“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

“RUSH HOUR 3” (2007) Review

Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan and director Brett Ratner reunite after six years to film the third installment in the “RUSH HOUR”. In the end, the trio produce a silly, occasionally flawed yet very funny sequel.

I did not harbor any expectations about this comedy. Why should I? It’s a “RUSH HOUR” movie. Like its two predecessors, it was another comedic adventure featuring Hong Kong detective Chief Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and Los Angeles Police Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker). However, this movie starts with the assassination attempt of Lee’s former mentor, now Ambassador Han (Tzi Ma) from the first film, in Los Angeles. It seems that Han and the World Criminal Court have concerned themselves with the growing threat of the Chinese Triads. Han announces that he has knowledge of the leadership behind the Triads. But before he can say anything further, he is shot by an assasin who turns out to be Lee’s godbrother, Kenji (Hiroyuki Sanada). The latter manages to get away before Lee and Carter can capture him. The pair eventually learns from the Kung Fu master of Ambassador Han’s now grown-up daughter – Soo Yung (Zhang Jingchu) that she, the Ambassador and French Ambassador Reynard (Max von Sydow)have all been targeted by the Triads. Their investigations also lead them to a Triad hideout disguised as a gambling club in Paris. With the help of an overeager Parisian cab driver named George (Yvan Attal) and a beautiful nightclub entertainer named Genevieve (Noémie Lenoir), Carter and Lee foil the plans of the Traids to keep their identities safe.

Like its two predecessors, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not perfect. The movie’s beginning – which featured the assasination attempt and Carter’s encounter with two L.A. socialites – seemed a bit lame in the humor department. In fact, the movie does not really pick up pace until the two partners find themselves at Soo Yung’s kung fu academy, where they encounter a rather “tall” adversary and Carter engages in a hilarious rendition of the old Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine. One last aspect of the movie bothered me . . . namely the Parisian cab driver, George. At first, I found Attal’s performance very entertaining, as he conveyed the character’s distaste for Americans. But after Carter managed to convince him to embrace all things American – including Seattle’s finest coffee that he labeled “shit” – he became annoying. A bore. Not even his last minute rescue of Carter and Lee could change my mind about him.

But “RUSH HOUR 3” still possessed enough attributes that made it an entertaining movie. The fight sequences – especially the sword fight between Chan and Sanada – were excellent. Even Tucker managed to hold his own very well, for once. While Chan and Sanada were busy with their showdown, his character was engaged in fighting off four Triad minions. Many might consider this unrealistic, considering that Carter had barely been able to defend himself in the first movie. But the second movie conveyed that Carter had learned a few moves. And by the third movie, he had become an effective martial arts fighter. Aside from the movie’s first ten to fifteen minutes, the humor seemed just as snappy and hilarious as it had been in the first two movies. And as usual, it was the gregarious Tucker who provided most of the laughs. But what I really enjoyed about “RUSH HOUR 3” was the colorful Parisian setting. No one felt more happy than I when the movie shifted from Los Angeles to Paris.

If you are seeking a comedy that provides a sharp and witty look at our society’s ills, “RUSH HOUR 3” is not your movie. If you simply want a hilarious, yet silly movie with beautiful locations, I suggest you rush to the nearest theater that features this movie, turn off your brain and enjoy yourself. Trust me, you will.

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“THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” (1974) Review

“THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” (1974) Review

What can I say about 1974’s “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”? It is not the worst James Bond movie I have ever seen. I can think of at least two or three of which I have a lower opinion. But I do believe that it is the worst Roger Moore film in the franchise.

Apparently screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz believed the same. He made the decision to bow out of adapting Ian Fleming’s 1965 novel, before the script could be finished. The plot for “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” focused on the Solex Agitator – a device which can harness the power of the sun. Before Bond could investigate the death of scientist who was thought to be in possession of information crucial to the creation of the Solex Agitator, he has to find out why hitman Francisco Scaramanga had sent a golden bullet to him.

It turns out that Scaramanga’s long-suffering mistress, Andrea Anders, had sent the bullet to Bond, hoping that he would kill the hitman. Eventually, Bond teams up with MI-6 agents Mary Goodnight and Lieutenant Hip against Francisco Scaramanga – The Man with the Golden Gun and his employer, billionaire Hai Fat. Eventually Scaramanga kills Hai Fat and become the sole possessor of the Solex Agitator. He also kills Andrea and kidnaps Goodnight. Bond tracks Scaramanga to an island of mainland China, where the action finally culminates in a duel between the two men – Bond’s Walther PPK against Scaramanga’s Golden Gun.

