“DEFIANCE” (2008) Review

“DEFIANCE” (2008) Review

After watching Edward Zwick’s latest film, ”DEFIANCE”, I am finally beginning to realize that it does not pay to make assumptions about a movie, based upon a theater trailer. I have already made this mistake several times throughout my life and it irks me that I am still making it. I certainly made this mistake when I saw the trailer for ”DEFIANCE”, a World War II drama that told the story of the war experiences of four Polish-Jewish brothers who ended up forming a partisan resistance group against the occupying Nazis between 1941 and 1942. 

Based upon the book, ”Defiance: The Bielski Partisans” by Nechama Tec, ”DEFIANCE” centered around the Bielski brothers – Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell and George MacKay – who had escaped their Nazi-occupied homeland of Eastern Poland/West Belarus and joined the Soviet partisans to combat the Nazis. The brothers eventually rescued roughly 1,200 Jews. The film tracked their struggle to evade invading German forces, while still maintaining their mission to save Jewish lives. When I had first learned about this film, I had assumed this would be some rousing World War II tale about a brave resistance against the Nazi horde. I really should have known better. I should have taken into account the film’s director – namely Edward Zwick.

The first Zwick film I had ever seen was the 1989 Civil War drama, ”GLORY”. In that movie and other movies directed by him, most of the characters are never presented as one-dimensional, black-and-white characters. Shades of gray permeated most, if not all of his characters, including most memorably – Denzel Washington in ”GLORY”, Annette Bening in ”SIEGE”, Tom Cruise in ”THE LAST SAMURAI” and both Leonardo DiCaprio and Djimon Hounsou. Zwick continued his tradition of presenting ambiguous characters and morally conflicting issues in ”DEFIANCE”. Moral ambiguity seemed to be the hallmark in the portrayal of at least two of the Bielski brothers. Both Tuvial and Zus Bielski (Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber) are strong-willed and ruthless men, willing to kill anyone who crossed them. And both seemed willing to enact vengeance against anyone have harmed their loved ones. But they had their differences.

Daniel Craig had the job of portraying Tuvial Bielski, the oldest sibling who decides to create a community and a brigade with the Jewish refugees hiding from the Nazis and their Polish allies. His Tuvial seemed a little reluctant to take on this task – at least at first. And he also seemed unsure whether he could be a competent leader. Thanks to Craig’s performance, this insecurity of Tuvial’s seemed to slowly grow more apparent by the movie’s second half. Being the more-than-competent actor that he is, Craig also managed to portray other aspects of Tuvial’s nature – his ruthlessness, tenderness and sardonic sense of humor (which seemed to be apparent in the Bielski family overall). And like any good actor, he does not try to hog the limelight at the expense of his co-stars. Craig created sizzling on-screen chemistry with Schreiber, Bell and the actress who portrayed Tuvial’s future wife, Alexa Davalos.

Liev Schreiber portrayed Zus, the second oldest Bielski brother. And being the charismatic actor that he is, Schreiber did an excellent job of portraying the volatile second brother, Zus. Upon learning the deaths of his wife and child, Schreiber’s Zus seemed determined to exact revenge upon the Nazis for their deaths. Even if it meant walking away from his brothers and joining the Soviet partisans. Another aspect of Zus’ character that Schreiber made so memorable was the intense sibling rivalry he injected into his relationship with Craig’s Tuvial. Unlike his older brother, Zus’s volatile nature made him more inclined to exact revenge against the Nazis and other enemies. Also, Schreiber perfectly brought out Zus’ contempt and dislike toward those Jewish refugees who came from a higher social class than his family’s.

Portraying the third Bielski brother is Jamie Bell, a young English actor who had also appeared in movies such as ”KING KONG” (2005) and ”JUMPER” (2008). Bell did an excellent job of portraying the young and slightly naïve Asael, the third Bielski brother who experiences as a partisan with Tuvial enabled him to mature as a fighter and a man. His Asael does not seem to possess his older brothers’ ruthlessness . . . on the surface. But as the refugees struggle to survive their first winter together and evade the Nazis in the movie’s last half hour, Bell brought out Asael’s toughness that had been hidden by a reserved and slightly shy nature.

”DEFIANCE” also included an additional cast that greatly supported the three leads. There were at least three that caught my interest. Alexa Davalos expertly portrayed Lilka Ticktin, an aristocratic Polish Jew, whose delicate looks and quiet personality hid a strong will and warmly supportive nature. Both Mark Feuerstein as the intellectual Isaac Malbin and Allan Corduner as a professor named Shamon Haretz humorously provided comic relief in their never-ending philosophical debates that seemed to elude the less intellectual Bielskis. The rest of the cast featured supporting players and local Lithuanians portraying the refugees. Basically, they did a pretty good job in conveying the refugees’ plight. There were moments when their acting seemed like one, long running cliché. And there were moments – like the sequence featuring their fatal beating of the captured German soldier – in which they seemed very effective.

”DEFIANCE” is not perfect. As I had stated earlier, the supporting and background characters tend to drift into cliché performances sometimes. The movie’s pacing threatened to drag in two places – when the Bielskis first began to gather the refugees that followed them; and later in the film when Tuvial’s camp suffer their first ”winter of discontent”. James Newton Howard’s score did not help matters. I found it slow and unoriginal and it threatened to bog down the film in certain scenes.

But the movie definitely had its moments – including the sequence featuring the lynching of the German soldier. It was one of many that accentuated the gray and complex nature of ”DEFIANCE”. On one hand, the audience could not help but empathize with the refugees’ anger at what the German soldier represented – the deaths of their loved ones and the dark turn their lives had taken. On the other hand, the entire sequence struck me as ugly and dark. Mob violence at its worse. Even Asael (Bell) seemed disgusted by the refugees’ lynching of the soldier . . . and Tuvial’s failure to stop them. Another ambiguous scene centered around one of the refugees – a rogue soldier of Tuvial’s brigade named Arkady Lubczanski – who tries to lead a rebellion against an ill Tuvial during a food shortage. Arkady is portrayed as an unpleasant man who lusts after Asael’s bride and believes that he and his fellow soldiers in the brigade are entitled to more food than the refugees. Tuvial ends the rebellion by killing Arkady. Granted, Arkady had not harmed anyone – aside from giving Asael a shiner. On the other hand, his practice of hoarding the food could have ended with death by starvation for most of the refugees. Had Tuvial been right to commit murder? Apparently, the refugees did not seem so. They did not protest against his act of murder.

This is what Edward Zwick is all about. This is why I am a major fan of many of his movies. Superficially, he presents his story in a black-and-white situation. The Nazis, their Polish allies, anti-Semitic Soviet troops and unpleasant refugees like Arkady are presented superficially as one-note villains. Yet, the people who oppose them – the Bielski brothers, their loved ones, their Polish and Soviet allies and the refugees – turn out not to be as “good” or perfect as many would believe. In Ed Zwick’s movies, the world is not as black and white as we might believe . . . or wish it would be.

