Favorite Movies and Television Set During the EARLY AMERICA Period

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Below is a list of my favorite movie and television productions set during the Early America Period (1783-1828):

 

FAVORITE MOVIES AND TELEVISION SET DURING THE EARLY AMERICA PERIOD

1

“John Adams” (2008) – Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney deservedly won both Emmys and Golden Globes for their excellent portrayals of John and Abagail Adams in this excellent seven-part miniseries about the 2nd U.S. president.

2

“The Journey of August King” (1995) – Jason Patric and Thandie Newton starred in this adaptation of John Ehle’s 1971 novel about a North Carolina farmer on his way home from market, who helps a runaway slave evade her master.

3

“Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” (1956) – This adventure conveyed the experiences of Davy Crockett and George Russel with keelboat riverman Mike Fink and river pirates along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Picturesque and a lot of fun. Fess Parker, Buddy Ebsen and Jeff York starred.

4

“Buccaneer’s Girl” (1950) – Yvonne DeCarlo starred in this entertaining costume romp about a Boston-born entertainer who falls for a pirate with a secret identity as a respectable New Orleans aristocrat. Directed by Fredrick De Cordova, the movie co-starred Philip Friend, Robert Douglas, Andrea King and Elsa Lancaster.

5

“Interview With a Vampire” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this fascinating adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a pair of vampires during a period of 200 years. Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas and Christian Slater co-starred.

6

“Brother Future” (1991) – Phil Lewis starred in the PBS movie about a Detroit teen who is transported back in time to 1822 South Carolina, where he finds himself about to participate in a slave revolt instigated by one Denmark Vessey.

7

“Sleepy Hollow” (1999) – Tim Burton directed Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci in this adaptation of Washington Irving’s 1820 short story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”

8

“The Seekers” (1979) – This adaptation of John Jakes’ 1975 novel about the Kent family’s experiences from 1794 to 1814. Randolph Mantooth, Timothy Patrick Murphy and George Hamilton starred.

9

“Many Rivers to Cross” (1955) – Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker starred in this western-comedy about a footloose frontiersman in early Kentucky, who is targeted by a spirited spinster for marriage. Directed by Roy Rowland.

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” (2011) Review

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES” (2011) Review

When the Disney Studios and producer Jerry Bruckheimer had first released news of their intention to make sequels to their 2003 hit movie, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”, I reacted to the news with a great deal of wariness. In fact, I was against the idea. But after seeing 2006’s “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” and 2007’s “AT WORLD’S END”, my opinion had changed. I ended up enjoying the two movies just as much as I had enjoyed “CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. . . especially the second film. 

About two years after “AT WORLD’S END” hit the theaters, the Disney people and Bruckheimer had released news of their intention to make a fourth film. Again, I expressed wariness at the idea. I thought the three movies released between 2003 and 2007 made a neat little trilogy. There was no need for a fourth movie. But Disney and Bruckheimer went ahead with their plans and a fourth movie was recently released. But unlike “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” and “AT WORLD’S END”, I found it difficult to enjoy PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES”.

I cannot say that I disliked the film. There were aspects of it that I genuinely enjoyed. Both Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush were in top form as Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Hector Barbossa. But I noticed something odd about their characters in this movie. For once, Jack did not have a particular goal to attain in this film. In “CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”, he was after the Black Pearl. He was after the chest that contained Davy Jones’ heart in “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” to be used to avoid a debt that he owned. And in “AT WORLD’S END”, he was still after Jones’ heart in order to gain the opportunity to become master of the Flying Dutchman and immortality. In this fourth movie, Jack seemed to have become swept up in Blackbeard and the British Crown’s agendas. And Barbossa seemed out of place as a privateer for His Majesty King George II and the Royal Navy. There was a scene that featured him eating slices of fruit arranged on a plate. He seemed to be doing his best to project the image of an officer and a gentleman . . . only he looked rather odd. However, both actors gave top notch performances and I could find nothing to complain about.

I could also say the same about the performances of Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane and Stephen Graham as Angelica, Edward “Blackbeard” Teach and a sailor named Scrum, respectively. All three were perfectly cast in their respective roles. Cruz did an excellent job in portraying the complex Angelica, who happened to be the daughter of Blackbeard. Although it is obvious that she is attracted to Jack – a former lover, she seemed to have this . . . need for her father’s love that made her into some kind of twisted Daddy’s girl wannabe. Unfortunately, McShane’s Blackbeard seemed like poor father material. There were times when he conveyed the image of a concerned and loving father. And yet, he proved to be nothing more than an emotional vampire who would easily kill his daughter if she got in the way of his goal – the Fountain of Youth. And I must admit that not only did McShane made a witty and terrifying Blackbeard, he handled his character’s twisted relationship with Angelica beautifully. Graham’s Scrum almost struck me as a younger version of Jack’s old friend, Joshamee Gibbs. And considering that the latter’s appearance in this film seemed somewhat limited, it seemed just as well that Graham received more screen time.

There were other aspects of “ON STRANGER TIDES” that I enjoyed. Or should I say, scenes? The mermaids’ attacks upon Blackbeard’s men and upon the H.M.S. Providence were among the most terrifying scenes I have seen in the franchise since the Kracken’s attacks in “DEAD MAN’S CHEST”. I also enjoyed the scene that featured Jack’s mutinous meeting with members of Blackbeard’s crew. Personally, I found it very funny and it brought back memories of former characters such as Pintel, Ragetti, Marty and Cotton. Jack’s meeting with King George II proved to be somewhat entertaining. And it led to an equally entertaining chase sequence through the streets of mid-18th century London. But my favorite scene featured Jack marooning Angelica on a deserted island, following the death of Blackbeard. The humor not only permeated strongly in their verbal exchange, but also in director Rob Marshall’s visual style. And I must admit that I also enjoyed the photography featured in the London scenes and the “island” where the Fountain of Youth was located. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski did justice to the lush Hawaii jungle that served as one of the movie’s settings.