I must admit that the movie’s plot seemed interesting. It certainly did not seem like the disappointment that “LIVE AND LET DIE” turned out to be. I thought it was a lot better than the plot created by Fleming for his 1965 novel. The problem with “THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” is that it was so poorly executed . . . especially by director Guy Hamilton. There seemed to be a lack of style or substance in how the movie was directed.

Roger Moore’s performance did not help matters. After his impressive debut in his previous movie, many Bond fans made a fuss over the fact that Moore’s Bond seemed nothing like Connery’s Bond. Which led to Moore being forced to attempt a recapture of Connery’s style. And it did not work. He came off as false and almost wooden. Only two scenes saved Moore’s performance from being a complete bust – his encounter with the Macao gunsmith, Lazar (“Speak now or forever hold your piece.”) and the Bond/Scaramanga confrontation during luncheon on the assassin’s island when Bond expresses his dislike of Scaramanga’s suggestion that the British agent is nothing more than a fellow assassin.

Speaking of Scaramanga, EON Productions had the good fortune to cast Christopher Lee (the future Count Dooku and Sarauman) as the movie’s main villain, expert assassin Francisco Scaramanga. The scene that featured Scaramanga’s recollection of a pet elephant produced a very poignant performance from Lee. In fact, only Lee and South Korean actor, Soon-Tek-Oh (who portrayed MI-6 agent Lieutenant Hip) seemed to be the only two cast members who gave consistently excellent performances throughout the entire film.

I certainly cannot say the same about the other supporting cast members. Herve Villachaise (four years before “FANTASY ISLAND”) simply annoyed me. Maud Adams seemed to be her usual wooden self. Britt Ekland, although a good actress, had the bad luck to portray the annoyingly clumsy Mary Goodnight. Bernard Lee seemed a bit over-the-top in his constant annoyance toward Bond and Hip. Even worse, I never understood M’s willingness to blame an innocent Bond for the death of government scientist Dr. Gibson. Desmond Llewellyn’s portrayal of Q struck me as equally annoying as M seemed to find him. I do not even recall the quality of Lois Maxwell’s brief performance as Moneypenny.

I must admit that cinematographers Ted Moore and Oswald Morris beautifully captured the exotic allure of Southeast Asia. It seemed a pity that John Barry could not produce a memorable score and that Don Black wrote what I consider to be the second worst Bond theme song (performed by Lulu) in the franchise’s history. Oh well. Nothing is perfect. Unfortunately for“THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”, it was far from perfect.

A Look Back at “HARRY POTTER and The Goblet of Fire” (2005)

 

A Look Back at “HARRY POTTER and The Goblet of Fire” (2005)

With the sixth installment of the HARRY POTTER movie franchise (“HARRY POTTER and the Half-Blood Prince”) just recently released on DVD and Blue Ray, I thought this would be a great time to look back at a previous installment – “HARRY POTTER and the Goblet of Fire”.  When the latter was first released in November 2005, many had hailed it as the best of the four HARRY POTTER movies. I wish I could have agreed with that assessment of “Goblet of Fire”. I really wish I could. But . . . I cannot. I am sorry, but I consider “Goblet of Fire” to be the weakest of the six movies.

Unlike many other movies, I had no problems with the screenwriter cutting out some of the material from the novel (however, I do regret that Newell and Kloves had cut out the Dursley scenes – which were the best in the series. In fact, all of the first four novels had been edited for the movie screen. However, “Goblet of Fire” did so in a manner that left the movie filled with plot holes:

*Why is it that no one knew that Couch Jr. was missing from Azkaban?

*How did Voldemort and Couch Jr. know about the Triwizard Tournament?

*Where was the infamous trunk, when Moody aka Couch Jr. arrived at Hogswarts?

Another problem I had with the movie was Newell’s heavy emphasis upon a realistic portrayal of British schoolchildren, to the detriment of the characters’ performance. He tried to be realistic with the Hogswarts students, yet wallowed in one-dimensional clichés with the visiting foreigners.

