Timothy Dalton and the JAMES BOND Franchise

“TIMOTHY DALTON AND THE JAMES BOND FRANCHISE”

I am going to start out saying that EON Productions have been lucky in choosing six actors who managed to bring their own sense of style to the role of James Bond . . . and I mean all of them. And all were smart enough to portray Bond in a way that suited them, instead of adhering to what the public or the producers wanted them to play Bond. 

That said, I want to say a few things about Timothy Dalton. Even though I was a major fan of Roger Moore, I realized by the mid-80s that it was time for him to retire from the role. With great fondness, I said adieu and breathlessly anticipated Timothy Dalton’s debut in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. And I was not disappointed. The 1987 movie easily became one of my all time favorite Bond films and I became a major fan of Dalton’s. Although the drug angle in “LICENSE TO KILL”seemed a little too “MIAMI VICE” for my taste, I still recognized it as a good revenge story that allowed Dalton to take the Bond role to a grittier edge. So, when I heard that he would no longer be playing Bond in the early 90s, I had felt a little disappointed. I had really enjoyed his interpretation of the role and felt that one or two more movies starring him would not hurt. I just was not ready to give up on him as Bond.

In the past seventeen-and-a-half years since “LICENSE TO KILL”‘s release, I have come to appreciate Dalton’s contribution to the Bond franchise even more. Whoever said that he was the right Bond at the wrong time was probably right. The man was ahead of his time . . . not just for the Bond franchise, but for many espionage films. But I feel that his impact upon the franchise has been a lot stronger than many Bond critics would admit. First of all, it seemed very obvious – at least to me – that Dalton’ interpretation of Bond may have strongly influenced Daniel Craig’s debut as Bond in last year’s “CASINO ROYALE”. It is also possible that Dalton’s performance may have influenced his immediate successor, Pierce Brosnan, as well. After all, it seemed apparent to me that Brosnan was not above utilizing Dalton’s darker take on Bond, every now and then.

I also believe that Dalton may have been partially responsible for the influx of edgy, angst-filled spy or action/adventure characters that have emerged over the years. Characters portrayed by the likes of Matt Damon, Matthew McFaydden, Kiefer Sutherland, Harrison Ford and possibly even Richard Chamberlain and Robert DeNiro. Some directors of action film over the next several years seemed quite willing to shoot their own interpretation of the Tangier hotel scene between Dalton and D’Abo in “THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS”. Similar scenes have appeared in “LICENSE TO KILL”, between Dalton and Carey Lowell; Bruce Willis and Bonnie Bedalia in “DIE HARD”; Harrison Ford and Allison Doody in “INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE”; Brosnan and Izabella Scorupco in “GOLDENEYE”; Brosnan and Teri Hatcher in“TOMORROW NEVER DIES” and again, with Sophie Marceau in “THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH”; and even Matt Damon and Franka Potente in both “THE BOURNE IDENTITY” and “THE BOURNE SUPREMACY”. But no one did it better than Dalton and D’Abo, as far as I’m concerned.

I had read in another Bond forum that Dalton and another actor did not have much an impact upon the Bond franchise as Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Of course I had disagreed. As I had stated earlier, Dalton’s impact on the franchise – while not immediate – proved to have a far reaching impact upon the Bond franchise. And he may have also had an impact on how many action characters would be portrayed over the next decade or two.

“THE SACKETTS” (1979) Review

Below is my review of the 1979 miniseries called “THE SACKETTS”:

“THE SACKETTS” (1979) Review

Thirty years ago, CBS aired a two-part miniseries (or television movie) based upon two novels written by the late Louis L’Amour. Directed by Robert Totten, “THE SACKETTS” starred Sam Elliott, Tom Selleck and Jeff Osterhage as the three Sackett brothers.

”THE SACKETTS” told the story of Tell (Elliott), Orrin (Selleck) and Tyrel (Osterhage) Sackett and their efforts to make new lives for themselves in the post-Civil War West. Screenwriter Jim Byrnes took two novels about the Sackett brothers – “The Daybreakers” (1960) and “Sackett” (1961) – and weaved them into one story. “The Daybreakers” mainly focused upon Tyrel and Orrin’s efforts to settle out West following the tragic circumstances of a family feud in East Tennessee. The two brothers eventually become involved in a between an elderly New Mexican rancher (Gilbert Roland) and a bigoted American businessman (John Vernon) in Santa Fe. At the same time, Tyrel struggles to keep the peace between a former New Orleans attorney named Tom Sunday (Glenn Ford), whom the two brothers had befriended during a cattle drive and Orrin. “Sackett”, on the other hand, focused upon the oldest Sackett brother and former Civil War veteran, Tell. Tell’s story centered around his search for gold in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and his problems with a family of outlaws who want revenge for Tell’s killing of their brother, a crooked gambler.

To Totten and Byrnes’ credit, they did an admirable job of fusing the two novels by adding two reunions between the brothers near the ends of Parts 1 and 2. They also allowed the supporting character of Cap Roundtree (Ben Johnson), a grizzled former mountain man whom Tyrel and Orrin also meet on the cattle drive; to break away from the two younger brothers and join Tell’s hunt for gold following the three brothers’ reunion at the end of Part 1. “THE SACKETTS” is also an entertaining and solid Western with two interesting tales that involve land feuds, romance, brotherly love, political change, vengeance and plenty of action.

One of the best aspects of the miniseries focused upon the developing hostility between the middle Sackett brother Orrin, and the brothers’ friend, Tom Sunday in Part 2. It was an interesting tale on how a solid friendship could easily sour over a difference of opinion regarding moral compass. After Cap had hooked up with Tell; Tyrel, Orrin and Sunday encountered the smoking remains of an emigrant family that had been killed by Ute warriors. Sunday wanted to split the money between the three of them. Orrin, upon discovering a letter written to the family by a relative, wanted to send the money back to said relative. Orrin got his way. And Tom’s resentment toward Orrin ignited. That same resentment exacerbated when he lost the election of Santa Fe’s new sheriff to the middle Sackett.

Politics also played a major role in the miniseries. The topic focused upon a feud between an aging New Mexican rancher Don Luis Alvarado (Gilbert Roland) and American businessman Jonathan Pritts (John Vernon). The feud was mainly the old Anglos vs. Mexican conflict that still dominates the Southwest to this day. The Sacketts became dragged into it, due to Orrin’s courtship of Pritts’ daughter (Marcy Hanson) and Tyrel’s romance with Don Luis’ granddaughter, Drusilla (Ana Alicia). In the end, the Sacketts and even Sunday sided with the New Mexicans. One has to applaud L’Amour for introducing this topic into the story, and for screenwriter Byrnes for maintaining it. But if I must be honest, I thought the execution of Don Luis’ feud with Pritts came off as heavy-handed and preachy.

One would think that Tell Sackett’s hunt for gold would dominate his storyline. Amazingly, it did not. Well, Tell did meet and fall in love with a woman named Ange Kerry (Wendy Rastattar), who had been stranded in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains for several years. But his story mainly focused upon his problems with the brothers (Jack Elam, Slim Pickens and Gene Evans) of crooked gambler named Bigelow (James Gammon), whom he had killed early in Part 1. This reminded me of a line from the 1984 adventure-comedy, “ROMANCING THE STONE”“But if there was one law of the West, bastards had brothers . . . who seemed to ride forever.” And both Tell and Cap eventually discovered that the Bigelows had brothers and allies everywhere. One ally turned out to be an insecure gunfighter named Kid Newton (Paul Kelso), who had an unfortunate and humiliating encounter with Tell and Cap at a local saloon. Tell’s problems with the Bigelows culminated in a tense situation in the Sangre de Cristo foothills and a violent showdown in a nearby town.