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”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (2002) Review

”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” (2002) Review

Let me make something clear . . . I have never read the literary version of ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO”, written by Alexandre Dumas. I have seen three movie versions – including this latest one starring James Caviezel. But I have never read the novel. So, for me to compare the literary version to this movie would be irrelevant.

In short, ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” is the story about a French sailor named Edmond Dantès (Caviezel), who finds himself a victim of French political machinations, thanks to the Emperor Napoleon, a jealous first mate named Danglars, his best friend Fernand Mondego (Guy Pearce) and an ambitious local magistrate named J.F. Villefort (James Frain). Edmond ends up on an island prison called Château d’If, where he meets a fellow prisoner, a priest and a former soldier in Napoleon’s army named Abbé Faria (Richard Harris). Faria is killed in an accident after informing Edmond about a fabulous hidden treasure. After Edmond uses Faria’s death to escape from Château d’If, he befriends a smuggler and thief named Jacopo (Luis Guzmán). The two find the treasure that Faria had talked about and Edmond uses it to establish the persona of the Count of Monte Cristo. His aim? To avenge himself against those who had betrayed him – Danglars, Villefort, Mondego and his fiancée Mercédès Iguanada (Dagmara Dominczyk), who had married Mondego after his arrest.

I have to give kudos to director Kevin Reynolds and screenwriter Jay Wolpert for creating a first-class adaptation of Dumas’ novel. From what I have read, it is not an exact adaptation of the novel. As if that was possible. Not that I care whether it was or not. I still enjoyed the movie. Despite some of the changes to the story, ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” still managed to retain its emotional ambiguity. Villains such as Villefort and especially Mondego are not as one-dimensional ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ as one might believe. The origin of Villefort came from his father’s ego-driven ambition. As for Mondego, his dislike and betrayal of Edmond had its roots in his own insecurity and bouts of self-hatred, despite his position as an aristocrat. As for Edmond, he becomes so blinded by his hatred and desire for revenge that his actions nearly ends in tragedy for Mercédès and her adolescent son, Albert (Henry Cavill) – the only innocents in this tale of betrayal and vengeance.

The cast was first rate. James Caviezel gave a superb performance as Edmond Dantès, the naïve French sailor who becomes a wealthy man bent upon vengeance. Caviezel took Edmond’s character and emotional make-up all over the map without missing a beat. And Guy Pearce was equally superb as the villainous Fernand Mondego, an arrogant aristocrat whose own jealousy and bouts of self-loathing led him to betray the only friend he would ever have. James Frain gave a solid performance as the ambitious Villefort, whose greed allows Edmond takes advantage of in order to exact his revenge. And I could say the same for both Dagmara Dominczyk, who portrayed Mercédès Iguanada, Edmond’s charming fiancée who found herself stuck in a loveless marriage with Mondego due to certain circumstances; and Luis Guzmán’s portrayal as the wise and loyal Jacapo. Henry Cavill gave a solid performance as Edmund’s guiless, yet emotional son who gets caught up in the crossfire between Edmund and Fernand. And the late Richard Harris managed to create great chemistry with Caviezel as Edmond’s wise mentor, Abbé Faria.

Cinematographer Andrew Dunn and production designer Andrew Dunn did a great job of transforming locations in Ireland and the island of Malta into early 19th century France. And they were ably assisted by Tom Rand’s costume designs. Along with a first-rate cast, Kevin Reynolds’ competent direction and Jay Wolpert’s script, this version of ”THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO” turned out to be an entertaining movie filled with exciting action, great drama and excellent storytelling. A first-rate movie all around.

“Return With a Vengeance” [PG-13] – 1/18

Here is a sequel to both“Neighbors” and “Two Thumbs Up!”. It is called, “RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”:

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“RETURN WITH A VENGEANCE”


Ratings: [PG-13]
Content Warnings: N/A
Spoilers: N/A
Season: Set in alternate Season 5.

Disclaimer: Cole Turner, the Charmed Ones and other characters related to Charmed to Spelling Productions, Brad Kern and Constance Burge. The McNeills and Cecile Dubois are my creation.

Summary: The remaining Crozat warlocks from ”Neighbors” seek vengeance against Cole, the McNeills and the Halliwells by unleashing an unknown power that threatens a close friend.

CHAPTER 1

A tall, dark-haired man appeared in front of one of the numerous old buildings on Columbus Street. He sighed, brushed away imaginary dirt from his jacket and disappeared as fast as he had appeared.

Seconds later, he re-appeared inside the building’s fifth floor corridor – in front of a door marked VENDRUM Company. The man cleared his throat and opened the door. The office interior contrasted sharply with the building’s old-fashioned exterior. Edward Crozat examined the office with an approving eye. The modern and expensive décor reminded him of his former office in Seattle. In fact, it made him feel right at home.

“Cousin Edward!” A beautiful, statuesque woman with pale skin, dark hair and eyes, strode toward him. “I see that you finally made it. Has the office met with your approval?”

Edward nodded. “Perfect. It’s almost as if I had never left Seattle. Are the others here?”

“Yes. They’re waiting for you in the Conference Room.” Suzanne Crozat led her cousin into another room, mainly occupied by a long table. Three other men sat in seats surrounding the table.

Once Edward and Suzanne occupied the remaining empty chairs, the meeting began. “Cousins, I gather that you all know why we’re here. The five of us . . .” Edward glanced around the table, “. . . are the last remnants of the Crozat Coven. Five out of what used to be at least thirty to thirty-five members.” He paused, as a frown darkened his countenance. “An absolute sacrilege, in my opinion.”

“Your brother Philip, should not have proposed the move from Seattle,” commented one Crozat cousin. His name happened to be Henry. He was a stocky man with beady black eyes and thinning hair.

Edward glanced at his cousin. “How can one seize control of the Source’s Realm without the extra powers needed? At least ten witches in the San Francisco Area possessed the powers we had required.”

“I assume you are referring to the Charmed Ones?” Henry continued. “The most powerful witches, ever? Exactly how did Philip plan to kill them?

Tension filled the conference room. Edward seared his cousin with a deadly glare. “If you must know, Philip and the others managed to trap the Charmed Ones. And he would have killed them . . .”

“. . . if it hadn’t been for the McNeill witch,” Suzanne finished. “Or should I say . . . bitch?” Her dark eyes radiated hostility. “I saw that she was the one who had discovered the location of our warehouse. In my visions.” Edward nodded. He knew about Suzanne’s ability to see the past. Unfortunately, her visions did not extend to the future. A minor problem he planned to remedy. Suzanne continued, “The McNeill woman, her telepath brother . . . and Belthazor were the ones responsible for the deaths of our cousins.”

Agitated voices filled the room. “Belthazor?” Henry exclaimed. “I thought he was dead, thanks to the Charmed Ones!”

“He certainly was alive the last time I saw him,” declared another Crozat. The person who spoke happened to be the youngest in the room. Cousin Rudolf. He also happened to be the son of Edward’s late brother. Rudolf added bitterly, “Before he transformed me into a stone.”