Aside from the Yule Ball (one of two or three sequences I actually enjoyed), I got the feeling that Newell was a H/Hr shipper. I especially noticed that Hermoine did not seem upset with Fleur thanking Ron for helping Harry to save her sister – unlike the novel.

But my two biggest disappointments with the movie were its production design (I got the feeling that Newell was trying to recapture Middle Earth as it was in “LORD OF THE RINGS: The Two Towers”, making Hogswarts look very grim) and the hammy acting that nearly the entire cast seemed to be engaged in (with the exceptions of Dan Radclifffe, Rupert Grint and Alan Rickman [surprisingly]).

Do not get me wrong – I still managed to enjoy “Goblet of Fire”.  But it seemed like a comedown after following upon the heels of the solid “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets”; along with the dazzling “Prisoner of Azkaban”.

“STAR TREK VOYAGER”: “The Curious Affair of B’Elanna Torres’ Age”

 

“STAR TREK VOYAGER”:  “The Curious Age of B’Elanna Torres’ Age”

Over the years there have been many complaints about the inconsistency regarding characters and stories in TREK series, ”Star Trek: Voyager” (1995-2001). I will not deny that the series has been guilty of the occasional inconsistency. To be frank, all of the five TREK series and many of its movies are guilty of the same. However, I was shocked and surprised to learn that some of the websites that provide information on the entire franchise turned out to be just as inconsistent.

While perusing the http://www.wikipedia.com website, I was surprised to discover a major discrepancy featuring one of the major characters on ”Voyager”, namely that of the Chief Engineer, B’Elanna Torres. According to this site, B’Elanna was born in 2349, the same year as Operations Chief, Harry Kim. It also included that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, right after her last meeting with her mother, Miral Torres. Two years later in 2368, B’Elanna allegedly resigned from Starfleet Academy and not long afterwards, joined Chakotay’s cell in the Maquis. There is another source that confirms this – namely Jeri Taylor’s Voyager novel, ”Pathways”. Personally, I had major problems with this summation.

One, I find it hard to believe that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis sometime between 2368 (the year that Chakotay had resigned from Starfleet and joined the Maquis) and 2369. If this is true, then she would have first met Tom Paris, in the Maquis. But the television series had never hinted that B’Elanna and Tom knew each other before Voyager was hurled into the Delta Quadrant in early 2371. The early Season 2 episode, ”Non-Sequitur” made it clear that Tom had served his full sentence in a Federation prison – eighteen months in an alternate timeline that Harry Kim found himself in. According to the episode and the stardate, Tom had been released from prison in September 2371. Which means that Tom had been captured and imprisoned by the Federation in March 2370. And the Season 2 episode, Dreadnought”, made it clear that Voyager’s encounter with Cardassian missile occurred nearly on the second anniversary of B’Elanna’s first encounter with the missile – not long after she had joined Chakotay’s cell. According to the stardate, ”Dreadnought” occurred in the summer of 2372, which means that B’Elanna had joined Chakotay’s cell sometime during the late spring of 2370.

Also, it is not possible that B’Elanna had joined Starfleet Academy in 2366, after seeing her mother for the last time. According to the late Season 5 episode, ”The Equinox”, B’Elanna had not seen her old Academy boyfriend, Maxwell Burke, in ten years. ”The Equinox” was probably set in late 2375, which means that she and Burke had last seen each other in 2365. This also leads me to believe that B’Elanna had already been in Starfleet Academy by 2366. I am also convinced that it is possible that B’Elanna had last met with her mother after resigning from Starfleet Academy and not before joining it. Although there is no episode that claimed that B’Elanna had last spoken to her mother after leaving Starfleet, the Season 6 episode, ”Barge of the Dead” certainly did not make it clear that she had joined Starfleet Academy after her last meeting with Miral – despite what Wikipedia and Jeri Taylor have claimed.

There is one last reason why I find it difficult to accept that B’Elanna was born in 2349. It happens to be the same birth year as her close friend, Harry Kim. If the two friends had been born in the same year, this meant that both had entered Starfleet around the same time. And both would have immediately been placed on the Engineering track. Their chances of meeting for the first time at the Academy would have been pretty good. Yet, the premiere episode, ”Caretaker” makes it pretty clear that B’Elanna and Harry met for the first time, while in the Ocampan settlement.

