“WONDER WOMAN” (2017) Review

 

“WONDER WOMAN” (2017) Review

Since the release of “MAN OF STEEL” back in 2013, the D.C. Comics Extended Universe (DCEU) franchise has been in a conundrum. Although the 2013 film and with the two movies that followed – “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”and “SUICIDE SQUAD” – were all box office hits, they had been heavily condemned by many film critics. Then along came “WONDER WOMAN”, the first superhero movie that featured a woman in the lead since 2005. 

Directed by Patty Jenkins, “WONDER WOMAN” is basically a flashback on the origins of Princess Diana of Thymerica aka Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman. Some time after the events of “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, Diana received a package at her Antiquities Curator office at the Louvre Museum. It came from Bruce Wayne aka Batman and it contained the original photographic plate of her, Steve Trevor and their comrades during World War I:

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The photographic plate led Diana to recall her past, starting with her childhood on Thymerica Island. While being raised by her mother, the Amazonian Queen Hippolyta, Diana learns about Zeus’ creation of mankind and his son Ares’ jealousy of his father’s creation and the latter’s attempts to destroy humans. After the other Mount Olympus gods were killed by Ares, because of their attempts to stop him, Zeus created a weapon for the Amazonians, a “Godkiller”, in case Ares decides to return. Although Queen Hippolyta has no trouble telling Diana about Zeus, Ares and the other Mount Olympus gods; she forbids her sister and military leader of the Amazons, Antiope, to train Diana. Eventually she relents and demands that Antiope train Diana harder than the other Amazons.

During the last year of World War I, Diana rescues an American military pilot named Captain Steve Trevor, after his plane crashes off Themyscira’s coast. The island is soon invaded by German sailors from a cruiser, pursuing Trevor. The Amazons engage and kill all of the German sailors, but Antiope sacrifices herself to save Diana. Interrogated with the Lasso of Hestia, Trevor informs the Amazons about World War I, his position as an Allied spy and his mission to deliver a notebook he had stolen from the Spanish-born chief chemist for the German Army, Dr. Isabel Maru. The latter is attempting to engineer a deadlier form of mustard gas for General Erich Ludendorff at a weapons facility in the Ottoman Empire. Against her mother’s wishes, Diana decides to help Steve’s war efforts by leaving Themyscira and accompanying him to London. Recalling Hippolyta’s tales about Ares, she believes the latter is responsible for the war and hopes to kill him with the help of the Lasso of Hestia and the “Godkiller” sword that Zeus had left behind.

As I had earlier pointed out, “WONDER WOMAN” received a great deal of critical acclaim. In fact, it proved to be the first film in the DCEU franchise to do so, leading many to regard it as better than its three predecessors. Do I feel the same about the movie? Not quite. Do not get me wrong, “WONDER WOMAN” struck me as a first-rate movie that I found very entertaining. As a woman, I found it personally satisfying that it proved to the first successful comic book heroine film. More importantly, it was also the first comic but the first to be directed by a woman. In the end, “WONDER WOMAN” became one of my top favorite movies from the summer of 2017. Many people were surprised that most of the film – namely the flashback – was set during the last month of World War I, especially since Wonder Woman’s origin began during World War II. It could be that Warner Brothers wanted to avoid any comparisons with Marvel’s Captain America, whose origin began around the same time. I am glad that the movie was mainly set during World War. One, I feel that it would have been compared to Marvel’s 2011 film, “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER”. But more importantly, the World War I setting meshed better with the film’s portrayal of one of the villains, Erich Ludendorff. And without the World War I setting, I would have never experienced one of the best action sequences I had seen this summer – Wonder Woman’s foray into “No Man’s Land”, as seen in the images below:

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Thinking about the No Man’s Land” sequence reminded me of other action scenes in the movie that I found satisfying. Those scenes include a montage of Diana’s training as a warrior, the Amazons’ defense of Thymerica against invading German sailors, Diana and Steve’s encounter with a group of German spies in a London alley. The “No Man’s Land” sequence eventually led to another fight in which Diana, Steve and their companions led a liberation of the Belgian town Veld, which had been occupied by the Germans. You know what? It is possible that I may have enjoyed this sequence even more than the charge across “No Man’s Land”. One, it lasted longer. And the sequence featured more of a team effort between Diana, Steve, their three companions and troops from the Allied Powers. In fact, one scene featured Steve remembering an Amazonian tactic from the Thymerica battle and utilizing it with Diana in Veld. I literally smiled at that moment.But “WONDER WOMAN” was not all about action scenes. Personally, I regard the movie as a character study of its lead character. Ever since Diana had informed Bruce Wayne that she had walked away from mankind for nearly a century in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”, I have always wondered what led her to become that slightly cynical woman. For me, “WONDER WOMAN” told that story . . . to a certain extent, thanks to Allan Heinberg’s screenplay. The Princess Diana aka Diana Prince that we see in this film is an intelligent woman with a fierce sense of justice and duty. Whereas her mother and other fellow Amazons want to isolate themselves from humanity and the rest of the world at large, Diana views Steve’s arrival and his revelation about the war being raged to save humanity from what she believed was Ares’ destructive influence. Diana is also portrayed as a compassionate woman incapable of turning a blind eye to the devastating effects of war upon the Belgian civilian population and servicemen like Charlie, a Scottish sharpshooter and ally of Steve’s, who suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PSTD). She also possessed enough compassion to become aware of the discrimination that Steve’s other two friends faced – the Blackfoot warrior and smuggler Chief Napi and the French Moroccan secret agent, Sameer.But Diana’s belief in Ares’ role in the Great War also revealed some negative aspects of her personality. One aspect of Diana’s personality in this film was her naivety. There were scenes in which her naivety about the “world of man” that I found humorous – namely her shopping trip with Steve’s assistant, Etta Camp; her introduction to ice cream; and her discussions with Steve about human sexuality. But there were plenty of times when I found her naivety very frustrating – especially in those scenes in which Steve tries to explain the true ambiguous nature of human beings and the war. A good example was Diana’s interruption of the Allied Powers’ high command and her attempt to instruct the generals on how to “run a war”. Many found this scene as an example of Diana’s feminine empowerment. I found it as an example of her naivety and a bit of arrogance on her part. In these scenes, Diana seemed to display a stubborn, almost hard-headed and blind reluctance to let go of her misguided beliefs. Because of this unwillingness to believe she might be wrong about matters, Diana killed one of the characters believing him to be Ares without any real proof. I found this moment rather frightening. This hard-headed trait revealed what I believe was one example of Diana’s penchant for extreme behavior. Diana’s angry and frightening reaction to Steve’s sacrifice was another example. And the hard lessons she had learned about humanity, along with personal tragedy, led to her almost century long foray into emotional isolation. In many ways, Diana’s journey is that if an idealist, whose positive assumptions had been ripped away in the most painful manner.

