“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

 

“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” (2007) Review

Eleven years ago, I first learned about how a Texas congressman named Charlie Wilson led the effort to drive the Soviet Army from Afghanistan after nearly ten years. I learned about Operation Cyclone from the 2007 biopic, “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”

Operation Cyclone was the code name for the C.I.A. program to arm and finance the mujahideen in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, prior to and during the military intervention by the USSR in support of its client, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. The program leaned heavily towards supporting militant Islamic groups that were favored by the regime of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq in neighboring Pakistan, instead of the less militant Afghan resistance groups that had also been fighting the pro-Marxist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan regime since before the Soviet invasion. Operation Cyclone proved to be one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations undertaken during the agency’s history.

Directed by Mike Nichols and based upon George Crile III’s 2003 book, “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History”“CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” began in 1980, when Congressman Charles “Charlie” Wilson (D-Texas) became aware of the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan during to trip to Las Vegas. But it took an old friend of his, Texas socialite Joanne Herring, to encourage him to finally get involved with driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan. First, Wilson pays a visit to Afghanistan, where he visits a refugee camp and the country’s leader, President Zia-ul-Haq. Upon his return to the U.S., Wilson recruits the help of veteran C.I.A. agent Gust Avrakotos to help him kick start an operation that would provide aid – food, medical and especially military – to the Afghans. And finding military aid would mean enlisting support from both Israel and Egypt. At the same time, Wilson is forced to face a Federal investigation into allegations of his cocaine use, as part of a larger investigation into Congressional misconduct.

I must admit that I did not have a very high opinion of “TIMELESS” when I first saw it over ten years ago. I honestly did not know what to expect. I certainly did not expect a comedy-drama with a lot of wit and snappy one-liners. Or perhaps I was expecting something a little more . . . intense? Who knows. But looking back on the film, I finally realized that my opinion of it has increased over the years.

I enjoyed how the movie went to a great deal of effort to provide details of Wilson’s efforts to aid the Afghans, especially the Mujahidee (Afghanistan’s freedom fighters). Whether those details were historically accurate or not – I have not the foggiest idea. But I found Wilson’s efforts to find ways to provide aid and help the Afghans throw out the occupying Soviets without the rest of the world finding out about U.S. involvement very interesting . . . and rather amusing. This sequence of events included a rather humorous first meeting between Wilson and his C.I.A. liaison, Gust Avrakotos. Another aspect of the film that I found humorous were Wilson’s efforts to curb his friend Ms. Herring’s patriotic and religious fervor over the program – including one scene in which she bluntly assured her guests at a fund raiser that President Zia-ul-Haq was not responsible for the death of his predecessor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. For me, one of the film’s most interesting and hilarious scenes featured Wilson’s meeting with both Israeli and Egyptian representatives in order to acquire arms for the Mujahidee – a meeting that included an Arabic dance (belly dance) from the daughter of an American businessman.

Judging from the movie’s Oscar, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations, one could see that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was not exactly a front-runner for Academy Award nominations during the 2007-2008 movie awards season Philip Seymour-Hoffman earned the majority of the film’s major nominations. Julia Roberts did earn a Golden Globe Awards, but nothing else. Did it deserve more acclamation? I do not know. Mike Nichols did a competent and entertaining job in allowing moviegoers peeks into C.I.A. policies, Washington and international politics. Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman (as C.I.A. operative Gust Avrakotos) all gave excellent performances. Well . . . Hanks and Hoffman struck me as entertaining and excellent. But I really enjoyed Roberts’ performance as the colorful Houston socialite. It seemed a shame that she was only nominated for a Golden Globe Award. The movie also featured solid performances from Amy Adams, Ned Beatty, Om Puri, Christopher Denham, John Slattery, Ken Stott, Shaun Tolb, Peter Gerety and Emily Blunt.

But if I must be honest, the movie did not give me a charge. I enjoyed it very mcuh. I mean, I really found it entertaining. But I did not love “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR”. I remember while leaving the theater following my first viewing of the film, I had this feeling that something was missing. I do not know. It could have been the unsatisfying ending, which I found to be rushed. It could have been James Newton Howard’s score that seemed too treacly for a borderline black comedy about a U.S. congressman, the C.I.A. and the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan. Or perhaps I found the movie’s ending even more treacly than its score. Either Nichols or the movie’s producers – Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman – lacked the balls to portray the consequences of Operation Cyclone.

I cannot say that “CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR” was a great film. I do not know if I would regard it as one of Mike Nichols’ best efforts. But I found it very entertaining, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s screenplay, Nichols’ direction and a first-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman. And if one is intrigued by a peek into American politics during the 1980s, I would highly recommend it.