It is the series itself that makes it easy for me to refute the claim that B’Elanna Torres had joined the Maquis in 2368 or that she had been born in 2349. In regard to the first claim, the stardates provided in episodes like ”Non-Sequitur” and ”Dreadnought” seemed to contradict Wikipedia or Jeri Taylor that B’Elanna had joined the Maquis in 2368. And episodes like ”Caretaker”, ”The Equinox” and ”Barge of the Dead” gives enough evidence to refute the claim that B’Elanna had been born in 2349.

About an hour ago, I had examined the Wikipedia. Changes had been made. It no longer claimed that B’Elanna had been born in 2349. Instead, it claimed that she had been born in 2346. I do not know if this is true, but it seems a lot more plausible than its earlier claim. But I would not be surprised if these changes were removed by the site’s webmaster. No matter. I know what I believe.

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

 

“ATONEMENT” (2007) Review

Based upon Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel, ”ATONEMENT” told the story about how the lies and misunderstandings of 13-year-old girl from a nouveau-riche English family affected the romance between her older sister and the son of the family’s housekeeper. The movie starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightely and Academy Award nominee Saoirse Ronan.

Comprised in four parts (like the novel), ”ATONEMENT” began with the 13 year-old Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), an aspiring novelist with a crush on Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), the son of the family’s housekeeper. Robbie, along with Briony’s older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) have both returned for the summer in 1935, following their education at Cambridge. Although both Robbie and Cecilia have been aware of each other at Cambridge, neither have not bothered to acknowledged their romantic interest in each other until recently. Also at the Tallis home for the weekend are Briony and Cecilia’s cousins – the 15 year-old Lola Quincey (Juno Temple) and her younger twin brothers – and their older brother Leon’s friend, the owner of a chocolate factory named Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch).

After Briony had witnessed several disturbing scenes – at least in her eyes – between Robbie and Cecilia, she comes to the conclusion that Robbie might be a sexual threat to Cecilia. Matters worsened when Briony joined the rest of the household in the search for Lola’s twin brothers, who had ran off in protest against their parents’ upcoming divorce. During the search for the twins, Briony witnessed the rape of her cousin Lola on the family estate by a man in a dinner suit. In the end, Briony claimed that the man she saw raping Lola was Robbie. Aside from Cecilia, the rest of the family believed Briony and Robbie ends up being sent to prison. At the outset of World War II, the British government released Robbie from prison on condition that he enlist as a private in the British Expeditionary Force. The rest of the movie, set during the early years of World War II, featured Robbie’s brief reunion with Cecilia – who had become a nurse – before his journey to France and the now 18 year-old Briony’s (Romola Garai) experiences as a wartime nurse.

”ATONEMENT” turned out to be a first-rate film about the destructive consequences of lies and illusions. Both director Joe Wright and screenwriter Christopher Hampton structured the movie in an unusual way in which not only did they allow moviegoers different conflicting perspective on certain incidents in the story – a prime example would be both Briony and Robbie’s different points-of-view on an incident regarding Cecilia’s retrieval of a broken vase from the estate fountain, but also quite cleverly hinted that certain aspects of story – especially the World War II segments – may have been colored by Briony’s own emotions and imagination. Also, Wright, along with art directors Ian Bailie, Nick Gottschalk and Niall Moroney; and production designer Sarah Greenwood did an excellent job in re-creating the rich atmosphere of Britain in the mid-1930s and 1940 and especially the Dunkirk expedition. I also have to commend Paul Tothill for the film’s superb editing. Tothill managed to give ”ATONEMENT” a rhythmic style that matched the sound of a typewriter that added an illusionary sense to the unfolding story. In other words, by editing the story in a way that allowed certain scenes to be told from different points of view and added a sense of illusion, Tothill’s work gave the audience a false sense of illusion – at least for those who have never read McEwan’s novel.

I do have one quibble about the movie’s production . . . and I have to place the blame on Wright’s direction. I am referring the sequence that featured Robbie’s arrival at the beach at Dunkirk. At first glance, I was struck by the spectacle of Wright’s direction and Seamus McGarvey’s photography of the entire montage. Like I said . . . at first. Unfortunately, the montage ended up lasting several minutes too long. Not much time had passed when I found myself longing for it to end. I realized that Wright wanted to reveal the horror and chaos of war in all of its glory. But in the end, he simply went too far.