Most of the performances featured in “THE SACKETTS” struck me as pretty solid. To the cast’s credit, they managed to use mid-to-late 19th century dialogue without being sloppy or indulging in what I considered the cliché ‘Frontier’ speech pattern that seemed popular in the Westerns of the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, I found at least four performances that really impressed me. One of them belonged to Sam Elliott, who portrayed the oldest brother, Tell. I might as well be frank. He has always been a favorite actor of mine for a long time. With his grizzled, deep voice and demeanor, the man looked as if he had stepped out of a 19th century daguerreotype. He also did an effective job of conveying Tell Sackett’s loner personality, making it easy for viewers to accept the idea that this is a man who would wait years before contacting any members of his family.

Another performance that impressed me belonged to Jeff Osterhage as the tense, yet pragmatic youngest Sackett, Tyrel. To this day, I am amazed that Osterhage never became a big star in television or movies. He seemed to have possessed both the looks and screen presence to become one. And I was certainly impressed by his ability to portray Tyrel’s pragmatic, yet intimidating nature. Traits that led him to be the best shot in the family.

I also enjoyed Wendy Rastattar’s performance as Ange Kerry, the young woman that Tell and Cap had discovered in the mountains. Rastattar did a first-rate job in portraying a tough, yet passionate young woman, who ended up falling in love with Tell. But the best performance came from Hollywood icon, Glenn Ford as the enigmatic friend of the Sacketts, Tom Sunday. In Ford’s hands, Sunday became one of a gallery of complex characters he had portrayed during his career. For me, it was sad to watch Sunday regress from Orrin and Tyrel’s wise mentor to Orrin’s drunken and embittered foe. And Ford did an excellent job in exploring Sunday’s many nuances, including those flaws that led to his downfall.

One might noticed that I had failed to include Tom Selleck’s performance as one of the more impressive ones, considering that both Elliott and Osterhage made the list. I found nothing wrong with Selleck’s performance. Unfortunately, he had the bad luck to portray Orrin, the least interesting member of the Sackett family. Orrin was an affable, yet solid character that lacked any nuances, which could have made him as interesting as his brothers. A great deal happened to Orrin in this story. He lost his bride in a family feud, fell briefly in love with the villains’ daughter and pissed off Tom Sunday. Yet, he was not very interesting character. Which left the talented Selleck with very little to work with.

The movie’s production values struck me as very impressive. Production designer Johannes Larson, costume designers Carole Brown-James and Barton Kent James, and cinematographer Jack Whitman did an excellent job in capturing the ambiance of the Old West circa 1869-1870. Along with the director Totten, they managed to create a West during a period before it truly threatened to become settled. They managed to capture the ruggedness and beauty of the West without overcompensating themselves, like many other Westerns released after the 1960s tend to do.

Many years have passed since I have read “The Daybreakers” and “Sackett”. Which is my way of saying that I cannot tell whether the miniseries was a completely faithful adaptation of the two novels. If I must be honest, I really do not care whether it is faithful or not. The television version of the two novels – namely “THE SACKETTS” – is a first-rate and entertaining saga. I am certain that many fans of Louis L’Amour will continue to enjoy it.

“AMELIA” (2009) Review

Below is my review of the new biographical film on Amelia Earhart, the famous aviatrix from the 1930s: 

“AMELIA” (2009) Review

To this day, there have been at least three biographical movies about the 1930s aviatrix, Amelia Earhart. And I have not seen the first two films – a 1943 movie that starred Rosalind Russell and a 1976 television movie that starred Susan Clark. I finally got around to seeing the latest biopic film about Earhart called ”AMELIA”. Directed by Mira Nair, the film starred two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank in the title role.

Written by Ronald Bass and Anna Hamilton Phelan, the screenplay was based upon research from sources like ”East to the Dawn” by Susan Butler and ”The Sound of Wings” by Mary S. Lovell. Instead of covering Earhart’s entire life, the story focused purely on the aviatrix’s career as a pilot from her first flight over the Atlantic Ocean in 1928 (as a passenger) to her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. The movie also focused upon Earhart’s relationships with publishing tycoon and husband George Putnam (Richard Gere) and her lover, aviator Gene Vidal (Ewan McGregor); along with her collaboration with navigator Fred Noonan (Christopher Eccleston) during that last flight.

I can honestly say that ”AMELIA” is not one of the greatest Hollywood biographical films I have ever seen. It is not the worst . . . but I have certainly seen better biopics. The problem with ”AMELIA” is that it is simply mediocre. I am aware that the aviatrix had accomplished a great deal during her flying career. The film began with her becoming the first female to fly over the Atlantic as commander of the flight . . . and as a passenger. Embarrassed that her fame had not been earned, Earhart finally became the first female to fly over the Atlantic as a pilot in 1932. And although I felt a little teary-eyed and a sense of satisfaction over her accomplishments, I still found the movie to be a bit mediocre. For me, the movie’s main problem seemed to focus upon its portrayal of the main character – namely Earhart. I might as well be honest. The problem could have been Hilary Swank’s portrayal of the aviatrix. Or the problem simply could have been Bass and Phelan’s portrayal of her. She was not that interesting as a personality. Mind you, Earhart was not portrayed as a saint in the film. It included her alleged affair with Gene Vidal, during her marriage to Putnam, she had an affair with pilot Gene Vidal. Yet, Earhart still managed to come off as a less than interesting personality.

But all was not lost with ”AMELIA”. It included a handful of scenes that I found memorable. These scenes featured Earhart’s clash with Wilmer “Bill” Stultz (Joe Anderson) before the 1928 trans-Atlantic flight, that particular flight, George Putnam’s jealously over Earhart’s relationship with Vidal, her 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic, and her brief disagreement with Fred Noonan during their overnight stay in Lae, Papual New Guinea. The film’s minor centerpiece focused on those last moments of communication between Earhart’s plane and a U.S. Coast Guard picket ship called the U.S.C.G.C. Itasca before she and Noonan disappeared. I found myself especially impressed with Nair’s handling of this last scene, despite the fact that everyone knew its outcome.

Hilary Swank gave a solid and understated performance as Earhart. Considering that the aviatrix’s personality was understated, I doubt that it was much of a stretch for. I am a big fan of Ewan McGregor, but I think he was basically wasted in the role of Gene Vidal. Aside from providing a few romantic moments and expressing concern for Earhart’s plans to circumnavigate the globe, he really did not do much. On the other hand, I did enjoy Christopher Eccleston’s performance as the alcoholic navigator, Fred Noonan. He did not appear in that many scenes, but I really enjoyed the tension between him and Swank as they played out Noonan’s subtle, yet drunken come-on in Lae. In the end, it was Richard Gere who gave the most interesting performance. He gave an exuberant performance as the celebrated publisher/publicist George Putnam. Gere also gave audiences a glimpse into Putnam’s jealousy over Earhart’s relationship with Vidal – a jealousy that led him to propose marriage to the aviatrix in the first place. But in the end, not even Gere’s performance could provide enough energy to rejuvenate this film.