“Cousins, cousins!” Edward’s voice rose above the others. “Please! Now in regard to Belthazor . . . as you all know, the whore of some male witch he had once killed had vanquished his demonic powers about a year ago. Then the Charmed Ones vanquished him again, after he became the Source, last spring.” Edward paused. “But now he is back.”

Henry asked, “Is he trying to take control of the Source’s Realm again?”

“I have no idea. As far as I know, he has not made any attempts to take control. At least not yet.”

The fifth Crozat, a muscular man of medium height named Louis spoke up. “Are you sure? Why else would he help destroy most of our coven?”

Edward glanced at the anxious faces around the table. His eyes rested upon Suzanne, who eventually replied, “Apparently, he was only helping the McNeill witches to save the Charmed Ones. I gather from my visions that he is quite friendly with the female. Olivia.”

“Not in love?” Rudolf asked.

A vindictive smile curved Edward’s lips. “After Belthazor’s experiences with the Charmed Ones, I doubt that romance with a witch is the last thing he wants.”

Henry scowled. “Whether or not he is in love with this new witch, we still have to deal with him. Especially if he has the power of the Source.”

“He doesn’t,” Edward replied curtly. He hesitated. “Unfortunately, since his return from the Wasteland, he has become more powerful than ever.”

“That’s just great!” Henry cried out with his usual pessimism. “Not only do we have the Charmed Ones to deal with, but also a more powerful Belthazor, and the McNeills witches! Quite frankly, I’d rather deal with the Halliwells alone. They may be the most powerful witches, but they’re not as . . . cunning and difficult to kill as Belthazor or the McNeills.”

Nodding, Edward replied, “And that is why we’re here, tonight. To discuss our revenge against those who had killed our family. And take control of the Source’s Realm.”

“And how do you propose we do that?”

Edward heaved a patient sigh. Moments like this made him wish Cousin Henry had been among those killed in the upheaval at the Tower Bay warehouse, nearly a month ago. “One,” he began, “we will take care of Belthazor on our own. Suzanne will become a new client at the law firm he works for. Lure him to our office or her apartment, before we kill him.” Edward paused dramatically. “And we’ll kill him after we steal his powers.”

Louis frowned. “How do you plan to do that?”

“Using a potion and a spell that I have discovered,” Suzanne added. “Unlike the demon Barbas, we won’t need a Charmed One to steal his powers. The potion I have created also has a hallucinogenic ingredient that will make it easy to deal with him.”

Henry demanded, “What about the Charmed Ones? And the McNeills? I don’t exactly relish going up against two powerful covens.”

Edward smiled. Slowly. “We won’t have to. A friend of mine in Singapore has sent a package that will do the job for us.” His smile broadened. “Within a week or two, we’ll have vengeance for our kinsmen’s deaths. And we’ll become the new rulers of the Source’s Realm.”

* * * *

A low hum pierced the silence inside Captain McPherson’s office. Inspectors Darryl Morris and Olivia McNeill of the San Francisco Police Department sat in chairs in front of his desk and watched him read the report in his hand.

The silence finally ended with a long sigh from the captain. He placed the report on his desk and glared at the two subordinates. “Is this it? This is all you were able to learn about the disappearance of . . . what, twenty-five, thirty people? All of the employees of the Tower Bay Import/Export Company?”

Both Olivia and Darryl exchanged uneasy glances. They knew exactly what had occurred at the Tower Bay warehouse. However, they also knew that the truth would only result in trouble for Olivia and possibly a heart attack for their captain.

Darryl coughed slightly. “That’s about the gist of it, Captain,” he said. “Olivia and I found no traces of bodies, blood or anything else.”

“Except for a scorch mark,” Captain McPherson grumbled. Darryl looked away. “Does anyone have an idea what caused the scorch mark?”

A pause followed before Olivia spoke up. “Forensics went over the mark, Captain. As far as they know, it was caused by fire.”

“That’s it? A fire?”

Olivia responded with a shrug.

The captain’s eyes returned to the report. Then he asked, “What about the employees? What do you know about them?”

The two partners paused briefly. Darryl opened his mouth to speak, but Olivia beat him to the punch. “The company was owned by a Seattle-based corporation called MALEHEX. Both Darryl and I checked with Seattle PD. A family called Crozat owns the corporation. And we also learned that the Crozats were in the process of moving the corporation’s headquarters down here to San Francisco.”

“And?” Captain McPherson insisted.

Darryl took a deep breath. “We haven’t been able to track down the remaining members of the family. Including the company’s director, Philip Crozat.” He paused, wishing he were at home or facing a perp’s gunfire, instead of his captain. “It’s all in the report.”

“Which isn’t much,” the captain grumbled. He heaved another sigh. “Okay, it looks as if we have another unsolved case on our hands.” He shot Darryl a pointed look. “Another one of your ‘freaky cases’, Morris.”

Darryl tried to maintain a calm façade. It would have worked if Olivia had not opened her mouth. “Considering the number of‘freaky cases’ that come our way, I’m surprised that the Department hasn’t started its own X-Files division.” A long, suffering sigh escaped Darryl’s mouth. Of all the bad jokes . . . He glanced at Captain McPherson, who glared at the embarrassed Olivia.

“I assume that you two are still working on the DiMatteo case,” Captain McPherson added darkly. “Since nothing new has cropped up, I suggest that you get back to work. Dismissed.”

Neither Darryl or Olivia hesitated to follow the captain’s orders. They quickly returned to their desks and Darryl took the moment to confront his partner. “What the hell was that about?” he demanded.

“What?” Olivia protested in innocence.

Darryl rolled his eyes. “The X-Files joke. Are you crazy?”

“So I forgot that Captain McPherson lacked a sense of humor,” Olivia retorted. “So what? It’s not the first time.” She switched on her computer terminal.

Struggling to keep his irritation in check, Darryl continued, “Sometimes I think you like playing the devil’s advocate just a little too much.” He leaned forward, his eyes penetrating the red-haired woman’s. “You’re a first-class cop, McNeill. But you really need to learn when to keep that big mouth of yours, shut.”

Olivia sighed. “You know, you almost sound like my aunt.”

“Maybe she knew what she was talking about,” Darryl shot back.

A grunt escaped Olivia’s mouth. Her next words baffled Darryl. “If you knew the real truth about Aunt Rhiannon, Darryl, you wouldn’t say that.”

What the hell? “What? What are you . . . Oh God! Never mind!” Darryl heaved a sigh. Another thought came to his mind. “By the way, we have heard the last of these Crozats. Right?”

Olivia hesitated. Which did not help ease Darryl’s fears. “Well, to tell you the truth,” she began, “Cole and I aren’t so sure.”

Oh Lord! “What?” The word came out of Darryl’s mouth like a gunshot.

Olivia then proceeded to tell Darryl about a Crozat warlock whom Cole Turner had transformed into a pebble. The image reminded Darryl of the time that son-of-a-bitch had transformed him into a water cooler. “Cole and I went back to the warehouse to find him,” she continued. “Only . . .” She hesitated.

“Only what?” Darryl demanded.