I must admit that I was not as impressed by most of the cast of ”ATONEMENT” as most critics and moviegoers. There was nothing earth-shattering about most of the performances . . . just good, solid work. Many moviegoers and critics had been surprised when both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley failed to earn Academy Award nominations. After watching the movie, I am not really surprised. Mind you, both gave very competent performances as the two lovers – Robbie and Cecilia But I had two problems with McAvoy and Knightley. One, their screen chemistry was not that explosive, considering the heated romance of their characters. It took a love scene inside the Tallis library to truly generate any heat between them. And two, I think their performances were hampered by Wright’s decision to allow the characters to speak in a staccato style that was prevalent in the movies of the 1930s and 40s in both Hollywood and Britain. I hate to say this, but McAvoy and Knightley never really managed to utilize this speech pattern with any effectiveness. There were times when their attempts to use it threatened to make their performances seem stiff and rushed. Perhaps they were simply too young and inexperienced.

On the other hand, I was very impressed by the three actresses who portrayed Briony Tallis at different stages in her life. Legendary actress Vanessa Redgrave portrayed a 70-80 year-old Briony, who had not only wrote a novel based upon the events surrounding Robbie’s arrest, but also confessed to the mistake she had committed decades earlier. And Romola Garai portrayed the character as an 18 year-old wartime nurse. Both actresses did an excellent job of portraying these older versions of Briony. But it was the young actress Saoirse Ronan who stole the movie as the 13 year-old Briony, whose naivety, jealousy toward Cecilia and Robbie’s budding romance and penchant for illusions led to devastating consequences for the romantic pair. Unlike McAvoy and Knighteley, Ronan gave a superb and natural performance as the confused and emotional Briony. It is not surprising that her work eventually earned BAFTA, Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress.

Before I end this review, I have to point out something that trouble me about ”ATONEMENT”. I might as well admit that I have never read McEwan’s novel . . . which is why the following storyline left me feeling confused. From what I have read about the film and the novel, Briony’s cousin, Lola Quincey, had been raped by the Tallis’ guest, Paul Marshall. And yet . . . she married the man, five years later. Why? Was it because she never knew that Marshall had been the one who had raped her? But judging from the hostile look she had given Briony at her wedding, Lola seemed well aware of that fact. Did Marshall actually raped her? Or had he seduced her that night the twins disappeared and Robbie was arrested? Perhaps the novel made the details of Lola’s storyline clearer. The movie left it murky. At least for me.

In the end, I must admit that ”ATONEMENT” proved to be one of the best movies released in 2007. Was it the best movie of that year? I have no idea. I have not seen ”NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN”. At least not yet. But despite some of the movie’s flaws, director Joe Wright managed to lift the usual Merchant Ivory façade of Britain’s past and create an emotionally dark film from Ian McEwan’s novel.

“KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) Review

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“KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) Review

To my knowledge, there have been at least four film adaptations of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 adventure novel, “King Solomon’s Mines”. One film had been released in 1937, featuring Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Paul Robeson. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released one in 1950, starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone co-starred in one in 1985. And in 2004, Patrick Swayze and Alison Doody starred in a two-part miniseries, based on the novel. But the film I want to focus upon is the 1950 version. Quite frankly, it is my favorite one.

It took Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer nearly four years to get “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” into production. They had originally planned to have Errol Flynn star as the Victorian hunter and guide living in Africa, Allan Quartermain. But Flynn dreaded the idea of spending time away from any form of luxury, while on location in Africa. He ended up taking the leading role in MGM’s other adventure, “KIM”, in which he spent his off-camera hours at a resort in India. British actor, Stewart Granger, took the role of Quartermain . . . and became a major Hollywood star. The other cast members included Deborah Kerr as Elizabeth Curtis, the woman who hires Quartermain to lead a safari in search of her missing husband; Richard Carlson as John Goode, Elizabeth’s likeable older brother; Siriaque as the mysterious Umbopa, who is revealed to be King of the Watusi; and Hugo Haas as Van Brun, a former hunter who is wanted by British authorities for murder. Directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton,”KING SOLOMON’S MINES” was filmed on location in the Republic of Congo and Kenya, along with California.