So, if I had so much to enjoy about “ON STRANGER TIDES”, why did it fail to resonate within me in the end? What went wrong? At least for me? My main problem with the movie is that I felt it tried to repeat many aspects of the first film,“CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. This is odd, considering that “ON STRANGER TIDES” was allegedly inspired by Tim Powers’ 1987 novel, “On Stranger Tides”. The fourth film did not come off as a remake or anything of such. But there were too many aspects of the first film that seemed to be repeated in “ON STRANGER TIDES”. One, Jack’s reunion with Angelica in a London tavern almost seemed like a remake of his first meeting with Will Turner in “CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. Scrum almost seemed like a remake of Joshamee Gibbs. This is not surprising, since he had more scenes with Jack that Gibbs and the latter (along with actor Kevin McNally) seemed wasted in the movie. Two of Blackbeard’s crew turned out to be zombies (if you can call them that). And they seemed like remakes (physical and otherwise) of Barbossa’s first mate from the first film, Bo’sun. More importantly, the romance between missionary Philip Swift and the mermaid Syrena almost seemed like a remake of the Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann romance . . . but without the character developments. If I must be honest, Philip and Syrena’s romance nearly put me to sleep on several occasions. I feel sorry for actors Sam Claflin and Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. They seemed like two decent actors forced to work with a pair of boring and undeveloped characters.

There were other problems I had with “ON STRANGER TIDES”. The movie saw the return of Royal Navy officers Theodore Groves (from the first and third film) and Gillette (from the first film). What on earth did Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot did to their roles? Both characters almost seemed lobotomized. Well, Gillette did. Groves seemed to have lost his sense of humor. I recalled that he was a big fan boy of Jack in the first and third films. Yet, when he finally met Jack . . . nothing happened. He was too busy being a rather boring and stiff character. What happened to Jack and Barbossa’s own quests for the Fountain of Youth, which was first introduced in “AT WORLD’S END”? After a few years of failure, the audience is led to believe that Jack simply lost interest. And Barbossa’s earlier encounter with Blackbeard and the latter’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, led to the loss of one leg and the Black Pearl. And how did Barbossa managed to survive the loss of his leg. Apparently, Barbossa had to cut off his leg to free from Blackbeard’s enchanted ship lines. So, how did he manage to keep himself from bleeding to death in the ocean? How did he manage to swim to safety with one leg?

And then we come to the mermaids. How did the mermaids manage to destroy Barbossa’s ship, the H.M.S. Providence? It was one thing to lure men from small boats or smash said boats. It was another to do the same to a large frigate. I have never heard of such a thing in the mermaid mythology. One last major problem I had with the movie dealt with the presence of the Spanish. Like the British, they were after the Fountain of Youth. Only their leader, known as the Spaniard (portrayed by Óscar Jaenada), called himself destroying the Fountain in the name of his king and the Catholic Church, as some kind of stance against paganism. Worse, he possessed the very chalices that needed to be used to drink the Fountain’s water. Yet, he did not bother to smash them, until he was at the Fountain’s location. Why? And what in the hell were Elliot and Rossio thinking? Why include such a storyline that proved to be irrelevant, epsecially since Jack was able to use the Fountain’s water after its so-called destruction?

I hear that Disney Studios and Bruckheimer are planning a fifth movie. I can understand this decision, considering that“ON STRANGER TIDES” raked up a great deal of profit at the box office. Frankly, I wish they would change their minds. I honestly do not care how much money the movie had made. After watching it, I realized that a fourth movie should not have been made . . . at least from an artistic point of view. It featured too much sloppy writing and characterizations for me to truly enjoy. “ON STRANGER TIDES” might prove to be the first PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie that I cannot consider as a favorite.

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

“ALICE IN WONDERLAND” (2010) Review

I never understood director Tim Burton’s decision to name his latest film, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. I mean . . . why did he do it? His new movie was not another adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, ”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. It was a sequel set thirteen years after the original story. So why use the shortened version of the title from Carroll’s original title? 

Many of you might be wondering why I had just made a big deal about this new movie’s title. For me, it represented an example of what I consider to be the numerous missteps that prevented me from embracing Burton’s new movie. Before I continue, I should confess that I have never been a Tim Burton fan. Never. I can only recall two of his movie that knocked my socks off – 1994’s ”ED WOOD” and the 2007 Golden Globe nominee, ”SWEENY TODD”. I wish I could include”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” in that category, but I cannot. The movie simply failed to impress me.

As I had stated earlier, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” was a sequel to Carroll’s original story. Thirteen years after her original adventures in Wonderland, Alice Kingsleigh has become a nineteen year-old young woman on the verge of accepting a wedding proposal from one Hamish Ascot, the son of her late father’s partner, Lord Ascot. Unfortunately, Hamish is a shallow and self-absorbed young man with very little character. Salvation arrived during Hamish’s very public marriage proposal, when Alice spotted a familiar figure – the same White Rabbit who had previously lured her to Wonderland – scampering across Lord Ascot’s estate.