“Only Cole wasn’t able to transform him back. We think the warlock might be gone. It seems that a police guard had caught some kids on the property, throwing rocks, two days after the uh . . . incident. There’s a chance that one of those rocks happened to be the warlock. And he probably changed back into his original form upon impact on the ground.”

Despair overcame Darryl faster than an incoming wave. He visibly wilted before Olivia. “Oh God,” he murmured. “That warlock . . . did he . . .?”

Olivia shook her head. “The patrolman and the kids are still alive.” She paused. “Unfortunately . . .”

“. . . we still have a warlock roaming about San Francisco,” Darryl finished through clinched teeth.

If that was not bad enough, according to Olivia, there seemed to be a chance that the McNeills and the Halliwells might have to deal with more than one Crozat warlock. According to her friend from the Seattle Police, someone had closed MALEHEX’s Seattle office permanently. When Darryl failed to respond, Olivia added uneasily, “Darryl? Are you okay?”

A long, dry sigh slowly eased out of his mouth. “I was just wondering,” Darryl said in a tired voice, “if matters can get any worse.”

Before Olivia could respond, a tall, handsome man with dark hair and blue eyes, and wearing an expensive blue suit, approached her desk. Olivia smiled. He returned the smile with a wide one of his own. “Hey Olivia, ready for lunch?”

Darryl groaned. Cole Turner glanced at him, looking slightly concerned. “Hey Darryl. Something wrong?”

A morose Darryl grumbled, “Yeah, I think my day just got worse.”

END CHAPTER 1

“Moore As Bond”

“MOORE AS BOND”

I always found it odd that many Bond fans tend to dismiss Roger Moore’s performances as a non-threatening Bond.While watching the “Special Features” segment for my “CASINO ROYALE” DVD, I saw the “Bond Girls Are Forever”segment in which Jane Seymour described her character’s relationship with Moore’s Bond. From what she and Maud Adams had said, I got the distinct impression that in his own way, Moore’s Bond was just as ruthless as the other Bonds.

Unlike his fellow Bond actors, Moore’s ruthlessness usually did not involve grittiness of any kind or overt menace. Judging from Seymour’s description of Moore’s Bond and my own memories, I suspect that Moore’s ruthlessness was a lot more subtle, but equally cold-blooded. I believe that Moore had portrayed Bond as a manipulative and cold-blooded cad, who would use anyone to achieve his goal . . . while smiling in their faces or whispering soft words. And thinking about this made me realize that Moore’s portrayal of Bond had more than just tongue-in-cheek humor. He had portrayed a Bond that turned out to be very unique from the others. Perhaps the other Bonds have used or manipulated others (think of Bond’s use of Solange in “CASINO ROYALE”), but they have never done it with such cold-blooded style as Moore.

Roger Moore had first been considered for the role of James Bond back in 1961 or early 1962, about a year before he began his six-year run as another British literary icon . . . Simon Templar aka “THE SAINT”. He eventually took over the Bond role from Sean Connery in 1972 and his first movie became 1973’s “LIVE AND LET DIE”. Moore would spend the next twelve years portraying the British agent. And during that period, he would gain the reputation of being a lightweight Bond – one who resorted to jokes, light charm and gadget instead of ruthlessness and sheer grit. A reputation – in my opinion – that I believe was unfairly dumped on him.

Whereas other actors who have portrayed Bond (Connery, Dalton and Craig, especially) tend to show the agent’s more ruthless side in gritty action sequences and overt violence, Moore’s take on Bond’s ruthlessness tend to be a little more subtle. Moore has shown Bond’s grittier side in movies like ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN” and ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”. However, his grittiness seemed more plausible in the 1981 film, in which he did not seem bent upon impersonating Connery like he did in the 1974 film. However, subtlety and caddish behavior seemed to be the hallmark of Moore’s performance. And here are a few examples (if you know of any more, please let me know):

– In ”LIVE AND LET DIE”, he deliberately tricked Solitaire into believing they were destined to be lovers, so that he could have sex with her and manipulate her into revealing all about Kanaga’s operation. One of the low moments in Bond’s career.

– Also in ”LIVE AND LET DIE”, Bond unceremoniously shoved a shark pellet into Kanaga’s mouth, causing the latter to expand before blowing up. Rather cruel way to kill someone.

– In ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”, he seduced fellow MI-6 agent, Mary Goodnight into spending the night with him. But when Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders, came knocking at his hotel door, he forced Goodnight to hide in a nearby closet, while he has sex with Anders. Hmmmm . . .

– Also in ”THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN”, Bond offered a young Thai boy to fix his boat engine for money. When the boy does as he asks, Bond shoved the kid into the water. That was . . . pretty shitty.

– In ”THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”, Bond started to enjoy the favors of a young woman that was hired to distract him at Fekkish’s home. But when he saw that Sandor is about to kill him, he used the young woman as a human shied. This is debatable, since there are those who believe that she simply became an accidental target.

– Also in ”THE SPY WHO LOVED ME”, Bond shoved Sandor off a roof, after the latter grudgingly gives him the information that he needs. And later, he shot an unarmed Karl Stromberg in the chest . . . four times.

– In ”MOONRAKER”, Bond sexually seduced one of Drax’s employees, Corine Dufour, so that she could lead him to Drax’s personal safe for information. This action eventually led to Corine’s death at the jaws of a pair of Dobermans. I can only assume that Bond never realized the consequences of his actions.

– Finally in ”FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”, Bond shot Emile Loque in the shoulder, forcing the Belgian hitman to swerve to the edge of a cliff. In what is considered to be a very celebrated scene, Bond slowly sauntered over and kicked Loque’s car over the cliff.

I tried to think of any real cold-blooded acts on Bond’s part, in Moore’s last two films – ”OCTOPUSSY” and ”A VIEW TO A KILL”, but I was unable to. Perhaps by 1982 or 1983, Moore had slowly become aware of the fact that his Bond was a lot more cold-blooded than he had originally intended. Or perhaps his Bond had matured into a man who realized that he did not need to resort to cold-blooded and caddish acts to complete his assignment. Who knows?

But I hope that this puts an end to the idea that Roger Moore’s Bond was simply some light and sophisticated man who seemed more concerned with jokes and beautiful women. Because from what I have seen from most of Moore’s films, his Bond seemed quite capable of being ruthless. Perhaps he was not as gritty as the likes of Sean Connery, Timothy Dalton or Daniel Craig, but Moore’s Bond could be quite a dangerous and cold-blooded man.

”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975) Book Review

Below is my attempt at a review of the late George MacDonald Fraser’s fifth installment in his highly acclaimed series, The Flashman Papers“FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975):

”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” (1975) Book Review

That great fictional bully and poltroon, Harry Flashman, once said.”Humanity is beastly and stupid, aye and helpless, and there’s no end to it,” in one of George MacDonald Fraser’s installments of The Flashman Papers – a series of novels written in memoir form about a British Army officer in Victorian Britain. Well Fraser certainly proved that momentous statement in the series’ fifth installment, ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”. First published in 1975, the novel featured Harry Flashman’s experiences during the Sepoy Rebellion aka the Indian Mutiny (1857-1858).