While watching “WONDER WOMAN”, it seemed obvious to me that Patty Jenkins is more than a competent director. She is obviously first-rate. Mind you, I do not believe that she possesses Zack Snyder’s razor-sharp eye for imagery. And yet, judging from the sequences of the Thymerica battle, Diana and Steve’s arrival in London; along with the outstanding “No Man’s Land” sequence, it seems obvious to me that Jenkins has a solid grasp of imagery and is capable of being a visually original director. It helped that cinematographer Matthew Jensen and film editor Martin Walsh contributed to Jenkins’ visual presentation of “WONDER WOMAN”. I would not consider the costume designs from “WONDER WOMAN” to be among the best of Lindy Hemming’s career and a costume designer. But I thought she did an excellent job in designing the Greco-style costumes for the Amazons – including Diana’s Wonder Woman costume. And I found her re-creation of the 1918 wartime costumes for the characters of both genders well done:

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Although I believe there is a great deal to admire about “WONDER WOMAN”, I do have a few complaints. One of them happened to be Jenkins’ use of slow-motion filming in many of the film’s action sequences. Yes, I realize that Jenkins was not the first director to use this form of filming action scenes. Her fellow DCEU director, Zack Snyder, was notorious for his use of this technique – especially in his pre-DCEU films. Unfortunately, I found myself getting tired of the slow-motion technique not long after ten to fifteen minutes into the film. I mean . . . good grief! Jenkins not only used it in the film’s every action sequence, but also in one scene that featuring one of the Amazons’ combat training sessions. I just got tired of it . . . really fast.My second problem with the film centered around the final action scene between Wonder Woman and Ares. I had no problems with Ares’ revelation about his identity. And I certainly had no problems with his revelations about the true nature of humanity and the war itself. And I found Wonder Woman’s reactions to his revelations and Steve Trevor’s sacrifice rather interesting. But why . . . why in God’s name did Jenkins and Heinberg find it necessary to have Diana say the following line to Ares before their final duel?“It’s about what you believe. And I believe in love. Only love will truly save the world.”

While the sentiment is lovely, it contradicted Diana’s cynical attitude and words to Bruce Wayne, following Clark Kent’s death in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”:

“A hundred years ago I walked away from mankind; from a century of horrors… Men made a world where standing together is impossible.”

Now, one could say that Diana had acquired this attitude during the 97 years between her showdown with Ares and the incident with Doomsday. But she made it clear to Bruce that she had walked away “a hundred years”, which is roughly between the end of World War I and “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN”, save a three years. Why did Jenkins and Heinberg allow her to spout that line about how love with save the world? Was this some emotional sop to those critics and moviegoers who wanted to pretend that Diana had managed to avoid wallowing in her grief over Steve and disappointment over Ares’ revelation? If so, that is bad writing . . . or bad timing. Jenkins and Heinberg could have saved the line for Diana’s narration at the end of the movie. After she had received the photographic plate and Steve’s watch from Bruce . . . and after she had finally lifted herself from her cynicism and detached air.

I certainly had no complaints about the movie’s performances. Mind you, there were two performances that failed to knock my socks off. One came from veteran actor Danny Huston, who found himself saddled with the clichéd riddled character of General Erich Ludendorff. Huston did not give a bad performance. Being a first-rate actor, he did the best that he could with the material given to him. But the screenwriter’s portrayal of the character reeked with the Hollywood cliché of an aggressive German military officer, straight from the “Ve haf vays of making you talk” school of screenwriting. And I believe this may have hampered Huston’s performance. I also had a slight problem with Eugene Brave Rock, who portrayed one of Steve Trevor’s allies, Chief Napi. Rock was not a bad actor and I found him very likeable. But it was easy for me to see that he was not exactly the most experienced actor. And I was not surprised to discover that he had spent most of his film career as a stuntman and stunt trainer. When Ewan Bremner first appeared in the film, I suspected that he had been cast to portray another one of the many comic roles he has portrayed in the past. However, his character Charlie proved to be another kettle of fish. Thanks to Bremner’s skillful performance, Charlie proved to be a tragic figure whose peace of mind had been ravaged by the violence of war. Elena Anaya, whom I have never heard of before this film, gave an intelligent and intense performance asIsabel Maru aka Doctor Poison, the Spanish-born chemist recruited to create chemical weapons for the German Army and specifically, for General Ludendorff. Unlike the latter, Dr. Maru is a villainess straight from the pages of the D.C. Comics titles for Wonder Woman. And yet, thanks to Anaya’s performance, she was not portrayed in a ham-fisted manner. But I must admit that I adored Saïd Taghmaoui’s portrayal of French Moroccan secret agent, Sameer. I found his performance charming, witty and very intelligent. And in my view, he had the best line in the movie (about Diana, of course):

“I am both frightened… and aroused.”

Connie Nielsen’s portrayal of Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta of Thymerica proved to be more interesting that I had assumed it would be. Frankly, I thought Queen Hippolyta would be a somewhat bland parent figure, who was simply protective of her only daughter. In the end, Hippolyta’s protectiveness toward her daughter proved to have a major impact upon the latter. This same protectiveness, along with her world-weary response to Diana’s decision to leave Thymerica revealed the true, ambiguous nature of the character and Nielsen did an excellent job in conveying it. Robin Wright had an easier time in her portrayal of Diana’s aunt, Antiope. The actress not only did a great job, I was especially impressed at how she embraced the more physical aspects of the role. After all, Antiope was the Amazonian army’s lead general. I was very surprised to learn that the actress who portrayed Etta Candy, Steve Trevor’s assistant, was none other than Lucy Davis, who had a supporting role in the 1995 miniseries, “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”. Personally, I adored her portrayal of Etta. Like Taghmaoui, she was a walking embodiment of charm and wit. I especially enjoyed Davis’ performance in the scene that featured Diana and Etta’s shopping trip. David Thewlis gave a superficially pleasant performance as the dignified Sir Patrick Morgan, a diplomatic liaison with the Imperial War Cabinet. I found him intelligent, subtle and a little tricky.

I have a confession to make. I have always liked Gal Gadot as a screen presence. Honestly. She has a very strong presence. But I have never considered her as a top-notch actress . . . until recent years. But I must admit that her portrayal of Princess Diana of Thymerica aka Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman really knocked my socks off. I was impressed at how Gadot managed to portray Diana during two distinctive phases in her life – the naive, yet stubborn young woman who seemed convinced that she knows what is best for the world in this film; and the cynical and weary woman who is somewhat contemptuous of the world in “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. And she did such a marvelous job in conveying this two phases in Diana’s life . . . in two different films. Ms. Gadot has come a long way. I think Steve Trevor might one of my favorite roles portrayed by Chris Pine. Aside from the fact that he has great chemistry with Gadot, Pine gave a very entertaining portrayal of the American intelligence officer who first befriends Diana and later, falls in love with her. I found it fascinating to watch Pine convey Steve’s intelligence, cunning and wry sense of humor. I also found it fascinating to watch how Pine conveyed Steve’s struggles with Diana’s naivety, stubborness and impulsive behavior. And he did so with a great deal of skill.

“WONDER WOMAN” is the fourth film released through the D.C. Comics Extended Universe (DCEU). And like the other three, I found myself not only enjoying it very much, but also impressed by it. Aside from a few flaws, I thought director Patty Jenkins did a first-rate job in telling movie audiences the story of how Princess Diana of Thymerica became Wonder Woman . . . and how she also became that world weary woman from 2016’s “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. And she did so with a first-rate movie crew and a wonderful cast led by Gal Gadot.

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” (2017) Review

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“PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” (2017) Review

I have a confession to make. When the Disney Studios had released the fourth movie in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise, I wished they had never done it. I wished that a fourth film had never been made. I also believed that the franchise was fine after three movies. Then I learned that a fifth film was scheduled to be released this summer and . . . yeah, I was not pleased by the news. But considering that I can be such a whore for summer blockbusters, I knew that I would be watching it. 