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Peggy Carter’s Post-World War II Career

PEGGY CARTER’S POST-WORLD WAR II CAREER

Recently, I did a re-watch of Season One of “AGENT CARTER”. While watching Scientific Strategic Reserve (SSR) Agent Peggy Carter endure the patronizing slights from her boss and fellow agents, I found myself wondering how she ended up as a mere agent, reduced to acting as the office’s secretary/coffee girl after two years as a code breaker at Bletchley Park and four years in the SSR during World War II. 

I am certain that many of you would answer . . . duh, sexism! Like many women after World War II, Peggy had found her wartime activities dismissed by men, who were more concerned with regulating her and other women to traditional roles. This became doubly so for the likes of her post-war supervisors – Captain John Flynn and Chief Roger Dooley; and the latter’s Lead Investigator/Agent, Jack Thompson. It was easier for them to treat Peggy as someone who should have held a secretarial or clerical position at the SSR, instead of an agent.

This was the conclusion I had come to after viewing both the 2013 short film, “MARVEL ONE-SHOT: AGENT CARTER” and Season One of the 2015-2016 series for the first time. It took a recent viewing of Season One for me to harbor some doubts about this story arc for Peggy. Between the creation of the SSR in 1940 and its absorption into the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.) as one of the latter’s subdivision near the end of the 1940s; Colonel Chester Phillips served as Director. If Colonel Phillips had served as Director of the SSR during the 2013 short film, along with Seasons One and Two of “AGENT CARTER”, how did Peggy end up being reduced as some lowly field agent whom most of her colleagues dismissed, due to her gender? How did she get into this situation?

While working as a MI-5 agent in 1940, Peggy was loaned out to the SSR. Later that year, she managed to infiltrate HYDRA’s German headquarters at Castle Kaufmann and rescue Dr. Abraham Erskine, creator of the Super Soldier Serum. She also engaged in missions in Brooklyn, New York and the Soviet Union. In June 1943, she was assigned by Phillips to train the potential candidates – one of them, a physically undeveloped Steve Rogers – for Erskine’s serum. By the end of the war, she had more or less become Phillips’ top aide. And following the death (or disappearance) of Steve Rogers, who had been transformed into Captain America by Erskine’s serum, she took command of the Howling Commandos and led the operation to mop up the last remnants of HYDRA in Europe. They managed to capture one of the last HYDRA commanders, General Werner Reinhardt, and an artifact in his possession called the obelisk. Within a year of this operation, Peggy found herself first assigned to the SSR’s Brooklyn, New York office under Captain John Flynn; and later assigned to the SSR’s Manhattan office, which was supervised by Roger Dooley.

So, how did Peggy get into this situation? How did she become the butt of contempt, bigotry and many jokes by her fellow agents? Dismissed as a woman who had no business in what they regarded as a “man’s world”? Both Flynn and Dooley must have seen her personnel file and learned about her exemplary wartime activities. Yet, both continued to dismiss her . . . until she managed to discover a deadly liquid called “the Zodiac”, while working at the SSR’s Brooklyn office. Later, she managed to decrypt an encoded message for the Manhattan office, which was received from a Soviet intelligence group called the Leviathan through its agent, Sascha Demidov’s typewriter. Roger Dooley’s regard for Peggy increased following Thompson’s glowing report of her actions during a mission in the Soviet Union. By the end of Season One’s penultimate episode, Dooley, Thompson and the rest of the agents had learned to accept Peggy for the competent intelligence agent that she was.

After a good deal of thinking, it finally occurred to me what problems I had with this scenario regarding Season One of “AGENT CARTER”. One of them happened to be Colonel Chester Phillips, Director of the SSR. The other problems proved to be the series’ creators, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely; and Eric Pearson, who wrote the 2013 one-shot film. According to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) Wiki website, Colonel Phillips was the sole director of the SSR throughout the 1940s. If so, why did he assign Peggy to serve under a pair of sexists like John Flynn and Roger Dooley? Peggy was one of Phillips’ best operatives during the war and his top aide. Hell, she was by his side when he and Steve Rogers led the assault on the last base of operations commanded by HYDRA leader Johann Schmidt during the last year of World War II. It made no sense to me that Phillips would assign Peggy to serve under men who obviously had no true professional regard for her. I found this especially hard to believe, considering that by the end of the decade, Phillips had no problems regarding Peggy as a co-founder of S.H.I.E.L.D. And her service under Flynn and Dooley seemed like a step down from her activities during the war.