In order to understand Flashman’s encounters with certain characters in the story, one must remember one thing – ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME”is a direct sequel to the series’ fourth novel, ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE” (1973). At least two characters featured in the novel about the Crimean War also appeared in ”GREAT GAME” – Count Nicholas Ignatieff, a ruthless Russian intelligence office; and a former schoolmate of Flashman’s named Harry “Scud” East, who had also been a fellow prisoner-of-war of Flashman during the Crimean War.

The Sepoy Rebellion had been a bloody and emotional conflict for both Britons and Indians alike. It began as an uprising of sepoys of the British East India Company’s army on May 10, 1857, in the town of Meerut, and soon erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, with the major hostilities confined to present-day Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, northern Madhya Pradesh, and the Delhi region. The rebellion posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region, and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on June 20, 1858. The sepoys were a combination of Muslim and Hindu soldiers. Just before the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, there were over 200,000 Indians in the army compared to about 40,000 British. The forces were divided into three presidency armies: the Bombay; the Madras; and the Bengal. The Bengal army recruited higher castes, such as “Rajputs and Brahmans”, mostly from the “Avadh(or oudh) and Bihar” region and even restricted the enlistment of lower castes in 1855; in contrast, the Madras and Bombay armies were “more localized, caste-neutral armies” that “did not prefer high-caste men.” The domination of the Bengal high-caste in the army has been blamed in part for the Sepoy mutiny of 1857. It has been suggested that after the annexation of Oudh by the East India Company in 1856, many sepoys were disquieted both from losing their perquisites, as landed gentry, in the Oudh courts and from the anticipation of any increased land-revenue payments that the annexation might augur. Others have stressed that by 1857, some Indian soldiers, misreading the presence of missionaries as a sign of official intent, were persuaded that the East India Company was masterminding mass conversions of Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. The final spark was provided by the controversy over the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the new rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge open. It was believed that the paper cartridges that were standard issue with the rifle were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as anathema to Hindus.

One could say that Fraser had attempted to present the conflict from both views. One could say that he gave it his best shot. But it would have been impossible in the end. Especially since the novel was written from Flashman’s point of view. But I must give Fraser some credit for allowing Flashman to witness the emotions expressed by those Indians that had fought against the British . . . especially the beautiful and very memorable Lakshambai, the Rani of Jhansi.

The story began with Flashman receiving a summons from Prime Minister Lord Palmerston to join him at the Royal Family’s Scottish estate, Balmoral, in the early fall of 1856. Much to Flashman’s horror, he discovered that Palmerston wants him to journey to India and investigate a secret message that is being transmitted to many native villagers, sepoys(Indian soldiers under British command) and rulers alike, via a small stack of chapattis (Indian bread). Even worse, Flashman endured an unpleasant reunion with his former Crimean War foe, Count Ignatieff. The reunion resulted in a terrifying episode in the Highlands during a deer stalking party. And Ignatieff learned about Flashman’s India mission, thanks to the latter’s beautiful, but scatterbrained wife, Elspeth. Once Flashman arrived in India, he commenced upon his mission to investigate the mysterious chapattis exchange and guarantee the loyalty of Lakshambai, the Rani of Jhansi. But fate ended up dealing Flash Harry a cruel blow when a group of Thugee assassins attempted to kill him, following a clandestine tryst with the beautiful Rani. Suspecting mischief from Ignatieff (who has also arrived in India), Flashman’s Afghan friend, Ilderim Khan, urged him to hide from Ignatieff’s plots by impersonating a sepoy at the British cantonment (fort) in Meerut. Unfortunately, Flashman’s choice of location proved to be disasterous, for the cowardly officer found himself at the very place where the sepoy uprising began.

If I had to choose my favorite Flashman novel of all time, it would not be”GREAT GAME”. Quality has nothing to do with my choice. I just happen to be a fanatic about the American Old West, which is why ”FLASHMAN AND THE REDSKINS” remains my favorite. However, if I had to choose the six Flashman novels I consider supreme over the others, ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” would be one of them. It is, without a doubt, one of Fraser’s finest works and one of the best historical novels I have ever read. There were times I found myself wondering about Fraser’s talent as a journalist. I believe that he certainly put it to good use in re-capturing not only London and the Scottish Highlands in the mid-19th century, but also British India.

The novel’s gem or centerpiece started with Flashman’s arrival in Jhansi and ended with his escape from the siege at Cawnpore. Mind you, I was impressed by other passages in the novel:

*Flashman’s frightening encounter with Ignatieff and a Russian assassin at Balmoral

*Flashman’s lustful last moments with his wife Elspeth and her feather fan

* Flashman and an Irish wannabe hero named Thomas Henry Kavanaugh’s hilarious journey through the streets of war torn Lucknow in an attempt to contact British military forces

*Flashman’s terrifying moments with the British artillery at Gwalior

Earlier, I had mentioned how Fraser gave readers glimpses of the 1857-58 uprising not only from the viewpoints of Flashman, other Britons and loyal Indians, but also from those who had fought against the British. This was very apparent in the passages that featured Flashman’s impersonation as a sepoy in Meerut. Fraser gave readers a solid peek into the sepoys’ discontent and suspicions toward British regard for their beliefs – feelings that eventually to their uprising. In the following passage, Fraser described the Meerut sepoys’ refusal to drill with the new Enfield rifles with its infamous greased cartridges:

It wasn’t the most tactful thing to say, to that particular sepoy; I thought Sardul would go into a frenzy, the way he wept – but he wouldn’t touch the cartridges. So it went, along the line; when the end had been reached only four other men out of ninety had accepted the loads – four and that stalwart pillar of loyalty, Flashy Makarram Khan (he knew his duty, and which side his bread was buttered).

So there it was. Carmichael-Smith could hardly talk for sheer fury, but he cussed us something primitive, promising dire retribution, and then dismissed the parade. They went in silence – some stony-faced, others troubled, a number (like old Sardul) weeping openly, but mostly just sullen. For those of us who had taken the cartridges, by the way, there were no reproaches from the others – proper lot of long-suffering holy little Tom Browns they were.”

After surviving the outbreak of the uprising in Meerut, Flashman return to Jhansi for safety and discovered that another sepoy rebellion had occurred at its British cantonment. Flashman, Ilderim and a few other Ghazi (Afghan) soldiers decided to head for the British cantonment at Cawnpore. Once more, Flashy’s bad luck reared its ugly head when he and his companions discovered that the sepoys had revolted there, as well. However, the British commander at Cawnpore – General Hugh Wheeler – had foreseen a possible revolt by the sepoys and made plans to create a makeshift garrison for the British community (military and civilian), Eurasians and loyal Indians. Fraser painted a detailed description of Wheeler’s command at Cawnpore. But his description of the sepoys’ attack on June 23, 1857 really blew my mind:

”They were re-forming, a bare hundred yards off; the ground between was littered with dead and dying beasts and men. I had barely time to gulp a mouthful of warm, muddy water and seize my musket before they were howling in at us once more, and this time there were pandy infantrymen racing behind them.