Directed by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” seemed to be a story about the search for the trident of the sea god Poseidon. Two years after the post-credit scene from 2007’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”, Henry Turner, the son of Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann Turner boards the Flying Dutchman to inform his father of his discovery that the mythical Trident of Poseidon is able to break the Flying Dutchman’s curse and free him from his ship. Henry plans to seek Jack Sparrow’s help to find it. Will does not believe the Trident exists and orders Henry to leave his ship and stay away from Jack. Nine years later, Henry finds himself serving aboard a British Royal Navy warship as a seaman. He realizes the ship is sailing into the Devil’s Triangle. The captain dismisses his concerns and has Henry locked up for attempting a mutiny. Upon entering the Triangle, the ship’s crew discovers a shipwreck that belongs to a Spanish Navy officer named Captain Armando Salazar and his crew, who had become part of the undead after being lured into the Triangle. Salazar and his crew slaughter everyone on board the warship, except for Henry. Discovering that Henry is searching for Jack, Salazar instructs Henry to tell Jack that death is coming his way. Some twenty to thirty years earlier, Salazar was a notorious pirate hunter who had been lured into the Triangle and killed by Jack, who was the young captain of the Wicked Wench at the time. Due to the Triangle’s magic, Salazar and his crew became part of the undead.

Years later, a young woman named Carina Smyth is about to be executed for witchcraft on the British-held island of Saint Martin, due to her knowledge of astronomy and horology. She is also interested in finding the Trident, for she sees it as a clue to her parentage. During a prison break, she gets caught up in an attempt by Jack and his small crew, which includes Joshamee Gibbs and Scrum (from the fourth film), to steal a bank vault on the island of Saint Martin. Jack is abandoned by his crew when the vault turns up empty. Desolate, he gives up his magical compass for a drink at a tavern and unexpectedly frees Salazar and his crew from the Triangle. He is also captured by the British Army. Carina meets Henry, who is awaiting execution for what happened aboard his ship. Both realize that for different reasons, they are searching for Poseidon’s Trident. Henry escapes, but Carina finds herself a prisoner again. Henry arranges both hers and Jack’s escape from execution. Jack also becomes interested in finding the Trident, for he hopes to use it free himself from Salazar’s wrath.

I once came upon an article that complained about the lack of consistency in the “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN”franchise. When I first heard about this movie, I must admit that I was annoyed to learn that Will Turner would still be entrapped by the Flying Dutchman curse after the post-credit scene from “AT WORLD’S END”. I realize that the Disney suits had believed that Will was permanently trapped by the Flying Dutchman curse, but I thought that Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott’s claim – that Elizabeth’s ten year wait – had broken the curse. Apparently I was wrong . . . and annoyed at the same time. But Will’s situation was a mere annoyance for me. The situation regarding Jack’s compass – you know, the one that directs a person to one’s heart desire – really annoyed me. According to the 2006 movie, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MAN’S CHEST”, Jack had first acquired the compass from Vodou priestess Tia Dalma aka the goddess Calypso. Yet, according to a flashback in this movie, Jack was given the compass from his dying captain, during the Wicked Wench’s encounter with Captain Salazar. What else is there to say, but . . . blooper.

Another matter that annoyed me was the setting for the protagonists’ final battle against Captain Salazar and his crew. I wish I could explain it. I believe that the setting was located . . . underwater, thanks to the mysterious stone that Carina Smyth had inherited from her parents. I simply found it murky and unsatisfying. And I wish that final conflict had been set elsewhere. I have one last complaint. The movie’s post-credit scene featured a character’s dream of former antagonist Captain Davy Jones in shadow form. The character had awaken, but the scene’s last shot focused on puddles of water and a few bits of tentacles. Was this the franchise’s way of hinting the return of Davy Jones? I hope not. Captain Jones was a great villain, but two movies featuring his character were enough. The last thing I want to see in another film is the return of the Flying Dutchman curse or Jones.

Yes, “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” has its flaws. But it also had plenty of virtues that made me enjoy the film. One of the aspects of the film that I enjoyed was the story written by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Old “ghosts” from the past have always played a role in the plots from the franchise’s past four films. But the past played a major, major role in this film for not only Jack Sparrow, but also four other characters – Henry Turner, Carina Smyth, Hector Barbossa and even Captain Armando Salazar. I found the story between Jack and Captain Salazar rather ironic, considering that the latter proved to be the franchise’s first villain to seek personal revenge against the former. For the other three, I found their stories rather poignant in the end. And because of this, I found “DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” to be the most emotionally satisfying entry in the franchise. This proved to be the only PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film in which I broke into tears at least three times.

Poignant or not, the franchise’s trademark humor and action were on full display in this movie. In fact, I can think of at least three major scenes that I believe effectively displayed both traits. One of them involved Jack and the Dying Gull (appropriate name for Jack’s latest ship) crew’s attempt to rob the new bank on Saint Martin. Not only did it lead to Carina’s first escape from a hangman’s noose, but also a merry chase that involved the Dying Gull’s crew, the British Army, along with Jack and the banker’s wife inside of a stolen vault. The second scene that had me both laughing and on edge involved Henry and the Dying Gull’s successful rescue of Jack and Carina from being hanged. The third scene had me more on edge than laughing for it involved Jack, Henry and Carina’s attempt to survive Salazar’s attack upon their rowboat (ghost shark anyone?) as they headed for shore.

“DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” featured the fourth major location for the movie franchise – Australia. Although I found it a pity that the movie did not use any of the Caribbean islands for filming locations, I must admit that production designer Nigel Phelps made great use of the Australian locale, especially in his creation of the Saint Martin town and the Turners’ home. On the other hand, I found Paul Cameron’s photography rather beautiful, colorful and sharp. I thought Roger Barton and Leigh Folsom Boyd’s film editing was first-rate, especially in the action sequences that featured the bank vault chase, the rescue of Jack and Carina, and the shark attack. I wish I could say the same about the final action sequence, but I must admit that I was not that impressed.

I was impressed by the performances featured in “DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES”. The movie possessed a first-rate supporting cast that featured the return of Kevin R. McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Stephen Graham as Scrum, Martin Klebba as Marty, Angus Barnett as Mullroy and Giles New as Murtogg. Scrum, who was last seen as part of Hector Barbossa’s Queen Anne’s Revenge crew, had decided to join Jack Sparrow’s crew aboard the Dying Gull. And the presence of Marty, Mullroy and Murtogg revealed that Barbossa was not the only who had escaped Blackbeard’s capture of the Black Pearl. The movie also revealed the return of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley as Will Turner and Elizabeth. Their final reunion near the end of the film proved to be one of the most emotionally satisfying and poignant moments in the entire franchise.

There were other great supporting performances that caught my eye. One came from David Wenham, who was in fine, villainous form as Lieutenant John Scarfield, a very bigoted Royal Navy officer who was after Jack, Henry Turner and Carina Smyth. Golshifteh Farahani gave a rather interesting and strange performance as a witch named Shansa, whom many seafarers sought for advice. Adam Brown (from “THE HOBBIT” Trilogy) and Delroy Atkinson proved to be entertaining additions to Jack’s crew and the franchise. Juan Carlos Vellido gave a rather intense performance as Captain Salazar’s first officer, Lieutenant Lesaro. Since Keith Richards was unable to return as Jack’s father, Captain Edward Teague, producer Jerry Brockheimer managed to cast former Beatles Paul McCartney as the former’s brother and Jack’s uncle, Jack Teague. And I did not know that McCartney was not only a first-rate actor, but one with great comic timing.