Loosely based upon Haggard’s novel, “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” tells the story of Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger), an experienced hunter and guide in 1897 Kenya, who is reluctantly talked into helping Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) search for her husband, who had disappeared in the unexplored interior of Africa on a quest to find the legendary mines. They have a copy of the map that Henry Curtis had used in his journey. A tall, mysterious native, Umbopa (Siriaque), eventually joins the safari. And during the grueling journey, Elizabeth and Quatermain begin falling in love.

As I had stated, this version of “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” is my favorite version. It is not a very close adaptation of the novel. For one, there was no literary version of the Elizabeth Curtis character. And her husband, Henry, was definitely one of the characters. It was he who hired Quartermain to lead a search party – for his missing brother. John Goode was a close friend, instead of a brother-in-law. The novel was basically set in Southern Africa, instead of Kenya and other parts of East Africa. I am quite certain there are other differences between Haggard’s novel and this movie adaptation. But if I must be frank, I really do not care. I love “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”. Its screenplay written by Helen Deutsch, the movie possessed a heady combination of an adventure film, a travelogue and intelligent drama. Cinematographer Robert Surtees deservedly won an Academy Award for his color photography in the movie. East Africa never looked more beautiful and wild. Ralph E. Winters and Conrad A. Nervig won the Academy Award for Best Editing. Thanks to them, there were able to allow the audience to enjoy the African photography, while ensuring that it would not get in the way of the acting and the story.

Speaking of the movie’s acting, MGM was fortunate to get their hands on Stewart Granger in the role of Allan Quartermain. Granted, I am a major fan of Errol Flynn, but Granger was right for the role. He did an excellent job of projecting the heroic qualities of Quartermain, yet at the same time, delving into the character’s cynical, yet slightly melancholy personality. Deborah Kerr was a perfect match as the equally caustic Elizabeth Curtis, who sets the journey in motion to find her husband and alleviate her guilt for driving the latter from England. The on-screen match between Granger and Kerr was so strong that it was simply a joy to watch their verbal sparring and sexual chemistry. Richard Carlson as Elizabeth Curtis’ brother, John Goode, provided cool and intelligent stability amidst the sexual heat and hostility generated by Granger and Kerr. And the East African actor Siriaque’s (I have no idea from which country he came from) character added mystery as the native who joins the Curtis safari.

I am trying to think of something negative to say about “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”. Okay, there were moments when it was in danger of becoming nothing more than a travelogue. And Deborah Kerr’s new hairdo after she had “cut” her hair, resembled a style that a mid 20th century woman would wear and not one in the late 19th century would. No wonder many moviegoers had laughed. Other than the those two quibbles, I have nothing to complain about the movie.

The movie has one more blessing . . . its human portrayal of the African characters allowed it to avoid the tackiness of the 1985 Chamberlain-Stone version or the silly tactic that Paul Robeson was forced to use in order to reveal his character’s true identity in the 1937 version. The movie also provided excellent acting by its cast, great cinematography, and excellent action sequences. Is it any wonder that it ended up receiving a Best Picture Academy Award nomination?

“HIS DARK MATERIALS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS” (2007) Review

“HIS DARK MATERIALS: THE GOLDEN COMPASS” (2007) Review”

I might as well make one thing clear . . . I have never read Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy, “His Dark Materials”. But this did not deter my interest in seeing the movie based upon the first novel, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS”. And quite frankly, I am glad that I had seen it.

Directed by Chris Weitz, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” opened with the beginning of the “HIS DARK MATERIALS” saga. In it, a young girl named Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards), lives at Jordan College (of Oxford University) in an alternate dimension of Great Britain. She saves er uncle, world explorer/scholar Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig) from being poisoned by the Magisterium (the dimension’s religious ruling body) after he has revealed his discovery of elementary particles called Dust – something that the ruling body consider a threat to their authority. After her uncle departs upon an expedition to the North to find more Dust, Lyra befriends another scholar and explorer named Mrs. Marisa Coulter (Nicole Kidman) during a dinner held at Jordan College. While visiting Mrs. Coulter in London, Lyra learns that her hostess is a member of the Magisterium and has participated in the kidnapping of young children, including two of her friends – a kitchen servant named Roger, and a Gyptian boy named Billy Costa. She also discovers that Mrs. Coulter wants her hands on the last alethiometer, a device that resembles a golden compass. This device, which was given to Lyra by Jordan College’s Master, is able to reveal the answer to any question asked by the user.