‘One more volley!’ bawls Wheeler. ‘Hold your fire, there! Aim for the horses! No surrender! Ready, present – fire!’

The whole wall blasted fire, and the charge shook and wavered before it came rushing on again; half a dozen of them were rearing and plunging up to the entrenchment, the sabres were swinging about our heads, and I was rolling away to avoid the smashing hooves of a rider coming in almost on top of me. I scrambled to my feet, and there was a red-coated black devil leaping at me from the parapet; I smashed at him with my musket butt and sent him flying, and then another one was at me with his sabre, lunging. I shrieked as it flew past my head, and then we had closed, and I was clawing at his face, bearing him down by sheer weight. His sabre fell, and I plunged for it; another pandy was rushing past me, musket and bayonet extended, but I got my hand on the fallen hilt, slashing blindly; I felt a sickening shock on my head, and fell, a dead weight landed on top of me, and the next thing I knew I was on my hands and knees, with the earth swimming round me, and Wheeler was bawling.”

Ironically, one of my favorite passages featured some of the rebelling sepoys’ reaction to encountering their former commanders, following General Wheeler’s decision to surrender to their new leader, the Nana Sahib. I personally feel that it featured some of Fraser’s best writing:

”Four mutineers were hurrying up and down the untidy convoy, calling out and searching, until they spotted Vibart and his family – and then they ran hallooing and calling ‘Colonel sahib! Mem-sahib!’, and seized on the family’s baggage, and one of them, beaming and chuckling, lifted Vibart’s little lad on to his shoulders, piggyback, while the others shouted and shoved and made room for Mrs. Vibart in a wagon. Vibart was dumbfounded, and two of the mutineers were weeping as they took his hand and carried his gear – I saw another one at it, too, an old grizzled havildarof the 56th, standing on the entrenchment gazing down into the ruin of the barracks with tears running down his white beard; he was shaking his head in grief, and then he would look no more, but turned about and stared across the maidan, still crying.”

Despite the grim tone of the novel’s subject, ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” featured some hilarious moments. I had already pointed out a hilarious scene that involved Flashman traveling through the streets of Lucknow with an Irish hero wannabe named Kavanaugh. Two of them included quotes made by Flashman’s Afghan friend, Ilderim. While they were still in Jhansi, the Ghazi not only commented upon Flashy’s successful womanizing, but also mocked the British officer’s stubborn belief in Lakshambai’s alleged affection for him:

”Ilderim glanced at me witheringly, and bit his nail in scorn.

‘Bloody Lance,’ says he, ‘ye may be the bravest rider in the British Army, and God knows thou art no fool – but with women thou art a witless infant. Thou hast coupled this Hindoo slut, hast thou not?’

‘Damn your impudence –‘

‘I thought as much. Tell me, blood-brother, how many women hast thou covered, in thy time?’ And he winked at his mates.

‘What the devil d’you mean?’ I demanded.

‘How many? Come, as a favour to thy old friend.’

‘Eh? What’s it to you dammit? Oh, well, let’s see . . . there’s the wife, and . . . er . . . and, ah-‘

‘Aye – ye have fornicated more times than I have passed water,’ says this elegant fellow. ‘And just because they let thee have thy way, didst thou trust them therefore? Because they were beautiful or lecherous – wert thou fool enough to think it made them honest? Like enough. This Rani has beglamoured the – well then, go thou up and knock on her palace gate tonight, and cry “Beloved, let me in.” I shall stand under the wall to catch the pieces.’”

But one of the funniest moments focused upon Flashman acting as a native escort for a red-haired British widow named Mrs. Leslie at Meerut, out for an afternoon ride. Apparently, the attractive lady had developed a lust for our hero, not realizing that he was a British officer impersonating an Afghan-born sepoy:

”’You Pathans are not truly . . . Indian, are you? I mean . . . in some ways you look . . . well, almost . . . white.’

‘We are not Indian at all, mem-sahib,’ says I. ‘We are descended from the people of Ibrahim, Ishak and Yakub, who were led from the Khedive’s country by one Moses.’

‘You mean – you’re Jewish?’ says she. ‘Oh.’ She rode in silence for a while. ‘I see. How strange.’ She thought some more. ‘I . . . I have Jewish acquaintances . . . in England. Most respectable people. And quite white, of course.’

Well, the Pathans believe it, and it made her (Mrs. Leslie) happy, so I hurried the matter along by suggesting next day that I show her the ruins at Aligaut, about six miles from the city; it’s a deserted temple, very overgrown, but what I hadn’t told her was that the inside walls were covered with most artistically-carved friezes depiciting all the Hindoo methods of fornicating – you known the kind of thing: effeminate-looking lads performing incredible couplings with fat-titted females. She took one look and gasped; I stood behind with the horses and waited. I saw her eyes travel round from one impossible carving to the next, while she gulped and went crimson and pale by turns, not knowing whether to scream or giggle, so I stepped up behind her and said quietly that the forty-fifth position was much admired by the discriminating. She was shivering, with her back to me, and then she turned, and I saw that her eyes were wild and her lips trembling, so I gave my swarthy ravisher’s growl, swept her up in my arms, and then down on to the mossy floor. She gave a little frightened moan, opened her eyes wide, and whispered:

‘You’re sure you’re Jewish . . . not . . . not Indian?’

Han,mem-sahib,’ says I, thrusting away respectfully, and she gave a contented little squeal and grappled me like a wrestler.”

The novel also featured more memorable incidents and moments – including Flashman’s reunion with his old classmate and fellow prisoner-of-war, Harry “Scud” East that proved to be at first, caustic, and later, bittersweet; and his terrifying experience at being mistaken for a rebellious sepoy, following General Hugh Rose’s victory at Gwalior. But . . . there were a few flies in the ointment, so to speak. One, the last third of the novel seemed like an aftermath following Flashman’s experiences at Jhansi, Meerut and Cawnpore. He spent most of that period as an intelligence staff officer or as a prisoner of the Rani of Jhansi.

Speaking of the Rani, she and Flashy had a curious conversation about the British Empire, and also the differences between British and Indian customs that left me baffled. I found myself wondering why Harry Flashman, of all people, would go to such lengths to defend the Empire and the British way of life to an Indian queen. Mind you, I am certain that he had nothing against it, being both patriotic and racist. But why did it mattered so much to him that Lakshambai agree with his opinion on the joys of the British rule? One could say that he was simply doing his job. Yet, there was something about Flashman’s responses that made him look like an over earnest schoolboy. Especially when one considers that despite his patriotism, the Empire has kept Flashy from England and safety more times that he care to remember. The entire conversation . . . or should I say Flashman’s responses to the Rani’s objections against the Empire rang false and out of character for me.

Another problem I had with ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” turned out to be the presence of Count Nicholas Ignatieff in the story. Granted, he seemed just as ruthless as he had been in ”FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE”. But aside from his attempt to get Flashman killed at Balmoral, his presence in the story seemed rather weak. Almost unnecessary. Ignatieff did have an opportunity to torture Flashman in the dungeon beneath the Jhansi palace. But Lakshambai cut short the torture session, made Flashman her prisoner and Ignatieff permanently disappeared from the story.