History repeated itself when Alice fell down into the rabbit hole. However, she soon discovered that Wonderland (orUnderland) had changed during her thirteen years absence. The Red Queen had managed to wreck havoc and assume control over most of Underland, thanks to her new ”champion” – a dragon known as the Jabberwocky. Only the realm of the Red Queen’s sister, the White Queen, has remained beyond the red-haired monarch’s reach. However, that situation threatened to change if the White Queen fails to acquire her own champion. A scroll called “the Oraculum” predicted that Alice will not only be the White Queen’s champion, but she will also defeat the Jabberwocky and end the Red Queen’s reign of terror. But due to her stubborn belief that Underland was and still is nothing but a dream, Alice was reluctant to take up the mantle of the White Queen’s champion.

Judging by the plot I had just described, ”ALICE OF WONDERLAND” should have been an enjoyable movie for me. Granted, Linda Woolverton’s script seemed like a typical ”slay the dragon” storyline that has been used in numerous fantasies. But it still had enough adventure, intrigue and personal angst for me to find it appealing. So, why did it fail to light my fire? Production designer Robert Stromberg created an interesting mixture of Gothic and animated styles for the film’s visuals in both the England and Wonderland sequences. Anthony Almaraz and his team of costume designers created lush and colorful costumes for the cast. And Dariusz Wolski’s photography brought out the best in the movie’s visual styles.

”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” could also boast some first-rate performances from the cast. Johnny Depp gave a wonderfully complicated performance as the Mad Hatter. His Mad Hatter was an interesting mixture of an extroverted personality and pathos, punctuated by bouts of borderline insanity. The Red Queen might possibly be one of Helena Bonham-Carter’s best roles. She struck me as the epitome of childishness, selfishness and cruelty. Crispin was slick, menacing and subtly funny as the Red Queen’s personal henchman, the Knave of Hearts. Anne Hathaway’s delicious portrayal of the White Queen reminded me of a Disney princess on crack. I really enjoyed it. Both Tim Piggott-Smith and Geraldine James (who were both in the 1985 miniseries, ”JEWEL IN THE CROWN”) gave solid performances as Alice’s potential in-laws – the kindly Lord Ascot and his shrewish and bullying wife, Lady Ascot. And Alan Rickman gave voice to the Blue Caterpillar in a deliciously sardonic performance. Despite my positive opinion of most of the film’s technical aspects and performances, it still failed to impress me. Why?

First of all, the movie rested upon the shoulders of Australian actress, Mia Wasikowska as the lead character, Alice Kingsleigh. I understand that Ms. Wasikowska has recently received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a suicidal teen in HBO’s ”IN TREATMENT”. It seemed a pity that she failed to be just as impressive as Alice in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Some people have labeled her performance as ”subtle”. I would call it ”insipid”. Or perhaps just plain boring. I swear I have never come across such a bland and boring performance in my life. No only did Wasikowska managed to make Alice’s battle against the Jabberwocky seem dull, she still came close to putting me to sleep in her character’s moments of triumph in the movie’s finale.

Tim Burton’s direction of ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” proved to be just as uninspiring to me, as Wasikowska’s performance. Actually, I found myself thinking of the 1992 movie, ”DEATH BECOMES HER”. I was not comparing the visual effects between the two movies. Meryl Streep had uttered a word in the 1992 movie that perfectly described my opinion of Burton’s direction. Flaccid. ”FLA-A-A-A-CI-I-ID!” How did a director with Burton’s reputation managed to take a solid fantasy adventure and make it one of the most boring films in recent Hollywood history is beyond me. His direction lacked any pep. Or spark. I had felt as if I was watching a piece of limp lettuce in action. I even began to wonder if Burton’s dull direction had affected Wasikowska’s performance. Then I remembered that actors like Depp and Bonham-Carter managed to rise above his direction. I might as well dump the blame of Wasikowska’s performance on her shoulders. As for Tim Burton . . . what is there to say? His direction simply disappointed me.

I might as well say something about the movie’s 3-D effects. They were not only disappointing to me, but also a waste of time and the extra cash I had to pay for the movie tickets. I did not care for the 3-D effects in ”AVATARS”, but it was an example of technical wizardry in compare to the 3-D photography shown in ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”. Speaking of”AVATAR”, I have one last thing to say in regard to 3-D . . . ’Damn you, James Cameron!”. Seriously. I would like to take the man’s head and bash it through a wall for introducing 3-D to the movie going experience. In the two movies I have seen it in, I found it unimpressive. Worse, I had to pay extra movie because movie theaters are more willing to show the 3-D versions of movies like ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND”, instead of the 2-D versions.

In short, ”ALICE IN WONDERLAND” had all of the hallmarks of a solid and entertaining movie experience for me. It was the continuation of a classic fantasy adventure. Talented actors like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham-Carter, Crispin Glover and Anne Hathaway gave first-rate performances. And I must admit that the movie’s production designs and photography gave it a unique visual style. But all of that could not save a movie hindered by pedestrian 3-D effects, a dull and insipid performance by Mia Wasikowska and an even more insipid direction by Tim Burton. Frankly, I think it is a miracle that this movie managed to become a box-office hit.

“PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

This month marks the 77th anniversary of when Depression-era bank robber, John Dillinger, was killed by the FBI in Chicago, Illinois. Below is my review of “PUBLIC ENEMIES”, the 2009 movie on the last year of Dillinger’s life: 

 

“PUBLIC ENEMIES” (2009) Review

I must admit that when I first heard about Michael Mann’s plans to film a movie about Depression-era bank robber, John Dillinger, I became excited. It was not the subject that roused my interest. But I found the idea of Mann shooting a movie set during the height of the Great Depression – 1933 to 1934 – rather interesting. It has become a period in U.S. history that has caught my interest in the past five years. And the fact that Johnny Depp and Christian Bale had been cast in the leads as Dillinger and his nemesis, FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, merely increased my interest.