I had been familiar with Brenton Thwaites’ previous work in movies like “MALEFICENT” and “GODS OF EGYPT”. But I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his portrayal of Will and Elizabeth’s son, Henry Turner. Thwaites did an excellent job in combining the traits of Henry’s parents, while making the character a complete individual on his own. Kaya Scodelario was equally effective as science enthusiast, Carina Smyth. Thanks to Scodelario’s skillful performance, Carina was an intelligent and charismatic woman. The actress also had a strong screen chemistry with her co-star, Thwaites.

But the three performances that stood above the others came from Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem and of course, Johnny Depp. It is hard to believe that Rush first portrayed Hector Barbossa as a slightly crude, yet cunning, cold-blooded and ambitious pirate. Thanks to Rush’s superb portrayal, Barbossa still possessed those traits, but the latter had developed into a successful man, who also possessed a heartbreaking secret that he managed to keep close to his chest. I must admit that I did not particular care for Javier Bardem’s portrayal as a Bond villain in 2012’s “SKYFALL”. I found it too hammy. Thankfully, Bardem’s portrayal of the villainous Captain Armando Salazar seemed a great deal more skillful to me. Bardem’s Armando Salazar was no mere over-the-top villain, but a vengeful wraith willing to use any method and form of manipulation to capture his prey. Someone once complained that Depp’s Jack Sparrow seemed different or a ghost of his former self. I could not agree. Depp’s Sparrow was just as selfish, manipulative, horny and humorous as ever. Yet, this Jack Sparrow was at least nineteen years older than he was in “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: AT WORLD’S END”. Despite having a miniaturized Black Pearl in his possession for several years, Jack has been forced to settle for a creaking tub called the Dying Gull and a small crew. Worse, he and his men have experienced a series of failures in their attempt to make that great score. If Jack seemed a bit different in this film, it is because he is older and not as successful as he would like to be. And Depp, being the superb actor that he is, did an excellent job in conveying Jack’s current failures in his performance.

Would I regard “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” as my favorite film in the Disney franchise? Hmmm . . . no. The movie possessed one or two bloopers in regard to the franchise’s main narrative. I was not that impressed by the watery setting for Jack and Salazar’s final confrontation. And I did not care for the hint of a past villain’s return in the film’s post-credit scene. But I really enjoyed the excellent performances by a cast led by the always talented Johnny Depp and the first-rate direction of Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. And I especially story created by Jeff Nathanson and Terry Rossio. Not only did it feature the usual hallmarks of a first-rate PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film, for me it made “DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES” the most poignant and emotionally satisfying movie in the entire franchise.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set Between 1700 and 1749

Below is my current list of favorite movies set between 1700 and 1749: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET BETWEEN 1700 AND 1749

1. “Tom Jones” (1963) – Tony Richardson directed this Best Picture Oscar winner, an adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel, “The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling”. The movie starred Albert Finney and Susannah York.

2. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” (2006) – Gore Verbinski directed this second entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the search for the chest that contains Davy Jones’ heart. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

3. “Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl” (2003) – Gore Verbinski directed this first entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about a dashing pirate who forms an alliance with an apprentice blacksmith in order to save the latter’s beloved from a crew of pirates – the very crew who had mutinied against the former. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

4. “Kidnapped” (1960) – Peter Finch and James MacArthur starred in Disney’s 1960 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1886 novel about family betrayal in 1740s Scotland. Robert Stevenson directed.

5. “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” (2007) – Gore Verbinski directed this third entry in Disney’s “PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN” franchise about the Pirate Lords’ alliance and their stand against the East Indian Trading Company and Davy Jones. The movie starred Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley and Geoffrey Rush.

6. “Against All Flags” (1952) – Errol Flynn and Maureen O’Hara starred in this swashbuckler about a British sea officer who infiltrates a group of pirates on behalf of the government bring them to justice. George Sherman directed.

7. “Rob Roy” (1995) – Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange starred in this adventure film about Scottish chieftain Rob Roy McGregor and his conflict with an unscrupulous nobleman in the early 18th century Scottish Highlands. Michael Caton-Jones directed.

8. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1984) – Michael York, Richard Thomas, Fiona Hughes and Timothy Dalton starred in this second adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. Douglas Hickox directed.

9. “Swashbuckler” (1976) – Robert Shaw starred in this adaptation of Paul Wheeler’s story, “The Scarlet Buccaneer”, about a early 18th century pirate who forms an alliance with the daughter of a disgraced judge against an evil imperial politician. James Goldstone directed.

10. “The Master of Ballantrae” (1953) – Errol Flynn, Anthony Steel and Roger Livsey starred in an earlier adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1889 novel about two estranged Scottish noblemen, who are also brothers. William Keighley directed.

The Complexity of Wonder Woman

 

“THE COMPLEXITY OF WONDER WOMAN”

Ever since the release of the DCEU’s new movie, “WONDER WOMAN”, film critics and moviegoers have been raving over it and raving over the Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman character as this ray of sunshine in the middle of Warner Brother Studio’s DCEU’s “doom and gloom”. Sigh! 

First of all, the main reason I had looked forward to seeing “WONDER WOMAN” in the first place was my curiosity over the main protagonist’s development. I was curious to see how the Wonder Woman/Diana Prince character had transformed into the somewhat cynical and weary woman that I saw in the 2016 film, “BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE”. That was it. I was not that concerned about Wonder Woman being portrayed as some unstoppable figure of action in the middle of World War I or some one-dimensional feminist icon.

To be honest, if Wonder Woman had simply been this “symbol of goodness and hope” in this new movie, I would have dismissed her as a boring character. I would also have dismissed the film as not worthy of my time. I believe that kind of description would have shoved Wonder Woman into some kind of whore/Madonna category, with her being “the Madonna”. Wonder Woman was a lot more than this “symbol of hope and compassion” . . . this Madonna. A lot more.

For me, Princess Diana aka Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman was a person . . . an individual who was compassionate, strong-willed and intelligent. But she was also a person whose bubble-like upbringing by her mother, Queen Hippolyta, also led her to become a rather naive and unpractical person by the time she left her homeland of Themyscira Island with Steve Trevor. And her unwillingness to let go of her naivety also revealed that she could be quite stubborn. The reason why I liked the portrayal of Diana in “WONDER WOMAN” in the first place was that the movie was not afraid to show both the good and the bad about her character. And I have to thank director Patty Jenkins; screenwriters Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder and Jason Fuchs; and actress Gal Gadot for this well-rounded portrayal. I found the Wonder Woman characterization quite refreshing and an example of really good writing.

As I had stated earlier, I did not watch “WONDER WOMAN” in order to view the main character as some kind of one-dimensional feminist ideal or some symbol of everything that is pure, good and whatever form of moral saccharine that many critics seem inclined to dump on her. I wanted to see a story about a woman, a complex woman with virtues and flaws … and how she was forced to grow up and develop as a character. And as far as I am concerned, that is what I got.

“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.

