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Archive for the ‘Adam Ferenz’ film reviews’ Category

by Adam Ferenz

I am going to try my hardest not to spoil this series but it is nearly impossible to talk in depth about this series without some spoilers, so be warned.

Until Babylon 5 came around, Science Fiction Television in the United States was usually one of two things-at least when it was good-and that is either Star Trek or Twilight Zone. Otherwise, you had Captain Video, Battlestar Galactica or dozens of other cheap, forgettable and uninspired series. In 1993, Joseph Michael Strackzynski, a writer and editor with extensive background in both children’s programming, such as Ghostbusters (based on the film) and adult hits like Murder, She Wrote, launched a series that would change everything about the television science fiction landscape.

For one  thing, this series would be plotted out in full before the first episodes was shot, though the vagaries of television production necessitated the adjusting of portions of that plot-what JMS, the acronym the fans used for him-had created, called trapdoors. These allowed, say, Kodath to vanish after a single episode and be replaced by Na’Toth, who in turn was able to exit and be assumed dead for much of the series. Or, in the series most memorable examples, to have Commander Sinclair replaced after the first season, to have Ivanova replaced after the fourth season and indeed, for Ivanova to become 1st officer in the first place, replacing the original character of Laurel Takashima, after the troubled pilot film, The Gathering. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

When, following the success of Winds of War, Dan Curtis met with ABC executives to discuss also bringing War & Remembrance to the screen, he told them in no uncertain terms that he would agree to it only if he was given carte blanche to present the history as starkly as he could. Despite worries about FCC interference, the eventual series came off beautifully, and won the Emmy for best miniseries. That sort of dedication is apparent for the entire nearly 40 hour run time of this series. Curtis had been uncertain if he wanted to do the sequel-Winds of War had exhausted him-and was eventually convinced by those around him to speak with ABC, a development that often makes for less than enthusiastic film-making. Not here.

Why is such an often emotionally overwrought and soapy story placed on this list? Because of the Holocaust sequences. Period. These are etched in the memory as holding a special power because of their honesty, stripped of sensationalism. The sequence (spoilers) in which a character we have watched for 38 hours, is taken from a ghetto, loaded onto a train, hauled hundreds of miles to Auschwitz, unloaded, herded into a line, forced into a building, stripped of his clothing, and then gassed, before being cremated and his ashes poured into a river, is a sequence few will forget once they’ve seen it.

The casting of the two sides of this epic is something of legend. Robert Mitchum came in as Pug Henry, the head of the Henry family. In “Winds of War” his son, Byron, was played by Jan Michael Vincent, while Natalie Jastrow, Byron’s Jewish girlfriend, was played by Ali McGraw. All three were too old for the roles. Only Mitchum survived. Hart Bochner and Jane Seymour took over the parts for “War and Remembrance” and it is Seymour’s face, the horrors of living through the Holocaust etched on her face, that is among the final and most powerful images in the saga. Oh, and the series also cast John Houseman as her uncle, Aaron. Houseman was replaced in War and Remembrance by Sir John Gielgud, who, like Seymour, made the character his own. His passion and pain during the sequences set in the Theresiendat ghetto, is another in a long line of unforgettable moments linked to the Holocaust in this one.

There’s the White House Cottage gassings sequence, and the Babi Yar massacre, too. The later saw German officers and their wives lining up on the hillside of a ravine to watch Jews and others be mowed down by machine gun fire. There is also, of course, Pacific and Atlantic war footage, including some tense moments when the fleet Pug is in charge of is attacked, and a brilliant remounting of the attack on Pearl Harbor, in which Curtis seamlessly blends footage from Tora! Tora! Tora! Unfortunately, the series is not all about the historical events. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

(Due to hilarious circumstances caused by the powers that be, a gap was left in the schedule and somebody had to fill it with something. The result is the following essay)