At first, I had assumed that I would love ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. I assumed that Mann could do no wrong. Then to my surprise, I discovered that the film had received mixed reviews from film critics. From that moment on, I began to harbor doubts about the film’s quality. I never learn. Never. I had forgotten my most important rule about approaching a movie – the only opinion that should count for me is my own. And when I finally saw”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I realized that I had to learn that particular lesson all over again.

I want to point out that ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” is not perfect. This does not bother me one bit. Perfect movies are extremely rare. And I suspect . . . not know, but suspect I may have seen one or two in my lifetime. However,”PUBLIC ENEMIES” is not one of those rare examples of cinematic perfection. First of all, the movie – especially its first hour – seemed to be marred by an uncomfortable number of close-ups by cinematographer Dante Spinotti. This discomfort was especially apparent in action scenes like the prison escape from the Indiana State Prison featured in the film’s opening scene , “Pretty Boy” Floyd’s death at the hands of FBI Agent Melvin Purvis, and John Dillinger’s first bank robbery featured in the film. These close-ups brought back memories of the ones featured in Disney’s ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”.

But at the least the close-ups in the 2003 film were not further marred by quick editing done by Paul Rubell and Jeffrey Ford for this film. Watching their zip fast editing reminded me of those featured in movies like the last two”BOURNE” films, ”QUANTUM OF SOLACE”, both ”TRANSFORMERS” movies, ”THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3” and ”STAR TREK”. I suspect that this new editing style is fast becoming the new thing in the film industry. Personally, I hate it. I find it cheap and confusing.

I have one last complaint about the film and it has to do with David Wenham’s appearance in the film. The Australian actor portrayed Harry Pierpont, one of Dillinger’s closest friends and a mentor. Yet, he barely spoke a few words in the movie. In fact, he seemed more like a background character than a supporting one. Giovanni Ribisi had more lines in the film and his character, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, had no real close ties with Dillinger. Why did Mann and the two other screenwriters, Ronan Bennett and Ann Biderman, bothered to include the Pierpont character in the first place? Instead of at least a minor exploration of the Dillinger-Pierpont relationship, the screenwriters reduced Pierpont – Dillinger’s mentor – to a minor character with a few lines.

Now that I have put all of that negativity behind me, it is time to discuss why I had enjoyed ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”so much. Perhaps I am being a bit too subtle. I did not merely enjoy ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I loved it. It has easily become my favorite movie this summer. So far. Fast editing and close-ups aside, I must admit that I admire how director Michael Mann handled the movie’s pacing. I was surprised to learn about the criticisms leveled at the movie’s running time (two hours and nineteen minutes) and especially its alleged running time. Personally, I was impressed by Mann’s steady pace. Expecting the movie to be over two hours long, I was surprised to discover that amount of time had passed when the end credits finally began to roll. Perhaps I had been so caught up in the story that I failed to notice the time. Which is a compliment to Mann’s direction . . . at least from me.

Many scenes directed by Man left me spellbound. They include Baby Face Nelson’s murder of a FBI Agent at a hotel ambush set up by Purvis; Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana; his escape from said prison; the FBI ‘s capture of Dillinger’s girlfriend, Billie Frichette; Frichette’s interrogation and beating at the hands of a FBI agent; and Purvis’ conversation with prostitute and brothel madam, Anna Sage.

But there were four scenes . . . actually, two scenes and two sequences that truly impressed me. The first one featured Purvis’ telephone conversation with his boss, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. In it, Purvis tries to convince the irate Hoover that many of their agents are not experienced enough to hunt down the likes of Dillinger and Nelson and that they need to recruit more experienced men . . . like Texas Rangers. Despite the fact that the two actors portraying Purvis and Hoover do not share the screen, the emotion between their characters crackled like flames, thanks to their performances and Mann’s direction. The other scene featured Dillinger’s arrival in Indiana by plane, after being arrested by Federal agents in Tucson, Arizona. Although brief, it struck a surreal note within me, thanks to Spinott’s photography. The cinematographer shot the entire scene with colors that projected a soft iron, mingled with a reddish-orange tint from the sun. Very beautiful.

Although I found the scenes mentioned above very memorable, I was rendered speechless by the following sequences. The first centered around the violent shootout at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin in April 1934. I am certain that many critics and moviegoers had ended up comparing this sequence with the famous Downtown Los Angeles shootout in Mann’s 1995 movie, ”HEAT”. Granted, the latter turned out longer and was filmed in the daytime, but this Little Bohemia shootout turned out to be just as effective and exciting, despite being filmed at night. But if there is one sequence that filled me with great satisfaction, it was the one that featured the last night of Dillinger’s life. Mann, along with Spinotti, production designer Nathan Crowley, Rosemary Brandenburg’s set designs, Patrick Lumb, William Ladd Skinner’s art direction, the screenwriters and the cast did a superb job in conveying the director’s own detailed account of that hot, July night in 1934. I, for one, was glad that Mann took his time in leading to that moment when Texas Ranger Charles Winstead shot Dillinger dead. The director gave movie audiences a glimpse of street life in Depression-era Chicago during the summertime. He also allowed the audience to experience Dillinger’s pleasure in viewing Clark Gable’s spunk and Myrna Loy’s beauty in the 1934 MGM movie, ”MANHATTAN MELODRAMA”. With the camera, the audience waited nervously along with Purvis, Winstead and the other lawmen who waited outside the Biograph Theater for Dillinger. This is one of the most detailed and marvelously shot sequences I have ever seen on film in the past decade or two.