When Eric Pearson wrote the one-shot film, did he not consider that Chester Phillips had continued to serve as the SSR’s director after the war? Did Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, when they created “AGENT CARTER”? Could any of them consider a different scenario that did not call for Peggy serve the SSR in such a lowly fashion following the war? Peggy could have ended up leading her own field unit . . . and still face the sexism of her colleagues.

But this never happened. And knowing that Chester Phillips continued to serve as Director of the SSR throughout the 1940s, I found the troubles – especially the kind of sexism that Peggy Carter had faced as an agent working in New York City during the immediate post-war years somewhat difficult to swallow. I would have found Peggy facing sexism, while serving in a slightly higher position within the SSR’s hierarchy easier to believe. Or . . . I would have found Peggy’s experiences in New York City easier to swallow if Chester Phillips had been replaced as the SSR’s Director following the end of World War II.

Top Ten Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1950s:

 

TOP TEN FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1950s

1 - A Nero Wolfe Mystery

1. “A Nero Wolfe Mystery” (2000-2002) – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred in this adaptation of novels and short stories about the New York City based private detective from Montenegro, Nero Wolfe.

 

2 - The Company

2. “The Company” (2007) – Robert Littell produced this three-part miniseries adaptation of his 2002 novel about the Cold War during the mid and late 20th century. Half of the series is set during the 1950s. Chris O’Donnell, Rory Cochrane, Alessandro Nivola, Alfred Molina and Michael Keaton starred.

 

3 - Agatha Christie Miss Marple

3. “Miss Marple” (1984-1992) – Joan Hickson starred in this adaptation of Agatha Christie murder mysteries featuring the elderly sleuth, Miss Jane Marple. The series was produced by George Gallaccio.

 

4 - MASH

4. “M*A*S*H” (1972-1983) – Larry Gelbert developed this Award winning adaptation of the 1970 movie and Richard Hooker’s 1968 novel, “M*A*S*H: A Novel About Three Army Doctors” about a U.S. Army field hospital during the Korean War. Alan Alda, Wayne Rogers and Mike Farrell starred.

 

5 - Agatha Christie Marple

5. “Agatha Christie’s Marple” (2004-2013) – Both Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie portrayed Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s novels about the elderly sleuth.

 

6 - The Hour

6. “The Hour” (2011-2012) – Romola Garai, Dominic West and Ben Whishaw starred in this series about a BBC news show set in the mid-to-late 1950s. The series was created by Abi Morgan.

 

7 - Magic City

7. “Magic City” (2012-2013) – Mitch Glazer created this STARZ series about a Miami hotel owner during the late 1950s. The series starred Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Olga Kurylenko.

 

9 - Ill Fly Away

8. “I’ll Fly Away” (1991-1993) – Regina Taylor and Sam Waterston starred in this series about a Southern black housekeeper and her complicated relationship with her employer, a white attorney in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The series was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey.

 

10 - Grantchester

9. “Grantchester” (2014-Present) – James Norton and Robson Greene starred in this adaptation of “The Grantchester Mysteries”, James Runcie’s series of mystery stories that feature an unlikely partnership between a Church of England vicar and a police detective during the 1950s.

 

8 - Ordeal By Innocence

10. “Ordeal of Innocence” (2018) – Sarah Phelps wrote and produced this third adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1958 novel. The three-part miniseries starred Bill Nighy, Anna Chancellor and Anthony Boyle.

 

 

Five Favorite Episodes of “LEGENDS OF TOMORROW” Season One (2016)

Below is a list of my favorite episodes from Season One of the CW series, “LEGENDS OF TOMORROW”. Based upon several D.C. Comics titles, the series was created by Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, and Phil Klemmer.

 

 

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “LEGENDS OF TOMORROW” SEASON ONE (2016)

1. (1.13) “Leviathan” – Rogue time traveling cop Rip Hunter takes his team of vigilante heroes to 2166 London in an effort to defeat the immortal warrior Vandal Savage once and for all and prevent him from becoming the tyrannical world leader of the 22nd century. However . . . complications arise in the form of Savage’s daughter and a giant android.

2. (1.05) “Fail-Safe” – This second half of a two-part story in 1986 Soviet Union finds Rip and his team attempt the prison break of team members Ray Palmer aka “The Atom” and Mick Rory aka “Heatwave” from a Soviet gulag. Meanwhile, they also have to prevent Soviet scientist Valentina Vostok from using the stolen “Firestorm” formula given to her by Savage.