Five Favorite Episodes of “ONCE UPON A TIME” – Season Four (2014-2015)

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Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Four of “ONCE UPON A TIME”. The series was created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz:

FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF “ONCE UPON A TIME” – SEASON FOUR (2014-2015)

1 - 4.16 Best Laid Plans

1. (4.17) “Best Laid Plans” – While Rumpelstiltskin and the Queens of Darkness continue their search for the “Author” of the town’s Fairy Tale Book, Snow White and David try to stop them in order to keep their daughter Emma Swan from discovering their past misdeed, which is finally revealed in flashbacks.

2 - 4.12 Darkness on the Edge of Town

2. (4.13) “Darkness on the Edge of Town” – Rumpelstiltskin returns to Storybrooke with Ursula and Cruella De Vil in tow. Meanwhile, the Charmings, Regina Mills and Killian Jones (Captain Hook) set about freeing the fairies from the Sorcerer’s hat and deal with a threatening Chernabog demon, which was also freed.

3 - 4.17 Heart of Gold

3. (4.18) “Heart of Gold” – Emma, angry over the discovery of her parents’ misdeed, joins the search for the Author. Meanwhile, a captured Regina learns from Rumpelstiltskin on how Robin Hood ended up in the clutches of her allegedly dead sister Zelena in New York City. And Robin has his first encounter with Zelena in the past Land of Oz, as he sets about stealing a magical elixir for Rumpelstiltskin.

4 - 4.07 The Snow Queen

4. (4.07) “The Snow Queen” – The origins of Ingrid, the Snow Queen in Arendelle, are revealed in flashbacks, along with her relationships with her two sisters. In the present, Ingrid manipulates Emma into losing control of her magic in order to make the Charmings fear her.

5 - 4.22 Operation Mongoose Part 1

5. (4.22) “Operation Mongoose, Part 1” – In the first half of the season finale, Henry Mills tries to undo the changes in the universe created by Isaac Heller aka the Author and Rumpelstiltskin.

HM - 4.04 The Apprentice

Honorable Mention: (4.04) “The Apprentice” – Killian blackmails Rumpelstiltskin into giving him a genuine hand for the former’s first date with Emma and ends up facing consequences, and Emma is constantly taunted by Ingrid about the former’s relationship with her parents. Flashbacks reveal Princess Anna of Arendelle’s encounters with both Rumpelstiltskin and the Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1890s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1890s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1890s

1 - Sherlock Holmes-Game of Shadows

1. “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” (2011) – Guy Ritchie directed this excellent sequel to his 2009 hit, in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson confront their most dangerous adversary, Professor James Moriarty. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred.

 

2 - Hello Dolly

2. “Hello Dolly!” (1969) – Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau starred in this entertaining adaptation of David Merrick’s 1964 play about a New York City matchmaker hired to find a wife for a wealthy Yonkers businessman. Gene Kelly directed.

 

3 - King Solomon Mines

3. “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950) – Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr and Richard Carlson starred in this satisfying Oscar nominated adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 novel about the search for a missing fortune hunter in late 19th century East Africa. Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton directed.

 

4 - Sherlock Holmes

4. “Sherlock Holmes” (2009) – Guy Ritchie directed this 2009 hit about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson’s investigation of a series of murders connected to occult rituals. Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law starred.

 

5 - Hidalgo

5. “Hidalgo” (2004) – Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif starred in Disney’s fictionalized, but entertaining account of long-distance rider Frank Hopkins’ participation in the Middle Eastern race “Ocean of Fire”. Joe Johnston directed.

 

6. “The Seven Per-Cent Solution” (1976) – Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall and Alan Arkin starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Nicolas Meyer’s 1974 novel about Sherlock Holmes’ recovery from a cocaine addiction under Sigmund Freud’s supervision and his investigation of one of Freud’s kidnapped patients. Meyer directed the film.

 

Harvey Girls screenshot

7. “The Harvey Girls” (1946) – Judy Garland starred in this dazzling musical about the famous Harvey House waitresses of the late 19th century. Directed by George Sidney, the movie co-starred John Hodiak, Ray Bolger and Angela Landsbury.

 

6 - The Jungle Book

8. “Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book” (1994) – Stephen Sommers directed this colorful adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 collection of short stories about a human boy raised by animals in India’s jungles. Jason Scott Lee, Cary Elwes and Lena Headey starred.

 

7 - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

9. “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” (2003) – Sean Connery starred in this adaptation of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s first volume of his 1999-2000 comic book series about 19th century fictional characters who team up to investigate a series of terrorist attacks that threaten to lead Europe into a world war. Stephen Norrington directed.

 

8 - The Prestige

10. “The Prestige” (2006) – Christopher Nolan directed this fascinating adaptation of Christopher Priest’s 1995 novel about rival magicians in late Victorian England. Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman and Michael Caine starred.

 

10 - The Four Feathers 1939

Honorable Mention: “The Four Feathers” (1939) – Alexander Korda produced and Zoltan Korda directed this colorful adaptation of A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel about a recently resigned British officer accused of cowardice. John Clements, June Duprez and Ralph Richardson starred.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

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“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” (2006) Review

I have never read Agatha Christie’s 1931 novel, “The Sittaford Mystery”. And I have read a lot of her novels. But since the novel did not feature Hercule Poirot, Miss Jane Marple, or Tommy and Tuppence Beresford; I never took the trouble to read it. Well, that is not fair. I can think of at least two or three Christie novels that did not feature any of these sleuths that I have read. But I have never read “The Sittaford Mystery”.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that the ITV channel had aired an adaptation of the novel in which Geraldine McEwan appeared as Jane Marple. Okay. This is not the first time this has happened, considering that Christie did not write that many Miss Marple novels. “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” revolved around the murder of a politician who is viewed as a potential Prime Minister in the 1950s. The story begins in the 1920s Egypt, where Clive Trevelyan and a few companions stumble across an important archaeological discovery. Then the story jumps nearly thirty years later when Trevelyan, now a politician, returns to his home Sittaford House in Dartmoor with his aide John Enderby, while Parliament decides on whether he will become Britain’s new Prime Minister, following the retirement of Sir Winston Churchill. Due to his friendship with the novelist Raymond West, Trevelyan finds himself forced to accept the latter’s elderly aunt, Miss Jane Marple, as a house guest.

Much to Miss Marple and Enderby’s surprise, Treveylan decides to chance the snowy weather outside and stay at a local hotel six miles away. The hotel include guests who seemed to be very familiar with Treveylan or familiar with an escapee from the local Dartmoore prison. One of the guests conduct a séance using a Ouiji board, which predicts Treveylan’s death. Hours later, the politician is found stabbed to death in his room. With Miss Marple stuck at Sittaford House (temporarily); Enderby; a young journalist named Charles Burnaby; and Emily Trefusis, the fiancee of Treveylan’s wastrel ward James Pearson; set out to find the murderer. However, it is not long before the trio find themselves seeking Miss Marple’s help.

“THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” strikes me as a rather confusing tale. I have a deep suspicion that in his effort to somewhat change the plot from Christie’s original novel, screenwriter Stephen Churchett ended up creating a very convoluted story . . . right up to the last reel. I have seen this movie twice and for the likes of me, I still have no real idea of what was going on . . . aside from the first fifteen minutes and the movie’s denouement. I was aware that the hotel featured guests that had connections with or knew Treveylan, including a former lover, her wallflower daughter, a middle-aged woman who seemed to be a fan of Treveylan, and an American businessman and his aide.