Another aspect of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” that struck me as unique was its style. Past movies about Depression-era criminals from the Midwest and the South like (1967) “BONNIE AND CLYDE”(1974) “MELVIN PURVIS, G-MAN”, and (1975) “THE KANSAS CITY MASSACRE” tend to have this rural or “good ‘ole boy” style, similar to movies and television shows like (1977) “SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT” and (1979-85) “THE DUKES OF HAZZARD”. These films were usually filled with a great deal of wild car chases, over-the-top acting and a Country-Western tune emphasizing the action. ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to go against this rural style. Instead, most of Mann’s Midwestern criminals are not some wild, country boys that went on a crime spree as some reaction against the Depression’s economic woes. His criminals – especially Dillinger – are professional criminals, whose experiences go back long before the first impact of the Depression. Nor is Mann’s Melvin Purvis is some long experienced “good ‘ole boy” lawman with a Mississippi Valley or Southwestern accent like Ben Johnson in(1973) “DILLINGER” or Dale Robertson in his two TV movies about the FBI agent. His Purvis is a lot closer to the real one, a South Carolinian gentleman in his early thirties, who happened to be a trained lawyer and an excellent shot. Both Dillinger and Purvis come off as more sophisticated than their portrayals featured in earlier movies. And the characters’ sophistication certainly reflected the movie’s more serious tone. Something I certainly had no problems with.

John Dillinger may turn out to be one of my favorite characters portrayed by Johnny Depp. Much has been made of Dillinger’s charm and joie de vivre . . . and Depp certainly did not hesitate to replicate it in front of the camera. One prime example of this charm was featured in Dillinger’s press conference inside the warden’s office at the Crown Point Prison in Indiana. I have seen the original 1934 newsreel featuring the famous press conference and I must say that Depp did a beautiful job of recapturing Dillinger’s actions – from the bank robber’s attitude, right down to his body language.

But there were other aspects of Dillinger’s personality that Depp did not hesitate to portray – his romantic charm that won Billie Frichette’s heart and cynical sense of humor. Most importantly, Depp’s performance reminded the audience that Dillinger had been capable of being a cold-blooded criminal. After all, he had drifted into crime long before the economic upheaval of the Depression. And Depp’s performance made that clear, whether his Dillinger was expressing fury at one colleague, whose beating of a prison guard led to the death of an old friend in the film’s opening prison break; his lack of remorse toward his many crimes, his connection to the Chicago mob; and his willingness to murder anyone who got in his way. Depp not only perfectly portrayed Dillinger as a charming and extroverted rogue, but also as a tender lover, a hardened criminal unwilling to give up his profession and if need be, a killer.

I have noticed that in the past two or three years, Christian Bale has found himself in the thankless task of portraying characters less flamboyant than his co-stars. This certainly seemed to be the case in the 2006 Victorian melodrama ”THE PRESTIGE” with the more outgoing Hugh Jackman; in the 2008 Batman sequel,”THE DARK KNIGHT”, in which his performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman contrasted sharply with Heath Ledger’s wildly chaotic Joker; and in the recent ”TERMINATOR SALVATION”, in which he seemed to be overshadowed in the eyes of many by the more overtly masculine Sam Worthington. Mind you, Bale gave superb performances in all of these films. Yet, his co-stars seemed to be grabbing most of the glory. This also seemed to be the case in ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, in which he portrays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent assigned to capture Dillinger, one way or the other. Whereas Depp’s Dillinger is all charm and flash, Bale’s Purvis is a resolute and educated South Carolina gentleman, who also happened to be a somewhat competent lawman determined to hunt down the bank robber by any means possible. And that included following Director Hoover’s insistence on ”taking the white gloves off” or insisting that the FBI recruit experienced Texas Rangers for the manhunt. Bale not only did an excellent job in conveying Purvis’ quiet determination in hunting down Dillinger, but the agent’s anxious fear that he may never capture the bank robber on a permanent basis. Bale also effectively portrayed Purvis’ ruthlessness in dealing with those who stood between him and Dillinger. Melvin Purvis is not a splashy role for Bale, but the latter certainly did an excellent job of portraying the lawman’s many personality facets.

Before I saw ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, I had feared that the addition of Billie Frichette (Dillinger’s girlfriend) into the story would make her presence irrelevant and threaten to drag the film. Fortunately, Mann and the other two screenwriters – Bennett and Biderman – along with Oscar winner Marion Cotillard did justice to the Frichette character. Cotillard gave an excellent performance as a hatcheck woman who captured Dillinger’s heart. She portrayed Frichette as a slightly melancholy woman who not only resented society’s bigotry against her ancestry (her mother was half French, half –Menominee), but also feared that her relationship with Dillinger may not last very long. One of Cotillard’s best moments featured the hatcheck woman being interrogated and beaten by one of Purvis’ agents, who is determined to learn Dillinger’s whereabouts. And despite being French-born and raised, Cotillard proved that she could use a Midwestern accent circa 1933, just as well as an American actress.

”PUBLIC ENEMIES” seemed to be filled with some memorable supporting roles. And a handful of performances stood out for me. I enjoyed Jason Clarke’s quiet and subtle performance as Dillinger’s close friend and colleague, the dependable John “Red” Hamilton, who seemed convinced that he and the bank robber were doomed to live short lives. Clarke especially shone in an emotional scene in which a badly wounded Hamilton tried to convince Dillinger to stop clinging fervently to all people and things that mattered too much to him. And there was Billy Crudup (a face I have been seeing with great frequency over the past few years), who gave an entertaining and sharp performance as FBI Director and publicity hound, J. Edgar Hoover. Crudup managed to capture a great deal of the legendary director’s personality as much as possible – especially Hoover’s staccato-style speech pattern. And his scenes with Bale brimmed with a layer of emotion that made their on-screen relationship one of the more interesting ones in the movie.