If there is one aspect of ”AMELIA” that I truly enjoy, it was the look of the film. Thanks to Stephanie Carroll’s production designs, Nigel Churcher and Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson’s art direction, Kasia Walicka-Maimone’s costume designs, and Stuart Dryburgh’s photography; the movie managed to capture – somewhat – the sleek Art Deco look of the late 1920s and the 1930s. Mind you, not all of it was historically accurate. However, I have come to the point where I find it useless to complain about historical accuracy in a movie with a historical backdrop. I wish I could say something about Gabriel Yared’s score, but I found nothing memorable about it.

I suspect that ”AMELIA” barely made a budge in the box office return. Not surprising. It is not a memorable film. It would probably turn out to be one of those films I would not mind watching on cable television or renting it from NETFLIX. Like I had stated earlier, it is not a terrible film. But I cannot see this movie earning Academy Award nomination two to three months from now. And I doubt that it will go down in history as a memorable historical drama. If you want my opinion, I would suggest that you either wait until this movie is released on cable . . . or wait until it is released on DVD and rent it.

“LOST”: The Island Guru

“LOST”: THE ISLAND GURU

There have been countless number of character essays and theories posted by ”LOST” fans about Island Destiny Man – John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Quite frankly, I have only read a small number of those articles. But recently, I have been watching some of the series’ episodes from Seasons One and Two. After viewing some of them, I have grown aware of a certain trait of Locke’s that I find annoying. 

When John Locke’s back story was first introduced in the episode, (1.04) “Walkabout”, viewers discovered that he had been a wheelchair bound employee of a box company in Tustin, California. Viewers eventually discovered that Locke was the illegitimate son of the fifteen year-old Emily Locke and a con artist named Anthony Cooper. Locke spent most of his childhood and a great deal of his adult years longing to be a man of action and someone special. He spent those years honing his skills as a hunter and gathering a great deal of knowledge on so many subjects.

On September 22, 2004, John Locke had traveled to Australia to participate in a ”walkabout tour” that would allow him to”live in the wilderness” for a certain period of time with a group of tourists. Employees of the Melbourne Walkabout Tours took one look at Locke’s disabled state and refused to accept him on one of their tours. Forced to return home to California, Locke boarded the Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 that would take him from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California. Only he and his fellow passengers never reached United States soil. Instead, they found themselves stranded on a mysterious island in the South Pacific. Locke also discovered that the island had somehow cured his crippled legs. From this moment on, Locke became an acolyte of the island. And judging from his interactions with characters like Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle, he searched for his own band of acolytes to share his beliefs.

Locke spent most of Season One helping the castaways survive those first 44 days on the island and offer them sage advice. He also had two encounters with a mysterious smoke monster, became the survivors’ “great white hunter”, helped Boone Carlyle deal with unhealthy for his stepsister, Shannon Rutherford, helped Charlie Pace kick a heroin addiction and convinced spinal surgeon Jack Shephard to assume leadership of the castaways. This all changed in the episode, (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”, when Locke and Boone discovered a Nigerian plane filled with heroin and bodies in the jungle. In that episode, he had convinced Boone to crawl into the plane to examine it. Because he had failed to inform Boone that he had a prophetic dream that the plane would lead to Boone’s death, he lied to Jack about the true situation of Boone’s wounds after the actual accident. From that moment on, the series began to unravel even more of Locke’s less admirable traits. Many fans and even actor Terry O’Quinn have expressed regret that Locke had not remained the wise, self-assured man from Season One.

But my recent viewings of some of the Season One and Season Two episodes have led me to wonder if Locke’s ”self-assuredness” had been nothing more than a façade. Also, that same self-assuredness seemed to have revealed a trait within Locke that I found personally distasteful. Superficially, John Locke’s willingness to help others like Charlie and Boone seemed may have seemed admirable. It certainly did to many viewers. No one has ever complained about his “methods” in helping those two. And for me, his methods in helping Charlie and Boone has made me wonder if John Locke was – like Jack Shephard – a slightly bullying and controlling man.

Charlie Pace
I had first noticed these traits in Locke during the Season One episode, (1.06) “House of the Rising Sun”. This episode’s subplot featured an expedition in which Jack, Charlie, Kate Austen and Locke examined a large cavern as a provision for housing and water for the castaways. While alone with Charlie, Locke took the opportunity to reveal his knowledge of the musician’s heroin habit:

[We see Charlie walking away from caves trying to take drugs out of his pocket, looking behind him. But Locke is coming from the opposite direction.]
CHARLIE: Listen to me, you old git, I’m going in the jungle. A man has a right to some privacy.
LOCKE: Just hand it to me. You’re going to run out. My guess is sooner rather than later. Painful detox is inevitable. Give it up now at least it will be your choice.
CHARLIE: Don’t talk to me like you know something about me.
LOCKE: I know a lot more about pain than you think. I don’t envy what you’re facing. But I want to help. [Charlie walks away]. Do you want your guitar?
[Charlie turns and comes back.]
LOCKE: More than your drug?
CHARLIE: More than you know.
LOCKE: What I know is that this island might just give you what you’re looking for, but you have to give the island something.
CHARLIE [giving Locke the drugs]: You really think you can find my guitar?
LOCKE: Look up, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You’re not going to ask me to pray or something.
LOCKE: I want you to look up.
[Charlie looks up and almost cries when he sees his guitar on a cliff above.]

Judging from the above scene, Locke’s idea of helping Charlie was to insist that the latter hand over the remaining heroin he had left. He insisted. That was Locke’s initial idea of helping Charlie. Knowing the location of Charlie’s guitar, which the latter valued more than anything, Locke then maneuvered Charlie into giving up the drugs in return for the guitar.

In the following episode, (1.07) “The Moth”, Charlie had demanded that Locke return his drugs – which the former agreed to do – ONLY when the former asked for the third time:

[Shot of Charlie running from a boar. Some luggage falls, the boar is trapped in a large net trap.]
LOCKE: Nice work, Charlie. You make excellent bait.
CHARLIE [angrily]: I’m glad I could oblige. Now give me my bloody drugs.

Act 2
CHARLIE: Did you hear what I said? I want my drugs back. I need ’em.
LOCKE: Yet you gave them to me. Hmm.
CHARLIE: And I bloody well regret it. I’m sick, man. Can’t you see that?
LOCKE: I think you’re a lot stronger than you know, Charlie. And I’m going to prove it to you. I’ll let you ask me for your drugs three times. The third time, I’m going to give them to you. Now, just so we’re clear, this is one.
CHARLIE: Why? Why? Why are you doing this? To torture me? Just get rid of them and have done with it?
LOCKE: If I did that you wouldn’t have a choice, Charlie. And having choices, making decisions based on more than instinct, is the only thing that separates you from him [indicating the boar].

Now I realize that Locke simply wanted to help Charlie. And I realize that he honestly believe that he was giving Charlie a choice. But if that was John Locke’s idea of a choice, he could keep it, as far as I am concerned. I found Locke’s idea of giving someone a choice rather boorish and controlling. He did not simply give Charlie a choice. What Locke did was manipulate Charlie into making a choice . . . but only on his terms. If Locke really wanted Charlie to utilize his free will to make a choice – one way or the other – about the heroin, he should have given Charlie the heroin when the latter first asked. Some fans have argued that Charlie would have never given up the heroin if Locke had handed it over right away. My answer to that is . . . tough shit. Seriously. Charlie should have made the decision to either continue taking the heroin or stop using . . . on his own. Without Locke’s interference or manipulation.