Churchett created a script filled with so many red herrings – unnecessary, as far as I am concerned – that I simply gave up in trying to guess the murderer’s identity and waited for Miss Marple to expose him or her. Upon my first viewing. Upon my second viewing, I tried to examine the plot for any hints or clues that would lead to the killer’s identity. Unfortunately, that did not happen until at least fifteen minutes before Miss Marple revealed the killer. I was also disappointed with how the movie resolved the romantic entanglements of Emily Trefusis, Charles Burnaby, James Pearson and a fourth character. I found it so contrived, for it came out of left field with no set up or hint whatsoever. What I found even more unconvincing was the last shot of the murderer staring at the camera with an evil grin. This struck me as an idiotic attempt by director Paul Unwin to channel or copy Alfred Hitchcock’s last shot of Anthony Perkins in the 1960 movie, “PYSCHO”. I found that moment so ridiculous.

I will give kudos to Rob Harris, the movie’s production designer. I thought he did a competent job in creating the movie’s setting – a snowbound English community in the early-to-mid 1950s. But do to the majority of the film being limited to either Treveylan’s home and the hotel, Harris really did not have much to work with. Frances Tempest certainly did with her costume designs. I found nothing outstanding about them. But I must admit that I found them rather attractive, especially the costumes that actress Zoe Telford wore. On the other hand, I found Nicholas D. Knowland’s cinematography rather odd . . . and not in a positive way. I did not like his photography, if I must be brutally honest. His unnecessary close-ups and odd angles struck me as an amateurish attempt by him and Unwin to transform “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” into an independent film or Hammer-style horror flick.

The performances in “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY” proved to be a mixed bag. I have usually been a fan of Geraldine McEwan’s portrayal of Miss Jane Marple. But I feel that she took the whole “verbose elderly lady” act a bit too far . . . especially in her scenes with Timothy Dalton during the first fifteen to twenty minutes. If I must be honest, most of the performances in the film seemed to be either over-the-top or close to being over-the-top. This was especially the case for Michael Brandon, Zoe Telford, Laurence Fox and Patricia Hodge. James Murray managed to refrain himself during most of the film. But even he managed to get into the act during the movie’s last fifteen minutes or so. Carey Mulligan’s performance seemed competent. She did not blow my mind, but at least she did not annoy me. Robert Hardy made a cameo appearance as Prime Minister Winston Churchill. This marked the eighth or ninth time the actor portrayed the politician and honestly, I could see this appearance was nothing more than a walk in the park for him. There were only four performances I truly enjoyed. One came from Mel Smith, who gave a very competent performance as Treveylan’s right-hand man, John Enderby. I could say the same about Rita Tushingham, who gave a nuanced performance as a mysterious woman with knowledge of an ugly part in Treveylan’s past. The role proved to be his last, for he passed away not long after the film’s production. James Wilby was satisfyingly subtle as the town’s local hotel owner, who had a secret to maintain. For me, the best performance came from Timothy Dalton, who was dazzling at the story’s main victim, Clive Trevelyan. Considering that he was portraying a somewhat theatrical character, it is amazing that he managed to keep his performance under control, and struck a tight balance between theatricality and subtlety.

It is obvious to anyone reading this review that I did not like “THE SITTAFORD MYSTERY”. I could complain about the changes made to Agatha Christie’s novel. But I have never read it, so I saw no point in making any comparisons. But I still cared very little for the movie. I found the direction and photography rather amateurish. And aside from a few first-rate performances, I was not that impressed by the majority of the cast’s acting – including, unfortunately, Geraldine McEwan’s.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

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“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” (2013) Review

As I had stated in my review of “IRON MAN 3”, I had assumed that the release of the 2012 blockbuster, “THE AVENGERS” would signal the end of Marvel’s multi-film saga about the group of comic book heroes and their government allies, S.H.I.E.L.D. Not only did “IRON MAN 3” prove me wrong, but also the recent television series,“AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the second movie about the God of Thunder, “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”

Like the 2011 movie, “THOR”, this latest film begins thousands of years ago. Back in day (or year); Bor, the father of Odin, clash with the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim and their leader Malekith, who seeks to destroy the universe using a weapon known as the Aether. After conquering Malekith’s forces, Bor hides the Aether within a stone column. He was also unaware that Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim, and a handful of Dark Elves have managed to escape by going into suspended animation. 

Many years later, Thor and his fellow Asgardians (which include his friends Lady Sif, Fandral and Volstagg) help their comrade Hogun repel marauders on the latter’s homeworld, Vanaheim. It proves to be the last battle in a war to pacify the Nine Realms, which had fallen into chaos following the destruction of the Bifröst. And in London, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster is led by her intern Darcy Lewis and the latter’s intern, Ian, to an abandoned factory where objects have begun to disobey the laws of physics by disappearing into thin air. Jane is teleported to another world, where she is infected by the Aether. Both the Asgardians and Jane’s former mentor, Dr. Erik Selvig learn on separate occasions that the Convergence, a rare alignment of the Nine Realms, is imminent. While the event approaches, portals (one of which Jane had fallen into) linking the worlds appear at random. Heimdall alerts Thor of Jane’s recent disappearance, leading the latter to search for her on Earth. When she inadvertently releases an unearthly force upon a group of London policemen, Thor takes her to Asgard. Unfortunately, the Asgardian healers do not know how to treat her. Odin, recognizing the Aether, warns Jane’s infection will kill her given enough time, and that the Aether’s return heralds a catastrophic prophecy. Unbeknownst to Odin, the re-emergence of the Aether also ends the Dark Elves’ suspended animation and revives their determination to use the substance to darken the universe.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” has proven to be a major box office, since its release nearly a month ago. This is not surprising, considering the enormous success of Marvel’s Avenger saga. “IRON MAN 3”, set six months after the events of the 2012 film, also proved to be a big hit. Some people have claimed that the first film about Thor was superior. As much as I had enjoyed “THOR”, I cannot say that I would agree. It reeked just a bit too much of a superhero origin tale. Personally, I found the plot for “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” more satisfying.

Mind you, this second God of Thunder movie did not strike me as perfect. It had a few flaws. Although I applaud director Alan Taylor and cinematographer Kramer Morgenthau’s expansion of the Asgard setting beyond the royal palace and the Bifröst, the latter’s photography for that particular setting seemed to lack Haris Zambarloukos’ dazzling and colorful photography from the 2011 film. Instead, there seemed to be a slightly dull cast to Morgenthau’s photography of Asgard. Thor’s friends did not particularly project that same screen chemistry that I found so enjoyable in the first film. Aside from one major scene in which Thor plotted Jane’s escape from Asgard, they rarely had any scenes together. And Tadanobu Asano’s Hogun had even less scenes. I wonder if this was due to the actor’s major role in the upcoming movie, “47 RONIN”

Aside from these nitpicks, I enjoyed “THOR: THE DARK WORLD” very much. As I had earlier stated, I found it more enjoyable than the first film. Thanks to the screenplay written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, the movie provided a stronger narrative, beyond a simple origin tale. The three screenwriters explored the consequences of past events from both “THOR” and “THE AVENGERS” – Loki’s actions in both movies; Thor’s original destruction of the Bifröst, which led to chaos in the Nine Realms and his long separation from Jane Foster, the latter’s inability to move on, and the impact upon Erik Selvig from being possessed by Loki. However, the movie also explored how a past event in the Asgardians’ history – their conflict with the Dark Elves – managed to once again, have a negative impact upon Earth. For a movie that was juggling a good number of subplots, along with a major plot, I thought the writers and director Alan Taylor did a first-rate job in balancing it all in the end. 