Another performance that caught my attention belonged to Stephen Graham as the trigger-happy Lester “Baby Face Nelson” Gillis. I have to give Graham kudos for effectively projecting a certain facet of Nelson’s persona from both Dillinger and Purvis’ points-of-view. In Dillinger’s eyes, Graham portrayed Nelson as a trigger happy clown and bad Cagney impersonator, whose criminal skills seemed to belong to an amateur. In his major scene with Purvis, Graham portrayed Nelson as a dangerous criminal, quite capable of efficiently killing Federal agents in cold blood. And it was a pleasant surprise to see the always competent Stephen Lang as Charles Winstead, one of the Texas Rangers recruited by Purvis to assist in the FBI manhunt for Dillinger. Lang first worked for Mann in 1986’s ”MANHUNTER” and the television series, ”CRIME STORY”. Since then, he has portrayed a vast array of memorable characters over the years. In ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”, he gave another excellent performance as the stoic and intimidating Winstead, whose vast experience with criminal manhunts allowed him to act as a de factomentor for the less experienced Purvis. One last performance that caught my attention belonged to Branka Katić’s portrayal of Anna Sage, the so-called ”Woman in Red” who had betrayed Dillinger to the FBI in Chicago. Actually, Sage never wore red on the night she led the FBI to the Biograph Theater and Dillinger. But that is beside the point. Katić gave an intelligent performance as the world-weary, Romanian-born madam that found herself forced to help the FBI ambush the bank robber.

Every now and then, I eventually come across some comparisons between ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” and ”HEAT”in some of the articles I have read about the former. And the comparison usually ends in the 1995 movie’s favor. Do I agree with this assessment? Honestly, I have no answer. Both movies are superb crime dramas with a few flaws. Whereas ”HEAT” managed to capture the miasma of late 20th century Los Angeles, ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” reeked with the slightly gray aura of the Depression-era Midwest . . . especially Chicago. And whereas the pacing for ”HEAT” threatened to drag in its last hour, the quick editing and constant close-ups nearly marred the first hour of ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”. But you know what? I love both movies.  And ”PUBLIC ENEMIES”proved to be another example of why Michael Mann continues to be one of my favorite movie directors.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END” (2007) Review

 

Pirates-Caribbean-Wit-End

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: At World’s End” (2007) Review

When I first saw the trailer for the third installment of the ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”, I thought I was in for an overblown and possibly unentertaining movie. Quite frankly, the trailer did not impress me very much. And then word came out once the movie was released around May 24-25 that the movie was either confusing or not as good as the first two. I had approached ”AT WORLD’S END”with very low expectations. Thankfully, my expectations proved to be wrong.

Was ”POTC 3” overblown? Yep. In fact, I can say the same about the first two movies. But at least the three movies were overblown in a manner that I found very enjoyable. And this third movie almost seemed to have an operatic quality about it. That operatic quality seemed to be focused around the movie’s two love stories – Will Turner/Elizabeth Swann (Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley) and Davy Jones/Tia Dalma aka Calypso (Bill Nighy and Naomie Harris). One would think that the saga’s main character – Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) and his main nemesis Hector Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) would be overlooked. But these two characters provided both plenty of humor and surprisingly, angst to the movie.

”AT WORLD’S END” does not really have a complicated plot. Thanks to James Norrington’s (Jack Davenport) treachery in ”DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, the world of piracy finds itself in danger due to Lord Cutler Beckett’s (Tom Hollander) possession of Davy Jones’s heart. With Jones and the Flying Dutchman under his control, Beckett has the power to rid the seas of pirates and ensure that the British Crown, the East India Trading Company and himself will have control of the world’s seas. The recently resurrected Barbossa seemed to feel that the only way to stop Beckett is to summon the nine pirate lords of the Brethren Court. Both he and the recently deceased Jack Sparrow happened to be part of the Brethren Court. Because Jack had failed to name a successor, Barbossa needs Jack alive to take part in the meeting of the pirate lords. Will, who had witnessed a kiss between Elizabeth and Jack in ”DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, wants Jack alive for two reasons – he believes that Elizabeth is in love with Jack and he needs the Black Pearl to catch up with the Flying Dutchman. Elizabeth wants to bring Jack back to alleviate her guilt for luring the eccentric pirate to his death in the last film. Tia Dalma, the Vodoun priestess who had resurrected Barbossa needs both the latter and Jack for the “pieces of nine” that represent their positions as pirate lords. Those same pieces of nine could free Dalma from her bodily prison, enabling to become her true identity, the goddess Calypso.
Due to the needs and desires of the main characters, a great deal of double-crossing and back stabbing ensues – especially by Jack, Will and Barbossa. Another pirate lord, Sao Feng (Chow Yun Fat), gets into the act because he wants revenge against Jack for sleeping with his concubines . . . and to ensure his survival against Beckett’s purge.

I thought I would have trouble keeping up with so much treachery being committed. Oddly enough, I never did – aside from a few points. If Barbossa, Will and Elizabeth needed a ship so badly to reach the World’s End (Davy Jones’ Locker), how on earth did they reach Singapore in the first place? And I have to criticize the writers Terry Rossio and Ted Elliot for their vague explanation of the curse that had bound both Davy Jones and later, Will to command of the Flying Dutchman. Many fans – including myself – were forced to use the Internet to find out the details of the curse. Rossio and Elliot should have done a better job . . . and they nearly failed. Other than that, I truly enjoy the movie’s story and have to commend the writers for doing a better job than I had anticipated.