In the Season One finale, (1.24) “Exodus II”, Charlie accompanied Sayid in a search for Danielle Rousseau, a long time castaway who had kidnapped Aaron Littleton in order to exchange him for her own kidnapped daughter. During that search, the pair came across a Nigerian plane with dead bodies and Virgin Mary statuettes filled with heroin. In a weak moment, Charlie took one of the statuettes behind Sayid’s back. It turned out to be the first of many trips in which Charlie ended up filching a statuette or two, until he managed to build up quite a collection. The ironic thing is that Charlie managed to refrain from using heroin in his possession. Claire Littleton – Aaron’s mother, Mr. Eko and eventually Locke discovered in Season Two’s (2.10) “The 23rd Psalm” and (2.12) “Fire and Water’ that Charlie had possession of the statuettes. This, along with Charlie’s frantic concern and actions over Aaron, led Locke to assume that Charlie had resumed using drugs again:

CHARLIE: Hey, John, can I talk to you for a second?
LOCKE: Yeah, what is it, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I take it you heard about what happened last night.
LOCKE: If you mean you taking the baby out of Claire’s tent in the middle of the night — yeah, I heard.
CHARLIE: This whole thing was a big misunderstanding, John. I was sleepwalking. I don’t how or why —
LOCKE: Is there something you want from me, Charlie?
CHARLIE: I was hoping you could speak to Claire for me. You know, put in a good word.
LOCKE: Are you using?
CHARLIE: What?
LOCKE: Heroin. Are you using again?
CHARLIE: Kate sees a horse — nothing. Pretty much everybody’s seen Walt wondering around the jungle. But when it’s Charlie it must be the bloody drugs, right?

Charlie did lie about having the drugs in his possession. But he had been telling the truth about using. When Locke found Charlie’s stash of statuettes, he reacted in the following manner:

[Back on the Island, Charlie holds a couple of baggies of heroin in his hand.]
LOCKE [suddenly, off camera at first]: I’m disappointed in you, Charlie.
CHARLIE: You following me?
LOCKE: How long have you been coming out here?
CHARLIE: John, you’ve got the wrong idea, man.
LOCKE: You said you destroyed them all, and yet here they are. How is that the wrong idea?
CHARLIE: I came out here to finish the job. I’m going to get rid of these right now.
LOCKE: Yeah, that’s very convenient now that I found you. [Locke goes to the statues with his pack.]
CHARLIE: What are you doing?
LOCKE [putting the statues in his pack]: There was a time when I let you choose whether or not you were going to do this to yourself. Now I’m making that choice for you.
CHARLIE: Oh, you don’t believe me? Give them to me. Give them to me right now; I’ll destroy them. Look. [He breaks up the baggies in his hand] I’ll throw them in the sodding wind. Look, John, I know I lied, alright. [Locke starts walking away] Wait, wait, wait. Remember all those talks we had, you and me? You said everything happens for a reason — this island tests us. That’s what this is, John, at test. This is my test. That’s why these are here.
LOCKE: These are here because you put them here, Charlie. [Locke starts to leave again.]
CHARLIE: Wait, John, wait. [Charlie grabs Locke’s arm, and Locke angrily breaks free.] What are you going to do? Are you going to tell Claire? You can’t. If she sees them, I’m done. She’ll never trust me again, and she has to, John. It’s about the baby, alright? Aaron’s in danger. You have to believe me.
LOCKE: You’ve given up the right to be believed, Charlie.

Now, I can understand how Locke would be pissed off that Charlie had lied to him about having the statuettes. But the manner in which he took possession of them reminded me of a bullying parent. At that moment, Locke decided that hewould do something about Charlie’s drug problem by taking away the heroin without the latter’s permission. Like a parent would act toward an errant child. All Locke could have done was express disappointment at Charlie for the latter’s lies. But he behaved as if he had the right to take the drugs away . . . and ”make the choice” for Charlie to stop using. The sad thing is that Charlie allowed him to get away with such controlling behavior.

Booone Carlyle
By mid Season One, John Locke found another disciple to mentor. It all began when Charlie and a very pregnant Claire had been kidnapped by a spy for the Others – Ethan Rom – in the episode (1.10) “Raised By Another”. In the following episode, (1.11) “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”, a party that included Locke, Jack, Kate Austen and a wedding planner named Boone Carlyle set off into the jungle in search of the two kidnapped castaways. Eventually, the quartet split into two teams when Kate revealed that she also had tracking skills. Jack and Kate formed one team, and Locke and Boone formed the other. And at this moment, the master/apprentice relationship between the latter pair was born.

This relationship between Locke and Boone lasted approximately eight to nine episodes – between ”All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues” and (1.19) “Ex Deux Machina”. During this period, Locke and Boone discovered a steel door to the hatch (Swan Station) that would dominate Season Two. The two men spent several episodes trying to find ways to open the hatch, while lying to the castaways that they were on expeditions hunt for boar. These expeditions were briefly postponed in the episode, (1.13) “Hearts and Minds”, when Boone decided to tell Shannon about the discovered hatch:

BOONE: Look, at least I’ve got to tell Shannon.
LOCKE: Why?
BOONE: What do mean, why? She’s my sister.
LOCKE: Why do you care about her so much?
BOONE: You don’t know her man. She’s smart, she’s special in a lot of ways.
LOCKE: Fair enough.
BOONE: She’s been asking me about this. I can’t keep lying to her.
LOCKE: You mean you can’t keep lying to her, or you can’t stand the way she makes you feel because you’re lying to her?
BOONE: Both. Whatever. Look, she can keep a secret.
LOCKE: You’re sure?
BOONE: Yes, I’m sure.
LOCKE: No, I mean, are you sure you want to do this?
BOONE: I’ve got to get her off my back. She keeps asking me about this, she keeps asking me about you, about the whole thing.
LOCKE: You’re sure you’ve thought through the ramifications?
BOONE: Yes.
LOCKE: So be it.
[Boone turns around, Locke clocks him with a knife handle.]

After this surprising moment, Locke tied Boone to a tree and used drugs to force the latter to experience a vision quest :

[Shot of Boone tied up. Locke is mixing the stuff in the bowl.]
BOONE: Locke, what is this? Do you hear me? Untie me right now.
LOCKE: Or what?
BOONE: I swear I won’t tell anyone about the hatch thing, okay? I promise.
LOCKE: I’m doing this, Boone, because it’s time for you to let go of some things. Because it’s what’s best for you. And, I promise, you’re going to thank me for this later.
BOONE: Hey, I don’t think this is best for me. [Locke smears the stuff he’s been mixing onto the wound on Boone’s head.] What is that?
LOCKE: An untreated wound, out here, is going to get infected.
BOONE: You’re not going to just leave me here.
LOCKE: Whether you stay is up to you. The camp is 4 miles due west.
BOONE: Which way is west?
[Locke throws a knife into the ground, just out of Boone’s reach.]
LOCKE: You’ll be able to cut yourself free once you have the proper motivation.
BOONE: Locke!
[Boone is struggling in the ropes, trying to reach the knife.]
BOONE: Help, help!

Locke claimed that he was forcing Boone to submit to a vision quest ”for his own good”. Perhaps helping Boone find closure in his relationship with Shannon had been on his mind. But I find it interesting that Locke had decided to manipulate Boone into this situation after the latter decided to reveal the secret about the hatch. And regardless of whether Locke truly had Boone’s interests at heart or not, he really had no business forcing Boone into that situation in the first place. No wonder the younger man attacked Locke upon returning to the camp.