3. (1.15) “Destiny” – Following the capture of Rip and some of the Legends by his former employers, the Time Bureau, the remaining Legends under Sara Lance aka White Canary plot to rescue their fellow team members and destroy the Time Bureau’s Occulus device, which the latter used to help Savage in order to maintain the timeline. Martin Donovan guest-starred.

4. (1.02) “Pilot, Part 2” – Rip and his team infiltrate a weapons auction for terrorists in 1975 in order to prevent Savage from selling a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, a fight ensues in which Ray loses a part of his Atom suit. Savage’s discovery of it leads to a potential destruction of Star City (the Green Arrow’s hometown) in the future. Neal McDonough guest-starred.

5. (1.08) “Night of the Hawk” – Rip and his team track Savage to a small town in Oregon in 1958, where they suspect he is involved in a recent string of murders.

Top Ten Favorite Television Productions Set in the 1960s

Below is a list of my favorite television productions (so far) that are set in the 1960s: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE TELEVISION PRODUCTIONS SET IN THE 1960s

1. “Mad Men” (2007-2015) – Matthew Weiner created this award-winning series about the professional and personal life of an advertising executive during the 1960s. Jon Hamm starred.

2. “Kennedy” (1983) – Martin Sheen, Blair Brown and John Shea starred in this seven-part miniseries about the presidency of John F. Kennedy. The miniseries was written by Reg Gadney and directed by Jim Goddard.

3. “Tour of Duty” (1987-1990) – Steve Duncan and L. Travis Clark created this television series about an U.S. Army infantry platoon during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. Terence Knox and Stephen Caffrey starred.

4. “Pan Am” (2011-2012) – Jack Orman created this series about the lives of four Pan Am stewardesses and two pilots during the early 1960s. The series starred Kelli Garner, Margot Robbie, Karine Vanasse, Mike Vogel, Michael Mosley and Christina Ricci.

5. “Vegas” (2012-2013) – Nicholas Pileggi and Greg Walker created this series about the conflict between Las Vegas Sheriff Ralph Lamb and a Chicago mobster named Vincent Savino. Dennis Quaid and Michael Chiklis starred.

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6. “The Astronaut Wives Club” (2015) – Stephanie Savage produced this adaptation of Lily Kopel’s 2013 book about the wives of the Mercury Seven astronauts. The cast included Joanna García Swisher, Yvonne Strahovski and Dominique McElligott.

2 - The Kennedys.jpg

7. “The Kennedys” (2011) – Jon Cassar directed this award winning miniseries that chronicled the lives of the Kennedy family between the 1940s and the 1960s. Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Barry Pepper, Diana Hardcastle and Tom Wilkinson starred.

8. “Crime Story” (1986-1988) – Chuck Adamson and Gustave Reininger created this television series about the bitter conflict between a Chicago police lieutenant and a mobster in the mid 1960s. Dennis Farina and Anthony Denison starred.

9. “Path to War” (2002) – John Frankenheimer directed this HBO movie that dealt with the Vietnam War through the eyes of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Michael Gambon, Donald Sutherland and Alec Baldwin starred.

10. “Public Morals” (2015) – Edward Burns created and starred in this TNT limited series about police detectives who worked for the Public Morals Division of the New York City Police Department.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

 

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” (2016) Review

Two years following the success of 2014’s “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, Marvel Entertainment released a new “X-MEN” film set ten years after the previous one. The movie proved to be the fourth one directed by Bryan Singer.

“X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” began in ancient Egypt, where the world’s first mutant, a powerful individual named En Sabah Nur, ruled by by transferring his mind into new bodies. Unfortunately, a group of former worshipprs betrayed En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse” by entombing him alive. They also killed his four lieutenants, the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, who tried to protect him. The movie jumped to 1983 Egypt where C.I.A. Agent Moira MacTaggert (last seen in 2011’s “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS”) has been investigating a cult in Egypt that worships En Sabah Nur. Her accidental exposure his tomb to sunlight awakened the ancient mutant and produced a shock wave around the globe. Following his awakening, En Sabah Nur set out to recruit four mutants as his new “Four Horsemen”:

*Ororo Munroe aka “Storm” – an orphan and pickpocket from the streets of Cairo, who is able to control the weather

*Warren Worthington III aka “Angel” – a mutant with feathered wings on his back, who has resorted to participating in underground fight clubs in Berlin

*Psylocke – an enforcer for the black marketeer mutant Caliban, who is not only telepathic and telekinetic, but can also produce a purple-colored psychic energy

*Erik Lehnsherr aka “Magneto” – a Holocaust survivor and former friend of Charles Xavier, who has the ability to manipulate metal and control magnetic fields, and who is recently grieving over the accidental deaths of his wife and daughter by the Polish police