The cast was exceptional as always. What can one say about Johnny Depp? His performance in this movie seemed even better than in the second film. I especially enjoyed three moments by Depp – his multifaceted performance of the many aspects of Jack’s personality in the Locker; the serious moment between Jack and Barbossa as the latter pointed out the folly of Jack’s tendency to run from trouble; and his look of horror when Jones managed to fatally stab Will. I had no idea that dear old Jack truly cared about Will.

And Geoffrey Rush came pretty close to stealing the picture from Depp. This time, his Barbossa turned out to be a much more complex and ambiguous than he was in”CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. Sure, we saw more of Barbossa’s villainy and double-crossing. But this is the same guy who also had no problems with marrying Will and Elizabeth . . . even in the middle of a sea battle. I swear that was one of the craziest wedding ceremonies I have ever seen on the movie screen. And when he double-crossed Jack for the last time, at least he was kind enough not to put Jack’s life in jeopardy.

Both Naomie Harris (who seemed a bit scary at times) and Bill Nighy provided great pathos as the romantically doomed Tia Dalma (Calypso) and Davy Jones. I especially enjoyed their scene in which each confronted the other with their past betrayals. Tom Hollander seemed to take great pleasure in his portrayal of the villainous Lord Beckett. Quite frankly, I can say the same about Chow Yun Fat, who seemed to enjoy delving into Sao Feng’s villainy. I had feared he would end up chewing the scenery, so to speak. Instead, he managed to come off as intimidating as Rush, Hollander and Nighy (and Harris, I may add). My only real complaint has to be Jack Davenport’s presence in the movie. Davenport has allowed his James Norrington to become a sad figure haunted by his ever-continuing love for Elizabeth and his betrayal in the last film. My complaint is that there was not enough of him. Hell, the guy who portrayed Beckett’s right hand man – Mercer – had received more screen time. And there is something wrong with that.

But I feel that the movie truly belonged to Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as the young lovers – Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. The pair’s characters and performances really struck a chord with me. Instead of the naïve and sweet lovers they had portrayed in the first film, the pair had become more ambiguous and complex. It seemed interesting to watch these two deal with each other’s insecurities, mistaken beliefs and constant sniping. They actually seemed like a real couple, instead of an idealized one. Most of the movie critics have praised Knightley for her performance. Granted, it was a major improvement over her acting in ”DEAD MAN’S CHEST” in which she had seemed a bit over-the-top at times, I do believe that Bloom deserved some of that praise, as well. But because he is a major teen idol, the critics have seemed fit to either ignore him or make insulting comments about his acting. I can only assume that their noses were so far up their asses that they failed to notice Bloom’s obvious talent for pathos . . . or the fact that he can be rather funny – especially in a scene in which he had volunteered to take command of the Black Pearl in the middle of one of Jack and Barbossa’s many shipboard quarrels. I hope that one day, Bloom will finally be appreciated as a good and dependable actor.

The movie has its flaws – especially the vague handling of the Flying Dutchman curse and James Norrington’s character – but I must admit that I was surprised that I managed to enjoy it a lot more than I had assumed I would.  Everyone knows that Bruckheimer will release a fourth ”PIRATES” movie, directed by Rob Marshall. I honestly have no idea on how to react to that.  He is lucky in which he has managed to produce three exceptional films. I cannot help but wonder if Bruckheimer and Disney are in danger of pushing their luck with this fourth one. Oh well. Only time will tell.

9/10

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST” (2006) Review

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST” (2006) Review

First of all, I would like to say that originally, I had not been that keen on the idea of a sequel or two to “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. I simply did not think that the 2003 movie needed a sequel. It had ended just fine, as far as I was concerned. And I suspect that many “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” fans still feel this way. In end, I am glad that Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski had went ahead and forged a trilogy out of the franchise. To my surprise, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST” has become my favorite of the three movies.

That said, here are my thoughts on this film:

*At first I had thought that the first movie was better. Which is not surprising to me. Sequels are rarely better than the first movie – the STAR WARSX-MEN and SPIDER-MAN franchises being the exceptions. But upon second viewing, I will add that “DEAD MAN’S CHEST” also became amongst the exceptions. I do not believe that it was better or worse than the“CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”. I feel that it is just as good, only darker . . . with a cliffhanger at the end. I must congratulate the two screenwriters, Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, along with director Gore Verbinski for taking the story in a new direction, instead of rehashing the success of the first movie.

*At first, I did not care for the sequences featuring the cannabalistic Pelegostos. I did not like the idea of Jack Sparrow being some kind of god to them, or even the idea of them being cannibals. It seemed to smack of old Hollywood cliches regarding whites’ encounters with “non-white savages”. Yet, upon repeated viewings, one could see that Verbinski, Elliot and Russio took this cliche and turned it on its heels with the portrayal of the Pelegostos being more than just savages. The director and two screenwriters showed that despite their status as cannibals, the Pelegostos were just as human as anyone else, thanks to the comic acting of the cast members portraying the group. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the Black Pearl crew’s escape from the Pelegostos. It was filled with excitement, great humor and good acting. In fact, it is one of my favorite sequences in the entire trilogy.

*I also have to congratulate Elliot and Russio for allowing the characters to develop even more since the first movie – especially Will Turner (portrayed by the very underappreciated Orlando Bloom), Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightly), and James Norrington (Jack Davenport). Even dear old Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp in all his glory) had managed to develop somewhat by the end of the film. And all of the major actors – including Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs; and Lee Arnberg and MacKenzie Crook as Pintel and Rigetti – were excellent. Not much of a surprise, really.