It all worked out in the end. Locke’s enforced ”vision quest” convinced Boone to leave Shannon alone and allow her to continue her romance with Sayid. More importantly – at least for Locke – the two men continued to maintain the secret of the hatch within the next six to seven episodes. However, Boone never really forgotten Locke’s heavy-handed method of coercing him into a vision question. He made this perfectly clear in ”Ex Deux Machina”:

[The scene switches to Boone and Locke at the hatch.]
LOCKE: I had a dream last night. I asked for a sign and then I saw a plane crash—a Beechcraft [pointing] right out there. It was a dream, but it was the most real thing I’ve ever experienced. I know where to go now.
BOONE: Go for what?
LOCKE: To find what we need to open this bastard up.
BOONE: Have you been using that wacky paste stuff that made me see my sister get eaten?
LOCKE [laughing]: No, no.
BOONE: Because, John, I’ve got to tell you—signs and dreams…

In the end, Boone paid a heavy price for becoming John Locke’s protégée . . . assistant . . . or however you want to call him. In the same episode, Locke dreamt of the following – a Beechcraft plane crashing, as well as his mother pointing in its direction; a blood-stained Boone; being confined to his wheelchair and a woman from Boone’s past who had died from a fall. As shown in the above passage, Locke did reveal some of his dream to the younger man. Unfortunately, he failed to tell Boone about seeing the latter covered in blood. With Locke’s legs temporarily paralyzed, he urged Boone to climb into the Beechcraft. The younger man managed to briefly contact someone via the plane’s radio (it turned out to be Bernard Nadler from the Tail Section of Flight 815) before the plane fell over and severely injured Boone. Locke managed to regain the use of his legs and carry Boone back to camp. But since he had failed to inform Jack about the nature of Boone’s injuries, the latter eventually died in the next episode, (1.20) “Do No Harm”.

Other Castaways
Charlie Pace and Boone Carlyle were not the only survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 to whom Locke had volunteered his advice. In (1.14) “Special”, he tried to give parenting tips to Michael Dawson on how to handle the latter’s ten year-old son, Walt Lloyd. Being older than Charlie and Boone, and resentful of Locke’s growing relationship with Walt, Michael angrily rejected Locke’s advice. Ironically, I sympathized with Michael. God knows he barely knew anything about being a parent, considering Walt’s mother kept Michael away the ten year-old away from him. But Michael had never asked for Locke’s advice or sympathetic ear. And the older man did not help matters by attempting to teach Walt on how to throw a machete without Michael’s permission.

Locke’s relationship with spinal surgeon Jack Shephard is practically legendary amongst ”LOST” fans. And yet, their relationship had begun on a harmless note when Locke informed Jack that most of the castaways regarded him as their leader. This was Locke’s way of convincing Jack to accept the mantle of leadership. In the end, Locke grew to regret the advice he had given for by Season Two, he ended up clashing with Jack over the leadership of the castaways. Which I did not found surprising, considering that both men shared a penchant for controlling others . . . in their own fashion.

There have been other instances in which Locke inflicted his own will against the desires and choices of others . . . or manipulated others. In ”The Moth”, he prevented Sayid from setting up a signal to help the castaways get rescued. He committed a similar act in Season Three’s (3.13) “The Man From Tallahassee”, when he blew up the submarine that the Others had provided for Jack’s departure from the island. In (3.19) “The Brig”, Locke manipulated James “Sawyer” Ford into murdering his own father, Anthony Cooper. It seemed that Cooper had conned Sawyer’s family of their money back in the 1970s – an act that drove Mr. Ford to commit the double act of murder/suicide. And in the Season Three finale, (3.24) “Through the Looking Glass II”, Locke murdered island newcomer Naomi Dorrit in cold blood to prevent her from signaling her companions from an offshore freighter.

For me, there is one scene that truly symbolized the conflicting and sometimes hypocritical nature of John Locke. In Season Two’s (2.11) “The Hunting Party”, Locke and Jack had discovered that Michael had left the camp in a desperate search to find Walt, who had been kidnapped by the Others in ”Exodus II”. And the two eventually clashed over how to react over Michael’s desperate flight:

LOCKE: Doesn’t seem to be — trail’s as straight as the interstate — the path of a man who knows where he’s going. [Locke stares at Jack a moment] Where are you going, Jack?
JACK: What?
LOCKE: Well, let’s say we catch up with him, Michael. What are you going to do?
JACK: I’m going to bring him back.
LOCKE: What if he doesn’t want to come back?
JACK: I’ll talk him into coming back.
LOCKE: This is the second time he’s gone after Walt. He knocked me out; he locked us both up. Something tells me he might be past listening to reason.
JACK: What? You think we should just let him go — write him off?
LOCKE: Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?

What exactly did Locke say to Jack? Oh yes . . . ”Who are we to tell anyone what they can or can’t do?” I found the comment a very ironic comment for John Locke to make, considering his past history with Charlie, Boone and Michael. Judging from the above dialogue, Locke seemed to be a fervent believer in free will and choices. Yet, he seemed incapable of practicing what he was preaching. Despite his belief in free will and free choices, I suspect that John Locke suffered from a malady that afflict many human beings – namely a desire to inflict one’s will or control over others. Power over another is a heady drug and many would bend over backwards or make any excuse to indulge in that desire. A very popular excuse, at least with Locke, seemed to be that he had acted for the greater good on behalf of his fellow castaways – regardless of whether they had asked for his help or not. From what I have seen of Locke’s character over the series’ past four seasons, he reminds of a certain type of character who has appeared in many forms of literature over years. This type happens to an individual who has exercised very little control over his/her life and who has spent most of his/her life being manipulated by others. This has certainly been true of Locke’s character in his relationships with his parents, employers and other acquaintances. Especially his father. This could explain why given the opportunity, Locke never hesitated to make decisions for others without their consent or manipulate them with a Draconian touch that seems rather sinister.

The ironic thing is I have rarely come across any criticisms regarding Locke’s penchant for inflicting his will upon others. Many fans have complained about his willingness to be manipulated by others, especially his father Anthony Cooper and leader of the Others, Ben Linus. Some fans have complained about his obsession over the island and his long-running feud with Jack. But I do not recall coming across any complaints about his actions with Boone in ”Hearts and Mind”. And many have complimented him for the way he dealt with Charlie’s drug addiction in Season One. I wish I could share in this adulation, considering that Charlie did give up his heroin addiction. But I cannot. I believe that Locke – and possibly many fans – was more focused upon the endgame, instead of the journey. What I am trying to say is that Locke seemed so intent upon achieving a goal – whether it was to get Charlie to give up drugs or convince Boone in getting over Shannon – that he failed to realize that such goals required a great deal of work on their parts. I would have been more impressed if both Charlie and Boone had come to the realization that they needed to get over their desires and obsessions on . . . their . . . own, or made the decision to achieve these goals without being manipulated by Locke. But since Locke had decided to interfere in the lives of both men, he pretty much robbed them of their struggles.

After reading this article, one would believe that I dislike John Locke. I do not. Frankly, I consider him to be one of the most fascinating characters on ”LOST”. Like many other fans, I bought into that image of him as this mysterious and all wise man who not only understood the island better than the characters, but also understood them and their situation better than them. What I had failed to realize back in Season One that underneath the persona of the all wise island guru, John Locke was an insecure man whose enthusiasm over being healed by the island led him to interfere and manipulate the lives of some of his fellow castaways. This enthusiasm not only led him to wallow in a delusion that he knew all there was to know about life, it also hid the fact that as an individual, Locke still had a long way to go in achieving self-realization.