Apocalypse’s shock wave also caused Jean Grey, an adolescent student and mutant at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters to have a nightmare and momentarily lose control of her powers. When Charles Xavier attempted to investigate the power source he discovered that Moira was involved. Although her previous memories of them together were erased, Xavier meets with her to discuss the legend of En Sabah Nur. But when they become aware of the ancient mutant’s plans to bring about the apocalypse; Xavier and Moira recruit fellow mutants like Raven aka “Mystique”, Hank McCoy aka “Beast”, Alex Summers aka “Havok”, and Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver” to stop Apocalypse’s plans. Xavier students like Jean Grey, Scott Summers aka “Cyclops” (Alex’s nephew) and Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler” also join the campaign to stop En Sabah Nur.

Let me be frank. “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was not well received by the critics and many filmgoers. I am not going to explain why they felt this way about the movie. Needless to say, I do not agree with this pervading view. I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was a great film. It was not. I believe the movie had some problems.

One of those problems is that some of the cast members were obviously too young for their roles. This certainly seemed to be the case for James McAvoy Michael Fassbender and Rose Byrne, who portrayed Charles Xavier, Magneto and Moira McTaggart. All three are in their mid-to-late 30s and portrayed characters who were in their early 50s (late 40s for Moira, I suspect) . . . with no make-up to convey their characters’ aging. Both Jennifer Lawrence and Nicholas Hoult portrayed Mystique and Hank McCoy, who were slightly younger than Xavier and Magneto. But “X-MEN: FIRST CLASS” gave a good excuse for their slow aging . . . Mystique’s blood. Another cast member who portrayed a character much older than himself (without makeup) is Lucas Till, who is at least 25 or 26 years old, reprising his role as the late 30s to early 40s Alex Summers. And finally, we have Josh Helman, who is barely 30 years old, who reprised his role as William Stryker, who must have been around the same age as Xavier and Magneto. Does Singer have something against aging in his “X-MEN” films? And if he wanted to maintain the same cast, could he have at least consider using aging makeup for at least five members of the cast?

Two, what was the point in including both Stryker and Wolverine in this movie? Why? They were not essential to the plot. Was it really necessary for Singer to convey that Stryker had ended up giving Wolverine adamantium after all? Despite the time change in “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”? What was the point? Could we at least have one “X-MEN” film in which Hugh Jackman does not appear? I also see that Singer, along with screenwriter Simon Kinberg, decided to include Stryker in this tale as a plot device to delay Hank, Raven, Peter, and Moira from reaching Cairo. Pointless. It was the most pointless moment in this movie. Finally, I had a problem with the “Four Horsemen”. Aside from Magneto, the other three were barely used. What was the point in showing how they were recruited by En Sabah Nur, when Oscar Isaac and Michael Fassbender seemed to be the only ones in scenes featuring the ancient mutant and his “Horsemen”, who had the most lines. It is bad enough that once again, Singer indulged in his penchant for ignoring minority characters like Storm and Psylocke. Then he includes Angel into this movie – who was shown to be younger than Storm, Scott and Jean in 2006’s “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” – and barely give the latter any lines.

And yet . . . I still liked “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE”. In fact, I liked it more than I did “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. The 2016 movie had its problems, but it never seemed racked with so many plot holes like the 2014 movie did. Without the cloud of time travel hovering over the movie, the writing for “APOCALPYSE” struck me as a little clearer and a lot more straightforward. I can applause Singer for attempting to tackle something complicated as time travel. I simply believe that he, Kinberg and the other screenwriters did not handle it very well. On the other hand, the more straightforward narrative for “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” seemed to suit both Singer and Kinberg.

I did not care for the minor arc regarding William Stryker and Wolverine. And yes, En Sabah Nur’s plot to retake the world seemed a bit unoriginal. But Singer and Kinberg handled this story a lot better than they did the time travel plot for the 2014 movie. And to be honest, I rather liked it. I did not love it, but I liked it. I also liked the fact that En Sabah Nur’s plot had a surprising twist (well, one that I did not see coming) that did not involved his “Four Horsemen”.