*“DEAD MAN’S CHEST” also introduced four new characters to the franchise – the perceptive and charming Vodoun priestess, Tia Dalma (Naomi Harris); the vindictive and deadly Captain Davy Jones (Bill Nighy) who commanded the ghost ship, the Flying Dutchman; Will’s gloomy father, Bootstrap Bill Turner (Stellan Skarsgård); and the ruthless and manipulative representative of the East India Trading Company, Lord Cutler Beckett (Tom Hollander). Skarsgård gave a solid performance, and the other three actors – Harris, Nighy and Hollander – were fabulous.

*Many have expressed dislike of Elizabeth Swann for what she had done to Jack. What many had forgotten was that Will had more or less done the same thing to Jack – leave him for dead – in the first film.

Despite my low expectations of the movie, I am surprised that I grew to love it so much. Even more surprising was the fact that it became my favorite in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. However, the movie’s final scene featuring the resurrection of Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush) was BRILLIANT. It had one of the best cliffhangers I have ever seen on film. On the whole, I would give “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST” an “A-“. I am taking points off for the Pelegostos sequence. I may be more tolerant of it, but I do not love it. Quite frankly, I would rather see“DEAD MAN’S CHEST” over again, than watch the likes of “SUPERMAN RETURNS” (which was released around the same period) again.

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL” (2003) Review

 

“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL”(2003) Review

Nearly eight years ago, ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: Curse of the Black Pearl” had burst upon the movie screens and to the surprise of many, became a major hit. Even more surprising, the movie ended up spawning a wildly successful movie trilogy within another four years and also a new cinematic icon for the 21st century – Captain Jack Sparrow. 

Judging from the forums and blogs on the Internet, it seems to me that ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is the most popular film in the”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise. In a way, I can understand. It lacked the darker aspects of the two sequels that followed. Directed by Gore Verbinski and produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, ”Curse of the Black” is based upon the attraction at the Disney parks. In it, the pirates of the ship known as the Black Pearl, led by the vile Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), need to restore the missing piece of the ancient Aztec gold treasure of Cortes and sacrifice the blood of “Bootstrap” Bill Turner to save themselves from eternal punishment owing to a curse that fell upon them when they stole the gold. The buccaneers attack Port Royal and kidnap Miss Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) who has the missing piece of gold. In order to rescue Miss Elizabeth Swann, William Turner (Orlando Bloom) enlists the help of the fabled Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who devises an ingenious plan to retrieve the Black Pearl from his mutinous former first mate, Captain Barbossa, and help William Turner save the love of his life

Screenwriters Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio created a frolicking tale filled with swashbuckler action, an interesting supernatural story that involved cursed treasure and undead pirates, and sharp humor that almost bordered on the cock-eyed. Most of this humor came from the leading man himself, the excruciatingly talented Johnny Depp. His portrayal of the morally ambiguous and androgynous Captain Jack Sparrow took a great deal of moviegoers and critics by surprise. He certainly took me by surprise. No other actor in Hollywood or anywhere else has ever portrayed a pirate in this manner. Not surprisingly, Depp won an Academy Award nomination and a Screen Actors Guild award for his performance.

It seemed a shame that Geoffrey Rush had failed to earn any acting nominations for his performance as the menacing Captain Barbossa. Come to think of it, his performance was more than menacing. Like Depp, he gave a performance filled with a great deal of off-the-wall humor and sharp dialogue. I also enjoyed Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley’s performances as the star-crossed young lovers, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. Ironically, both actors seemed to have better chemistry with either Depp, Rush or both than with each other. Until the final battle. And I found that odd, considering that their screen chemistry seemed a lot more convincing in the final action scene inside the large cavern on Isla de Muerta and in the two following sequels. I wonder if this had anything to do with the fact that Will and Elizabeth spent most of this suppressing their feelings for one another.

As for the rest of the cast that made up the movie, they were superb. Jack Davenport gave a commanding, yet sardonic performance as Will’s romantic rival – Commodore James Norrington of the Royal Navy. Mind you, Davenport really grew into the role in ”Dead Man’s Chest”, but he did a good job in this film. And what would a ”PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” be without Kevin R. Nally as Josiah Gibbs, Lee Arnberg as Pintel and MacKenzie Crook as Rigetti? I could list all of the supporting characters that made this movie memorable, but it would take forever. I will simply state that Verbinski was very lucky to find himself with an excellent cast.

I had noted earlier ”Curse of the Black Pearl” is not as dark as its two successors. I wonder if this is the reason why many fans prefer it over the other two. If I have to be honest, I do not share the same sentiments. Do not get me wrong. I love this movie. But it is not my favorite ”PIRATES” movie. That honor goes to the second film – ”Dead Man’s Chest”. As much as I love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”, there were times I wish it had been a little more ambiguous. With the exception of the Jack Sparrow character, the other characters are clearly either the good guys or the bad guys. There seemed to be little room for moral ambiguity.

There was another aspect of ”Curse of the Black Pearl” that I had noticed – even when I first saw the film. For a movie set in the Caribbean, I really did not see much of it. Yes, there were scenes set aboard ships. But aside from a sequence featuring Jack Sparrow’s arrival at Port Royal and his first meeting of Elizabeth and Norrington, the movie never really captured the aura of the Caribbean – at least for me. And I had noticed something else. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski used a lot of close ups in his shots. I remembered that those close ups made me feel slightly dizzy and claustrophic when I first saw the movie.

Despite certain elements of the film that did not appeal to me – Wolski’s photography and the less ambiguous tone of most of the characters – I still love ”Curse of the Black Pearl”. I love the story, Klaus Badelt’s score, Gore Verbinski’s direction, and the characters. Especially Johnny Depp’s performance. Hopefully, this movie and the two that followed and the fourth that is soon due in theaters, will one day be viewed as film classics. They are already classics in my eyes.