“ROYAL FLASH” (1975) Review


Below is a review I had written of the 1975 adaptation of George MacDonald Fraser’s novel, “ROYAL FLASH”:

 

“ROYAL FLASH” (1975) Review

Directed by Richard Lester, “ROYAL FLASH” is a 1975 adaptation of George MacDonald Fraser’s 1970 novel of the same title, the second in a series of twelve (or thirteen) novels and stories about a cowardly British Army officer during the Victorian Era. Both the novel and the movie are comedic spoofs of Anthony Hope’s 1894 novel, ”The Prisoner of Zenda”, about an Englishman assuming the identity of a look-a-like European prince.

This movie does not seemed to be well-liked by many fans of THE FLASHMAN SERIES. One, it was adapted from one of Fraser’s least popular Flashman novels. Two, many of those fans balked at the idea of the medium-height blond Malcolm McDowell portraying the tall, dark-haired Harry Flashman. And three, many did not care how Richard Lester had included the same slapstick comedy that he had used in his two”MUSKETEERS” movies. It is not surprising that “ROYAL FLASH” not only failed to make an impact upon the box office in 1975, it remained unpopular for many years.

I must admit that Fraser’s 1970 novel never became a favorite of mine. Because it was a send-up of ”The Prisoner of Zenda”, it struck me as being somewhat unoriginal. And while I managed to tolerate Lester’s slapstick humor in the “MUSKETEERS” movies, there were times when it seemed a bit too much in “ROYAL FLASH”. Well . . . except in a few scenes in which I will comment upon later. As for Malcom McDowell being cast in the title role . . . I had no problems with his performance. In fact, I found it more than satisfying.

In a nutshell, “ROYAL FLASH” began with Captain Harry Flashman being feted in 1843 London for his heroic exploits during the disastrous First Anglo-Afghan War (1839-42). Actually, Flashman’s actions were less than heroic. Being the coward he was, he surrendered to the enemy . . . before British artillery saved him from captivity via a barrage. British troopers came upon his unconscious body – with him clinging to a Union Jack flag – and mistook him as a brave military fighter who was not only the last survivor of Piper’s Fort, but as someone who had fought until the bitter end. Following Flashman’s return to England, the British officer met two people who would endanger his life on the European continent four years later – future chancellor and creator of modern day Germany, Otto von Bismarck; and the Irish-born actress/dancer (if you can call her one) and courtesan, Rosanna James aka Lola Montez. He had met the pair while fleeing from a whorehouse being raided by the police. Being a lustful ladies’ man, Flashy managed to charm Rosanna (or Lola) into a tumultuous affair. And being a vindictive scoundrel, he made an enemy out of Bismarck by manipulating the latter into a boxing demonstration with the famous boxer John Tully. Eventually, Flashman grew weary of Lola’s penchant for using a hairbrush on his backside during sex and ended the affair on a bad note. Four years later, Flashman received a letter from Lola, now mistress of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, asking him for a favor. Upon his arrival in Bavaria, Flashman is framed for the attempted rape of Bavarian countess by Lola and ended up in the clutches of Bismarck and his top henchmen, Rudi Von Sternberg. The pair coerced him into impersonating a Danish prince named Carl Gustaf, set to marry the Duchess Irma of Strackenz. According to Bismarck, the real Prince Carl had contacted a sexually transmitted disease, making it impossible for him to marry the Duchess. As Flashman will eventually discover, Bismarck’s reasons behind this deception are a lot more devious. The German politician did not wish for the Duchess to marry a Dane, since the marriage might tilt the balance on the Schleswig-Holstein Question and interfere with his plans for a united Germany.

Many years have passed since I last saw “ROYAL FLASH”. Many years. And after reading several articles about its shortcomings, I really did not expect to enjoy it as I had done in the past. And yet . . . I did. Very much. Yes, I found some of the slapstick humor rather annoying. I can definitely say this about the sequence that featured the police raid on the London brothel, Flashman’s rather silly attempt to prove his marksmanship to the Bavarian military officers, and his duel against Rudi Von Sternberg inside the dungeon that held the real Carl Gustaf. But there were some slapstick moments that struck me as hilarious. One scene involved Flashman (in disguise as Prince Carl) accidentally smashing a bottle against the head of some poor chump during the christening of Strackenz’s new rail train. Another hilarious scene involved Flashman’s “honeymoon” night with the frigid Duchess Irma; along with Flashman’s attempts to escape from Bismarck and his thugs during his indoctrination as the fake Prince Carl. Also, the movie ended with a witty and rather funny duel of “Hungarian” roulette between Flashy and Von Sternberg, after the latter managed to interrupt Flashy’s flight from Germany.

Hardcore fans of THE FLASHMAN SERIES have condemned the choice of Malcolm McDowell for the role of Harry Flashman. It is quite apparent that the actor bore no physical resemblance to the fictional Flashman. But as far as I am concerned, McDowell more than made this up with his superb performance as the amoral and cowardly British officer. Personality wise, McDowell captured Flashman’s personality to a T. For me, he was Flashman personified.

There were other actors who struck me as perfectly cast in their roles – Oliver Reed as the manipulative and vindictive Otto von Bismarck, Britt Ekland as the beautifully cold Duchess Irma, Joss Ackland as the intimidating Danish patriot Sapten, and an unknown Bob Hoskins as the persistent London police officer who led the raid on the whorehouse. I also enjoyed Lionel Jeffries and Tom Bell as two of Bismarck’s thugs – Kraftstein and DeGautet. I must admit that it took me a while to warm up to Alan Bates’ performance as Bismarck’s top henchman, the Hungarian-born Rudi Von Sternberg. His Rudi seemed cooler, more mature and less jovial than Fraser’s literary version. But in time, I learned to appreciate Bates’ slightly different take on the role. However, the one performance that failed to impress me belonged to Brazilian-born actress, Florinda Bolkan, who portrayed the fiery Lola Montez. The filmmakers not only made the mistake of casting a Latin actress in the role, Lester allowed her to portray Lola as a Continental European. After all, the character was originally the Irish-born Rosanna Gilbert James before becoming the famous dancer, Lola Montez. Either Ms. Bolkan should have portrayed Lola as Irish, or Lester and the other filmmakers should have cast an Irish actress or one from the British Isles in the role.

Thankfully, there is a great deal more to enjoy in “ROYAL FLASH”. George MacDonald Fraser did a first-rate job of adapting his novel into a screenplay. In fact, I found it a little more enjoyable than his novel. Anyone who has seen the “MUSKETEER” movies must know that Lester had incorporated more realistic style fencing in the movies’ fight scenes. In other words, the sword fights featured a great deal of more bashing and kicking than any elegant swordplay. Thankfully, “ROYAL FLASH” provided more elegance in its sword fights. I especially enjoyed McDowell’s skills during the kitchen fight sequence that turned out to be a fake rescue perpetrated by Von Sternberg. The legendary cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth did an excellent job of capturing the beauty of German locations featured in the film. However, I could have done without that soft focus look that seemed to scream ”period piece”. Utilizing Unsworth’s photography, Alan Barrett’s costume designs and Terence Marsh’s production designs; Lester managed to effectively recapture England and Germany during the 1840s.

I realize there are hardcore fans of THE FLASHMAN SERIES who will never accept “ROYAL FLASH” as a worthy adaptation of Fraser’s 1970 novel. But you know what? Who cares? Seeing it again after so many years, made me realize that it had not lost its touch. At least not for me. In fact, I believe that the movie deserves a better reputation than the one it has possessed for the past three decades.