After escaping Mrs. Coulter’s London flat, Lyra is rescued by the Gyptians, who plans to rescue Billy and the other children. They take Lyra to the Norweigian town of Trollsund, where she meets an aeronaut named Lee Scoresby (Sam Elliot). She also meets Serafina Pekkala (Eva Green) who is a queen of the witches, and an armoured bear named Iorek Byrnison (voice of Ian McKellan). With her new friends, Lyra embarks upon an adventure that leads her to a conflict between her friend Iorek and the false king of the amored bears, Ragnar Sturlusson (voice of Ian McShane); and to Bolvangar, an experimental station in the North where the Magisterium are severing the Gyptian children from their daemons. Before the movie ends Lyra learns that Lord Asriel has been captured by Magisterium spies and that Mrs. Coulter plans to assassinate him. She, Roger, Scoresby and Serafina set out to rescue the endangered explorer by the end of the movie.

Like any other movie, good or bad, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” has its flaws. There were three of them that I found noticeable. One, the movie’s plot seemed rather vague on Lord Asriel’s fate after he was captured by the Magisterium’s spies in the North. Serafina gave a brief explanation to Scoresby near the end, as they set out to find Asriel. But still . . . I found it vague. Two, the editing by Anne V. Coates seemed a bit choppy in a few spots. And most importantly, the movie’s pacing . . . at least in the first third, seemed very rushed. Some people have complained that too many aspects of the story had been stuffed in the script. I personally feel that Weitz had simply rushed the story. By the time Lyra and the Gyptians reached Trollsund, the director seemed to have finally found a natural pace.

However, I must admit that “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” had turned out to be a lot better than I had expected. Honestly, it is quite good. The story was intriguing. Chris Weitz did a decent job in adapting Pullman’s novel for film, even if he did rush the first third of the story. I simply adored Henry Braham’s photography and Ruth Myer’s costume designs – especially Nicole Kidman’s elegant, 1930s style costumes. But I must commend Richard L. Johnson. Chris Lowe and Andy Nicholson for their sumptious art direction – especially their view of London in Pullman’s world. And Dennis Gassner deserves an Oscar nomination for his production design, as far as I am concerned.

The actors were first rate. What does one expect from a cast with the likes of Nicole Kidman, Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Sam Elliot, Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay? I especially have to give kudos to Craig who seemed like the embodiment of the ruthless, yet enthusiastic scholar Lord Asriel. And Nicole Kidman brought great style, charm and ruthlessness to the role of the villainous Mrs. Coulter. But she also gave the character a much needed pathos, when the lady revealed to our young heroine that she was the latter’s mother. It was quite thrilling to see Eva Green as a woman of action in her portrayal of the queen witch, Serafina Pekkala. Ian McKellan and Ian McShane were excellent as the feuding armored bears. And Jim Carter (who is married to HARRY POTTER actress Imelda Staunton) was most intimidating as the Gyptians’ king, John Faa. Seeing Sam Elliot’s portrayal as the charming aeronaut, Lee Scoresby, reminded me why I have remained a fan of his for so long. His scenes with young Dakota Blue Richards really crackled. He seemed like the embodiment of a fine wine that has aged very well.

“THE GOLDEN COMPASS”‘s center . . . the character that held the movie together was none other than first-time British actress, Dakota Blue Richards. This young lady was a find. She was absolutely perfect as the charming, yet bold and cunning Lyra. Some Washington D.C. critic had compared her unfavorably to another actress named Dakota – namely Dakota Fanning. Granted, the latter is an excellent actress, but so is Miss Richards. She managed to convey all of Lyra’s complex traits without turning the character into an adult in a child’s body. She was simply superb.

I am sure there are fans of Pullman’s novels who are disappointed that the movie did not turn out to be an exact adaptation of the literary version. All I can say is I am sorry, but I have never heard of any movie being an exact adaptation of its literary source. And if you are hoping to find one in the future, you will be disappointed. Yes, “THE GOLDEN COMPASS” has its flaws. What movie does not? But it certainly has enough virtues, including a superb leading actress, that made it enjoyable . . . at least for me.