This classic sitcom from television’s first golden age is set at the fictional Fort Baxter, a base in fictional Roseville, Kansas and concerns the machinations of master sergeant Ernie Bilko, who lives up to his name, as he is an inveterate gambler, scoundrel and cheat. Yes, he’s a bit of a bum, but he is our bum, and as much as he loves taking his “pigeons” for all their lettuce-cash-he will be damned if anyone else takes advantage of them. At heart, he is a selfish man but not an evil one, except in terms of that banal evil that comes with his special brand of self interest. This is offset by his charm and the manic energy and immaculate timing of Phil Silvers, who along with a crackjack cast-including more women and  ethnic and minority types than television had ever seen or would see again for thirty years or more-gave life to a series of brilliant scripts headed by creator Nat Hiken, who would go on to create Car 54, Where Are You? As a bit of trivia, actor George Kennedy, who played a policeman in several episodes, served as army technical advisor for the series, which, at the insistence of its creator, was filmed in New York City, and it shows in both the casting and the energy of the series, which has a decided urban and often working class flavor to it.

The series indeed broke ground, for many reasons, but not the least of which was showing an integrated unit at a time this was ignored in films and television and when African American actors, particularly on television, were relegated to butlers, stickup men or Amos and Andy types. Elizabeth Fraser, as Joanne Hogan, was a rare recurring love interest in a story that found both Bilko and Hogan dating other people, making one another jealous, and obviously physical with one another, though given the mores of the day, and the tight reigns of censorship through Standards and Practices, directly referencing the sex these two-and others, because let us face it, this was one horny and lucky base-were having, was not going to be clearly stated. Indeed, one of the series funniest episodes is Furlough in New York, in which the two take a few days in New York City, without realizing they are so close, constantly missing one another by inches. If you have not seen it, the episode is highly recommended. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

Frederick Delius was an English composer who lived from 1862-1934. His final years were spent with him largely in a state of invalidity. Song of Summer is named after a tone poem for orchestra, completed in 1931, by Delius, during the final six years of his life, the period covered in the film, which focuses on the relationship between Delius and his amanuensis, Eric Fenby. At the time Fenby came to work for Delius, the great composer was living south of Paris with his wife, Jelka, and suffering the consequences of tertiary syphilis. Director Ken Russell had done several other works for the BBC series Omnibus, and would do a few more, before moving on to the big screen, but he considered this film his very best, a film he would not change a single thing about. It is hard to argue with the man.

Song of Summer is a deceptively complex film, which in its presentation becomes Delius’s poem. That this film has a phenomenal score, completely consisting of Delius and Fenby’s work, is a big plus, as is Russell’s use of black and white cinematography to mask the budget shortcomings. He can be forgiven if the trip up a mountain late in the film seems more like a trip through the hills of Scotland, but such is the case when dealing with a 60’s BBC budget. Instead, the film relies on a sharp script, inventive direction that evokes the essence of its subject’s work, and three superb performances, with Maureen Pryor as Jelka, Christopher Gable as Fenby and Max Adrian as Delius. Here, Fenby and Delius are not friends from the start but there is a trust, and yet always a tension, for Delius was a difficult man, and his condition did not lend him a quiet temper, nor did his disinclination to religion, the opposite of the devoutly catholic Fenby. Indeed, according to Music Web International, Fenby is shown having a crisis of faith after finding the parish priest making love to a girl, an episode which Fenby had told to Russell in what he believed was the strictest confidence. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This series, which arrived on Netflix in late 2016, is a modern gem. It is not another Downton Abbey, for it is smarter and more sophisticated than that highly enjoyable soap opera. This series, from creator and writer Peter Morgan, and produced by occasional director Stephen Daldry, charts the course of The Crown-which is a metonym for both the state and the monarch-since the death of King George the VI, with a focus on the lives of Elizabeth the 2nd and her closest family. This is a spectacular achievement, one of the best and most ambitious of current series. With the cast set to change every two seasons, the likelihood of this one getting stale is low. Claire Foy and Matt Smith acquitted themselves beautifully as Elizabeth and Philip in the first two seasons. We shall see how Olivia Coleman does for seasons three and four, and how much chemistry she has with Tobias Menzies, as these are the actors tapped to play Elizabeth and Philip for the next two seasons. Oh, and as an aside, season three sees Helena Bonham Carter join the cast as Princess Margaret.