“HEAT” (1995) Review

Below is my review of ”HEAT”, Michael Mann’s 1995 crime melodrama that starred Al Pacino, Robert De Niro and Val Kilmer: 

”HEAT” (1995) Review

For many filmgoers and critics, the 1995 crime drama ”HEAT” is regarded as director Michael Mann’s masterpiece. It is the movie that most fans think of when the director’s name is mentioned. ”TIME” magazine had even placed it on its list of top 100 crime dramas of all time. And the brutal downtown Los Angeles shootout is considered to be one of the best action sequences in movie history.

So . . . how do I feel about ”HEAT”? Like many others, I consider it to be one of the best crime dramas I have ever seen. Honestly. The movie centered around a cat-and-mouse game between a Los Angeles Police detective named Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) and a ruthless professional thief named Neil McCauley (Robert De Niro). McCauley’s carefully planned heist of an armored car that contained US$1.6 million dollars in bearer bonds owned by a money launderer named Roger Van Zant (William Fichtner) goes slightly wrong when one of his crew – a trigger-happy cowboy named Waingro (Kevin Gage) – kills one of the armored car guards being held at gunpoint by the crew. Realizing they cannot leave behind any witnesses, McCauley’s crew is forced to kill the remaining guards. This multiple homicide, along with the armored car robbery, attracts the attention of Detective Hanna and his squad – members of the L.A.P.D. Robbery/Homicide Unit.

Back in the late 1980s, Michael Mann had written a transcript for a 1989 made-for-television film called ”L.A. TAKEDOWN”about a cat-and-mouse game between a Los Angeles Police detective and a hardened and methodical criminal that affected a bank robbery in downtown Los Angeles. Following his success of ”THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS”, Mann took that transcript and broadened it for a theatrical movie that would become ”HEAT”. Mann’s screenplay featured a multi-layered and complex look into the lives of professional criminals and the police officers that pursued them. Through characters like the introverted thief McCauley and one of his co-horts, Chris Shiherlis (Val Kilmer), audiences received a glimpse into the lives of professional criminals that were neither mobsters or amateurish lone wolves. Men like McCauley and Shiherlis were just as organized as the Mob, but they did not come from any particular ethnic group like the La Cosa Nostra. The movie also offered a glimpse into their personal lives and reveal how their pursuit of crime affected their families and other loved ones. ”HEAT”also presented a parallel glimpse into the lives of police officers like Vincent Hanna, who led a special unit of detectives that investigate robberies and homicides. Mann took filmgoers into Hanna’s marriage. There, the director revealed how the detective’s intense dedication to his profession and temper affected said marriage.

As I had earlier stated, ”HEAT” is a complex tale filled with intriguing characters and multiple subplots that served the movie’s main plot. Well . . . some of the subplots accomplished this task. The one plot that dominated the movie (and served as the only plot for Mann’s ”L.A. TAKEDOWN”) was the clash between Hanna and McCauley that culminated in a downtown Los Angeles bank robbery and its aftereffects. Through his script and direction, Mann provided some memorable moments in the film. I found myself impressed by the scene that featured McCauley and his crew being double-crossed at a local drive-in theater by men working for money launderer Van Zant. Another scene that impressed me was the more dramatic quarrel between Chris Shiherlis and his wife, Charlene (Ashley Judd) over his gambling habits. The scene served as a reminder on how the activities of criminals end up affecting their lives on a personal scale. One favorite scene featured an amusing, yet crowd-pleasing moment when Hanna realized that McCauley had become aware of the squad’s presence with his own investigation. But the movie’s tour-de-force remains, of course, the famous shootout in downtown Los Angeles, following a bank robbery committed by McCauley and his crew. I could rave over the excellence and excitement of the scene. But why should I bother? The sequence’s positive reputation amongst critics and filmgoers is a perfect reflection of the scene’s excellence. I can only think of a handful of similar action sequences – two of them from other Mann movies – that are this well shot.

As much as I admire ”HEAT”, it has its flaws. One, the movie has a running time of 165 minutes. Now, this might not be much of a problem on its own. However, it does become something of a problem with a movie filled with what I consider to be unnecessary subplots that dragged the film in certain areas. I could have done without the movie’s romantic subplots. McCauley’s romance with a bookstore clerk/graphics artist named Eady (Amy Bremmerman) bored the hell out of me. Hanna’s marriage to a divorcee named Justine (Diane Verona) annoyed me. Well . . . her character annoyed me. I became weary of her constant complaints about his “dedication” to the job. This particular subplot had its own in the form of Hanna’s suicidal stepdaughter (Natalie Portman), who seemed incapable of dealing with her real father’s absence from her life. In the end, Hanna and McCauley’s personal lives seemed to have NO real impact upon the movie’s main plot and minor impact upon their respective characters. Worse, both subplots nearly dragged the film. Ironically, the two relationships that had a stronger impact upon the movie’s main plot turned out to be Chris and Charlene Shiherlis’s troubled marriage and the marriage between another member of McCauley’s crew named Trejo (Danny Trejo) and his wife, Anna (Begonya Plaza). Chris and Charlene’s marriage and feelings for one another played a role in Chris’ fate following the disastrous bank robbery. And Trejo’s love for his wife led him to reveal McCauley’s robbery plans, while being tortured by Van Zant’s men and Waingro . . . before they could tip off the police. And yet, these two relationships did not receive as much screen time as Hanna and McCauley’s relationships.

Three other subplots failed to grab me. With Trejo and his wife in Van Zant’s clutches, McCauley was forced to recruit a driver for the bank robbery – a paroled convict named Donald Breeden (Dennis Haysbert). Unfortunately, Mann included a subplot that led Breeden to break his parole and accept McCauley’s job offer – a subplot that described the parolee’s difficulties in staying straight. I found the story a bore and a waste of Haysbert’s talent. And I never understood Mann’s decision to include Waingro’s murder of a teenage prostitute. Hanna and his team had never linked the murder to Waingro. Nor did the crime have an impact upon the movie’s plot, except force Hanna to abandon a dinner party with his squad and their wives . . . and give Justine another excuse to complain about his job. One last subplot seemed useless to me. It featured Hanna and McCauley’s only meeting at a local diner near, where each man examined the other and revealed that they would not hesitate to kill the other if the situation demands it. And while I must admit that Pacino and De Niro gave top notch performances, the entire scene struck me as a . . . waste . . . of . . . time. The only thing this entire scene had served was a chance to allow Pacino and De Niro to share one scene together.

I realized that I had written so much about the movie’s plot that I nearly forgotten about the performances. Fortunately, Mann had cast the movie with talented actors and actresses and I cannot fault any one of them. I realize much has been said about Al Pacino’s tendency to engage in theatrical acting. In other words, he can be a ham. He certainly was a ham in”HEAT”. But the thing about Pacino is that he can be subtle or he can be a ham . . . with style. Which is why I am willing to give him a pass on some of his hammier moments. But I cannot deny that Vincent Hanna may be one of his best roles. Whereas Pacino’s Hanna is all fire and theatrics, De Niro’s Neil McCauley is quiet intensity. His McCauley must be one of the most subtle performances he has ever given. I cannot even remember a scene where he had raised his voice, let alone mugged for the camera. There were other performances that also impressed me – Mykelti Williamson as the no-nonsense Sergeant Drucker, one of Hanna’s teammates; Tom Siezemore as McCauley’s most loyal henchman, Michael Cheritto; Jon Voight as Nate, McCauley’s pragmatic fence; and Diane Verona as Hanna’s embittered wife, Justine. Yes I had complained about her character, but I must admit that Verona gave a memorable performance. However, I have to give special kudos to Natalie Portman’s emotional performance as Hanna’s suicidal stepdaughter who is desperate for her real father’s attention; and to Val Kilmer and Ashley Judd, who managed to give complex performances as Chris and Charlene Shiherlis – one of McCauley’s colleagues and his wife. Despite their constant clashes over his gambling habit and her brief foray into adultery with a Las Vegas resident named Alan Marciano (Hank Azaria), Kilmer and Judd made it clear that these two loved each other . . . especially in a quiet and tense scene that featured Charlene giving fugitive Chris a silent warning to stay away, due to the presence of nearby police.