Taylor has limited experience as a movie director, but he has a long history as a television direction. Despite his longer experience with television, I must admit that I found myself more than pleased with his direction of “THOR: THE DARK WORLD”. And I was also very impressed. I was especially impressed by his handling of certain action scenes, like the Dark Elves’ invasion of Asgard, the fight scene between Queen Frigga and Malekith, the escape from Asgard, and Thor and Loki’s confrontation against Malekith and the Dark Elves. But the one action scene that really impressed me turned out to be Thor and Jane’s attempt to prevent Malekith’s use of the Aether against Earth and the rest of the universe. This scene not only benefited from Taylor’s direction, but also Dan Lebental and Wyatt Smith’s editing. The movie’s action sequences were nicely balanced by some of its dramatic and comedic scenes. I especially enjoyed Thor and Loki’s quarrel over the latter’s past actions, Thor’s reunion with Jane, and Darcy and Ian’s attempt to free Erik from a mental institution. One particular scene featured a quarrel between Thor and Odin over how to deal with the threat of the Dark Elves. It strongly reminded me of the two men’s quarrel over the Frost Giants in the first film . . . but with an ironic twist. Instead of Odin being the mature and reasonable one, this time it is Thor.

My only complaint about the movie’s performances has to do with Tadanobu Asano. Due to his limited appearance in the film, he never really had a chance to give a memorable performance. I hope to see more of him in the next film. Both Jamie Alexander and Ray Stevenson gave competent performances as Thor’s two other friends – Lady Sif and Volstagg. Instead of Josh Dallas, this movie featured Zachary Levi in the role of Thor’s fourth friend, Fandral. Levi had been originally cast in the role for the 2011 film. But due to his commitments to NBC’s “CHUCK”, Dallas got the role. But the latter’s commitment to ABC’s “ONCE UPON A TIME” forced Marvel and Disney to give the role back to Levi. Aside from the initial shock of seeing him in a blond wig, I must admit that Levi made a very dashing Fandral. I was very happy to see Kat Dennings reprise her role of Jane’s intern, Darcy Lewis. She was as funny as ever. She also had an extra straight man in the form of Jonathan Howard, who portrayed “her” intern, Ian Boothby. The movie also featured a very funny cameo by Chris Evans, who portrayed Loki disguised as Steve Rogers/Captain America.

Christopher Eccleston may not have made the most witty villain from the Marvel canon, but I found his portrayal of Malekith very scary . . . in an unrelenting way. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje struck me as equally impressive as Malekith’s lieutenant, Algrim. It was a pity that I could barely make him out in his new appearance as the Kurse. Renee Russo’s role as Queen Frigga was expanded in this second film and I am so thankful that it was. Not only did she have a marvelous dramatic scene with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, but watching her sword fight against Eccleston’s Malekith reminded me of her role in the “LETHAL WEAPON” films. Idris Elba repeated his masterful portrayal of Asgard’s gatekeeper, Heimdall. I especially enjoyed him in two scenes – Heimdall’s efforts to prevent the Dark Elves’ attack and his discussion with Thor about helping Jane leave Asgard against Odin’s will. More importantly, audiences get to see him in even more scenes. Stellan Skarsgård was very hilarious in his portrayal of Dr. Erik Selvig in this film. I realize that one should not laugh at the idea of someone suffering from a mental trauma, but I could not help it. I do not think I have ever seen Skarsgård so entertaining in a Marvel film. Anthony Hopkins did a marvelous job in conveying Odin’s increasing fragile rule over Asgard and control of his emotions. This was especially apparent in the scene featuring Odin and Thor’s disagreement over the Dark Elves.

For the first time in a Marvel film, Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is not portrayed as an out-and-out villain, but a more morally complex character, thanks to his relationships with Asgard’s royal family – especially Thor and Frigga. Hiddleston was as playful and witty as ever. And I especially enjoyed his interactions with Chris Hemsworth. In fact, I can say the same about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Thor’s love, astrophysicist Dr. Jane Foster. Personally, I found her funnier and her chemistry with Hemsworth a lot stronger in this second film. And I was especially happy to see her take a more active role in helping Thor defeat the main villain. As for Chris Hemsworth, he continued to roll as the God of Thunder, Thor. He did a marvelous job in developing his character into more complex waters, especially in regard to his relationships with Jane, Loki and Odin. And one of my favorite scenes in the movie featured Thor’s silent reaction to his discovery that Jane had a date with another man. I hope that one day, people will truly appreciate what a first-rate actor he can be.

“THOR: THE DARK WORLD” had a few flaws. What movie does not? But thanks to Alan Taylor’s direction, an excellent cast led by a talented Chris Hemsworth and a very complex script written by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, it not only turned to be very entertaining, but also better than the previous film. At least for me.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” (2001) Review

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“THE MUMMY RETURNS” (2001) Review

“THE MUMMY”, the 1999 remake of the 1932 horror film proved to be a major success for filmmaker Stephen Sommers and Universal Studios. Two years later, both the director and the studio reunited its major stars for a sequel set a decade later. In doing so, Sommers and Universal created a four-movie franchise. 

Like the first film, “THE MUMMY RETURNS” began thousands of years ago, in ancient Egypt. However, this flashback focused on an Egyptian mercenary named Mathayus, who makes an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the land. He and his army is exiled to the desert of Ahm Sher, where most of them die from heat exhaustion, except for Mathayus. The latter offers his soul to the god Anubis for the power to defeat his enemies. The latter creates an oasis called Ahm Shere to hide the newly dubbed Scorpion King’s pyramid and gives the latter a legion of humanoid jackal warriors to seek revenge. The Army of Anubis sweeps across Egypt, destroying everything in its path. But once their task is finished, Anubis claims the Scorpion King’s soul and his army.

The movie jumps to the year 1933, which finds the O’Connell family – Rick, Evelyn (“Evie”) and their son Alex – exploring the ruins of Thebes. Evie and Rick discover the bracelet of Anubis, unaware that Alex has stumbled across a trio of mercenaries attempting to take the bracelet for themselves. The family returns home to England, and unbeknownst to his parents, Alex tries on the bracelet and experiences a vision with directions to the Oasis of Ahm Shere. Unfortunately, a group of Egyptian cultists, who had hired the three thugs, invades the O’Connell estate and kidnaps Evie. The O’Connells’ old comrade, the Medjai warrior Ardeth Bay, arrives to help, but is unable to prevent Evie’s kidnapping. The cultists take her to the British Museum, where they resurrect the body of Egyptian high priest and sorcerer Imhotep. They plan to use his power to defeat the Sorcerer King. Rick, his brother-in-law Jonathan Carnahan, Alex and Ardeth arrive at the museum to rescue Evie. After the O’Connells, Jonathan and Ardeth manage to escape the army of mummified soldiers, Alex – who is still wearing the Anubis bracelet – is kidnapped by the cultists. The four adults track him to Egypt, where they recruit the help of Rick’s old World War I friend, Izzy Buttons, to rescue Alex from Imhotep and the cultists and prevent them from reviving the Army of Anubis.