Despite these minor flaws, ”FLASHMAN IN THE GREAT GAME” is still a magnificent historical novel. Fraser filled his story with enough different elements – drama, action, comedy, terror, tragedy and suspense – that allowed it to become one of the most well written novels I have ever read. Through Flashman’s eyes, the author left me laughing, breathless and surprisingly enough, in tears. In fact, I find it surprising that the novel never won any literary awards. A shame, really. For I believe that it certainly deserved a great deal of them.

“VALKYRIE” (2008) Review

“VALKYRIE” (2008) Review

When I had first learned that ”VALKYRIE”, a movie about the final assassination attempt upon Adolf Hitler, would be released on Christmas Day . . . I was surprised. Honestly. And my response had nothing to do any opinion I have about the film. Let me explain.

One has to understand that ”VALKYRIE” had gone through a great deal of turmoil to get made. Whatever problems the movie’s production had encountered, its biggest obstacle turned out to be the casting of Tom Cruise in the lead role of Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, the architect of this last assassination attempt that occurred on July 20, 1944. Many German politicians protested against the idea of a practicing Scientologist like Cruise portraying someone who has become regarded as a hero for his opposition against Hitler. Even members of von Stauffenberg’s family joined in the protest. The filmmakers of ”VALKYRIE” initially had difficulty setting up filming locations in Germany due to the controversy, but they were later given leeway to film in locations pertaining to the film’s story, such as Berlin’s historic Bendlerblock. Also, Cruise’s popularity with the American public had sunk over the past several years. Considering that many of the negative comments about the actor seemed to have stemmed from his Scientology beliefs, it seemed to me that religious bigotry had played a large role in the hard feelings against him.

Early in 2008, MGM/United Artists had released trailers of ”VALKYRIE”. Personally, I found them impressive and was happy to learn that the movie was scheduled for a June 2008 theater release. But due to the poor response to the trailers and MGM/United Artists’s initial marketing campaign, the studio executives moved the movie’s release date from June 2008 to February 2009. I was also surprised to learn that ”VALKYRIE” had another black mark against it – namely director Bryan Singer. He had built a reputation as a first-rate director with movies such as ”THE USUAL SUSPECTS” and the first two films from the ”X-MEN” franchise. Unfortunately, his reputation hit a snag when the release of the over-budgeted ”SUPERMAN RETURNS” failed to impress the critics and make a profit for the studio that released it. I figured that MGM/United Artists was simply going to allow ”VALKYRIE” languish in the theaters during the off season following Christmas, never to be heard of until its DVD release. Thankfully, MGM/United Artists proved me wrong. A few months ago, the studio executives announced that ”VALKYRIE” would be released on Christmas Day for the movies holiday season. When the film was finally released, I rushed out to see it as soon as I possibly could.

As I had earlier stated, ”VALKYRIE” told the story of the July 20, 1944 plot by German army officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Ever since the years before World War II, there had been a growing number of dissidents that viewed Hitler as the wrong man to be Germany’s leader. This opposition – which included German officers like Ludwig Beck, Henning von Tresckow and Claus von Stauffenberg – led to a series of assassination attempts on Hitler, including one plotted by von Tresckow in March 1943. By September 1943, one of the dissidents, General Friedrich Olbricht, recruited Lieutenant-Colonel von Stauffenberg into their ranks. It was his plan – code name”Valkyrie” – that led to the last attempt to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944. Directed by Bryan Singer, the movie stars Tom Cruise as Claus von Stauffenberg. The cast also includes Bill Nighy, Terence Stamp, Kenneth Branagh, Jamie Parker, Eddie Izzard, Christian Berkel, David Schofield, Kevin McNally, Thomas Kretschmann and Tom Wilkinson. Christopher McQuarrie and Nathan Alexander wrote the screenplay.

I might as well get around to it and reveal my opinion of ”VALKYRIE”. In a nutshell . . . I loved it. Which surprised me a great deal. I had expected to like ”VALKYRIE”, considering the cast, the director and the subject matter. Or at least find it interesting. I had no idea that I would end up experiencing a gauntlet of emotions while watching it. Mere curiosity was the only emotion I had felt, while the movie introduced the main characters and revealed the incidents that led to von Stauffenberg’s decision to join the conspiracy against Hitler. By the time the movie focused upon the assassination attempt and the coup against the S.S., I felt myself growing tense with anxiety and anticipation. By the time the conspirators’ plot began to unravel, the tension I felt had been replaced by dread. And when von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators were being captured and executed, I watched the scenes unfold with tears in my eyes. Curious, especially since I knew how the story would end.

The excellent performances by the cast turned out to be one of the reasons why ”VALKYRIE”struck such an emotional chord within me. This is also one of the reasons why I like Bryan Singer as a director. He knows how to utilize his cast – whether each performer has a major role or not. And Singer made the best of what proved to be a first-rate cast. I could go into details about every actor or actress in the cast, but I must admit that a handful managed to catch my attention. One member of the cast turned out to be Thomas Kretschmann, who portrayed Major Otto Ernst Remer, head of a Reserve Army battalion. The actor’s sardonic portrayal of Remer amused me to no end. Tom Wilkinson gave a top-notch performance as General Friedrich Fromm, head of Germany’s Reserve Army in Berlin. Wilkinson did an excellent job of portraying the treacherous general with a slight touch of sympathy. Another actor that caught my attention was Jamie Parker. He portrayed Lieutenant Werner von Haeften, an adjutant to von Stauffenberg who helped the latter carry out the plot. Parker did a great job in portraying von Haeften’s intense loyalty to von Stauffenberg. In fact, he and Cruise managed to create a strong screen chemistry together. Terence Stamp was excellent as the reserved, yet strong-willed Ludwig Beck, a former Army general whose opposition against Hitler began in the late 1930s and served as the conspirators’ figurehead. Bill Nighy portrayed General Friedrich Olbricht, Chief of the Armed Forces Replacement Office (Wehrersatzamt) at the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht and the original architect of the plan, Operation Valkyrie. It was Olbricht who recruited von Stauffenberg into the conspiracy. For the past five to six years, I have always regarded Nighy as some kind of chameleon. And with his performance, he did an excellent job of revealing at both the vacillating and stalwart sides of Olbricht’s nature.

But the true focus of ”VALKYRIE” was Claus von Stauffenberg and it was Tom Cruise’s job to make this man believable to the audience. Some critics have complained that Cruise had failed to capture the essence of von Stauffenberg’s character as an aristocrat. Many of them blamed this on the actor’s American accent. Personally, I find this criticism to be a load of crap. After all, the 1988 version of b>”DANGEROUS LIAISONS”</b> featured American actors portraying French aristocrats . . . with American accents. And I do not recall any complaints about their performances. I especially find the criticisms against Cruise ludicrous, considering that most of the cast featured British actors – using accents from all over the British Isles. What was my view of Cruise’s performance as Claus von Stauffenberg? I thought he was excellent. His portrayal of the German Army officer was that of a hero – and a very stalwart one at that. On the other hand, Cruise also did a first-rate job of capturing von Stauffenberg’s arrogance – a trait that was probably a by-product of his aristocratic background. This trait also managed to get the officer into a great deal of trouble even before his participation in the assassination attempt. But . . . most of the critics were too busy being distracted by Cruise’s American accent, while paying scant attention to the British accents of many of the other actors. Go figure.