If this seems focused on casting that is because so much of this series has relied on thrilling performances and sterling writing. The first season also featured Jarred Harris, in flashbacks, as George, and John Lithgow in an Emmy winning season-long performance, as Winston Churchill. Where the first season charted Elizabeth’s early years with Churchill as prime minister, the second season focused on her relationship with Philip and how Philip always seemed to be just on the cusp of some scandal, including, by the end of the second season, the Profumo Affair. Throughout the first two seasons, however, is the backbone of Philip as a proud man who expected to have a wife first and a queen second, and to be able to have a wife before having a queen for a bit longer but, due to George’s untimely passing, did not. In a sense, this is a series about a marriage and how the duty of one affects everyone else, including siblings and spouses.

There are many loving, thrilling and beautiful shots of scenery, and historical asides, including the deadly London Smog of 1952, trips to Africa by the royal couple and Philip’s goodwill cruise around the world to begin season two, among many others. The historical details are mostly on point, and the royal family has largely refrained from comment-though season two brought some heat with its focus on the peccadilloes of Phillip-and this is because while Morgan has not been afraid of showing the truth about the Royal Family, he has been very respectful in making sure to avoid the same level of salaciousness one would typically expect in a telling of these stories. This is still a fictionalized account of real people, but it is as true as we can expect without this becoming a documentary. One example would be the secretary in season one who succumbs to the Smog, a character and therefore death, which never existed. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This is going to be difficult. By its nature, there’s a lot of history to this soap opera. There was over a decade of material that aired before this author was born, much of which no longer exists thanks to a vault fire, and will be going largely off memories of the series, some of which comprise his earliest memories of television. Therefore, if this seems rambling, bear with me. This is a work of memory, passion and pain, since when it was good, it was great, and when it was off, it hurt, because it could be so great when it wanted to give a hoot. I will be leaving a lot of characters out, and giving short shrift to many more. For that, I apologize, or this thing could easily become a book.

There have been dozens of daytime serials in the history of American television. There are, currently, only four of them. The genre has lost a lot of audience, with the advent of the internet, expanded cable and satellite options, as well as the fact that people just do not stay home to watch television during the day, the way they once did. Especially women, to whom the earliest series were pointedly marketed.

Soaps, as they were called-because Procter and Gamble was a major sponsor of a goodly portion of the serials on air, at one point-have always been a generational deal, handed down from family member to family member, or passed along between friends. These were “our” or “my” stories for generations of people-men and women. The typical soap opera, in 1968-the year One Life to Live arrived on the air-was largely a very slow moving half hour about the love life of winsome rich white women in fictional or even nameless small towns. There had been some exceptions-including the rise of ABC’s Dark Shadows, which was extremely fast paced, and full of supernatural doings, but had indeed started its life as a series concerning the mysterious arrival of a governess in a small Maine seaport. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

As a series that is still ongoing, soon to air the fourth season and possibly to go as long as six or seven seasons, this will not be a “complete” review but will attempt something a little bit different in approach.

Upon being announced, this prequel to Breaking Bad caused fans and critics alike to scratch their heads and wonder why, not only because who needed or really wanted, another Breaking Bad, but why focus the series on Saul Goodman? Saul was a fun character, but slight and a bit lightweight. Besides, he had been sent to live in parts unknown, as a result of Walter White’s flight from the law. Soon, word came that this was a prequel, with hints of what happened after, and still, people thought “no, no, we will just be getting a lot of cute cameos and nods to the future, in Breaking Bad” and then we got word that Jonathan Banks was joining the cast as Mike Erhmantraut, and that Michael McKean had been cast as Charles McGill, the brother of Jimmy “Saul Goodman” McGill. Saul-or should we call him Jimmy-had a brother?

Then the series began, and at the end of the first episode, we saw Tuco, the first “big bad” of Breaking Bad, but instead of feeling like we were going to get a greatest-hits, what we saw in the opening hour felt unique and superbly well crafted. This was certainly in the Breaking Bad universe, but it may well be its own thing. For one, Mike was not yet the sinister cleaner/fixer for Gus Fring, who was nowhere to be seen, and Jimmy was working out of the back room of a nail salon and caring for his brother, one of the partners at a large law firm, who obviously suffered some sort of disability. There was also Kim Wexler, a fellow attorney, who worked at Charles-Chuck’s-firm, and was on intimate terms with Jimmy. (more…)

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