea that Hitler amassed such a monumental collection of the world's masterpieces while conquering Europe. When I initially saw the trailer for the movie, I thought it would be an interesting flick of war intrigue. To my horror, about half way through I kept fiddling with the stop button on my TV wanting to escape.
I cannot put my finger on any one thing as to why this movie doesn't work. Since George Clooney and Matt Damon star in the film, maybe I was hoping for a WWII version of Oceans 11 where the gang steals back valuable artwork from the bad guys. There are great actors, but mediocre performances. Even George Clooney had little spark, like the landmine that barely blows in one scene.
The film lacks conflict and intrigue. The only thing that did ruffle my feathers were the Germans stealing, stashing,and destroying the masterpieces from great artists. As the war is ending, The Monuments Men take on the task of finding, salvaging, and returning the stolen treasures.
Of course, there are undertones of more being destroyed than art. There is the terrible confiscation of Jewish property, even down to barrels full of gold fillings taken from the mouths of victims. It is a sobering reminder that more than art had been lost during the war, and perhaps we should care about human lives rather than a Rembrandt.
Nevertheless, it is true that our greatest achievements as human beings should be preserved. Hitler wanted to conquer more than land and human beings, he wanted to conquer and own all of the art created by master artists of centuries past. Two men gave up their lives to preserve and reclaim the artwork. The only question left for the audience to ponder, is whether the price of a human life is worth the preservation of a Rembrandt.