I usually dislike horror films. But I noticed that the 1999 movie, “THE MUMMY” seemed more like an adventure film in the style of the INDIANA JONES movie franchise. I could say the same about ” THE MUMMY RETURNS”. And considering my dislike of horror films, I say “thank God”. However, the movie has enough elements to satisfy those who love this particular genre. This was especially apparent in the scenes that featured Imohtep’s murder of the three mercenaries, the O’Connells’ battle against the high priests mummified soldiers during the bus ride through London and during the finale sequence inside the Scorpion King’s pyramid at Ahm Shere. The sight of the Scorpion King as a transformed centaurid (or scorpion-monster) was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. But if I had to select the one sequence that truly captured aspects of the horror genre, it was the one that featured the O’Connells’ attack upon the cultists in the Ahm Shere jungle that I found particularly off putting. Not only did the movie’s heroes have to attack the cultists in order to save Alex, both sides of the conflict had to deal the pygmy mummies that attacked and killed anyone or any army that marched through the jungle. What can I say? Those pygmies really freaked me out.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” did feature a good deal of action sequences that seemed more like an adventure than a horror story – thank goodness. The O’Connells’ escape from the flooding of the Thebes pyramid, their escape from Imohtep’s attempt to drown them with a tsunami wave, their escape from the destruction of the Ahm Shere pyramid and various hand-to-hand fight sequences thankfully reminded me that “THE MUMMY RETURNS” was more of an adventure story. Also, Stephen Sommers provided a great deal of rich characterization and humor in his screenwriter. Like the 1999 film,“THE MUMMY”“THE MUMMY RETURNS” featured some sophomoric humor. But if I must be honest, a good deal of the humor seemed sharper and wittier this particular film – especially in the hands of one particular character, Izzy Buttons. In fact, my favorite line in the film came him:

“Whatever it is, whatever you need, I don’t care. Forget it, O’Connell. Every time I hook up with you, I get shot. Last time, I got shot in the ass. I’m in mourning for my ass!

I never mentioned this in my review of “THE MUMMY”, but I was also impressed by Sommers’ handling of the sequence featuring Imohtep’s background and introduction at the beginning of the film. The opening sequence featuring the Scorpion King’s introduction struck me as mediocre. But I was very impressed by the flashback sequence about Evelyn’s past life in the form of the Princess Nefertiri and her witness of her father, Pharaoh Seti I. Sommers has a real talent for costumed melodrama and it would be nice to see him exploit it in the fullest in his career. This sequence also featured a first-rate fight scene between Rachel Weisz’s Nefertiri and Patricia Velásquez’s Anck-Su-Namun.

Of course, one cannot talk about “THE MUMMY RETURNS” without bringing up its visual effects. First of all, kudos to cinematographer Adrian Biddle for continuing the beautiful photography for which he was responsible in the first film. I especially enjoyed his work in the sequence that featured the parallel journeys across Egypt by both the O’Connell and Imohtep parties. Allan Cameron and his crew did an excellent job in re-creating not only England and Egypt of the early 1930s, but also ancient Egypt. The team of Ahmed Abounouom, Giles Masters and Tony Reading added a great deal to Cameron’s work with their beautiful and colorful art designs. I have always enjoyed Alan Silvestri’s music in past movies. But I must admit that I really appreciated his use of Middle Eastern or North African-style in the movie’s score. I do admire the special effects created by the movie’s visual effects team. I was especially impressed by their work in the Ahm Shere jungle sequence. However, there were times I found it a bit over-the-top. I noticed that Sommers hired his costume designer from the last film, John Bloomfield, to design the costumes for this film. And I wish to God he had hired someone else. I had no problem with Bloomfield’s costumes for the ancient Egypt sequences. His costume designs for the 1933 scenes – namely the costumes for the female characters – were another matter. Honestly, they sucked. I was far from impressed by Bloomfield’s re-creation of 1920s fashion for Evelyn’s character in the 1999 movie. His re-creation of early 1930s fashions for the female characters were just as bad – as shown in the images below:

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I can only shake my head in disbelief. The above were Bloomfield’s idea of 1932-33 women’s fashion? Really? They looked more like a modern-day take on the fashions of that particular era. The fact that both Weisz and Velásquez are sporting modern hairstyles does not help.

At least I cannot complain about the acting. An episode of “STAR TREK VOYAGER” featured the first project in which Dwayne Johnson portrayed a character other than himself. He had nothing to do but engage in a fight scene. “THE MUMMY RETURNS” featured his second role in which he portrayed another character. Again, he had no lines. At least Sommers managed to effectively direct him into expressing his character via body language. The other cast members, on the other hand, had speaking lines. The movie featured solid performances from the likes of Bruce Byron, Joe Dixon and Tom Fisher as the three thugs hired by the cultists to assist them. Alun Armstrong gave a surprisingly effective performance as Mr. Hafez, the leader of the Egyptian cultists. Unlike most Western actors, Armstrong managed to portray a non-Western villain without resorting to theatrical acting. My favorite performance came from Shaun Parkes, who was both hysterically witty as O’Connell’s old friend, Izzy Buttons. I usually have mixed feelings about child actors. But I must admit that I enjoyed Freddie Boath’s engaging performance as Rick and Evelyn’s boisterous son, Alex. “THE MUMMY RETURNS” was the first movie or television production I had noticed Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. And his performance as Mr. Hafez’s chief enforcer, Lock-Nah, was . . . well, magnificent. In fact, I could say the same about his screen presence.

Patricia Velásquez may not have been the world’s greatest actress. And there were times I found her verbal performance as femme fatale Meela Nais and ancient Egyptian courtesan Anck-Su-Namun a bit limited. She more than made up this flaw with a strong ability for silent acting and a very impressive screen presence. Again, she proved to have a great screen chemistry with Arnold Vasloo, who returned as the Egyptian high priest, Imohtep. What can I say about Vasloo’s performance? The man is Imohtep – both in presence and performance. He did a marvelous job in conveying both the frightening aspects of his character and the latter’s passionate love for Anck-Su-Namun. Happily, Oded Fehr reprised his role as Medjai warrior Ardeth Bey. And not only was he great, as always. For the first time, I became aware of Fehr’s talent for comedic acting. John Hannah was as funny as ever as Evelyn’s ne’er do well older brother, Jonathan Carnahan. I found him especially funny in his scenes with Boath and Parkes.

Rachel Weisz reprised her role as Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan O’Connell and I was surprised by the level of development in her character. Weisz did an excellent job in conveying the mature development of Evie and maintaining the character’s familiar quirks at the same. Weisz was also excellent as the Princess Nefertiri, who was not only fervently protective of her father, but also suspicious of Anck-Su-Namun. The character of Rick O’Connell also struck me as surprisingly different in this movie. Like Evelyn, marriage and parenthood had developed him into a more mature personality. And like Evelyn, he also maintained some of his personality quirks. And Brendan Fraser did an excellent job in conveying both the familiar and different aspects of Rick’s character.

“THE MUMMY RETURNS” effectively continued the exciting adventure and horror of the 1999 film, thanks to Stephen Sommers’ writing and direction. And I enjoyed it very much, along with the entertaining performances of the cast led by Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz. But as much as I continue to enjoy it, there is a part of me that wished Sommers had not been so over-the-top with some of his direction and the special effects featured in the movie. It seemed as if he was trying to outdo his work in the first film. And sometimes, that is not a good thing.