I may not have a high opinion of “DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”. But the movie did provide some interesting consequences that played out in “APOCALYPSE”. One, both movies allowed Xavier and Mystique to become close again, following their estrangement in “X-MEN: FIRST-CLASS”. In one of the movie’s more interesting scenes, Mystique discovers that she has become something of a legend to some of the younger mutants, including Xavier’s students. The movie also allowed Jean Grey the opportunity to learn to utilize her “Dark Phoenix” powers with more control . . . and without Xavier trying to suppress her. Do not get me wrong. I am one of those fans who actually enjoyed “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND”. But it was nice to see Xavier dealing with Jean’s powers with a healthier attitude. And although I was not impressed by how Singer and Kinberg pushed Storm into the background – especially during the film’s second half, it was nice to get a peek into her life as a young Cairo pickpocket before she ended up as one of Apocalypse’s minions and later, a student at Xavier’s school.

I certainly had no problem with the movie’s productions. I thought Grant Major did an exceptional job in not only re-creating ancient Egypt for the movie’s prologue and for the rest of it, the early 1980s. This is not surprising, considering Major’s work with director Peter Jackson on movies such as “THE LORD OF THE RINGS” trilogy. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography contributed to the movie’s epic and sweeping look. Louise Mingenbach’s costumes, along with Geoffroy Gosselin and Anne Kuljian’s set decorations struck me as a solid reflection of the movie’s early 1980s setting. But the two aspects of the movie’s visual style that really impressed me were Michael Louis Hill and John Ottman’s editing, especially in scenes that involved En Sabah Nur’s entombing in the movie’s beginning and the X-Men’s showdown with the ancient mutant. I was especially impressed with the movie’s special effects, especially in the very two scenes that I had just pointed out.

The acting featured in “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” also struck me as impressive. Well, to be honest, there were only a few performances that really caught my notice. However, I certainly had no problem with the other performances. Of the four actors who portrayed En Sabah Nur’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, only one left no impression upon me – namely Ben Hardy, who portrayed Angel. The character barely had any lines and if I am mistaken, I could have sworn that Angel’s character was from a younger generation (that of Rogue and Iceman’s) – at least in the current movie franchise. I can also say the same about actress Lana Candor, who portrayed Jubilee. Not only did the actress barely had any lines, she was also portrayed as an Xavier student from Rogue and Iceman’s generation in a previous movie.

Although Alexandra Shipp, who portrayed Storm, and Olivia Munn, who portrayed Psylocke; were shifted to the background after their characters were introduced; both managed to impress me in the end. Shipp’s portrayal of the adolescent Storm struck me as rather lively and energetic. And Munn was effectively intimidating as the mutant enforcer, who becomes one of En Sabah Nur’s minions. The movie also featured solid performances from Rose Byrne, who returned as C.I.A. Agent Moira McTaggert; Sophie Turner and Tye Sheridan as the adolescent Jean Grey and Scott Summers aka “Cyclops”; Kodi Smit-McPhee as the younger Kurt Wagner aka “Nightcrawler”; Lucas Till as Alex Summers aka Havok; Nicholas Hoult as Dr. Hank McCoy aka “Beast”; Josh Helman as William Stryker; and Evan Peters as the always amusing Peter Maximoff aka “Quicksilver”. If you are careful, you might also spot Hugh Jackman, Zeljko Ivanek, Ally Sheedy and of course, Stan Lee.

Only four performances in this movie really impressed me. One of them turned out to be James McAvoy’s portrayal of Charles Xavier aka “Professor X”. At first, McAvoy’s performance seemed solid . . . almost perfunctory. But once it became apparent that Professor Xavier’s fate was connected with with En Sabah Nur’s scheme, McAvoy skillfully portrayed the telepathic mutant with a great deal of emotion and pathos. Michael Fassbender proved to be equally fascinating as the emotionally battered Erik Lensherr. He did a great job in conveying Magneto’s reactions to the deaths of a family and peaceful life, and to being emotionally manipulated by En Sabah Nur. Jennifer Lawrence continued to impress me with her excellent portrayal of the complex Raven aka “Mystique”. I found it fascinating to watch the 20-something actress portray a character who had become battle hardened and mature after spending two decades fighting on behalf of fellow mutants. Many critics have complained about Oscar Isaac’s portrayal of the movie’s main villain, En Sabah Nur aka “Apocalypse”. Apparently, they could not get past the actor’s make-up or mask. Well, I could. And I thought Isaac did a pretty damn good job in portraying a villain who was not only something of an egomaniac, but also a world-class manipulator. And he did so with great skill and subtlety.