As much as I admire Michael Mann as a director, there is one aspect of his filmmaking that turns me off – namely his cinematic view of Los Angeles. I tend to find this view cold and antiseptic. I have noticed this in both ”HEAT” and his 2004 thriller,”COLLATERAL”. Hell, Mann’s view of Chicago in ”PUBLIC ENEMIES” struck me as ten times more colorful. Considering that Mann is from Chicago, I am not surprised. Mind you, cinematographer Dante Spinotti captured some memorable shots of Los Angeles – including one breathtaking one of the city at night from McCauley’s Hollywood Hills home. But it still came off as slightly chilly. Mann’s view of Los Angeles is probably a reflection of his view of the city . . . which is completely opposite of my own. I did find Pasquale Buba,
William Goldenberg, Dov Hoenig and Tom Rolf’s editing very impressive; especially in the downtown shootout. But there is one technical aspect of ”HEAT” that really knocked my socks off. I am speaking of Elliot Goldenthal’s score. Granted, most of Goldenthal’s score failed to make an impression upon me. However . . . his score for the bank robbery sequence was more than memorable. I enjoyed the way Goldenthal used percussion to underscore the scene’s growing tension that finally exploded into violence when Chris Shirherlis spotted cops and Hanna’s team waiting outside of the bank. For me, the entire sequence featured a perfect blend of music and action.

To repeat myself, ”HEAT” is not a perfect movie, despite its reputation. I consider Mann’s septic view of Los Angeles to be one of the movie’s minor flaws. But its major flaw seemed to be the numerous subplots that had nothing to do with the movie’s main narrative. A flaw that ended up dragging the movie’s pacing in many scenes. But despite these flaws, Mann still managed to create an exciting and complex story about two men – a methodical thief and an intuitive police detective – whose cat-and-mouse game engulfed those in their lives and an entire city. It is this cat-and-mouse game that made ”HEAT” a recent Hollywood classic.

“THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

Below is my review of “THE INFORMANT!”, Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 film: 

 

”THE INFORMANT!” (2009) Review

As a rule, I am not particularly fond of whistleblower films. I find them rather boring and unoriginal. Then I saw Steven Soderbergh’s 2009 movie, ”THE INFORMANT!” and realized there might be one whistleblower film that I do like.

Based on true events and the 2000 non-fiction book, ”The Informant”, by journalist Kurt Eichenwald, the movie is about Mark Whitacre, a rising star at Decatur, Illinois based Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) in the early 1990s who wound up blowing the whistle on the company’s price-fixing tactics, only after his wife forced him to. Soderbergh cast Matt Damon as Whitacre and Scott Bakula as FBI Special Agent Brian Shephard, the man to whom he ratted out ADM.

The movie began in 1992 when the FBI was brought in to investigate a possible case of corporate espionage against ADM. The espionage case later was found to be groundless, but during their investigation, Mark Whitacre, under pressure from his wife, told an FBI agent named Brian Shephard that he and other ADM executives were involved in a multinational conspiracy to control the price of lysine. So far, this plot struck me as no different than any other whistleblower movie. But what made”THE INFORMANT!” unique to me was the character of said whistleblower – Mark Whitacre. The movie’s first half portrayed him as an eccentric man and enthusiastic executive who seemed reluctant to expose his superiors at ADM. But he eventually dedicated himself into assisting the FBI into spending years in gathering evidence by clandestinely taping the company’s activity in business meetings at various locations around the globe such as Tokyo, Paris, Mexico City, and Hong Kong, eventually collecting enough evidence of collaboration and conspiracy to warrant a raid. Following the raid, it all went downhill for Whitacre. The stress of being the FBI’s mole for three years led him to react to the media in a bizarre manner. More importantly, the FBI and the public discovered that Whitacre had embezzled millions of dollars from ADM.

When I first saw the billboards for ”THE INFORMANT!”, I thought it would be some kind of espionage film like the Jack Ryan novels or something like 1974’s ”THE CONVERSATION”. I eventually learn that the movie might have more to do with industrial espionage . . . and the fact that it was another whistleblower film. Why I did not bother to skip this film upon hearing this, I do not know. Perhaps I was willing to give it a chance due to the fact that Soderbergh and Damon (who did the three”OCEAN’S ELEVEN” movies) were working together, again. And you know what? I am so glad that I gave it a chance. What started out as an amusing, yet detailed account of Whitacre’s years as a whistleblower for the FBI, ended in a chaotic character study of a very intelligent man who turned out to be a chronic liar and embezzler. As much as I enjoyed the movie’s first half, I really enjoyed the second half that exposed Whitacre’s crimes. The plot – or should I say Whitacre’s character – began to spiral out of control once the whistleblower tried to deflect himself from fraud charges in hilarious ways. By the time the movie ended, I did not know whether to be astounded or amused by how it all fell apart for Whitacre.

”THE INFORMANT!” featured a pretty good solid cast that included Scott Bakula as the long suffering FBI agent Brian Shephard who had recruited Whitacre to act as an informant for his agency . . . and lived to regret it. Joel McHale portrayed his partner, the more outgoing FBI agent Robert Herndon. It was interesting to see comedians like Thomas F.Wilson, the Smothers Brothers – Tom and Dick, Allan Harvey, Patton Oswalt and Scott Adsit all in serious roles. I enjoyed Tony Hale’s performance as Whitacre’s first attorney, James Epstein. Watching his reaction to the growing chaos that seemed to surround Whitacre was rather funny. And Melanie Lynskey gave a strong performance as Whitacre’s wife, Ginger, who seemed to act as the whistleblower’s conscious and backbone. But who am I kidding? The movie is owned lock, stock and barrel by Matt Damon’s brilliant performance as Mark Whitacre. I cannot even describe how good he was in capturing this complex, deceiving and yet, sympathetic personality. I thought it was criminal that he failed to snag an Academy Award nomination for this film.  Well . . . at least he managed to earn a Golden Globe nomination.  Someone was paying attention.

Do I have any quibbles about ”THE INFORMANT!”? Uh . . . I can only think of one or two complaints right now. I found Soderbergh’s cinematography rather uninspiring. Yep . . . that is what I had said. The film’s director had also acted as the photographer. And I found it dull and slightly metallic at times. If Soderbergh honestly considers himself a genuine cinematographer . . . well, I would suggest that he stick to directing and producing. And I must admit that right before the FBI had decided to arrest some of ADM’s executives, the pacing became so slow that it nearly dragged the film. Aside from those complaints, I really enjoyed this movie. But I must warn you . . . if you are expecting it to be another ”THE INSIDER” or”DEFENSE OF THE REALM”, you are going to be sadly disappointed. ”THE INFORMANT!” struck me as possessing an unusual and highly original story for it to be viewed as another whistleblower film.