Anyone familiar with Claus von Stauffenberg or the July 20, 1944 plot to kill Adolf Hitler would have known the outcome of the movie’s story. I certainly did. But despite my knowledge of the outcome, I found myself being caught up in the suspense of the story, thanks to Bryan Singer’s direction and the screenplay written by Christopher MacQuarrie and Nathan Alexander. I had assumed that most of the story would center on the conspirators’ plotting and set up of the assassination attempt. I had no idea there was more to the story surrounding the incident – namely the coup perpetrated by von Stauffenberg and his co-conspirators against Hitler and the S.S. Nor did I have any idea that knowing how the story would end, I would find myself rooting . . . hoping that the conspirators would succeed in their plans. Or escape Hitler’s wrath. The only hiccup in the movie – at least for me – was the introduction of Major General Erich Fellgiebel (Eddie Izzard) into the story. I found it confusing. Was he already part of the conspiracy when von Stauffenberg first approached? Or what? For me, it was only misstep in an otherwise superb script.

With a first-rate cast led by Tom Cruise, along with Christopher MacQuarrie and Nathan Alexander’s script, Bryan Singer directed an exciting and suspenseful tale that managed to tap into a great deal of emotions for me. From my personal view, I believe that ”VALKYRIE” was one of the better movies of 2008.

“FROST/NIXON” (2008) Review

”FROST/NIXON” (2008) Review

Beginning on March 23, 1977, British journalist David Frost conducted a series of twelve (12) interviews with former U.S. President Richard M. Nixon, in which the former commander-in-chief gave his only public apology for the scandals of his administration. Some 29 years later, Peter Morgan’s play – based upon the interviews – reached the London stage and later, Broadway, with rave reviews. Recently, Ron Howard directed the film adaptation of the play, starring Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. 

I first became interested in Nixon and the Watergate scandals in my mid-teens, when I came across a series of books that featured columnist Art Buchwald’s humorous articles on the famous political scandal. As I grew older, I became acquainted with other scandals that had plagued the American scandal. But it was Watergate that managed to maintain my interest for so long. Ironically, I have never seen the famous Frost/Nixon interviews that aired in August 1977 – not even on video or DVD. But when I saw the trailer for ”FROST/NIXON”, I knew I had to see this movie. There was one aspect of the trailer that put me off – namely the sight of Frank Langella as Richard Nixon. For some reason, the performance – of which I only saw a minor example – seemed rather off to me. However, my family went ahead and saw the film. And I must admit that I am glad that we did. Not only did ”FROST/NIXON” seemed only better than I had expected. I ended up being very impressed by Langella’s performance. And Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Frost merely increased my positive view of the film.

Speaking of the cast, ”FROST/NIXON” had the good luck to be blessed with a cast that featured first rate actors. Matthew MacFadyen gave solid support as John Birt, David Frost’s friend and producer for the London Weekend Television. I felt the same about Oliver Platt’s slightly humorous portrayal of one of Frost’s researchers, Bob Zelnick. Rebecca Hall gave a charming, yet not exactly an exciting performance as Frost’s girlfriend, Caroline Cushing. One of the two supporting performances that really impressed me was Kevin Bacon, who portrayed former Marine officer-turned Nixon aide, Jack Brennan. Bacon managed to convey Brennan’s conservatism and intense loyalty toward the former president without going over-the-top. Another intense performance came from Sam Rockwell, who portrayed another of Frost’s researcher, author James Reston Jr. Rockwell’s performance came as a surprise to me, considering I am more used to seeing him in comedic roles. And I must say that I was very impressed.

But the two characters that drove the movie were Richard M. Nixon and David Frost. Both Frank Langella and Michael Sheen first portrayed these roles in the Broadway version of Peter Morgan’s play. If their stage performances were anything like their work on the silver screen, the theatergoers who had first-hand experience of their stage performances must have enjoyed quite a treat. As I had earlier stated, I originally harbored qualms about Frank Langella portraying Richard Nixon. What I did not know was that the man had already won a Tony award for his stage performance of the role. After watching ”FROST/NIXON”, I could see why. Richard Nixon had possessed a personality and set of mannerisms that were easily caricatured. I have never come across an actor who has captured Nixon’s true self with any real accuracy. But I can think of at least three actors who have left their own memorable stamps in their interpretations of the former president – the late Lane Smith, Sir Anthony Hopkins and now, Frank Langella. One of Langella’s most memorable moments featured a telephone call from Nixon to Frost, in which the former attempts to further psyche the journalist and ends up delivering an angry tirade against the wealthy establishment that he had resented, yet kowtowed toward most of his political career. Michael Sheen had the difficult task of portraying a more complicated character in David Frost and delivered in spades. Sheen’s Frost is an ambitious television personality who wants to be known for more than just frothy talk show host. This reputation makes it impossible for Frost to be taken seriously by Nixon, Zelnick and especially the judgmental Reston.

I also have to compliment Peter Morgan for what struck me as a first-rate adaptation of his stage play. Morgan managed to expand or open up a story that depended heavily upon dialogue. The movie could have easily turned into a filmed play. Thankfully, Morgan’s script managed to avoid this pitfall. And so did Ron Howard’s direction. I must admit that Howard did a great job in ensuring that what could have simply been a well-acted, would turn out to be a tightly paced psychological drama. Hell, the interactions between Frost and Nixon seemed more like a game of psychological warfare between two antagonists, instead of a series of interviews of historical value.

I am trying to think of what I did not like about ”FROST/NIXON”. So far, I am hard pressed to think of a flaw. Actually, I have thought of a flaw – namely the usually competent Toby Jones. Considering how impressed I had been of his performances in ”INFAMOUS” and ”THE PAINTED VEIL”, it seemed a shame that his Swifty Lazar seemed more like a caricature than a flesh-and-blood individual. Perhaps it was a good thing that his appearance in the film had been short. Also, knowing that Frost had questioned Nixon in a series of twelve interviews, it seemed a shame that the movie only focused upon three of those interviews. Naturally, Howard and Morgan could not have included all twelve interviews for fear of dragging the movie’s running time. However, I still could not help but feel that three interviews were not enough and that the film could have benefited from at least one more interview – one that could have effectively bridged the gap between Frost’s second disastrous interview, until the third that led to his own triumph and Nixon’s rare admission.

”FROST/NIXON” could have easily become dialogue-laden film with no action and a slow pace. But thanks to Ron Howard’s direction, Peter Morgan’s adaptation of his play and the superb performances of the two leads – Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, the movie struck me as a fascinating character piece about two very different men who had met during the spring of 1977 for a historical series of interviews that seemed to resemble more of a game of psychological warfare.