I am not saying that “X-MEN: APOCALYPSE” was one of the best movies from the summer of 2016. Nor am I saying that it was one of the best in the “X-MEN” movie franchise. But I certainly do not believe that it was one of the worst. As far as I am concerned, the worst in the movie franchise was released four-and-a-half months earlier. But I thought it was something of an improvement over the convoluted plot that seemed to mar “X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST”, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction, Simon Kinberg’s screenplay and an excellent cast led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

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“TRUMBO” (2015) Review

I tried to think of a number of movies about the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and the Hollywood Blacklist I have seen. And to be honest, I can only think of two of which I have never finished and two of which I did. One of those movies I did finish was the 2015 biopic about Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.

Based upon Bruce Alexander Cook’s 1977 biography, the movie covered fourteen years of the screenwriter’s life – from being subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947 to 1960, when he was able to openly write movies and receive screen credit after nine to ten years of being blacklisted by the Motion Picture Alliance for the Protection of American Ideals. Due to this time period, it was up to production designer Mark Rickler to visually convey fourteen years in Southern California – from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. I must say that he, along with cinematographer Jim Denault and art directors Lisa Marinaccio and Jesse Rosenthal did an excellent job by taking advantage of the New Orleans locations. That is correct. Certain areas around New Orleans, Louisiana stood for mid-century Los Angeles, California. But the movie also utilized a few locations in Southern California; including a residential house in northeastern Los Angeles, and the famous Roosevelt Hotel in the heart of Hollywood. And thanks to Denault’s cinematography, Rickler’s production designs not only made director Jay Roach’s “Southern California” look colorful, but nearly realistic. But one of my minor joys of “TRUMBO” came from the costume designs. Not only do I admire how designer Daniel Orlandi re-created mid-20th century fashion for the film industry figures in Southern California, as shown in the images below:

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I was especially impressed by Orlandi’s re-creation of . . . you guessed it! Columnist Hedda Hopper‘s famous hats, as shown in the following images:

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I have read two reviews for “TRUMBO”. Both reviewers seemed to like the movie, yet both were not completely impressed by it. I probably liked it a lot more than the two. “TRUMBO” proved to be the second movie I actually paid attention to about the Blacklist. I think it has to do with the movie’s presentation. “TRUMBO” seemed to be divided into three acts. The first act introduced the characters and Trumbo’s problems with the House Committee on Un-American Activities, leading to his being imprisoned for eleven months on charges of contempt of Congress, for his refusal to answer questions from HUAC. The second act focused on those years in which Trumbo struggled to remain employed as a writer for the low-budget King Brothers Productions, despite being blacklisted by the major studios. And the last act focused upon Trumbo’s emergence from the long shadow of the blacklist, thanks to his work on “SPARTACUS” and “EXODUS”.

I have only one real complaint about “TRUMBO”. Someone once complained that the movie came off as uneven. And I must admit that the reviewer might have a point. I noticed that the film’s first act seemed to have a light tone – despite Trumbo’s clashes with Hollywood conservatives and HUAC. Even those eleven months he had spent in prison seemed to have an unusual light tone, despite the situation. But once the movie shifted toward Trumbo’s struggles trying to stay employed, despite the blacklist, the movie’s tone became somewhat bleaker. This was especially apparent in those scenes that featured the screenwriter’s clashes with his family over his self-absorbed and strident behavior towards them and his dealings with fellow (and fictional) screenwriter Arlen Hird. But once actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger expressed interest in ignoring the Blacklist and hiring Trumbo for their respective movies, the movie shifted toward a lighter, almost sugarcoated tone again. Now, there is nothing wrong with a movie shifting from one tone to another in accordance to the script. My problem with these shifts is that they struck me as rather extreme and jarring. There were moments when I found myself wondering if I was watching a movie directed by two different men.

Another problem I had with “TRUMBO” centered around one particular scene that featured Hedda Hopper and MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer. In this scene, Hopper forces Mayer to fire any of his employees who are suspected Communists, including Trumbo. The columnist did this by bringing up Mayer’s Jewish ancestry and status as an immigrant from Eastern Europe. This scene struck me as a blatant copy of one featured in the 1999 HBO movie, “RKO 281”. In that movie, Hopper’s rival, Louella Parsons (portrayed by Brenda Blethyn) utilized the same method to coerce – you guess it – Mayer (portrayed by David Suchet) to convince other studio bosses to withhold their support of the 1941 movie, “CITIZEN KANE”. Perhaps the filmmakers for “TRUMBO” felt that no one would remember the HBO film. I did. Watching that scene made me wonder if I had just witnessed a case of plagiarism. And I felt rather disappointed.

Despite these jarring shifts in tone, I still ended up enjoying “TRUMBO” very much. Instead of making an attempt to cover Dalton Trumbo’s life from childhood to death, the movie focused upon a very important part in the screenwriter’s life – the period in which his career in Hollywood suffered a major decline, due to his political beliefs. And thanks to Jay Roach’s direction and John McNamara’s screenplay, the movie did so with a straightforward narrative. Some of the film’s critics had complained about its sympathetic portrayal of Trumbo, complaining that the movie had failed to touch upon Trumbo’s admiration of the Soviet Union. Personally, what would be the point of that? A lot of American Communists did the same, rather naively and stupidly in my opinion. But considering that this movie mainly focused upon Trumbo’s experiences as a blacklisted writer, what would have been the point? Trumbo was not professionally and politically condemned for regarding the Soviet Union as the epitome of Communism at work. He was blacklisted for failing to cooperate with the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

Also, the movie did not completely whitewash Trumbo. McNamara’s screenplay did not hesitate to condemn how Trumbo’s obsession with continuing his profession as a screenwriter had a negative impact upon his relationship with his family – especially his children. It also had a negative impact with his relationship with fellow screenwriter (the fictional) Arlen Hird, who wanted Trumbo to use his work for the King Brothers to express their liberal politics. Trumbo seemed more interested in staying employed and eventually ending the Blacklist. I came away with the feeling that the movie was criticizing the screenwriter for being more interested in regaining his successful Hollywood career than in maintaining his politics.

“TRUMBO” also scared me. The movie scared me in a way that the 2010 movie, “THE CONSPIRATOR” did. It reminded me that I may disagree with the political or social beliefs of another individual; society’s power over individuals – whether that society came in the form of a government (national, state or local) or any kind of corporation or business industry – can be a frightening thing to behold. It can be not only frightening, but also corruptive. Watching the U.S. government ignore the constitutional rights of this country’s citizens (including Trumbo) via the House Committee on Un-American Activities scared the hell out of me. Watching HUAC coerce and frighten actor Edward G. Robinson into exposing people that he knew as Communists scared me. What frightened me the most is that it can happen again. Especially when I consider how increasingly rigid the world’s political climate has become.

I cannot talk about “TRUMBO” without focusing on the performances. Bryan Cranston earned a slew of acting nominations for his portrayal of Dalton Trumbo. I have heard that the screenwriter was known for being a very colorful personality. What is great about Cranston’s performance is that he captured this trait of Trumbo’s without resorting to hammy acting. Actually, I could say the same about the rest of the cast. Helen Mirren portrayed the movie’s villain, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper with a charm and charisma that I personally found both subtle and very scary. Diane Lane gave a subtle and very convincing performance as Trumbo’s wife Cleo, who not only stood by her husband throughout his travails, but also proved to be strong-willed when his self-absorption threatened to upset the family dynamics. Louis C.K., the comic actor gave a poignant and emotional performance as the fictional and tragic screenwriter, Arden Hird.

Other memorable performances caught my attention as well. Elle Fanning did an excellent job portraying Trumbo’s politically passionate daughter, who grew to occasionally resent her father’s pre-occupation with maintaining his career. Michael Stuhlbarg did a superb job in conveying the political and emotional trap that legendary actor Edward G. Robinson found himself, thanks to HUAC. Both John Goodman and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje gave colorful and entertaining performances as studio head Frank King and Trumbo’s fellow convict Virgil Brooks, respectively. Stephen Root was equally effective as the cautious and occasionally paranoid studio boss, Hymie King. Roger Bart gave an excellent performance as fictional Hollywood producer Buddy Ross, a venal personality who seemed to lack Robinson’s sense of guilt for turning his back on the blacklisted Trumbo and other writers. David James Elliot gave a very interesting performance as Hollywood icon John Wayne, conveying the actor’s fervent anti-Communist beliefs and willingness to protect Robinson from Hedda Hopper’s continuing hostility toward the latter. And in their different ways, both Dean O’Gorman and Christian Berkel gave very entertaining performances as the two men interested in employing Trumbo by the end of the 1950s – Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger.

I noticed that “TRUMBO” managed to garner only acting nominations for the 2015-2016 award season. Considering that the Academy Award tends to nominate at least 10 movies for Best Picture, I found it odd that the organization was willing to nominate the likes of “THE MARTIAN” (an unoriginal, yet entertaining feel-good movie) and “MAD MAX: FURY ROAD” (for which I honestly do not have a high regard) in that category. “TRUMBO” was not perfect. But I do not see why it was ignored for the Best Picture category, if movies like “THE MARTIAN” can be nominated. I think director Jay Roach, screenwriter John McNamara and a cast led by the always talented Bryan Cranston did an excellent job in conveying a poisonous period in both the histories of Hollywood and this country.